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I am in favour of Amendment A350A because for Part 9 to work effectively we need clarity on exactly where this Bill will apply and where these new access rights will apply. Where is the spreading room? The phrase “spreading room” is not understood by 99 per cent of the population and probably will not be understood for some time to come by 95 per cent of the population. It must not be forgotten that different rules of liability will apply on this land, which is designated by Natural England in its report. There may even be different rules, such as those applying to dogs, to which we will come later.

Clarity is essential and it is vital that there should be no doubt in the minds of everyone where visitors are or are not allowed. This is important, as I am sure was in the minds of the proposers of the amendment,

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not only from the point of view of the landowner and farmer or even a conservation body which might own the land, because it is right to have clarity for management purposes. Most especially, I believe that clarity should be there from the point of view of the walker. Few countrymen understand that for many walkers coming from the town, the countryside can be a worrying or even a frightening place, in the same way as some countrymen get nervous in parts of our urban environment.

However, the townsman has many worries in the countryside. It is absolutely right to encourage him or her to overcome these. Not only is encouraging access important from the point of view of the physical and mental health of our population, but I also believe as a landowner that it is very important to encourage greater understanding of the countryside for enhancing the rural economy. I cannot remember the last figures for the south-west coast path but, just before I left the Countryside Agency, it brought hundreds of millions of pounds to the south-west economy. More access of that sort would be very useful to the rural economy.

The townsman has many worries, such as, “Where do I park my car? Where am I allowed to go? Where is the path? Am I trespassing? Will I get shouted at? Where is the local A-Z? Why are there no signs?”. Obviously, we will come to this in Schedule 19. I believe that, as far as possible, we must assist visitors to overcome all those worries by giving them clarity where possible. I recognise that it would be over the top if Natural England had to map every square metre or linear metre of this coastal access. It will be obvious to the locals where there is likely to be, or where there is, an element of confusion.

I support this amendment from the point of view of the local owners—conservation bodies, the National Trust or whoever it might be—but more so from the point of view of the visitor. Whether it is intended or not, what attracts me most is the concept of Natural England using the interested local to highlight where ambiguity or the potential for misunderstanding might exist. I hope that the Government will run with Amendment A350A.

5.45 pm

Lord Tyler: I should like to extend what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just said about Amendment A350A. I have a non-interest, in that I am not a member of the National Farmers’ Union, but I believe that it has a legitimate point in looking for clarity on this issue, just as do the users who may come from an urban environment, as the noble Lord has just said. There is a particular problem in that, although we are coming away from the concept of “spreading room”, it has had a currency among stakeholders for some time. The difficulty is that the spreading room in particular does not seem to match up precisely with the margin concept defined under Clause 299, which has no reference to the spreading room.

Working farmers will be anxious that these concepts are clarified before the Bill completes its passage through the two Houses. In particular, liability on the coastal path seems to be clearly defined, but liability of what

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may happen in the so-called spreading room on the margins of the path is not so well defined. Although the briefing that Natural England has given in its draft scheme provides some reassurance, it does not give all the reassurance that both parties to the agreement that will have to be reached will require. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, we do not want huge numbers of people challenging what will and what will not be on a map, but clearly what will be on a map might be of considerable relevance when it comes to the issue of liability, which is why we should probe the intentions of the Government. I hope therefore that the Minister will say something about these concepts, their significance and the extent to which they should and will be defined, not necessarily in statute but during the process that will follow.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken to this interesting group of amendments, which has raised some important issues. Amendment A267D raises a matter of considerable principle. If we accepted the amendment, it would mean that we would not necessarily have an objective to establish a coastal margin along the whole of the English coast. We attach a great deal of importance to the public having access to the whole of the English coastline as far as possible, but not where such access would be inappropriate, which I believe was the burden of the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Some land is excepted from the right of access and restrictions can be put in place, if required, for matters such as nature conservation. We understand the anxieties reflected in this amendment but they have to be allayed by the concept of excepted land and the way in which land will be designated. The amendment might look fairly modest but it strikes at the principle of what we are seeking to achieve—namely, access to the English coast.

Amendment A277A would mean that the Secretary of State and Natural England would have to have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the coastal margin as well as the coastal route. I can see the proper anxieties about this, but I accept entirely the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with regard to the coastal margin. The coast can be a dangerous environment and Natural England will certainly have to have regard to safety in putting forward a proposal for the coastal route. The Secretary of State should equally have regard to the very important issue of safety in improving any such route.

However, the coastal margin is a different matter. It is important to allow people to make their own decisions and we do not want to exclude anywhere that might be dangerous in such a way that we restrict the opportunities available to the more adventurous to explore what the coastal margin can provide. I shall therefore reject the amendment as a step towards a nanny state in an area in which we want to preserve aspects of freedom for the more adventurous among us. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that not just in the spirit in which I present the argument but also in that presented so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. People take enormous risks on sea cliffs, for example. I saw a programme the other day about the southern coast of England, not regarded by mariners as the most hazardous, where

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people were shown climbing up not simply vertical cliffs but those with very pronounced overhangs. Having conquered the cliffs, they were leaping a considerable distance back into the water below, having ascertained that it was deep enough. By heavens, that looked like risky behaviour, but those people had made the decision to try it. If they derive a huge amount of what on the whole looks like safe fun—people are not bent on wrecking their lives when they engage in such activities—they should be allowed to do so. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his desire to protect the opportunities available to the more adventurous.

Amendment A278A would mean that the Secretary of State and Natural England would have to have regard to the desirability of both the coastal route and the coastal margin adhering to the periphery of the coast and providing views of the sea. For land to be part of the coastal margin, it must fall into the definition of coastal land and therefore has to be adjacent to the sea. I know that noble Lords are pressing for a definition of the coastal margin but, given that the amendment is expressed in fairly general terms, perhaps I may respond in an equally general way. When we are talking about the coastal margin, we are talking about land adjacent to the sea.

Amendments A336A to A336C deal with the ability to include land within the coastal margin and the route strip up to a physical feature. It is important that there is clarity about what land forms part of the coastal margin, and the point of these subsections is to allow Natural England to give a clear boundary to the coastal margin and enable it to make sense of the geography. Therefore, I am going to resist the issue of a map, despite the blandishments of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who has added his support to the Front-Bench arguments. I do not like the idea of a map, but I accept the issue of definition and the argument presented by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and with considerable force by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that people will need to know what the spreading areas are. The obligation is certainly on Natural England to ensure that the signage is clear, that people know where the boundaries are and that we know the nature of the coastal margin. However, a map is a different matter.

A map raises significant issues. It is certainly the case that a statement must be submitted to the Secretary of State of the reasons that Natural England intends to act. It needs to submit a map to the Secretary of State or, if not a map, a statement giving its reasons for not acting in accordance with a request for a map from anyone who makes such a representation. Natural England will have to justify why it is not prepared to provide a map. However, the line of the route is going to be included on a map because that will form part of the report that Natural England will present to the Secretary of State. Where a map is required to give clarity over the extent of the coastal margin, that map should certainly be provided. Where these issues may be in doubt and anxieties are raised—a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, gave voice and, to a certain degree, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—a map will be provided. However, the Government do not believe that maps will be necessary for clarity over where the coastal margin lies in most situations. In

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some areas it will be necessary and judgments will be made about where such a necessary map needs to be defined in order to allay people’s anxieties, but in most situations we will not need a map in order to define the coastal margin. If we did, we would be asking Natural England to engage in a very expensive mapping process. The money could be better spent elsewhere when these issues are clear and where there is no dubiety and uncertainty among the public of where the coastal path goes and where the margin lies because it can be so clearly identified.

I am reflecting the fact that the English coast is a varied landscape, and in some areas a map may be absolutely essential for definition. I give a clear undertaking that we expect maps to be provided in those areas; that will be an obligation. Where a map can help to provide clarity of the route, location and extent of the coastal margin, it will be provided. However, let us take one area that has been held up as a wonderful example of an existing coastal route around the south-west. Noble Lords who have had the pleasure of walking along it share the experience with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. She said that you do not need much definition of the coastal route if there is a garden wall on one side and a drop of several hundred feet on the other with a narrow defile in between. That route is clearly marked and does not need too much in the way of a map. Although I do not pretend to be the best navigator in the House—even on land, let alone at sea—I cannot remember having any anxieties about how to keep to the south-west coast path.

However, there are other parts of our coastal landscape where the definition will need to be clearer and I therefore indicate that Natural England will be under an obligation to give that clearer definition, which may well require a map to be provided to anyone who intends to follow the path in that area.

6 pm

Amendments A336D and A358E seek to ensure that where the boundary of the coastal margin is drawn to meet a physical feature, where the feature is a cliff or rock face the boundary will always be drawn to include it within the margin. We have always said that we intend that the description of land that will be coastal margin will include cliffs that are adjacent to the foreshore. Where the margin is drawn wider to meet a physical feature, we want Natural England to have the flexibility to respond to the particular circumstances in an appropriate way. In such cases, a decision on whether any particular cliff will be included will depend on the detailed work and assessment during the implementation phase.

I hope the noble Lord will accept that the intent is to meet the concept of the amendment and that we have drawn the Bill in terms that will allow for flexibility in decision-making in those areas to take account of the features that the noble Lord said were so important.

Amendment 358D seeks to remove the ability in Clause 293(5) for the Secretary of State to specify descriptions of land in England which are coastal margin. The Secretary of State’s powers are not quite Henry VIII powers; they would be limited to extending the definition of open country to include “coastal

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land or coastal land of any description”. This power is already contained in Section 3 of the CROW Act and was rejected as inadequate following public consultation as it did not go far enough for us to reach the objectives with regard to the path and the coastal margin. It did not provide the continuity of access which the consultation process confirmed is of great importance to the public. The Committee will understand why the Government are eager to defend the Bill, which gives additional powers, not Henry VIII powers, to meet the public concern that there should be continuity with regard to the path.

Amendment 358D, taken together with Amendment 358F, would reduce the powers of the Secretary of State to below those currently provided in the CROW Act because it would remove the Secretary of State’s power to modify by order the provisions in Part 1 of the CROW Act in their application to land which is coastal margin. It would take away the Secretary of State’s powers to apply the provisions of Part 1 of the CROW Act in a way which is appropriate for the complex situation of the coast. I understand the noble Lord’s anxieties about the powers allotted to the Secretary of State. All legislation in which powers are offered to the Executive should be subject to scrutiny and the Executive should be challenged on its intent, but I emphasise that all we are doing here is building on the provisions of the CROW Act and making sure that we have got sufficient powers to deal with the complex situation of the coastal path and the adjoining margin.

Amendment 362L would add a new sub-paragraph after paragraph 6(2)(b) to Schedule 19 to allow Natural England to erect and maintain a notice or sign which indicates, including by provision of a map, the direction of a route or extent of an area of coastal margin. The powers in Schedule 19, together with the powers that we already have in the CROW Act, would enable Natural England to put up such notices without the need for the amendment. We have given thought to the issues to which the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Taylor, gave voice because we are concerned about this, but we are certain that we have the powers for Natural England to put up signs that identify or provide information about the route, warn of obstacles or hazards along the route and other signs relating to the route. Notices provided under the powers in CROW may inform the public of an appropriate matters which relate to access land. These notices may include maps, if they are defined as necessary because of the nature of a particular part of the coastal environment, and we envisage that in many cases they will do so—for example, when the powers are used to erect information boards close to car parks or other places where the public may be expected to seek to gain access to coastal land. Natural England will have to consult with the owner and occupier before erecting any such notice or sign, and may meet or contribute to the cost to others of erecting such notices and signs.

We are certain that in parts of our coastal environment these powers will be necessary. There is no cause for undue anxiety about the way in which they would be exercised because they are provided to meet the fears expressed in the debate that the public may not be sufficiently aware of either the route or the extent of

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margins without adequate guidance. That is the nature of this provision and, on that basis the amendments, which I hope were probing, can be safely withdrawn.

Lord Greaves: On my two amendments about cliff faces the Minister said two things: first, that the Government wanted flexibility and, secondly, that it would be all right. I shall read carefully in Hansard what he said but, given that we are not talking about traditional CROW land but coastal margin as defined, it is difficult to understand how a cliff face could not be defined as coastal margin if it is joined on to the rest of the coastal margin. Does the Minister have any ideas of how this might happen? There might be areas with special vegetation that have to have exclusions or restrictions—I have already argued that that is not necessary in the case of birds—but that would not be excepted land. I am fairly satisfied but, as always, I shall enjoy myself going to sleep reading Hansard.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am reassured by the Minister’s reply. He always shows the virtue of spreading room, and an analysis of the focus of his response shows a certain degree of movement and an acknowledgement of the importance of making sure that the coastal margin was fit for purpose for visitors who may not be aware of the situations in which they are placing themselves. It is all right for the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his enthusiasm for cliff climbing, and for the Minister, who every day shows that he is fearless in the hazardous sport of handling many different briefs for the Government on the Front Bench, but members of the general public may well believe that by designating a path as a coastal path it is reasonable to assume that it has been made accessible and safe for them to use.

The Minister acknowledged that it may well be necessary to map and I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for the idea of mapping. This will be important for the landowners and even more important for visitors. What discussions have there been with the Ordnance Survey about its pathfinder range of walking maps? Some mapping of the coastal margin might be necessary for the utility of the path.

As has been rightly pointed out, the debate about the coastal access path is not only about the path but about all that goes with it, and the coastal margin is an important part of that. The coastal margin may not exist on some parts of the coast where the coastal path does not go and I hope the Minister accepts my argument in that respect. However, having heard his response and valued the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A267D withdrawn.

Amendment A268

Moved by Lord Greaves

A268: Clause 286, page 173, line 28, leave out from “otherwise” to end of line 29

Lord Greaves: I hope this group will not take us long. I shall speak also to Amendments A271 and A273, which are about something called “relevant

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excepted land”. Excepted land, as the Committee will remember, is the various types of land which, under Schedule 1 of the CROW Act, are not access land. There are obvious examples such as buildings. Traditional CROW access land includes land within 20 metres of dwellings, golf courses, aerodromes and so on. I am reminded of the somewhat surreal debate we had on the CROW Act about whether a helicopter pad was an aerodrome. There were some exciting debates on that Act.

These amendments probe the question of relevant excepted land. Amendment A268 asks why a reference to “excepted land” is needed in the objectives. We understand that excepted land will exist and the coastal margin will go around it, or through it, or whatever the configuration is. However, it is not clear to me why it is necessary to set that down in the objectives.

The other amendments relate to what Clause 286(6) means and why it is needed. At this stage I am just asking what it means, and if I get a sensible answer I will not pursue it further; however, if I do not get a sensible answer, perhaps I will. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: There is a phrase that strikes fear and dread into any Minister who has to give the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, a sensible answer that he will accept. That might test me quite a long way.

Amendments A268 and A273 would remove the exception to the requirement for the margin to be accessible to the public where the land fell within any category of “excepted land” listed in Schedule 1 to the CROW Act. The exception was put in so that the margin could be established without the report having to describe every single area of excepted land—that is, land covered by buildings and their curtilage. It is necessary for the sheer practicability of the project; otherwise, we would be involved in the description of every exception in great detail.

Amendment A271, which would remove Clause 286(6), would make it clear that it was the duty of Natural England and the Secretary of State to exercise their relevant functions regarding the second big objective: making a margin of land along the length of the English coast, the issue we debated a few moments ago on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Land within the margin may already be accessible to the public under the provisions described in subsections (5)(b) and (c), or Natural England and the Secretary of State may decide to use other mechanisms to make such land available. This reflects the fact that the legislation envisages that the principal means of creating any new right of access is by way of an order under Section 2(3A) of the CROW Act, inserted by Clause 293 of the Bill. That is the essential mechanism of the Act.

This is an important point. It shows how the legislation will be implemented. I hope the noble Lord will accept that he is right to press us on how we intend to effect this legislation and that he will give the Government credit for having thought through this issue and putting the mechanism in the Bill to guarantee that we can do it.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful for those replies. I think I understood the first answer, and I think that I think it is sensible. The Minister will be pleased to hear that.

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