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I am entirely with the noble Baroness on her first point. As regards the balance of interests, like her I would be shocked if that concerned only ownership of the land. I could not agree with her more that we also have to balance the interests of those who live and work on the land. When a balance is struck, however, their interests may be considered paramount as the disadvantage they would suffer would outweigh a particular feature of the path. I very much agree with her comments on that.

Baroness Byford: I accept what the noble Lord has said on the second point. However, my first point was that people have to access these coastal routes somewhere. My concern about encampments is not with the route itself but with how people access it. I hope that the noble Lord will give that further thought. I was not suggesting for one minute that someone would drive a caravan up a narrow path. That would clearly not be feasible. However, if the Bill is to work, I suspect that there will be more access points than there are at present.

Lord Greaves: The Minister explained that the Government think they have the policy right, with the Tories on one side, the Liberals on the other, and the Government playing piggy-in-the-middle, and that must therefore be okay. That is an exact explanation of why the concept of fair balance is not necessarily the best outcome. You have to look at what you want to do and what is right, not just at being in the middle of whoever happens to be arguing two sides of a case. I put that forward as a radical Liberal who never stays in the middle or sits on the fence.

I have this vision of the coast with one bay full of illegal immigrants, one infested with Travellers, one full of ravers and another full of golfers. What an absolute nightmare. What tosh people are talking. We are beginning to start talking tosh about this now. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, mentioned the fourth dimension. I thought that he was not present but I see that he has retreated to the Back Benches. There is a fifth dimension in connection with safety: the weather. The concept of safety is not fixed and immutable. It depends on the people concerned and how sensible, well equipped, capable, competent and physically capable they are, and it depends on the conditions. The conditions in a thunderstorm at one o’clock in the morning are very different from the conditions at one o’clock in the afternoon on a nice summer’s day. The concept of safety is relative, which is why “having regard” to safety is a recipe for confusion.

I have been looking at the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, on which all this is based. I am not sure how many long-distance routes have been set up in this country under the Act—I

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think it is about 25 or 30, but I am guessing. They include the Pennine Way, the south-west coast path, the Cleveland Way that goes along the north Yorkshire coast, and probably other coastal routes. The word “safety” does not appear in the Act. In those days it was accepted that people would walk sensibly and did not need to be told to have regard to safety. The more you go on about safety, the more danger there is that people will start saying, “Let’s put fences along the top of Beachy Head. Let’s ban this or that”. However, I accept that I am not going to persuade the Government.

One noble Lord said that designated and maintained paths had to be safe. Again, it is all relative. For example, there is a designated and maintained path that I think is provided by the Lake District National Park, which goes almost to the summit of Great Gable. I have been on the top of Great Gable and had to crawl along because of the strength of the wind and rain. Is that safe or not? It all depends. Do we want a hand-rail up the side of the path on Great Gable? It is all relative; you have to take it sensibly.

One noble Lord—it may have been the Minister—said that the fair balance would reduce representations and complaints. I think that instead it will increase representations and complaints, because people will say, “It is not a fair balance”. Unless the fair balance criterion is matched by a presumption in favour of the coastal path, which is what the legislation is for, there will be a huge amount of trouble; and whatever new system of appeals and representations we end up with in the Bill, which we will discuss later, it will be overloaded with people saying, “You are not being fair to me”, when what they mean is, “I disagree with what you are doing”. However, that is enough debate on the matter for today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A277 withdrawn.

Amendment A277A not moved.

Amendment A278

Moved by Lord Greaves

A278: Clause 287, page 174, line 43, leave out “desirability of that route adhering” and insert “requirement that wherever reasonably practicable that route must adhere”

Lord Greaves: I will speak also to Amendments A279 to A281 in the same group. I have just realised that the heading that I put on my notes reads “line of route”. I do not mean the Line of Route, but the line of the route of the coastal path, and the interruptions in it.

The purpose of these amendments is to strengthen the wording in the Bill. The Bill states:

“In discharging the coastal access duty, Natural England and the Secretary of State ... must have regard to ... the desirability of that route adhering to the periphery of the coast and providing views of the sea”.

I think that I know what that means, although “having regard to” the desirability suggests that they have to weigh the matter in the balance and decide how desirable it is, rather than saying that it is desirable. My amendment inserts a,

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to the coast. It puts in a presumption that Natural England and the Secretary of State will not simply consider how desirable it may be but will actually try to do it.

Amendment A281 alters the “desirability of ensuring” to a “need to ensure” that,

Again, the Bill is saying, “Let us see how desirable it is that these interruptions are kept to a minimum”. I am saying that we need to ensure that they are kept to a minimum.

Amendment A280 states that there should be a,

At the moment, the Bill says that the route should adhere to the coast. But if it cannot adhere to the coast—adhering means sticking close to—it does not say what it should do. It ought to say that, even if the route cannot adhere to the coast, it should be as close to the coast as possible.

The purpose of the amendments is to strengthen the link between the line of the route and the coast. I beg to move.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I do not think it will come as a surprise if I say that I find myself not in agreement with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The amendments do not take sufficient note of the unfortunate inevitability that the paragraphs in subsection (2) will come into conflict with each other. The wording is designed to find a balance which provides for a balanced and reasonable outcome. I agree with the current drafting that suggests that paragraph (a) is the most important. We would not expect the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to agree with that, because it talks about “safety and convenience”. He has said that he does not think that those are very important in setting up the route. We on these Benches think that they are.

Lord Greaves: I am very clear that convenience is extremely important in the coastal route, and safety clearly has to be reasonable. The noble Lord is misrepresenting what I said.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I apologise if I have done so, but I seem to recollect that convenience also came in for criticism from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, earlier.

Lord Greaves: I am sorry, but I want to make this clear. That was in relation to the coastal margin land and not to the line of the coastal route. I was very clear that, as far as the line of the route is concerned, convenience is the top priority, and that is why I am moving these amendments.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I accept the noble Lord’s explanation and acknowledge that I may have been confused by his rhetoric. There should be balance between these factors. I agree with the wording that suggests that paragraph (a) is the most important and (b) and (c) are objectives which, while important, should not be sought at the expense of (a). I agree with the Government’s wording here.

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Lord Davies of Oldham: At least this time I will avoid the charge from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the Government take joy from being in the middle. On this occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has expressed the Government’s view, and I am merely going to endorse the sentiments that he expressed, namely that the list of considerations is part of the balance that needs to be achieved.

The amendments are not necessary. They are intended to add greater weight to the considerations regarding the route being close to the coast and interruptions being minimised, but the wish that the coastal access duty is discharged in the manner intended is already there quite specifically in this clause. We are merely indicating that there are three areas of consideration. It creates imbalance if we seek to place one factor much higher than the others. I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we accept his point that part of the consideration is that the route should be close to the sea and provide views of the sea. The other two considerations are there to act as balancing factors, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated and expressed rather better than I am doing now. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greaves: After the Government’s concession that the Tory Front Bench does their job better than they do, at least in this instance, I do not think that I can do anything else but withdraw the amendment. I fundamentally disagree with the point being put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, which the Government adhere to. I really think that the prime objective ought to be a coastal path as near to the coast as is reasonable and practical, and other considerations should follow from that. That is clearly not the view of the Government or of the Conservatives. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment A278 withdrawn.

Amendments A278A to A281 not moved.

9.30 pm

Amendment A281A

Moved by Baroness Mallalieu

A281A: Clause 287, page 174, line 46, at end insert “, and

( ) the preservation of all existing rights of access to the foreshore”

Baroness Mallalieu: This is the first time that I have intervened on this Bill and I apologise to the Committee for not having spoken at Second Reading. I should, therefore, briefly now declare my interests. I am president of the Countryside Alliance, a member of the National Trust, a small farmer and, particularly importantly in relation to the five amendments that stand in my name in this group, an equestrian of a sort.

The relevance of those first five amendments is that they relate to the many hundreds of thousands of people—namely equestrians and cyclists—who enjoy very limited access to a very small part of the English coastline. The concerns of the British Horse Society

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and cycling groups have led me to table these amendments. As others have said at earlier stages, this Bill on the face of it does nothing for riders or cyclists, who are excluded not only from nearly 80 per cent of the rights of way network, but from a staggering 93 per cent of the existing network around the English coastline. I appreciate that the parts of the network particularly enjoyed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would not be suitable for equestrians. However, many parts could well be used, but are not.

I should have thought that it was in all our interests, whether we ride, cycle or rock climb, to get as many horses and cyclists off our increasingly busy roads as possible, but this Bill has chosen not to take that route. I should make it clear that my amendments are modest in the extreme, in that we seek in none of them to extend the access that those groups have, but merely try to ensure that neither deliberately nor inadvertently is that very limited existing access diminished.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt for his most helpful letter to me on 4 March and for my subsequent discussions with him. I have absolutely no doubt that it is his and the Government’s intention to increase, not diminish, access, and that he has no wish for rights to be taken away from existing users. He could not have put that more plainly in his letter to me. He stated that if people are currently allowed to ride on the foreshore, they will still be able to do so when the new right comes into force. However, there are real fears, based in part on what has happened in some places following the implementation of the CROW Act, that unless there is a clear statement in the Bill to that effect, rights of access for those groups will be eroded.

The first amendment, Amendment A281A, seeks to place a requirement on Natural England and the Secretary of State to have regard to,

Perhaps I may explain why that is necessary. We received assurances very like the one in that letter during the passage of the then CROW Bill that there was no intention at all to remove existing rights. I live part of the time in the Exmoor National Park, and before that Bill came into force, equestrians and cyclists had widespread, effectively open, access to what is known as the Forest of Exmoor. It is not, in fact, a forest, but upland and moorland in a range of different ownerships, including the national park. Indeed, if you asked whether you were allowed to ride, you would be told, “You can ride anywhere, except where you can’t”. The places where you could not ride were very wet and you would have been unwise to try. Now, since the CROW Act, the national park issues instructions whereby open access applies only to walkers and that equestrians must keep to the paths. I am not aware of any serious attempt at enforcement. Locals who for generations have crossed the moor on horseback might be inclined, if not to rebellion, at least to be less co-operative with the national park if their rights were removed in practice rather than in theory. Those signs are ominous and there are similar signs of increasing restriction on equestrians in other areas—for example, the New Forest.

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For those reasons I urge that the matter cannot simply be left in the air or in the realms of ministerial assurances. There needs to be a clear requirement in the Bill to try to preserve those existing rights. Many people ride on the foreshore for pleasure or other reasons. People train racehorses on the beach and many more like to take their bicycles on to the hard sand. Whether justified or not, people have a real fear that when the Bill is implemented barriers will go up preventing access to anyone other than pedestrians. I rather think that waving a copy of the excellent letter which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, wrote to me would be less effective in getting those barriers removed than having a clear statement in the Bill. That is what that simple amendment would do and I hope that, if not now, at a later stage there will be no objection to something of that sort being included in the Bill.

Amendments A325, A327 and A328 are slightly different in character and I anticipate that the Minister is likely to say that there are difficulties. They relate to instances where coastlines are eroded on long-distance routes and the Government propose so-called rollback provisions so that the coastal route will be preserved—in effect, resited. So far, so good. To provide an alternative to the coastal route when that happens is plain common sense. But the rollback provisions do not apply to the existing miserable 7 per cent of public rights of way to which riders currently have access around the English coast, and which will be part of the coastal route until erosion occurs. The three amendments simply and logically would ensure that not just the coastal route but,

is also resited. As it stands, a coastal bridle way—in itself is an extremely rare feature—would be lost for ever while a coastal route providing access for those on foot would simply be resited.

Amendment A332, the last of the amendments in my name, deals with alternative routes and similar provisions dealing with diversions during specified periods where, for example, there is some specific danger or a specific land-management requirement. Again they apply only to the coastal route and not to,

after this Bill will fall within that route. The right of access of the rider or the cyclist is removed, but not that of the walker. That short amendment would also remedy that defect.

As I said, all my amendments are modest. None seeks to extend access, but all would preserve access that is precious and, sadly, is not likely to be extended in other provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Greaves: I have two amendments in the group, and I added my name to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. I had copious notes on that first amendment on existing access, but I shall not use them as I would simply be repeating what the noble Baroness said. To some extent, that amendment is related to Amendment A362AA, which is in my name and which would amend Schedule 2 to the CROW Act and allow people to access,


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The reason a dog is referred to is not for us to debate dogs at this stage, as we shall later, but because that is the existing provision on access land under CROW. The right of access applies only to a person or a person accompanied by a dog; it does not apply to any other animals that may accompany a person, which clearly includes horses.

I have been provided with a lot of briefing, particularly by the National Federation of Bridleway Associations, arguing that there is often a common-law right of access for people with horses to the foreshore. I cannot judge whether what it states is right or wrong, but it is widely believed and it would be interesting to know the Government's view of that. If that is the case, that comes under the existing rights that the noble Baroness talked about. Even without that, there is no doubt that people have been able to take their horses on to beaches for many years for commercial reasons or for recreation.

I am also sympathetic to the other amendments moved by the noble Baroness. I do not think that they work technically, but they concern a very important matter—in particular, the rollback of the coastal route under erosion from the sea. It is likely that where bridleways exist along the coast, the coastal route will follow those bridleways. If there is then erosion, the coastal path that follows the existing right of way will roll back as the coast rolls back, but the right of way will not. The right of way will be fossilised and stay where it is. Indeed, in many parts of the coast there is a right of way that does not exist because it has fallen into the sea. De facto, people go along a different route that is not a right of way. That will be rationalised for walkers, and it would be extremely helpful if it could be rationalised for other users, particularly horse riders.

I am not saying in any way that the coastal route will be suitable for horses wherever it exists. Clearly, there will be many places where it will not, but in some places it will and they may be new areas where the coastal route is being created and where, because of the terrain, it could quite easily be made a bridleway, which would allow horses and cyclists to go along it. That is all part and parcel of an interesting and technically intricate relationship between the coastal route and existing rights of way where the coastal route goes along existing rights of way. That is an interesting matter not just where there are higher rights on those existing rights of way, but where it is simply a public footpath.

I do not think that the Government have completely thought out the relationship between a right of way that exists and is then incorporated into the coastal footpath, which presumably then becomes access land under CROW. What is the relationship between the access land under CROW and the right of way under highways legislation, especially if it starts to move backwards? Those are complex matters, but I do not think that they have been properly thought out yet and someone has to do so at some stage.

9.45 pm

The other amendment in my name is Amendment A362AB, which is an attempt to do two things. First, it attempts to be a little more ambitious than the noble

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Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, by trying to provide more facilities for cyclists and horse-riders where appropriate in the coastal environment and along the coastal route. Secondly, it seeks to improve footpath links to the coastal route, where necessary, so that people can have better access to and egress from the coastal route, rather than simply having to park on it.

The amendment suggests a new clause, “Rights of way: improvements associated with the English coastal route”, and that English Nature should have to notify the local access authority when it prepares proposals under Section 55A for a new coastal route. It also suggests that each access authority that receives such a notification should carry out a review of its rights-of-way improvement plan in relation to Natural England’s proposals for that section of the coast. It should do so to see whether improvements to higher rights are appropriate and whether the network of linked footpaths into the coastal route is appropriate. I do not know where the word “plan” at the end of proposed new subsection (2)(b) came from. It is a misprint. It should say route, which is fairly obvious, anyhow.

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