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The wording in proposed new subsection (4) more or less comes from existing legislation. Proposed new subsection (4)(c) suggests additionally that where a beach is accessible to horses and horses have an historical right to go on it, or because I propose that they should have a right to go on it, the Government should consider access to the beach for people riding or leading horses to make use of it. The rest of the amendment is all about trying to co-ordinate the review of the rights-of-way improvement plan with the coastal access proposals.

I am not suggesting that these detailed amendments are necessarily the exact way in which to do this, but there is an important issue here. When Natural England prepares proposals for the coastal route along a particular part of the coast and for new coastal access, someone should look at the existing rights-of-way network in that area to see what changes and improvements need to be made to it to make proper use of the new access along the coast. People will raise the question of cost, but the principle is very clear; this should happen.

Baroness Byford: I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, to which I have put my name. It is late and I will not repeat what she said, because she set out her case so very clearly. I have no interest to declare, although I used to ride horses. One thing that I have never done but always wanted to do was ride along the shore. It never happened, and I do not ride any more. Horse-riders’ current access is very limited, and if the Government cannot consider the latter amendments sympathetically, I urge them to think seriously about Amendment A281A, because it is hugely important and I hope that they will respond positively to it.

Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked what information local authorities have. That comes back to an earlier debate in which I asked what information local government bodies hold on rights of way. Clearly they must have some. All of us who ride realise that the interests of a horse-rider are not necessarily the same as those of a family that is walking. There needs, wherever possible, to be a slightly different

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access route so that they are not damaged in any way. The other day, when I was out walking the dog, it was very windy and you could not always hear someone coming up behind. I was looking out for and listening for traffic.

At the moment, horse-riders and cyclists have certain rights. If we are not careful, and they are not readdressed in this Bill, they will be lost, which I do not think is the intention of the Government. I hope that it is not. The issue of roll-back might be something to which we will return. But at this stage, even if they do not like the wording, I hope that the Government will feel able to take on board Amendment A281A. I support this amendment.

The Duke of Montrose: I shall speak to Amendment A362AD in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor. The wording of this amendment is put forward to encourage access for horses and riders to areas of the coastal path and its spreading room where those on the ground consider it is safe to do so and unlikely to cause any problem for the other interests involved. I should like to think that this line of argument might also apply in the area being drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I am relieved to hear, and I support him in this, that he is merely probing the Government to see what their attitude is on these matters. To begin with, I thought that he was going to try to ban horses and dogs from the foreshore or at least perhaps from the bit of it which exists above the ordinary high-tide mark. However, I understand that that is the exact opposite to what he was seeking.

The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness gives us a good opportunity to probe the question around how far erosion should be able to push back the coastal route. Natural England’s draft scheme pamphlet speaks of a trigger point; for example, where erosion means a route would have to go through someone’s garden if it were to be maintained in relation to the shore. Will the Minister confirm that the trigger point will be included in the report and that representations and so on could be made in relation to it?

Because of the difficulty of being certain just where the route might end, we are a little unwilling to support the blanket inclusion of all rights of way in these provisions. Again, here we are coming up a little bit against the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Certainly, if rights of way are to be moved along with the route, proper consideration needs to be given to the fact that they will cause greater disruption to local inhabitants.

As regards Amendment A362AD, I should like to ask the Minister about current arrangements for increasing the number of routes that riders and cyclists can use. I understand that Natural England already seeks to work with landowners to secure permission for these users to have access. We would certainly support using a collaborative approach in order to improve access arrangements. Coming back to a question that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I would also probe the Minister on funding. Who is responsible for paying for any improvements to the route if the landowner agrees to make the route accessible to bicycles and horses? It would seem only fair for Natural

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England, which would get all the credit for establishing the right, to bear the cost of upgrading styles, gates and so on. Will the Minister give us an indication of the Government’s view?

Lord Crickhowell: Having some knowledge of coast paths, I have not the smallest hesitation in supporting the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, which provides for limited access to a very small part of the English coastline. She described it as being modest in the extreme and not extending existing rights. It is entirely appropriate that horses should continue to have access to foreshore beaches and bridle paths where that access has existed previously. I understand entirely what she said about trying to resist any curtailment of long-existing rights.

On the basis of experience in, again, the Black Mountains, I refer to the fact that perhaps the only exception would be a temporary closure of routes where you get heavy corrugation. In particular, paths used by pony trekkers sometimes are rendered almost unusable for a time and it may be necessary to have some temporary ability to manage the situation. But in general I wholly support what the noble Baroness said.

I wanted to hear what my noble friend would say about his final amendment, which has only recently been added to the Marshalled List; I have some anxieties about it. What are,

That is a vague definition, and we were told about “local knowledge”. What might be an obviously appropriate part of a route could be a golf course, where there would be plenty of room for horses. In saying that I am ragging my noble friend slightly because he has gone on about them, but this is a difficult and important issue. One has to understand that on the majority of the length of national coastal paths, it would be extremely dangerous and a folly to allow access for horses. I cannot think of anywhere on the Pembroke coast national park path where it would not be insane to do so. It would present a danger both to horses and to people, particularly to the unaccompanied young people my noble friend wishes to encourage to use these paths, as well as to people walking their dogs. It is simply an unsuitable route.

I have been thinking of other areas along the coast where I have walked recently, particularly of a beautiful and interesting stretch of the Dorset coast. The path starts in a well managed National Trust car park and takes a steep, winding route over a gully and passes through one of those sites that concerned my noble friend earlier, a permanent caravan site. I do not think you would want to encourage horses through such a site where the children play on their front steps. The path then drops down to enter an area that is entirely suitable for horses, on the beach and the foreshore, where horses should be. Another recent walk along the Gower coast revealed very sandy headlands and steep paths descending to dunes, and thus in my view wholly unsuitable for horses.

Before we go into the extension being proposed by my noble friend, I want rather more detail about the planning and decision-making behind what would be safe. It may be that new bridle paths could be introduced

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which are wholly compatible with walkers. I hesitate on the subject of bicycles. My daughter-in-law is a keen mountain biker, and if I come out too strongly against mountain bicycles being allowed access, I suspect that I might be in trouble. However, even they would be a danger on many parts of the coastal path. So I say to my noble friend that we will need more clarification about exactly how the whole thing is to be managed so that walkers are not put at risk. We should maintain the existing bridle paths and extend new bridle paths where there is an appropriate mechanism for doing so. But let us not spoil the whole thing by allowing pressure to build up to provide access for horses—not beautifully controlled as they would be by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but perhaps those belonging to riders such as inexperienced pony trekkers, and even mountain bicyclists in large numbers who can be extremely hazardous on a footpath.

I am doubtful about my noble friend’s amendment, but I strongly support the first amendments in this group.

The Duke of Montrose: Perhaps I may come back on this. I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has grasped exactly the purpose of our amendment, which is that those who know the conditions on the ground should be able to determine the appropriate place and means of access.

10 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Having been accused of some interesting ploys this evening, on one occasion I sailed safely between the viewpoint of the Official Opposition and that of the Liberal Democrat party and on another I accepted the argument of the Official Opposition against the Liberals. What I shall say now is that I agree with almost every contribution that has been made, and I shall be constructive in my response to all these issues as far as I am able, while bearing in mind some of the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the last amendment in the group.

Of course the Government want to encourage people to enjoy the countryside, and this includes providing access to it for horses and riders. We are committed to the strategy for the horse industry published jointly by the horse industry and government, which includes a section devoted to improving equestrian access to the countryside as well as recognising horse riding as a beneficial and enjoyable form of exercise. I assure my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that the provision of other rights for horse riders and cyclists has been carefully considered as part of the improvements to coastal access but, as the coast is such a complex and varied environment, a blanket approach to include rights for users other than those on foot would not be appropriate in all circumstances.

Our approach to additional rights for horse riders was supported by both the Joint Committee and the departmental Select Committee in their scrutiny of the draft Bill. In particular, the departmental committee agreed that it would not be practical or affordable to make the whole of the coastal path useable by horses

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and bicycles but that, where local geography and environmental circumstances allowed, the opportunity should be taken to improve access for such users. We agree with the committee that such an approach does not need to be specified as a duty in the Bill. I appreciate the anxiety expressed by my noble friend but I can assure her that, when a new right of access is introduced to the English coast, it will not affect any existing rights or permissions to ride a horse on the foreshore. I am not able to give her a disposition on common law rights with regard to the foreshore—she is a lawyer, I am not—but I can reassure her on the question of existing rights. 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, I understand the concerns that have been raised that there should be absolute clarity that existing rights for horse riders are not affected by any new right of access to the coast. Our discussions have identified this as an important matter and I can assure the Committee that we will take it away and look at it closely to see whether anything needs to be done in the Bill on this point. We are charged with the significance of the issue. I am not prepared to accept that the Bill is developing in quite the “ominous” way suggested by my noble friend. She said that things were distinctly pejorative to the horse-riding fraternity but that is not the case. However, we will look further at matters with a view to being constructive.

Amendments A325, A327, A328 and A332 seek to require Natural England to provide for the route to be treated as a public right of way. There will of course be instances where the English coastal route goes along an existing public right of way but, in order to avoid having two separate access regimes applying to the same land, where existing highways and the coastal route coincide we expect that public highways will become a category of excepted land and be identified in those terms. This will mean that any rights of way which fall within the wider spreading room will also be excepted land and existing rights over them will apply rather than the new coastal rights. I hope that is of reassurance to the noble Baroness.

The amendment tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tyler, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke, would require Natural England to advise local authorities on its plans to draw up proposals to improve coastal access and for local authorities in the light of this to review their rights of way improvement plans. Natural England will certainly consult authorities as specified in Clause 292 and we would expect its report to take account of authorities’ existing rights of way as a means of getting to and from the coastal route and to take account of the role of existing public rights of way within the coastal margin.

Section 60(3) of the CROW Act provides for a review of rights-of-way improvement plans within 10 years of the first publication and every 10 years thereafter. We do not think that the amendment is appropriate or that we need to place a new burden on local authorities to review their plans because we have these requirements in place and they meet the points that the noble Lord identified when he advanced his case.

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The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, sought in his amendment to give Natural England the power to enable riders and cyclists to use the route where that was appropriate and where anyone with a relevant interest in the land gave consent. There are already powers in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 allowing Natural England to relax any general restrictions contained in Schedule 2, including those on horse-riding and cycling, with the consent of the owner of the land. We have no intention of removing those powers. We have them; they can be used.

In addition, the Bill gives Natural England powers regarding the coastal margin under paragraph 2(3)(c) of Schedule 19 to clear and maintain land that is coastal margin for the purposes of facilitating cycling or horse-riding where the general restrictions have been relaxed. We already have the powers to facilitate those activities. We also accept the burden of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that not every part of the coastal path could conceivably come within the framework of being safe or appropriate for horse-riding or for cyclists.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked me two specific questions: whether the trigger point will be included in the report and whether representations can be made on it. The answer is yes to both. He also asked who pays for the improvement to the route if it is upgraded for horses. It is the case that Natural England will have a challenge fund that can be drawn on to fund this sort of work. The fund—do I need to say this?—will not be limitless, but we believe it will make a useful contribution where it might be appropriate.

I hope it will be seen that the representations that have been made today in the advocacy of these amendments raise issues that we are concerned about. If we are not in a position to be categorical on all the amendments, although I think I am with regard to the last one, we will look at the matter further. We know that there is further work to be done. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, will feel able to rest assured that, in withdrawing their amendments, they have presented the case and the Government are fully seized of the necessity of looking at it very carefully.

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Earl Cathcart: I fully support the noble Baroness’s amendments. She talked about horsed-riding and bicycles, as has the whole Committee. The Minister talked about extending some of these rights, though, and there is a great danger if we call the routes “bridleways”. All too often today, bridleways are used by 4x4s, quad bikes and motorbikes. We are trying to ensure that the route is used only by horse-riders and pushbikes.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I could not agree more with the noble Earl. It would destroy the whole concept of the coastal path if motorised vehicles went anywhere near it.

Lord Greaves: Whether or not the noble Earl is correct about what people use on bridleways, motorised vehicles have no right to be on them and should not be there.

Baroness Mallalieu: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendments. I am grateful in particular for the support from all sides of the Committee for Amendment A281A. I was encouraged by the words of my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham and look forward to the promising, constructive discussions that he offered. I can see no reason why the Bill should not show what I think we all want to see, which is that existing rights should be taken into account. I recognise that there are some difficult technicalities in relation to the later amendments that I put forward. I shall have to read extremely carefully what the Minister said about existing rights, because I am still not clear about the effect in relation to rollback. However, it seems from what he said that the Government appreciate that none of us wants to see existing rights diminished by the Bill. I am confident that we shall have constructive discussions to avoid that. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendments A281B to A282 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.12 pm.

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