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Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Jones of Cheltenham, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Jordan, L.
Judd, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kilclooney, L.
Kingsmill, B.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Laming, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Listowel, E.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.

1 Jun 2009 : Column 16

Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Malloch-Brown, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mawson, L.
Mitchell, L.
Moonie, L.
Morgan, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morgan of Huyton, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Murphy, B.
Myners, L.
Neuberger, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Palmer, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Paul, L.
Pendry, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prosser, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rooker, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sewel, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Slim, V.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Soley, L.
Stern, B.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Tanlaw, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Tenby, V.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Thornton, B.
Tonge, B.
Tordoff, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Vallance of Tummel, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walton of Detchant, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
West of Spithead, L.
Whitaker, B.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
3.38 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the next amendment on the Marshalled List, Amendment 124EZB, contains a printing error. It is to line 1 on page 175, not page 174. I shall therefore call it after Amendment 124F. I now call Amendment 124EA.

Amendment 124EA

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

124EA: Clause 286, page 174, line 12, at end insert—

“(7A) Natural England and the Secretary of State must endeavour to achieve the objectives of the coastal access duty within ten years of the commencement of this Part.”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before I speak to the amendment, this is an appropriate point at which to pass on the thanks of my noble friend Lord Greaves, who has sent this message to me through the wonders of modern technology. I received it after we had started this afternoon’s sitting. Courtesy should have suggested it to me without the prompt, but my noble friend particularly wants to thank the Ministers and the Bill team, on behalf of Members on these Benches, for, as he says, the huge amount of time and effort taken in briefings, discussions, understanding and negotiations on Part 9, and the huge amount of material that they and Natural England have been able to produce while the Bill is still in the Lords. In the message, he ended that sentence with a question mark: I am not sure whether he intended to add any particular implication—I think not.

Amendment 124EA, which essentially amounts to “let’s get on with it and do it within 10 years”, was debated in Committee. I understand that the Government

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and Natural England say that this is their aim. My noble friend retabled the amendment for the obvious reason that it is not party political in current terms. Frequently, when there is a reference to the Secretary of State taking a view or making regulations, one has to think about the situation were there to be a different Secretary of State. We would be concerned should there be a Secretary of State who was not so enthusiastic about the provisions of Part 9.

In Committee, the Minister said that he was,

which is encompassed in this amendment. He added:

“However, we are a little reluctant to put it in the Bill”.

The reluctance was that Natural England should,

the arrangements and the approach that it should take. He continued:

“I hope he will accept that Governments always resist timetables, and we will resist this one. I do not want him to think that by doing so we are not committed to the work being undertaken within that period. I hope I have convinced him that, like your Lordships, the Government believe that we should embark on this duty with enthusiasm”.—[Official Report, 30/3/09; col. 887-88.]

However, we would be much more convinced if the Bill said so. Of course, we do not doubt the Government’s intentions, but there may be a Government who are less enthusiastic about this part of the Bill. I believe that we are not asking for something unreasonable. Ten years is a long period. I accept that it is a big job, but we are not asking for something to be accomplished overnight. This seems to be a reasonable amendment and everyone accepts its intention. I beg to move.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I am sure that all noble Lords look forward to the completion of the route. The letter that the Minister sent out last week on this matter was particularly helpful and I hope that Natural England finds it possible to meet its expected timetable of 10 years. Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister will confirm that stretches of the route will be opened as soon as their designation is possible.

3.45 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken and I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is not with us today. No doubt, by the time I have sat down, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will have received a message from him saying how much he appreciates this sentiment from this quarter. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Hunt emphasised the importance that the Government attach to fulfilling their coastal access duty and to seeing that the coastal route is created within 10 years. Natural England has estimated that development and implementation of the coastal access corridor will take that length of time. This implementation period is based on the experience of Natural England and its predecessors in delivering public access provision. Natural England is already involved in preparatory work so that when the Bill obtains Royal Assent it will be able to move forward without undue delay.

Natural England has published a draft of the scheme and has been working with local authorities to carry out an audit of existing access provision along the

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coastline. Field testing is being carried out in Cumbria to test how to carry out the first stage of implementation covering the collection and analysis of relevant information about that stretch of the coast. In Dorset and Northumberland, testing is taking place with National Trust tenants on how to undertake the second stage of implementation, which will include discussing with owners and managers of the land possible options for the coastal route. In the Humber estuary, testing is being conducted in liaison with the Environment Agency on the practical applications of its proposed work on estuaries. Further, testing is being carried out at three of Natural England’s national nature reserves on practical issues on the use of its data capture processes, including issues such as managing wildlife sensitivities, visitor safety management, site interpretation and managing access across land ownership boundaries. Natural England is of course fully committed to this project and is working to make it a reality within 10 years. The illustrations I have given indicate the seriousness with which early preparations are being made.

We are in line with the principle behind the amendment and the timetable it sets out, but we do not support it. While we understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, the Bill does not set a timetable for implementation of the coastal access duty for very good reasons. The implementation timetable must be flexible to match progress and allow time to be taken where it is required in order to find the best and most appropriate solution. This is a major and expensive project for Natural England, which has budgeted £50 million for it over the coming 10 years. That is a not inconsiderable sum and one which, after careful budgeting and review, we think is adequate to carry out this important project. But if we were tied by the Bill to a timetable of 10 years, there would be pressure to throw even more resources at the project while probably not making the best and most prudent use of the funding available. That is not something we want to see occur.

For these reasons, we do not think it appropriate for a time limit to be set in legislation. We will monitor the progress of implementation, and in line with the recommendation of the EFRA committee we have given an undertaking that Natural England will report on its progress to Parliament, thus giving an opportunity for noble Lords and Members of the other place to monitor progress. I hope I have outlined our clear intention to deliver this important and quite costly project over a 10-year period, but I want to emphasise the real danger of putting a timetable into the legislation. It would introduce inflexibility into such an important project. However, I also emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that once the full process of representation and consultation is completed, we will want to see stretches of coastline being opened up as soon as possible. The Secretary of State would make a determination on the report and once the right of access can commence, implementation works when completed will guarantee progress.

Noble Lords will recall that a great deal of our coast is already accessible and therefore we are in a sense completing a jigsaw for which several substantial pieces are already in place. Enabling Natural England to approach this in a piecemeal way by giving effect to decisions which can be readily arrived at is the way to

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do it; it will maximise access as soon as possible along as much of the coast as possible. We entirely subscribe to the viewpoint expressed by the noble Lord in his contribution but we are against putting in the Bill the 10-year timetable, which has an arbitrary dimension to it. I hope the noble Baroness will recognise the Government’s serious intent to deliver as soon as possible and that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I recognise the serious intent and the size of the budget; I hope that the budget survives at that scale. The amendment was not intended to tie the Government in quite the way described by the noble Lord. The wording is:

“Natural England and the Secretary of State must endeavour to achieve the objectives”.

However, it would not do our cause on this issue any good to be defeated on the amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 124EA withdrawn.

Clause 287 : General provision about the coastal access duty

Amendment 124F

Moved by Baroness Mallalieu

124F: Clause 287, page 174, line 46, at end insert “, and

(d) the presentation of all existing rights of access to the foreshore.”

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, the amendment is grouped with three others in my name and two government amendments. I propose to speak, quite briefly, to all of them.

I should first correct what appears to be a typing error that has crept into Amendment 124F from the previous occasion when it was tabled in Committee. It should read not,

but “the preservation” of all existing rights. I hope that it now makes more sense.

I thank those noble Lords who at the Committee stage gave support and encouragement to the amendment, the purpose of which is simply to place on the face of the Bill the fact that nothing that we are doing in it removes any existing rights of access to others. The concern that was expressed in Committee came particularly, but not exclusively, from cyclists and people who ride on the existing bridleways and on the foreshore. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt for the discussions with him and his officials, which have been extremely helpful. For my part, I am content that government Amendment 124T, which is grouped with this one, meets the bill as it places clearly in the Bill the requirement that I was hoping to see. In due course I shall take a step that will mean that the typing error does not matter.

The second, separate, issue, which arises in Amendments 124G to 124J, has been slightly less productive of a compromise. Your Lordships may remember that this matter was raised in Committee; it

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relates to the rollback of paths when either there is erosion and the existing path goes or there has for some reason to be a diversion. The rollback under this provision will be a rollback of the footpath but not of the bridleway. So, in effect, whether it is erosion or a diversion, the end result is the loss of a section of bridleway—a loss of access rather than a gain.

I am told—no doubt the Minister will explain the reasons—that it is not the Government’s intention to amend the Highways Act in this legislation. That is the reason why they say that it is not possible to do what the amendments seek to do. I appreciate that there are additional difficulties and, although I am sad about it, I accept the Government’s decision that we should not amend that Act in this Bill. Therefore, I shall not in due course press the amendments.

However, I feel it right to say that this is the second piece of major, time-consuming legislation relating to access that has come before this House in the past 10 years. We have, effectively, not increased access for cyclists and riders on our network in those two pieces of legislation. There has been powerful lobbying from those who walk—of course, there are many more of them—but we should not lose sight of the fact that our roads are increasingly dangerous, particularly for equestrians. There are increasing numbers of accidents and more traffic altogether. Not only is it in everyone’s interests with regard to safety to try to get riders and cross-country cyclists off the roads and on to paths, but in many cases that also provides a real increase in income due to tourism. I am sad that it has not been possible in either piece of legislation to provide a full, comprehensive, modern network of paths on which people can ride and cycle in safety.

I hope that the Minister will give us some encouragement that the Government, even if they are not going to deal with it in the Bill, will look at this issue in other ways. I am told by the national park authority where I live part of the time, down on Exmoor, that with a small amount of money it would be possible to increase considerably the number of bridle paths and with that, no doubt, the number of people coming to stay and ride over the moor. I hope that there will be ways in which something of that sort can be done. I beg to move.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I think that we are all pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has a more propitious slot for her amendment; it was after 10 pm the last time we discussed this topic. I am pleased that the Government have found it possible to address her concerns about the loss of current rights of access. Like her, we support the Minister’s amendments in this group.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for bringing her amendments back. I apologise that I was not able to put my name to them—I did not think that I would be here in time—but I am gratified that the Government are moving Amendment 124T, which will help in some small way. I accept that within this current legislation it is not possible for the Government to accept the thrust behind Amendments 124G to 124J, but can the Minister give us any indication of when that might happen?

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That might help people who have been carefully following these discussions. I am not a horse rider any longer but I have been. The noble Baroness is right to underline the difficulties that there are for people riding horses on roads—there are too many accidents—and it will be a shame if the Bill curtails some of the access that they would otherwise have had. I support her amendments.

4 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for tabling these amendments and for the discussions that I have had with her since Committee. I am grateful for the welcome that she has given to the Government’s amendments. I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Davies said in Committee: we want to encourage people to enjoy the countryside and we see this as providing access to the countryside for horses and riders. However, I understand the concerns that are being expressed, by horse riders in particular, that new rights of access for walkers could be detrimental to their existing rights. That is why I am bringing forward the government amendments.

I shall deal with the other amendments in my noble friend’s group, Amendments 124G, 124H and 124J. They would require Natural England to provide for the route to be treated as a public right of way where Natural England proposes that the route should be determined, in accordance with the proposals, where the coast is subject to erosion. The provisions in the Bill have been designed to be flexible so that, where a coastline is eroding due to encroachment by the sea, Natural England may describe the route by distance from a cliff or field edge, for example, so that the route would move inland as the cliff eroded and continuity would be maintained. This is described as “rollback”, which we discussed in Committee.

The coastal route may follow a right of way where it is appropriate to do so. Where this is the case, the right of access along the route is the right of access that pertains to the right of way. If it is a bridleway, the existing rights of horse riders and cyclists will not be affected. However, the provisions in the Bill that enable a route to roll back do not enable a right of way to roll back with it. I have discussed this point with my noble friend. The Bill does not affect legislation pertaining to rights of way; as my noble friend said, that is beyond its scope. The right of access on the route after it has rolled back will be the right of access that generally applies on the coastal margin—that is, the right of access provided by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

We have considered my noble friend’s concern that there should be absolute clarity that existing rights are not affected by any new right. That is why I am tabling Amendments 124T and 126AA. Amendment 124T extends Section 20 of the CROW Act, which deals with a code of conduct and other steps that Natural England must take to inform the public and persons interested in access land of the extent of, and means of access to, access land, and of the respective rights and obligations in relation to that land. Natural England will be required to ensure that, in relation to land on the coastal margin, the public are informed that the legal position is that the right of access conferred by

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the CROW Act does not affect any other right of access that may exist in relation to that land. It also makes it clear that a separate code of conduct may be drawn up for coastal land.

In view of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, we spoke to the national parks authorities to ensure that they understand the legal position and we have received assurances from them that they will work with the horse-riding community to facilitate access. My noble friend was particularly encouraging when she talked about the discussions with her local national park. We need to build on that to ensure that national parks authorities understand the law and that the passing of the Act is not seen as inhibiting people from riding horses where it is appropriate for them to do so.

I know that there has been disappointment that, when rollback takes place, it will not be possible to roll back a right of way. Rights of way legislation is highly complex. It involves the obligation for a highways authority to keep a record of all public rights of way on a definitive map. Changes to the map must be made by order, involving a long process of advertising and public inquiries. Compensation may be paid to landowners for losses as a result of the imposition of a public right of way.

Our view, on which I have been strongly advised, is that highway legislation does not lend itself to the concept of rollback. When a right of way is lost through erosion, it can be revived only by creating a new one. That is the problem that we face. It is for that reason that I am disappointing my noble friend. However, I hope that I can give sufficient assurance to her and to the House—and I am satisfied from the discussions that my officials have had with Natural England that it shares this view—that we see horses and horse riders, where appropriate, as contributing to the environmental gains brought about by the coastal access path. Although I have disappointed my noble friend on her second group of amendments, I hope at least that she will feel that the Government are sympathetic to her general aims.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I do feel that. I am grateful to the Minister for the trouble that he has taken personally over these issues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 124F withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Geddes): My Lords, we now return to Amendment 124EZB, which is to line 1 of page 175 of the Bill and not to page 174 as printed on the Marshalled List.

Amendment 124EZB

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

124EZB: Clause 286, page 174, line 1, at beginning insert “so far as is reasonably practicable without compromising the objectives of the coastal access duty,”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I apologise for the error in the reference; I am not quite sure how that came about. We may all be familiar with the concept of a fair balance generally, but I do not know that it has been used as a term in legislation before. There is

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real concern, notably on the part of the Ramblers’ Association and the British Mountaineering Council, that “a fair balance” might mean splitting the difference. There will always be a reason for landowners to appeal proposals—I shall return to that in a moment.

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