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Lord Jopling: At times over the years one has heard the explanation which the Minister has just given us. He used the words, "This is standard practice", and said that there was therefore no need to put it on the face of the Bill. My view has always been: if it is standard practice, why not put it on the face of the Bill so that it is clear to everyone? I should have thought that in this particular case it would be good if within the Bill there was an extension of the powers to coastal land. It should be clear to everyone who contemplates it that all the procedures--particularly those in Amendment No. 151--are on the face of the Bill and are there so that everyone knows that they will be pursued.

I say that because for a time in the 1980s I had responsibility for coastal defences and coast protection. I can say only that continually at that time--I do not know what the situation is now--there was anxiety that if there was a North Sea surge, particularly down the east coast of the country, there could be massive flooding. That is, of course, why the Thames Barrier was built. In fact, it was built on my budget. I can remember travelling to the opening of the Thames Barrier (I digress a little and am name-dropping) with Her Majesty. She asked, "What are you doing here?". I replied, "Well, I paid for it, Ma'am". As I say, the Thames Barrier came under my budget.

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But there is still fear that there could be a break-through in many places along the east coast. Therefore, it is an extremely delicate business to open up a lot of those coastal areas to public access. It is not as easy as saying, "Oh, let's open it. Let's get on with it". There are all sorts of implications. The east coast of this country is extremely vulnerable. The Minister said that those matters are standard practice. If that is so, why can they not be on the face of the Bill so that everybody knows about it? I cannot think of a good reason why that should not be done.

The Earl of Caithness: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jopling for giving us the benefit of his vast experience. I was very disappointed by the Minister's response. I have used those words before. They mean absolutely nothing, with respect to the noble Lord. This is a Henry VIII clause. However, in my view, this amendment is far too important to seek a decision of the Committee at this stage of the morning.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on this matter. There are complications which my noble friend Lord Jopling has clearly enunciated to the Committee. For this Chamber or for Parliament not to have a constructive method by which alterations and amendments can be made is a travesty of our parliamentary procedures.

It is quite wrong for such important issues to come forward on a statutory instrument. We must return to this issue at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 149:

Page 3, line 11, leave out from beginning to ("any").

The noble Earl said: This is a simpler amendment. From what the Minister said on the last amendment and from his attitude, the answer will be, "No, we do not like it" but I shall press ahead with it in any event. This amendment seeks to remove an inconsistency from the Bill.

I do not agree that access should be granted to all land adjacent to the foreshore because that may include farmland, nature reserves and private gardens. In addition, land adjacent to the foreshore often includes estuarial areas where rivers feed into the sea and pine and other woodlands grow. Both river banks and woodlands have been excluded from the list of access land in the rest of the Bill but there should not be a tacit allowance for those to be included under the access through this clause.

If access to coastal land is allowed at all then the definition must be as precise and intelligible as possible. This amendment achieves that aim. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: Again, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness and wish to speak also to Amendment No. 150.

That amendment has a very similar aim to the amendment moved by my noble friend. The amendment seeks to reduce the uncertainty behind

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what land, if any, will be considered in a further extension to the statutory right of access. At present, the Bill specifies that coastal land means the foreshore and any land adjacent to the foreshore. That could include arable, semi-improved grassland, improved grassland, woodland etc. The definition as it stands is far too unconstrained and would include land which is currently excluded from the right of access.

The amendment would remove any reference to land adjacent to the foreshore other than land of the specific types mentioned, which are any cliff face, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat which is adjacent to the foreshore.

We also question in principle the desirability of establishing any rights of access to coastal land, which varies in nature from high cliffs to estuary margins to sea walls, and the interests associated with it, such as agriculture on adjacent land, wildfowling, flood and coastal defences and not least the environment. Vast areas are designated as SSSIs or as special protection areas for birds or as candidate special areas of conservation. All raise many practical issues and must be protected.

Once again, public safety is also a concern, not only on cliffs and beaches, but also on estuaries and mudflats. It would be impracticable and unsightly to fence off such areas. The Government's advisers, English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency took different views on extending a right of access to coastal land.

Given those concerns, we are surprised that the Government have pushed ahead with proposals to extend access to coastal land. A voluntary approach should be preferred. The Countryside Council for Wales which, unlike the Countryside Agency, has responsibilities for biodiversity as well as recreation, advised the Government that it is:

    "of the view that a statutory right of public access to coastal areas is untenable and would compound the problems associated with the management of visitors and the conservation of sensitive eco-systems such as dunes and estuarine flats. The voluntary approach provides significant opportunities for improving recreational access, but ensures retention of management control".

English Nature also voiced reservations regarding access to the foreshore in its advice to the Government. It pointed out that:

    "a high proportion of the coastline and its associated maritime habitats and estuaries is designated as being of national or international importance for nature conservation. While many areas are generally resilient to access on foot, in localised situations there are extremely vulnerable populations of ground and cliff-nesting birds and habitats sensitive to erosion".

English Nature added:

    "Any provision to extend a general right of open access to other coastal habitats such as grazing marshes, saline lagoons and sand dunes, would need extensive management of sensitive areas and complex arrangements to close particular areas for specific reasons. Substantial resources would be required to ensure the positive intervention in sensitive areas, e.g. fencing of vulnerable habitats, dune stabilisation and path and visitor management".

I beg to move.

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2.45 a.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Two basic claims have been made for these two amendments: first, that the amendments would clarify the definition of coastal land made in Clause 3(3) and, secondly, that somehow making these amendments would protect the safety of people using access to coastal land. With some disappointment I say that neither of those two objectives are met by the amendments.

I shall not enter into the wider issues of the propriety of dealing with coastal land as set out in the Bill as my noble friend Lord Whitty has responded to that point and I have no doubt that he will have to do so again when the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, questions whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill. There appears to be some misunderstanding about the status of the order and of the definition of coastal land. Subsection (1) of Clause 3 says that,

    "The Secretary of State ... or the National Assembly for Wales ... may by order amend the definition of 'open country' ... so as to include a reference to coastal land or to coastal land of any description".

In other words, in subsection (3) we have provided a wide definition of coastal land to include the foreshore and land adjacent to the foreshore with more detailed specification of what kind of land should be included as land adjacent to the foreshore. However, we have also provided that when the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales come to propose an order of this kind, which will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament, they may include something less than the full definition of coastal land in subsection (3) if they think that appropriate.

I acknowledge, of course, that the coastline of this country is extremely varied; that there are areas which it would be quite undesirable to provide access to for reasons of nature conservation or safety. But on the south coast of Cornwall, if we go east from Polruan and follow the coastal path, which is a right of way, to Polperro, that path goes for a large part along the cliff top. It has agricultural land running right up to the coastal path, which is fenced on the inside. Sometimes it goes down and crosses the beach and the foreshore and does all sorts of different things on the way. The important point is that there is access for the whole of that journey.

It has been an ambition of many people in this country to increase access to our coastline so that we can walk around it. That would be a wonderful thing to do, and more wonderful in this country than in many other countries in the world. If we can achieve that, with consent, through the means provided in Clause 3 of this Bill, we will have achieved something enormously worth while for which future generations will thank us.

I turn to the exact wording of the definitions. Both amendments would restrict the definition of coastal land so that an order could not extend access to, for example, cliff tops. I know the example I gave was a public right of way, but there are parts of our coastline where there is no right of way and where access could be given to a substantial area of cliff top with due protection to agricultural land or other excluded land

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inland from it. But the amendments leave unclear to what extent coastal land includes land which is not immediately contiguous with the foreshore.

Various authorities have been quoted. But the Countryside Agency, in providing advice to the Government, took the view that coastal land can include open grass or scrub land adjoining the foreshore, such as the top of cliffs. We agree with the agency's advice. We believe that access along cliff tops is a vital element of any proposed increase in access to the coastline. It is obvious to anybody who goes to Beachy Head, Land's End or the Birling Gap--I am thinking of places that I have visited recently--that they are enormously popular with the public. If we were to rule out even the possibility of that access, which would be the effect of agreeing these amendments, there would be a public outcry and a real missed opportunity.

Of course we take the point about safety and wildlife protection. But on large parts of our coastline we provide the kind of access which is provided for under our definition of coastal land without major difficulty. The consultation process described by my noble friend Lord Whitty will enable those issues to be thrashed out in detail to ensure that the interests of access and other uses of coastal land can co-exist. It would not be right for the Bill to rule out any one aspect of coastal access until all the issues have been properly examined.

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