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Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Volume 709: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

Committee (10th Day) (Continued)

Amendment A272

Moved by

A272: Clause 286, page 174, line 12, leave out “, or during certain periods,” and insert “of the day”

Amendment A272 concerns ferries. Clause 286(7) states:

“For the purposes of the coastal access duty, a person is to be regarded as enabled to make a journey by ferry even if that journey can be made at certain times, or during certain periods, only”.

That refers back to the part which states that a long distance route is on foot unless it is by ferry. My amendment would change the words,

“at certain times, or during certain periods, only”,


“at certain times of the day only”.

In other words, it would refer only to gaps within a given day and not gaps for a series of days or an extended period.

This amendment is to probe what the Government think the position will be if the long distance route uses a ferry and there is a closure for several days or for extended periods, not because the ferry has broken down, but because that is the timetable. If the ferry does not run for three months in winter, what will happen and how will it be organised? I beg to move.

In one sense, this amendment probably anticipates a later group of amendments on estuaries where the role of ferries is important. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is using this as a probing amendment. Essentially, it is helpful to have some flexibility to use a ferry as part of a route, particularly in relation to estuaries. Natural England has the flexibility to propose the establishment of the route up estuaries to the first public foot crossing, either a bridge or a tunnel, if Natural England considers it suitable. However, it can decide not to run the long-distance route up the estuary and down the other side if the difficulties of taking the route around the estuary outweigh the benefits. That means there will be a break in continuity of the route in such cases.

In response to pre-legislative scrutiny, we have amended the provisions in the Bill so that Natural England will be able to extend the route to any point between the mouth of the estuary and the first public foot crossing. A suitable point at which to stop might be a ferry which the public can use to cross the estuary. We accept, by the wording of this Bill, that the ferry may not run on every day of the year or during the whole of the day. However, we are seeking flexibility and the existence of a ferry is one of the criteria in Clause 291(4) for Natural England to take into account when deciding the point between the mouth of the estuary and the first crossing point to which to propose and establish the route.

I accept the implication in the amendment. If ferry services are to be a part of the coastal pathway and they are not running, there is a gap. One has to accept that there may be some trade-offs. The ideal situation for the walker might be to have on every estuary a route that takes them to the first bridge or tunnel where they can cross on foot, but the difficulties of doing that may outweigh the benefits where the first crossing-point is a long way up the estuary. Over time, Natural England may be able to extend the route to the first crossing-point on foot, but that is a long-term aspiration. In the mean time it can be achieved by providing a route that goes as far as a seasonal ferry service. It is a way of crossing the estuary at an earlier point. However, I accept that if the service is provided only in the summer or at certain times of the day, it does not offer absolute flexibility for someone walking the coastal pathway.

It is for these reasons that the Bill is drafted in this way and why we would argue for the need for this kind of flexibility. In the end, a judgment will have to be made because Natural England could stop the pathway at the point where the estuary begins. In view of the special circumstances of estuaries, we think it better to have the maximum flexibility.

As the Minister said, we are getting on to estuaries, but I would rather leave the detail and the probing questions I have until we reach them in the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to find out what kind of gap in service is acceptable before a coastal pathway becomes a seasonal long-distance route, which is a new concept altogether. If a ferry service runs only in the summer, it cannot become part of a long-distance route. It might be an optional way of getting across for people on the long-distance route, but it is not a satisfactory position. I suspect that the Minister has nothing further to say.

I always try my best to respond to the noble Lord. I am not going to say what I think is acceptable in terms of the periodic nature of a ferry service because it is very much for Natural England to come to a conclusion about. However, it would not be impossible for a summer ferry service to be used as part of a coastal access route. It is an amenity and enables people to cross the estuary. If the service is not available during the winter, clearly the pathway will have to stop at the ferry point. I do not think that that is a disadvantage, and if it helps to promote the use of a ferry service, perhaps that would make its operation more viable and thus able to offer a more frequent service.

All I would argue for at this point is for Natural England to be able to use ferries on coastal access paths, but at the same time we accept that it would be very difficult to guarantee in all cases that the ferry service would operate throughout the year.

Can I put a further question to the Minister? Does he think that the provisions in the 1949 Act that, as amended, would allow Natural England to run ferry services will ever be used as part of this? Is it anticipated that new ferry services will be set up as part of creating long-distance routes? That is clearly what the legislation says is possible.

That is a very interesting suggestion. I am not sure that Natural England has it in mind to run ferries, although when the Environment Agency took over Thames Conservancy, it acquired a number of boats that used to chug up and down the river. I can see what the noble Lord is getting at. What I would have thought is that Natural England and its allies and partners in the local authorities would want to take advantage of the coastal access provisions in order to encourage greater access by public transport. We have been thinking mainly about bus services, but if the provisions of this Bill lead to local authorities thinking carefully about ferry provisions and if that leads them to talk to local businesses and to encourage the provision of more ferry journeys, surely that is a wholly positive outcome and shows why we think that these coastal access provisions could have a positive impact on local amenities and businesses.

I have looked at Section 53 of the 1949 Act and I think that it is the Highways Authority that has the right to set up the ferry, not Natural England. But I shall have to look at it more closely.

That is very good news. I am sure local authorities will be only too willing to consider whether they should do that.

I was simply wondering whether what I had read in the legislation was possible and would happen. But that is enough discussion on ferries for the moment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A272 withdrawn.

Amendment A273 not moved.

Amendment A274

Moved by

A274: Clause 286, page 174, line 28, leave out sub-paragraph (ii)

The purpose of this amendment and Amendment A275, with which it is grouped, is to probe the meaning of “the relevant functions” of Natural England and the Secretary of State as they are set out in Clause 286(8). The Bill states that National England and the Secretary of State must exercise “the relevant functions” in order to achieve the two objectives of the coastal path and the coastal margin land. “Relevant functions” is defined, both in relation to Natural England and the Secretary of State, as being functions under the 1949 Act, the CROW Act and the Bill. It then states in relation to Natural England,

“such of its other functions as it considers it appropriate to exercise for the purpose of securing the objectives in subsections (2) and (3)”,

which are the two objectives of the coastal route and the coastal margin land. There is then a similar paragraph which provides that the Secretary of State’s other functions can be used as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

I am trying to probe what “other functions” means. Does it mean other functions that are specifically reserved to Natural England or the Secretary of State in legislation, or does it mean any legislation that the Secretary of State, in particular, might like to invoke on behalf of the Government? In what circumstances would the “other functions”, which are not set out here, be necessary? I am trying to probe what seems to be a wide power which may have unintended consequences. I beg to move.

Clause 286 places a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure two objectives. The first objective is that there is a long-distance route or routes for the whole of the English coast; the second is that there is associated with the route or routes a wider margin of recreational land available to the public on foot for employment in conjunction with that route.

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seek to remove the wording from subsections (8)(a)(ii) and (8)(b)(ii). This would mean that the only functions Natural England and the Secretary of State could exercise in relation to the coastal access duty would be those set out in Part 8 of the Bill, Part IV of the 1949 Act and Part 1 of the CROW Act. We wish to have paragraphs (a)(ii) and (b)(ii) of that subsection in place because we think it is sensible for Natural England and the Secretary of State to be able to exercise any of their other functions that they consider relevant for the purpose of considering the coastal access duty. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, invited me to give an example. In some situations they might wish to make agreements with landowners that will improve the public’s experience of the coastal margin through sympathetic management measures, and that relates to Natural England’s functions in other legislation. I can give an example of where the Secretary of State might wish to exercise functions: under Section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, to impose limitations on access to urban and metropolitan commons for reasons listed in that section. I hope that the noble Lord will understand that this is not an attempt to give either Natural England or the Secretary of State draconian powers to intervene in this area; it just makes it clear that where either the Secretary of State or Natural England have statutory functions and where it might help the coastal access duty, they can use them as well as the powers they are given in the legislation we are debating.

That sounds very sensible, and I shall read what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 274 withdrawn

Amendment 275 not moved.

Clause 286 agreed.

Clause 287 : General provision about the coastal access duty

Amendment 276 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment A277

Moved by

A277: Clause 287, page 174, line 42, leave out “safety and”

Amendment 277 is about the safety of the coastal route. We have discussed safety to some extent already and I do not want to say very much about it. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to get a statement from the Minister that, in relation to the coastal route as opposed to the coastal margin that we discussed previously, when it comes to safety, people will still be expected to look after themselves to a reasonable extent. While it is fairly clear to me that the provision of the coastal route has to have more regard to the safety of the people using it than of people going and doing whatever they are doing on the coastal margin when they should be responsible for themselves, people walking on routes such as this in the open countryside nevertheless have a considerable responsibility to look after themselves; they are not mollycoddled to the extent that the sense of freedom and adventure from walking along this route is nullified.

My other amendment in this group is Amendment A282, which is about the question of fair balance. I know that the Minister will put a great deal of emphasis on fair balance because he believes that it is being fair to all sides, but does he not accept that if this coastal route is going to be successful, there will be occasions—when the alignment, the amount of spreading room or whatever is being discussed and decided—where there will have to be a presumption in favour of the route existing but it is difficult to meet what the landowners and land users might think of as fair balance? It is not just a question of looking at the interests on both sides, throwing them up and seeing where they come down in the middle. There are going to be occasions when it will be necessary to push the projects through against what the landowners will think are their legitimate interests, and it will not be possible in all cases to meet what they think are their requirements. This route will be most successful if Natural England, when putting it together, can produce a great deal of consensus, involve everyone in the reports and proposals and come up with a generally agreed route locally. But sometimes that will not be possible and there will have to be a presumption in favour of the route against the objections. Is that the Government’s position, and, if not, how do they expect to get the route through? I beg to move.

I shall speak to my Amendment A281B, which is in this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for explaining his two amendments. As the majority of walkers—I hardly dare use the word “majority” after our conversation earlier—just want to walk and are not as adventurous as the noble Lord, safety is important to them. We can agree to disagree on his second amendment, though we will come back to it later.

My amendment would insert a new paragraph requiring Natural England and the Secretary of State to have regard to,

“the safety and security of those living or working on the land adjacent or proximate to the coastal route”.

As we discussed earlier, the route will in many places be remote and unguarded. It should not become a conduit for smuggling, theft or other illegal practices, which could put at risk those who work on the land in a particular area. If the Government find that people are using the access inappropriately, what laws will exist to move them on immediately? What will happen if Travellers set up camps on parts of the route, which is a possibility? I know that it will be said that some areas are far too narrow and remote, but others will be wider. It has been difficult for many farmers inland to move unwelcome visitors off their land, with some being violently threatened. Have the Government considered that with regard to the coastal route? I hope that it will not happen, but what if it does? Who will do what and what provision has been made?

I shall speak to my Amendments A281C and A281D. Like my noble friend, I am afraid that I do not agree with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in this group. On user safety, I have said previously that danger is relative, and some people are better equipped to evaluate it than others. I am not a nanny type, but the path should be accessible to all and not so dangerous that young people need to be accompanied or people unaccustomed to the rural lifestyle feel intimidated. As much as I am in favour of personal responsibility, the fact remains that the coastal route will be a designated, mapped and maintained path. Such a path carries with it an expectation that it is both safe and convenient, in just the same way as someone crossing a bridge on an open footpath expects it to be adequately maintained. I am faintly surprised by the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, because he seems to envisage the path as being a cross between Outward Bound and an arduous training course. Such things may well be perfectly satisfying for a certain type of person, but I see the path as a utility designed for the families of Britain. As such, it must be safe for them to use.

I have great sympathy for my noble friend’s Amendment A281B. For some people, having a large number of the public coming on to their land represents more than just an inconvenience. Certain people, such as members of the Royal Family or certain notorious public figures, already have to take extraordinary steps to guarantee their security. Driving access through their back garden, even if it is a little distance from their house, will represent a real risk. It will be a risk not just to people; some structures on private land are a valuable part of our heritage and are capable of being damaged if their proximity to the route encourages people to think they, too, are accessible. My noble friend’s amendment would enable Natural England to take these concerns into consideration. It is interesting that my noble friend mentions the problem of Travellers. On my farm at home, where a couple of bridleways cross, we have a couple of Travellers’ caravans parked; they have been there for the past six months and there is very little chance of doing much about it. These are the real problems of practical management of the countryside.

On subsection (3), my amendments suggest a couple of alternative ways of strengthening the duty to maintain a fair balance. I am of the opposite opinion to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves; where he would weaken it, I would strengthen it. The maintenance of a fair balance is the only principled and workable way forward. From what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has said, it seems he would be happy to see the fair balance overturned only in favour of greater access, which would be deeply unfair to landowners and goes against the basic right to property.

We will come, in time, to the important issue of appeals. I do not want to get into that debate here, but I remind the Minister that the establishment of a fair balance here would do much to reduce the number of representations and complaints later. I do not think that aiming to strike a fair balance is enough; that would imply that if they thought they were being fair, but were mistaken, the decision would stand. The establishment of a fair balance should be an absolute priority and assessed in an objective way.

One of the curiosities of being a Welshman debating this Bill is that the Bill is expressed almost entirely in terms of England and Natural England. Most but not all of my experience comes from Wales. When I was MP for Pembrokeshire, I had one of the longest stretches of coastal path in the whole of the United Kingdom running in a great semicircle around my constituency. Therefore, I know quite a lot about coast paths. For the first four years of my time as a Member of Parliament I lived in a house a few hundred yards back from the coast path and I and my children walked on it continually. Indeed, my children, who were very young at the time, used to suggest that perhaps we walked on it rather too often. I have only one thing on which I disagree with my noble friend on the Front Bench—that it should not be the sort of path that young people need to be accompanied on. I would want young people, or certainly children, to be accompanied on quite large stretches of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which can be steep, narrow and quite hazardous in places.

I entirely support the amendment that my noble friend Lady Byford proposed on safety. Again, I speak with some experience, having at one time even attempted to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, such was the problem of encampments of undesirable characters taking place on a large scale in my constituency. In the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park, we suffered from what are now called raves. There is a tendency nowadays, if there is access to an attractive part of the countryside that is reasonably remote, for it to act as a magnet to which people go and behave in a way that is often very undesirable. That is a very serious point.

My main point in intervening is to express my incredulity at the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who suggested that the word “safety” should be removed. I do not want to mollycoddle people; I agree that they have to be responsible on coast paths. But the fact is that anybody with responsibility for deciding where a path should be and how it should be maintained must have regard to safety. Coast paths get eroded, for example, and the actual path may have to be altered. The cliff face may become friable or there may be massive erosion. That is surely an issue that must be taken into account in the management of a coast path. Safety is a consideration that the authorities should take account of, but not to mollycoddle or create the park-like ambience suggested by my noble friend on the Front Bench in which everyone can amble along the path as if they were out in Battersea Park on a Sunday afternoon.

Large stretches of some of the most beautiful coast paths in the country are not a bit like that. They need a little care and attention. People will not only find themselves on a narrow, steep, rocky, often slippery path, but they will be tempted—and there is no reason why they should not—to climb down at times over the grassy slopes and rocks to points just above the sea. I am only saying that the authorities should have safety in mind. I would be entirely opposed to the removal of the word “safety” from the Bill. I entirely support everything except on the point about accompanying children or young people that my noble friend made. I strongly support everything else that was said. Let us get the balance right.

I hope that the Minister can add some flesh to the phrase,

“have regard to the safety”

and give the Committee some feeling about what steps should be taken to ensure safety. There is something between allowing a coastal path where great ravines have to be leapt or which is three inches wide along a sheer cliff face and Battersea Park. I am the sort of person who would like Battersea Park to be without the people and along the coast.

Would this provision be met by having the sort of notice that deterred me when I saw it last summer in Scotland? There was a warning sign that said, “Walkers should wear proper footwear”. As that was a tourist area, I dare say that they had had problems with people wearing flip-flops. It sent me back to find somewhere to sit and look at the sea instead of walking along it. There are a lot of degrees of this, and it would be helpful to understand it a little better.

At the risk of boring the Committee, I was fascinated by the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that you should set up a situation in which you do away with safety. The problem that I was alluding to earlier about golf is that the people who are liable to be charged with safety are the golfers. It may be that the walkers would love to walk along the path without any regard to safety, but you are working in a four-dimensional world—there is length, breadth, height and time. The question then becomes “Who has the priority on the time dimension: the walker or the golfer?”. If there is play in progress, the only remedy is to have a path around the golf course.

I am grateful to noble Lords, but of course the Secretary of State and Natural England must have regard to safety. I can just see the headlines: “New Liberal Government Opens Coastal Path—4,000 Deaths in the First Year”, and no one is blameworthy because it was never suggested that safety was a consideration. Of course it is, and sensible footwear is probably a good thing for most coastal paths. We have to trust the good sense of people, but we are under an obligation. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord about families, but if we are going to make a path available for families we must have some regard to safety. That is axiomatic.

The Bill says that the Secretary of State and Natural England must have regard to,

“the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route”,

the desirability of the route being close to and providing views of the sea—otherwise, why define it as “coastal”?—and interruptions to the route being kept to a minimum as far as is reasonably practicable. I will take the noble Lord, Lord Greaves with me on that, as it is his intent, too. We want the route to cover as much of the coast as we can; that is the ambition behind its concept. However, Natural England and the Secretary of State must also aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having right of access over land, which, alone, makes the coastal path possible, and the interest of any person with a relevant interest in the land, which is bound to include their safety. It is bound to include the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the landowners have real interests that must be taken into account. The Bill presumes that a balance must be struck as regards that particular piece of land, not that the interests of the relevant person should be set against the interests of the public on the route and coastal access as a whole. We must get a balance between the two contributors to the coastal route: the landowner, who will be making concessions, provision and acceptance, and those who use the route to ensure that, as far as they are concerned, their interests do not trample over the landowner’s.

Natural England’s main obligation is to propose a route. It must strike a fair balance in doing so, and the route must go somewhere; otherwise, it is not a route. Natural England and the Secretary of State must ensure that the interests of those who would use the route are met. It must be as close to the sea as possible, it must be safe and, as far as is possible, it must be continuous. However, they are also under a duty to consider the interests of the landowner and their land. It will therefore be a question of balance. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, used the phrase: the correct balance has to be struck. I could not agree more. I would not be defending this legislation if I thought that it did not recognise that a balance must be struck.

We intend that Natural England and the Secretary of State should do everything reasonably practical to achieve a fair balance. Requiring that they aim to strike a fair balance is already a strong inducement for them to do so; they could be judicially reviewed if they did not. We hope and confidently expect that, in most cases, consensus will be achieved between the competing interests.

We do not need additional phrases in the Bill, like “best endeavours”, as in Amendment A281C. That puts a heavier duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to strike a fair balance rather than just aiming to do so. However, the Bill is clear: a balance must be struck. We cannot see how the coastal path can come to fruition without these being the objectives of these two bodies. It is therefore unnecessary to amend the legislation.

On the one hand, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, are suggesting a heavier duty. On the other, the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tyler, would, through Amendment A282, amend subsection (3) so that the Secretary of State and Natural England would only,

“have regard to … the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land”,

which would put a lighter duty on them. I have the Conservative Benches trying to be more emphatic and the Liberal Benches suggesting a lighter touch, so I am in that happy position of thinking that the Government have got it about right. That is why I shall not concede to the amendments, although I assume that in any case they merely seek, at this stage, to press us about our intentions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, introduced the question of,

“the safety and security of those living or working on the land adjacent or proximate to the coastal route”.

How could the balance be fair if the interests of their safety and security were not observed? It would not be fair at all; it would be a distorted position. People who might use the paths not just for anti-social but for criminal behaviour, as she contended, are subject to the law of the land like anyone else. Nothing about this coastal route gives anybody inviolability concerning their practices. I understand what she says: in certain remote areas of the country, malpractice may occur and advantage could be taken, but that is the case at present, whether we have a coastal path or not. The more remote one is from law and order, no doubt, the greater the likelihood that something might go astray, although the majority of the time that the House spends discussing law and order is spent talking about heavily populated areas and the inner city, rather than the coastal fringes of England where this coastal path will go. We should not entertain too many anxieties about the path being used lawlessly or any more lawlessly than what happens without it in the sea’s vicinity in remote areas of the United Kingdom.

We have insisted that the Bill should have a balance between users and those who own or occupy coastal land. That balance lies at the very heart of the proposals and is quite explicit. If I thought that there was any possibility of amending the Bill in one direction or the other to command greater consensus, I have only to listen to the completely divergent, opposing claims from various parts of the Committee to see that the Government’s case rests.

I was grateful when the Minister referred to Amendment A281B, which clearly referred to those,

“living or working on the land”.

However, I did not want people to think that we were there just for the landowner. The people who work the land are not necessarily the landowners. They could be tenant farmers or anybody, and clearly their safety is imperative.

As for people camping where they should not, clearly that will not be possible on the narrowest bits. However, with the route that the Government are envisaging, there will be more, broader honey-pot areas that perhaps were not originally open—they may not be open for access now—but could well attract people to camp on them. As my noble friend said, around us, in the Midlands, we have certainly experienced it being nearly impossible to move people off. Have the Government thought enough about that, and how quickly one can put it into action? Do they need additional support to make sure that, should such encampments happen, they will be able to move them off?

I hope that the noble Baroness appreciates that we are talking about coastal paths, not coastal highways. I do not have a romantic notion of Gypsy caravans being hauled up and down the coastal path and parking where they wish. That will certainly not be possible if the caravans are drawn by cars or trucks. Hikers with gear on their backs camping where they should not is a different matter, but I think that the noble Baroness is more concerned about those to whom her noble friend Lord Taylor referred—namely those who occupy land and park caravans when they have no right to be. However, that will not apply to coastal paths.

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.

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.

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 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

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”

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,

“requirement that wherever reasonably practicable that route must adhere”

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,

“interruptions to that route are kept to a minimum”.

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,

“requirement that where it is not practicable for that route to adhere to the periphery of the coast, it should take a route as close to the sea as reasonably practicable”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Amendment A281A

Moved by

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

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

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 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,

“the preservation of all existing rights of access to the foreshore”.

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.

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,

“any other way shown on a definitive map that falls within that route”,

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,

“any other way shown on a definitive map that”,

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.

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,

“coastal margin land which is foreshore”,


“a dog or a horse”.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

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 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?

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,

“appropriate parts of the route at appropriate times”?

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 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.