HC Deb 30 July 1956 vol 557 cc1020-6

Lords Amendment: In page 10, line 33, at end insert: A.—(1) No person shall promote or take part in a trial of any description between motor vehicles on a footpath or bridleway unless the holding of the trial has been authorised under this section by the local authority. (2) A local authority shall not give an authorisation under this section unless satisfied that consent in writing to the use of any length of footpath or bridleway for the purposes of the trial has been given by the owner and by the occupier of the land over which that length of footpath or bridleway runs, and any such authorisation may be given subject to compliance with such conditions as the authority think fit. (3) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) of this section, or fails to comply with any conditions subject to which an authorisation under this section has been granted, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds. (4) No statutory provision prohibiting or restricting the use of footpaths or bridleways, or any specified footpath or bridleway, shall affect the holding of any trial authorised under this section; but this section shall not prejudice any right or remedy of a person as having an interest in any land. (5) In this section the expression 'local authority' means the council of a county or county borough, or in Scotland a county council or town council: Provided that in relation to a footpath or bridleway in England or Wales for which the council of a borough, not being a county borough, or of an urban district is the highway authority, the said expression means that council.

Mr. Molson

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The new Clause is the revised version of a similar Clause moved by the Government but withdrawn during the Committee stage in another place. The first Government Clause was moved as a result of the undertaking given to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) during the debate on a Clause moved by the right hon. Gentleman during the Report stage. The present version of the Clause was agreed after discussion before the Report stage in another place with the right hon. Gentleman, my noble Friend Lord Conesford and the local authorities associations.

The purpose is to control the use of footpaths and bridleways for motor vehicle trials. It is not the Government's intention to prohibit such trials. We believe that in many ways it is better for them to be conducted in country districts rather than that something of the same kind should be conducted in places less appropriate and where the danger would be greater. Because we do not wish to prohibit them entirely, we have been unable entirely to satisfy some of the amenity societies which take the view that footpaths and bridlepaths are intended for pedestrians and horsemen only and that it is wrong for any motor vehicles to be allowed upon them. The local authorities support the Government in the view that that is going too far. Therefore, I hope that the compromise which has been reached will prove acceptable to this House, as it did to another place.

The form of control which is provided for is as follows. First, it will be an offence, punishable with a fine up to £50, to promote or take part in a trial of any description between motor vehicles on a footpath or bridleway unless the trial has been authorised by the local authority, which for this purpose will be the appropriate highway authority, where the footpath or bridleway is in England and Wales, and in other cases the county or county borough council, or in Scotland the county or town council.

Secondly, before giving authorisation, the local authority will have to be satisfied that both the owner and the occupier of the land over which the footpath or bridleway runs have given their consent in writing to the holding of the trial.

Thirdly, the authorisation may be given subject to such conditions as the local authority thinks fit.

That is the best compromise that we have been able to reach. I hope it will be regarded as reasonably reconciling the interests of those hikers who do not wish to be unduly troubled by motor vehicles when they are walking on footpaths and bridlepaths and at the same time will not entirely exclude motor cyclists from using them in suitable circumstances.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

We must welcome the Amendment even though, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has explained, it does not go quite as far as many amenity societies have suggested. Nevertheless, it constitutes a very real improvement on the position as it has been until now. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that this matter was raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) as well on Report by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). There were several discussions about it before this version of the Clause was finally reached.

Some problems still remain. I hope that it will be possible to suggest to local authorities that when they consider applications of this sort they will keep clearly in mind the desirability of doing all they can to avoid major offence to walkers and ordinary users of these paths and tracks on our moors and elsewhere. As has been proved in recent months, in some areas it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a place where people can get any sort of peace and quiet and avoid the smell and noise and, to some extent, the physical danger which motor cycle trials present.

I hope that local authorities will pay attention to the actual destruction of land which takes place when trials are held too frequently in a particular area. I very much hope that not only those authorities whom we know to be interested in the matter, but all local authorities will give careful consideration to this subject. I happen to be President of the Ramblers' Association, and I have been asked by some of the amenity bodies to ask what the legal position would be about damages and so on if a walker were injured on one of the paths by anybody taking part in a trial. I assume that the position would be the same as on a normal highway. It would be very valuable, after the Bill is passed, when the Ministry is sending out general advice and guidance to local authorities—as no doubt it may—if it took the opportunity of bringing this Clause to the attention of local authorities and bore in mind my remarks.

8.30 p.m.

Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)

I should like to add a word of thanks to the Minister for this welcome new Clause. In Committee upstairs I moved a Clause rather on these lines. Although, if I remember rightly, it was somewhat more modest, at that time the Minister could not see his way to accepting it. We are grateful to him for the great attention and consideration which he has shown in the many consultations on this subject. The Clause goes as far as our original intentions and in one respect, goes further. Our original proposition was that, in addition to the consent of the local authority, there must also be the consent of either the owner or the occupier, whereas under the new Clause there must be the consent of not only local authority, but the owner and the occupier. That may present difficulties in practice, but no doubt that has been carefully considered.

I presented my Clause at the instance of the County Councils' Association, which will no doubt feel that the Minister has done a great deal to meet it and the wishes of those who want to enjoy the quiet of the countryside and those who want to engage in an exciting and valuable sport. I am very glad that the Minister has made it clear that for the purposes of the Clause the definition of local authorities includes the county councils themselves who in many parts of the country are likely to be considerably interested.

Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) referred to people being injured on one of these paths. What is the position of someone who is injured on one of these paths after a trial has taken place and when the surface of the path has been cut up and left in a bad state and by reason of which that person slips or twists an ankle or falls or is otherwise injured? Who will be responsible for compensation? If such an accident occurs on a highway because a local authority neglects to keep its paving in good order, the local authority is responsible.

Mr. Molson


Mr. Isaacs

Do we get non-feasance in this case? I am not sufficiently informed on these legal matters to know what happens if a rambler on a bridle path which has been used for motor cycling is injured because of the state of the path after the motor cycling. Will such a person be deprived of compensation because of one of the Latin phrases which lawyers are so fond of using?

My second question is more technical. In subsection (4) it states: No statutory provision prohibiting or restricting (be use of footpaths or bridleways, or any specified footpath or bridleway, shall affect the holding of any trial…. Does that mean that if there is a statutory provision on a certain piece of land which prohibits it from being used except for the purpose of riding or walking, the local authority, the owner and the occupier can deprive the public of their statutory right of access over that place simply by making this provision? I agree it is right that there should be opportunities for competitions of this kind, but I wish to know what the statutory provision means and what right of compensation exists for a person who may be injured in any way.

Mr. Page

A very important point was raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) regarding insurance. Motor cycles may be taken on to these footpaths and bridleways without any necessity for third party insurance, as the footpath or bridleway would not be part of the public highway. I hope that when a local authority gives permission for these trials, it will make it a condition that a cyclist engaged in the trials has a third party insurance.

In this new Clause, the word "footpath" is used. As I understand it, the intention of the Clause will apply only to country footpaths and bridleways. If a local authority gives permission for a trial on one of these country paths, the statutory provisions relating to the use of that path are waived. But the word "footpath" surely includes a footpath which is part of the highway. In fact, there is another proposed new Clause in which it states: In this section the expression 'public highway' does not include a footpath or bridleway. That would seem to imply that "footpath" includes that part of the highway which we usually call the pavement. In the Interpretation Clause it states: 'footpath' means a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only. It does not include that path which is part of the public highway. It seems that if permission is given under the Clause we are now discussing, these motorcycle trials could be carried out on the ordinary pavements of the public highway and that raises serious difficulties. I should protest strongly at any local council giving authority for trials to be carried out on that area of the public highway which is now reserved for pedestrians.

Mr. Molson

With the permission of the House, I will try to answer the questions which have been put to me.

The right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) expressed the view that if a highway authority allowed the road or pavement to fall into disrepair and someone injured himself the authority would be liable. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. That is the doctrine of nonfeasance. Because a highway authority neglects to keep a highway in repair, it does not become liable for any injury sustained as a result of the bad state of the highway. It would be otherwise if the authority had put something there, such as a manhole or something of that kind and the collapse of the manhole cover had caused the injury.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

That is mis-feasance.

Mr. Molson

As the hon. and learned Member reminds me, that is mis-feasance as opposed to non-feasance. Broadly speaking, that covers the first point raised by the right hon. Member for Southwark.

Secondly, he asked exactly what was meant by saying that it would override a statutory provision. That is intended to deal with a case where a local authority has put up a notice saying, "Cycling Prohibited." If a special permission were given for cycling upon a certain day and subject to certain conditions, that permission would override the general prohibition. As regards insurance, I have no doubt that it would be possible for a local authority to make it a condition that motorcycles should all be insured. In general, I hardly see how motorcycles could get to these places without travelling along the highway.

Mr. Page

They are often taken there by lorry.

Mr. Molson

I see.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said that if anyone rode a bicycle upon a footpath abutting the highway he would not have to have third party insurance because he would not be riding upon the highway. That comes as a surprise to me. It is quite obvious that anyone riding a bicycle upon a highway and accidentally or in some way getting on to the footpath and injuring somebody would be liable.

Mr. Molson

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) for the help he has given me. I have no doubt that he is quite right. As regards the pavement, I am advised that in this case a footpath does not include a pavement, so that even if the hon. and learned Member were not right the question would not arise.

Those are the best answers I can give to the points put to me. Broadly speaking, a provision of this kind in no way affects the general law of the land; it deals only with the special provision as it operates in regard to these trials over footpaths and bridleways.