HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1233-52
5 (1) For the purpose of ensuring a fair balance between the rights of different sections of the public to enjoy the countryside whether on foot or on horseback or in or on vehicles, and for the purpose of confirming or otherwise determining and defining the precise nature of the right of public vehicular way along highways which are not classified roads and are shown on maps (that is to say, draft, provisional or definitive maps made by surveying authorities under Part IV of the Act of 1949) in such a manner as to leave the public in doubt whether such public vehicular right exists and as to what kind of vehicle is included in the right, the Minister shall (in respect of every authority to which Part IV of the Act of 1949 applies), on petition made within one year of the commencement of
10 this Act by any person or body of persons claiming an interest in such public vehicular right of way, and within two years of the commencement of this Act, hold a public inquiry.
15 (2) Regulations made by the Minister may prescribe the form which every public inquiry held under the foregoing subsection (I) shall take, provided that such inquiry shall be presided over by a person not having any connection with the surveying authority or the Commission.
(3) At every inquiry held under the foregoing subsection (1) evidence may be given concerning the right of public vehicular way along any highway by or on behalf of any person or body of persons.
20 (4) The Commission shall give evidence to every inquiry held under the foregoing subsection (1); and shall submit to the inquiry all maps and records which have a bearing on the purpose of the inquiry; and shall, in the preparation of its evidence, take account of representations and recommendations (including recommendations as to maps and records to be submitted as evidence) made to it by any person or body
25 of persons claiming an interest in the purpose of the inquiry; and shall, as part of its evidence, present a schedule of all such representations and recommendations together with a summary of the substance of each one and an explanation of the reason for any failure to accept any recommendation; and shall supply any person or body of persons who made representations or recommendations with a copy of the schedule not less than
30 six weeks before the opening of the inquiry.
(5) Section twenty of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 (which provides for appeals to the High Court by way of case stated on a point of law) shall with the necessary modifications apply in relation to this section.
(6) The surveying authority shall (subject to the provisions of Part IV of the Act of 1949
35 where applicable, but notwithstanding anything in the proviso to subsection (5)(of section 34 of that Act), within one year of the final determination of the rights referred to in subsection (1) of this section, prepare a revised map showing clearly all highways and differentiating clearly between one kind of highway and another, with special reference to highways not being classified roads along which there is a public vehicular
40 right of way, as determined and defined by the inquiry, and distinguishing between one kind of vehicle and another in respect of which the right of way exists, and explaining clearly on the face of the map who has and who has hot the right of (way along each highway, and stating clearly any other details which might help any person, including any motor-cyclist or other cyclist, in any circumstances to know where he has a right
45 to go in the countryside.
(7) The meaning assigned to the expression ' road used as a public path ' in section 27 of the Act of 1949 shall cease to have effect.
(8) Nothing in section 10 of Part III of the First Schedule to the Act of 1949 (which provides that certain maps shall not be questioned in any legal proceedings whatsoever)
50 shall be so construed as to interfere with the operation of this section.—[Mr. Iremonger.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Iremonger

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss the following proposed Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) to the new Clause: In line 4, leave out 'right of public vehicular' and insert 'public right of'.

In line 7, leave out from 'doubt' to as ' and insert: 'as to what public right of way exists and, in the case of a public vehicular right of way'.

In line 10, leave out 'vehicular'.

In line 18, leave out 'public vehicular.

In line 39, leave out 'vehicular'.

In line 41, after first 'of', insert: 'right and another and, in the case of a public vehicular right of way, between one kind of'.

In line 44, after 'any', insert 'equestrian'.

and the following Amendments: No. 45, in Clause 21, page 23, line 21, after 'bridleway', insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 46, in line 24, after bridleway insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 47, in line 27, after 'bridleway', insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 48, in line 28, after bridleway insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 49, in line 31, after bridleway insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 50, in line 33, leave out subsection (3).

No. 52, in line 44, after bridleway insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 54, in page 24, line 4, after 'bridle-way', insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 56, in line 8, after bridleway insert: 'or carriageway or other highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way,'.

No. 58, in line 9, at end insert: (7) Every signpost or other sign or notice erected or placed along a carriageway or highway, not in either case being a classified road, along which there is a public vehicular right of way shall indicate clearly the class or classes of vehicle to which the right applies and does not apply. (8) Any person or body of persons may apply to a magistrates' court for an order requiring the responsible authority to remove or alter or replace any signpost or sign or notice which is incorrect or misleading or inadequate in respect of any of the foregoing provisions of this section.

No. 91, in Schedule 4, page 46, line 49, at end insert:

7 & 8 Eliz. 2. c. 25. The Highways Act 1959. In section 109, the words 'stopped up or', and related and consequential words.

Mr. Iremonger

Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee, there are a number of points to which I wish to draw attention. At the beginning of business today I presented a Petition on behalf of the British Motorcyclists' Federation bearing more than 7,000 signatures. Hon. Members will see that I am not representing a paltry interest; and, for an organisation like the Federation to produce a Petition signed by so many people, there is obviously a great deal of high feeling on this issue. The prime purpose of the Clause is in its opening words: … on ensuring a fair balance between the rights of different sections of the public to enjoy the countryside whether on foot or on horseback or in or on vehicles … The motivation behind the Clause may be deduced from the words "on vehicles". Although the grievances of motorcyclists first made my hon. Friends and I aware of the defects in the Bill—which the Clause seeks to remedy—those grievances are shared to a high degree by the users of motor cars and other vehicles.

The Bill, as amended in Committee, does not meet these defects and the earlier Acts, on which it is founded, have failed to provide the fair balance to which the Clause refers. Indeed, the balance is weighted against motorcyclists and other vehicle users. The old machinery for establishing and mapping rights of way in the countryside has tended over the years to deny to both motorcyclists and other vehicle users the rights of way to which they are entitled, and to leave them in confusion as to what rights of way they have in the countryside.

The purpose of the new Clause is also to provide a new machinery by way of an unbiased public inquiry and clear maps, based on the findings of the inquiry, to establish the rights of way for vehicle users. The existing machinery in Part IV of the 1949 Act should have done this, but it has often failed to do so, largely because the machinery was managed by interests hostile to vehicle users. It is fair to say that there are honourable exceptions in certain counties.

The new machinery, which would use parts of the old machinery where convenient, would provide an alternative procedure and impartial decisions, without delay, for the benefit of those who have lost confidence in the old. The public inquiry is, therefore, the central feature of the new Clause, and I will explain its details, functioning and the reasons behind them. I win do this subsection by subsection seriatim, but I want to jump ahead and straight away to ask the House to look at subsection (7), because that pictures the real cause of the whole trouble. Seeing the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) in his place, I hesitate to say, "The nigger in the woodpile"—

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

I should hope so!

Mr. Iremonger

—but that is a vulgar and old-fashioned expression describing what the subsection seeks to remove. The subsection says: The meaning assigned to the expression 'road used as a public path' in section 27 of the Act of 1949 shall cease to have effect. Roads used as public paths are known in the language of people who talk about these things as "rupps". I was tempted when I drafted this Clause to add, "the expression 'rupps' shall be deemed obscene" and that its use would be punishable by a fine not exceeding 5s., but I resisted the temptation. Nevertheless, the expression "rupps" has given rise to endless trouble.

The definition in the 1949 Act, Section 27 (6), says: 'road used as a public path' means a highway, other than a public path, used by the public mainly for the purpose for which footpaths or bridleways are so used. If we look back to see what a "public path" is, we find: 'public path' means a highway being either a footpath or a bridleway If we look back further we see what a footpath or a bridleway is. They are fairly reasonably described as highways over which the public have right of way on foot or on horseback. The definition of road used as a public path as being a highway, other than a public path, used by the public mainly for the purposes for which footpaths or bridleways are so used. is a Parliamentary enormity. I cannot think how it came to be embodied in any Act which has been through this House. I have not perused the ultimate meaning of "rupps" to its archaic depths, but I think that it could he used to abolish the monarchy and to dissolve Parliament, in which case I would be entirely in favour of it. It is so bad that the 1950 Commons and Open Spaces Footpaths Preservation Society's green handbook of "Instructions to Walkers" gradually became discredited because it was based on this bad definition and the public was driven back to the Act, which gave no help.

We are therefore driven back to the position where, if one is walking in the countryside, one does not know whether one is on a highway or a road used as a public path. It would be equally difficult for anyone to try to stop one because he could not tell whether one should be there or not although there may be a road marked as a public footpath or bridleway and it is a road where there is to be vehicular right of way.

We had the difficulty of deciding whether we should try to amend the definition of a road used as a public footpath, or simply to get rid of it. I am glad to see in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Report of the Footpaths Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Gosling recommendation 15, which says: The definition 'roads used as public paths' should be abandoned. These roads should be surveyed by the responsible authorities who should decide in each case whether the road should be designated as an unclassified road, a bridleway or a footpath. I think the House may feel that in this vital respect, my view, which anticipated slightly the Gosling Report, is borne out by the conclusions of the Gosling Committee. One may also feel that the recommendations foreshadow in some degree my recommendation as to an inquiry, because having an survey would be perfectly satisfactory if the surveying authorities commanded confidence.

The inquiry, therefore, has got to say definitely whether a vehicle has a right of way along a particular highway other than main roads and so on. It may decide, according to my intention in drafting the new Clause, either that a vehicle has a right of way and should continue to have a right of way, or it may decide that it has a right of way but that it should not continue to have a right of way. Again it may decide that it has not got a right of way and should continue not to have a right of way, or that it has not got one but should have one in future. In every case the inquiry should specify which class or classes of vehicles should have a right of way and which should not—cars, tractors, bicycles, motor bicycles, invalid chairs and all the rest.

To some extent, the House has got to face the fact that the issues which the inquiry would be required to decide, apart from purely historical ones, are not strictly justiciable. But then, this is not a court of law. There is a provision under subsection (5) for appeal to the High Court on points of law, and we are now hardened, if not reconciled, to unjusticiable issues being decided by quasi-judicial tribunals. Although we ought to scrutinise with an unfriendly eye proposals for any proliferation, I must say that I do not find this proposal offensive. In any case, this inquiry procedure will be fair.

The essence of the proposed new Clause is that it recognises that there are genuine and cherished conflicting interests when it comes to dealing with the countryside. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who is not in his place at the moment, represents in this House the shade of Wordsworth who wandered lonely as a cloud and he gave expression to a profound and endearing strain in the English character which we ought to protect and which it would not be pretentious to say subsists in and inspires the ramblers of today. It might be unjust to be too Pharisaical and toffee-nosed about a lot of other people who are learning to love the countryside, even if they do go to it, and perhaps want to go through it, in motor cars or on motor cycles. They deserve fair consideration from this House and from any legislation that we pass. It ought to be possible to give them a fair hearing and it should not be too much to ask that they should have a fair deal.

As I shall make clear, many of the rights of way which would be considered by the inquiry proposed in the new Clause are historically a part of the ancient liberties of the people and part of the heritage of this country.

Mr. John Lee (Reading)

The hon. Gentleman has set out a very elaborate Clause. Can he be a little more specific about the part of subsection (1) which says: … any person or body or persons claiming an interest in such public vehicular right of way"? It is a very wide range of categories. Will the hon. Gentleman be more specific as to how wide it is?

Mr. Iremonger

No. I intended that it should include the hon. Gentleman if he wanted it to, or anyone else. It seemed to me that nobody who had not got a genuine interest would bother to claim an interest in the inquiry. I want to make it as wide as possible and I refrained from saying "any motor cyclists" because I thought it might seem invidious. Therefore, I purposely left it so wide.

11.30 p.m.

The Clause would provide a fair hearing and it ought to provide a fair deal. We must consider what the criteria should be. I suggest that they should be, first, historical—simply the historical evidence referred to in a later subsection. Secondly, in respect of what right of way ought to exist as opposed to what can be established to have existed historically, bearing in mind the nature of modern society, in which practically everyone who ever goes into the countryside either is or might be or will be a motorist or a motor cyclist, the understanding which the inquiry will have of people's needs, and the evidence given by interested parties, the criteria should simply be that over-riding demand of the opening words of the Clause, which is to strike "a fair balance".

Subsection (2) provides that anyone holding the inquiry, the details of which would be prescribed by regulation by that Minister, would have two great virtues. He could not be nobbled by the authorities, which have over the past 20 years forfeited the confidence of the public, and he would not be connected with the Commission, because the Clause provides a different and useful rôle for the Commission later. It might be said that the inquiry could be biased in favour of motor cyclists. The answer to that is twofold. First, if the Clause indeed makes that possible, that could be remedied in another place. Secondly, after 20 years of bias against the motor cyclist at least that would be a change. Seriously, the House must be concerned that the procedure really is fair. Having made the proviso that there shall be no connection with the authorities or with the Commission, the House could leave the details to the Minister.

For the rest, once the inquiry is established, it is a case of every man and every legitimate interest for himself, with complete freedom to anybody, as provided in subsection (3), to give evidence. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) will see that it is just as wide for anyone to give evidence as it is for anyone to petition for the inquiry to be set up—ramblers, fishermen, preservationists, and those who have heretofore tried to have a fair hearing but have been refused.

Mr. John Lee

Does the hon. Gentleman intend to say more about the criteria? He said that the first criterion was historical. Does he intend to say more about that, because what is strange is that all this machinery is set out, but the definitions by which the inquiry will evaluate the pros and cons of an application are not set out?

Mr. Iremonger

I shall deal with that point and explain exactly the type of evidence I have in mind for the historical criteria. Once the inquiry has that historical criteria before it, it may say, in whatever sense it thinks right, that the historical criteria should be discarded because they are no longer relevant or that they justify the inquiry in upgrading a footpath, say, to a public carriageway. It is entirely a matter for the individual judgment of the inquiry.

It has been felt in some quarters, particularly by motor cyclists, that motor cyclists have been treated with almost arrogant disdain by many of those responsible for making decisions of this kind. Motor cyclists may have antagonised some individuals by having noisy exhausts or this or that, but they should not be subjected to prejudice when it comes to deciding such an important right as public vehicular rights of way, which applies to motorists just as it applies to motor cyclists.

Subsection (4) is of particular importance because it provides that, whereas anyone may give evidence to the public inquiry, the Countryside Commission must give evidence to it. What is more, it must give a certain kind of evidence, or it must explain why it is not doing it, at the behest of anyone interested. I can best explain the point of this by showing how handicapped anyone is who tries to establish the existence of ancient rights of vehicular way. This may go some way to explain to the hon. Member for Reading, what has to be decided.

If one is conscientiously to decide the historical question alone, one has to check, among other things—according to my information—original walkers' statements under the 1949 Act as to the width, metalling, gates and the years of use; the Local Government Act 1929 delegation maps; lists of upgradings from lower categories which should be available for public inspection; the pre-1835 Highways Act maps in the records department; enclosure awards and maps, tithe maps, apportionment rolls and altered apportionment maps; 1878 to 1894 highways board minutes; the pre-1835 to 1878 parish surveyors' minutes; also the disturnpiked roads lists, particularly where the land was not specifically handed back to the owners; the 25-inch Ordnance Survey maps of 1868–74 at the British Museum, where parish area books are often a source of proof. Parish minute books may still record very ancient rights. It is necessary, also, to check physically for signs of right of way such as engineered cuttings, horizontally clipped hedges of long standing and ruts and hollow ways made by timber dragging. Also, if necessary, one must interview old inhabitants free of local pressures or obligations.

All this should be done by qualified surveyors employed ad hoc by the Commission. They should be open to suggestions from interested parties of the kind I have mentioned, and there should be made clear at the inquiry what suggestions as to evidence to be admitted have been made and how conscientiously they have been followed up. Thus, the inquiry would be fully informed to everyone's satisfaction, and its decisions would command confidence.

So much for the inquiry. Subsection (5) merely provides for appeal to the High Court on a point of law. Subsection (6) provides for the end product of the inquiry, that is to say, that the surveying authority should do as a result of the inquiry what it should have done under Part IV long ago. It should prepare a revised map showing clearly all highways and differentiating clearly between one kind of highway and another, with special reference to highways which are not classified roads along which there is a public vehicular right of way as decided by the inquiry, distinguishing between one kind of vehicle and another in respect of which a right of way exists, explaining clearly on the face of the map who has and who has not a right of way along each highway, and stating clearly any other details which might help any person, including any motorcyclist or cyclist, to know in any circumstances where he has a right to go in the countryside.

That is the new Clause. Taken with it are the Amendments to Clause 21 concerning signposting. They are designed to ensure that carriageways as established by the inquiry, as well as footpaths and bridleways, should be signposted. Amendment No. 58, which would add a new subsection (7) to Clause 21, provides that signposts shall show where there is a vehicular right of way, and to which classes of vehicle the right of way applies.

Subsection (8) is of particular importance in that it enables any person to get an order from a magistrates' court to make the authority replace a misleading signpost, that is, where there is a signpost which says that a highway is a footpath or a bridleway—which it may well be—but which fails to say that it is also a carriageway and, therefore, misleads people on motor cycles or in cars into thinking that they may not go there when, in truth, they may. I understand that this has been particularly obnoxious in the County of Hampshire, which would be obliged to replace the signposts with the correct indication of who could go there.

Amendment No. 91 would add to the repeal Schedule, Schedule 4. It would take out of Section 109 of the Highways Act, 1959, the words "stopped up or" and any others which serve a like fell purpose. A frontager on a neglected maintained carriageway can extend his garden across, or nearly across, the carriageway, and can then apply to the highway authority to have the carriageway stopped up, or nearly stopped up, that is, down-graded to a footpath. So, on a whim, he can use the law to enrich himself and deprive the public of a right. The authority has a bias in favour of down-grading or stopping up, because it then relieves itself of any obligation to maintain the highway, and the bench may be content to preserve ramblers' rights alone by down-grading, because vehicle users' rights may not be represented to it or be sympathetically considered. This cannot be right, and the House could not wish this abuse to continue. It is a small point, but I do not regret its being taken with the new Clause concerning public vehicular rights of way because the same principle is involved, namely, that all sections of the public should have a fair deal in determining, limiting and preserving rights of way, which are no small part of people's liberties.

Therefore, I hope that the Clause and the Amendments commend themselves to the House and that the Minister, even if he does not feel that he can accept the Clause exactly as drafted—though I fail to see how it could possibly be drafted better—will at least proclaim emphatically and reassuringly that he supports the principle and tell us exactly how he proposes otherwise to remedy the manifest abuses to which I have tried to draw the attention of the House.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has put forward, though I shall not go to the lengths to which he went in the very able way in which he presented his argument.

The section of the public on whose behalf he made his speech—motor cyclists—are in some fear that the Bill will deprive them of certain rights which they have had up to now, and the House would not feel that this would be a good thing. My hon. Friend is a vigorous champion of the motor cyclists, and he showed this in his excellent Second Reading speech and again tonight. In many parts of the country motor cycling is a very valuable and popular sport. In the Wye Valley in Herefordshire and Wales a great deal of scrambling takes place, as it does in many other parts of the country. A number of us have received small petitions bearing 50 to 100 signatures. My hon. Friend referred to a petition bearing about 7,000 names which he presented to the House this afternoon.

11.45 p.m.

The motor cycle unions or centres supporting these young men are responsible organisations and what the hon. Gentleman was saying to the House a moment ago was that in all consideration of the closing up or using of public rights of way, the views of these motor cycle unions should be taken into account. This sport has a great effect on the motor cycle industry, affects exports to some extent, and in some ways affects our ability to win sporting trophies overseas. An example of this is a Radnorshire neighbour of mine, a Mr. Lewis, who is a motor cycle international gold trophy winner. We are proud of him. It is a tough sport and it does a lot of good. Some will say that it is noisy but the noise of a motor cycle, even of 20 motor cycles, is as nothing to that of some of the aeroplanes which break the sound barrier in quiet country districts which I know, and I do not believe that this argument can be sustained.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary in reply will make encouraging noises and that he will be able to say that when local authorities are making decisions about the user of certain public rights of way and "roughs", they should be made to consider all interests, including motor cycle interests. Section 1(1) (d) of the R Dad Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, applies to this. We hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can help us and the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Skeffington

One should at least pay tribute to the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger) who has almost written a new Transport Bill of his own. Although I will not weary the House with technical points, he would have succeeded in amending eight or nine Acts and many dozens of Sections in them. There may be a case for doing it, but not, I think, in the Countryside Bill.

I want to concentrate on the essential points which have led him to initiate this important discussion. There is nothing in the Bill that in any way impinges on or alters the existing status of motor cyclists. I was therefore a little astonished, as were some other hon. Members, perhaps, at the rather violent language used by some motor cyclists who had been led to believe that this Bill was taking away some of their precious rights. As this was clearly contrary to the purpose of the Bill, and to anything in the White Paper, I was surprised. Twice I saw the Secretary of the British Motorcyclists Federation and received a deputation. I started by saying to them that I was incensed by the terms of some of the letters which had come to me, because they were a complete distortion of anything in the Bill.

The Federation was good enough to say that those of its members who had sent such letters—not all the writers were members—had been misinformed about the purposes of the Bill, and I think that the deputation went away in a happier frame of mind. I must put it on record, and I hope this will be understood by hon. Members who have been worried about it, that there is nothing in the Bill which takes away any right motor cyclists now have. I hope that that is clearly understood and that hon. Members will have no hesitation in quoting my statement if they are approached by individual motor cyclists or others on this point.

But there is something in the point that in general, for one reason or another, motor cyclists as a body feel that they have not always had their needs properly considered. It may be that perhaps they have not always used the right methods. One method is to do a good deal of research into legislation so that they can keep apprised of events and take appropriate action at an early stage. That is what other bodies do, many of them with less resources than the motor cyclists.

Motor cycling is a useful method of getting about and it is a healthy sport. Nothing I have to say detracts from the good sportsmanship and fellowship of those engaging in this exhilarating pastime. As I told the deputation, all those concerned with sport, and especially my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, are anxious to see that the local authorities make proper provision. That is essential. But trouble has often arisen in dealing with the countryside because of incompatibility of activities, leading to argument as to which activity should use which land and under what conditions.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

I agree entirely that full provision should be made but would my hon. Friend agree that it should be provided outside our National Parks?

Mr. Skeffington

I would have thought that that would normally be the case. But that sort of decision should be left to the bodies I shall indicate. The difficulties began to arise in connection with the motor cyclists when the Gosling Committee was set up. Various representatives of amenity bodies were appointed to it but the motor cyclists were not selected. However, I pointed out to their representatives at an early stage and when I saw the Secretary, that there was nothing to prevent them giving evidence, and I am glad to say that they took my advice and did so.

Apprehensions probably began to arise when the interim proposals of the Gosling Committee were made known, particularly paragraph 69, which recommended that the category "roads used as public paths" in Section 27 of the 1949 Act should be abandoned and gave the reasons for that recommendation. Although the Committee had sympathy with the difficulties of motor cyclists, it did not think that motor cycles should normally be ridden along footpaths and this is a conclusion with which many people would agree.

The motor cycling fraternity became alarmed that its interests were going to be abandoned and I tried to make the position clear as regards paragraph 69 and also as regards paragraph 70, which recommended that these roads should be surveyed by the responsible authorities to decide whether they should be designated as unclassified roads, bridleways or footpaths.

Fears may arise in this connection and this is something that will be dealt with at a later stage. In so far as there are any fears, I hope that I can put them at rest. I indicated in Committee what we proposed, although we have not been able to include it on Report, because it requires further drafting. We had in mind that county councils in the normal way would look at these roads and come to certain conclusions about their future use, either as footpaths or bridleways, or for any other use. They would then follow the common procedure under the Highways Act, whereby the conclusions would be advertised in the London Gazette and local papers.

There would be a period for objections by people who felt their interests were affected. If there were objections, there would be a normal public inquiry and finally that matter would go to the Minister, who would confirm or not confirm. There would be three opportunities for objection, first after the authority had made its proposal, secondly at the inquiry and then on appeal to the Minister.

We cannot do that at this stage. This only relates to the small category of roads used as public paths, and not to the whole gamut of thoroughfares, as does the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and, I hope that he will assure motor cyclists, that they will have every opportunity of seeing that their needs are thoroughly understood and their opinions ventilated.

The new Clause goes enormously wide and the hon. Member is, as I have said, almost writing a fresh Transport Act on his own. The procedure for the general surveying of roads, to which he refers, is already provided for in one or other of the Sections of the 1959 Act. This procedure has to be followed before any road can be created or designated. It would be impossible, even if it were technically within the ambit of the Bill, to include this vast range of alterations in so many Acts.

He referred to unclassified roads. I do not suppose he would want to be concerned with many of those coming under that definition. There are something like 94,000 miles of them. It would be quite beyond the sort of additional procedure he is suggesting for the surveying authorities to undertake this and certainly it would be beyond the Commission. The Commission will have a great many responsibilities. It will not get all the staff that it requires, or all the resources that it would like. We are taking the power now because we want the Commission to get started. To have this enormous responsibility, appearing and giving evidence at all these inquiries, would be an impossible task. It is not fitted for it. It would not have the figures or data. Hitherto the Commission has operated only in the national parks. Although I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants this particular body to do this, it would not be fit nor proper for it to do so, in the light of what has been said and the resources at its disposal.

12 m.

The hon. Gentleman made further points about signposting. This is a matter for the Minister of Transport. There are considerable powers under Section 55(2) of the Road Traffic Act and it would be duplication to deal with it in this Bill.

Amendment No. 91 would have far reaching consequences going wider than the hon. Gentleman suggests, and I could not recommend the House to accept that either.

Having had his opportunity of ventilating what some people feel is a great grievance and having been assured by me of the procedure concerning roads, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the motor cyclists have nothing to fear about their rights of representation. In the light of the assurance that I have given I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that he has done his duty and will withdraw the Clause.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary suggests that the new Clause is a new Transport Bill. If so, I prefer it to the present Transport Bill that the Government have brought in.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to settle a number of the fears which have been expressed. Many of us have received communications based upon the fears held by many people that this Bill would take away some of their rights. The hon. Gentleman has helped us considerably by showing that many of those fears are unjustified.

The view of the majority of the House is that in dealing with this matter we want to aim for a fair balance between all users. The Bill should not be considered as one which gives a charter to ramblers, to people riding horses, or to any one section, but as trying to maintain the balance between all who want to use the countryside for their own particular form of recreation. The way in which the Bill should be treated is by making certain that no one group enjoying its type of recreation interferes unduly with others who are also trying to enjoy their type of recreation. The balance has to be maintained, and the new Clause seeks to lay down that there will be some form of inquiry whereby all the people affected will have the right to be: heard. The fact that they have the right to be heard will not lead to a large number of objections being raised; it will considerably reduce the fears that are held by many people at the present time.

I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for what he has said. He has set a lot of my fears at rest, and I think that the fears of others will be considerably reduced when they read his speech.

Mr. Jopling

I am glad that the Minister said what he did, and I am particularly glad from a constituency point of view that he rejects the suggestion of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) that all forms of motor sport in National Parks should be banned. Of course, it should be well controlled, and certainly it is in the Lake District.

I have been approached by officials of Westmorland motor cycle clubs. They have been running events in the Lake District area for 60 years and have maintained excellent relationships with farmers, landowners and public authorities. The events are extremely well run and controlled, and I am sure that that state of affairs will continue.

Reverting for a moment to a new Clause which I moved earlier, it would be slightly anomalous to allow speedboat racing on Windermere while banning motor sport from the National Parks. Provided that it is properly run, I hope that it will be allowed to continue.

Mr. Channon

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for moving his new Clause and enabling us to discuss the sport of motor cycling and its position under the Bill. I imagine that all hon. Members have received representations from motor cyclists who, very properly, wanted to put forward their points of view.

As I understand it, what the Minister has said makes it clear that the Government propose to do what my hon. Friend asks. They propose to conduct a survey of public vehicular rights of way. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary told us that before there was any question of adopting the Gosling Committee's proposal to abolish the definition of roads used as public paths, these roads should be surveyed by the responsible authorities, who would then decide in each case the future category of a road. In effect, therefore, the greater part of my hon. Friend's Amendment asking for a survey of these rights of way is to be met by the Government.

It is not surprising that the motor cyclists have been confused by some of these points. After all, the Gosling Report was not available in its entirety to the public until last Thursday. All that they had to go on before that were the remarks of Ministers as each separate set of interim proposals was published.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will draw the attention of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to my hon. Friend's remarks about signposts on these roads. As he suggested, I have looked at Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act, and it is true that the appropriate Minister may give directions to highway authorities for placing traffic signs of a prescribed type on highways. In addition, the motor cyclists feel strongly that there are misleading signs on certain roads, and they suggest that there should be a proper form of sign, making it clear what vehicles are allowed on each road of this kind.

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for his reply, which has gone a great deal of the way to allaying our anxieties and those of the motor cyclists, when they have a chance of reading what he has said. In view of the hon. Gentleman's answer, it may be that my hon. Friend will not wish to press his Amendment. His main point will be met by the survey which is to be made by the Government, though not in the way that he suggests in his new Clause. If any motor cyclists write to me, I shall refer them to the Minister's remarks and say that there is no threat to them. If there is a threat to them in the future, the blame for it will be on the Minister's head, and I should not like to be in his shoes.

Mr. Iremonger

If what the Minister was suggesting was a survey by the present authorities of the roads used as public paths, this would have been considered very disappointing by motor cyclists in particular, and other vehicle users, because they have lost confidence in the present authorities. They regard them, rightly or wrongly, as being dilatory and biased. The main purpose of the new Clause was to try to get an independent authoritative mind brought to bear on the anxieties of, and the representations by, motor cyclists. If I understood the Minister aright, he was saying that the matter would come to him in the last resort, and that anyone who had a feeling of grievance about the decisions of the authorities and the result of the survey would be heard by him.

If I can take that as being the nub of what he was saying, and if I can say to motor cyclists that even if they cannot have exactly the kind of inquiry which they have suggested, at least they will have the Minister as their last resort—after all, they will be aware that Ministers are answerable to the House, which is a great protection—they may feel that they have been, not so much reassured. as given a substantial new right, the lack of which they felt before. I think, therefore, that at this stage it would be best for me to wish the Minister well in the carrying out of the proposals he suggested to the House, and to beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.