HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1120-34

(1) Any member of the public shall have, as a right of way, the right to ride a pedal bicycle on any footpath or bridleway.

(2) It shall be unlawful for a person on a footpath or bridleway to remain mounted on a bicycle when passing or overtaking any person on foot, and a person contravening this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.

(3) On a bridleway subsection (2) above shall apply to the passing or overtaking of any person on horseback or riding a horse, or any driven animals, as it applies to the passing or overtaking of a person on foot.

(4) Subsection (1) of this section has effect subject to any byelaws made by a highways authority or local authority.

(5) The rights conferred by this section shall not affect the obligations of the highway authority, or of any other person, as respects the maintenance of the footpath or bridleway, and this section shall not create any obligation to do anything to facilitate the use of the footpath or bridleway by cyclists.

(6) Subsection (1) of this section shall not affect any definition of 'footpath' or bridle-way ' in this or any other Act, and 'horse' and 'horseback' shall be construed in accordance with section 27(6) of the Act of 1949.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Skeffington

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

The House will be aware of the recommendations of the Gosling Committee. As I indicated in Standing Committee, as soon as we had an advance interim report of paragraph 71, which referred to cyclists, it seemed to us to contain suggestions which were fair and reasonable. The cyclist is one of the travellers on the highway who is very vulnerable, and it seemed to us right that his status should be recognised. He has now, in general, no right under the definition of footpaths and rights of way to which the public have access. It was therefore thought that the recommendations should be accepted, and that is why we have tabled the Clause.

An essential feature of it implicit in the recommendations, which I think are generally accepted, is that while these vulnerable and rather neglected highway travellers will get the advantage of being able to use paths they should not do so in preference to the foot walkers for which the paths were originally designed and are maintained. Consequently, there is a requirement which has caused a certain amount of comment—and certainly the cyclists' organisations have not liked it—that when passing a person on the footpath or bridleway the cyclist should dismount. I imagine that, in any interpretation, common sense would be used. If the footpath is broad there is no need for cyclists to get off, but if it is narrow and the cyclist might encounter 20 or 30 people as he goes flying along on a Saturday afternoon it might be quite dangerous for children or old people. Therefore, I do not think that it is an unreasonable requirement of cyclists.

It may well be that cyclists will not take much advantage of the provision, but that is a matter for them. Many footpaths are not good cycling territory, particularly if one has to keep getting off and humping a bicycle over a style. The Committee made the recommendation after hearing evidence and considering these matters, and it seemed sensible to us. The cycling organisations welcome the opportunity of having their status made quite clear, though they do not like the prohibition. But on the whole we think it is right, since footpaths and bridleways are in the main for walkers or horse-riders.

It may be that there are short sections of paths which are much used where it would be wrong to have this general provision. In that case there is nothing to prevent the local authority, under the bye-law powers of the 1933 Act, which are very wide, from making a prohibition order to prevent cyclists going either on part of the path or the whole path. No. doubt there will be cases where the local authority will want to do this. But that is a matter for them and certainly not one for Whitehall.

With the qualifications I have set out, the Clause gives cyclists the opportunity to get off the roads to places where they will be safer, and they will enjoy the right to do so in circumstances which are not at the expense of the walker or the horse-rider. I hope that the Clause will commend itself to the House.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I am rather worried by the Clause. I gather from the Gosling Report that it arises from pity, which I never think is a very good foundation for legislation.

A right of way in the form of a footpath is of itself ill-designed for the cyclist. In many parts of the country the footpath is the way that will be used by the old people, and where there are prosecutions of cyclists riding on footpaths, which we have had in many parts of the country, it is usually the very young who are riding their bicycles and terrifying the old people who use the footpaths concerned. The hon. Gentleman has included in the Clause a provision which he claims is for the protection of the old people, and we shall come to that later.

My main objection to the Clause is that I believe that it will interfere with the privileges and rights of old people who use footpaths and who regard them as their special, safe way of going about the country. The next problem is that there is another type of footpath, very common in my constituency, the path going right through farmland, having done so from time immemorial, which is very valuable for those who want to go from parish to parish or for ramblers who want to enjoy the countryside. It is wrong that that privilege should be interfered with by the cyclist.

I have no animosity against the cyclist, and I do not agree with the Gosling Report that he is not welcome on the roads, except for the motorway, trunk roads and other major roads. The cyclist is still very welcome on the unclassified and ordinary country roads. It is wrong that he should be encouraged to invade the right of the rambler, the pedestrian and the old people.

Many country rights of way have stiles or even a kissing gate at the end of a path. What will happen there? How will people deal with a bicycle? Perhaps the hon. Lady will come in on this and tell us how one is to deal with a bicycle at a kissing gate, because there will surely be a certain amount of difficulty in surmounting that obstacle.

Mrs. White

We usually find a way.

Mr. Turton

Quite clearly, this right cannot be granted in all cases. The hon. Gentleman refers to the byelaws. That may be all right in the more urban areas but it does not apply to the more rural parts. During Committee stage, the hon. Gentleman referred to footpaths on precipitous hillsides where the local authority might interfere. Surely the owner should be allowed to interfere when a footpath is going through his own cornfield, as many go across cornfields in my constituency. It is rather hard that the owner really has no redress under the Clause unless he can persuade the local authority to publish a byelaw. Presumably, in any case, it will usually be the county council, which is a fairly distant authority for a small farmer who has a footpath through his field.

The other problem is one on which I want to give the House the benefit of my magisterial experience. This is on the question of the proviso. If a cyclist sees someone using a footpath he must immediately dismount—which I presume means that he must get off the saddle, for otherwise he will be guilty of an offence. I have frequently sat in court listening to evidence given about a young person using a bicycle on a footway. In all cases the defence is, "I was not on the bicycle".

It is usually the evidence of the police constable that while it was true that at the time the young person reached the constable he had got off the saddle and was riding on the pedal, a cyclist can go with the same velocity on the pedal as on the saddle. Usually the court has been able to convict because it has noticed that, before he passed or overtook the constable, the cyclist was sitting in the saddle. As I see it, the Clause as drafted has a perfect let-out for everyone who wants to use it. All a cyclist has to do is to get out of the saddle, perhaps progressing at even greater velocity with his feet on the pedal when passing the person or the horse. I ask the Government to reconsider this.

I do not want to be pedantic, but again, in passing or overtaking, presumably the person who charges an old lady has neither passed nor overtaken but has merely struck her and is not, therefore, committing an offence. The Clause has been hastily drafted and is ill-considered. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it, perhaps to reintroduce it later after reconsideration. I am certain that, as drafted, it will cause a great deal of confusion.

There is a minor point. Many pedal cycles have what is called a "supplementary engine". Are they pedal cycles within the meaning of the Act? If such pedal cycles with supplementary engines are to chug along cornfields, they will be highly unpopular, and I do not think that that is what the Government desire. This is a bad Clause. It originates from pity and not from reason and requires to be drastically amended if it is to survive.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)

It will be quickly apparent that I approach the new Clause from a rather different standpoint from that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), but I agree with a number of the points he has raised. I give a general welcome to subsection (1) which, for the first time, recognises the need of a pedal cyclist to have a legal right on footpaths and bridleways—for him, as my hon. Friend said, to have a status. But I can only give modified welcome to the Clause as a whole.

The first point has been emphasised by the right hon. Gentleman. The Clause has been drafted so hurriedly that the draftsman has ignored a large number of practical considerations, some of them instanced by the right hon. Gentleman. In this connection, it would have been helpful if my hon. Friend had consulted the Cyclists Touring Club, the body principally concerned on behalf of cyclists generally.

In Committee, we had a discussion on an Amendment I moved dealing with the rights of pedal cyclists on long-distance footpaths. Reference was made to the fact that the position in relation to cyclists and footpaths was being considered by the Gosling Committee. My hon. Friend gave an assurance that he would consider the point raised. He said: …we"— the Ministry— are still in contact with the various bodies…".—[REPORT, Standing Committee A, 5th March, 1968; c. 1359.] In these circumstances, I think it regrettable that the Ministry did not get in touch with the Cyclists Touring Club to find out whether it had any views on the Government's proposals. It would have helped in relation to some of the practical considerations.

My first and main objection to the Clause is against the absolute nature of subsections (2) and (3), which make it imperative in all cases for cyclists to dismount. Let us look at the practical implications. If a cyclist meets a pedestrian going in the opposite direction and gets off his machine, that makes the passing more inconvenient if the path is narrow. It might be much simpler to stop, remain on the machine with one foot on the ground and allow the pedestrian to pass.

If the cyclist wants to overtake a pedestrian, he must catch up with the walker and must then dismount. But by this time a fast walker will be some yards ahead again. The cyclist will then have to run, pushing his bicycle until he catches up again, and then repeat the process. It could be a tedious process which could lead to a new fable of the walker and the cyclist, ending with an appropriate quotation such as, "And panting time toiled after him in vain".

Conditions will vary considerably on different paths and bridleways and the circumstances operating at the time of meeting or according to the nature of the path or bridleway may seem irrelevant.

In this connection there are literally hundreds of paths throughout the country which are so wide that a cyclist could overtake or pass a pedestrian without being close to him at all. What the draftsman obviously had in mind was a narrow path, where its width would necessitate some provision about priority. Need the cyclist dismount in all cases? Surely it would often be sufficient if he just stopped when meeting a pedestrian or horseman going the other way, without actually getting off the bicycle? That might make the passing easier.

I would emphasise that the C.T.C. and cyclists generally are well content to accept the views of the Gosling Committee, which is that walkers should have prior right of passage and that cyclists should use the footpath and bridleway with: Proper care for the safety of walkers and other users. This new Clause goes much farther than that. I would refer to the way in which the same problem is dealt with on pedestrian crossings. Under existing regulations the pedestrian has precedence and I suggest that this principle might apply in the case of footpaths and bridleways.

All that is needed to carry out the recommendation of the Gosling Committee and to avoid putting an unnecessary and irrelevant burden on to the cyclist would be to limit the new Clause to cases where the pedestrian or horseman might be prejudiced or in danger if the cyclist did not dismount. The rights of horsemen and pedestrians should be given precedence. I urge upon the Minister that it is unnecessary to impose any greater restraint.

I have drafted an Amendment designed to cover the objections that I have outlined. Although I do not expect the Minister to accept my wording, I hope that he will consider the implications, both of what I have said and what has been said by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). It would be undesirable if we were to add to the Statute Book a provision giving cyclists a legal right, for the first time, including unhappy conditions governing that new right which are impracticable, unnecessary and unrealistic.

The Amendment tabled by the Opposition also seems to be impracticable and unrealistic. It says that: provided that in the case of a footpath the prior consent of the owner or occupier of the land must be obtained. This will surely involve the cyclist contemplating a journey in the gravest possible difficulties. He will first of all have to obtain consent beforehand or, alternatively, there will have to be some provisions whereby paths become either paths with consent or without consent.

That will necessarily mean a proliferation of notices and the practical difficulties of enforcing such a provision would make it impossible. For these reasons I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise that the new Clause is not satisfactory in many respects and it ought to be reconsidered. Perhaps in another place some of the obvious defects can be remedied.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

I would like to add my plea to those who have asked the Parliamentary Secretary to take this new Clause away and look at it again. Most of the points I wanted to make have already been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and there are now only two points I wish to make. First it is clear from paragraph 72 of the Gosling Committee that that Paragraph is drafted with an eye on footpaths in or around a town or houses. It says that the local authorities will be able to make byelaws prohibiting the use of cycles on footpaths in particular areas. My right hon. Friend spoke of footpaths going over farmland. I cannot believe that a particular area for which a local authority is likely to make a byelaw would be a footpath going through a farm. The farmers of the area are not likely to ask the local authority to pass a byelaw to say that cyclists would be welcome on that footpath.

There is the practical problem that if a footpath is supposed to be three or four feet wide, and one has the business of people dismounting to pass each other, even if it is only one bicycle in one direction and one in another, that, coming across a field of corn, will make a considerably wider path than the four feet normally regarded as the width of a footpath. Apart from that, cyclists go about the countryside, on the roads, in large numbers and frequently one cannot pass them in one's motor car because there are so many of them. If they go on footpaths supposed to be four feet wide, across a field of corn, grave difficulties will arise.

My second point is what seems to be an innocent question, which might be easily answered by the Parliamentary Secretary. What is a footpath? If he has looked at the interpretation Clause of the Countryside Bill he will find, in Clause 39(2): 'bridleway' and 'footpath' have the meaning given by section 295(1) of the Highways Act, 1959; Section 295(1) of the Highways Act, 1959 defines "footpath" as: …a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only, not being a footway; It seems to me that if the new Clause goes through it would be possible to ride one's bicycle from here to Victoria Station on a footpath. If that is so, it is not what he really wants the new Clause to mean. I would suggest that it might be as well to have another think about this.

Mr. Pardoe

I am not unsympathetic to cyclists—I am unsympathetic towards this new Clause. I ride a cycle and am only too well aware of the dangers of riding cycles in traffic. I do not think that that is sufficient reason to give to cyclists what has been for a very long time the privilege of people on foot. There are real dangers involved. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Mal-ton (Mr. Turton) mentioned the dangers to old people. I have grave worries about the dangers to children.

The footpath is the one place where one can, as a family, go out for a walk and allow very young children to go on ahead without supervision. With cyclists coming round sharp corners it would be quite impossible for them to stop, to get off, and allow pedestrians to pass. There is the likelihood of increased danger to farm animals, particularly where footpaths run through farmyards.

The great majority of footpaths are not suited to cycling, not only because of the terrain which they cross, and their width, but also because of kissing gates and stiles. Since I am convinced that the great majority of footpaths are unsuited to cycling, it is nonsense to pass legislation which entitles people to ride bicycles on footpaths and then ask local authorities to pass byelaws to prevent them from doing so. The number of footpaths on which they will be able to ride bicycles is very small. This is the wrong way to go about it. Why not allow local authorities to pass byelaws permitting cyclists to ride on the footpaths? This would save a great deal of local government time and our time.

6.0 p.m.

There is the considerable difficulty of enforcement. I know how difficult it will be to prosecute when a cyclist comes tearing round the corner on a footpath and nearly knocks one's children over and half kills one's dog. How will one find evidence? From where will the witnesses come? How many policemen patrol country footpaths to enable one to bring forward a prosecution?

If we add the Clause to the Bill, we shall have a law which is almost impossible to enforce. We should have nothing to do with laws which are almost impossible to enforce.

Mr. Skeffington

I have been impressed by some of the points which have been made. In our desire to be helpful we promised hon. Members to include something on Report and perhaps that Clause had been hastily drafted. We studied very closely that cyclists evidence.

I suggest that we might have another look at that Clause, particularly subsection (2), to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) referred. He had some quite justified fun. But even if that Clause were accepted as it is now, it would be much better than the present position. A great deal happens which has no legal basis or for which there are no procedures. We still adhere to the principle that the basic recommendation of the Gosling Committee is right, and we intend to reintroduce it in another place. We shall look at the priorities which we think it right to give to horse riders.

Dame Joan Vickers

That debate has been devoted to cycling. I should like to bring out the question of horse riding. I should like the hon. Gentleman to look into that question.

Hon. Members

It is not in order.

Mr. Channon

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for saying that he will withdraw the Clause, and I am certain that we shall give him permission to do so. This is reminiscent of the Clause on bulls which we discussed in Committee, but which was generally unacceptable to any section of opinion in the Committee.

However, we should not let this opportunity pass without making it clear that it is not just the details of the Clause to which many of us are opposed. We oppose the general idea of the Gosling Report that pedal cyclists should be able to ride on footpaths. Perhaps I have the support of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) in that. If so, he is another valuable ally. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary should not be under the impression that there is not a large body of opinion in the House which is opposed to the principle as well as the wording of the Clause. I, too, could have made the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson). Cyclists have told me that they seriously think that if the Clause were passed in this form there would be a grave danger of traffic jams on footpaths, because there would be no overtaking whatsoever.

I hope that the Government will bring an open mind to bear on the Clause before coming to a decision in another place. We shall have an opportunity later to debate the matter should their Lordships pass such a Clause. There is serious objection to the Clause, particularly in the light of the grave inconvenience which it would cause. It proposes a fundamental change which is not supported. The Government should not be under any illusion about the feeling in the House.

Mr. Peter Mills

I am glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that he would consider this matter again. I am not happy about the Clause. I do not see why there need be any legislation at all on this matter. Surely this is a matter of common sense and courtesy. People in the countryside know that one can ride a bicycle on certain footpaths and that one cannot do so on others. I do not believe that there is any need for legislation on this point.

There are occasions when it is right for people to ride bicycles on footpaths. The village postman, with his heavy load, may have a short cut to certain hamlets or farmhouses. It is right that he should be able to cycle along a footpath so that he can deliver his mail and save time. Why should he get off his bicycle when it is heavily laden with letters and parcels? Surely it is common sense and courtesy for a person walking on the footpath to step back and say, "How do, maister".

I never heard anything so ridiculous as the suggestion that legislation is needed on matters like this. This is a waste of the time of the House. We are taught courtesy at an early age. If an old lady comes along, one get's off one's bicycle and allows her to pass. The farmworker whose only method of carrying things is a bicycle may have a very large sack between the frame of the bicycle. He has every right to use the footpath.

The Minister must think again about this matter. However, I must say to my hon. Friends that I do not like their proposed Amendment in line 2— Provided that in the case of a footpath the prior consent of the owner or occupier of the land must be obtained.

Mr. Channon

It was tabled only as a second best. We should certainly prefer to see the Clause dropped altogether.

Mr. Mills

I am glad to hear that. There is a mile of footpath and road combined leading to my farm, and then the footpath continues. Just imagine on a Sunday morning or at some other time, when I was hoping to have a little peace and quiet, having a queue of people asking whether they can ride a bicycle along that footpath. It is utterly ridiculous if this is the stage that we have reached. I hope that the Clause will be dispensed with entirely. If the Minister would like to issue a pamphlet in an endeavour to teach people common courtesy in the countryside and how to use footpaths, I should back him wholeheartedly.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)

I wish to make three points.

First—and perhaps this is a minority view—to me, cycles are like motor cars. They have associations with urban life. Seeing bicycles in the countryside is incongruous, and I find them very offensive. This is a view which is perhaps not shared by the majority of people, but there is a sizeable minority of people who like to feel that in the countryside they are free from the associations of urban life. Things like cycles and motor cars are associated with urban life, and some people are as horrified as I am on finding such excresences in the midst of the countryside.

Secondly, if cyclists are to have rights of access, it will be much more difficult to provide adequate stiles and gates for it. P think that I am being realistics in saying that it would not be done. Farmers would not replace stiles with gates. Therefore, the cycles would have to be carried over the hedge or wall, and the hedge or wall might be damaged as a result.

This leads me to my third point. This would alienate to a certain extent the agricultural community. When I go back to the High Peak to explain the provisions of the Bill to the local branches of the N.F.U., which I intend to do, they will not be very happy at my telling them that they not only have responsibility for maintaining stiles and gates to meet the needs of walkers, but also the needs of cyclists. I know that the Minister is concerned about the balance which he strikes with the local communities, and this is a consideration he might properly bear in mind.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

I do not wish to detain the House long. Had the undertaking been to withdraw the Cause I should not have spoken, but I understand the Clause is simply to be reconsidered or redrafted.

One or two points should be made before this is done. We all recognise the desire of cyclists to get away from dangerous and over-crowded roads. Indeed, I am attracted by the idea of long-distance routes for them. However, to add this Clause at this late stage is precipitate and unrealistic. Examples have been given of the way in which it is unrealistic, but another example is subsection (2) which says: 'It shall be unlawful for a person on a footpath or bridleway to remain mounted on s bicycle when passing or overtaking any person on foot"— or a horse— 'and a person contravening this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20. Is it really envisaged that we shall have cases in the courts concerning people who have cycled past a horse, and are young people to be fined £20 for doing it?

The Parliamentary Secretary in Committee said that walkers must have "utter priority". Utter priority is a high degree of priority, but I do not see cyclists flinging themselves into hedges or taking to ploughed land to avoid pedestrians. We all know that it will be the pedestrian who has to get out of the way.

Further, is it a good plan to introduce legislation so that we have one rule of the road on the road and another rule of the road on the path? On the road the pedestrian gets out of the way of the cyclist but on the path it is to be the cyclist who gets out of the way of the pedestrian. Even if this complex notion can be got into the heads of the very young and the very old, who make up a large proportion of the users of paths, there will be many genuine cases of doubt whether the cyclist and the pedestrian are on a road or a path. Some paths are described on the definitive map as "roads used as public paths." Many paths look like roads—for example, farm access roads—and many roads look like paths—for example, green lanes.

Another point which has not been mentioned is the danger to stock. Many cyclists will leave their bicycles and go for a stroll. Indeed, that may be their purpose in cycling to that point. As hon. Members who have attended picnics know, cattle are interested in anything new in a field, and a bicycle is a dangerous object to leave in a field full of stock.

One of the arguments advanced for banning horses from footpaths—and I am relieved that we do not have to go into that—was that such use damages the surface of the path. This argument also applies to bicycles. Cycling along a path with a thin covering of grass will soon remove the grass, whereas use by pedestrians will not remove it.

6.15 p.m.

There will be an inevitable demand for expenditure and adaptation of paths for cyclists. There will be a demand for the removal of stiles and "improvement" of the surfaces of paths and a general pressure towards that urbanisation which, in my view, is endemic in the Bill, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson).

This is one of the contentious recommendations of the Gosling Committee. The Report of the Gosling Committee was signed only 14 days ago on 26th March, and it will have been in the hands of the public for an even shorter time. The matter demands far more thought and public discussion before legislation is introduced. It is precipitate to introduce it now.

For example, even the cyclists are not satisfied. The Cyclists Touring Club, which is an old and honourable body, in a letter to the Parliamentary Secretary, says: The Cyclists' Touring Club should have been consulted before any new legislation was drafted. That has not been done, however, with the result that paragraphs (2) and (3) of the new Clause as drafted are really quite unacceptable. So this new Clause does not please those whom it is designed to please.

The conflicting interests of pedestrians and cyclists are much too imcompatible to be dealt with so quickly and summarily without causing a great deal of trouble. However much we sympathise with the cyclist and however much we admire him in his unending struggle with the forces of nature, I feel that this Clause should be withdrawn.

Mr. Skeffington

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.