HC Deb 30 July 1981 vol 9 cc1288-92
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I beg to move amendment No. 295, in page 97, line 3, at end insert— '(c) a statement giving the reasons why the applicant or his predecessor in title did not produce at the time required for the lodging of objections under the provisions of the 1949 Act and the 1968 Act relating to the preparation and revision of the definitive map and statement, or under Part III hereof, as the case may be, the evidence which the applicant wishes to adduce in support of the application which will have the effect of deleting from the map and statement a way shown therein, or of showing a byway open to all traffic so shown as a bridleway or a footpath, or of showing a bridleway or a road used as a public path as a footpath.'.

This is a fairly important amendment for ramblers. The problem concerns the way in which information is brought forward to suggest that a footpath is wrongly designated. The question relates to how far people should be able to go back and bring forward evidence. We are suggesting that there should be a severe limitation on the way in which people can go back into the past to bring forward information to try to show that a footpath should not be designated.

The problem is that often the evidence that could have been used to refute other evidence brought forward has disappeared. If, for instance, someone says that no one has used a footpath for a certain period, it is important that such evidence should be brought forward at the relevant time and not years later, when it is difficult to challenge such a statement.

This is a question of natural justice. If, when an order is first proposed to place a footpath on the definitive map, there are objections to it, that is perfectly valid. However, it would be quite wrong for someone, 15 or 16 years later, to ask for the path to be taken off the map and to ask for certain evidence to be taken into account which was available at the time when the proposal was first made but which was not put forward. It may well be that by that time the ability to refute such evidence is no longer available. It is only fair that if people seek to bring forward evidence at a later stage it should be new evidence and not evidence that was available at the time the order was made.

This is an important matter of natural justice to those in favour of the footpaths. I hope that at long last the Minister will accept one amendment which does not have the full approval of every other body but simply meets the requests of the ramblers.

Mr. Monro

Again, I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but he must not forget that I have just accepted a large number of amendments. The amendment returns to the principle of imposing additional obligations upon landowners whenever they wish to secure the downgrading or deletion of rights of way shown on definitive maps and statements.

The amendment itself serves no useful purpose, apart from making things particularly difficult for landowners. They would be obliged to provide surveying authorities with a statement of reasons why the evidence now adduced to support their application for a definitive map order was not produced when the way was first proposed for inclusion in the definitive map and statement. The reasons need not necessarily be relevant, however, as there would be no obligation on surveying authorities to have regard to whether the reasons given were acceptable before proceeding with the consideration of the application.

I cannot accept that there is any justification for treating landowners differently from applicants for other definitive map orders. It is important that we should not make different rules for different people.

For those reasons, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment because I do not think that it would help the situation that he is keen to assist. I have given the matter careful thought, but I must ask the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Denis Howell

Again, the Minister's answer is such that we must register our objection to it. In saying that he would have to reject the amendment, he made the extraordinary statement that my hon. Friend should bear in mind that he had just accepted some other amendments on other matters which have nothing to do with this one. That is the most extraordinary proposition that I have heard in the House.

Mr. Monro

The right hon. Gentleman misrepresents what I said. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) invariably introduces his amendments and new clauses as though he had never received any satisfactory reply from the Government. I was merely pointing out that in the last, very long series of amendments he received a very satisfactory reply.

Mr. Howell

That makes confusion worse confounded. I was saying that the Minister's argument amounted to saying that because he had conceded to my hon. Friend on some matters we should not discuss this one on its merits.

Amenity and recreation organisations such as the Ramblers' Association regard this as one of the key issues in this part of the Bill. It is clear that it will now be much easier for paths on maps to be downgraded or deleted altogether. That is a serious erosion of public rights and will undermine vet again the confidence in our procedures which ought to exist among those who wish to have access to the countryside.

I certainly recommend that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and other hon. Friends who are still here should register, in however small a number, as a matter of principle our determination to pursue this matter now and to return to it again, as I am sure that we shall have to, in the very near future in order to protect the rights of access to the countryside and the right of people to insist upon their objections being taken seriously.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The Minister seems to be going from one disappointment to another. He suggests that he has made concessions. He has said that he will put the recommendations of the Spicer committee into the Bill. That is useful, but that committee was designed to achieve agreement among the ramblers, the farmers, the country landowners and other such groups. That is where agreement can be reached by everyone.

We have been asking the Government to put something in the Bill that is in favour of the ramblers which may not be particularly favourable to some of the other groups, but the Minister has shown no willingness at all to meet the legitimate claims of the walkers.

The Minister is saying that, whenever a landowner wants to remove a footpath, he can dredge up information from the past and present it without giving someone the opportunity to challenge it. It could well be that the witnesses who would have come forward had the information been presented at the appropriate time have either died or moved away from the area. Once again, the Minister is loading the Bill in favour of those who want to close footpaths.

Many people enjoy the amenity of footpaths, and the Minister ought to preserve their interest as much as the interest of those who want to see footpaths closed. I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will vote in favour of the amendment and that in due course the Government will realise the legitimate arguments in favour of the ramblers.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 27, Noes 106.

Division No. 298] [11.46 pm
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cryer, Bob Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Dalyell, Tam Skinner, Dennis
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Soley, Clive
Dixon, Donald Spearing, Nigel
Dormand, Jack Tinn, James
Graham, Ted Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Hardy, Peter Welsh, Michael
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Whitehead, Phillip
Howell, Rt Hon D. Winnick, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Leighton, Ronald Tellers for the Ayes:
McCartney, Hugh Mr. George Morton and
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Mr. Frank Haynes.
Marks, Kenneth
Alexander, Richard Cope, John
Ancram, Michael Dorrell, Stephen
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Berry, Hon Anthony Dover, Denshore
Biggs-Davison, John Durant, Tony
Blackburn, John Farr, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Bright, Graham Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Brinton, Tim Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brooke, Hon Peter Gummer, John Selwyn
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Hampson, Dr Keith
Buck, Antony Hastings, Stephen
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hawkins, Paul
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heddle, John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hill, James
Colvin, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Hooson, Tom Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Hurd, Hon Douglas Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rossi, Hugh
Kershaw, Anthony Scott, Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Le Marchant, Spencer Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Silvester, Fred
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Speed, Keith
Lyell, Nicholas Speller, Tony
MacGregor, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Major, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, Paul Stainton, Keith
Marlow, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Mather, Carol Stevens, Martin
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stradling Thomas, J.
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tebbit, Norman
Mills, lain (Meriden) Thompson, Donald
Moate, Roger van Straubenzee, W. R.
Monro, Hector Waddington, David
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Wakeham, John
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Waller, Gary
Murphy, Christopher Watson, John
Neale, Gerrard Wells, Bowen
Needham, Richard Wheeler, John
Neubert, Michael Whitney, Raymond
Normanton, Tom Wickenden, Keith
Onslow, Cranley Wilkinson, John
Osborn, John Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Winterton, Nicholas
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Wolfson, Mark
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Prior, Rt Hon James
Proctor, K. Harvey Tellers for the Noes:
Renton, Tim Mr. Tony Newton and
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Alastair Goodlad.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 78, in page 97, line 10, at end insert 'the authority may direct that'.—[Mr. Monro.]

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I beg to move amendment No. 79, in page 97, line 24, after 'relates', insert 'and with such bodies as may be prescribed or as the authority may consider appropriate,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, we may take amendment No. 89, in schedule 14, page 98, leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert — ' 1. Before making an order other than an order arising from an application made under section 48(5), the authority shall consult with—

  1. (a) every local authority whose area includes the land to which the order relates;
  2. (b) every owner and occupier of any of that land; and
  3. (c) such bodies as may be prescribed or as the authority may consider appropriate.'.

Mr. Bennett

Hon. Members who have listened carefully to our debates will know that I have been trying to deal with most of the amendments relating to footpaths as quickly as possible—on many occasions not doing justice to the information supplied to me, particularly that made available by the Ramblers' Association. I have also several times said that I would keep my speeches brief if the Minister would say that he was prepared to accept an amendment.

The Deputy Patronage Secretary seems to be dissatisfied with progress. Given the attitude that he has just displayed, perhaps I should start developing to the full some of the briefs supplied to me. That is my immediate reaction to someone trying to bully and intimidate hon. Members, but the adoption of that course would be unfair to other hon. Members, most of whom are reasonable and appreciate how we have tried to get through a long and difficult Bill in reasonable time.

Therefore, I shall continue to try to deal with amendments briefly and I will not take it out on the House because one hon. Member wants to apply pressure to curtail the debate and prevent the legitimate views of ramblers from being raised.

I have already pressed the Minister to be fair and even-handed to the interests of walkers. Amendments Nos. 79 and 89 provide that opportunity. The Bill is weighted in favour of those who wish to reduce the number of footpaths.

12 midnight

The two amendments are designed to introduce fairness to procedures that apply before an order is made under schedule 14 to modify the definitive map. Schedule 13 requires anyone applying for such an order to be made to serve notice of the application on every owner and occupier concerned. This requirement will fall more heavily on the individual organisation seeking to show that public rights of way exist over a route not currently shown on the definitive map.

In the reverse situation, when an owner or an occupier wishes to have a route taken off, there is not the same duty to supply information to all those who might be concerned. If the Government wish to be even-handed, they should be prepared to accept that, where people want a footpath added, they have a duty to notify everyone of their application and that, where people want a footpath taken off, there should also be a duty to notify those interested, so enabling objections and representations to be made. That seems a simple procedure.

Unfortunately, as the Bill is drafted, there is an onus on those who want a footpath designated to take the trouble to provide information while owners and occupiers of land are allowed a much simpler procedure for taking away the order. I hope that the Minister will accept the two amendments and so enable the House to make progress.

Mr. Michael Roberts

I appreciate the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman. I recognise that he has significant support for his views. A similar amendment to amendment No. 89 was tabled on behalf of the National Farmers' Union in Committee in the other place. In many instances, the views of the various interests about whether an alleged path or way exists, where it runs and what status it commands are likely to be known already to surveying authorities as a result of previous objections, representations or consultations with owners and path users' interests.

I am not opposed to authorities engaging in consultations. I do not believe, however, that it should be mandatory for an authority to consult in every instance. This should be left to the discretion of authorities in the light of the information already available to them to decide when and with whom such consultations should take place. In this way, I am sure we shall achieve better value for the expenditure incurred and avoid any unnecessary delays in the determination of applications and the making of orders. In the circumstances, I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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