HC Deb 27 April 1984 vol 58 cc1002-17
Mr. Franks

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 40, after 'order', insert 'made by them and either—

  1. (a) submitted to and confirmed by the Secretary of State, or
  2. (b) confirmed by them as an unopposed order,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 4, in page 3, line 2, at end insert— '(1B) An order made under this section by a local highway authority—

  1. (a) may be confirmed by the Secretary of State either in the form in which it was made or subject to such modifications as he thinks fit;
  2. (b) may be confirmed by the authority as an unopposed order only in the form in which it was made.'.
No. 5, in line 5, leave out 'by local highway authorities' and insert ', submission and confirmation'. No. 6, in page 3, leave out lines 9 to 14 and insert— '(a) the publication of notice of the making of an order under this section and of its effect; (b) the making and consideration of objections to any such order; and (c) the publication of notice of the confirmation of any such order by the Secretary of State or by a local highway authority, and of the effect of the order as confirmed.'. No. 7, in line 16, leave out from 'may' to end of line 22 and insert 'in particular make provision—
  1. (a) for enabling the Secretary of State to cause a local inquiry to be held in connection with any order under this section submitted to him for confirmation;
  2. (b) for the decision as to whether any such order should be confirmed, and, if so, as to the modifications (if any) subject to which it should be confirmed, to be made by a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose instead of by the Secretary of State;
  3. (c) for any decision made by any such person in pursuance of paragraph (b) above to be treated, for the purposes of any provision of the regulations or this section, as a decision of the Secretary of State;
and subsections (2) to (5) of section 250 of the Local Government Act 1972 (giving of evidence at, and defraying of costs of, local inquiries) shall apply in relation to any local inquiry held in pursuance of paragraph (a) above as they apply in relation to a local inquiry which a Minister causes to be held under subsection (1) of that section.'. No. 10, in line 42, leave out 'made' and insert 'confirmed'.

No. 11, in page 4, line 3, leave out 'by order' and insert '(subject to and in accordance with the provisions of subsections (1B) to (6) above) by order made by them and either—

  1. (a) submitted to and confirmed by the Secretary of Slate, or
  2. (b) confirmed by them as an unopposed order,'.
No. 12, in line 4, leave out from 'section' to second 'with' in line 5.

Mr. Franks

I have had the opportunity to consider clause 3, which has been drafted on the basis that a local authority will propose the making of a footpath conversion order. There should be a right of objection to such an order, and such objections should be considered by an independent inspector who would then report to the local highway authority which, having considered his report, would not proceed with the order or would make it with or without modifications. These procedures are based upon those that apply to traffic regulation orders.

As I said on Second Reading, when discussing the Bill with interested bodies it was suggested that shared use of footpaths is different in concept from a traffic regulation order. When considering shared use, we are asking that a clear decision should be made between the possibility of improving cyclists' safety and the risk of inconveniencing and possibly endangering pedestrians. It was suggested that, bearing in mind the nature of the safety judgment and decision that needs to be made, the inspector should report to the Secretary of State and not to the local highway authority. Those who are anxious about the principle and practice of shared use see that as an additional safeguard. It could also help local authorities to avoid a possible conflict of interest. I accept these arguments.

New subsection (1A), and all the other amendments that I have tabled, stem from that decision. I have had the opportunity to discuss and agree these amendments with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. My proposed amendments substantially change clause 3. No longer will the highway authority propose making an order and then proceed to make it. The local highway authority will make the order, but if it is opposed it will have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State for Transport who may modify it as he thinks appropriate. An unopposed order can be confirmed, without modifications, by the local highway authority.

The amendment to subsection (1) provides that a local highway authority can by order made by it and submitted for confirmation by the Secretary of State, or confirmed by it as an unopposed order, designate a footpath or any part of it as a cycle track.

New subsection (1B) provides that the Secretary of State can confirm an order made by a local highway authority in the form in which it was made or subject to such modifications as he thinks appropriate, or it may be confirmed by the local highway authority as an unopposed order but only in the form in which it was originally made.

Clearly, where an order has been made by a local authority, and it is unopposed, it is wrong that the authority should be allowed subsequently to modify the order, as it is always likely that the modification may give rise to proper objection.

In the amendments to subsections (2) and (3), I propose that the Secretary of State should be given the power to make regulations covering the publication of the notice of the making of an order and of its effect, the making and consideration of objections, the publication of the notice of the confirmation of an order by the Secretary of State or by the local highway authority, the holding of local inquiries by the Secretary of State, and to allow the decision on whether an order is to be confirmed, with or without modifications, to be made by a person appointed by the Secretary of State instead of by the Secretary of State. Any decision made by such a person will be treated as a decision of the Secretary of State.

Section 250(2) to (5) of the Local Government Act 1972 cover the giving of evidence at and the defraying of the costs of local inquiries, and shall apply.

My aim has been to simplify the procedure of converting a footpath, or part of it, to a cycle track. Existing procedures involve many stages. Although we are providing for a public inquiry in the event of a contested conversion order, the new procedures will be simpler and less time-consuming than the existing ones. They ensure that the legitimate interests of those who may be affected by a footpath conversion order will be properly considered and that there will be an independent assessment of contested conversion orders.

9.45 am
Mrs. Chalker

I welcome the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). Colleagues will recall that when we were discussing these points in Committee there was more than a degree of anxiety that where natural and understandable objections were made to some conversion orders where, if the local authority was to be judge and jury, it would not necessarily be seen by some of those locally who were opposing the conversion order as the right way to deal with it.

My hon. Friend has had discussions with me and my Department to devise a system wherby someone outside that local area can consider, review and deal with the legitimate worries of those who are anxious about the effect of a conversion order on a footpath.

The amendments simply deal with section 250(2) to (5) of the Local Government Act 1972. In my anxiety over the conversion of existing pedestrian facilities to cycle tracks I have been bothered about those who are blind or partially sighted, and those who cannot move about as swiftly as those who are fleet of foot and perhaps a little younger.

On Second Reading I said that the Department would shortly be issuing revised advice to local highway authorities on shared pedestrian and cycle facilities. That advice will state that where shared use is the only way of overcoming serious accident problems on a carriageway it is essential that the attractions of such arrangements for cycle safety should be properly balanced against the increased risk of danger and inconvenience to pedestrians.

When shared use is introduced, the facilities must be clearly marked and signed so that no impression is given of a general permission to cycle on footpaths or footways. There are no circumstances in which a general or widespread opening up of pedestrian facilities for use by cyclists would be acceptable.

One of the anxieties of many who responded to our discussion document on shared use was that a cycle track converted for shared use would become a free for all for people to ride on footpaths. Those who joined us in Committee were plainly worried about that point, and I made it clear then that a cycle track is different. We are discussing not the pavement but a walkway that is converted for shared use in specific circumstances.

There is nothing in the Bill—if matters are handled properly, as my hon. Friend intends, by the local authority concerned with the conversion—that should increase the danger to pedestrians on the shared facility. However, I want to make it clear beyond any doubt that cycling on footpaths or footways is not and never has been permitted. The Bill does not permit it. It is still an offence. It particularly endangers the lives of the elderly, the less mobile, the blind and those who are partially sighted. When we talk about shared use it is vitally important to make the contrast between what is proposed in the Cycle Tracks Bill and a pavement on which cycling is not permitted.

The conversion of footpaths, either in whole or in part, to cycle tracks will involve striking a difficult balance in some areas between road safety objectives and the need for security and unimpeded mobility for the users of existing footpaths. There should be a clear right to object to the principle of footpath conversion at any location. It is also appropriate that the public should be thoroughly informed of the type of facility that a local highway authority intends to provide on a cycle track which is maintainable at public expense—in other words, whether there should be some form of kerb or barrier between the cycle track and the adjacent footpath, or a white line, or whether the whole of the footpath is to become a cycle track.

We are particularly concerned here with the situation in which—partly because of width restrictions—there cannot be a kerb or barrier of the type that we would all ideally like to see. Hon. Members will have noted, in crossing from St. Stephen's entrance to the House of Commons to St. Margaret's Westminster, what was described to me by an hon. Member as a most uncomfortable surface by the pedestrian crossing. The raised surface is part of an experiment to try to help the blind and the partially sighted. Its purpose is to change the texture of the surface to warn them in good time that they are at the edge of a pedestrian crossing. That sort of development is being made possible by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and it may be possible to have it where a kerb is not feasible. But where none of those measures will work and the advice is that white line segregation should be used, we have to understand what is involved and the complaints that might be made against shared use.

Hon. Members will be well aware that white line segregation—or no segregation whatever—is a hazard for the blind and the partially sighted. The lack of a reminder to the cyclist that he should give way to the pedestrian on a path is also of concern to us.

Given the nature of the decision that has to be made about shared use, I consider that, in the case of opposed conversion orders — where, for example, a local community group or a group of the disabled get together and say, "No, this is not the pathway" and there is disagreement at local level—the final decision should fall to the Secretary of State.

The effect of my hon. Friend's amendments will be that the local highway authority will make an order for shared use. If there are objections, the order will have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State before such shared use can be put into operation. After a local public inquiry, the Secretary of State will have the advice that he needs to be able either to confirm the order, with or without modification, or to refuse to confirm the order. That at least gives the assurance that many people who were concerned about shared cycle facilities were seeking, because the local authority will not be the order-making body and the judge of what is taking place.

The provision that the decision whether to confirm an order can be made by the person appointed by the Secretary of State to hold a public local inquiry broadly follows the precedent introduced into the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In general, the provision has worked, and I shall be interested to know whether hon. Members have any direct experience of it in their constituencies, although I am not sure what sort of wildlife exists in some of the more urban areas. However, as the provision has worked satisfactorily, it should work in the circumstances envisaged in the Bill.

Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations. I believe that we should always consult widely on draft regulations. It is proposed that there shall be full consultation with the police, as they are the people who usually have to deal with the nasty accidents and so on. Consultation is also necessary with local authorities and any statutory undertaker whose land the footpath crosses, and with other interested organisations. All those consultations are necessary if a shared use facility is to work successfully. I hope that we shall be able to give the cycle tracks that result from the Bill as fair a wind as has been given by a wide variety of bodies to the use of many disused railway lines as cycle and walking tracks.

The second part of the draft regulations provides that publicity and statutory notices will need to specify the lengths of footpaths to be converted. They will have to specify the type of segregation that it is proposed to provide between the cycle track and any adjacent footpath, in pursuance of the powers in clause 4.

The two parts of the draft regulations, taken together, provide for almost the widest possible consultation procedure. The all-important third part of the regulations provides for objections to be made to a proposed conversion.

Finally, if there are unwithdrawn objections, the proposals will need to go to a local public inquiry. If the Bill is amended in the way that my hon. Friend is proposing, the inspector will report from that local public inquiry to the Secretary of State for Transport. The Secretary of State will make the final decision whether to confirm the order, with or without modification.

I believe that my hon. Friend is right in seeking by his amendment to require the Department to make the appropriate regulations, but when such regulations are proposed people must be aware that, if no objections are received to an order, the highway authority can proceed to make it without any modification.

I draw particular attention to the making of modifications. While some of the proposals will be broadly uncontroversial and to the benefit of the whole community, many people often have bright ideas, which, dare I say it, coming from a pseudo planning Department, the planners do not always have. I have found that consultation with local amenity groups—the people who will use the facility—often means that a better order is proposed in the first place. I wish that the consultation took place long before we reached the order stage rather than afterwards, when we might have to turn the whole thing over.

10 am

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the Minister agree that that disease of the failure to recognise good ideas is not restricted to local authorities?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I have never believed that it is restricted to local authorities or to Government Departments. In amenity provisions such as this, the need to consult local amenity groups goes broad and far. If the hon. Gentleman saw the internal notes that I write in the office, he would know how angry I get if consultations are not held at the right time in the process. The important thing is to try to lay down a mode of working that means that people consult before they come up with formal documents. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I try to do that. We should encourage that to be done before the local authority reaches the order-making stage. Then, perhaps, there will not be such extensive use of the local public inquiry system. It is there to safeguard the views of those who do not agree with the order for conversion put forward by the local highway authority.

Therefore, I hope that the House can accept this long series of amendments—Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12—put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness. I hope that it will give hon. Members, when they notify their local groups of the measure, the opportunity to show that there is ample room for objection and modificaton if that is necessary to make the shared use facility a successfully used facility. That is what my hon. Friend wants. I look forward to seeing the first fruits of the Bill before too many years pass.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

The House will be grateful to the Minister of State for her detailed explanation of the Government's view of the amendments and to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) — the Bill is his baby — for accepting the representations made in Committee about shared use and the right of appeal for those aggrieved or likely to be aggrieved by the provisions in the legislation.

The Minister was right to explain the Government's view on shared use in the way that she did. It appears that it would be easy to take the view that the pedestrian and the cyclist happily coexist, but regrettably, in this imperfect world in which we live, that is not necessarily so. The clause in the Bill where provision for the separation of the two is made is more than welcome.

I should like to make a few points in reply to what the Minister said. In Committee I said that in my constituency a disused railway line had been turned into a walkway, and that presumably it would be considered suitable for conversion into a cycle track. The Minister referred to this aspect of our transport and industrial history—disused railway lines. It is not a pleasant subject for those who feel strongly about our railway system, but the fact that disused railway lines exist means that we must discuss what to do with them.

People believe that, as many disused railway lines are in rural areas, the safeguards that were demanded in Committee are not necessary. However, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness will remember from our deliberations that it was said that in urban areas, equally regrettably, there are a number of disused railway lines, similar to the one in my constituency. It is not just a question of the difficulties that might arise between pedestrians and cyclists on urban former railway lines, but objections might be received from people living alongside former railway lines.

I have received letters from constituents expressing the concern that I tried to outline in Committee. What sort of publicity does the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness envisage that local authorities will use to advertise the fact that they are considering making orders under the Bill? There might be difficulties, such as we have had in the past, with a comparatively small newspaper advertisement that is often missed by those who, unlike hon. Members, do not peruse the local newspaper from cover to cover. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage that a statutory notice will be sent to householders living alongside the proposed cycleway, whether it is a disused railway line or not?

The House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation of amendment No. 7, which concerns the appeal provisions. Both sides of the Committee were concerned that the local authority making the order would act as judge and jury with regard to objections. The fact that not only is there provision for appeals to the Secretary of State but that the final decision maker will be the Secretary of State is to be welcomed.

I reiterate my concern about the publication of statutory notices, which will affect those who might wish to make objections, provided that they know beforehand what is proposed. We touched on this matter in Committee. Whereas the vast majority of cyclists are law-abiding people who enjoy cyling sometimes as a sport, sometimes as a transport necessity and sometimes as a little of both, regrettably the behaviour of a minority of cyclists is likely to cause concern to householders who live adjacent to the cycleways or to those who for many years have enjoyed the benefits of a walkway. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reassure the House about the hearing of those people's objections and notification to them of the proposals that can be made under his otherwise excellent Bill.

Mr. Franks

I have listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). I should point out that, although some hon. Members are inclined to refer to my constituency as "Barrow" or "Barrow in Furness", my presence here reflects the votes of the people of Barrow "and" Furness.

In my experience of local government since about 1960 I have found that local authorities are never slow to spend money on matters which they consider useful and beneficial to those whom they represent. The purpose of the Bill is to provide the means and the modus for local authorities to create cycle tracks if they are so minded. It is hoped that Parliament will provide the wherewithal through legislation, but it is up to local authorities, working hand in hand with local and national pressure groups — the Cyclists Touring Club, for example, strongly supports the Bill — to ensure that the opportunities available receive adequate publicity. It is not for us to set down what local authorities should do. It is our duty to give them the opportunity.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman will recall from his local government experience the difficulties involved with the construction of motorways and the soundproofing of adjacent houses. If he does not, the Minister certainly will. Many householders then objected that they were unaware of the facilities available to them under the law because the Department of the Environment or the county councils, as its agents, did not publicise the provisions sufficiently. Indeed, the present Government have been sufficiently kind and wise to allow a change in the law to cater for those who, through no fault of their own, did not make representations at the proper time. My concern is that similar problems should not arise with the Bill. I caution the hon. Gentleman not to be too emphatic about this being a matter purely for local authorities and not for the House, as all too often it is Parliament which has to put things right subsequently.

Mr. Franks

That is a fair point. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in due course the Department will publish regulations and notes of guidance for local authorities. I hope and assume — I have no reason to believe otherwise — that those notes will emphasise the importance of making well known to those who may be aggrieved their rights to express their grievances. Opposition Members will appreciate, too, that for the next 18 months or so certain authorities, such as the Greater London council and the Greater Manchester council, with which I am extremely familiar, will continue in operation. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that those authorities have never shown the slightest reluctance to spend money on all kinds of obscure causes. The Bill is not an obscure cause, and I have no reason to suppose that they or any other authorities will not ensure that the public are made well aware of their rights.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) wishes to move the other amendments formally, I shall give him the opportunity to do so as they appear on the Order Paper.

10.15 am
Mr. Franks

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 2, at end insert— '(1A) A local highway authority shall not make an order under this section designating as a cycle track any footpath or part of a footpath which crosses any agricultural land unless every person having a legal interest in that land has consented in writing to the making of the order. In this subsection "agricultural land" has the meaning given by section 1(2) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948; and "legal interest" does not include an interest under a letting of land having effect as a letting for an interest less than a tenancy from year to year.'. Clause 3 gives local highway authorities the power to convert all or part of a footpath to a cycle track. While such conversions can provide recreational routes, that is not their primary purpose. The main reason for such a conversion must be the increased safety of cyclists, which is likely to be most useful in urban areas or in rural areas for clearly defined footpaths running outside fields and, for example, linking a village with its school.

I accept the point made by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association that there should be additional protection when a footpath crosses agricultural land. New subsection (1A) provides the additional safeguard by prohibiting conversion of footpaths across agricultural land without the written consent of all those having a legal interest in the land. Agricultural land is defined in section 1(2) of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 as land used for agriculture which is so used for the purposes of a trade or business and land designated by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under section 109(1) of the Agriculture Act 1947.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Why does my hon. Friend consider it appropriate that a landowner or tenant with a legal interest in the land should be obliged to signify consent in writing? One can envisage circumstances in which a landowner may have no valid objection, or indeed no objection at all, but declines to take the trouble to put the consent in writing. Could not the clause provide that the local highway authority shall make an order unless written objection is received from a landowner or someone with a legal interest in the land?

Mr. Franks

It is a matter of where the prime responsibility should lie. It is not the purpose of the Bill to provide cycle tracks across arable land, for instance. The argument was forcefully put to me, and there was no counter-argument, that under the Bill as originally drafted a local authority might, if it were so minded—it is not beyond the realms of possibility in the case of some authorities—create footpaths through fields containing crops or cattle. Therefore, I believe that the onus for ensuring that there are no objections should be on the local authority rather than merely making an order and leaving it to those with an interest in the land to object to the proposals. The onus must be on the local authority to ensure that there are no objections, rather than on landowners or those with a legal interest in the land to protest.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Peter Snape.

Mr. Snape

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My intention was to intervene.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I may have misunderstood the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). Has the hon. Gentleman finished his speech?

Mr. Franks

I have not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was replying to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight).

Mr. Snape

I find the hon. Gentleman's explanation less than satisfactory. As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) pointed out, amendment No. 3 would mean that there must be written consent before a local highway authority can make an order. Does that not mean that, if it proves impossible to trace the person with an interest in the land or a claim to ownership of it, the highway authority will not be able to make the order? The point made by the hon. Member for Derby, North is valid. The arrangement should be that the owners or those with some interest in the land should have to raise the objection, rather than that an order could be blocked because it was impossible to get their consent in writing.

Mr. Franks

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point that I made earlier on this amendment. The Bill is not primarily concerned with recreation. Its whole emphasis is to ensure the maximum safety for cyclists, and we are talking primarily — indeed, almost exclusively — about urban areas.

Where a footpath passes through a field—there are many such footpaths — the Bill as drafted makes it possible in theory for a local authoriy to designate that footpath in the middle of nowhere as a cycle track. The owner or the person with a legal interest would then have to follow the procedure set out in the Bill for others who feel aggrieved. The National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association objected to that, and they had a fair point. The Bill could result in cycle tracks passing through fields of wheat. That was never the intention of any of the hon. Members who support the Bill. It is right and proper that in such circumstances the onus should be on the local authority to obtain the written consent of all who have a legal interest in the land.

Mr. Bermingham

If the hon. Gentleman were to put the amendment the other way round, all the objections would be overcome. For example, there might be a tenant with the fag end of a lease—a year or two. He might say that he agreed with the concept of the cycle track going through the land—I am thinking of national parks in particular—but he might be too lazy to put his consent in writing, and he would thereby hold up the whole development. The cycle track might go up to his land and beyond it, but not through it, and the whole project could be ruined because somebody was too lazy to comply. If the new subsection was slightly amended to say that the objections must be put in writing, the point made by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) and by my hon. Friend could easily be overcome without affecting the right of somebody to say no.

Mr. Franks

Notwithstanding the interventions by various members of my profession to whose expertise I bow, I must repeat that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure the safety of cyclists and not to create recreational facilities—although that might well be a welcome by-product. I suggest to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Bermingham) and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that it would be better to leave these points to be considered in another place rather than to take a decision this morning that might itself have to be reconsidered there.

I am sure that those points have been noted, but I cannot agree with them. Forceful representations were made to me and I accepted their validity. The drafting of the Bill is complex, although the Bill is short, and the drafting makes it possible for something to happen that had not been envisaged or intended. I ask hon. Members to accept the amendment. If further amendments should be made, that could be done in another place.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) has made a stong and stirring case for the amendment, but I have doubts about it. Not least, I share some of the worries that have been expressed by some lawyers in the House and by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and the Minister of State.

Unless I am mistaken, the only tracks that can be made under the Bill will be tracks converted from footpaths. One of the great worries of country lovers — people who enjoy walking and riding on horseback, for example—is that footpaths often get lost, ploughed up or blocked off. I do not doubt the sincerity of the National Farmers Union. Its worries must be taken seriously into account. However, we lose huge areas of countryside to concrete every year. It is said that an area the size of Oxfordshire disappears under concrete every 10 years. There is less and less opportunity for access to the countryside by those who live there and in particular by those who live in towns and cities.

One of the reasons why access has become more difficult — apart from the loss to concrete — is the alarming rate at which footpaths are being lost. A footpath which exists on definitive maps may be ploughed over. The sign indicating the existence of a public right of way may become derelict, and eventually the entrance to the footpath may be blocked off and there may be no way in which members of the public—unless they have a map—can know that there should be a footpath. I do not say that that is brought about deliberately by farmers or landowners, but unfortunately it happens. A large group of horse and pony riders make it their business to clear rights of way which have become lost, covered over and disused. I ask my hon. Friend and those in another place to bear it in mind that if the amendment is accepted as it stands there will not be the number of cycle tracks that my hon. Friend wishes to see created under his enlightened Bill.

It must be reasonable to tell farmers and country landowners that, if they plant wheat or other crops over a footpath, or what might be a cycle track, the local authority must designate an alternative route. Such a route might go round the field, but there must be one. Unless the House ensures that, people who use footpaths will find that there are fewer of them and local authorities that want to convert footpaths to cycle tracks will have fewer to convert. Those paths might even disappear, having been converted, and therefore cyclists will not have the amenities or benefit from the safety that my hon. Friend envisages. I should also like to put in a plea for horse riders who are in similar circumstances.

With regard to safety, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to say that he would like cyclists on converted tracks or in towns to wear fluorescent badges and sometimes crash helmets and the rest, especially at dusk when there is greatest danger and in the countryside when people cycle across fields when farmers are belting across them on a tractor.

10.30 am
Mr. Franks

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting, but I understood that this was an intervention and that I had given way to my hon. Friend. Am I listening to an intervention or a speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is certainly not an intervention. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) has sat down. I have put the amendment and the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) now has the floor. However, because the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness moved the amendment, he has the right to reply without the leave of the House, so he need not be worried that he will not have another opportunity to get in.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend did not think that I had the gross effrontery to make, or you to allow, such a long intervention. I am willing to give way at any time.

Mr. Snape

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

Of course.

Mr. Snape

We are all fascinated with the issue of safety. I am not trying to do your job, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must point out that we are dealing with an amendment concerning agricultural land. I know that the hon. Gentleman's role this morning is that of a bike-riding cavalry to save the Government Whips, but it would perhaps be more helpful to the House if we discussed agricultural land rather than fluorescent crash helmets.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Ealing, North was beginning to stray a little from the amendment, and I am sure that he will now come back to it.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East does me a disservice. I am a keen member of the parliamentary cycling club and I am not sure that he is. I cycled to the House this morning, bumping over the potholes of the GLC's roads. I was attempting to draw the House's attention to the safety aspects of cycling on cycle tracks over agricultural land. They are worth mentioning, and are not dissimilar to the problems facing cyclists in towns.

Cycle tracks converted from footpaths can be uncomfortable and bumpy, as they are unlikely to be properly laid for cyclists. They are especially dangerous in wet weather, when there can be much mud about. Inexperienced cyclists can skid and fall off. They can also be dangerous in winter, when there is ice about. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East accepts that at dusk it is important for cyclists, whether riding across agricultural land or elsewhere, to wear fluorescent bands. Stray cattle would be alerted by them, as would farmers on tractors. Bicycles should also be properly lit front and rear. It is especially dangerous for cyclists not to have properly lit machines when emerging from cycle tracks across agricultural land on to roads, because pedestrians, other cyclists or motorists might not see them. Such accidents are frequent and I ask the House to take the matter seriously.

Mr. Peter Lilley (St. Albans)

Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider another danger of cycling across agricultural land—that resulting from shooting rights on it. Does he have any helpful observations on that?

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises a notably important point which I had not intended to mention. I had the pleasure of walking through the Cotswolds for one and a half days during the Easter recess. I walked across land which was——

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether the debate has now strayed into the realms of the ridiculous. The amendment concerns which holder of an interest gives notice to whom, when and how. The subject now being canvassed, while no doubt important, is surely more relevant to Third Reading.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Ealing, North is quite in order; this is a fairly wide amendment. However, I remind the House that we must stick to the amendments that are being discussed.

Mr. Greenway

As recently as last Saturday, it became clear to me that there is a serious danger to cyclists using tracks across agricultural land that is used for shooting. If the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) thinks that that is not worthy of mention, he should do some thinking. As he is a lawyer, I am surprised at his attitude. The danger arises because cyclists will not know when a shoot takes place near a cycle track. Fanners are under no legal obligation to make it known that there is a shoot and that people might be shooting low—for example, for pheasants. I am not considering the rights or wrongs of game shooting, but simply talking about shooting as a danger.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider many safety factors relating to cyclists using tracks across agricultural land. I hope that he will change his mind, and I urge those in another place to do the same when they consider this clause.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As many blind people are worried about the possible consequences of passing clause 3, Miss Jill Allen, who is an official representative of the blind organisations and is on their access committee, has attempted to enter the Strangers' Gallery with her guide dog but has been refused access. Many right hon. and hon. Members will regard that refusal as ludicrous because only a few weeks ago that lady and her guide dog waited patiently and were admitted into the other place. Where the interests of so many people are involved, some special arrangements should be made, even if on a temporary basis—although I should like them to be made on a permanent basis—so that this lady and her dog can gain access to the Chamber.

The lady has been told that the dog will be cared for, but I understand that the dog and many animals of the same type fret and become ill when they are taken away from their owners, even for only a short time. This is a problem, and I hope that you can advise the House on this matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House has listened with great sympathy to the hon. Gentleman. We all wish to have the best possible access that conditions allow, especially for people who have any disability. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the Services Committee recently considered the arrangements and its recommendation to Mr. Speaker is that the present arrangements should not be changed. I regret that cannot help the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wareing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any possibility of discretion being exercised by Mr. Speaker or by you? If not, could Mr. Speaker ask the Services Committee to review the position and to take evidence from organisations for the disabled, especially the blind? It is possible for people to gain access to the Strangers' Gallery in wheelchairs, which some might regard as an encumbrance. I hope that you or Mr. Speaker will make those representations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As I told the House a moment ago, the Services Committee has recently considered the matter fully. Therefore, I cannot help the hon. Gentleman, but I shall certainly convey to Mr. Speaker the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Greg Knight

I do not oppose the amendment. but I am less than happy with its drafting. Presumably my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) hopes that, in appropriate cases and where there is no objection, footpaths across agricultural land can be used as cycle tracks. I fear that the clause as drafted will place many obstacles in the way of that happening. A landowner who owns three or four fields aross which there is a footpath may have let that land to 11 different tenants, all of whom have a legal interest in the land.

10.45 am

The amendment would introduce the words, unless every person having a legal interest in that land has consented in writing", which would mean that the landowner and the 11 tenants must give their consent in writing to the making of a cycle track order. My hon. Friend may believe that that is reasonable, but is there not a danger that, although all 12 people have no objection to a cycle track order being made, one tenant might not like putting pen to paper and might give his consent orally? In that case, the clause as drafted would prevent an order being made. I hope that at some stage my hon. Friend will reconsider this and will agree to alter the wording. There can be no objection to turning the matter round and saying that anyone who has a legal interest in the land must give any objections in writing. If no written objections are received, an order can be made.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My constituency is largely urban but it includes a chunk of countryside and farms. The hon. Members present in the Chamber today represent predominantly urban interests. The Chamber is hardly heavy with landowners, and I have seen little tweed and smelt little manure on boots this morning.

Legislation that will affect the rights of landowners and the right to access to the countryside should pass through the House with the good will of the urban and rural populations. It would be unwise for the House to try to foist on landowners a requirement that they should allow cycle tracks to be made across their land without their first giving absolute consent in writing. I understand the points made by several of my hon. Friends, but nowadays there is evidence of rifts developing between the 80 per cent. or more of the population who live in urban areas and the much smaller percentage who live in rural areas. If more cyclists and, indeed, more ramblers are to cross farm land, it should be with the full consent of the landowners.

There is no doubt that in recent years there has been a protest move by many ramblers and cyclists, who believe that they should be given unlimited access to the countryside, but that move has not been welcomed by country landowners, who have over the centuries improved their land and, wherever possible, allowed access to it.

With that in mind, when I looked at the original drafting of the clause I shared the worry of members of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) has accepted the pleas and has varied his view according to the worries of the farmers and the landowners, and has now come forward with this amendment. We would be wise to accept it. It would be welcomed with acclaim by those from the countryside.

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

Like my hon. Friends the Members for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), I believe that the amendment improves the Bill; therefore I support it. Nevertheless, I share some of the worries that have been expressed about the possibility of significant constraints on cycle ways in some situations. I encountered a case in local government where the ownership of a cart track at the edge of a new town could not be and still has not been established. Therefore, problems of access and use of that cart track remain. In that case there was a significant financial interest arising from access to possible future industrial type properties. In the case of cycle tracks and cycle ways, such a financial incentive may not be there. Therefore, the local authority may all too often simply give up and say that it cannot introduce a cycle track because it cannot obtain the written permission that would be required by the Bill with this amendment. Is it possible for the amendment to be redrafted in another place to achieve the objectives that have been set out, while at the same time providing local authorities with a reasonable option if difficulties arise in establishing ownership, as I know they can?

Mrs. Chalker

I well understand the anxieties that have been mentioned by several hon. Members since my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) moved the amendment. However, it is important to consider the reasons for it, which he gave, and to bear in mind what can happen if there is no legal consent.

In welcoming the amendment, which is necessary, I accept, as my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) and for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) intimated, that it may require some amendment in another place. They have clearly pointed out the problems of non-traceable owners or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North pointed out, of non-traceable lessees of parts of land where the owner may give his consent but where the lessees, who have a legal right, cannot be traced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said that his main reason for seeking to simplify the existing complex footpath conversion procedures is to increase the safety of cyclists. I fully agree with him, as he knows. It is not seen primarily as a way of providing recreational cycle routes but it could be used for that purpose. To be effective, a cycle track must have a smooth permanent surface and therefore it is markedly different from the traditional concept of a rural footpath meandering through the countryside and from time to time passing across agricultural land. It is right that if a footpath which it is proposed to convert to a cycle track crosses agricultural land we should have the prior consent of those with a legal interest in that land. If we were not to do so there would be the inherent danger that a man who gives verbal rather than written consent might change his mind and he could subsequently challenge the footpath in court, whichever court that might be, for no other reason than that he had changed his mind. That is why my hon. Friend has looked for a way to guarantee that an owner and others with a legal interest are aware of the proposal to convert. In saying that there should be a written consent to allow the conversion to proceed my hon. Friend has looked for a record of the consent and only a written consent can provide that. It may be that we are seeing problems where there are none but we are trying to ensure that a cycle track, once established, will continue to provide a facility for a good time to come and not be subject to legal wrangles which could have been avoided by prior written consent to that footpath.

Mr. Bermingham

Could not all the problems be overcome, and the point raised by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) be taken into account, simply by making a provision in the Bill to the effect that a person with an interest in the land who wishes to object to the creation of a cycle track must do so within a specific period to the appropriate authority? That is how such matters are taken care of in a number of other areas and that would overcome the problem of the non-traceable owner or person with an interest in the land.

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman is right and that is why I said that, although this provision is required, it might be necessary to amend it in another place. The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North probably gives us a way out from this particular slight difficulty that we have encountered in an otherwise non-controversial Bill this morning.

We should accept the amendment. We are certainly not trying to prevent recreational cycling in the countryside. There are thousands of miles of rural roads and bridleways available to cyclists and some local authorities have signposted level cycle routes—for example, Cumbria and Wiltshire. Other authorities are considering such routes which from time to time cross agricultural land and when they are doing so we must ask that they not only get written permission but also that the routes are clearly signed so that, as far as possible, they are safe for use by a family to go out cycling. Routes suitable for an experienced cyclist and an adult may not be always suitable for a family with young children.

The amendment does not unduly restrict opportunities to cycle in the countryside. Cyclists have no right to cycle on footpaths in town or country, as I said earlier. If it is proposed to give them the right to cycle on a footpath converted to a cycle track which passes through agricultural land it is only right that those who are dependent on that land should be protected. I hope that the House will accept the amendment with the proviso that between now and its consideration in another place we shall consider the points that have been made by my hon. Friend and advise what can be done to iron out the slight difficulty that we have encountered this morning.

11 am

Mr. Franks

May I take the opportunity to reply to various points made concerning the amendment. I entirely endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) concerning the desire of a member and representative of the Royal National Institute for the Blind to listen to the debate. I have had several discussions with the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and I know of its great interest in the Bill. I have sought to accommodate it, and I share with the hon. Gentleman great regret that—for reasons that some hon. Members may have considered and found right, but which many hon. Members equally found to be wrong—that person was deprived of the opportunity to attend the debate.

Various point have been made by hon. Members in the debate—

It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. Speaker interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).

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