HL Deb 19 February 1981 vol 417 cc777-86

3.24 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 506:

After Clause 41, insert the following new clause:

("Making of orders under ss. 39, 40, 41

.—(1) Orders made under sections 39, 40 or 41 shall be in such form as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State and shall contain a map, on such scale as may be prescribed, showing such rights of way as are affected by the order.

(2) Appeals made to the Secretary of State under section 39(8) shall be in such form as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: It did not escape my notice that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, had invited us to make better progress today than we have done hitherto, although as I said to him yesterday it was unfortunate that he should have chosen the precise moment to give your Lordships this advice when two of my amendments were about to be taken. I bear him no resentment for that, and I assure him that I shall take these amendments at the breakneck speed that this Bill has been experiencing all the way through its proceedings.

This is really a simple amendment which will not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. If we look at Clauses 39, 40 and 41, we see there that surveying authorities are given power to make orders of various sorts. In Clause 39 they are given the power to alter the map and the statement prepared in definitive form for the area under Section 33 of the 1949 Act in consequence of any of the events occurring which are specified in subsection (3) of the clause.

Clause 40 gives a similar power to make orders modifying the map and statement after reviewing all RUPPs and reclassifying them as byways open to all traffic, bridleways, or footpaths. Finally, Clause 41 contains the power to make orders modifying the map and statement after a survey begun under Sections 27 to 32 of the 1949 Act has been abandoned, after a draft map and statement have been prepared, and the period for making objections or representations has expired, giving effect to decisions of the Secretary of State on objections, but also implementing proposals contained in the draft definitive or draft revised definitive map which did not attract any objection.

What this new clause modestly proposes to do is to provide that the Secretary of State shall prescribe the form of the orders made under any of the provisions I have mentioned, and also the form in which appeals would be made if there were to be a machinery for making appeals under Clause 39. Of course, when I drafted this amendment I never for one moment imagined that the Committee would reject Amendments Nos. 477 and 478, which your Lordships will remember sought to create a right of appeal where an authority had ignored, or had declined to act on, a written claim alleging that one of the events mentioned in Clause 39(3) had occurred. I hope that this is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and his colleagues may feel able to return to on Report stage, because obviously as the Bill now stands subsection (2) of the new clause now before the Committee would not make sense. That amendment would need to be restored to Clause 39 for it to make sense.

Powers very similar to the one I am proposing here exist at the moment in relation to public path orders in Schedule 6, Part I, of the Highways Act 1980. It may be said that if this amendment were not to be accepted by the Government, the Secretary of State could always issue circulars to local authorities recommending a form for the orders in question; but as your Lordships will be aware, the present Government are not keen on circulars, which they see as a kind of interference with the freedom of local authorities.

The case for standardisation is that without this local authorities might not always publish orders which were legally correct, and since they form part of the title deeds to land it is absolutely essential that they are correctly drafted. In practice what would be likely to happen is that one local authority draftsman would publish a set of draft orders and then that would be copied by most other authorities, and of course they would get it right in the end. But why run unnecessary risk of mistakes in the meanwhile? I beg to move.

3.29 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

I acknowledge that regulations of this kind ensure uniformity over the country as a whole. Indeed, at one time we took the view that there was much to be said for them, and a proposal to this effect was in fact included in our consultation paper. However, on reflection it seemed to us to be inconsistent to be transferring jurisdiction on definitive maps to local authorities on the one hand while tying their hands very firmly on a comparatively minor issue on the other. I say this although I am aware that the final decision on the question of the transfer of jurisdiction has yet to be resolved.

Whatever the final outcome of that debate, I question whether it is necessary to prescribe the form of orders to ensure there is complete uniformity nationwide. I should make it clear that the three types of order will be very simple and that their form will be determined by their function, which is to modify the existing definitive map and statement. Given that function, there is little or no scope for any great variation in the form of these orders.

I was interested in what the noble Lord said about an alternative, and I would be prepared as an alternative to discuss with the local authority associations the possibility of introducing a model form of order which could be recommended to their member authorities, and I think that would achieve the same result more simply. If that suggestion commends itself to the noble Lord, perhaps he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Avebury

The Minister seems to have made an excellent suggestion—namely, that consultations be held with local authorities with a view to seeing whether a draft model acceptable to all of them could be developed—and with that assurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 [Effect of definitive map and statement]:

3.32 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 506ZA: Page 37, line 1, at beginning insert ("Except in the case of highways to which section [Greenways] applies,").

The noble Lord said: At an earlier stage in our Committee proceedings I dealt with the question of greenlanes from the landscape historical, and flora and fauna aspects and suggested, with the approval of the Minister, that we should treat the question of rights of way separately in this part of the Bill, where it more properly belongs. This is a paving amendment for No. 511B, to which I will, with permission, speak at the same time. No. 511B attempts to bring together all the considerations which it is suggested should be taken into account in designating these ancient thoroughfares as a special class which warrants statutory protection of several kinds.

I explained that greenways were ancient unmetalled tracks usually bounded by hedges, walls or ditches. The most famous example of these is the Ridgeway, a very ancient path which runs over the edge of the Chilterns and through the Marlborough and Berkshire Downs. One of the main objects of the amendment is to preserve the Ridgeway and routes of a similar character from the intrusion of motor vehicles and particularly, in my view, from motor-cycles. I emphasise however, that motor-cyclists are fully entitled to enjoy their sport in the countryside like everybody else, but they should not be permitted to do so at the expense of the walker and cyclist in particular; there should be proper areas set aside for the recreation of the trail riders and others who use vehicles, be they two or four wheeled vehicles, for recreational purposes in the countryside and not on the main roads.

Mr. D. Grant King, chairman of the Ridgeway Conservation Conference, wrote to the Countryside Commission on 14th January asking what decision they had made on the status, use and measures for the protection of the North Wessex Ridgeway and separately for other greenways. I am told that he has had no reply as yet. It is unfortunate that the Countryside Commission was not able to reply more promptly to a letter which was clearly very relevant to these proceedings. I realise the Countryside Commission have many other things on their minds and that they have done a tremendous job in providing information for noble Lords in relation to this Bill. However, I still regret they were not able to reply to Mr. Grant King on what is a most important point. The commission's report for 1971–72 clearly said (for the record, it was stated in chapter 4, page 7, paragraph 3) that between Overton Hill in Wiltshire and Goring Gap at Streetley the Ridgeway was to be a bridleway for use by riders and cyclists as well as walkers, and then beyond the Thames, as far as Ivanhoe Beacon, the path would continue as a right of way for walkers only.

I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be here this afternoon, but he was at the Department of the Environment at the time and I believe he fully supported that policy, to which the commission adhered until fairly recently. But then, after the submission of the report on greenlanes, they altered their policy or they accepted the proposition that all kinds of motor traffic should be allowed on the Ridgeway and on other greenways, limited only by voluntary restraint on the part of motoring clubs and policing by officials of those clubs. Although this was never said, I understand that one of the reasons for arriving at that decision was the great difficulty of policing the use of greenlanes by motor vehicles, the reluctance of police authorities to become involved and the great difficulties of enforcement.

The change of policy was embodied in a letter written on 23rd May last by my noble friend Lord Winstanley to Mr. Tom King, my noble friend then being chairman of the commission. This document then came to the attention of the Ridgeway Conservation Conference much later, in November. In that letter my noble friend expressed the opinion—which was based on the report of the Greenlanes Study by the Dartington Trust, submitted to the Countryside Commission—that voluntary restraint by motoring and motor-cycling bodies provided some hope of solving the conflict of interest without recourse to further legislation. That must have been music in the ears of Ministers, to whom in this Government legislation is to be avoided wherever possible, but we must ask whether it is reasonable for us to rely on voluntary restraint. Has it been successful in the past and, if not, to what extent will the absence of restraint exercise a harmful effect on other interests?

Motor-cycle trail riding and motor rallies can and do damage, and in the end destroy, the surface of greenlanes, and of course the noise and danger of sporting events in turn destroy people's enjoyment of the countryside and the peace which the majority of people using greenlanes are seeking. The Greenlanes Study said in paragraphs 250 and 251 that ramblers were pleased to see vehicular rights being withdrawn from the green lanes". But that pleasure was qualified by the risks that some people saw being incurred in that the greenways would, as a result of being closed to vehicular traffic, be exposed to ploughing up and destruction by the farmers on either side". My amendment would take care of that risk also by making it an offence, punishable by fine up to the statutory maximum, to plough up, divert or otherwise injure the highway including any boundaries on either side of it. The Greenlanes Study also made the point that vehicular users had rights over only 3 per cent. of the paths available to walkers and riders, but that should be put into perspective. After all, motor-cyclists have access to open spaces which are not greenlanes, and, as I have said, that should be expanded. And they can of course use the whole of the public road net- work. The trail riders constitute, according to the Greenlanes Study, only a very few of the 5,000 members of the Autocycle Union and British Motorcyclists' Federation, while it is estimated that there are approaching 1½ million long-distance walkers. Thus, if we must weigh in the balance the interests of the ramblers against those of organisations which wish to open up greenlanes to vehicular traffic, I suggest the overwhelming majority are on the side of the ramblers.

The RAC, in its incorrect assumption that I would be sympathetic to the views that it expressed, sent me a memorandum on the Bill which contained a very interesting comment on the Ridgeway. I quote: Responsible motorcyclists still fear—especially if any irresponsible behaviour by a minority continues—that there will be further endeavours to secure abolition of the vehicular rights of way. I believe that that constitutes a tacit admission that irresponsible behaviour has been commonly experienced up to now—irresponsible behaviour not by members of the recognised associations, such as the Trail Riders, but by those who are known as "cowboys"—even at a time when one might have expected the individuals concerned to be looking over their shoulders at what is happening in Parliament and recognising that if they were not very careful, your Lordships and another place might take care to reduce the rights that they have enjoyed in the countryside.

However considerate the propel users of vehicular rights may be, the intrusion of noisy machines into the peace of the greenlanes is intolerable in itself. This might be the last occasion that we shall have to save the Ridgeway and other of the most ancient and most nationally important greenlanes from the deprivations which have been caused by such traffic in the past and to leave them to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of ramblers. I beg to move.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

On this side of the Committee we should like to accept at least the spirit of this amendment and of the new clause, to which Amendment No. 511B refers. This is a very complicated question. We may not love motor bicyclists who pass our house or go along greenlanes, on which we wish to walk, but it is quite clear that they must have some rights. However I think the Government should look very carefully at what the noble Lord has suggested: that there should be limitation of their rights; and in so far as it is thought necessary, as laid down in the later clause, following consultation, arrangements could be made to preserve parts of the lanes exclusively for the pedestrian. I think there is probably no one in the Chamber who would not agree with that.

Of course we are selfish because most of us are not keen motor-cyclists. But judging from the number of people who have elaborate runs at midnight past my house in a very small road—a practice which we tend to dislike, but put up with—there is considerable scope for the kind of pleasure that is derived, perfectly legitimately, in this way without using also the green-lanes. Such use, quite apart from the physical damage it causes to the surface, entirely spoils the pleasure of the rest of us. Without endorsing every single point in the amendments, I believe that the Government ought to look at this question extremely carefully. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, in a sense this is the last chance to do something about the problem, and I very much hope that we shall have a favourable reply.

Lord Gisborough

I hope that the Minister will consider the spirit of the amendment, because there is no doubt that the "cowboys" are on the increase and there is a terrific increase in the number of trail riders. Most of them do not appear to act within the rules of motor-cycle clubs and associations. I hope that the Minister will give good consideration to the amendment.

Lord Winstanley

I rise very briefly, merely in the hope of setting straight somewhat the record with regard to the comments made by my noble friend about the regrettable failure of the Countryside Commission, of which I was then chairman, to reply to one of the very many welcome letters which it frequently receives from Mr. Grant King. I am very sorry that apparently there was a failure to reply to that particular letter.

For the purpose of setting the record straight, my noble friend may care to know that at the same time the commission received a very lengthy letter on a quite similar subject from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who is one of the more active supporters of the Ridgeway Conservation Conference. I know for a fact that a full reply was sent to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and one would have hoped that perhaps the contents of that letter would have been communicated to Mr. Grant King.

Since at the time I was officially involved in the discussions, I propose to say nothing regarding the substance of the argument, save that in general, speaking purely personally, I am very much inclined to support the general tenor of my noble friend's observations. However, I am most anxious to hear from the Minister what are the Government's intentions regarding a matter on which I know Ministers feel very strongly.

Lord Bellwin

The clause that we are now debating provides not only for the preservation of those green-lanes which are regarded as specially valuable, as did the noble Lord, Lord Avebury's, other new clause on ancient unmetalled highways, but also for the extinguishment of any right of way over them for vehicles, except for the limited exemption under subsection (4).

When we debated the noble Lord, Lord Avebury's, other new clause on 12th February, my noble friend Lord Sandys referred to the Countryside Commission's recommendations in May 1980 to the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services, following the Dartington Amenity Research Trust (DART) Study on Greenlanes. The DART study team's conclusion on recreational conflict between motor vehicle, including motor-cycle, users and other users was that it had on the whole been somewhat exaggerated, and that where it did occur it was more amenable to management than to wholesale banning of one group or another.

The commission's advice, given in its letter of 23rd May, was, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. said, that, on the basis of the evidence given in the DART Report about the extent of the conflict between the different users, it considered that the powers to make traffic regulation orders given under various Acts were satisfactory and provided adequate safeguard for walkers and horse riders. The commission also stated that voluntary restraint by motoring and motor-cycling bodies provided some hope of solving the conflict of interests without recourse to further legislation. That was the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. Our preliminary conclusion is that the commission's advice on this matter seems to be sound.

However, I recognise the concern that has been expressed today. I want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that we want to look very carefully at this question because, as is so often the case, there are differing points of view and attitudes, and it is in trying to reconcile the interests of all concerned, which is so difficult, that we run into problems. Yet it is also fair to say that this is an opportunity which does not arise every day, and therefore there is a special responsibility upon us to consider it. As my noble friend Lord Sandys stated on 12th February, the Government are sympathetic to the need for some protection for historic greenways, and we would very much welcome the advice of the Spicer Rights of Way Review Committee on the extent of such protection and on the procedure and criteria et cetera which would be appropriate. I hope that what I have said indicates that the Government recognise the problem and that we are not simply trying to get it out of the way. Perhaps, in the circumstances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hunt

Before the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, responds to the Minister's request to withdraw the amendment, I should like to ask the Minister when he is considering sympathetically the amendment and the sense behind it, to bear in mind that we are legislating for a very long period ahead. Whatever the DART Committee may have said about the situation to date—and there is room for differences of opinion about that situation, in terms of whether it is satisfactory or whether it is threatening—in my submission in the next 10 years or so there will be a very considerable growth in the trail riding habit.

Lord Sandford

I feel that the Committee will be grateful for the reply from my noble friend Lord Bellwin to the amendment. Certainly in so far as solutions can be found by good management of the greenways, they are preferable to legislation. We shall need to be told something fairly substantial in order to be convinced on this point when we look at it again on Report. However, in particular cases local arrangements can certainly be made, in which it should be possible to reconcile the legitimate rights and needs of all concerned, including the motor-cyclists—and there are a number of local examples of that being done.

But I would ask my noble friend, when he is reconsidering this whole matter, to draw a fairly clear distinction between those greenlanes which are just highways, and are therefore susceptible to management by the highway authority, and those which have been designated by the Countryside Commission as long-distance national footpaths. Once the Countryside Commission has taken the decision—which they can take only after consultation with all those concerned, and, in particular, with the highway authorities involved (and there are four or five of them in the case of the Ridgeway)—then I think they must be obliged to stick to their guns. Having designated a long-distance footpath for a particular purpose—which in the case of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way was the quiet enjoyment of the countryside by those parts of the public which ride over them and walk over them—they must stick to their guns and see that that designation is properly fulfilled, and be armed with the necessary legislative powers to make it so. I hope my noble friend will bear that distinction clearly in mind.

Lord Melchett

Perhaps I may add one very quick point as the Government are considering this—and I am certainly delighted that they are. I wonder whether they could consider the possibility that the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 might apply, either as it is currently drafted or with a very minor amendment, to deal with the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has raised. At least that seems to me to be one possibility worth exploring.

A second point is that, while agreeing with what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said so far as it went, I think it is important to remember that this problem does not arise simply in the case of long-distance footpaths, although I have certainly found walking on the Cleveland Way that it does arise on long-distance footpaths. I know, for example, of a nature reserve in Norfolk where youngsters riding trail bikes where they are not meant to are causing very serious damage to a nature reserve; so I think it is a problem of rather more general application than simply on long-distance footpaths, although that is where it causes most severe problems, possibly.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I wonder whether, when my noble friend takes this away, he could look at what is happening in Lincolnshire, where the Lincolnshire County Council have entered into close consultation with the farmers, particularly over these green roads. They have insisted, for instance, that the road should be, say, 14 feet wide; and if the farmer has knocked down a hedge, as I think my noble friend has suggested we occasionally do, they have insisted that it be put back. They have also helped the farmers tidy up the lanes in places, and I think it would profit my noble friend if he looked at what Lincolnshire is doing in this matter.

Lord Foot

May I add one word before my noble friend replies? Two or three years ago I had the opportunity of initiating in your Lordships' House a debate on the Ridgeway, and we had a very full discussion at that time. I should like to say that I have listened with great interest and, indeed, satisfaction to the assurances that have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, because I think it is the most forthcoming statement we have had about the problem of these greenlanes from any Government in the last 15 years—and, of course, I know perfectly well that it is sincerely meant.

May I just underline what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was saying just now? One of the anxieties which, I am sure, has been felt by those who have been responsible for promoting this amendment—one of their very great anxieties—is that if the opportunity to deal with this matter in this Bill was lost it might be lost for the rest of the century; and who knows what is going to happen to these ancient ways during the rest of the century? I therefore look forward with the greatest expectation to the prospect that the Government will indeed consult with everybody as to what solution can be found to this problem, and that they will do that with some sense of urgency, because, while things remain as they are, the existence of some of these greenways is at risk; there is the risk of their complete disappearance. So I very much welcome what the noble Lord has said, and I regard it as one of the most satisfactory things which has emerged from the long discussions on this Bill.

Lord Burton

As the law is somewhat different in Scotland and the problem of motor bicyles on footpaths there is rapidly increasing, I wonder whether my noble friend would look at this at the same time as he is looking at the situation in England. I think that perhaps part of the trouble with this motor-cycle cross-country business is that it is not properly organised. If the riders had behind them a national organisation like the British Horse Society there might he a great many fewer problems.

Lord Avebury

I think I probably owe an apology to my noble friend Lord Winstanley for when, as he said, the communications which were addressed to the Countryside Commission by the Ridgeway Conservation Conference were in fact answered in the form of a letter to Lord Kennet. It may be that there has been a failure of communication there of which I was not aware. I am most grateful to him for all the hard work that he did, as I know, when he was chairman of the Countryside Commission in helping to establish good relations with the Ridgeway Conservation Conference and with all those who aim to preserve these historic greenlanes.

It struck me, as it has done other noble Lords, that the Minister's reply was wholly satisfactory, and we must be warmly grateful to him for promising to look at this and to bring forward some solution which could be incorporated in the Bill at a later date. I am well aware of the fact that the drafting of my amendment is not ideal, and that it may be held to be too rigid in the restrictions that it imposes on various types of user. What, ideally, I should like to see, if I may say so to the noble Lord, is that there should be some reserve powers put into the Bill so that, as long as voluntary methods were working and continued to work satisfactorily, those reserve powers would not be invoked; but as soon as you found that cowboys (as they are called) and other harmful activities were taking place on these greenlanes, then those powers could be brought into operation and the restrictions imposed. Because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, emphasised, and as others have agreed, we are looking a long time ahead, and if we do not take the opportunity of this legislation then there might be, as the Greenlanes Study itself mentions, an enormous increase in the kinds of traffic which are most harmful, not only to the surfaces of the road but to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of other types of user.

These things have happened since my noble friend Lord Foot spoke two or three years ago. There has not been a reduction in the activities of those who are destroying and impairing the beauties of the greenlanes. In fact, there has been an increase in that type of use; and if one looks at what the Dartington Amenity Research Trust says concerning the views of the users, we really have not got enough evidence on which to base any certain policy. When they asked the people who used the greenlanes, the sample was very small; it was only 69 people. I think a far wider questionnaire would be necessary if we were to establish the kinds of damage and harm which are now occurring.

But we are not talking particularly about the circumstances of the last three years; we are talking about looking forward to the end of the century, and the types of pressure on recreational activities in the countryside which may grow immensely over that period. So I hope we shall take this opportunity to arrive at a solution which will last to the end of the century, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the assurances that he will do his best to achieve just that. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Avon

If it is convenient to your Lordships that we should now take the Statement, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.