HL Deb 06 June 1990 vol 519 cc1485-97

10.58 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill was introduced in another place by my successor in my former constituency. I am grateful for the opportunity of supporting him.

The Bill brings forward a piece of much needed legislation to deal with the long-standing problems of the rights of way over cultivated land. A large part of that problem is that the present law, which is set out in Sections 134 and 135 of the Highways Act 1980 as amended by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

The existing law is concerned only with ploughing. It therefore does not cover other legitimate needs of the farmer who has to disturb a path or a bridleway for some other reason. Nor does it address the problem most likely to be encountered by path users of paths that are affected by growing crops. It is because of that confusion that farmers have not always been as diligent as they might otherwise have been in respecting public rights of passage. Therefore walkers and riders have a rich vein of justified complaint. The result, I am sorry to say, has been conflict and unhappiness all round.

In an effort to resolve some of these problems, a voluntay code of practice on Ploughing and Rights of Way was prepared by the Rights of Way Review Committee. The code, which was published jointly by the Countryside Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture in the summer of 1986, was sent to all farm holdings. Sadly, it failed to have the desired effect. Farmers who took the code to heart were unfortunately let down by the larger number who did not. A survey of the conditions of rights of way carried out by the Countryside Commission in 1988 still found ploughing and growing crops to be the most frequent source of complaints and difficulties of those who wanted to use the footpaths and bridleways of this country.

It was against that background and at the invitation of the Minister for Housing, the Environment and Countryside that the Rights of Way Committee reconvened the small working party which drafted the original voluntary code. It was then asked to identify the changes in legislation that were needed to give statutory backing to the existing code. It is as a result of the work of that working party, and the happy coincidence that my successor in another place was lucky enough to draw a high number in the Private Members' Ballot and his good sense and judgment in taking up the subject, that we have the Bill before us tonight.

At the start the working party identified a number of objectives that the new law must meet. They were straightforward and simple. The law must be as straightforward as possible so that every farmer can have a clear understanding of what he must or must not do. The law must recognise the legitimate interests of both the farming industry and the users of the paths and bridleways. It must also recognise the whole cycle of cultivation which creates disturbances at various times throughout the year. The Bill will make it perfectly clear that responsibility for complying with the new law rests on the occupier of the land. However, the local authorities will have clear powers to act swiftly if there is default and, where necessary, to carry out the work required and to recover their costs.

The working party has succeeded admirably in ensuring that these principles and the others that it identified are reflected in the Bill. In short, the Bill replaces the farmers' right to plough with a wider right—the right to disturb any cross-field footpath or bridleway, as necessary, when cultivating a crop regardless of the nature of the operation or the type of machinery used. This not only covers ploughing but all other preparation of the seed bed and subsequent operations such as mechanical weeding, hoeing, ridging and the harvesting of root crops. Growing crops are specifically addressed by the sensible and reasonable requirement that all unsurfaced highways be kept clear of all crops other than grass at all times.

Any disturbance to a path that is not directly related to a crop, such as the installation of drains in a field, can also be authorised by the highway authorities. Consent can be given for up to three months to allow the temporary diversion of a path while such a major operation is going ahead.

There is no doubt that the key to encouraging greater compliance with the new laws lies in ensuring that the highway authorities have clear powers in order to act if a farmer or landowner is acting in default of the Bill. In addition the local authorities have power under the Bill to recover any costs they incur in restoring a footpath or bridleway.

The new Schedule 12A that the Bill inserts into the 1980 Act provides the powers that the highway authorities need to act swiftly, with a minimum of formality, to deal with illegal disturbance such as the ploughing of a headland path; to restore or mark the surface of cross-field paths in default of the occupier; or to clear crops which are growing or encroaching on any unsurfaced highway. The schedule also gives extra power needed to cross the occupier's land, to gain access on to the site for machinery or equipment and to recover the costs of doing so.

The schedule sets out minimum and maximum widths for each class of right of way. Thus the farmer will know exactly what is the minimum width to which he must work in restoring paths and keeping them clear of crops if he is to avoid running into trouble with the local authority. The minimum width is also the width that will be taken into account in any prosecution. The maximum width is slightly wider. It provides tolerance for the local authority when acting in default to accommodate different widths of machinery and available equipment and will limit minor arguments about the exact width which has been cleared.

It will be clear from what I have said that the Bill is a comprehensive and carefully balanced package of measures. No one set of interests is favoured. The Bill ensures that the law is changed fairly and effectively to resolve the present difficulties and uncertainties.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Kimball.)

11.6 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, for sponsoring this Bill in our House and particularly for the way in which he has introduced it. As he has said, the Bill involved a working party of the rights of way review committee. Taking part in the discussions were the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners' Association, the British Horse Society and the Ramblers Association together with others. They reached agreement in an astonishingly low total of four meetings. It shows what can be done in a spirit of co-operation, even on such touchy subjects as rights of way.

At this hour I do not propose to cover the Bill in detail although I particularly approve the use of the word "disturbing" in place of "ploughing" to which the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, referred. That clarifies a rather difficult question of definition.

A majority of farmers and land owners tolerate the existence of rights of way through their land. They may not welcome it but they will respect any sensible legislation which protects or provides for such rights. A majority of walkers are prepared also to accept and respect sensible rules about using rights of way. Some may not like restrictions. No doubt some may feel that the right of all mankind to walk freely on the land, as in the ancient Scandinavian every man's right, should apply also here. Nevertheless, they will stick to the rules. That accord breaks down when otherwise peaceful walkers find their recognised route obstructed by impassable objects or obliterated by neglect or crop cultivation. This evening I do not propose to discuss the subject of bulls which is constantly raised in this context. However, I am sure that that is an obstruction encountered far less than some would have us believe.

It is often frustrating for walkers to have to find an alternative route; it is certainly to the detriment of the land holder. Of course, on both sides, there are exceptions to the reasonable norm. Some land holders will deliberately obscure and obstruct rights of way and some walkers will abuse a facility by carelessly leaving open gates and scattering litter. We hope that this sensible Bill will serve to deter both sets of wrongdoers by clarifying many of the points in existing law and by giving legal backing to existing codes. It should be supported by all of us.

There is one point about which I am not quite content. Wherever a prosecution is required, the Bill provides that only the highway authority or the non-metropolitan district, parish or community council can bring proceedings. It could well be that a particular offence seems minor in terms of the local authority. It could therefore be given a low priority in present straitened circumstances. But there could be great distress being caused to local people. Also in a rural situation a preponderance of land-holding interests on a council could lessen the priority that might be given to such action.

I suggest that we should try to introduce the possibility of some local organisation being able to bring proceedings in default of action by the local authority. I say local organisation because I would not wish to give this power to individuals. That could open the way to abuse by cranks or by purists of one kind or another. But a genuine local organisation that has been upset by the obliteration or the blockage of a footpath should have the right to persuade everyone to take action. I believe that the threat of possibly being able to take action would be enough in itself That said, I welcome the Bill. I thank the noble Lord for introducing it and I hope the Government will give it a fair passage.

11.11 p.m.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, have both indicated to me that this Bill is going to be widely supported. It was indeed the Ramblers Association and the British Horse Society which were instrumental in negotiating the Bill's provisions. Both organisations belong to the Outdoor Pursuits Division of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. The CCPR, the umbrella organisation to which most governing bodies of sporting and recreational activities belong, supports the Rights of Way Bill wholeheartedly. It believes that its provisions will greatly benefit riders and walkers by improving access to the countryside. No restrictions beyond those currently set out in the code of practice will be placed upon farmers and in certain ways landowners, and the natural landscape will benefit.

I wonder whether I may draw your Lordships' attention to just three aspects of the Bill. First, as regards the scope and nature of the problem, the Bill will affect the lives and recreation of an enormous number of people. The Countryside Commission believes that the figures to which the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, referred show that between 10 million and 20 million people walk or ride in the course of every year. Its survey of the condition of rights of way published last year shows that on average a walker or rider has only a 70 per cent. chance of travelling two miles without encountering difficulties. This figure deteriorates to a 90 per cent. chance in the arable country of East Anglia.

Ploughing was singled out as the most important obstacle to be encountered along the 140,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales, and ploughing is the second aspect of the Bill on which I want to speak. Ploughed routes pose special problems for riders and their horses or ponies. A horse's hoof makes a far deeper impact upon ground than a human foot, turning soft ground into mud; and a clay soil may take years to settle. A horse or pony can sink up to its hocks in clay and as a result it can lose a shoe and suffer undue strain to tendons or ligaments. Sharp flints can also surface as a result of ploughing and may injure soft parts of the hoof or cause blood poisoning from flint cuts.

Since a path must be restored so as to render it reasonably convenient, it should be recognised by landowners that some ground, especially heavy clay soil or earth containing large flints, cannot be suitably restored except by expenditure which would obviously outweigh the advantage of the original disturbance. The Countryside Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and the local authorities who will have to enforce the Bill's measures might like to advise landowners of this difficulty through guidance notes.

The third aspect of the Bill that I wish to mention is the obvious benefit to the farmers themselves and to the countryside. The CCPR suggests that the Bill will benefit not only the public but also farmers, since properly defined paths will ensure that riders and walkers do not stray into fields and trample crops. This is particularly important in areas where the grubbing up of hedges has removed natural markers and a sharp turn in a path becomes almost impossible to spot. Disruption caused by all forms of ploughing limits walkers to the obvious routes. It intensifies their use and contributes to erosion and disturbance, especially of moors and hill country.

In conclusion, this Bill must be viewed as an accepted compromise. It cannot have been easy for the working party which framed the Bill. There are bound to be conflicts of interests when involving the DoE, MAFF, NFU, CLA, the Association of County Councils, the Rights of Way Review Committee and the Countryside Commission. All are to be congratulated on their co-operative approach.

It should be stressed that any farmer who has observed the code of practice on the ploughing of fields crossed by rights of way has nothing to fear from the effects of this Bill. Since the contents of the Bill are now settled and agreed by all parties, it is fervently wished that the Bill will have a speedy passage through this House and will reach the statute book in time for the commencement of the next ploughing season in August. Indeed, with the prospect of another dry summer it would be of great benefit if the Bill received Royal Assent by July.

11.17 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when I looked at this Bill I rapidly came to the conclusion that it was one of the best and least contentious Bills that I have seen since joining your Lordships' House. The Bill sets up workable rules by which farmers will know exactly what they have to do with footpaths and allows walkers to use those footpaths. It also allows agricultural work to carry on. It specifies for farmers exactly how long they can do such work and what they have to do after the work which has disturbed a footpath is completed.

On those grounds alone there is no way in which anyone can realistically criticise the Bill, though when something is universally praised one always worries that there may be something the matter with it, in the same way that when something is universally condemned one knows that there has to be good in it. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has possibly identified one area of weakness, in that there should be some machinery by which certain interest groups other than those mentioned in the Bill are at least consulted about prosecution. That point certainly deserves careful consideration and I would not be at all surprised if it was considered beneficial to include it in the Bill.

Those who live in the country and who are not landowners are likely to benefit greatly from the Bill. I say that for the simple reason that if one lives, for example, in East Anglia, as I have for a large part of my life, one finds that large areas of the countryside are heavily cultivated and, for historical reasons, there is very little heathland left. Such people have less access to areas to exercise their dogs or themselves than people who live in cities and have access to parks. Thus, I suggest that anything that keeps open the rights of way that exist, and keeps them open at a reasonably usable level, is wholly to be welcomed. Having said that, I wish the Bill well.

11.20 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I too would like to support the Bill. The point made by a number of noble Lords is that it represents a remarkable compromise and a collaborative effort by diverse and disparate interests which, over many years, have been engaged in conflict, sometimes almost ending up in fisticuffs, as disputes over rights of way have developed.

The Bill is a great tribute to the rights of way review committee which set up the working party. It produced a code which was observed by some but not by all. That body has gone on to produce clauses for a Bill that was introduced by Mr. Edward Leigh in another place. The review committee is chaired by my own Member of Parliament, Mr. Alan Haselhurst, who spoke at Second Reading in another place. He and his predecessor, Mr. Michael Spicer, M.P., deserve the highest credit for their chairmanship of this remarkable group of people who worked together to produce the Bill.

There are one or two points that I wish to make which seem to me important. The Bill is not a comprehensive measure. It deals with two specific problems; namely, ploughing and crops. It introduces definitions and clarifies the duty of landowners and occupiers both as to the time of reinstatement and its dimension. That will be enormously helpful in clarifying the law. But there will be an ultimate sanction.

It must be the hope of everyone that the sanction of prosecution will never have to be used. That can be avoided because the Bill gives clear and specific powers to the relevant local authority, after due procedures, to do the work itself and to charge the landowner for any cost. Faced with the possibility of the local authority first doing the work and then charging the landowner or, alternatively, prosecuting, the vast majority of landowners will be sensible and recognise their obligations.

The point that one must make to landowners, partly in their defence, is that rights of way are part of our history and heritage. In many places they go back for centuries. They represent the way in which country people went to work, church and school. In many cases they still do. They use these paths and bridleways and other rural rights of way to achieve their purposes. Therefore, in that sense, farmers are not being asked to give up anything, but merely to recognise a fact which has existed from time immemorial and which their predecessors in title will have had to take account of as well.

The landowner replies that the situation now is quite different. It is not a question of children going to school but of organised parties of walkers. I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, use the term "walkers". The word "ramblers" for me conjures up the wrong image. I bristle. Rambling rhymes with shambling. There are people whose speech is rambling as no doubt mine is. It is a derogatory term. I know that the Ramblers Association has a long and honoured history as a campaigning organisation for the benefit of walkers. I find it quite difficult to reconcile myself with the name. It is my prejudice and I accept that.

The fact of the matter is that ramblers are quite different people from those who used the rights of way in earlier times. They are people who, perfectly legitimately and properly, come out from the towns, sometimes in quite large groups. They do not have a culture which is embedded in rural wisdom and experience. Sometimes that is what creates difficulties. There are also a great number of new rural dwellers who are themselves emigrants from the towns and cities. That is again an element that has nothing to do with people who earn their living off the land.

Over most of this century and before one has been dealing progressively with a steady increase in the numbers of people, as my noble friend Lord Kimball mentioned, who go walking. That is what has created the difficulty, the problem, and in some cases the conflict and bitterness which is now in this narrow field being resolved.

We have to exercise some self-discipline on the Bill because there will be a temptation to try to go further. We should be most unwise to do that. If we do not carry the Rights of Way Review Committee we shall merely stir up new conflicts. What gets my goat is when walking quietly on a right of way through the moors to have a gang of people come roaring along on motorcycles or in jeeps or buggies. They apparently have a right to do so because from time immemorial someone was entitled to take a donkey cart or bullock cart across the hills on the right of way. I strongly urge the Rights of Way Review Committee to deal with such matters. Of course people wishing to take part in motorised sports must be able to do so, but it cannot be right that quiet rural areas where one goes to study wildlife and to watch the birds can be disrupted in this hideous way by motorcycles and cross country vehicles. However, I shall exercise restraint. I shall not put down an amendment about them. The Bill must get on to the statute book and if we start cluttering it up with other measures we may make it a good deal more difficult.

I warmly welcome the measure. I congratulate all those who have been responsible for its drafting and production. I warmly commend my noble friend Lord Kimball for sponsoring it in this House, and like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and other noble Lords who have spoken, I hope that it will reach the statute book in July. It is important that we should get this working as soon as possible.

11.27 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, on bringing this Bill before the House. I also congratulate this remarkable working party, which got away with four meetings on what has for years and years been an extremely contentious subject. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said about rights of way. They go right back into history and are of enormous importance. They were of importance in the past. They were used by people to go to church, to go to work and so on. But now, with a vastly larger population, which is a town population on the whole, wishing to go into the country and learn something about it, in a strange way this amazing network is more important than ever before.

I speak as a farmer who operates over a large area with an enormous number of rights of way of all sizes, which I may say do not quite coincide with what I see in the Bill. I believe that the farmer's greatest protection is the rights of way on his farm. They give him the opportunity to approach in a polite way people whom he may feel are trespassing and point out to them that they can get a rights of way map from the local council. He can point out where the rights of way are and where they go to. I must have done it a hundred times. On the whole, the recipients of my advice have been grateful and only on a few occasions have they not been quite so grateful as I might have wished. My advice to any farmer is that it would be simpler never to plough up a right of way than to go through the palaver of having to put one back again.

That leads me on to one or two questions which I feel must be asked at some stage. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to answer them. First, an expression is used in relation to what a farmer must do within the periods—14 days, 24 hours and an extension of, perhaps, 28 days—laid down in the 1980 Act. He must "make good" the right of way. It is a very imprecise expression in my view. It would be interesting to farmers, and probably interesting too to the highway authority, which also has to "make good" if someone falls down on his duties and is prosecuted, to know exactly what this expression means. Clause l(3)(a) provides that, if the occupier has disturbed the surface he must, make good the surface of the path … for the exercise of the right of way". However, to "make good" can mean anything from smoothing it over with a harrow to putting down grass seed, which, of course, in the winter would not grow in any event. I am sure that this cannot be clarified in the Bill, but it would be useful at least to hear my noble friend's opinion on the matter.

The second matter which troubles me to a certain extent is that at the very beginning of the Bill it states that you are not allowed unlawfully to disturb. I am not sure what that means. As well as ploughing and disturbing, and all the other words which the noble Baroness mentioned, farmers quite naturally use the rights of way for their own traffic. For example, they run tractors and other machinery up and down them. Tractors make ruts and create mud, and so on. Moreover, in the South, where the soil is free-draining, we feed our cattle for perhaps 150 days in the year. Some people may say that we have disturbed our rights of way. Our normal practice is to put them right in the spring when the grass seeds will grow.

I should like to receive some indication as to whether this normal farm traffic travelling up the rights of way is considered improper; or, alternatively, whether it is all right to use them in this way. By the same token, one wonders about these four-wheel drive trucks and the motorcycles which roar up and down before you can see where they have come from or where they are going. I should like to know who would be held culpable for that situation at the end of the day.

There is also one small technicality which features later in the Bill which I think should be considered and which might even become the subject of a small amendment. It concerns the crops growing on to or leaning over the right of way. I think that the Bill refers to crops other than grass and then continues to define grass in a particular way as being a crop used for silage and so on. We should at least be aware of the fact that all the cereal crops are grasses. I do not feel that these have been left out intentionally. Although it is arguable that they are not often used for silage, oats in certain parts of the world and in certain circumstances can be used for that purpose. It would be a great pity if these situations had to be resolved by way of case law rather than being put right in the first instance by this House.

My final query—and I apologise for being so awkward at this time of night—concerns the width of the right of way. I have a list of our statutory rights of way at home. They come from the "enclosure awards", as we call them. The biggest one is a 40-foot carriageway which goes down through a bridleway to a footpath. On the whole, they are all bigger than the sizes stipulated in the schedule. Does this mean that people can now shrink their rights of way? That would seem to be quite unreasonable. Alternatively, does it mean that, if they wish, they can let a proportion of them become overgrown or that they can plant a row of trees on either side? Further, does this obligation to keep the area clear have an effect on the actual size of the rights of way as they exist? Of course I appreciate that there are many different sizes all over the country and that some have no defined width.

Having said that, having been awkward and having spoken for too long at this time of night, I must emphasise that I wish the Bill well. In my view it is a very important measure and I hope that it leads to a great rapport between the townsmen and the countrymen.

11.35 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I shall not keep the House long. I should first declare an interest as a farmer and walker. I believe that I see both sides of the problem. I support the Bill in principle. It will be of great benefit to farmers and walkers. If one comes to an unmarked area or path that one does not know, one ends up going in the wrong direction.

There are one or two points which need looking at and to which I should like some answers. A council may provide for a temporary diversion. Many councils, especially urban councils, may merely decide that they will not do so. There should be an element of "shall" or "without reasonable cause" or something similar. Merely to leave the provision as "may" could lead to some councils saying no. In many cases that would not be right.

My noble friend mentioned the making good of surfaces. The question there is whether they should be made good to the original condition or a better condition. That is a point which could lead to confusion.

Width is of particular interest. First, one does not walk over one metre of path. Does one metre of path mean that the whole metre should be level, because that is absurd? All walkers know that most paths are about a foot wide. The Lyke Wake walk is much wider, but that is a different affair. Most paths have a piece about a foot wide where everyone walks. One must accept that. The farmer will have to flatten a yard of path which will not be used. He may then grow a crop. It could well be rape, which grows about five feet high. Unless the farmer spends all his time going up and down his paths, that rape will fall over.

Does the legal metre which is necessary mean from the tip of the rape onto the footpath? If it does, the footpath must be three metres wide to allow for the rape. If it is not that wide and the rape results in the path being one foot wide only, the farmer is liable to a level 3 fine. That matter could well be the subject of prosecutions by over-zealous officials. The path should be one foot wide, because there is a difference between the path and the gap. That is a point which should be considered.

11.37 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I say from the Labour Front Bench that we give the Bill a warm welcome. We wish it well. This is the third day this week that I have been in the House at this time of night. I have listened to about 140 speeches: 60-odd on Monday; 40-odd yesterday; and 40-odd today. On a number of occasions I heard Members say that everything that they wanted to say had already been said, but that there were one or two more things that they wished to say. They then proceeded to speak.

By the time the clock shows the figure two I shall have sat down, because I understand that it is the unanimous view of the House and another place that the Bill is good. Reference has been made to a number of points that need to be clarified. My noble friend Lady Nicol reminded us that the Bill is the product of Mr. Haselhurst's committee and that it has the full support of the NFU, the CLA, the Ramblers Association and the British Horse Society.

When I read Hansard of the other place I saw that more than 20 associations were involved in it. I do not say that we are wasting our time, but we are taking up time needlessly. It has been a long week. It is late at night. The other place took three and a half hours to arrive at the stage which I hope we shall reach in the next three or four minutes. I wish the Bill well, and I sit down before the clock shows two minutes.

11.39 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I wish to say straightaway that the Government strongly support the provisions of the Bill before us, which were fully and ably explained to the House by my noble friend Lord Kimball in introducing the Bill. It provides a useful opportunity to clarify the law in an area where it has been generally acknowledged that more needs to be done to ensure that the whole of the rights of way network, which now extends to 140,000 miles in England and Wales, is properly protected. The Bill has the support of both users of rights of way and farmers. Such a unique consensus in issues often generating strong emotions and conflicting views is a significant achievement as recognised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding among others.

The Countryside Commission's recent survey of the condition of rights of way found that ploughing of rights of way and growing crops over them together constitute the most significant factor interfering with public enjoyment of access to the countryside.

There has been genuine concern that the law regarding the restoration of paths after ploughing is frequently disregarded by farmers. However, highway authorities have been reluctant to prosecute, partly because of uncertainty over what is meant by ploughing. Despite the work of the Rights of Way Committee in drawing up a code of practice, compliance has been far from universal. The Government asked the committee to consider how the law might be clarified and better enforced. This Bill is the result of its intensive work.

The NFU and the CLA have given the proposals strong support. Farmers will welcome the clarification of their right to disturb the surface of any cross-field footpath or bridleway in the course of cultivation and their responsibility to restore the path and maintain a clear right of way. Most importantly, the farmer who presently restores paths after ploughing in accordance with current legislation will have nothing to fear. His position and responsibilities will remain unchanged.

We believe that making the obligations of farmers clearer should achieve a substantial reduction in the number of offences. Also, by giving clearer powers to highway authorities, where the law is disregarded, to carry out restoration work and charge the full cost to the farmer, the Bill provides an effective mechanism for highway authorities to take action without resorting to the courts.

We recognise the need for advice to farmers, if and when the Bill reaches the statute book. The Right of Way Committee will be discussing a revised code of practice for farmers covering detailed advice, including how best to keep a path clear of crops. The Government will issue circular advice to local authorities, drawing attention to their powers.

Present disregard of the law has soured relations between landowners and users, particularly at local level. This Bill is deliberately self-contained, focusing on a single issue where there is agreement. While there are a number of other areas where there is conflict, we believe in the main that these can be settled by the more effective management of rights of way and by involving landowners, users, highway authorities and parish councils in joint discussion and practical action. The Countryside Commission's work in encouraging local liaison groups is particularly important and commendable.

Nor need more effective management require significant extra resources. This Bill, as well as encouraging greater compliance, will make enforcement easier for highway authorities. Their annual expenditure in respect of their statutory responsibilities for rights of way is just £14 million nationwide out of a national aggregate local authority leisure and recreation budget of £1 billion. Only a small re-allocation of expenditure would show significant benefits for countryside recreation. The Government have demonstrated their commitment by increasing funding to the Countryside Commission. Its grant in aid of £25-136 million in 1990-91 will be £2-9 million more than the previous year and we have suggested that part of the increase should be used for access initiatives.

My noble friend Lord Radnor asked me certain questions. I listened carefully, and I shall read tomorrow in Hansard what he said with respect to crops and grass. The Bill contains a straightforward definition which has been agreed by the NFU and it would be difficult to amend it without damaging the consensus support. However, we would of course consider any proposal that is put forward. I should like to write to my noble friend with respect to the questions of definition.

The Bill has proved that consensus is possible and that it is the best means of achieving positive benefits. It is an example we should seek to replicate. I congratulate the Rights of Way Review Committee on its successful efforts and I commend the Bill to the House. Private Members' measures are notoriously fragile barques; I urge the House to give this one a speedy and successful voyage.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, in conclusion perhaps I may follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and thank him for his support and express my thanks for the support which the Bill has received from his side of the House.

Before the Committee stage we shall look at the major points that have been raised in this short debate: the question of prosecution by local organisations and the questions that have been raised from this side of the House by my noble friends on what I call the shrinkage of rights of way. We shall look in detail at the question that has been raised by my noble friend Lord Radnor on the definition of grasses.

I should like to follow the lead given by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. There is no question but that the next issue that we have to look at in the countryside is the invasion of the new, modern Japanese tricycles and four-wheel drive cross-country vehicles. I do not believe that we should include those in the Bill, but my noble friend has put down a very important marker which we should all consider.

I am grateful to noble Lords on both sides of the House for their support. In conclusion I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.