HL Deb 10 July 2003 vol 651 cc429-33

10 After Clause 107. insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) In the interest of public health and safety, subsections (2) and (4) shall have effect.
  2. (2) The Secretary of State shall within one year from the coming into force of this enactment make a permanent Traffic Regulation Order to prohibit the use of non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles on the National Trails.
  3. (3) Non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles shall mean all such vehicles but shall not include those driven by individuals with an estate or interest in land adjoining the Trail or their lawful visitors or emergency vehicles.
  4. (4) A Traffic Regulation Order shall mean an order as defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c.27) and as subsequent amended."

The Commons disagreed to the above amendment but proposed the following amendment in lieu thereof—

10A Page 48, line 19, at end insert the following new clause—


The following shall be inserted after section 22A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c.27) (traffic regulation for purpose of conserving natural beauty)—


  1. (1) This section applies where the Secretary of State thinks that, because of the use of a long distance route by vehicular traffic, members of the public cannot safely and conveniently—
    1. (a) enjoy the amenities of any part of the route or of the area through which the route runs;
    2. (b) take advantage of opportunities for recreation in any part of that area;
    3. (c) study nature in any part of the area.
  2. (2) The Secretary of State may make an order preventing the use of the route or a specified part of the route—
    1. (a) by vehicular traffic, or
    2. (b) by vehicular traffic of a specified kind.
  3. 430
  4. (3) An order under this section may have effect only in relation to a long distance route which is, or in so far as it is. in England.
  5. (4) An order under this section shall be treated for all purposes as if it were a traffic regulation order made by the Secretary of State in relation to a road for which he is the traffic authority (and, in particular, any provision of this Act about the making or effect of such an order shall apply)."."

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 10, to which the Commons have disagreed, but do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 10A in lieu thereof.

I was very sorry to have to resist Amendment No. 10, which was put forward on a previous occasion. That was not because we disagreed about the dreadful state of the Ridgeway, in particular, among our national trails, but fundamentally because it was an issue of human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, who I do not believe is in his place, asked me whether it was a human right to drive a motorbike along a country path. That was not the issue at all; it was that, if one extinguishes existing rights, then it is a human right to have one's objections heard and, if necessary, for an independent public inquiry to take place. That was not provided for in the amendment.

Having said that, I recognise, and sympathise with, the strongly held views about the inconvenience, annoyance and, indeed, danger to users on foot and others, the damage to the surface of parts of the Ridgeway and the potential dangers created as a result of recreational vehicle use on that route. By "recreational vehicles", I really mean motorbikes and four-wheel drives.

The Countryside Agency is already drawing up a business plan for the Ridgeway to address those problems. The plan envisages working with local authorities to deliver improvements to the Ridgeway. That will involve selective use of traffic regulation orders in combination with repairs to parts of the Ridgeway that have been damaged. Funding for that work will be provided by the agency as well as by local authorities.

In responding to the concerns raised in this House, today the Government have also introduced their own amendment to the Bill that would give the Secretary of State a new power. That power would enable the Secretary of State to make a traffic regulation order preventing the use of the Ridgeway or any other long-distance route by all vehicular traffic, or vehicular traffic of a specified kind, where he believes that such use means that the route cannot be safely or conveniently used by members of the public for the purpose of enjoying the amenity. It will enable the Secretary of State to make a permanent traffic regulation order for this purpose.

Temporary traffic regulation orders made under Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 are used in situations where it is necessary to prohibit or restrict traffic for a relatively short period of time. The purposes for which temporary orders may be used are when works are carried out on or near a road and there is the likelihood of danger to the public or serious damage to a road or to enable litter clearing or cleaning. Clearly, that is not the problem that we are addressing now.

The normal procedures for making a permanent traffic regulation order would apply. That means allowing an opportunity for objections and, if necessary, a public inquiry. The previous amendment would not have provided for that and therefore it would have been at risk of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.

We want to give the Countryside Agency's management plan for the Ridgeway a chance. But if the strategy of working with the local authorities does not produce results in the next 12 months, then the Government will consider using the new power given by this amendment in order to promote a traffic regulation order banning non-essential motorised vehicles from the whole length of the Ridgeway.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 10, to which the Commons have disagreed, but do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 10A in lieu thereof.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the very great interest that he has taken in this issue throughout the stages of the Bill. I am also grateful to noble Lords who supported me on previous amendments during the Bill's proceedings. I am far more interested in outcome than process. Therefore, I am happy that we seem to have found a way that satisfies my concerns, those of noble Lords who supported me and, most importantly, those of the users of the Ridgeway and routes like it who have found their quiet enjoyment of the routes completely ruined. Therefore, I am happy for my amendment to be withdrawn and for the Government's amendment, as agreed by the Commons, to be moved forward.

I want to make two brief points. My experiences in Suffolk—in the practical sense of trying to manage this kind of route—do not leave me feeling wholly optimistic about the prospects for voluntary management and for the management plan. However, I am entirely happy that it should be given a year to work. But I put the noble Lord on notice that I believe that the pressure on the Government to bring forward a traffic regulation order will be considerable if there is not a significant improvement on the Ridgeway.

In addition, and in the interests of what one might consider pushing my luck, perhaps I may also ask the noble Lord whether the Government would consider examining the whole issue of traffic regulation orders, which are very bureaucratic, cumbersome and difficult to use. If the processes could be streamlined without in any way subverting the interests of natural justice and public consultation, then I believe that local authorities and the people they represent would be very grateful.

Lord Luke

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has said about this amendment. My noble friend Lord Astor could not be in his place today, but I am sure he would agree with me that the Minister has shown that the Government have good intentions on this matter. If the countryside agencies work, the matter will be on its way towards a solution. If they do not, I am sure that your Lordships will hear about it promptly from my noble friend.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to congratulate my noble friend on tabling it. It certainly covers my concerns. I am grateful to my noble friend for all the work that he has done with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott.

I have one comment on the phrase "the Secretary of State thinks" in the first line of new Section 22B. I know that Secretaries of State always think, but I suggest that "think" is a slightly odd word. Perhaps "consider" would have been a better word. Presumably, however, other people will be able in the usual way to influence the Secretary of State's thought process and all will be well.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, before the Minister replies, perhaps I may ask him whether he can enlighten us on one matter. I am sure that this is a very helpful initiative by the Government. However, I recall the debate that we had during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill on the question of bridle-ways, which were also being used in a similar way, and I wonder whether it would be possible for the helpful procedure now before us to be used to correct injustices and mistakes that occur in the use of those bridle-ways by similar recreational vehicles?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall take the points in reverse order and respond first to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. The noble Lord will know that from the beginning of this month we have been implementing provisions in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to convert roads used as public paths, which happen to constitute about 3 per cent of the Ridgeway, into restricted byways from which vehicular traffic will be prohibited. If the noble Lord is aware of any particular case in which the regulations are being flouted—I am not—I should be grateful if he would write to me so that we can deal with it.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, we are happy to engage parliamentary counsel who use ordinary English—what I would call demotic English—in the drafting of the Bill. I believe that "think" says what it means and is the right word to use, rather than "is of the opinion" or some more pompous phrase.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for their contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, raised the additional point about traffic regulation orders in a more general sense. As I am sure she is aware, we have in preparation a traffic management Bill, of which traffic regulation orders will form a part, and we shall have an opportunity to debate that matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.