HL Deb 07 September 2004 vol 664 cc439-40

3.4 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest in that I was a party to one of the earlier cases on this matter—not this one—which was much cited during the proceedings to which I have referred.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the judgment of the House in Bakewell Management v Brandwood and others, what action they propose to take in connection with Section 68 (vehicular access across common land) of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we are still considering the implications of the judgment, including the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, of Section 68.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, as far as it goes. But is it not the case that noble and learned Lords have on this occasion, it would seem, sought to change the law rather than simply explaining or clarifying it? Is not changing the law the responsibility of Parliament?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, when I came to this Dispatch Box, I thought that I was dealing with a difficult Question. The noble Lord has, not untypically, managed to make it even more difficult. I understand the point that he is making, but it is not for me to comment on the judgment of the Law Lords in this case. The judgment was obviously made within the legal rights of those who made it.

With regard to the implications, I appreciate that the noble Lord would like to know more about the Government's thinking. We understand that it appears at this stage that Section 68 has become redundant, and we are considering the implications. Beyond that I am not really able to go.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I should like to press the Minister further. She has indicated that this will happen shortly. May we have clarification of when "shortly" will be? Does she appreciate that the judgment not only affects the vehicular access rights to which my noble friend has referred but that there is grave doubt regarding the possibility that the judgment might provide greater access for modern vehicles to be driven off-road, something about which we are all concerned? Will that also be considered?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in response to the second question of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, most certainly. We are aware of the implications of the Bakewell judgment in the context of the Ridgeway, for example. We are satisfied that existing traffic management measures open to local highway authorities are able to deal with this. We will, of course, seriously consider the matter and keep it under review all the way through, because we share the concern of, I believe, all Members of your Lordships' House.

The best clarification I can give of shortly, I am afraid, is "shortly".

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, will the Minister comment on village greens, one of the best loved features of English country life? The judgment did not touch specifically on village greens but might well have implications for them. Will the noble Baroness make sure that her department carefully considers the issues surrounding village greens and the possibility of driving on them that might result from the judgment?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, knows, we issued a policy document in 2002 on town and village greens. We will, of course, take into account the point she raises in the context of this judgment. As the noble Baroness recognises, they are not exactly coterminous issues.