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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

8 Jul 2003 : Column 1102


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002],

Question agreed to.

8 Jul 2003 : Column 1103

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Lords amendments considered.

After Clause 27

Lords amendment: No. 1, to insert a new clause—Exercise of powers by civilians.

9.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 and 10, and the Government motion to disagree thereto, and Government amendment (a) in lieu thereof, and Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 12.

Mr. McNulty: The amendments are the result of productive and substantive debate in the other place—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I ask hon. Members who are not staying in the Chamber for the debate to leave quickly and quietly?

Mr. McNulty: It might be useful if I go through the amendments in some detail, although not necessarily at length.

Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 3 will essentially give the British Transport police the powers to deploy community support officers and investigation, detention and escort officers. The provisions will bring the British Transport police fully in line with Home Office police regarding such civilian officers.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 8 were tabled in response to recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in another place. They will provide that any changes to the upper and lower limits on the number of people on the British Transport Police authority would be subject to the negative procedure, and that the affirmative procedure would be used the first time that the Health and Safety Executive rail levy was introduced.

Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 12 add to existing police powers to test for alcohol use on the roads by allowing them to administer a test for impairment and for the presence of drugs by means of a sample of saliva or sweat. Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 introduce equivalent police powers for the aviation and maritime sector. That is all that the amendments do, and I commend them to the House. They were discussed, to varying degrees, in the other place, and the Government made the commitment to table amendments in lieu of those suggested by the Lords if necessary.

The only difficulty we have is with Lords amendment No. 10 and the Government offer a replacement in lieu. When the issue was discussed in another place, we made it clear that we could not accept Lords amendment No. 10, for a variety of reasons. In essence, it deals with the regulation of motor vehicles on the Ridgeway. Many

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local Members and some local authorities have tried to get some order in the use of motor vehicles on the Ridgeway. I want to say, apropos of nothing at all, that I had great fun when I was about 16, spending a week walking from one end of the Ridgeway to the other, eating horrible powdered meals in the evening— I was too young for the pub—and putting up tents.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I am sure that entire House is delighted to know that the Minister experienced the great delights of the nearly 1,000-year-old Ridgeway. One hopes he is about to say that he, too, is disturbed by the large number of motorised vehicles that now use it. However, will he acknowledge that Government amendment (a) uses the word "may" instead of "shall"? The House will worry whether the Government have a clear intention to act on the problem, or whether their amendment is merely a sop to another place. Will the Minister assure us that they intend to take action?

Mr. McNulty: I would never appear at the Dispatch Box and offer sops to anyone—the official Opposition, the minor Opposition or Members of the other place. We intend to take action, save for two features. We want to discover whether the Countryside Agency's management plan produces results within the next 12 months. Over that time, we want to work far more closely with local authorities, which are at various stages of their management schemes, while working with the Countryside Agency. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if the Countryside Agency's management plan and the work of local authorities do not produce results within 12 months, the Government are committed to consider promoting such a ban along the length of the Ridgeway.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Will my hon. Friend remind the House how long the Countryside Agency has been dealing with the problem? It has been pretty pathetic.

Mr. McNulty: It is not for me to comment on the efficacy or otherwise of particular agencies. The Department for Transport is working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will say as starkly as I can that the Countryside Agency is on notice for 12 months. The matter is of serious concern to many local authorities up and down the Ridgeway and to many hon. Members who represent parts of the Ridgeway or who believe it to be a splendid element of our heritage. If the agency does not deliver, the Government are committed to consider promoting a ban along the length of the Ridgeway rather than relying on the partial local traffic regulation orders.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Let me first offer the Minister my congratulations on his recent promotion.

On the difference between Lords amendment No. 10 and the alternative that the Minister proposes, in addition to the significant alteration mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the wording has also been changed. Rather than specifying national trails, the amendment in lieu specifies long distance routes. The Minister has related his remarks to the Ridgeway, which is at the heart of the matter, but it is

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not the only area affected by either of those amendments. Will he clarify the difference between national trails and long distance routes?

Mr. McNulty: As I understand it—and if the position is other than this, I will get back to the hon. Gentleman—long distance means national trails of significant length, such as the Ridgeway. Unless I am mistaken, I do not think that there is much else in the country that would be captured by that definition, but I will check that.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Can the Minister say whether the measure, which seems sensible, is compatible with the general drift of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, in particular the creation of "byways open to all traffic"? It seems that the general thrust of the Bill is rather different from that of the Act.

Mr. McNulty: That is the sort of issue that we want to explore further with the Countryside Agency in the context of its management plan, rather than going from the present position, which everyone accepts is less than satisfactory, to a position where all sorts of legalistic difficulties arise, not least for the reason suggested by the hon. Gentleman. We believe it is worth taking some time to see whether the Countryside Agency plan beds in, but hon. Members should be assured that if it does not, we will address the matter.

Mr. Don Foster: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. It may save debate later. I, for one, am grateful for the assurance that he has given, but may I suggest that he needs to go a little further? He said that if the Countryside Agency did not deliver, the Government would commit to consider a ban. The House would be grateful if the Minister could give a slightly stronger assurance that, provided things do not go wrong, there is a clear commitment to introduce a ban if the Countryside Agency does not get its act together in the 12-month period.

Mr. McNulty: That is what I am doing. I chose my words carefully, in lieu of the hon. Gentleman's proviso about things going wrong. If there is no satisfactory resolution of the matter within 12 months of the Countryside Agency's plan bedding in, and working with local authorities, some of which are far more advanced than others in taking these matters seriously, the Government will consider acting in the way that I suggested. Of course that is conditional. I have learned in this trade, for want of a better phrase, as from others, that I am not a mind-reader or a futurologist, and we need to attach some conditions.

I take seriously the concerns suggested by the movers in the other place and have taken to heart much of what they said. If the agency and local authorities can deal with the matter, it is right and proper that they should do so, but the Government will take a strong interest in their ability and their actions, and will act in the fullness of time, if necessary. In that context, rather than accept Lords amendment No. 10, we offer the Government amendment in lieu. In the spirit of good will and consensus—

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