That is not the case.
Order. Let me deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). I have been able to answer the other points of order. There is a distinctionhe is quite right[Interruption.] Order. I know what hon. Members are asking, and I think that I have given as good an explanation as I can.
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Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset):
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make new provision about establishing the existence of byways open to all traffic.
I want to make it clear at the outset that the Bill is not about banning things but about clarification of the law. Many in the House relish the countryside and its beauty. I have two areas of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency: the Dorset AONB and Cranborne Chase, and West Wiltshire Downs AONB, which also covers the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who is present. My Bill is about co-existence in the countryside. I have been accused of being anti-biker and anti-four-wheel drive, but it is not my intention in the Bill to be anti-anything of that nature. I want to defend the rights of horse-riders, walkers, hikers, and genuine users of the countrysidepeople who have traditionally used it in certain ways, particularly those who have experienced peaceful enjoyment along green lanes, bridleways and footpaths.
There is still room in the countryside for people who want to ride their motorbikes and trailbikes, and who want to drive their four-wheel vehicles. Yesterday, I discussed the Bill with someone outside the House who asked, "What about the new souped-up tractors that people are driving in the countryside?" Some of the Bill's provisions will cover that, as it would create a framework for co-existence in the countryside.
The Government have already issued a consultation document on the subject, "The Use of Mechanically Propelled Vehicles on Rights of Way". I am delighted that the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality is on the Government Front Bench, because I want to make particular reference to the fourth proposal in the document, which says:
"We propose to introduce legislation, which will make it no longer possible to establish the existence of a byway open to all traffic by reference to historic (pre-commencement) use by, or other evidence relating to, non-mechanically propelled vehicles"
probably a horse and cart. However, it also says:
The cut-off date is a problem, which is why I am moving the Bill now, rather than waiting.
In a letter that I received earlier this month from the leader of Dorset county council, Mr. Tim Palmer, he stated that he has forwarded to me a letter that he had written to a committee considering the consultation on opening a byway to all traffic in the county. He writes:
"You will see that all the evidence allowable under the current law is in favour of a byway"
open to all traffic. He goes on:
"Everyone is now looking to your Bill to give them a voice and to add to the clamour for a change in the law. One aspect you may want to cover is the retrospective review of existing byways. This is not allowed for in the Government's consultation paper. Because of this the TRF,"
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the Trail Riders Fellowship
"4WD clubs etc are rushing to claim more byways before the legislation comes in. In addition we do need to be able to review the status of some ancient byways, national monuments like the Ridgeway and the Oxdrove through this constituency, both currently completely wrecked by swarms of bikes, quads and 4WDs."
This is not solely a Dorset issue. It has great support across the House. Early-day motion 380 dealing with the use of unsurfaced byways open to all traffic was tabled by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and signed by 90 other hon. Members. It particularly mentions the Ridgeway. In my constituency, there is a bridlewaybridleway 17emanating from the village of Cranborne. Last June I had to attend a public meeting in the village. The 300 people who had gathered were very concerned about bikers using the bridlewaynot local people using it for their enjoyment, but people who had travelled almost 100 miles because it was considered a good place to ride their bike, particularly when it had been raining and the bridleway was rather muddy. There was talk of biking groups that came regularly from Bristol, Southampton and so on.
I know that my proposal has the support of the British Horse Society, the Ramblers Association and the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, but I also want the support of the Trail Riders Fellowship and an organisation of four-wheel drivers in my constituency calledperhaps slightly incorrectlythe Friends of Dorset Rights of Way, who have written to me on several occasions suggesting that we should find a form of co-existence.
So what will my Bill do? It will state that when a county council or other body responsible for rights of way is considering an application for a green lane, or whatever it is, to be designated as a byway open to all traffic, if the evidence is solely that 100 or 150 years ago the byway was used by a horse and cart, the council will be able to protect the rights of existing users of that bywaythe riders and the walkersas well as look after the access for farmers and for others to open spaces beyond the byway. The council should be able to protect the rights of the disabled, who may well need to use four-wheel drive vehicles to get to the open spaces beyond the byway.
The Bill would give the county council rights of way committee the powers to designate a byway as a restricted byway, and to consider the rights and responsibilities of those with mechanically propelled vehiclesthe trailbikes, the four-wheel drives and so onand to make sure that those rights are not jeopardised. Laying down specific rights should be a matter of local decision for local people exercised by their local authority. By creating a byway known as a restricted byway, we can balance the needs and rights of all the users of the countryside.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Walter, Sir George Young, Jeremy Corbyn, Sandra Gidley, Mr. James Gray, Mr. Robert Key, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Anthony Steen and Mr. John Randall.
Mr. Robert Walter accordingly presented a Bill to make new provision about establishing the existence of byways open to all traffic: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 July, and to be printed [Bill 80].
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[7th Allotted DayFirst Part]
Post Office Services
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)
(Con): I beg to move,
That this House believes that all Post Office customers who wish to continue receiving their benefits, pension payments and tax credits through the Post Office should be able to do so through a Post Office Card Account opened at the counter of a Post Office or sub-post office; notes that the Government has encouraged Post Office customers to use their own bank accounts or basic bank accounts, whilst preventing the promotion of the Post Office Card Account; further believes that the Government should use the roll out of Direct Payment to encourage the take-up of all benefits and tax credits; calls on the Government to clarify urgently how housebound, disabled and older people who are not able to cope with the three direct payment options will be able to claim their pensions and benefits after 2005; recognises the significant role played by local post offices in both rural and urban areas; appreciates that ending cash benefit payments will deprive sub-postmasters of an average of 35 per cent. of their income; notes that this will make many post offices commercially unviable and is likely to lead to yet further closures; further calls on the Government to ensure that the urban post office closure programme is conducted systematically and only after consulting all relevant parties including Post Office users; and condemns the Government's failure to deliver benefits and tax credits in a simple, easy to understand manner while at the same time jeopardising the future prosperity of the Post Office.
The motion reflects a widespread belief not just among those on the Opposition Benches but in all parts of the House about the importance of post offices as part of the local community. We have deep concerns about the long-term viability of the post office network under the Government's approach. Those concerns were powerfully expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) in the debate in the House on 13 January. That debate focused on the post office network and the importance of sustaining it and investing in it. Today I shall consider the post office network from the point of view of the people who use itfrom the demand side, rather than the supply side. I shall consider the point of view of benefit claimants and the pensioners whom we represent, who wish to have access to a viable post office and to claim their benefits in a way with which they are long familiar and comfortable.
Although it is always good to see the Secretary of State in the Chamber, it is a great pity that she was not present for the debate on 13 January, which was about her responsibilities for support for post offices. Today, even though we are talking about services for benefit claimants, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is not present. I regret that, because I want to consider the crisis in our post offices from the point of view of those claiming benefits, many of whom are very unhappy with the Government's approach.