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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will know that, to be fair to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it has conducted its own survey of the issue, linked to the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. I have been involved in correspondence with a constituent who has worked for one of the off-road associations to see how they can prove, by mapping historical routes, that they have traditionally been used by off-road motor cyclists. That is the right approach, but the associations do not have the resources or the time to pursue it.

Huw Irranca-Davies: That is a valid point. Another difficulty is that the problem is not considered one of the top three issues, but for some constituents off-road motor cycling is a major problem because it is focused intensively in certain areas. I commend the work that DEFRA has done on the issue, but one of the advantages of the ACU approach—it is sponsored by the Department for Trade and Industry, but also has cross-departmental involvement—is the local government support unit. The unit helps local authorities, the police and other agencies to target effectively their use of resources, to ascertain the level of demand and to work on the training of instructors and riders. It is amazing that, at a time when we have an increasing level of conflict in the countryside between different uses for land, it is possible for people with no training in using a vehicle to ride across the hills. That needs to be tackled and the ACU approach, through the local government unit, makes that clear.
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The ACU approach also stresses the full involvement of local stakeholders, because the burden should not fall wholly on the shoulders of local authorities or countryside agencies. It needs to be taken up by everybody with an interest in the matter.

At the risk of offending St. Francis of Assisi, whose prayer has already suffered ignominiously at the hands of other politicians, more famous or infamous than me, may I propose the following words to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has great sympathy with the approach the ACU suggests? Where there is noise, let us bring noise control. Where there is no training for riders, let us, as the ACU suggests, bring standards for the training of riders and instructors. Where there is anarchy on our hills and in our back streets, let us bring order and structure.

The Metropolitan police and others have asked me to raise this final point: where there is anonymity of riders, let them be known through clubs and organised structures. One of the major problems in trying to control off-road biking is how to find out who the riders are and how to find out when—if they are not in open competition—their bikes do not have to be registered or licensed. I especially commend the work of one motor cycle manufacturer, KTM, which has already agreed to data tag electronically every new bike it sells in the UK. The cost adds about £50 to customers' bills, but the company thinks it is worth doing—as do the Metropolitan police and the ACU, which is the governing body—given the difficulty of enforcing controls on the off-road biking fraternity. Responsible riders will always work with us, but what about those who do not? The advantage of the tagging system, which I strongly commend, is that we can identify the riders and if they cannot prove that they own the bike, we can confiscate it and take appropriate action.

In conclusion, I urge my right hon. Friend, who approaches everything that lands on his plate with a fair dose of rationality and political courage, to work with his colleagues and encourage the efforts of the local authority support unit. In all his work with agencies and local authorities throughout the UK, will he try to disseminate best practice in providing off-road facilities, in the right place, at the right time? In short, we already know what works; there are very good examples. The Government have recognised what works, so let us try to get the message across to every part of the country: this is win-win for local communities and off-road riders.

I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend's response.

5.17 pm

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): When I heard the closing litany of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), I was tempted to suggest that he had missed out a line: where there is a debate on off-road motor cycles, let there be poetry. I hardly thought that an element of poetry would be injected in the debate when I saw the topic, but my hon. Friend's natural Welsh oratory held even my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) spellbound in admiration.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore for constantly seeking to promote the interests of motor cyclists in a constructive way that recognises
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the difficulties that are sometimes created, especially by inconsiderate motor cycle users, but that challenges both motor cyclists and authorities to consider how to develop a better environment. Indeed, I shall refer later to his active intervention in the consultation that DEFRA has been leading recently.

The Government recognise that the issues surrounding motor cycling are complex; they involve wide-ranging issues. In terms of on-road riding, representatives of the Department for Transport have been meeting representatives of motor cycling interests in an advisory group on motor cycling, which has recently reported to Ministers. Its final report was submitted in August, and Transport Ministers are reflecting on its conclusions in developing an on-road motor cycling strategy.

DEFRA has responsibilities for issues relating to the impact of off-road motor cycling on the environment, while the Department for Transport is responsible for safety issues. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport covers the competitive element and the Department of Trade and Industry covers the associated business opportunities, so it is just as well that we are a joined-up Government.

My initial comments referred to the situation in England, and as my hon. Friend made several references to Wales, I should point out that different regimes deal with the same issues. He is quite right to point out that the experience in a variety of constituencies, including my own and particularly in Cardiff, has demonstrated the amount of nuisance that can be caused, for instance in parkland and open areas that should be available for the safe enjoyment of the wider community.

However, these issues are being addressed in a variety of ways. In particular, the ACU strategy to which my hon. Friend referred is first an outcome of work with the Department of Trade and Industry. In terms of my responsibilities, we have recently consulted on proposals that would have an impact on the recreational activities of users of motor vehicles to the extent that they would prevent further expansion of the rights of way network to motorised traffic in inappropriate circumstances.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) came to see me some time ago on behalf of the all-party group on motor cycling, and that resulted in a meeting with representatives of motor vehicle users and the industry generally. As a result I asked them to take ownership of the problem and to work with us to tackle some of the key issues. The achievement of my hon. Friend and other Members of the House was to persuade representatives and the industry not to be negative about the consultation we were undertaking but to engage with it, and I am grateful to him for that because it has indeed proved constructive.

We set up a time-limited group consisting of the main motorised interest groups and organisations, to look at how the Government's proposals to deal with motor vehicle use on rights of way might be better delivered. One of the issues that the group is considering is the
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provision of alternative sites that might assist in accommodating motor vehicles that might otherwise be used on rights of way. The group is reporting to me in the next few weeks and I give an assurance that I will consider very carefully the recommendations that emerge to address the provision of alternative off-road sites. Indeed, I will undertake to extend the work of the time-limited group if it is clear that it can make a valuable contribution in working with the Government in determining the way forward.

Mr. Drew: Is it possible that the mapping exercise undertaken by those who engage in off-road riding could be fed into that work, so that we could see whether a compromise might be reached between the walkers and the riders? As my right hon. Friend knows, that is the worst dilemma; it is not just about who he upsets but whether they upset one another.

Alun Michael: I will come to some of these issues. One of the great characteristics of access to the countryside is that people want to use that countryside in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it is a question of organisation so that people have the opportunities to enjoy their pursuit without interfering with the quiet enjoyment of the countryside by others. Sometimes it is a question of changing behaviour, and on some occasions a question of getting people simply to obey the law. But these issues are better dealt with by people recognising that the commonality of interest in access does give rise to difficulties, that they need to be talked through and that people need to be considerate of others.

I am very happy when I see representatives of particular groups of users coming forward with constructive suggestions and being willing to engage with Government and with one another in looking for ways forward. It is worth pointing out that in every part of the country, rights of way groups have now been established. They give an opportunity not just for landowners and walkers to relate to one another, but for other types of use also to be reconciled.

Access to water is a big issue. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), recently came to me with representatives of the British Canoe Union to raise some issues. There is no magic wand that suddenly creates the possibility of access, but the more people recognise that we live in an island where access to the countryside in a variety of different ways is important, and that that countryside must be used responsibly and considerately, the more we are likely to find the answers to the issues that we are debating, like those that we are debating tonight.

These are not just responsibilities for Government, but there is a role for Government in ensuring that there is an overarching framework to enable the provision of alternative sites where there is local agreement. A meeting is being set up at official level between my Department, Transport colleagues, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Transport to discuss the wider on and off-road policy issues and how they fit together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has today offered some joined-up thinking from the point of view
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of users, and I can assure him that his words have not fallen on deaf ears. Once our officials have looked at these common issues, I will meet with ministerial colleagues to consider the way forward. From my Department's perspective, off-road sites also offer opportunities for farmers and landowners to take part in diversification, possibly utilising grants through the rural enterprise scheme, provided that the use is appropriate to the surrounding conditions and environmental considerations.

I have to point out that purpose-built sites provide only one part of the solution. Many motor vehicle users of rights of way do not see such sites as an alternative to using byways. Users who fall into the category of the irresponsible and illegal will not necessarily change from their current practices and go to use organised sites. There will still be those recalcitrant users who continue to drive or ride wherever they please, irrespective of the impact on others. This is why better education and better enforcement of existing offences are vital. The proposals in our consultation paper to that effect were universally welcomed.

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