Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I very much welcome the new clause. As the Minister knows, the Peak district is the most beautiful part of England and he is welcome to come and see for himself at the earliest possible time all that the area has to offer. Unfortunately, one thing that he might see on a visit is damage that has been done by 4x4s and off-road vehicles to the rights of way that we are talking about today. Many national parks have had this problem for a long time, but the issue has perhaps been growing faster in the Peak district.
I should like to raise with the Minister a number of issues on which I hope he can provide answers, but whatever he says in answer, he can be assured of my 100 per cent. support for the new clause. First, is this just about 4x4 vehicles or is it about other forms of mechanised transport as well? I am thinking of trail bikes, motor bikes and so on. Secondly, in recent months there has been a rush by various groups to try to squeeze some rights of way under the finishing rope, to get them recognised as rights of way on which they can use motorised vehicles before legislation such as this comes into effect. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure me that where there is evidence that these have been raised at a late stage to try to get them under the wire, that can be resisted. I am not really asking for retrospective powers for the national park, but I am asking for it to have powers to resist applications for rights of way status that are already in the pipeline where, for example, there is no evidence that motorised vehicles have ever regularly used those rights of way.
11 Oct 2005 : Column 176
I am also interested to know about the use of the definitive map in these cases. Why is it that only rights of way are on the definitive map, rather than other routes that may well be established as walking routes and so on and could be abused by users of motorised recreational vehicles? Does the Minister envisage that, as a consequence of the new clause, powers will be given to national parks to repair, upgrade or make changes to rights of way or to force others to do so in order to maintain or restore their essential character?
The final pointI think that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) hinted at itis that if the national parks had such powers they would obviously need the resources to impose them. Can we be assured that national parks funding will take into account the need to maintain the character of rights of way?
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I welcome the wisdom of the Minister in tabling the new clause. In all respects, it replicates my intention in tabling an amendment in Committee. I have no doubt that the statutory intent is expressed in better language, and I welcome that, too. It is desperately important for national parks, which have the statutory duty to conserve the appearance of the countryside as well as to promote recreation and enjoyment of those areas, to have the power to make TROs. The national parks are best placed to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. I have no doubt that they will use the Sandford principle in coming to decisions. The Sandford principle puts the emphasis on conservation if there is ever a dispute between the two statutory duties.
The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), who represents Exmoor, made a point about landowners having access over rights of way when TROs are made. I am sure that in the consultations that national parks will undertake with the local residents and the local authority such access would be protected, because it is so important to the local economy.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: One of the issues that I touched on was the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and national parks. Two national parks have MOD land on themDartmoor and Northumberland. I have seen little mention of that. Both bodies have statutory rights, and Crown immunity is going. I wonder whether the hon. Member has any thoughts on that.
Mr. Williams: The hon. Gentleman raises a valuable point. I am not aware of the military use of national parks where the MOD either owns part of the national park or has been given use of land. The military uses the Brecon Beacons national park on a rather more informal basis. The MOD has a very good relationship with the national park, and I am sure that the national park would see that no damage was done.
I welcome the new clause. I am sure that it will give national parks great heart that they are in a better position to look after the countryside for which they have responsibility, and to promote enjoyment and recreation.
11 Oct 2005 : Column 177
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench represents part of one of the most beautiful counties in EnglandDorset. Scrambling and offroading are major problems in that region. Is he aware that the courts have recently ruled that gopeds and, presumably, mini motos are classified for legal purposes as motor vehicles? Will those new miniature motorised devices be covered by the national park TROs?
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend's Department considering issuing any guidelines to national parks and others about the use of traffic regulation orders, particularly where upgrades to BOATsbyways open to all traffichave already made progress and where there is the possibility of countering those upgrades that may have been objected to but passed in advance of the Bill becoming a statute? If so, what is the time scale in relation to such advice?
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): While I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) about farmers or gamekeepers gaining access to national parks, I realise that national parks will treat such use sympathetically. Similarly, I am critical of the use in national parks of trail bikes and other vehicles that can cause damage. However, can the Minister allay my concerns about legal motor sports in national parks that are undertaken with the landowner's permission and are sometimes a valuable source of income to the landowner? In particular, trial riding, as opposed to trail riding, is a sport enjoyed by many families and young children and a valuable part of the activity that takes place in national parks.
Jim Knight: A lot of points have been made in quick-fire succession, which is obviously an efficient way for us to go about our business. I am grateful to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) for his comments, which do not require me to add anything.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) raised some important and valid issues, some of which we will deal with much more fully when we come to the fourth group of amendments, which relate to rights of way, 4x4s, trail-bike riders and so on. Clearly, the use of traffic regulation orders by national park authorities will apply to all vehicles, depending on how those orders are framed. As I said in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), we shall simply apply the powers that are currently available to highways agencies. I shall deal later with the rush to make claims if my hon. Friend will be patient with me.
The powers are not limited to rights of way on the definitive map and statement. The powers also apply to all unsurfaced routes within the national park boundaryin other words, to all routes that are likely to be vulnerable to damage by mechanically propelled vehicles. My hon. Friend's next question related to the associated works that might need to be carried out in support of that. We are confident that the powers that the proposals confer will be implicitly granted to national park authorities under the new clause.
Finally, my hon. Friend asked the inevitable question about resources. We have consulted the national park authorities about the funding implications of the new
11 Oct 2005 : Column 178
powers. I visited several of them over the summer, and they are all very enthusiastic about them. Indeed, I spoke to the annual general meeting of the Association of National Park Authorities, and I got the closest thing to a cheer during my whole speech when I said that I was actively considering introducing such a proposal. The national park authorities have said that they are happy to take the new powers without additional funding. They believe that determining the priority of such things within the funds available to them and how best to use their resources to protect the landscapes that they are responsible for protecting are matters for them.
I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) for his comments. In respect of the intervention made by the hon. Member for Bridgwater, I am happy to write to him about the issues that he raised about the Ministry of Defence, if that is helpful to him.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) will be pleased to know that, yes, despite being new devices, gopedsI share some of his mystery about what they are specificallyand certainly mini mopeds, which I do know about, will be regarded as mechanically propelled. In any case, traffic regulation orders will apply to all vehicles.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) raised an important point, which I did not have time to write down, so it has subsequently escaped me, but if he wants to make a rapid intervention it may be possible for me to remember.