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Mr. Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is exactly our contention. Many landowners have made available former sandpits and other such sites for people to do the most amazing things with four-wheel drives or trail bikes. I have seen it myself. Members of my family have done it and I have been frightened silly watching them. It is done on land that they have paid for permission to use and the fee goes to meet the cost of repair and maintenance.
The Minister has looked carefully at the possibility of carrying out a sustainability assessment for trail managementthe voluntary approach that he has rightly been trying to thrash out with users. I congratulate him on his attempt to find a voluntary solution and I congratulate the motoring organisation Land Access and Recreation Association, but frankly I do not believe that it can work for two reasons. First, the devised scoring system, when viewed reasonably objectively, is heavily weighted towards approval of the byway as a BOAT. There is no real process for ensuring that the byways are maintained or for dealing with the problem of regulating people who are not members of associations.
Secondly, new evidence that I wish to cite to the House suggests that at least some members of the TRF are using the process as a smokescreen. I wish to read out a few quotes from the federation's confidential website, which we have managed to access. One states:
"Research all you want to ride and prepare the schedule 14 applications in readiness for the lifting of the moratorium on claiming BOATS. We know that has worked where members have become more active, because 6 counties have a hell of a lot of BOAT claims."
I have many more such quotes, all of which emphasise to me and many other observers that there is, at least among some members of the organisation, a conspiracy to provide a vast increase in the number of applications for BOATs the moment that the Bill becomes law, if the Government agree to the voluntary approach.
Paddy Tipping : The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned a website and talked about some of the people who have contributed to it. Is it not the case that some of the quotes that he used were from executive committee members of that organisation, not the rank and file? This campaign is being led from the very top of an organisation to which the Minister and his officials have been talking in good faith.
"However, nothing is more certain than if we are seen to break the moratorium, and by doing so illustrate that user groups cannot control the actions of their members and that members care nothing for the proposals that have been submitted to the Minister for the future provision and management of our activity, then the pressure will be increased further to BACK-DATE the cut-off date for claims. . . .
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): While I understand the concerns that the hon. Gentleman puts forward, does he accept that the great majority of users of motorised two-wheel vehicles in the countryside are responsible? In the early stage, when I was involved in trying to develop a dialogue between motor cyclists and the Government, it was obvious that the great majority of them and their organisations, such as the British Motorcyclists Federation and the Motorcycle Action Group, were keen to act and be seen to act responsibly. Does he agree that any legislation should not have punitive consequences for people who have never sought to break the law or cause inconvenience?
Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman is right. A large proportion of users cause no serious problems or damage. My purpose in reading out the quotes was to emphasise to the House that, unless we take action by accepting the amendments and new clauses, we will find that what has already happened, namely, a surge in the number of new applications for BOATs, will become a flood the moment tonight's proceedings are concluded. That is my big worry, and that is my purpose in making those points.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con):
I regret to say that my hon. Friend is absolutely right that flood has already
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occurred in the county of Wiltshire. I and others who want the date to be brought forward advocate that without any sense of vindictiveness. I spent an afternoon with 4x4 off-roaders. I saw what they were doing and listened very carefully to what they said. I have also had a continuous dialogue with trail riders. I very much regret to say that I see no meeting of minds, and I do not think that there will be one. We must regulate such things sooner rather than later because of the damage that is being done. Yes, it is true that a lot of them are responsible people, but a lot of them are not, and they will not see that they are doing damage that will wipe out the historical evidence and the attractiveness of such byways, which are hundreds and even thousands of years old.
Mr. Redwood : I should like to thank my hon. Friend for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. In Wokingham and west Berkshire, districts covering parts of my constituency, there is great concern. We are all in favour of proper facilities for 4x4 usersthey should be well away from settlements and in appropriate places where the damage can be controlled or repaired and where it does not annoy other peoplebut we are desperately worried that the Government have stirred up a hornet's nest that will lead to lots of applications where they are not wanted and that they have not given councils the powers to resist them properly.
Mr. Paice: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. What matters to me and my hon. Friends is that everyone should have a reasonable opportunity to use all types of our byways. Nothing in any of the amendments or new clauses to which I am about to refer will take away all the existing BOATs. Of course, local authorities, and now national parks, have the opportunity to impose traffic regulation orders on them.
John Mann : The hon. Gentleman makes the point that his proposal will do nothing to existing rights. How would he deal with the anomaly, which other hon. Members and I have highlighted in the Chamber during the past four years, whereby a number of such applications have been passed because of historic rights? Perhaps he can explain why he suggests putting an arbitrary cut-off date at the beginning of the process?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will deal with new clause 4 in detail in just a moment, when I will try to address that point. We do not seek in these amendments and new clauses to go back beyond the genesis of the Bill. Let me put it as generally as that. The fact that local authorities, and now national parks, have the power to issue traffic regulation orders is part of the answer to his point about how to deal with those BOATs that have been recorded already, based on the fact that someone once rode a chariot and four down the byway during the Punic wars or whatever. Clearly, the Government are trying to close that loophole under clause 62, and we support that.
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I want to mention an e-mail that many hon. Members will have received in the past 48 hours from the British Motorcyclists Federation in which it supports the TRF. I was very sorry to read it because a reputable organisation has done itself a disservice by associating itself with the TRF. I have already made my case about the TRF in the quotes that I have given, but the BMF says that there has been no surge in applications. Well, the facts clearly belie that. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) has just referred to Wiltshire. In Hampshire, 75 claims were made in the first five months of this year, whereas four claims were made in the preceding 12 months. We have evidence, as does the Minister, that local authorities are currently considering about 2,000 claims.
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