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I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay). His important points reflect the haphazard nature of rights of way legislation, which has grown and been amended over the years. In many respects, there is confusion. His point is similar to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). I am unclear about how part 6 affects the rights of cyclists. I am pretty clear in my mind that it does not affect the established rights of cyclists, but what is more moot and questionable is whether they lose the right to claim new routes, which is how it appears. A separate category for cyclists in rights of way legislation is not clearly set out. I cycle, although I do not fill my panniers with the books and texts talked about. It is clearly right,
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however, that those of us who advocate a right to walk in the countryside should also secure the rights of people who want to cycle in the countryside.
I have looked closely at new clause 21. I do not think that it does the task that my hon. Friend anticipates, but she is versed in these matters and I am not. However, I back her request that we need to examine the matter closely during the Bill's remaining stages. I am confident that the Minister will do that. He and his officials have worked hard on part 6. There has been a great deal of movement. The Department accepted that there had been a flood of claims. That was dismissed early on, but as we examined the matter, the Minister accepted that there was a problem. As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said, the Minister was kind enough to publishunusually, in many respectsthe legal advice that he received. I am grateful to him for doing that.
I stress that concern is felt on both sides of the Chamber in both Houses, and it has substantial support from the organisations that have an interest. I know that the Minister is listening to that substantial lobby. I am grateful that he met me and representatives of the green lanes protection group in September, when we discussed the counsel's opinion that the GLPG had obtained from John Hobson, a leading expert in the subject. As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, the Hobson opinion is clear that private rights and access, which give rise to human rights issues, are tackled in amendments Nos. 12 and 13. I support them and hope that the Minister will consider them carefully.
The essential issue is that of commencement. The Hobson opinion closely considers that, and it has been shared across the country with solicitors who have long experience in such matters. It is complicated, but in relative terms its core is straightforward. Part 6 extinguishes the right to use mechanically propelled vehicles on areas covered by new claims. All of us support that. It must be the case that if we are prepared to back that viewthere is almost universal consensus for it across the country, with few exceptionswe should do it sooner rather than later.
There is no case for delay. Hobson clearly says that the legislation can be implemented immediately because the claims are just thatclaims. They have not been established in law. By itself, a claim has no validity. However, the claims are stacking up, and the Minister would be wise to introduce an early commencement date. There are plenty of opportunities to do that. It could be on Royal Assent or 19 May, the day on which the Bill was published. It clearly is the caseit has been demonstrated thoroughly in the debatethat groups of people across the country are stacking up claims. What is more, they are being paid for it. That is a most unsatisfactory situation.
I am grateful for the movement on matters so far. Following our meeting on 22 September, the Minister kindly wrote to me. In a letter dated 3 October, he stated:
"I said that I would give you a very clear idea at the Commons Report Stage of how we intend to proceed on this issue."
I look forward to his statement. He will let us know of his decision, and an early intervention might help us. I promise him that we will look closely at what he has to say. I am delighted with part 6. If its provisions are right in the future, they should be right now.
Jim Knight: It is not up to me when I am called to speak in the debate. I am happy to hear all of the thoughts of hon. Members on both sides of the House in representing their constituents. Having done so, perhaps it is a good time for me to answer all of them.
Paddy Tipping: I am grateful that the Minister will respond. We shall listen to him closely and make further representations to him tonight. Those representations will be nothing like those that will be made in another place. It may well be in my hon. Friend's interests to give way gracefully on this matter.
Mr. Roger Williams: Having listened to the debate on proposed rights of way legislation, I am confirmed in my opinion that we have rights of way legislation and a rights of way network relevant to the 18th and 19th centuries and not to the 21st century. In trying to amend a system that is fundamentally flawed, we make only minor improvements without getting to the basis of the problem.
New clause 23 stands in my name. Before I refer to it, I shall talk to new clause 4, which was moved by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). I understand his reasons for introducing it. We are all concerned about those people who use motorised vehicles and in so doing abuse the countryside. At the same time, there are responsible people who enjoy motorised recreation in the countryside. The legislation should reflect their efforts to ensure that they do not damage the countryside and that, indeed, they promote it. I know that there is concern about those who abuse rights of way and cause environmental damage.
Lembit Öpik: As he shares representation of Powys with me, does my hon. Friend agree that much motorised off-road activity is organised responsibly? Some people will be concerned that legitimate and sustainable activity could be compromised if legislation were too tight. Those same people would agree that, if legislation works effectively, irresponsible individuals will be stopped without harming those who are innocent.
Mr. Williams: I thank my hon. Friend. He and I share the responsibility of representing an area of mid-Wales that is used by motorised vehicles, by people on foot, by cyclists and by people who ride horses. The difficulty is to achieve a balance. So often the good intentions and the good efforts of responsible people are destroyed by those who are irresponsible.
Mr. Paice: Nothing that I propose affects the existing network of BOATs, so all responsible users, who, I readily accept, are numerous, will still have the use of the existing network. They will still be able to use private land in the way in which I described in my opening remarks.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. Those involved in such activities
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sometimes forget that the existing uses are not affected either by the proposed legislation or by the hon. Gentleman's new clause.
I have been told by some members of the green lane preservation societyI do not know whether that is exactly the name of the society
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): It is the Green Lanes Protection Group.
Mr. Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman.
The Government are considering some form of sustainability test for rights of way to use when deciding whether a RUPP could be reclassified as a BOAT. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. It is late in the day to come forward with such suggestions and he may wish to reassure us or refer to discussions that he has had with relevant bodies.
I support new clause 21. There should be some certainty in legislation about rights of way and the byways that cyclists can use so as to enjoy their recreation. The increasing popularity of mountain biking has enabled cyclists to gain access to parts of the countryside that they have never reached before. It would be of great benefit to them and to cyclists in general if legislation were much more definitive and obvious in its interpretation. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, the last thing that we want when we are engaged in our activities, recreation and enjoyment is to be challenged by those who wish to dispute whether we have the right to use particular rights of way.
New clause 23 stands in my name. It is about the ability to use rights of waybyways in particularfor cycle races and time trials. It is an anomaly of the law that, while cyclists can use highways for races if they get appropriate authorisation from local authorities, with local authorities being able to place conditions on such use, there is no way in which cyclists can obtain permission to use restricted byways, including bridleways or footpaths on some occasions, for races or time trials.
The anomaly arises from the Road Traffic Act 1988. The new clause would allow organisations to apply to use rights of way for cycle races, including time trials. Local authorities or highway authorities would be able to put restrictions or conditions upon that authorisation.
That may appear a small issue to the Minister, but in Llanwrtyd Wells it is extremely important. Gordon Green has promoted the area over the past years. Llanwrtyd Wells claims to be the smallest town in England and Wales. It was the place where Sosban Fach was composed and has come to international importance through the world bog snorkelling championship. One of the other competitions that has been promoted there is the man versus horse race, an event that has been going on for 27 years and is sponsored by William Hill, which makes available £1,000 every year. The year before last, the man won. He beat the horse and won a prize of £27,000.
The real intention of the competition was that it should be man versus horse versus cyclist. As it is illegal to have races or time trials on byways, including
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bridleways, Gordon Green, being a man of complete integrity, was not prepared to promote such a competition if it was illegal.
The Minister, by a single stroke, could become popular in Llanwrtyd Wells and famous. I have no doubt that he would be invited to start the man versus horse versus cyclist race. He would join a sequence of famous people such as Lord Sutch and madam Cynthia Payne who have previously started it.
This is a serious matter. It is a small anomaly that can easily be rectified by the Minister. Mountain biking is increasing in popularity. The new clause could lead to more activity in rural areas and promote the rural and local economies. By a small token, he could undo an obvious anomaly. When he takes the matter back to the other place, he should know that many of their lordships would love to partake of cycle races on byways and bridleways. I am sure that there will be considerable support for the proposition. I hope that he can accommodate the wishes of Llanwrtyd Wells.
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