Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I support my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). I am a regular cyclist and have made three trips by bicycle today. Unless the heavens open or a hurricane hits London, I will cycle back to my pad this evening.
I wish to elucidate two principles. First, cycling is good for one's health and for the environment, so the Government should do whatever they can to promote and encourage cycling, whether in the countryside or elsewhere. A number of hon. Members have talked about the importance of bridleways being open to cyclists to draw them into the countryside, but sometimes safety is an attraction. In countryside areas close to towns, it may well be safer for cyclists to cycle off-road than go on a busy road, especially as more and more roads are designed especially for motor vehicles, with dual carriageways, roundabouts and so on. Promoting cycling is therefore a good thing.
Secondly, our countryside is a valuable and precious resource. The spirits of town dwellers such as myself are lifted and our health improved when we walk or cycle in the countryside. That is partly because of the exercise and but also because of the peace and quiet that the countryside provides. A number of hon. Members talked about the environmental damage that motor vehicles can do to the countryside, mainly by chewing up paths. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) discussed the damage that can be done to the archaeology below the surface when paths are used by motor vehicles. However, motor vehicles cause another environmental problem in the countryside, especially near high hills, with the noise that they make. If one goes to the hills for peace and quiet and one hears the drone of motor vehicles
Indeed. If one hears that drone the lift to one's spirits is not as high or as mighty as it would otherwise be. That is a particular problem in hills. Sound waves travel in straight lines in flat areas, so trees can reduce the noise. Such areas may be a suitable place to use off-road motor vehicles. Valleys, however, act as
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sound bowls, so once one is up in the hills one can hear everything that motor vehicles do in the valleys. That constitutes an environmental problem.
I hope that the Government will look closely at the legislation to ensure that it promotes cycling. On bridleways where cycling is permitted, motor vehicles should not be allowed. Those principles are important, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury on her new clause. I hope that the Minister will give Members a commitment to meet the Cyclists Touring Club and the cycling lobby to discuss their concerns and to make sure that the Bill, which is a very good piece of legislation, takes account of their needs and incorporates the two principles that I elucidated when it completes its passage through the other place.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)I expect that we will meet later by the Members' cycle rack before we pedal home. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) delivered a knowledgeable speech, as is his wont, in a softly spoken manner, but I am sure that the Minister detected a hint of menace towards the end of his remarks.
I would like to speak briefly to new clause 21. It is a pleasure to follow in the slipstream of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, of which I am patron. I also speak as the honorary vice-president of the Cyclists Touring Club. As she and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said, there is an element of uncertainty about the rights of cyclists, and it is not clear whether they have a right of way. It has always been assumed that evidence of cycle use was sufficient to claim either a carriageway or a bridleway, but in two recent public inquiries to which my hon. Friend referred, the same inspector has ruled against attempts to claim either way on the grounds that there was no statutory or common law authority to do so. As the Bill is going through the House, it is appropriate to clarify the question, and I am sure that there will not be a great falling out over the issue.
Turning briefly to new clause 4, my hon. Friend mentioned the serious situation in Hampshire. Between January and May this year, 74 byway claims were received. I contacted the county council this morning to find out the position, and it said that it had
I am sure that its members do not risk damage to their vehicles, but it is simply not the case that they do not risk damage to the countryside. The document makes one
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interesting argument, about the position of disabled people, that needs to be addressed before it is dismissed. Towards the end, it says that, in the interests of access to the countryside, people who are less mobile should be allowed more rights of way. I tried that argument out yesterday on a constituent in a wheelchair who was visiting the Houses of Parliament. She was emphatic: she minded about the countryside and did not want roads to be churned up by four-wheeled vehicles or motorbikes. She would be deeply resentful if disabled people were used as an argument in favour of such action. Having raised that argument, I hope that too much account will not be made of it. I notice that it has not been made by groups representing disabled people, but only by the Green Lane Association, which has a small but vociferous membership. As we have heard throughout this debate, it is stacking up claims to create byways in the hope that they will be heard under the old rules. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that Wiltshire county council estimates that it has over 30 years' work to process the claims that it has received so far. While it does so, the damage to the routes in question will continue. I understand why notice was given for a period of exemption, but the evidence that we have heard in our debate suggests that that is not the best way to proceed.
To conclude with the position in Hampshire, the Minister generously held a meeting on 22 September with the CTC. Some photographs were left with him showing parts of tracks that were badly damaged, even though other parts of the route had been repaired. The cost of repairs this year has been estimated to be £10,000, including officer time. Further works have yet to be done, and complaints are being made to Hampshire county council about the fact that it has to spend ratepayers' money on repairs made necessary by a tiny minority of users, particularly motorbikes. When the council was asked to extend the traffic regulation order, the assistant head of the countryside service said:
I hope that the Minister will deal with the Bassetlaw question. The relevant provision is prospective and applies only to new rights of way. We need to address the important issue of all the rights of way that have been established, even though activity may not be appropriate.
The Minister is a sensitive soul and he will have detected the mood of the House throughout the debate. I do not know what his officials have drafted for his winding-up speech, but he might be well advised to ad lib and go off track for a short time. If he wants to capture the mood of the House and build on the consensus that has featured in the debate so far, he should opt for the earliest possible date.
Last night, I looked at a booklet featuring Saxon and Roman routes through Bassetlaw, which is now no longer published. Those who were on the Standing Committee will probably be relieved to learn that I do not propose to illustrate my speech with numerous extracts from it, although doubtless other
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Members will be greatly disappointed. Anyway, I am sure that an opportunity for me to quote from it will arise at an appropriate point. I shall confine myself to saying that it is absurd that, as a result of an anomaly in the law that the Bill attempts to remove, 550 square miles of my constituency that are riddled with both Roman and Saxon through routes should be affected because quad bikers and other such sportspeople choose to give their business to the area, having discovered it through websites and links. Only recently, a group from south Wales who had spotted the routes on the internet decided to pay a day-long visit with the sole purpose of travelling along former bridleways.
Whether it is called the Bassetlaw question or not, the Minister must ensure that it is acted on. There is a legislative anomaly here. I am relaxed about the potential use of traffic regulation orders, on condition that the Government give clear direction to more reluctant authorities such as Nottinghamshire county council, which seems to think that the use of such orders in this context should be seen in a variety of wider contexts than that of what is wanted by the overwhelming majority of local people. The wide public consultations in which I have engaged suggest that 99 per cent. of local people do not want quad bikes, motor bikes or any other motorised vehicles to travel down the most sensitive lanes in our countryside. It is essential that the Government give the right guidance to rectify that anomaly.
I was perturbed by the triumphalist language that we heard at the beginning of the debate. There were references to U-turns and backing down on the Minister's part, as if he were a weak Minister forced into concessions. In fact, as those who served on the Committee will recall vividly, there was all-party debate and consensus on most of the issues that were raised then. The fact that the Minister felt able to go back to his drafters and return with his own amendments indicates strength. No doubt he feels able to go further. In any event, he has ensured that the common sense exhibited by all parties will become legislation. I see that as the action of a strong Minister, not a weak one, which the House should commend.
I intend to make three points about the new clauses. There is an important omission from new clause 4, which it is vital not to overlook. Subsection (2) contains paragraphs (a) and (b), but there ought to be a paragraph (c), dealing with crime and disorder. Paragraphs (a) and (b) deal essentially with the volume of motorised vehicles, but we should also consider the threat. Occasional use of such vehicles may not damage the environment to any great extent. It may not constitute a particular danger according to the definition. In terms of crime and disorder, however, it may be a problem. It may affect isolated properties, for instance. In my constituency, there is the potential for entrances and exits to be created to and from areas in which crimes could be committed.
I have received support from both the local crime and disorder partnership and the police in regard to the use of traffic regulation orders. The police believe that crime and disorder are critical to the need to row back the new rights. If it were just a question of the odd trail rider, we would all feel quite relaxed. It is, however, a question of
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the rights going to everyone else, and the impossibility of doing anything about it. There is no particular clash with trail riders in my area.
That is the weakness that I see in new clause 4, but I also see a strength in its meaning and intent. A problem for county councils is that each traffic regulation order causes a good deal of bureaucratic work. In a wider context than today's debate, it would be sensible for Government to allow authorities to impose such orders en bloc rather than individually. That might be done by means of a lowering of speed limits in villages, or the application of TROs to anomalies with which the Bill cannot deal. Such a move would save authorities time and costs, and I hope that the Minister will consider it. I feel that it is in the spirit of new clause 4.
New clause 10, tabled by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), deals with the law of unintended consequences. I shall make two points about it. First, the definition of "premises" needs to be tight. Secondly, there is the issue of definitions of "right of vehicular access". I can give two examples of attempts by property developers in Bassetlaw to create new rights of access to what they claim are existing properties. The properties have not, in fact, been built, but the developers are trying to secure initial planning permission. They have been found out, though. Their case is essentially this: "We want to convert an old ruin, and because we have been driving to and from it for many yearsalthough no one has spotted uswe have vehicular rights." Wrongly and stupidly, in my view, planning permission may have been given for one property and then, lo and behold, new vehicular rights emerge in respect of neighbouring land.
The issue is not peculiar to the countryside. The most contentious example applies to an urbanised area of Worksop, in my constituency. That is, however, precisely the kind of unintended consequence that could result from the new clause, according to my reading of it. I hope that the right hon. Member for Bracknell will not push what appears to be a sensible proposal without allowing the MinisterI hope that he has not already accepted the new clause; if not, I urge caution on himto take account of other unintended consequences. I am thinking especially of the creation of vehicular rights that could be used to enhance land values with the aim of securing new property developments that would not have been allowed if the initial vehicular right had not been granted. There is a problem with the new clause's wording and I will certainly vote against it if it is pressed to a vote, even though I wholly accept the logic behind it.
On new clause 21, which deals with cycling, I again urge caution, although not in respect of the principle behind it. Let me give another example from my own constituency, which concerns one right of way crossing another. A particular footpath to a school in my constituency is most definitely the safest route for children to take, because it keeps them away from dangerous main roads. However, attempts have been made to create an enhanced right of way across that footpath. We need to exercise caution in such clashing of rights of way. On the face of it, such a development could constitute an enhancement, but it could lead to the rights of the occasional cyclist at certain times
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endangering small children going to the nearby nursery school. Moreover, the school travel plan encourages slightly older childrenthose aged from five to eight years oldto travel on their own to school on that route, because doing so is considered safe. We need to look at this issue to ensure that we are not creating another unintended consequence by providing what is, on the face of it, a sensible enhancement of cyclists' rights.