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Mr. Peter Atkinson: I agree with something that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said, in that I hope that we will not need to push the new clause to a vote. I hope that the Minister will instead accept it, or at least accept most of its content. This is a very serious issue, and I slightly admonish my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) for not mentioning in his list of counties those of Northumberland and Durham.
The upland areas of the north Pennines are seriously afflicted by the problem of dozens and dozens of applications to open up old drove roads and track roads to vehicles. A particular problem in the upland commons is that when the enclosure Acts were passed in the 18th and 19th centuries, various track-ways were put down on the enclosure maps. Because some of the track-ways were for the use of drovers and local farmers, they were extremely wide, and their width is specified on the enclosure orders.
In my constituency, some of these track-ways are 30, 40 or even 60 yd wide, such measurements being the traditional widths. Of course, that causes enormous problems. In fact, some of the track-ways do not appear on the ground at all. A particular track-way in my constituency that is included on an enclosure map was never actually put in, so if it is turned into a byway, the farmer will have to demolish 60-yd stretches of old stone walls over a distance of about a mile. That is clearly ludicrous, and urgent action is needed from the Minister.
Some 60-yd wide drove roads now have houses built on them. In Stocksfield, in the Tyne valley, where development has taken place since the turn of the 20th century, houses have been built on part of those drove roads. They will remain virtually un-sellable until this matter is finally resolved. This is a very urgent issue, and if the Minister cannot accept new clause 4 in its entirety, I urge him at least to accept the spirit of it. Opening up these ways to motorised vehicles and trail riders has the potential to destroy a growing tourist industry in the Pennines. In building our tourist industry, we rely on people who enjoy quiet solitude and physical activity. Such activities will be utterly destroyed if these roads become common-use roads for four-wheel-drive vehicles and trail bikes.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab):
I want to thank the Minister for offering an open door to Members from all parts of the House. He has responded to letters, e-mails, phone calls, texts and face-to-face lobbyingand that is just from me; heaven knows what the sum total of such lobbying has been across the House. He has met all of this with courtesy and good humour, and I am sure that he will continue to do so, and to show the flexibility that he is known for, throughout the rest of our deliberations. This is an
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important Bill for the countryside, and I say that having experienced in the past week the lasting effect of 4x4s on one of the most important national trails in the English countryside. That is why I hope that the Minister will ensure that this Bill is enacted as soon as possible.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Ramblers Association, the Cyclists' Touring Club and the Friends of the Ridgeway at Barbury castle, in my constituency. All of them agreed that this Bill is important to the Ridgeway national trail. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) that it is important for cyclists as well, and I pay tribute to her eloquence. I will not repeat her arguments, but I totally agree with them.
I have the honour of being vice-president of the Friends of the Ridgewayone that I share with other Members. They know, as Members throughout the House know, the damage that 4x4s have done to some of the most delicate country lanes and paths on that route. Indeed, some two years after 4x4s were banned from the paths that I visited on Friday, there are still deep ruts in the ground, which is why this Bill must be enacted as soon as possible. This is not a sustainable state of affairs for the countryside that my South Swindon constituents and the people of the surrounding villages enjoy so much.
"met representatives from a number of motor vehicle user groups and invited them to exercise voluntary restraint in submitting byway claims. I called on them to come up with, and put into practice, a protocol whereby motor vehicle users will only put in claims for routes that are suitable for motor vehicle use."
Rob Marris: As a cyclist, I find new clause 21 attractive and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on tabling it. I urge the Government to ensure that by the time this Bill becomes an Actpreferably sooner, rather than laterit will enable byways to be clearly open to bicycles, but not to noxious trucks, cars, motor bikes and quad bikes.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on his succinct speech, given how much more we still have to cover this evening. This has been a lengthy debate, but it has enabled great constituency champions such as my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) and for Wolverhampton, South-West to represent their constituents, as we have heard. I reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). However we resolve this
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issueI intend to resolve it robustlyan existing network of rights of way is available to motorised vehicles that is subject to traffic regulation orders. We heard earlier that, with the agreement of the House, national parks authorities will have the power to make traffic regulation orders in order partially to deal with this problem. I hope that that means that responsible riders such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik)he is no longer in his placecan pursue their pastime responsibly. I regret that those irresponsible drivers and riders of motorised vehicles have in many ways made it necessary for the Government to act quickly and effectively in this matter.
I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling the amendments on an important issue. In dealing with them, let me set out clearly what we have done, what we are going to do and why we are doing it. I will then discuss the detail of the amendments as briefly as I can.
In Committee, I explained that there were human rights issues surrounding the commencement of the legislation that led us to believe that it would be appropriate to give a period of statutory notice before commencement of these provisions. I undertook to make publicly available, for others to comment upon, a summary of the legal advice that we received on the human rights aspects of commencement. At the same time, I made it clear that if motor vehicle users were able to exercise restraint in submitting byway claims, there might be no pressing need to commence the legislation straight away.
In light of comments we have received on the human rights aspects, and after careful consideration, we have concluded that, provided the provisions in clause 62(3), which provide for private rights where public rights are extinguished, are strengthened sufficiently, it will not be necessary to allow a period of statutory notice before the legislation can be commenced. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that the House approves.
The motorised user groups have been engaged in developing a protocol for managing byway claims, on which they consulted other rights of way users and stakeholders. In addition, as a gesture of good faith, they have instigated a self-imposed moratorium on claims until such time as a protocol could be agreed.
My officialsI pay tribute to them for their assiduous work, particularly in the last few monthshave been in touch with local authorities to monitor the numbers of new byway claims. In certain counties, the moratorium has been effective. In others, there have been considerable increases in the numbers of applications to have routes recorded as byways on the definitive map and statement. I see that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) is in his place and we heard from him earlier. Wiltshire county council has received over 70 applications for new byways within the last few weeks.
Clearly, these voluntary measures, however well intended, are not having the desired effect. We cannot tolerate local authorities being deluged with applications in an attempt to thwart the aims of the Bill. In delivering the package of measures that we promised in the Government's "Framework for Action" on mechanically propelled vehicles, we are proposing
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legislation to curtail applications for byways open to all traffic based on historic vehicular use, such as the Saxon and Roman routes in Bassetlaw, and extinguishing any unrecorded vehicular rights; in rights of way terms, this is a radical measure and not to be underestimated by the House. I should clarify that the Bill does not affect the rights of users of wheelchairs and invalid carriages to use restricted byways.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) is listening closely to this point. I have decided to commence these provisions as soon as possible after Royal Assent and, if legally possible, at Royal Assent. That leaves us with the measures that we should take to deal with any new byway applications made between now and commencement and how to treat existing, outstanding applications in a way that is fair and appropriate.
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