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Mr. Mackay: If the Minister is saying that he accepts the new clause in principle, but that his drafters and lawyers are unhappy with the term "reasonable", I confirm that—providing that something better is devised in the other place and that all my constituents who have been dispossessed of their right to sell their property will no longer be so dispossessed, and providing that conveyancing solicitors and others can advise purchasers that there is no difficulty in purchasing the property in that respect—I will withdraw the new clause today. I wait with eager anticipation a more satisfactory amendment in the other place.

Jim Knight: I am grateful and I undertake to meet the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that he is happy, before any amendment is introduced, that it represents the interests of his constituents.

I greatly enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who spoke to new clause 21. I am also a cyclist and I have struggled with my own bike on the
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train down to Dorset, South. When my hon. Friend chooses to come with her inner city comrades, I would be delighted to ride some of the routes of south Dorset with them. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend who, as chairman of the all-party group, has emerged as a champion for cyclists in such a short time.

I recognise the concern that it is uncertain under the new provisions whether a qualifying period of use by a bicycle would give rise to a right of way for bicycles and I appreciate that the amendment is intended to achieve that by ensuring that a bicycle falls within the definition of a non-mechanically propelled vehicle. It has always been our view that a bicycle falls within that definition. However, it may be possible to improve the drafting and my officials will enter discussions with the relevant cycling interests with a view to addressing their concerns. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to agree with her how best to resolve the matter.

That leaves me with new clause 23. Current legislation provides for trials and races on all highways except footpaths and bridleways, so cyclists can use BOATs and restricted byways under the existing terms of section 31 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The amendment is designed to extend the possibility of authorising cycle racing on footpaths and bridleways, particularly in the town whose name I have temporarily forgotten. If I recall the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) correctly, it is a small town in his constituency.

The proposal goes well beyond what we are trying to achieve in the rights of way part of the Bill. In many ways, I fear that it has come too late for me to be able to make much progress on the matter. I presume that there is a good reason why existing legislation specifically prevents cycle racing on bridleways and footpaths. The rights of way are generally much narrower than for other categories of highway and such uses may well conflict with the interests of other rights of way users and have implications for their safety. I fear that insufficient time is left to achieve the aim properly in the remaining passage of the Bill. I would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire to discuss whether progress can be made on this particular issue, but I cannot be too optimistic.

Mr. Roger Williams: I thank the Minister for that offer. Bridleways are used by cyclists who have rights to use them. Indeed, bridleways can also be used for races and time trials by horses, so I do not follow the logic whereby cyclists are denied the right to use the same facilities.

Jim Knight: As I say, I shall have a chat with the hon. Gentleman to see whether anything can be done, but I advise him not to hold his breath.

As to amendments Nos. 6 and 7 and 11 to 13, clause 62 provides for the extinguishing of certain mechanically propelled vehicular rights from the date on which the provision is commenced. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would make the provision retrospective so that the rights would be extinguished from 19 May 2005. I have already explained that, as part of package of measures, I intend to commence the rights of way provisions as soon as possible after Royal Assent.
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I hope that I have said enough to satisfy the House on this group of amendments. In the light of my assurance that, having listened to the overwhelming view of the House, we will act robustly, I hope that hon. Gentlemen will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) implied that in my reply to the debates on some of the earlier groups I had suggested that the Minister was weak. Far from it; I genuinely congratulate the Minister on his wisdom. He has addressed the Bill constructively and helpfully, as we have seen on this group of amendments, and I do not resile from those comments.

8 pm

As I said in my opening remarks, the Minister has been extremely helpful, met various special interest groups and bent over backwards to find a voluntary way forward, through the sustainable assessment process. I congratulate him on his efforts, but as I tried to explain, and as the Minister has now conceded, clearly that approach will not work. I therefore congratulate him on taking the robust stance that he has now adopted.

So many Members have spoken—Members on both sides of the House, and from constituencies in all parts of the country—that the Minister cannot be in any doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) referred to the hidden menace of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). I too noticed that, but I still pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the tremendous work that he has done on this issue.

As the Minister has rightly said, the problem is that a minority—but still quite a large number—of people who use four-wheel drives and motor cycles are destroying many of our byways and making them impassable for pedestrians and horse riders. They cause all kinds of nuisance and, as the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) said, they also cause serious noise intrusion. Would that it had been possible to find a voluntary way forward.

I tabled a variety of amendments and new clauses that we believed would address the issues. We based them largely on the advice of counsel. Clearly the Minister is not convinced, although I suspect that he has taken the legal opinion into account, because he said that if clause 62(3) could be strengthened, the Human Rights Act 1998 would not come into play. He has not explained precisely what is wrong with the wording of my amendments Nos. 12 and 13, but I accept that he intends to table something along the same lines to deal with the same issue. That is welcome.

The Minister said that he would try to ensure that commencement would be on Royal Assent or as soon as possible thereafter—and as he also said, that met with a genuinely enthusiastic response in the House. That is as it should be, because it is a considerable step forward from the position in Committee. Ideally, I would have liked commencement earlier rather than later, despite what I said before about retrospection, and our legal advice.
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I am not wedded to the precise wording of new clause 4. The Minister feels that using traffic regulation orders is in some way wrong. Perhaps it is, and I look forward to what I believe he described as the aggressive statement that he proposes to make—or rather, to get someone else to make on his behalf, unless he knows something that we do not about a very quick forthcoming promotion—in the other place. If that statement does not involve TROs, there will have to be some other mechanism to deal with the 2000 or so outstanding claims; the Minister referred to the huge increase in some counties, despite the moratorium.

The Opposition are satisfied with the way in which the debate has gone. The Minister has responded, at least in rhetoric—I do not mean that as a pejorative term—in the robust way that we would wish to see. We look forward to that attitude producing amendments to the Bill. Robust statements in another place alone will not be adequate; we shall need to see chapter and verse in the Bill. I am interested to see that some Labour Members are nodding, so the Minister knows the problem that he faces. We need amendments to the Bill to deal with the 2000-odd applications. Subject to that—and we willingly accept the Minister's commitment to it—we do not wish to press the amendments at this time. Obviously, that is the outcome that the Minister desires.

Before I formally withdraw the new clause, however, as this will be my last speech on this group I want to refer to the Minister's remarks about the other two issues. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay)—he has made his own remarks—but on behalf of the official Opposition, I welcome the Minister's commitment to address my right hon. Friend's concerns too. I also welcome his understanding that it is not right that somebody driving to their own house should thereby commit a criminal offence. His words seemed eminently sensible, and I accept them.

I also welcome the Minister's commitment to meet the Cyclists' Touring Club and hear about their concerns. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire made clear in his capacity as patron of the all-party group, there is a real problem, and whatever the Government think that the law says, there is at least one inspector who thinks that it says something else. That is the existing law, so it needs to be addressed. The Minister is right, and I congratulate him on the way in which he has addressed the whole issue of rights of way. It is what we would have expected from a sensible Minister—[Hon. Members: "And a sensible Government."] I would not go that far. I meant a sensible Minister who represents a constituency that is obviously affected by those problems. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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