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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

The Sitting was suspended from 8.5 to 8.15 p.m.]

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Environment Bill [H.L.]

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Schedule 9 [Miscellaneous statutory functions of authorities]:

Lord Derwent moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 159, line 6, at end insert:

("Public rights of way

.—(1) In a National Park for which a National Park authority is the local planning authority, the authority shall be the highway authority for any public right of way for which the Minister is not the highway authority; and references in the Highways Act 1980 to highway authorities shall be construed accordingly.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1) above, "public rights of way" means any highway which is a right of way to which Part III of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 applies (as defined in section 66 of that Act) or which is a way shown as a road used as a public path in a definitive map and statement prepared under that Part of that Act.
(3) Section 42 of the Highways Act 1980 (power of district councils to maintain certain highways) shall not apply to any highway for which a National Park authority is, by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) above, the highway authority.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 38 standing in the names also of my noble friends Lord Wise and Lord Addison and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. The amendment is identical to that tabled at both Committee and Report stages. Its purpose is very simple. It is to transfer responsibility for managing the public rights of way network within national parks from the highway authorities to the national park authorities.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me make clear once again that the amendment has nothing whatever to do with changing the rights-of-way network. It does not affect trunk roads or metalled roads. It affects only those roads, paths and lanes to which laymen refer as the public rights-of-way network. The amendment addresses itself only to the question of who should manage them and who should keep them up.

I should underline, too, that in opposing the amendment at earlier stages of the Bill the Minister found himself entirely alone. At that time I was able to tell your Lordships that the amendment was supported by all the organisations which had knowledge of the subject and by all those organisations anxious to ensure that the park authorities should be given powers to carry out their second primary duty, namely, to "promote enjoyment of the Parks".

Since Report stage I have felt it right to consult again each and every one of those bodies and have asked them in the light of the points made by the Minister at Report whether they are still in favour of the amendment. Each of those bodies has responded that it found the Minister's arguments unconvincing and has urged me to press the matter.

It is important to remind your Lordships just which those organisations are. They are not just a special interest group. The amendment is supported by the Association of National Parks, which represents the chairmen and chief executives of the parks, the Council for National Parks, the Country Landowners' Association, the Ramblers' Association, the Countryside Commission, the Countryside Council for Wales and the

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Association of County Councils, which represents most of the highway authorities. In addition, since Report I have been contacted by the County Surveyors Society which wished me to know that county surveyors in those national parks where management of rights of way has already been delegated to national parks have,

    "found that the system works extremely well. We accept the logic that responsibility for rights of way in all National Parks should pass to the new National Park Authorities".

Where then do the Government stand? The Minister has repeatedly stated that he, too, believes that the rights-of-way network should be managed by the national park authorities. Indeed, it would be surprising if he had said anything else since that has been declared government policy since 1976. In spite of that, let me tell your Lordships what happens in practice. I take the example of the Peak District, where highway authorities have failed, in spite of years of ministerial guidance, to enter into agency agreements with the park. The park's rangers recently surveyed the whole of the network in the park and found over 600 obstructions. If the Peak park had the rights of way responsibilities, would those obstructions be there today? Your Lordships may wonder, therefore, why the Government have so far opposed the amendment. I say "so far" because we have a listening Minister and I hope that today he might modify his stance. In essence, he says that he wishes the highway authorities to delegate management to the national park authorities, that he intends to write to them in strong terms urging them to do so; but that he will not oblige them to do so in the Bill. Ever since the so-called "Sandford amendment" in 1976, Ministers have given identical guidance. A significant number of highway authorities have obeyed; significant numbers have ignored it and continue to ignore it. I am advised that, now the national park authorities are to become totally independent of county councils, certain highway authorities will be even less likely to listen to the guidance. Indeed, they may reasonably argue that since the Government have not taken powers in the Bill to require them to do so, they cannot be serious in wishing the powers to be transferred. Unfortunately, at present the Secretary of State—as I elicited in answer to a question—has no reserve powers at present to direct recalcitrant authorities to obey the guidance. That is the nub of the question. At Report, the Minister put forward four arguments against the amendment. Although he did not press them hard, I must in fairness deal with them. First, he expressed the Government's view (at col. 430 of Hansard for 9th March) that:

    "the integrity of the highway network and its management should be maintained and that that should be through the mechanism of a common highway authority".

This is the weakest argument of all. Already responsibility for the network is divided between the Secretary of State for Transport, who is responsible for trunk roads, and the county councils and certain district councils which are responsible for other roads. Furthermore, in most national parks there is not and will

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not be a common highway authority. Brecon Beacons National Park, for example, will be covered by no fewer than seven different highway authorities after local government reorganisation. The Peak District National Park will also have seven different highway authorities, and so on. Your Lordships may well imagine the work involved for a park authority in trying to persuade seven different councils, some of them newly created, to delegate powers to it which the Government have not seen fit to give it in the Bill. So there will be a division of responsibility in any case. Surely the network of metalled vehicular roads is rightly the responsibility of the existing highway authorities, whereas paths, bridleways and BOATs (byways open to all traffic) of recreational importance should pass to the parks.

Secondly, the Minister pleaded a financial argument. He said that the park authorities needed to be confident that the constituent county councils would be standing behind them when unforeseen circumstances arose which required the rapid injection of large sums of money. This, I am afraid, attracted belly laughs all round. As one park officer said to me, "That will be the day!" The message I get from county councils is that inevitably footpath networks will always have a low priority for them. Rightly, they consider that their priority is to keep vehicular roads in good repair. With the cuts in their budgets, they do not even have enough money to do that properly all the time. When it comes to priorities, they will therefore always spend the money on vehicular roads.

Furthermore, it is not always true that the relevant county budgets are bigger than those of the national parks. In some cases, the councils will be relatively small or impoverished or will contain only a small area in a national park. For example, Dyfed County Council currently contributes £5,000 a year to the Brecon Beacons National Park for rights-of-way work. Would it or its even smaller successor, Carmarthenshire, suddenly increase that to £50,000 to mend a footway or bridleway bridge?

The third argument of the Minister was that there are a very small number of cases where there is a tarmacadamed or surfaced footpath in a small town. Neither the national parks nor the county councils see any problem. National parks authorities are already responsible for numerous tarmaced carparks and so on and they could certainly organise the repair of a surfaced footpath in a town. In any case, only a very small proportion of the 11,000 miles of rights of way—I emphasise 11,000 miles—in the national parks come into this category. Is it so large that it justifies risking the parks' ability to carry out one of their two statutory purposes?

The last argument put forward by the Minister was that in some cases we are some way from achieving precisely the definition of "byways open to all traffic", BOATs. The Minister felt that to require highway authorities or national park authorities to define those would deflect resources from more important work. But the Minister seems to have forgotten that Part III of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which took effect in February 1983, requires byways to be defined. If the task has not yet been completed, it is because resources

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have been deflected away from the task for the past 12 years and some re-deflection is long overdue. The Government are in any event committed —and they have repeated this—to ensuring that the definition of byways is complete by the year 2000. So resources will have to be deflected pretty soon.

The reason the work has not been completed is that it is a low priority for county councils, but it is of considerable importance for the national parks. If they are to manage the parks properly, it is essential that the status of the byways be clarified. The parks are therefore anxious to get on with the work, but, of course, they cannot do so without the necessary powers.

All those points are, however, minor and quite capable of resolution. I accept that the Minister did not himself place huge importance on them. Everyone, including the Government, believes that the new park authorities cannot properly perform their duty to promote enjoyment of the parks without these powers. The Minister intends to urge the highway authorities to delegate to national park authorities. Unfortunately, the experience of the past 20 years shows that guidance will not be effective if not backed up with powers.

Unless, therefore, your Lordships pass the amendment, the national park authorities will find themselves with the statutory duty to promote enjoyment of the parks which they have no power to perform. I hope very much, therefore, that when my noble friend replies he will be able to indicate that he has indeed been listening and that there is a change in the Government's position. I hope that he will either be able to accept the amendment or find some other way of enforcing the Government's own wishes—and the word is "enforcing"—that the parks should manage the network. If the Minister cannot give us undertakings in either of those directions, I shall urge your Lordships to support the amendment in the Lobby in the interests of the parks and of common sense.

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