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Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Countryside Commission has in the past commissioned professional reports to predict the environmental and heritage impact of such works; for example, the admirable collaboration with English Heritage in respect of Hadrian's Wall? Can he explain why the Countryside Commission failed to do so in this case? Will his department be so good as to encourage the Countryside Commission to commission such reports in future before undertaking works in such highly sensitive areas as the Avebury World Heritage Site?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, to be fair, it was not the Countryside Commission's fault. Wiltshire County Council undertook the works without consulting the commission. I do not believe that it will do that again.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider his statement that this is a local matter? The Ridgeway is a trailer for the whole of the country. You might as well say that Stonehenge is only a pile of old stones as say that the Ridgeway is no more than a local road.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the Ridgeway is far more than a local bridleway? It is a major national asset. As there are thousands of acres of tarmac and concrete reserved for motor vehicles, do the Government really feel that it is appropriate for a small number of people who want to use the Ridgeway, not to transport themselves but for fun, to largely destroy significant parts of the Ridgeway?
Is the Minister aware that under Section 22 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 the Government have reserve powers to declare traffic regulation orders for such long distance routes as the Ridgeway? Will he urgently consider the matter again? I know from my time several years ago on the Countryside Commission
Lord Lucas: My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, as recently as 1992 there was a public inquiry on the subject of traffic management on the Ridgeway. It concluded that no additional measures were justified. The Countryside Commission has not approached us to say that it wishes us to review that position. Until that happens, and certainly in view of the fact that the inquiry was so recent, we believe that the matter is essentially a local one.
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, before asking my question, I must declare an interest in that I own and manage race horses working alongside the Ridgeway. Will the Minister confirm that there is a code of conduct for use of the Ridgeway? Is that code enforced in the winter months?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a voluntary code of conduct and cannot therefore be enforced. However, as I am sure the noble Earl is aware, most of the damage to green lanes and similar tracks occurs from farm vehicles. If we can persuade farmers to do better than at present, most of the problems should disappear. There are local areas where recreational vehicles cause a problem. In general, county councils have dealt with those matters expeditiously.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, a study of the Countryside Commission, which I believe took place some eight years ago, discovered that the average tourist moves less than half a mile from his car. Does that study still carry weight? If so, is the answer to the Avebury Ring to move car parks further away?
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the noble Lord did not reply to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about the powers that Government have. Do the Government have powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to impose the restrictions which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, implies? If the answer is yes, it stops being a local matter and becomes a government matter.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes, I believe that the noble Lord is right. However, as I said in my initial Answer, it depends on the Country Commission requesting us to intervene. We had exactly this situation at the end of the public inquiry in 1992. The inspector recommended that there should be no additional restrictions, against the background of the Government having proposed that there should be. The Government accepted the inspector's recommendations. We cannot continue reviewing matters every three years.
Viscount Mersey: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I walked the Ridgeway some four years ago when it was in very good condition? It stands to reason that the damage to the Ridgeway is extremely recent. Therefore, the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, are real and should be urgently addressed.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the competent international body that considers maritime safety. At a meeting at the IMO in May, the Indonesian delegation announced further measures in tackling the problem of attacks on shipping in their waters, including an increase in sea patrols, made jointly with Singapore police. IMO officials have also raised the problems with the Chinese authorities.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply. It is my impression that the situation has improved since the last occasion on which I raised the subject in the House. May I ask whether British authorities have considered two disquieting incidents this year, when ships with valuable cargoes were hijacked while on lawful voyages by the crews of Chinese patrol boats, apparently acting as privateers? As the pretext of prevention of smuggling was palpably bogus, were not those Chinese sailors guilty of piracy?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, under the Law of the Sea Convention, acts of piracy committed by a government ship whose crew has mutinied and taken control of the ship are, in the words of the convention,
We are not aware that this happened in the case that my noble friend cites. However, there is absolutely no doubt that there are occasions when boats are stopped by persons who look like officials, indeed may be officials, their cargoes snaffled, the boats held in some far off port, and no one hears any more about it. That is a problem on which the IMO is working very hard at present.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, is any strict action being taken by those countries concerning unofficial ships pretending to be members of those countries? Will there be a conference, perhaps headed by our nation, the nations which the noble Baroness mentioned, the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States of America, to bring about a forceful end to this cruel piracy?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I do not know whether there is need for a further conference. In 1993 the United Kingdom took part in an IMO experts group with Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. They visited South-East Asia. The United Kingdom was one of the main players behind the IMO resolution on
Lord Hylton: My Lords, serious as the threat of piracy undoubtedly is, is there not an even greater risk to peace from conflicting claims to the Spratly Islands and their oil and fishery resources? Will the Government take steps to refer those conflicts and disputes to the International Court of Justice?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the issue of the Spratly Islands is a long way from piracy and the International Maritime Organisation. However, it is important that we understand that islands in dispute, whether in the China Sea or anywhere else in the world, should go to international bodies to have those disputes resolved peaceably. That is an approach that we have always supported.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, we support the fact that the International Maritime Organisation is the appropriate organisation to deal with these issues. However, can the Minister indicate how many British ships during the past 12 months have been subjected to piracy of this kind?
Is the noble Baroness also aware that the union dealing with officers, NUMAST, has been making representations to the Government over many years for effective action to be taken? Do any of the nations involved in carrying cargoes in that area permit their seafarers to carry arms?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, certainly the IMO and the International Maritime Bureau's regional piracy centre in Kuala Lumpur report that attacks against shipping worldwide decreased in 1994 from a peak in 1992. The IMB has suggested that within those figures incidents both in South-East Asia and off the coast of Brazil have increased. Therefore we are seeking all ways of achieving the effective action which NUMAST requests. Certainly there is no sense in which we are prepared to let the matter slip. At the IMO meeting in May, it was agreed that the IMO should produce summary lists of attacks on a monthly basis rather than quarterly, and that those should be followed up promptly.
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