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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: We on these Benches are sympathetic to many of the ideas which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Clarity is of the utmost importance when dealing with footpaths, bridleways and BOATs. Anyone involved in local government will know that a great deal of time can be spent arguing about them.
As was said by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in some ways the Bill is an improvement on the current situation, but the intention must be crystal clear. Otherwise, local government will be bogged down for years dealing with cases brought under the Act.
Secondly, we all sympathise with the difficulties expressed by various people in keeping four-wheel vehicles off byways. I, too, have experience of the delight which drivers of such vehicles take in reducing paths which are also open to horses to a quagmire. Riders cannot use them because they do not know the depth of the puddles and ruts. Those paths must then be repaired at the expense of the local authorities.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: I support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel. Although I support the amendment, I agree that it does not go far enough. We need the extinguishing of any vehicular rights which could be used for mechanically propelled vehicles. We have had great problems with such vehicles in north Herefordshire where much damage and noise pollution have been caused. They have made the restricted byways, as they will become, unusable to those for whom they were intended.
Lord Williamson of Horton: I am not sure whether the problem under discussion arises with this or Amendment No. 448A but we must recognise its importance and do what we can in the Bill to correct it. The current problem is simple; it was shown by the Grimsell Lane case and by a later case. The prosecution, who saw vehicles on bridleways, was unable to gain a decision in court because the defence raised doubts about whether there was a previous right to vehicular access. The prosecution could not prove a negative, which resulted in the magistrate stating:
We must return to the issue during our debates on the Bill because the current law is an ass: people are driving four-wheel-drive vehicles on bridleways and nothing is being done about it. A number of such incidents are catalogued in the Derbyshire cases and others.
The Earl of Caithness: I support the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and my noble friend Lord Peel and do not repeat them. However, I invite the Minister's comment on the detail of Clause 44(5) in which the expression "animals of any description" is used. In Part I of the Bill one has a definition of "livestock" which appears in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. Can the Minister explain why there are two definitions in the same Bill?
Baroness Byford: I also support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I hope that when I come to speak to my amendment it will be clear why I have decided to split the two. The problem of four-by-fours, particularly on roads and pathways which were never intended for this purpose, is huge. Perhaps like other Members of the Committee, I have received correspondence from many groups and individuals who are concerned about a situation which this amendment attempts to clarify. It is not simply a matter of people not understanding what they can drive and where, but when they drive in areas where it would be much better not to drive they may at the same time spook horses and their riders and cause injury to both.
It is not a simple matter of saying that ideally the problem should be solved by x. I do not believe that the Government have fully addressed the difficulty. When the Minister responds perhaps he will indicate why local authorities have not responded to the problem more readily. I understand that as the law now stands local authorities can do more to control what goes on highways and footpaths, but action is not being taken. Can the Minister say whether there is evidence of that and, if so, why local authorities do not do more?
I declare an interest as a walker and former rider on certain footpaths and bridleways in the countryside. As other Members of the Committee have observed, it is difficult to decide whether to continue or to return to where one started. People tend to digress a little. Therefore, the pathway remains boggy and the local authority, whose responsibility it is to put it right, must deal not only with that but the extra area of land round about. Similarly, when a narrow pathway across a field becomes boggy, not by the use of four-by-fours but by general overuse, there is tendency--of which I am
No one has yet spoken up for those who drive four-by-fours or participate in this particular sport, which is not one of mine. They would be helped if the position is clarified. They are well aware that the Committee is considering this Bill and are concerned about the outcome from their point of view. It is not just a matter of seeking to resolve the problem but of clarifying the position for those who experience difficulties by the use of four-by-fours and those who participate in the sport and wish to know the outcome.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for inviting a comment from this Bench. I did not comment because I believed that the case had already been eloquently put by my noble friend Lady Thomas. My noble friend said that she spoke for both herself and the Liberal Democrats. We agree with the spirit behind the amendment, the point about bridleways and byways which are made unusable by the unreasonable use of four-by-fours and the need for clarification. My silence does not indicate that the Liberal Democrats do not support the amendment but that my noble friend puts the case well.
Lord Bridges: I do not generally seek to raise the temperature of our reasoned debates, but on this occasion I feel inclined to do so. I regard the present situation as insupportable and monstrous for the reasons already explained eloquently by others. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked why local authorities had not done more. In my experience, the answer is simple: they do not have the resources to do so. I hope that the Government will use their influence to ensure that more money reaches local authorities to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities.
Another reason for what is wrong is that the law is an ass. For example, it is extraordinary that we have for so long allowed four-wheel drive vehicles to destroy the footpath by the Berkshire Downs. The Bill provides an opportunity to rectify this terrible situation, and I support the amendment.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I pay tribute to Herefordshire Council. It has tried to take action over one particularly notorious case but it faces bitter, well financed and hard-fought opposition from motoring organisations. As the law now stands it is hardly surprising that local authorities are not keen to do it, but some try. As to the proper use of four-by-four vehicles, a private estate in Herefordshire has been used for the testing and demonstration of Land
Lord Whitty: I appreciate the widespread concern in the Committee, and also the country, about this issue. The specific intent of the two amendments is to extinguish any motorised vehicular public rights over redesignated RUPPs. I am advised that there is doubt as to whether these amendments would achieve that.
Lord Williams of Elvel: To say that a proposed amendment is out of order, or whatever, is a well known technique used by Ministers. I deliberately said that this is a probing amendment. Can my noble friend skip the first paragraph of his brief and get on with the business?
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