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Lord Whitty: No. The intention of the amendment is to extinguish rights. However, it does not say how one is to deal with pre-existing rights. We believe that that should be addressed in this context; and we may need to deal with it at some point in the Bill. If one accepts that the intention is to extinguish those rights, clearly the question is whether the public should be able to continue to drive motor vehicles on a RUPP where there are at present vehicular rights. That raises some difficult questions.
There is a good deal of concern about the number of motor vehicles being used inappropriately in the countryside, not only in mid-Wales. I experience it in the South West. I am sure that other Members of the Committee have experience of the problem of motorcycles and four-by-fours in other parts of the country, whenever they have time to stroll in the countryside at weekends. It is not the policy of the Government to seek to allow an extension of that activity but to restrict the inappropriate use of vehicles in that respect.
If one jumps to Clause 62, that extends the power of a local authority to make traffic regulation orders, for example to deal with conservation. That should be an additional tool in the armoury against unsuitable and damaging vehicular use and may in part give additional powers, for example to Herefordshire Council, to ensure that it can move more rapidly and substantively. We are also aware of difficulties in prosecuting offences. We shall debate amendments to strengthen the provisions when we come to Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in Schedule 7. We are sympathetic to the objectives of the amendments to Schedule 7 and accept that there is a very good case for further strengthening Section 34. We hope to table amendments at Report stage in that area.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My noble friend said that he was in favour of strengthening Section 34 of the Act. Can he indicate in what direction he intends to strengthen those powers by government amendments?
The original intention of changing the definition under the Bill was to give more certainty for walkers, horse riders and cyclists than the present legislation provides. It was also to reduce the amount of bureaucracy by relieving local authorities of their current duty to review the status of each RUPP individually and reclassify it is a footpath, bridleway or byway open to all traffic.
In the case of vehicles using these roads and claiming a pre-existing right the certainty is not absolute. Presumably my noble friend Lord Williams and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, hope that their amendment will make that clearer.But there would be a price. The Government have stated throughout the Bill that they do not wish to reduce existing rights to access. A blanket extinguishment of all public rights of way to drive mechanically propelled vehicles over RUPPs would interfere with that general commitment. We do not know how many RUPPs carry such rights, but certainly many do, both in terms of access to property and more generally. We do not know how important these rights are to local people and to visitors.
In due course, historic vehicular rights which exist over ways shown as restricted byways on definitive maps but which have to have been claimed will be extinguished under Clause 49 of the Bill after the 25-year cut-off date. That will provide time to research the evidence. In the mean time, we believe that people who have evidence of pre-existing vehicular rights should be able to claim them. As I have said in relation to amendments which may be forthcoming to Schedule 7, the balance of probability has to be addressed. That is simply claiming the right; it should not be actual proof of that right. In the case where a person does have proof of vehicular right, he is entitled to have, for example, a bridleway upgraded.
However, the Government are certainly not in the business of actively promoting motorised use of RUPPs however they are classified in the future. There is plenty of evidence that motorised vehicles and motor cycles damage the countryside and do damage to the ways. We need to give traffic authorities more powers to regulate that. We are actively looking at the case for so doing.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to the reference to animals in Clause 44. He is quite correct. The definition there is somewhat different from the definition of "livestock". It effectively reflects the rights of drovers. That is the definition that is used in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981--to protect the rights of driftway, as it is known. That is a somewhat different right and concerns a different range of
This is a difficult and somewhat complex issue. It is a conflict between trying to preserve existing rights of access--preserving the rights for people to access their homes and property--and the desecration of the countryside and the damaging effect caused to many byways by four-by-fours and motor cycles which interfere with the pleasure and the rights of enjoyment to these rights of way of many hundreds of walkers and horse riders up and down the country. We think that the balance is better struck later on in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Williams and the other supporters of the amendment will not press it at this point.
Earl Peel: The noble Lord said earlier that under the Bill additional powers had been given to local authorities to deal with road traffic incidents. The difficulty is that in so many of these cases it is actually very difficult to catch the individuals concerned. One can give the local authorities all the power in the world, but it will not actually achieve what most of us have spoken to and what the amendment seeks. The difficulty arises particularly with motorbikes. Many of those chaps know exactly where they are going and exactly what they are doing. They know they will not get caught because the police apparently will not get involved. If one wants to get the number plate off one of these vehicles, it is almost impossible because it is caked in mud. However one looks at the matter, powers are one issue, but how they will be used is quite another. Perhaps the Minister would address that matter.
Lord Whitty: That is undoubtedly true. But it would also be true if we were to pass the intention of the amendments. If we simply designated all redesignated RUPPs as closed to vehicular traffic it would still be an enforcement problem. Later on in the Bill in relation to Clause 62 there is an extension of the powers of local authorities to control, identify, sign and restrict access. That may involve some physical restriction of access which they do not at present have. The question of catching them is difficult whichever route one takes in trying to reduce this menace.
Lord Williams of Elvel: I am most grateful to my noble friend for responding fully to the points I made and indeed the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others in the debate. I am grateful to others who have taken part.
I am sure my noble friend recognises that this is a really important issue in Wales, where I have a home, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, in parts of England. It is not something that can be rushed away. We have to look to see what the Government produce before--I hope I can speak for the noble Earl--we both consider what amendments we might produce at the next stage of the Bill.
I can assure my noble friend that if the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and I agree on amendments to the Bill on Report, he will have a difficult time defending the Government's position. It is a matter that they have to take seriously. I hope that my own Whips are taking my remarks seriously. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Byford: I wish to raise a technical point. The phrase "mechanically propelled" has concerned me. I know the Government are anxious that disabled people should have access to the countryside. I am concerned whether long-term the phrase "mechanically propelled" is the right terminology to use. I have not been able to find another word which is any better. It struck me that perhaps "mechanically propelled" will include some vehicles which it is not the Government's intention to include.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Baroness raises a point that arises from the wording inserted by Amendment No. 315. She will find that the same wording--"mechanically propelled"--has been deleted. So there is no additional use of the words "mechanically propelled". However, I shall certainly find an opportunity as soon as I can to address her concern about the use of the phrase "mechanically propelled vehicles".