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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: One of the anomalies of current legislation is that an access authority can upgrade a footpath to a cycle track under the Cycle Tracks Act 1984, but upgrading a footpath to a bridleway comes under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. That is a more lengthy process that can take up to 10 years. Bridleways and horse riders lose out time after time because of the difficulty of that process.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: The rights of way improvement plans will need to address whether more bridleways are required and the appropriate powers will be used.

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Some aspects of that come under the Highways Act 1980, some come under this Act and some come under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The clauses require an overall approach by the local authority. On bridleways, if cyclists have a right of way they must defer to people on horses. All-purpose highways can be made available, giving equal rights to horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians, or a margin by the side of the highway can be created under the Highways Act 1980. There are many ways to make provision for horse riders, not necessarily involving local rights of way.

However, there is some conflict, as my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath mentioned. Making all footpaths available to horse riders would be detrimental to the interests of walkers and the operation of the rights of way provisions. A balance has to be created.

Similar problems arise when we consider in detail Amendment No. 443A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. It relates to cycle racing and access to tracks by cyclists. One of its aims is to allow cycle racing on bridleways, subject to certain conditions. It would also allow racing between horses--or even, theoretically, between horses and cyclists--on any cycle track. As a quid pro quo, it would allow horse riders to use cycle tracks.

That is all very nice provided that everybody agrees, but there could be conflict. The amendment would make such permission conditional on a traffic regulation being made, which is another procedure to be gone through, but any racing would be subject to the conditions of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

There is a procedural question as to whether this Bill is the right vehicle to amend the law in respect of cycle racing, or, indeed, any sporting event. I think that the noble Baroness referred to the Government's separate procedure looking at changes in the road traffic regulation law, which has already covered cycle racing, including on bridleways. We are taking that review forward separately from the Bill. We understand that that is the preferred approach of organisations that represent horse riders, who have strong reservations about the issue being dealt with in the Bill.

A lot of cycle tracks would be unsuitable for races or trials of speed involving horses and could pose a danger to the rider and the horse. Cycle tracks are often not very wide and a race would obviously create greater stresses. The surface could be dangerous to the horse in some circumstances. I suspect that the amendment is aimed at a particular situation rather than more general circumstances. Looking at all the implications of the amendment, it would be better to deal with the issues raised in our review of the road traffic regulation laws rather than in the Bill, which could lead to substantial conflicts. Therefore, I hope that she will not pursue that amendment when we come to it.

I return to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which is the first--

Lord Boardman: Can the noble Lord help me on that point? Did I gather from what he said that under the

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proposals in the Bill footways can be turned into bridleways without the complexities and delays that currently exist in relation to such conversions?

Lord Whitty: No, I did not say that, except in so far as the general provisions in the Bill will provide for redefinition. In relation to these clauses, the improvement plans for rights of way generally in each local authority area would identify areas where there was need for improvement. That would include the need for improvement of bridleways. However, the process by which that would normally be carried out would come under road traffic regulations rather than under the procedures in this Bill. With regard to both cycling and horse-riding, I understand that, because of the more general implications, the general view of people involved in those activities is that that is probably the better way to proceed.

However, that does not mean that the Bill and the improvement plans under these clauses should not include substantial provision in terms of planning for extending and making more accessible bridleways as well as footpaths. My other point was that clearly a number of footpaths would not be appropriate for such conversion. Therefore, the rights of walkers would also have to be protected in that regard, as I believe they are in the Bill.

We have now spent a full hour on this amendment and some interesting issues have been raised. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will not pursue the amendment in this form. We agree about the importance of health but believe that that is reflected in the references to "open air recreation". Although we recognise the importance of circular walks, if they were specified in the Bill that would imply the downgrading of certain other desirable rights of way. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendment in that form and will therefore withdraw it.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to Members of the Committee who have spoken from all sides of the Chamber. It appears that I have started something here. I did not expect to initiate such a full debate, but I am very glad that we had it because I believe that a number of important issues have arisen. The debate has highlighted the extent to which informed Members of the Committee are keen that the Bill should be seen as positive by making the rights of way network better rather than simply by niggling at points of detail. How that can be achieved at this late stage of the Bill, I do not know; probably to a large extent it cannot. However, it is sad that the Bill is not more creative so far as concerns the rights of way network.

The Minister said that he had sympathy for my concerns for public health. Both the Minister and the right reverend Prelate, who is no longer in his place, drew attention to the fact that the second half of my amendment was rather specific and possibly too limitative. I agree. Over the years I have developed a policy of trying to write amendments at Committee stage in such a way that Members can understand what they are about and then, if necessary, bringing

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them back in a simplified form later. Perhaps I may discuss the wording with the Minister before the next stage of the Bill. I suspect that I shall return on Report with wording which is similar to the first half of the amendment.

I do not believe that the words "open air recreation" necessarily have the same meaning as "health". Indeed, I consider that certain forms of open air recreation are thoroughly bad for the health. Some of the objectives could be covered by guidance. However, I believe that we should require strong assurances from the Minister about what such guidance would say. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 416A:

    Page 35, line 14, at end insert--

(""improved network" means a network where action has been taken to make it easier, safer and more enjoyable for people to use the network on foot or on horseback, by means that include (without prejudice to the exercise of other powers)--
(a) the creation of new public paths (footpaths and bridleways) to link with other rights of way in the network or to avoid walking or riding on roads;
(b) measures to make local rights of way more accessible to blind or partially-sighted people and others with mobility problems, including (but not limited to) the removal of stiles or their replacement by gates;
(c) measures to make it easier, safer and more enjoyable for people on foot or on horseback to use those carriageways which provide links between footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways, including (but not limited to) the exercise of traffic calming powers and powers to make traffic regulation orders;
(d) the creation of safe and convenient means for people on foot or on horseback to cross roads and railways;").

The noble Lord said: I have just realised that there was a specific point which I did not raise with the noble Lord and I apologise for that. It was in relation to making alterations to the plans in order to avoid being on public highways and having to deal with traffic. Does the noble Lord know whether under the Bill that would come under the creation of new paths or new activities? Although it is a small point, it is quite important.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. However, I have a reservation with regard to the replacement of stiles by gates. There may be cases when such a replacement would be appropriate. But I can think of a large number when it would not. Perhaps I may give two brief examples.

At the beginning of September my wife and I were walking down a hill and we saw a young man with a baby. It was a very happy looking baby. I said to my wife, "How old do you think that baby is?". She replied, "Well, it is certainly not more than nine months old". How long that baby will live, I do not know, because the happy baby and young man were on a quad bike. The bike was being steered by one hand and the baby held by the other. That is not an

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insurable prospect. I could not resist making a fairly tart observation to the man as he passed me. He slowed down until he had travelled another 200 yards and then accelerated mightily. I have seen him since in the same situation and have offered even firmer advice. That is the type of young man who would welcome a gate rather than a stile because it would enable him to continue to ride his quad bike and carry his baby.

That was not the only example. A few months ago I remember referring to the question of off-the-road motor vehicles. I said that there had been four deaths in my part of the country within a relatively short period of time. At the beginning of September there was a fifth. A girl of, I believe, 15 or 16 years of age was killed tragically on a footpath while riding a motorbike without wearing a safety helmet. We must recognise that some people are foolish and that some parents are utterly irresponsible. I believe that I have made that point before.

Last summer I saw 11 young people on an area of open ground not far from my home, all of them on motorbikes but not one wearing a helmet. I believe that the incidence of unhelmeted young motorcyclists has fallen since then because the press carried quite a lot of comment from people, including myself. However, the fact remains that stiles can save lives while gates may provide opportunity for suicide.

I give one other example. A few years ago on two very attractive footpaths near my home my local authority erected two splendid gates. One was smashed, presumably by a local car thief, who used the opportunity to dump the cars he had stolen in the space provided by the removed gate. The other handsome gate was removed in the dead of night, presumably by someone who was able to lift it off its hinges and carry it away by lorry. That left the footpath open for use by any four-wheeled vehicle.

I believe that we must be careful. I accept the need to promote opportunities for disabled people, but stiles can be and are designed to provide for that need. The replacement of a good, solidly-built stile by a gate can do a great deal of harm. I hope that my noble friend will look at that matter particularly carefully, even if he has sympathy with the other splendid proposals put forward by the noble Lord.

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