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Baroness O'Cathain: I believe that the noble Lord has put the case for stiles versus gates very clearly from a particular point of view. However, it was not the fact that they were gates rather than stiles that caused those problems; it was man's stupidity. Therefore, I believe that one must also balance the fact that many disabled people find it difficult to get off country paths. If they have electric wheelchairs they can go through gates, whereas there is no possibility of them getting over stiles. I know--again, from anecdotal evidence--several people who are very close to me who have no prospect of getting someone who is so disabled that they cannot get out of a wheelchair into the country and along paths where there are stiles.

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7 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Clearly, this is another matter where there is potential conflict between two desirable objectives. It rather underlines the case that those issues should be dealt with in guidance rather than on the face of the Bill.

We want to provide greater access for disabled people, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have said. But, on the other hand, there is a down-side to that in certain other situations. So we need to ensure that in drawing up their improvement plans the local authorities have regard to the needs of disabled people, which will include some of those issues. But they must have regard also to certain other aspects, including those referred to by my noble friend Lord Hardy, in the sense that we do not want to create rights of way which encourage vehicular traffic to act illegally and so on.

That will be quite a delicate job for the local authorities. It is not possible to put all those matters in detail on the face of the Bill. However, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is no longer in his place, that the issue of circular walks, for example, will clearly be covered in guidance, as will the issues raised by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The Minister is placing the responsibility back on the access authorities to solve those conflicts and to create the improvements which the Government are seeking. Between now and the next stage of the Bill, is he able to write to us with a list of the areas in which the legislation prevents multiple use taking place and why that should be so?

Local authorities may wish to create the sort of multiple use of which we have heard where local residents want it. But it would be very useful for the next stage of the Bill to have a clear list of the areas in which legislation is preventing that happening.

Lord Whitty: I will do what I can. The noble Baroness asked for a "clear" list. Much of it does not instantly jump out of the page at you. There are complexities with the various pieces of legislation. However, we shall do what we can.

Lord Addington: I was trying to be helpful but this debate has merely demonstrated that the road to hell is definitely paved with good intentions.

This debate goes much further every time one thinks about it. In begging leave to withdraw the amendment, I must tell the Committee that I have every intention of bringing back amendments on Report which have been inspired by this debate. But meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 417:

    Page 35, line 30, leave out subsection (7).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 56, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 57 [Rights of way improvement plans: supplemental]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 417ZA:

    Page 35, line 39, at end insert--

("( ) any conservation board for an area of outstanding natural beauty any part of which is within their area;").

The noble Baroness said: While the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was very wide, this amendment is very short. The amendment provides for a highway authority to consult AONB conservation boards on its rights of way improvement plan, as it has a duty to do in relation to other bodies.

This is a necessary amendment to ensure full consultation in the light of the new provisions in this Bill regarding areas of outstanding natural beauty. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: This will be a concern that I shall raise throughout the debate on AONBs. I am certainly in favour of the consultation but I am nervous that we shall create a two-tier AONB system because the AONBs which do not opt for conservation boards may become left out of the process. I merely put that down as a marker at this stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not think that they need be. I am sure that other ways can be found. My answer to the amendment is to say that Clause 57(1)(f) states that the highway authority shall consult,

    "such persons as the Secretary of State ... may by regulations prescribe",

and subsection (6) prescribes the way in which the regulations are to be made.

We would certainly expect AONB conservation boards to be consulted on the plans, using the powers provided by Clause 57. I am willing to give an undertaking that we shall include AONB conservation boards in the regulations prepared by the Secretary of State, subject, of course, to your Lordships and the other place agreeing that they should be established.

Baroness Byford: I am extremely grateful for that response. I accept that there are many groups which look after those special areas which are not full conservation boards. It may be that my amendment was incorrect in that respect. I am happy for the Minister to take it away and think about it. I am extremely grateful for the indication that such consultation will be included in the regulations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 417A:

    Page 35, line 43, at end insert--

("( ) the Environment Agency;
( ) in England, English Nature;").

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The noble Baroness said: Clause 57(1) sets out the bodies which local authorities are required to consult in preparing rights of way improvement plans. There is no reference to consultation with the Environment Agency. The agency has duties in relation to recreation and also in relation to fisheries, navigation, flood and coastal defence and pollution control. Those are all relevant matters in relation to the rights of way network.

Accordingly, the Environment Agency should be consulted on improvement plans. This amendment would provide for that. There is a reference in Clause 57(1)(e) to consulting the Countryside Agency in England and the Countryside Council for Wales. However, there is no reference to the need for local authorities in England to consult English Nature which fulfils the same role in relation to wildlife as the Countryside Council for Wales in Wales. The amendment will correct that omission.

It is relevant to note that the draft guidance produced on the rights of way improvement plans by the Countryside Agency failed to make any reference to the need for the Countryside Agency or English Nature to be consulted. That suggests that the Countryside Agency has failed to appreciate the importance of involving both bodies in consultation. If so, those are serious omissions, particularly in relation to English Nature in view of the provision to enable the diverting of rights of way for the protection of SSSIs under new Section 119D of the 1980 Act introduced by Schedule 6, and the provisions relating to the making of traffic regulation orders for the purposes of conserving natural beauty in Clause 62. I am looking for reassurance from the Government. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I realise that I did not make the case fully in response to the previous amendment as to what should be on the face of the Bill and what is not on the face of the Bill. I made the point that those bodies which are not on the face of the Bill can be consulted and I gave an undertaking in relation to AONB conservation boards.

The Bill provides a power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make regulations prescribing bodies to be consulted. The list of consultees on the face of the Bill is mainly concerned with those who have or are likely to have some rights of way functions themselves. That is why they are on the face of the Bill rather than in the catch-all. That is why the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales are included.

The regulation-making power is for all other bodies which, although they may have no direct rights of way functions, may, nevertheless, have an interest in how those functions are discharged. That includes such bodies as English Nature and the Environment Agency, which are the subject of the amendment. They are better left to the regulations. Otherwise, we shall be compiling a long list of additions to the Bill, which would get worse as we went through Report and Third Reading.

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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Is the noble Lord giving an undertaking that the Government will include the Environment Agency and English Nature in the regulations, as he gave an undertaking on the last amendment? He has not said so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, I did not say that. But I think I can give that undertaking, off my own bat.

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