Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. Sometimes it is the duty of your Lordships' House to bully the Government and sometimes to nudge them--and this is a nudge. I am pleased to hear what the Minister said in relation to guidelines, which may be important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 [Rights of way improvement plans: supplemental]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 189:

("(da) any local access forum established for their area or any part of it;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 60 [Enforcement of duty to prevent obstruction]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 190:

    Page 38, line 35, leave out ("56(4)") and insert ("56").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61 [Power to order offender to remove obstruction]:

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 190A:

    Page 42, line 18, at end insert--

("( ) Where the offender refuses to comply with the court order, the magistrate may instruct that the obstruction be removed forthwith and the cost recovered from the offender.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I need not detain the House because we debated the matter in Committee. However, I make no apologies for raising this important issue again. It seems to us on these Benches ridiculous that an individual can be prosecuted in a magistrates' court for obstruction of the highway, can pay a fine and then do nothing to remove the obstruction. If the perpetrator is prepared to keep paying a fine, there is nothing the magistrates' court can do about it. Our amendment allows the magistrates' court the power to remove the obstruction and recover the cost from the offender.

We are about to debate the unlawful use of public rights of way. That is based on a widespread view in the House that the status of a route as on the definitive map should be upheld. If that principle applies to vehicular use, it must equally apply to obstruction. We cannot continue with the position in which someone can buy his way out of complying with the law. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, while I heard what the noble Baroness said, I am a little concerned about the amendment. It assumes that we know who the offender is and implies that he is probably the landowner. I believe that we could run into difficulties if the offender were someone dumping rubbish such as old cars or cans, the driver of cement mixer tipping out on the way home and so forth.

16 Nov 2000 : Column 391

It is a serious sanction and we must know who is guilty of placing the obstruction. Assuming that it is not the landlord, someone must work out who will pay.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the position. The court will already have identified the offender because our amendment states:

    "Where the offender refuses to comply with the court order".

The magistrates' court will know who the person is and have proved that he is guilty. I wonder whether in the light of that explanation the noble Lord feels differently about the amendment.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, yes.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the amendment, particularly in the light of the qualification explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The perpetrator will have been identified. However, I do not believe that the amendment addresses the situation in the most appropriate way. We are dealing with an offence of failing to comply with an order to remove an obstruction with a view to making it a continuing offence for which there would be fines on each day after a first conviction. That would be a powerful incentive to a convicted person to remove an obstruction.

However, I take the point that the authority may want to remove the obstruction provided it had the power to recover its costs. Authorities have a general power in law to remove obstructions from the highway but do not in every case have the power to recover costs.

If it is acceptable to the noble Baroness, I shall look at bringing forward an amendment at the final stage of the Bill which will provide for such a power and meet the objective of her amendment.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and am pleased that he understands my concern about this serious issue. I look forward to seeing what is proposed when we meet again next week. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 7 [Driving of mechanically propelled vehicles elsewhere than on roads]:

Lord Hardy of Wath moved Amendment No. 191:

    Page 105, line 21, at end insert ("for which the court may order the confiscation of the vehicle in question").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 191 I shall try not to detain the House too long. The problem of the illegal and improper use of off-the-road vehicles is serious. It is often a compounded nuisance to a large number of people who can frequently hear vehicles loudly because they are not fitted with proper silencers. They are also damaging. That point which was illustrated only this

16 Nov 2000 : Column 392

week in a telling photograph in the Yorkshire Post which showed the damage done to areas which many people want to enjoy.

I recently spoke to a couple of off-the-road motor cyclists. The first one said, "The police cannot catch me", and the second said, "If they did, I'd only get my wrists slapped". I quote them exactly. I do not want to see young people fined heavily or put in detention. As a former, fairly experienced South Yorkshire schoolmaster, my response would be that the most sensible action would be to take the vehicle from them.

That is not a novel idea. In the other place, I was involved with a number of Bills which sought to tackle countryside crimes. They gave the courts the power to confiscate anything used in the commission of an offence. That would have included the motor vehicles of long-distance travelling badger-diggers. I understand that although no vehicle has been confiscated in England, the Scottish courts have occasionally ordered the confiscation of vehicles. When dealing in particular with young offenders, it is better to confiscate rather than to place them under an obligation to pay a fine which they cannot afford. I should like the Government to consider the proposal most carefully.

They may be saving some lives. I recently made the point that many young people have been killed or maimed riding motor cycles. I shall give an illustration which shows the difficult task the police have in responding to the problem. Recently a youth and a little girl, neither wearing a helmet, left the open land on which they were being a nuisance, went on to the public highway, were chased by a police car and turned off on to very rough land. The police car made no attempt to follow them because it may have enhanced the risk. No police officer wants to see young people killed or maimed.

However, those two young people were at great risk of death or serious injury and that case can be mirrored at least 100 times. There have been four or five deaths in South Yorkshire, the latest only a couple of months ago. Such individual tragedies ought not to happen, but they are caused by those who are either being a great nuisance to their neighbours or are causing considerable damage to the environment. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 194C. I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, said. Noble Lords will know that I am concerned about the lack of sanctions throughout the Bill on many fronts and I believe that this sanction could prove valuable, as clearly outlined by the noble Lord. We do not believe that vehicles should be allowed off the highway and leaving out the lines of the Bill which we have suggested tidily achieves that.

Perhaps I may be cheeky enough to make a few comments about the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. I would support it as a compromise, but for many reasons I believe that motor vehicles travelling off the road are dangerous--

16 Nov 2000 : Column 393

and not least because of the points made by the noble Lord. When vehicles return to the road they do considerable damage. Vehicles which leave the road, even if they go over land beside the highway, will drive over drains and areas that are clearly unsuitable for them. When a vehicle which has been off the road and across country, even on verges or nearby fields, returns to the highway it brings with it a good deal of mud and rubbish, and it may also have sustained damage. However, for a distance of a few yards, or even a mile, it will make the highway dangerous for other users.

6 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. Many years ago when I was a member of the Countryside Commission, that body constantly wrestled with the problem of vehicles on the Ridgeway. Again and again, the police told us that if we could persuade the Government to make orders they would not be able to enforce them satisfactorily because there would be no appropriate sanctions. I believe that this amendment provides an appropriate sanction. The person in question would be so reluctant to have this measure applied to him that it would be a very real deterrent. This is a sensible approach to a very real problem.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page