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25 Clause 3, page 6, line 17, leave out "capable of being" and insert "likely to be"
26 Page 6, line 21, leave out "capable of being" and insert "likely to be"
27 Page 6, line 23, leave out "capable of being" and insert "likely to be"

The Commons disagree to Lords Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27, but propose Amendments 27A, 27B, 27C, 27D and 27E to the Bill, and to the words restored to the Bill by the Commons' disagreement with Lords Amendment No. 28, in lieu—

27A Page 6, line 17, leave out "capable of being understood" and insert "likely to be understood, by any one or more of the persons to whom it has or may become available, "
27B Page 6, line 21, leave out "capable of being useful" and insert "likely to be useful to any one or more of those persons"
27C Page 6, line 23, leave out "capable of being understood" and insert "likely to be understood by any one or more of those persons"
27D Page 6, line 25, leave out "capable of being" and insert "likely to be"
27E Page 6, line 27, leave out "capable of being" and insert "likely to be"

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27; and do agree to Amendments Nos. 27A, 27B, 27C, 27D and 27E proposed by the Commons in lieu. I hope your Lordships will not be tempted by Amendments C1 and C2 standing in the
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name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Indeed, I have great hopes that the noble Lord will not be tempted by his own amendments either.

In our amendments, we have taken the substance of the concern contained in the amendments that went to the other place and placed it in proper order. If any Member of the House wishes the issue to be outlined more fully, I am happy to do that, but in the light of our previous success I am tempted simply to invite your Lordships to repeat the agreement so beautifully expressed by the House moments ago.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27; and do agree to Amendments Nos. 27A, 27B, 27C, 27D and 27E proposed by the Commons in lieu.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, I have to inform the House that if Amendment C1 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment C2.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we have probably spent long enough on the Bill in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Amendment C1 is really a drafting amendment rather than one of serious significance. In the circumstances, I will not move it.

[Amendment C1 not moved.]

Lord Goodhart rose to move, as an amendment to Motion C, leave out from "House" to end and insert "do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27; do agree to Amendments Nos. 27A, 27B and 27C proposed by the Commons in lieu; but do disagree with Amendments Nos. 27D and 27E proposed by the Commons in lieu."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Motion C, as amended, agreed to.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill

5.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clause 61 [Restriction on creation of new public rights of way]:

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 310ZA:

"( ) If the use of a road by mechanically propelled vehicles is prevented by a traffic order and there no longer exists a carriageway appropriate for those vehicles, the permitted use by those vehicles shall not be revived by the making of a traffic order."
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The noble Lord said: I expect that it will come as some relief to those Members who have sat through our debate this afternoon that we return to something that is immediately practical and of interest to a large number of people. In introducing this group of amendments, I have probably had more correspondence about this than any other subject since I have been in the House of Lords. I have had literally hundreds of letters and petitions signed by thousands of people who are concerned about how rights of way are being treated in this country, the general state of those rights of way, the abuse they receive and the state into which they have sunk. I have also seen a great deal of misinformation; for example, the way some people have sought to exploit the plight of the disabled to try to advance the cause of people who drive four-wheeled vehicles on rights of way, causing great damage. We must take this opportunity to ensure we have got the legislation right when dealing with this problem.

There are many amendments in this group. I will try to go through them carefully, but not at great length. I know many other Members of the Committee have matters they wish to raise, but which are included in this very large grouping. The first amendment, No. 310ZA, deals with the fact that—as I understand it—a right of way, once it has been closed off to use by means of a traffic order, shall not then be reopened by another traffic order. Where people have extinguished the right of way and laid down a square or garden in its place, they are concerned to ensure that it is not re-established at some future date, and that there is no means by which it can be.

The second group of amendments I wish to speak to concerns what is called the "user test". This is where we think the words the Government have used in the Bill are not the very best that could be used, and it is one of the cases where we are asking the Minister whether he is prepared to enter into discussion with us outside the Chamber to ensure, when an amendment is finally put into this Bill, that we really have got the best and tightest wording we can, one that is not likely to be exploited by people who have other intentions. We do not want to leave any loopholes that could be exploited by off-roaders. Those are the people who drive four-wheeled vehicles and use motorcycles to the detriment of the people who want to use rights of way for the purposes for which they are now used. What the Government have set down is right in principle, but we think the wording in our amendment is tighter, and will make it possible to provide for people who drive mechanically propelled vehicles along ordinary roads not recorded as byways on the definitive map, but will not leave any loophole through which other people will be able to escape.

Amendments Nos. 318 and 318A are extremely important. They decide when this new law actually comes into effect. This goes back to the question of claims for rights of way on roads used as public paths. The Minister will recall that since the consultation paper was published in December 2003 large numbers of claims have been made by people trying to establish rights of way. These claims are often not very good and not completed, but they have at their base the fact that
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the use of a right of way by a mechanically propelled vehicle now should be based on the previous rights to use a horse and cart. We think that is a totally wrong way to go about it. The historic use by a horse and cart, often 200 years ago, should not be the basis on which people indulge in various off-road "sporting"-type events—and I use the word "sporting" in inverted commas.

The claims we refer to are heard by local authorities, who hear the claims very slowly. It is not a duty of a local authority that comes very high in the pecking order, and the claims are often subject to a lot of objection. It is a very bureaucratic process, and it often takes tens of years to clear the claims out of the system. Since 2003 about 1,000 more claims have been submitted to local authorities, and, if the date that is set down in Amendment No. 318 is adhered to, those authorities—if they continue to exist in their present form—will have an enormous job trying to bring them through to the point where rights of way are decided upon and recorded upon the definite map.

Amendment No. 318A would create a cut-off date at 2003. Claims lodged after that date would be judged on the new criteria set down in the Bill; that is, not on whether a horse and cart had previously used the road but on a much tighter basis, and the right of way might not be granted. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will speak to that.

Amendment No. 319 is the first one to deal with private rights. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this. We agree with the Government's intention, but we believe the wording we have worked out—I say "we" because this is a combined effort from many better qualified legal people than me within the movements associated with the countryside, and lawyers who advise them—deals with the human rights problems that would arise if the rights attached to people. We have tried to make the rights attach to the property, so that if someone has a right of access, either to his property or to his land for the purposes of enjoying his land, that right can then be passed on. He may sell it or it may be passed on to whoever succeeds him. In doing so, we can avoid the human rights problems which we think are likely to be involved in the words used by the Government. We again suggest discussion to achieve the best wording possible to prevent further legal disputes in the future.

Amendments Nos. 326 and 327 also deal with access to property. We accept that that has to be provided for but we are not convinced that the Government have used the best wording.

Amendments Nos. 324 and 325 seek to ensure that any claim to a right of way must be fully compliant. In claiming a right of way, it is no good putting in a note about what you want; you have to make a fully compliant claim dealing with all the issues raised. We shall not accept a few notes roughly filled in on a form.

Those are the main issues. I know that other noble Lords want to speak. The Minister may have things to say. The points raised in these amendments, and in
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others to be moved by other noble Lords, merit careful discussion rather than necessarily deciding today the best course of action. I beg to move.

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