Rights of Way (Mechanically Propelled Vehicles)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd April 2004.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 11:30 am, 22nd April 2004

What conclusions she has drawn from the consultation on the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on rights of way.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

First, as you are aware, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had to go to Luxembourg for a special Agriculture Council meeting, which is why she is not able to be with us this morning. I am pleased to say that there has been a successful outcome, and I have placed copies of her press statement in the Vote Office for the convenience of Members.

Secondly, it might be convenient for Members if I draw attention to the written statement confirming the three area arrangements for the single farm payment made by my right hon. Friend this morning.

In response to our consultation on the use of mechanised vehicles on rights of way, we received over 15,000 letters and e-mails, which are being analysed. Views on the main issues are strong but divided. I shall do all that I can to build a consensus on the way forward, but with such strength of opinion it is clear that leadership and action are required from the Government.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I am all in favour of strong leadership and action from the Government. A significant number of Members have articulated their views on an early-day motion that I tabled. In the consultation, will the Minister take good note of the fact that many of those who are complaining are doing so about something on which the Government are not consulting? The issue is whether there is unrestricted, unbridled new access to new rights of way, rather than the placing of restrictions on people's perfectly rational and reasonable pastimes. In considering that, will the Minister—

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. Many pieces of disinformation have been put around about the consultation. Issues such as whether use by horses 200 years ago should lead to the use of particular tracks by mechanised vehicles are serious, and unnecessary fears have been caused by the sort of disinformation to which my hon. Friend refers. We shall certainly consider all the experience and all the comments that have come in, in trying to design a way forward that is sensible, protects rights of way and protects the interests of all.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Does the Minister agree that no one should accuse either him or those of us who have made representations on behalf of our constituents of acting with haste or being unreasonable? I spent an afternoon with the Southern Counties Off Road club and had a two-hour meeting with the Wiltshire Trail Riders Fellowship, as well as consulting every parish council, before making my representations to the Minister. My conclusion that it is unreasonable to carry on as we are is widely shared.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to respond positively to what the hon. Gentleman says. I met representatives of the users of mechanised vehicles a couple of weeks ago after the end of the consultation, as I promised that I would, and I urged them to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. There are many responsible users who do not want to go somewhere that would cause damage, or to damage the interests of others, but there are others who take a different attitude. It is important to engage responsible users, rather than their responding to the sort of disinformation to which my hon. Friend John Mann referred a few moments ago.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

The infamous Grimsell lane is in my constituency, and the decision made in that case seems to have extended the legal loopholes that are described in the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend John Mann. Today, I have received a letter from a constituent who refers to eight lanes in the area that are now being extensively used by motorcycles that did not use them in the past. There is also a perverse decision in connection with bridleway 54 at Walton, which I have put in front of my right hon. Friend for his response. We need a situation in which the danger, noise and rutting that has been created by some misuse in the area is controlled.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to look at individual examples, and I know that my hon. Friend has taken a considerable interest in the topic over a period of time. It is worth saying that traffic restriction orders can be used. For example, in places such as the Ridgeway where those have not been used in the past, there is now co-operation between local authorities to make use of seasonal restriction orders. We need to get the right response for any particular lane or right of way. I am very pleased that so many Members are engaged in wanting to achieve the right way forward.