moved Amendment No. 10:
After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—
"THE NATIONAL TRAILS
(1) In the interest of public health and safety, subsections (2) to (4) shall have effect.
(2) The Secretary of State shall within one year from the coming into force of this enactment make a permanent Traffic Regulation Order to prohibit the use of non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles on the National Trails.
(3) Non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles shall mean all such vehicles but shall not include those driven by individuals with an estate or interest in land adjoining the Trail or their lawful visitors or emergency vehicles.
(4) A Traffic Regulation Order shall mean an order as defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and as subsequently amended."
My Lords, Amendment No. 10 requires the Secretary of State to place a permanent traffic regulation order on national trails—routes such as the Ridgeway—which are designed primarily to provide access to the countryside and quiet recreation, particularly for those on foot, on horseback and on bicycles. These routes are unfortunately increasingly being used by off-road 4X4 vehicles which are causing extensive damage to the surface. Environmental problems result in the form of damage to local flora and fauna. There is also the issue of amenity and the quiet use of these routes. However, as this is a safety Bill, I shall say no more now about those aspects.
However, damage to the surface does render the routes dangerous for other users. They become slippery during wet weather and rutted during dry weather. Indeed, I have anecdotal evidence of people who find that they cannot use the Ridgeway on foot, horseback or bicycle and have to go on to the local road network for part of their journey. That is clearly nonsensical.
As a county councillor in Suffolk I have chaired the rights of way committee for the past decade. I therefore have practical experience of just how difficult it is to deal with the problem of 4X4 vehicles on our public rights of way. Local authorities are able to use traffic regulation orders, but these are bureaucratic, time consuming and very expensive. In the case of the national trails, it is necessary for large numbers of local authorities to co-ordinate and develop together an approach that works along the whole route. Frankly, at the moment that is not working.
It seems to me that we have no trouble segregating walkers and cyclists from cars on the rest of the highway network. We provide cycleways and footways. Yet on ancient routes such as the Ridgeway we seem to think it acceptable for vehicles to share the way with walkers, cyclists and riders. I suggest that that does not make much sense at all.
So while generally having a slight abhorrence of any kind of centralising tendency, in the case of national trails I suggest that it would make much more sense to have the Secretary of State make an order for the whole of the trail network. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. Indeed, I supported the noble Baroness both in Committee and at Report stage. The Minister has tried to be helpful in his answers. He understands the issues and problems in relation to the Ridgeway and other national trails. Indeed, it was the Government who invented the name and concept of national trails; previously we had only the name Ridgeway and the names of various other routes.
I declare an interest as I have done previously. I walk the Ridgeway most weekends. There is a voluntary code on the Ridgeway that bans cars and motorbikes at weekends. On Sunday morning, however, I was passed by 43 motorbikes all in a row. That represents a big safety problem as none of the motorbikes that passed me, all of which were off-roaders, were licensed. If they are not licensed, presumably they are not insured. If there were an accident, there would therefore be a problem. The people operating those vehicles do not think they are on a road. They say, "We can be here because it is a road", but they have met none of the requirements necessary to be on the road.
It is a problem within government. Although the Department for Transport, the Countryside Agency and the local authorities understand the problem, they are not moving at the same speed and sometimes not in exactly the same direction. Various local authorities are attempting to designate specific areas, but the attempts are not joined up. There may be local authority restrictions in some areas, but those could end a mile or so down the Ridgeway. The restrictions are therefore unenforceable. We do not want the problem solved on some parts of the Ridgeway but not on others. That would not work; it would bring chaos. The churning up of these ancient routes would accelerate.
I recognise that the Minister has tried to be helpful. However, there is a time problem between his former department, the Department for Transport, and the Countryside Agency. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, will press her amendment. The amendment would give the department time to make progress with the Countryside Agency. The problem is that it has not had time to make sufficient progress in reaching a workable relationship with the agency. When the Bill returns to another place, as it will have to do because of our amendments, the department may be able to offer a satisfactory result. Perhaps the Government will offer their own amendment or accept the noble Baroness's amendment. The Minister has been as helpful as he can but there is a logjam in the department. I believe that the amendment will enable the department to think again, to make some progress and to come back to Parliament with a solution. I strongly support it.
My Lords, I stayed in the debate only when I heard the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. I simply wish to endorse what my noble friend has said from the Front Bench. I walk along the same Ridgeway, although a few miles further along, as my noble friend. I endorse that there is not only a nuisance but a considerable danger arising from this situation. I put in the Minister's mind the thought that if these 40 motorcycles were unlicensed, can he be confident that they did not cross any of the roads which intersect the Ridgeway? If so, what would happen to the safety of other people involved in an accident with an uninsured motorcycle?
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Indeed, I put my name to similar amendments at previous stages of the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is similar to that of earlier amendments about pedestrians and cyclists. These proposals deal with the right of pedestrians and cyclists not to be subjected to nuisance or danger certainly in some parts of the country road and trail network.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, talked about 4X4s on the Ridgeway. I believe there were 43 of them. Of course, those drivers are not worried about pedestrians or cyclists are they? They are in their nice little tin boxes, uninsured and probably untaxed. They frighten people off.
It is pleasing to be told by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that pedestrians and cyclists are segregated on the highways. Sometimes they are, especially in towns. However, there are many roads in this country where there is no segregation for cyclists or pedestrians and walking on them is severely dangerous. It is perfectly reasonable that, occasionally, on such important paths as national trails, pedestrians and cyclists should have the right to enjoy them unimpeded by the nuisance and, most importantly, the danger. There is the added fear that, should they get hurt, they are unlikely to receive compensation, even if they could catch the person responsible because such people would not be insured and there would be no record of who they were.
The amendment is a good one. The problem has been around for many years. This seems the ideal opportunity to finally force the various departments involved to come up with a workable arrangement. I support the amendment.
My Lords, both the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, have acknowledged that we take this issue very seriously. As they know, I have facilitated meetings between them and Alun Michael, the Minister for Rural Affairs. I agree very strongly with all that they say about the condition of the Ridgeway in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has shown me photographs. I happen to walk on Hampstead Heath rather than the Ridgeway, so I do not experience those problems personally. However, I have no doubt that this is an issue involving danger as well as amenity, so I do not criticise the amendment in that way.
I have serious problems, however, with the amendment. It is technically deficient, but, much more importantly, I believe it to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Section 22 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 already provides for the Secretary of State to make traffic regulation orders in relation to special areas of the countryside—including long distance routes—in the interests of conserving or enhancing their natural beauty, and affording better opportunities to enjoy their amenities for recreation or study. If the proposed amendment were agreed, it would override to an uncertain extent the existing provisions of Section 22 in relation to long-distance routes.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, decides what to do about the amendment, I invite her to consider the extent to which the Section 22 powers could be used and to join me in urging that they should be used for this purpose. However, there is a profound difference between the Section 22 powers and what is proposed in the amendment. When a traffic regulation order is proposed under Section 22 powers, the procedures allow an opportunity for objections and, if necessary, a public inquiry before an independent inspector. We have a very serious problem with the proposed new clause because it would require the Secretary of State to make an order without any opportunity for objections or debate. I am sorry to say that we believe it to be incompatible with the ECHR.
As I said, the amendment is also technically deficient because it contains no definition of a national trail. It affords no opportunity for objections to be made to the proposed traffic regulation order, and it fails to recognise the existence of Section 22 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. It would extinguish long-standing public vehicular rights without any opportunity for objections to be heard. We believe that it is important for all sides to have an opportunity to put their views before a decision is taken on any traffic regulation order. Procedures should not be curtailed simply because they are inconvenient from the point of view of the desired end, even when I, and my colleagues in the Government, agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, about the desired end.
We are talking about the Ridgeway in particular. The Government accept that its western section is infested with recreational vehicular use which results in damage to the surface and causes annoyance, inconvenience and danger to pedestrian users. The Countryside Agency, in partnership with the local highway authorities, is addressing those problems.
The Countryside Agency is drawing up a business plan for the Ridgeway which envisages a strategy of selective use of traffic regulation orders in combination with repairs to those parts that have been damaged. Funding for that work will be provided by the agency. If local authorities indicate that they are not prepared to make the required traffic regulation orders, the Secretary of State can exercise his powers to do so under the provisions of Section 22 of the 1984 Act. I am sure that there will be contact between the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Countryside Agency on that point.
We are prepared to look again at the traffic regulation order procedures to see if they can be simplified as part of our reform of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. We would welcome any suggestions that noble Lords may have about changes, but they must recognise that people have a right to be heard if their interests may be affected by a traffic regulation order.
This is not the last opportunity for this matter to be debated. It is well known that the Department for Transport is working on proposals for wider traffic management regulation, which will be taken forward at the earliest opportunity, subject to the normal pressures on the legislative programme. Legislation on banning non-essential vehicles from national trails would fit much more naturally there than in this Bill, which I am sure your Lordships are anxious to see.
We should give the Countryside Agency's management plan for the Ridgeway a chance before rushing to legislate, especially as there are already appropriate powers on the statute book. Also, the amendment as drafted—although it cannot be undrafted or redrafted at this stage of consideration in the House—is profoundly defective in respect of flouting, although flouting implies intention, so perhaps I should say conflict with the ECHR.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I accept the notion that the amendment is not entirely satisfactorily drafted. However, if the amendment were agreed today the Government would have the opportunity of redrafting it in another place and it could be returned to us in a style that would please everybody, including the Minister.
My Lords, that is a very dangerous argument—that this House should pass a measure that contains elements we know to be unsatisfactory and in conflict with the ECHR. We should have enough pride in our proceedings to send a Bill back to the House of Commons which is correct. I believe that those who have a respect for the relationship between the two Houses and a respect for the European convention—however strongly they feel about the issue, as do I—should not agree to this amendment.
My Lords, I am not suggesting that for a moment. I am saying that when one extinguishes long-standing vehicular rights—because nobody has disputed that those rights are long-standing—there has to be an opportunity to object and the possibility of appeal to an independent tribunal. I would have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, of all people—because he is a libertarian—would agree with that proposition.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have supported me in this amendment—not only today, but in previous stages of the Bill. I am gratified to hear from the Minister that he supports the intention behind the amendment even if he is not able to support the amendment itself. That means that we do not have to spend any more time on the substance but can concentrate on the procedure.
We are in this situation because our rights of way law is outdated. We have a law that allows vehicular use on those routes. Three years ago, noble Lords tried hard to get changes to the law when the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill was going through your Lordships' House. The Government resisted at that point, so I find it difficult to accept that the amendment is premature and that we should wait for further legislation in the future. Noble Lords have been patient on the matter. More to the point, the people who live and use the routes have been very patient, even though they are being endangered.
I make no claim to be an expert on human rights legislation or on the procedures of the House. I admit that the amendment does not contain requirements for public consultation, inquiries and so on, but, if the Government were minded to accept to accept it, they could build such things into guidance—they need not be in the Bill—or they could accept the principle and, as the noble Viscount suggested, move an amendment that was more suitable in their eyes, when the Bill reached another place.
I will not accept lectures from anyone on my commitment to human rights or to consultation. My record in Suffolk bears testament to that. However, there are clear examples here of how people's lives are being endangered, besides the question of the recreation and amenity of people who wish to use the routes. I am not happy, therefore, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 11:
After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—
In section 13(5) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c. 23) (determination of applications) after paragraph (d) there is inserted—
"(dd) in permitting goods vehicles operators to establish an operating centre the Traffic Commissioner is satisfied that the Centre is available, suitable and of sufficient capacity and must take into account the suitability of the local road network for the establishment of such a centre.""
My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long. We have previously discussed the question of operating centres and the Minister wrote to me on the subject and sent me a copy of the traffic commissioner's report, for which I thank him. We will not divide the House on this matter although I would have done if time had allowed, but it does not. However, I give him notice that we do not believe that the use of traffic orders is appropriate or that the police have anything like sufficient numbers of officers to enforce them. When the amendments to the Road Traffic Act, to which he referred, are considered by the department, it should turn its attention away from traffic orders to a more useful form of amendment, whereby when an operating centre licence is granted and access is agreed to the road network, the traffic commissioner should be permitted to take into account whether the road is suitable. Will the noble Lord seriously consider that suggestion? As a specialist, he knows what sort of vehicles are likely to use it and he can set the sort of operating parameters that are more suitable to that centre. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, chose not to argue the case for the amendment because I have great difficulty with it as drafted. I do not believe that it meets his own concerns. He asked me for an assurance that when the issue of traffic regulation orders is considered, those issues should be taken into account. I can certainly give him that assurance.
moved Amendment No. 12:
After Schedule 6, insert the following new schedule—