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New Clause 2

Volume 171: debated on Friday 27 April 1990

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Temporary Restriction Of Foot And Horse Traffic For Trials Of Motor Vehicles

'After section 14 of the Act there shall be inserted—
"14B.—(1) This section applies where an authority makes an order under section 14 above to restrict or prohibit the use of a footpath or bridleway for the purpose of avoiding danger to the public which would arise from the holding of a trial between motor vehicles authorised by the authority under section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
(2) The authority shall have power, as a condition of making the order, to require the person to whom the authorisation has been granted—
(a) to provide an alternative footpath or bridleway for the traffic which will be restricted or prohibited by the order; and
(b) to defray the expenses reasonably incurred by the authority in, or in connection with, the making of the order and the provision and signing of the alternative footpath or bridleway.".'—[Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I understand the disappointment expressed at the conclusion of the previous debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I share that disappointment because I have carefully prepared fairly lengthy notes which I might have been able to turn into a lengthy speech. However, in view of the possibility that the Government will offer us a minor concession, I do not want to take up too much time. I wish to find out what the Government are doing in one or two other areas and new clause 2 deals with that.

I admit that new clause 2 is fairly obscure. There were difficulties drafting it and a I pay tribute to John Trevelyan of the Ramblers Association for his ingenuity and for understanding the law in this area so well that he managed to draft the new clause. Its aim is to get the Government to throw some light on the use of public highways for sporting activities, particularly rallying with cars.

Earlier this year Humberside county council presented a Bill which would have given it powers to close some highways and roads within its area so that the RAC rally or one of the rallies could use them. There was considerable controversy about turning Birmingham into a legal race-track on one or two weekends a year. The fact that it seems like a race-track most days is another matter. People try to legislate for such events through private Bills, of which I strongly disapprove.

10.15 am

The question is what powers the Department of Transport has to close roads for rallies or sporting events? My information is that the powers are a little obscure. What responsibilities does the Department have to provide alternative routes for people on foot or on horseback? Obviously, it is difficult to do that. Substantial numbers of people watch the RAC rally and the organisers want to ensure that they can watch in safety. Clearly, if people are to watch in safety, it does not make sense to allow them to walk across the road on which the rally is taking place. Many people do not read the newspapers carefully and do not realise that a rally is taking place. They may go out for pleasure into an afforested area, which is where the vehicles go fastest and the race is most dramatic, happen to end up where the race is taking place and be distressed to find the road closed.

Can the Minister make a clear statement about the Department's powers to close roads for trials of one sort or another? When the Government close roads for such purposes, what powers do they have to make temporary diversions for people on foot or on horseback? In particular, will the Minister tell us why we still have this odd private Bill procedure? Are the promoters, such as Humberside county council, trying to do something of which the Department does not approve? If the Department approves of the activity, why does it not use its powers to close the roads temporarily?

I am delighted that Humberside county council, in the face of opposition from walkers and others, decided to drop the Bill and not to disturb the Yorkshire moors. Obviously, I am worried about what is going on in the centre of Birmingham and the controversy that is raging over that legislation.

My hon. Friend and I dislike the private Bill procedure in many respects. Does he agree that that procedure could allow the organisers of such an event to overcome local objections to it? It will not be the Department of Transport alone that is involved in road closures—indeed it may have no locus at all in that. It is more likely to be the local authority or, in London, the Metropolitan police, and they may have strong objections. As in other areas, the private Bill procedure is a way of getting round objections from the locality. That is the prime reason why we do not like the procedure.

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is sad that the Leader of the House has not introduced proposals to deal with private Bills. I understand that one difficulty is that he is consulting a whole series of Departments, one of which is the Department of Transport. I sympathise with the Minister for having to be here on a Friday, but if he had to deal with all the matters now being dealt with in private Bills—all the rail Bills and many other proposals—he would probably be the Minister most involved in legislation before the House and spend most of his time in Committee, probably even forgetting where his constituency was, considering the pressures that that would involve.

Some consultation must be going on between the Department of Transport and the Leader of the House as to the Department's attitude to the private Bill procedure. No doubt one of the issues that the Department has been considering is temporary restrictions on access to footpaths and bridleways when used for some trial.

I walk around the Betws-y-Coed area frequently. The Forestry Commission has pushed through a series of forestry roads in that area and they make a pretty good surface on which to walk. Often the older footpaths, which run parallel to those roads or weave a somewhat similar route across the mountainous or forested areas, have fallen into disuse and we are left with a set of footpaths which are difficult to follow and a set of forestry roads which most people use.

The Forestry Commission can earn money by allowing the RAC rally and other rallies to use forestry roads. Because of that, a complicated situation arises as the commission's private roads, through custom and practice, are now used by people on foot or on horseback.

I hope that the Minister can clear up what the Department's legal powers are regarding allowing trials on those roads. I appreciate that the new clause is somewhat obscure, but I hope that it provides an opportunity for the Minister to define exactly the legal powers of the Department regarding rallying—I believe that the technical term is "trials of speed"—on public highways used by people on foot or on horseback.

I am not unsympathetic to the arguments put by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They are perfectly valid, but I have less sympathy for this new clause than I had for the laudable aims contained in new clause 1.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made an intervention relating to the Private Bill procedure. From the public's point of view, I hope that he agrees with me that there is great distinction between the procedure and a private Member's Bill. In this House we understand the difference, but the hon. Gentleman's comments could be misconstrued by the public. It would be a great tragedy and a diminution of our democracy if individual Members of Parliament did not have the opportunity one day a week to deal with private Members' Bills.

We know that the distinction between the two procedures is a good and clear one. A private Member's Bill is a public bill and is therefore totally different from a private Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and I have already referred to the problems associated with the private Bill procedure. In 1988 we produced a report containing a series of recommendations about that procedure. As my hon. Friend has already pointed out, however, we are still waiting for the Government to provide an opportunity to vote on those recommendations so that we can do something about that procedure.

The hon. Gentleman, who is usually so amusingly articulate, has demonstrated why the public cannot understand—at the conclusion of his remarks I am sure that they still do not understand—what on earth the difference is between a private Bill and a private Member's Bill.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke of the difficulty of drafting new clauses. Although I am not seeking to make excuses about the adequacy of my negotiations with outside bodies and the Department of Transport, I did not seek to resolve some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman before the Easter recess because of the difficulty in drafting. I did not want to spoil a useful clean-up exercise by trying to draft new clauses, especially given my lack of legal knowledge and drafting ability. I am sure that such clauses would have been unsuitable.

I do not claim to be an avid follower of motor trials and I have never been, nor am I likely to be, a participant in such trials. I live in a delightful village, Barton In Fabis, on the city boundary of Nottingham. Between our village and the city we have a superb farm—it is within the city boundaries—which happens to hold motor and cycle trials within its confines. I do not know whether those trials cut across bridleways and footpaths. We can certainly hear those trials when they are held once a fortnight and that is the closest I get to participating.

I do not believe that the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised fit the Bill, which is designed to deal with current procedures relating to temporary traffic regulations. As a result of the Bill it will be possible to prescribe the conditions with which people must comply, and failure to do so will be an offence. That should satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

A single-event trial is likely to last for one day—or, at most, two or three days. In those circumstances, any regulations necessary could be met by a five-day notice. I do not believe that a traffic order would be required. That is a major procedure and could involve an 18-month delay. Clearly that is not what the hon. Gentleman intended. That is another reason why I feel that his remarks, valid though they may be, do not fit with this Bill. It would be wrong to accept a new clause which tries to cover an event lasting one or two days when that would not need a traffic order in the first place.

I do not believe that the new clause is necessary. Even if it were, I doubt whether the power to provide alternative routes, for example, would be welcomed. On whose land would such diversionary routes run? What would happen about consultation and objections? The new clause attempts to cover too wide an area. The hon. Gentleman has already admitted that it is fairly obscure and narrow and I hope that he will agree that it has no proper place in the Bill.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) I like to watch motor racing. I participate—or, rather, used to participate—at such occasions myself. I am an avid follower of grand prix and of various other motor racing activities. There is an important distinction to be made between such activities, which are properly controlled and marshalled organisations, and the sort of activity to which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish earlier referred of uncontrolled interruption of rural surroundings by certain people who think that making a lot of noise in a powerful car is the answer to life's problems.

The Department of Transport has no powers in relation to the closure of roads for motor racing or trial activity. I hope that that clarifies the position unequivocally.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South that the new clause appears to be somewhat tangential to the main purpose of the Bill—even the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish recognised that.

I appreciate that section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 allows motor trials to be authorised that can make incursions on to footpaths and bridleways. As my hon. Friend has said, they are likely to be very short-lived affairs. I doubt whether section 14 orders would be pertinent. A short section 14 notice might be. However, it seems more probable that suitable warning notices, or the presence of race officials—as I said, such rallies and trials are normally extremely well organised for safety purposes and in a wide variety of other ways. It is unlikely that such provisions would be less than adequate in most cases.

Given the likely short duration of trials, it also seems questionable whether the provision of alternative routes should be necessary. Even if it were, the amendment seems to be unacceptable because it appears to give a summary power to provide alternative routes whether or not they are on land in the ownership of the authority.

Detailed provisions exist in law for the diversion and creation of rights of way, with provision for consultation, advertisement and, where appropriate, compensation to landowners.

10.30 am

Does the Minister accept that if such a rally is held, particularly if there is a section through a forest, it can be difficult for people to cross the route? The organisers should make sure that it is possible for people who want to get through that part of the countryside, and happen to be there on the wrong day, to cross the route. As the Minister knows a lot more about such events than I do, he will realise that the cars proceed at fairly frequent intervals, so it is not feasible to allow people to cross the route between cars because one cannot be certain how soon the next car will come along or how quickly a person will cross from one side of the route to the other. The onus should be on the people organizing the rally to make sure that there is ample opportunity for people to cross the route, particularly in places such as the north Yorkshire moors and north Wales.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and the objective of new clause 2, but frankly we have to apply a measure of common sense. As I said, such rallies tend to be short lived. Clearly if there is a rally involving cars travelling at speed, people cannot walk in front of vehicles as that would be dangerous and should not be encouraged. We have to ensure that the organisations running the events make sure that they are properly marshalled. On those occasions it may be difficult for people walking in the forest, or wherever the rally is held, to cross the route of a rally or a trial. There is an element of common sense, which becomes clear when we consider the issue.

Just before my hon. Friend's intervention the Minister said that there is a well-defined procedure for extinguishing rights of way. Can he tell us whether what used to be a right of way through Downing street has been extinguished? If it has not, are members of the public allowed to walk through there, and if so, how do they get through those gates?

My hon. Friend is tempting me into highways and byways down which I should not go. There was a rather delightful book by Ashley Cooper called, "Cricket Highways and Byways" which addressed the problems——

No, he was not referring to tests, he was referring to the problems experienced by cricketers in rural areas in finding fields and places to play. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Downing street. It fascinates me as much as it fascinates him, and I shall make some inquiries, but I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer now.

Order. After that out-of-order interlude, we should now return to the new clause.

Perhaps the Minister cannot give me an answer now, but I am sure that by the time we reach amendment No. 2, which deals with penalties, and later amendments, which deal with temporary closures, his officials will have informed him what powers have been used to close Downing street permanently or temporarily.

However tempting it might be, I refuse to be drawn. We should return to new clause 2. Information has arrived, but I shall return to it later as I cannot read the writing.

I know that you wish us to return to new clause 2, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For the reasons that I have set out, I believe that the new clause is deficient and tangential to the Bill. In the circumstances I hope that he will agree to withdraw it.

Although some issues need to be further explored, I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he has no powers to make closures for speed trials on roads. We need more information about bridleways and footpaths, but I shall not press the new clause. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is keen to vote on the matter, perhaps we could defer a Division until 11 o'clock if there is no statement.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.