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Redesignation Of Roads Used As Public Paths
28 November 2000
Volume 357

Lords amendment: No. 39, in page 26, line 29, leave out subsection (3).

8.15 pm

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I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 40 to 70, 102 and 172 to 189.

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This group of amendments deals with provisions relating to restricted byways, definitive maps and the extinguishment of rights of way. Most are technical, or correct minor errors, and in view of the time I propose to deal only with the most substantive.

Lords amendments Nos. 48 to 56 relate to the powers in clause 48 enabling the Secretary of State to make regulations amending a wide range of primary and secondary legislation to take account of the creation of restricted byways as a new category of highway. Lords amendments Nos. 181 and 186 include measures to streamline the process of recording rights of way on definitive maps. Lords amendment No. 181 provides a regulation-making power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to require local authorities to keep and make available to the public and other local authorities relevant documents about the status of rights of way.

I want to say something about Lords amendment No. 186, because the issue arose in Committee. The amendment is intended, inter alia, to filter out irrelevant objections to orders modifying definitive maps. Decisions on definitive map orders are a matter of fact and law: they do not call for judgments on whether, for example, the recording of a bridleway on a definitive map would cause environmental damage. However, schedule 15 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 requires the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to hold a public inquiry or hearing into any opposed definitive map order, even if the only objections are objections that are not material to the decision on whether to confirm the order.

The amendment requires any objection or representation in respect of a definitive map modification order to include particulars of the grounds on which the objection or representation is made. It also empowers the Secretary of State or the Assembly to decline to hold an inquiry or hearing into an opposed order if either considers that the only objections or representations that have been made, and not withdrawn, are not relevant to a decision on whether to confirm an order. That, I think, closes a loophole identified in our lengthy discussions in Committee, and I hope it is acceptable.

The remaining amendments are technical.

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I appreciate what the Minister has said, especially his remarks about the closing of the loophole. I merely wish to challenge him on Lords amendment No. 40. What does it actually mean? It would insert a subsection referring to a highway beside

a river, canal or other inland navigation.
It says that such a highway should not be excluded from the definition of a restricted byway

because the public have a right to use the highway for purposes of navigation.
It puzzles me how it would be possible to navigate a highway. I know that some people's driving might be construed as navigation, but the word clearly relates to the use of a waterway, so the reference to using a highway for the purposes of navigation makes no sense. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain that.

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As I understand it, the Government originally intended to simplify the law on rights of way. I am not certain that they have managed to achieve that and still believe that a cut-off date for historic paths is wrong. However, they are committed to that approach and have said that they will provide extra resources to enable local authorities to carry out their work. How will that money be allocated to local authorities?

It should be borne in mind that some local authorities—perhaps because of earlier neglect in that regard—have more to do than others. In addition, various parts of the country have different problems. As president of the Ramblers Association—that is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests—I recently went to Suffolk on its behalf. It was concerned about a historical backlog and wanted to know what extra help the Government would provide to enable it to carry out its work. Is my right hon. Friend able to say how much money will be available and how it will be allocated?

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If there is one aspect of the Bill that has clearly not been thought through, it is the part that deals with rights of way. The fact that many amendments have been tabled to it suggests not only that it is technically incorrect but that it is something of a mess. I am disappointed that they do not deal with some of the issues that I had hoped would be raised.

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The Minister will know that we discussed bridleways when I came to see him. There is an event in my constituency that attracts 500 people from all over the world, but they have been prevented from cycling on a bridleway for the past 12 years because of the Highways Act 1980. Such matters need sorting out.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation because it is an example of what the Bill and the amendments do not address. There would have been no problem dealing with the cycle race that he mentioned. In addition, the amendments do not deal with the relationship between cycling and recreational riding, which should have been properly addressed, or with the carriage riders who do not have access to appropriate roads. Having made that cavil, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for listening to the argument about the difficulties of discounting irrelevant objections. Some objections, although relevant to the objector, are, in law, irrelevant and have to be passed to the Secretary of State. I hope that the relevant amendment will be accepted.

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In so far as I understand the question that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked about amendment No. 40, I think the answer is that it ensures that highways with a right of towage are not excluded from the definition of a restricted byway. I believe that a similar provision in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Highways Act 1980 relates to other highways. I shall write to him if that is not correct.

As for the more substantive policy points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I was not sure whether he wanted to reignite the issue of the 25-year time limit. We believe that there is a fair balance between the desirability of giving certainty to landowners and ensuring that all evidence of historic rights—given the extra assistance that we have promised—should be made available within that time scale.

My hon. Friend asked about resources. We estimate that part II will cost local authorities a maximum of £19 million a year. The Department will cover that cost. The main element of local authority funding will be provided probably in 2002-03 to coincide with the implementation of most of the provisions in part II and in line with the so-called new burdens arrangements.

However, in recognition of the time limit on completing the historic record of rights of way, we are not waiting until 2002. Some £750,000 of the £3.5 million allocated to areas of outstanding natural beauty—access to which is to be channelled through the Countryside Agency next year—is to assist non-governmental organisations to research rights of way. Those are considerable sums. Local authorities are unlikely to face a significant increase in applications for such work during the next financial year. However, an extra £400,000 for recording rights of way has been included in the local authority settlement for England that was announced yesterday. As we have committed extra resources, I hope that my hon. Friend will be assured that we are implementing the provisions.

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I was trying to find out how far the allocation of the extra resources will take into account the needs of particular areas. Some areas might be in greater need of assistance, because of the poor state of their definitive maps, than areas that have almost completed their definitive maps.

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I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. It is common sense that not all local authorities will need an equal allocation of resources. We need to take account of the areas where more resources are needed because much more work needs to be done. I could mention one or two local authorities for which that is the case. I assure him that the allocation will take account of the requirements of research and archival work, according to our best knowledge.

Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 40 to 70 agreed to.