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Lord Wise: My Lords, once again I strongly support my noble friend Lord Derwent in this important amendment. I spoke at quite considerable length to this amendment at Report stage in the absence of my noble friend, and he has dealt very adequately with the arguments put forward on Report by my noble friend the Minister.
As he says, the principle of giving national park authorities responsibility for rights of way in their areas has received much support from all sides of the House both in Committee and on Report. I believe that that support has been received because the amendments would make control of rights of way far more simple and efficient and make national park authorities more accountable for what is probably their greatest resource. As my noble friend said, in most national parks there is no common highway authority. It is likely that over half of the parks have more than two highway authorities with which to deal; in fact, two of them even have seven. Surely this situation must provide an ideal opportunity for bureaucracy and confusion.
A national park authority will find it difficult to influence visitor use of the particular areas if it has no control on how the rights-of-way network is managed in those areas. This amendment would give every national park authority the tools with which to manage the rights-of-way network for the whole of a national park. Surely this would be a major step forward in managing recreational activity. I therefore strongly support my noble friend's amendment. I hope once again that my noble friend the Minister will be able to look favourably upon it.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, I support this important group of amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Derwent. I spoke on this matter both in Committee and on Report, when the amendments received much support from all sides of the House.
Why would making all national park authorities responsible for rights of way in their areas be an improvement on the present arrangements? There is much evidence that where national park authorities have had certain rights-of-way powers delegated to them through agency agreements, it has worked well. However, in many parks it has not been possible for the parties to enter into such an agreement. The amendment would therefore ensure that all NPAs are able to share the undoubted benefits of responsibility.
Presently, six national park authorities have some responsibility for rights of way under agency agreements. It is much easier for those authorities to manage rights of way than it is for highway authorities, as they can draw on the services of their rangers and wardens for maintenance and surveying. Where national park authorities have had responsibility, they have demonstrated that they are ideally placed to carry out the task.
In Exmoor, delegation of rights-of-way responsibilities has allowed the national park authority to develop a three-year experimental management project in partnership with the National Trust dealing with eroded paths in the Dunkery Beacon area. Furthermore, a countryside recreation and access group (CRAG) is to be set up to promote close working with user groups and members of the public. This integrated approach is an example of how the rights of way in the parks can be managed when park authorities are given responsibility for the network. This amendment will ensure that all national park authorities will be able to carry out such work so that it may become the rule rather than the exception.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, made a very important point which was perhaps missed at earlier stages of the Bill when we discussed this matter; namely, that the national park authorities, as we hope they will be constituted, have to have regard to the purposes set out in Clause 58 of the Billpurposes with which we agree.
It seems to me extremely difficultthis is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, madefor a national park authority to fulfil the purposes set out in Clause 58 without the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, proposes. After all, national park authorities will be the planning authority for that area. Paths, bridleways, or whatever they may be, may be converted and may be subject to various permissions with which the national park authorities will have to deal. I would have thought that Amendment No. 38 was complementary to Clause 58 for the purposes of national parks. I find it very difficult to see, if a national park authority is divorced as a planning authority from the administration of the public rights of way, how that national park authority can properly fulfil the purposes of conserving and enhancing natural beauty and promoting opportunities for the quiet enjoyment and understanding of the parks. For that reason I believe that the noble Lord's amendment is well put and well argued. We will support it.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley has his name to this amendment and is sorry not to be able to be here himself to support it. I do so on his behalf and on behalf of these Benches. The point that was put was extremely well argued. What the noble Lord said is a matter of common sense quite apart from anything else. I am particularly struck by the need to marry the planning and the highways functions. I have always felt that highways and planning need to go very much hand in hand to be effective. For that reason, as well as for others, I support the amendment.
Lord Norrie: My Lords, very briefly, I support this amendment. I am sure that the impressive support for it stems from the fact that it will simplify the present system and enable greater efficiency in rights-of-way management. It will also allow national park authorities to plan strategically to maximise the benefit of their rights of way, as well as making the day-to-day management of this important resource more efficient.
The most popular activity in the national parks is walking. It simply does not make sense that those bodies that are set up to promote recreation in national parks (the park authorities) often find themselves without powers or responsibilities for rights of way. This amendment would resolve that problem.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, I also support my noble friend Lord Derwent on this subject. It must be obvious that the national parks must have authority to implement their duty to provide enjoyment. You cannot have enjoyment of the paths if they are crowded with four-wheel vehicles which may be allowed by the byways open to all traffic. It is absolutely vital that the national parks should have total authority over the control and maintenance of their paths. They should be open to horses, people, ramblers, visitors, even cyclists. They must have ability to control the vehicles that use those paths. Those vehicles will destroy the paths unless they are controlled, and the cost to the parks of
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I recognise the support for Amendment No. 38 moved today by my noble friend Lord Derwent and moved by my noble friend Lord Wise at Report stage. As my noble friend Lord Derwent indicated, these are indeed the same amendments which appear for the third time.
My noble friend has secured a great deal of support for his amendment, both inside the Chamberas has again been demonstrated this evening with nobody speaking against him and also outside the House. He enumerated eight important organisations which supported his amendment. I also appreciate the strength of feeling among noble Lords that if the Government cannot accept the amendments as drafted, they should accept the principle underlying them.
I made the Government's policy on this issue clear on previous occasions. We recognise the importance of the rights-of-way network to national parks as elements in securing the promotion of enjoyment of the parks. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, talked about this amendment as being complementary to the purposes as set out in Clause 58. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, indicated that she wanted to make certain that the highways and planning were married so that they could deliver those purposes. However, we do not believe that national park authorities should be made into highways authorities. We want to see them given responsibility for rights of way, tailored to the needs of the individual park, for which the most appropriate means are the agency agreements entered into with the relevant highway authorities. We intend to take steps positively to encourage such agreements across all the parks.
We shall give every encouragement to highway authorities to enter into agency agreements with individual national park authorities to facilitate the best management of rights of way. By adopting that approach, the national park authorities will be able to take on the day-to-day management of rights of way, confident in the knowledge that highway authorities, with their more substantial resources, will be standing behind them when the need arises. I believe that that approach is in the best interests of the promotion of a well managed and maintained rights-of-way network for the countryside as a whole, including that outside the national parks.
I recogniseI listened to my noble friend Lord Derwent demolish all my carefully thought-out arguments on previous occasionsthat not all highway authorities have been willing to enter into such agreements with the existing national park boards and committee. Having listened to the arguments which have been put to me today, I should like to look again at this issue. We intend to look again at the procedure for making agency agreements between the highway authorities and the national park authorities and to consider whether it would be appropriate to introduce a reserve power which would be available to be brought into play where satisfactory alternative arrangements
Therefore, I ask my noble friend Lord Derwent to withdraw his amendment on the understanding that we will bring forward proposals when the Bill reaches another place. Having said that, I should perhaps also indicate to my noble friendbecause he indicated to me at an earlier stage that he would separate the amendments standing in his name; that is, to take Amendment No. 38 separately and Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 as a separate groupthat I would respond in very much the same way as I have responded to this one, should he want to speak to the amendments. Otherwise, I say to him, on the understanding that I have given him, that perhaps he should not seek to move those amendments.
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