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Baroness Mallalieu: I rise to support the spirit of Amendment No. 419, just spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. As it stands, Part II of the Bill is, to my mind, a disappointment. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke earlier with his usual candour. When he was asked a direct question about whether Part II would extend the bridleway and footpath network in this country at all, he was unable

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to say that it would. One thing that the Bill ought to achieve is to increase positively access in those areas--many of them far away from open access land--where the greatest pressures are exerted and there is the greatest need for the kind of circular walks referred to by the noble Lord.

If the proposal before us is considered to be unworkable, and even with the short amount of time available to improve this part of the Bill, I hope that the Government will come forward with or at least be receptive to truly imaginative schemes for increasing walks of this kind in areas far removed from open access land. They are desperately needed.

A Bill of this kind probably represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review the bridleway and footpath network of this country. If it leaves this House in its present state, we shall have wasted that opportunity to achieve something positive.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I rise briefly to say how much I endorse the spirit of the amendments and also to support much of what has just been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She is absolutely right to point out that we should be seeking opportunities of this kind. It is the kind of development the public will expect to see as the result of such a dramatic legislative review of rights of way represented in the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps I may observe to my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that I spoke not with candour, but rather with caution. Of course we want the provisions in Part II of the Bill to increase the amount of access for walkers on rights of way. We wish to simplify the law relating to right of way and to remove obstacles to the growth of new rights of way. However, I needed to respond to the direct question of whether I could guarantee that. I had to say that I could not guarantee that, which reflects the necessary caution expected of those who speak from this Dispatch Box. That does not mean that we are not sympathetic to any practical way of improving the situation. I gave a number of examples of ways in which we are improving the present position.

The leading amendment in the grouping, Amendment No. 368AA, would require that, in deciding whether to confirm an order under Section 118 of the Highways Act 1980 covering the closure of a footpath or bridleway, the confirming authority should have regard to any public path creation agreement between the landowner and a local authority which is conditional on the success of the extinguishment order.

It may be that the existence of such an agreement, conditional or otherwise, is something which the confirming authority could consider when assessing the extent to which the path would be likely to be used by the public. There could be a range of factors for the confirming authority to take into account, depending on the circumstances of each case. We do not see why special weight should be attached to the existence of a creation agreement. The tests for confirmation of

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public path extinguishment orders made under the provisions in the Bill are the same as those under existing legislation, and for good reason: they are fair all round, adequate, rigorous and have stood the test of time. We hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, will not press the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 369 and 381 would widen the right to apply for certain closure and diversion orders beyond a level which the Government consider acceptable. The rationale for the Bill's provisions was set out in the consultation paper, which explained that the primary objective was to overcome the difficulties experienced by land managers in obtaining diversions in the interest of the efficient management of their business, even where there was no apparent detriment to the public interest. That proposal did not go down well; half of the respondents were opposed to it. But we believe that there is a good case for a provision to assist those concerned to manage their land productively to gain a reasonable economic return.

The scope of the provisions is drawn as widely as we believe to be reasonable. It covers all land which is used for agricultural purposes, for forestry and for the keeping and breeding of horses. The term "agriculture" as defined in Section 329 of the Highways Act includes a wide range of activities--for example, horticulture, fruit growing, use of land as market gardens and nursery grounds, seed growing, the breeding and keeping of livestock, and so on.

In these provisions, the Government have sought to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the public and those of people with rights of way across the land on which they depend for an income. These provisions have not been popular in all quarters and many organisations representing users of rights of way have criticised the whole of Part II of the Bill--indeed, I have heard that today--as being more concerned with closing rights of way than improving them. We do not accept that. We believe that the overall balance is about right and that it will generate improvements to the rights of way system, but we would be unwilling to extend the provisions in new Sections 118ZA and 119ZA beyond their current scope.

Amendment No. 419 was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The amendment seeks to enable local authorities to make schemes comprising a number of public path orders--which would come to be confirmed as a whole or not at all--where the desirability of improvements to their rights of way network has been identified in their rights of way improvement plan. The noble Lord contends that this would be useful in ensuring the success of schemes for circular walks.

I am by no means opposed to circular walks. I was brought up on the little books brought out by London Transport just before the war--threepence each, they were--which described walks around London by tube or by bus. As a child I remember going on a number of these walks. The idea that one could come back to the same place and get the bus back from Potters Bar or wherever was very attractive. However, the noble Lord's

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suggestion sits awkwardly with the existing procedures for making public path orders, which also underpin the new public path order powers in the Bill.

The noble Lord cited the Ramblers' Association as supporting the amendment. In my briefing from the Ramblers' Association it says that the amendment to introduce omnibus path order schemes should be resisted. The value of rationalisation schemes has been questioned by the Commissioner for Local Administration, and they have an unhappy and costly reputation. The noble Lord should go back to his advisers on that.

The existing procedure is regarded generally as fair and open. It provides for anyone with an interest to object.

Lord Northbourne: My expressions were more of hope than confidence.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I understand that. It is important for inspectors to be independent. We do not want to restrict their powers, for instance, by preventing confirmation orders which otherwise meet the statutory requirements. We are not against the concept of circular walks, as I said, but the system works now. It is not always necessary to use order-making powers. Public footpaths and bridleways can be created by an agreement with the landowner; permissive paths, which we discussed earlier, may form links in a scheme where an owner would rather not have a permanent public right of way. Most public path orders are confirmed without the need for referral to an inspector for a decision on behalf of the Secretary of State. The existing criteria provide that when considering concurrent public path creation and extinguishment orders, an inspector may, when deciding whether to confirm the extinguishment order, have regard to the extent to which the creation order would provide an alternative right of way.

We believe that the existing legislation provides adequately for the kind of schemes that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has described, and I hope that he will not press further for a change to it.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: Before the Minister sits down, I shall not press the amendment at this stage but I shall bring it back later, because, alas, I do not believe that what he is saying corresponds with the facts. I believe that I am right in saying that Kent County Council has over 300 desirable schemes pending which the present legal situation has made it too difficult and expensive to get through. I shall attempt to obtain more information about this and shall correspond with the Minister before the next stage of the Bill. However, it is part of my credentials that I am taking my work on a walking holiday between the Committee and Report stages.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If that means that we shall not be able to meet and talk about the matter, I am sorry. I shall be glad to receive any representations that the noble Lord wants to make.

Lord Glentoran: This has been an interesting debate. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourn, regretted that his amendment was grouped with my amendments, because in essence and in principle I agree to a large extent with what he is proposing. Our information accords with what the Minister said as regards the Ramblers' Association. We certainly understood from the briefings that we received from the association that it was not in agreement with the circular routes at all. On the other hand, other--


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