Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Renton: My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment for a further reason. To provide that any land within 15 yards of a road is a place where people can, in effect, create a right of way for their vehicles is to open up a tremendous amount of land which one normally seeks to protect. I would have thought that the Government should seriously consider accepting the amendment.

Lord Monro of Langholm: I also support the amendment. To pursue the point about deterrence raised by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, I cannot imagine a greater deterrent to a 17 or 18 year-old lad than the loss of his motorcycle. This has been a very effective measure in dealing with poachers in Scotland; not only rods, reels and all the salmon in the boot but also the motorcar can be confiscated. That has been a very big deterrent in stopping poachers. Perhaps in this context we are considering similar people who use four-wheel-drive vehicles where they should not. I believe that to deal only with four-wheel-drive vehicles narrows it too much. If it referred simply to motor vehicles it would cover both motorcycles and even two-wheel-drive vehicles with four wheels. It is important that we accurately define what we seek to ban. We should support this amendment and, if necessary, adjust the drafting to ensure that we catch all the people we wish to.

Lord Monson: I also support the amendments. En passant, I am delighted that both the Bill as published and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, refer to imperial measures and not wretched metres.

Lord Buxton of Alsa: I also support the amendment, which I believe would have solved a real life drama in

16 Nov 2000 : Column 394

which I was involved last month, about which I wrote to the Minister. There is a heritage walk, which is a glorified footpath, right through the middle of my local nature reserve. To my amazement, I heard a noise like thunder which was created by three young men on motorcycles on a proper footpath which was half a mile from the road. It was the most appalling noise that I had ever heard. They were dressed in black leather and wore orange helmets and all the rest of it. When I pointed out the circumstances to them they became very belligerent. Fortunately, I had with me a lady guest who nudged me in the ribs and said, "For God sake, back off", because they were undoubtedly about to throw me, at the tender age of 83, into the river. This amendment might well have stopped that behaviour.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, given the fact that when we see the rural White Paper shortly the Government will, we believe, support the return of tranquillity and peace to the countryside, I am interested in their response to these amendments. For consistency, I believe that in particular they should support Amendment No. 191. The matter has already been to court and the person concerned has been found guilty of the offence. It is another attempt, which we support, to deal with persistent offenders about whose guilt there can be no question. The amendment may also prevent the introduction of unnecessary bylaws. If there are other mechanisms to deal with these matters we prefer that they should be used.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two separate issues here: first, the penalties under Amendment No. 191; secondly, the distance off a public road under Amendments Nos. 194C and 195. As far as concerns penalties, there are precedents. Section 43 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 empowers the court to make an order of forfeiture of property, including a motor vehicle. That is comparable with the powers which a schoolmaster from South Yorkshire may have over his pupils and, presumably, also his staff. I do not know what a headmaster may do. These powers are available for certain road traffic offences but, broadly, only those which are punishable by imprisonment. I do not know whether for this particular traffic offence it is a good idea to provide for forfeiture of vehicles for something which nobody suggests should be punishable by imprisonment; namely, to drive off a road.

The Government are about to publish a consultation paper as part of a review of the penalties for road traffic offences, including all those contained in the Road Traffic Act 1988. The review will consider whether the current maximum penalties remain appropriate and ensure that any proposed changes to penalties are consistent within the whole sentencing framework. It will include consideration of when the power of forfeiture should be available to the courts in the case of other road traffic offences. I do not believe that in this one case it is desirable to pre-empt the conclusions of the review, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Hardy will not press his amendment.

16 Nov 2000 : Column 395

I turn to the issue of how far off the road a person may drive, which is addressed by Amendments Nos. 194C and 195. Amendment No. 194C extends the offence in Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to where a person drives on to any land within 15 yards of a road, being a road on which a motor vehicle may lawfully be driven, only for the purpose of parking the vehicle on that land. Neither the Bill nor Section 34 criminalises such activity. I do not believe it is right to say that this would create a right of way. We are talking here about driving off the road in order to park.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the Minister said that Amendment No. 194C referred in effect only to parking, but in the way that it is phrased it goes much further. It provides:


    "It is not an offence under this section to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on any land within fifteen yards of a road ... for the purpose only of parking the vehicle on that land".

In order to park where he wants the driver may drive a very long distance within 15 yards of the road and, surely, that should not be tolerated.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that I have accurately described the terms of the provision. If the driver intends to park, presumably he does not leave the road very much earlier than is necessary for that purpose. I rest my case.

Amendment No. 195 would make it an offence to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle more than five yards from a road. At the moment, one can drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on common land, moorland or land of any other description within 15 yards of a road, being a road on which a motor vehicle may be driven, for the purpose only of parking that vehicle on that land.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, talked about poachers. There are much more common cases than poachers. People drive off the road for all sorts of reasons. They may drive off to take a break when they are tired, because the vehicle has broken down or because they have run out of petrol. They may drive off to admire the view or to park before going for a walk in the countryside. These are the actual reasons why people drive off the road.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I am not sure the noble Lord understands what I was saying. I was actually supporting the case. In Scotland it is impossible to impound the car, fishing rod and other equipment from a poacher. That shows just how important the deterrent is.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall not venture into Scotland since the Bill is concerned with England and Wales. Given the kind of reason why someone might drive off a road, I wonder whether it is desirable to restrict the permission to five yards. It could make it impossible to drive off the road for any of these quite legitimate purposes; for example, without parking partly on the carriageway. It could make it difficult to do so without damaging sightlines

16 Nov 2000 : Column 396

or the passage of other vehicles. Many roads on which motor vehicles may lawfully be driven are quite narrow. I do not think that 15 yards is unreasonable. The distance has been 15 yards for a long time. I would prefer 15 metres pace the noble Lord, Lord Monson. But we have not done that.

Perhaps I may give the results of some research which has been done in the department. When the Road Traffic Act 1930 was passing through Parliament, the then Minister of Transport, Herbert Morrison, resisted an amendment-- needless to say from the Conservative Benches--to extend the distance from 15 to 30 yards; in other words, in the opposite direction. He said:


    "Surely it is reasonable, if a person is driving in the country, that, instead of leaving his motor in the road, he should be entitled, as long as there is no prohibition against it, to put the car on the edge of an open space. It is better for the clearance of traffic, and it discourages him from going farther.


    I think that 15 yards is quite sufficient, and will give adequate space for all the cars that are likely to be parked on these particular spaces".--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee C, 27/3/30; col. 383.]

I rest my case with Herbert Morrison's words.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, merely because historically the confiscation of vehicles has been associated with offences for which imprisonment is provided, why should we continue to be caught on that historical precedent? Surely, we should move forward. No one wants to increase the number of offences for which imprisonment is available, but it does not seem to be a logical or valid objection to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is exactly why I did not say that it was sacrosanct and that it would continue. I said that it was subject to a review. It is better for the review to take into account all the cases and assure a coherent approach to penalties in road traffic law.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the debate. I refer first to Amendment No. 195. It was tabled as a probing amendment because I was curious about the 15 yards. I recognise that we cannot provide parking places at frequent intervals in rural Britain. It would cost too much and people have to park. But I was puzzled about the 15 yards. I am puzzled about how long the 15 yards stretch of parking may be and whether another illegal green lane will be established. I accept the point that the law, as it is, recognises 15 yards. However, I would point out to my noble friend that when Herbert Morrison defended 15 yards there were only about 10 per cent of the motor vehicles in the country that there are today. So the problem may suggest that a slightly more cautious approach would be available. I shall certainly be happy to withdraw Amendment No. 195.

I am more concerned about Amendment No. 191. We are likely to be sending a bad and inadequate message to the off-road vehicle users who risk their

16 Nov 2000 : Column 397

lives and limbs and cause a great deal of nuisance and damage to many areas of our country and to many hundreds of thousands of people. I put the proposal that the vehicle should be confiscated, not merely as an alternative to prison or a heavy fine and a long-standing burden on a young person's back but to perhaps stop that young person causing mayhem or injuring himself.

I hope that the review will be sensible--I believe that my amendment is--and will not take too long. When the review concludes, I hope that it will not take long for any sensible proposals it may make to be dealt with. If we are concerned about the countryside and people enjoying it, we should seek to apply a little common sense to deal with a problem that need not have arisen and could easily be reduced. I may come back to the subject at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page