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Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 192:

("(1A) For the purposes of this section a person shall only be deemed to have lawful authority if in carrying out the activity described in subsection (1) he has due regard to nature conservation.
(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A) the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales shall issue guidance about the nature conservation matters to which regard should be had.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 192, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 193. I shall not detain noble Lords long on this matter. I launched a debate in Committee on the question of lawful authority when authority is given to four-by-fours or motor bikes driving across common land. As I explained in Committee, that has been a serious problem. My noble friend said--I accept the argument--that my suggested definition of "lawful authority" is probably rather difficult to accept in law. Nevertheless, it is an important problem. Landowners cannot simply give authority to people with motorbikes or four-by-fours to drive across common land without proper nature conservation. I hope my noble friend will be able to reassure me that there are provisions in the Bill which will allow local authorities to write to landowners and say that they may give authority for people to ride across common land--which actually wrecks a number of wildlife habitats--but they must be sure that the people are not driving over it in order recklessly to destroy the wildlife habitats.

I hope that my noble friend will be able to give that assurance. I beg to move.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I have considerable difficulties with the noble Lord's amendment which I partly raised when we discussed this issue in Committee. As currently drafted, it would apply to any land, not just common land. Therefore, we have to be careful when considering what the amendment proposes.

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I can assure noble Lords that no one is keener than I to ensure that we have a system which prohibits the illegal use of vehicles on any type of land, footpaths or bridleways. Indeed, we shall come on to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, Amendment No. 193A, which I can assure him I shall wholeheartedly support. But we have to remember that there is another side to this issue. There are those people who enjoy cross-country activities with motor cars or with cross-country bikes.

As I said in Committee, there are plenty of examples of properly organised events taking place with the landowner's permission, no doubt in conjunction with the local authority or with the police, which cause no difficulties whatever. They may create a certain amount of nuisance in terms of noise, but it is only fair and proper that we should consider other minority groups. There has been an all-out attack on all off-road driving despite the fact that there are people who genuinely enjoy the sport. It would be quite wrong of us completely to ignore their interests. My noble friend Lord Glentoran described off-road driving as dangerous and dirty. That is a rather sanitised approach. We are talking about the countryside where we do have tractors, we do have four-wheel drive vehicles and we do have quadbikes going on land in a perfectly legitimate way. It is a messy activity; and if people do not like it, quite frankly, tough.

Having said that, I have some sympathy for what the noble Lord is saying. However, we have designated areas where nature conservation is well protected and we are to have legislation to give statutory backing to biodiversity. The real nature conservancy concerns are well covered in the Bill. Therefore, I think that the amendment is intrusive, restrictive and unnecessary.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I understand the quarter from which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is coming. In Committee I spoke on behalf of 4x4 drivers. My noble friend Lord Peel said that my noble friend Lord Glentoran described off-road driving as a dirty sport. In fairness to my noble friend Lord Glentoran, he was referring to the dirt coming back onto the road. That is what my noble friend was saying--not that he regarded it as a dirty sport. In the debate on the previous group of amendments we discussed the problem of vehicles that had been over rough ground coming back onto the road and leaving mud on it and making it slippery, so making it dangerous for other road users. I support what was said by my noble friend Lord Peel and so I shall not repeat it.

Perhaps I may make another point to the noble Lord, Lord Williams. As the House will know, farming is currently facing great difficulties. Farmers are being asked to diversify. Some farmers get quite an income from having organised events on their land. Therefore, I would have some difficulty in supporting the amendment.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, would such organised events require temporary planning permission or

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would people living alongside a field that had been let out by a farmer have to endure the noise and chaos that would be caused?

Baroness Byford: My Lords, as far as I am aware--I look to the Minister for help on this point--planning permission is not needed. Normally, it is done in an organised way through agreement with local people. I do not think that planning permission is needed. However, I may be wrong.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may answer that specific question. Where an event crosses a highway or byway, it requires local authority approval. Other than that, lawful authority from the landowner is enough.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I rise only to say that, as I hate the sound of the internal combustion engine, I am totally opposed to the position taken by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the Opposition.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I find myself torn on this matter. I have some sympathy with the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Williams in relation to the problem of the potential impact on nature conservation. On the other hand, one has to recognise, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, indicated, that motor vehicles of various types are used for recreation in the countryside with relatively few problems. No one is saying that we should have a complete ban on the use of vehicles for recreation.

If read literally, my noble friend's amendments could affect land other than land directly concerned with nature conservancy and would fall into the difficulties identified by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. We have some sympathy regarding the substantive issues to which my noble friend spoke, but I am satisfied that there are already extensive controls to protect both habitats and species and that those controls will be substantially increased as a result of the Bill. Owners and occupiers will be required to obtain the consent of the conservation agencies before carrying out operations identified as potentially damaging. We are strengthening the protection against unauthorised use of SSSIs for driving or other purposes by introducing an offence of deliberate damage or disturbance to an SSSI. That will replace the power to make nature conservation orders.

In relation to planning--this relates to the temporary use of land for events--there is a further protection for SSSIs. There is a general planning permission for the temporary use of land for motor cars and motorcycle racing for up to 14 days in any calendar year, but that does not apply to land notified as an SSSI. So where event organisers propose to hold an event such as that on an SSSI, they will have to ask for planning permission. Therefore, the conservation concerns are protected. As well as their planning powers, local authorities can use traffic regulation orders to deal with vehicles on rights of way. In many parts of the country, including the national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and nature

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reserves, such orders can be made to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area. That could include the restriction of vehicular use. The Bill will extend that power to SSSIs and to Greater London. It will also clarify that natural beauty in that context includes flora, fauna and geological and geographical features and will give local authorities broadly similar powers to those existing in the specialised areas over unclassified roads in other areas. There are also strong measures to protect species, whether or not they are within SSSIs. Therefore, I think that the nature conservation concern lying behind my noble friend's amendment is well addressed.

Looking more widely at the problems of vehicular use, there are also more general controls. For example, in exceptional circumstances, local authorities can make directions to withdraw general planning permission relating to temporary use of land. There are also by-law making powers.

There are substantial existing powers in this area. In any case my noble friend's amendment would go wider than his original intention. However, the particular about which my noble friend and the whole House are concerned--the nature conservation point--is adequately covered by the combination of existing powers and the powers which are enhanced, mainly in Part III of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that he will not pursue the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, if the species that are to be protected under the forthcoming amendments in Part III, should they be passed, fall outside an SSSI, which government department will be responsible for dealing with the scenario raised by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel? If the off-road driving damaged a ground nesting bird, who would be responsible? Would it be a government department or the local authority which had not paid due regard to the conservation of biological diversity?

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