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Viscount Colville of Culross: Could the Minister go on for one further moment? Underlying all that is a problem with which I am familiar; that is, the establishment of the existence or character of rights of way on a definitive map. Plainly, it is taking much too long to come to a decision about these things. That is one reason for the difference of dates and why we have this problem in the first place. Is there anything that the Government can dowhile being fair, reasonable and balanced, as I appreciate that they areto try and speed that process up? I know that it is a matter of evidence and hearings, and a matter for the Planning Inspectorate to consider. However, is there no way at all
Lord Bach: I want to give the noble Viscount an answer, but I should interrupt him for a moment. I am not absolutely certain to which aspect he is referring. Is it to local authorities and the way that they deal with these issues, or have I misheard him?
Viscount Colville of Culross: Yes, I am referring to them. Local authorities have to create the definitive map and amend it in accordance with claims. Then the process starts; they have to listen to the evidence and have public inquiries. The process is very lengthy. Can the Government do anything to speed up that exercise, either by means of resources or by giving some priority in the Planning Inspectorate to advance the dates of those hearings? I appreciate that that is not easy. I remember well that you have to listen to all sorts of evidence, from many sources. Nevertheless, it has plainly got bogged down. I wonder whether another approach might, on the whole, help the problem by speeding up the process of amending the definitive map that is a joint exercise between the Planning Inspectorate and the local authorities.
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Viscount for raising that issue. I think that I said in my speechhe may have missed thisthat there have been cases where local authorities have taken so long that they have actually gone outside the period allowed. That is of course neither acceptable nor fair to claimants, whether they are justified or not. In any event, these things seem to take a long time and, standing here, I have no answer as to what we can do.
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However, I would welcome the chance of writing to the noble Viscount when I have had a chance to consider what the possibilities are for moving local authorities forward in this regardfor they have many different responsibilities. One reason that we have a difference of opinion on the date when extinguishment should begin, as he mentioned, is that local authorities have taken so long to deal with those issues.
Baroness Byford: While the Minister is being passed a message on that, could he accept that part of the problem is that there are so many demands on the local authorities at present, when in the past this has not been considered a high priority? They have had other things to do. Another key thing is that there are often insufficient people filling those posts within the local authoritiesparticularly in the planning section, if that is where it is dealt with. There is also not enough money; it comes back to money. I do not know whether a message has been sent down that more money would be made available; that would certainly speed them on.
The Minister did not reply to my question about how many claims were single or multiple, and how many were outstanding. He did not raise that, while I raised the fact that there were somewhere between 992 and 996; those were the government figures as at 17 January in response to a Written Question by my noble friend. Presumably some have come in since then. It is really quite a big problem, and the noble Viscount is right to raise it. Can the Minister come back on my question as well? That would be helpful to the Committee.
Lord Bach: Local authorities have a right to allocate their scarce resources in any way that they choose. These claims are often contentious; that point was already made. We are sure that the legislation will help in the long run. As I understand it, the Countryside Agency is also looking at ways of assisting where this is concerned. As for the number of BOAT claims outstanding, on 19 May 2005 it was 207, while on 20 January 2005 it was 495 and on 9 December 2003 it was 992.
Lord Bradshaw: We have had a long and interesting debate. I start off by saying that the law has to be an enforceable one. We need to have a law which is understood by the people who have to enforce itnamely, police or wardens with police powers. In the area of the Thames Valley from which I come, we have one police constable to enforce the law on raves; he has now successfully used ASBOs to stop people making raves. We have hare-coursing too, and the misuse of byways by mechanically propelled vehicles. That is one of the most difficult parts of the law to enforce, as it is always extremely difficult to understand and to tell whether people are doing right or wrong.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to opportunistic claims, which is one of our great worries in the countryside movement. I put my name to the
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amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, concerning 2003 to recognise the fact that such claims were opportunistic. They were not, in fact, claims that had been long in people's minds but were, in many cases, very rough claims submitted by people against the deadline that they knew was coming.
I now come to the nub of the issue. In our debate, reference has been made to sharing out access to the countryside between the walker, the horse rider, the cyclist and people who drive four-wheeled and scramble motorbikes. In fact, you cannot share it out like that. Use by one destroys the possibility of the others enjoying it. In this instance, use by one makes it impossible for the disabled or people who find it difficult to get along to use their rights of way in anything like normal winters, when it can be expected to be wet. It has not been wet this winter, but in normal winters it is. Not just the disabled in wheelchairs but people who are a little frail on their pins will be in danger of falling over.
We must be aware that because the use of motor vehicles is noisy and intrusive on many of those rights of way, it is not possible for others to enjoy the countryside in peace and quiet. I also rather object to the idea that motorcyclists and four-wheel drivers only want a small percentage of the green lanes. As I imagine that 90 per cent of lanes are hardly used by anybody, they want a part of the proportion of green lanes that are in regular use, and it is a much bigger percentage of those. It is probably a lot of them and it will have a great effect.
I am very grateful for the Minister's reply. I am cheered by many things that he said. He has promised to take away some of the issues that we hold most dear. In Amendment No. 319, we seek to amend what the Government propose in Amendment No. 318. We just think that we have got the provision a little better. That was our only point there. As it is, I shall not press the amendment, but we shall take away what the Minister has said and think carefully about it. We are in absolute agreement about the larger part of Part 6 and there is no major disagreement between us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Notwithstanding subsection (1), a driver who is disabled such that the only method by which he can obtain access to the countryside is by the use of a mechanically propelled vehicle specially adapted to his disability may continue to use that vehicle on a public right of way to which this section applies."
The noble Lord said: I cannot help but feel that some of the discussion on the previous group of amendments has pre-empted what I intended to say. My intention was that having, so to speak, shut the door, we should test exactly how tightly it has been shut and whether there are cases to consider, especially concerning disabled people and whether they can use these roads.
Amendment No. 316 deals with the question of the disabled. It is a probing amendment and I recognise that it is not ideal, but I tabled it in the hope of persuading the Government that there is an issue that they ought to consider and to invite them to take it away to see whether they could do something to enable disabled access. I do not want to pursue the cause of what I would call a general classification of disability, which is far too wideI gather that 8 million people in the country are in one way or another classified as disabled. I do not intend to talk about 8 million people. I intend to talk about those people who could gain access to the countryside only in an adapted vehicle or a wheelchair.
Having listened to the previous debate, it occurs to me that we need to ask whether a mechanically propelled wheelchair is a mechanically propelled vehicle. That may seem an interesting question, but of course a mechanically propelled wheelchair is, in a sense, a mechanically propelled vehicle. If the effect of the Bill is to prevent people using those rights of way in mechanically propelled wheelchairs, we have a real problem because they could come to the end of the track, or whatever, and be able to go no further. There is a question of legal definition here and I hope that the Minister will consider that issue, if he considers nothing else.
There are people who are unable to walk who like to get out into the countryside. Often, they are able to drive a conventional vehicle, which makes the matter especially complicated, because one does not want completely to reopen the gate having closed it. They can take a conventional vehicle and drive it up one of these lanes, get their mechanically propelled wheelchair out of the back of the vehicle and enjoy the countryside. There is a real danger that we prevent them doing that. Because that awkward situation exists, I thought that, at the very least, it bears discussion. I introduced the amendment to try to persuade the Minister that that is worth taking up as a case, to see whether something can be done to ensure that disabled people are able to continue to enjoy the countryside as they have done using those lanes.
My second amendment was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, when he talked about access for sporting events. A class of sporting events takes
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place occasionally in the countryside. One can think immediately of things such as point-to-points, clay pigeon shoots for charity and angling competitions, for which those lanes are often quite the most suitable and sometimes the only means of access. Once again, one would not wish to restrict those activities. Amendment No. 317 was tabled simply to enable the Minister to explain, if he will forgive me for asking the question, what the limits on this access are, because it seems to me that the occasional use of these rights of way for access to what could be a sizeable public event should be acceptable. If the ban is absolute, it would not be. That might be quite difficult for some countryside events if a right of way that was used perhaps only once a year could not be used. As I said, I tabled Amendment No. 317 to explore those two issues.
I see that my amendments have been grouped with several amendments which I have no intention of attempting to deal with, but which all run along the same line of what I would call exceptions, be they major or minor. I beg to move.
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