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The Earl of Onslow: Earlier in the evening we had a debate on "quiet enjoyment", on which the Committee accepted an amendment against the advice of my noble friend Lord Ullswater. What struck me forcefully listening to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Derwent was the lack of interest shown by local authority and county surveyors, or other people who make the requisite traffic orders, in stopping cross-country motorcycles or four-wheel drives, which are not only the great disturbers of the peace of footpaths, but are also worse than horses in churning them up.
If we are keen to go down the "quiet enjoyment" route, which we obviously are, this seems to me to be an eminently sensible way of reinforcing it. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that we should pass into law an Act which allows the regulation of a footpath to stop halfway up a mountain because of some obscure county boundary and a difference in traffic authority. It must be logical to do what my noble friend suggests, and I strongly support the amendment.
The network totals over 12,000 miles in the 10 original national parks plus the Broads. Thus it is necessary that, because of its scale and importance, the rights of way network has the most effective administration possible, and the amendments of my noble friend Lord Derwent seek to ensure that that happens in the way the panel recommended.
One of the central management challenges in the national parks is maintaining the rights of way network as visitor pressure increases, particularly on the more popular routes, including some of the long distance trails. That task takes up a large proportion of the resources of the national park authorities, which are best placed to address that challenge. It is therefore surprising that four national park authoritiesthe Brecon Beacons, the Peak District, the North Yorkshire Moors and Snowdoniado not have the full range of responsibilities for public rights of way over all or parts of their areas.
Where national park authorities have had responsibility, they have demonstrated their fitness for the task and some now have more than two decades of experience of successfully managing rights of way. It is now time, especially in the light of local government reorganisation in England and Wales, to give all national park authorities responsibility for rights of way, as these amendments provide.
Lord Renton: My noble friend Lord Derwent is right in what he suggests in Amendments Nos. 259B and 259C. However, I have some doubt as to whether Amendment No. 259A is really necessary. In paragraph 11 of the ninth schedule we find that the previous law under the Highways Act 1980,
Lord Renton: I am much obliged to my noble friend. That brings me onto my next point, on which I speak with some experience. Under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, before any footpath or other right of way could be acknowledged in law as a right of way for the public, there had to be a judicial inquiry in front of the Quarter Sessions. Those proceedings were highly controversial. I never heard such hard swearing between old people of the same generation as one would find sometimes in those cases. There would be one old man who said that he had always been allowed to go there and pick blackberries or gather bird-nests. Another old man would say that he had tried to do so but had always been turned away. One generally found that there was some personal reason for the antagonism between the old people. The court sometimes had a very difficult decision to take. I speak from experience because I was retained by one of the East Anglian county councils in such cases under that Act. Has my noble friend Lord Ullswater any information on whether many cases are still likely to arise within the national parks in which the public right of way was disputed. If there are such cases, we must be quite sure that there will remain, after the Bill is
Having said all that, it is important that the various matters to which my noble friend Lord Derwent referred, once it is established that there is a right of way, should be carefully defined as a responsibility of the national park authority for each national park. Therefore, whether or not these amendments are vital, we deserve to have some clarification from my noble friend.
Lord Marlesford: I would like very strongly and briefly to support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Derwent. It is absolutely crucial that the national parks should have the role referred to. It should be an integral part of the reform in order to allow them in their new form to do their job properly, particularly as regards general access and enjoyment of the parkswhether or not "quiet enjoyment" is concerned. I believe that if the Bill were to become an Act without that provision it would be very defective and a great opportunity would have been missed. I hope that my noble friend will support it.
Lord Williams of Elvel: I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in particular Amendment No. 259C. As I have explained on a previous occasion to the Committee, I have some experience of common land and the problems associated with enforcing rights of way on it. I believe that it is the same problem which exists as regards national parks.
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Derwent, that the national park authority should have authority. Nevertheless, there needs to be a clear definition of what is a footpath and what is a bridleway. In Amendment No. 259C there is reference to the road traffic regulations. In my experience bridleways are ways on which a horse can be ridden and not a motor-powered vehicle driven. I shall be grateful for the comments of the noble Viscount on this point. It is all very well to say that a bridleway which passes my house in Wales is only a bridleway and cannot be used by motor cars, motor cycles or four-wheeled vehicles but only by horses or horse-drawn vehicles. But it is very difficult to put that obligation on a national park authority when the definition of the bridleway is not observed by other local authorities.
I support these amendments, but I see certain difficulties in enforcing the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has raised in Amendment No. 259C as regards road traffic regulations on rights of way.
Viscount Ullswater: Perhaps I may deal at the outset with the question of my noble friend Lord Renton. He asked me whether there were any cases in national parks where public rights of way are disputed. Without notice I cannot answer my noble friend. I shall write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
I recognise the support that my noble friend Lord Derwent has secured for the amendments. I have every sympathy with what he is trying to achieve. In our policy statement Fit for the Future we recognise the
Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to intervene at this stage, but the Minister mentioned the policy statement Fit for the Future. I take it that that is a different statement from the Edwards Panel statement which is also entitled Fit for the Future. Am I correct?
To achieve this, we also indicated that, where highway authorities had not delegated rights of way management responsibilities to national park authorities, we would invite them to do so. That remains our policy, and as part of the process for establishing the new authorities, we shall be writing to each relevant highway authority asking it to consider positively its relationship to the new national park authorities and to enter into agency agreements to delegate rights of way work where that has not already been done. Those agreements will enable the national park authorities to continue to protect and promote recreational rights of way in a way which can be tailored to meet particular circumstances of the park.
We have, however, no plans for the time being to redistribute statutory responsibilities for the rights of way network to national park authorities, nor do we have any plans to give them the same powers as a traffic authority. Also, we do not consider it appropriate to amend the provisions regarding the preparation of definitive maps on a piecemeal basis.
Our reasons are that we believe the integrity of the highway network and its management should be maintained and that this should be through the mechanism of a common highway authority. The management of traffic at all levels needs to be considered comprehensively. Highway authorities and national park authorities will need to work together in close co-operation to ensure that this is so. We believe that this will be better achieved through the current institutional arrangements.
We recognise that there could be advantage in having more explicit traffic management policies, prepared by the highway authorities after close consultation with the national park authorities. Existing provisions, such as traffic regulation orders, offer considerable scope for imaginative schemes.
Noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who has indicated the problems, will be aware that the boundary between those highways marked on the definitive map as byways and a range of unclassified
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