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Lord Kimball: I support my noble friend's amendment. It is essential that we come to an agreement about this issue, otherwise it will be hanging over us for a very long time. A period of 25 years is far too long. It is only fair to the owners and occupiers of land that we should have a date to work to. The date should be brought forward to 2016, as proposed in my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Whitty: The aim of these clauses is to encourage local authorities to complete the historic record of rights of way in the interests of the general public and of all those who have rights of way crossing their land. The record of local authorities so far and the certainty that exists has not been good. The clauses are therefore essential if we are to achieve the overall
The proposals in their present form and in their previous form have not proved universally popular. As the noble Baroness said, our consultation paper originally proposed a 10-year period for the submission of claims. More than 75 per cent of respondents opposed that proposal, many on principle and others on the grounds that 10 years was nowhere near long enough.
We considered the various options, including the Countryside Commission's recommendation that individual maps should be closed only on an ad hoc basis after the historic network had been researched and recorded to a high standard against agreed criteria. We also took account of the backlog of work that already exists.
It should be borne in mind that the Government's original proposal for a 10-year deadline related only to claims based solely on historic documentary evidence. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that these historic routes are vital, whether they are used or not. On the other hand, we have to find out whether there are claims to routes based on deemed dedication--that is, do people use them? In many cases it has been difficult to distinguish between the two. We therefore had to have a time period and a process which covered both types of rights of way.
I agree that it is necessary to have a deadline on the face of the Bill, but realistically it is not possible for that deadline to be 10 or 15 years. We believe that it should be 25 years, although a number of people, including the Liberal Democrats, feel that 25 years may be too short. We believe that 25 years is the target we should work to. The task is achievable in that time, provided that priority is given to it and provided, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, pointed out, that the resources are allocated to it. That has not been the case in the past.
As the issue of resources has been referred to, it would be useful to put on record that the costs and benefits of the proposals for Part II have been assessed. We estimate that the cost of Part II to local authorities would be up to £19 million per year. The department will cover those costs. The main element of local authority funding will be started probably in 2002-03 to coincide with the implementation of most of the provisions of Part II of the Bill. The figure of £19 million is not far from the local authorities' own estimate of the cost. I can commit the Government to meeting those costs, thereby underlining our commitment to ensuring that local authorities can meet the 25-year deadline. Given the complexities of the matter, the 15-year deadline referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment would not be achievable even with those resources. I hope that she will not pursue the amendment.
Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response. I am glad to hear his confirmation that it was the Government's original intention that the period should be 10 years. Perhaps I may address that point first.
One matter that worries us on these Benches is that attempts to deal with issues that need tackling--and we give the Government credit for addressing them--may well not come to fruition if we do not readily acknowledge that they need tackling quickly. I understand where the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, is coming from. In purely political terms she would oppose any cut-off date; she would not want to see a cut-off point in 20, 30 or even 50 years' time. I respect her view, although I do not share it. I believe that I have not misunderstood the noble Baroness in saying that she would set no time limit at all.
My concern is that, unless local authorities are given strong direction on this matter, as the noble Lord said, they will probably get round to starting it in 2002 and 2003--a further two years down the line. The difficulty that I have with not setting a timetable that is possible to achieve is that matters will be allowed to drift, as they have in recent years. Surely in this age of modern technology and support we can get to grips with this matter.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Before the noble Baroness leaves that point, it is probably wrong to attribute to ideology our wish not to see the cut-off date brought forward. It is not a matter of political ideology; it is a question of practicality. Many Conservative-run county councils have equal backlogs.
Will the noble Baroness accept the point that, if the cut-off date is brought forward, although those footpaths that are on the map may remain footpaths, and bridleways may remain bridleways, the difficult-to-prove historic links will be lost. The point of the 75 per cent representation mentioned by the Minister featured heavily--the fact that the network would remain fragmented. It was as much the point about fragmentation as any other that came over strongly in those representations. Will the noble Baroness accept the fact that, although, as she said, it may be of limited benefit to landowners and occupiers to have a longer cut-off date, if what we are seeking is an overall improvement to the whole network, we need to be sure that it is a complete network? A longer period before the cut-off is more likely to ensure that.
Baroness Byford: I do not necessarily agree with the noble Baroness's final proposition--that the longer one has, the more one is likely to achieve the goal. I was not making a party-political point; it was a point made by the noble Baroness's noble friend in saying that she was personally opposed to any timescale.
The thrust of my argument is that, if the Government are intending to provide money--the noble Lord mentioned a figure of £90 million--would it not be much more practical in getting things going if we keep a shorter timescale, even if more money is provided in the first instance, to achieve the goal? My fear is that year one comes, year two comes, and all local authorities, whether Conservative, Labour or Liberal, are under pressure, as I know very well. They have so many other matters with which they must deal. The Government originally sought a cut-off point after 10 years; we on these Benches feel that 25 years is too long; I should have thought that a provision for a period of 15 years, with the right finance, so that we can actually get to the base of this matter was important. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The government proposals originally suggested a 10-year period after which the definitive map would be closed to future claims that rights of way exist on the basis of historic evidence. The Bill extends this time to 25 years. Clause 52(2) would allow a further extension of time beyond 2026. With this additional provision, doubt arises as to the Government's desire to accomplish what would be a major improvement to reduce the uncertainty behind the rights of way system.
A cut-off date should be a date after which the rights of way cannot be added to the definitive map. It should not be a movable feast. There is a need to call a halt to the process of establishing rights of way by claims and instead to use creation agreements and orders to link up, upgrade and improve the network taking account of modern recreational and land management needs. This cannot be achieved if every time the cut-off date comes close it is moved further into the future. User groups must be encouraged to accept that it is far better to create, let us say, an additional 20,000 miles of paths in places where they are needed than to seek to establish the same additional mileage, often with scant recreational benefit by the process of a claim and counter-claim which involves disproportionate amounts of time taken in research with its associated costs. I beg to move.
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