Clause 2 - Gating orders

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 18 Ionawr 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 12:00, 18 Ionawr 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 10 to 15 and insert

'(3) A council may make such an order to restrict the public right of way where specific evidence exists that—

(a) illegal business activities have been conducted; or

(b) incidents of recorded crime have taken place; and'.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 31, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 12 and 13.

No. 32, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, after 'locality', insert

', with particular regard to persons with a disability that limits their mobility.'.

No. 33, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out

'a reasonably convenient alternative route' and insert

'a route which provides a reasonably convenient alternative route to the public at the times when the gating order will be in force.'.

No. 46, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, at end insert

'(d) the likely effect of making the order on statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in on over or adjacent to the highway.'.

No. 34, in clause 2, page 2, line 30, at end insert

'( ) any highway, any part of which crosses or abuts agricultural land;'.

No. 35, in clause 2, page 2, line 43, at end insert

'; or where the highway is the only or principal means of access to any premises or land used for business.'.

No. 47, in clause 2, page 2, line 43, at end insert

'or the exercise of any right by a statutory undertaker'.

No. 36, in clause 2, page 3, line 11, at end insert

', provided that any such order shall require that the barrier be maintained in an open position during any such times as the restriction is not in force.'.

No. 37, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, at end insert 

', provided that the installation of such a barrier does not restrict access to the highway during such times as the restriction is not in force to the extent that any previous legitimate use of the highway is prevented.'.

No. 48, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, at end insert

'(7A) A council installing, operating or maintaining any barrier authorised under subsection 6 shall ensure at all times access through the barrier for statutory undertakers.'.

No. 49, in clause 2, page 3, line 22, at end insert

'and statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in on over or adjacent to the highway.'.

No. 38, in clause 2, page 3, line 37, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 39, in clause 2, page 4, line 6, at end insert

'; or no longer complies in relation to it'.

No. 40, in clause 2, page 4, leave out lines 7 and 8.

No. 41, in clause 2, page 4, line 26, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 42, in clause 2, page 4, line 30, at end insert

'(d) the posting and maintenance at entry points to any highway subject to a gating order of a notice stating the nature of the restriction of the right of way and the times when the restriction is in force.'.

No. 43, in clause 2, page 4, line 33, at end insert

'; excepting those persons who would be identified for the purposes of sections 129F(4) and 129F(6)(b) below.'.

No. 10, in clause 2, page 4, line 39, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 11, in clause 2, page 4, line 44, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 12, in clause 2, page 5, line 2, at end insert

'; and they are satisfied that no variation under subsection (2) above would be expedient in all the circumstances for the purpose of reducing crime or anti-social behaviour.'.

No. 50, in clause 2, page 5, line 32, at end insert,

'''statutory undertaker'' means—

(1) the person by whom a relevant statutory right is exercisable (in the capacity in which it is exercisable by him); or

(b) a person having permission under section 109 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c. 22) to execute road works, as the case may be references to an undertaker having apparatus in on over or adjacent to the highway, or to the undertaker to whom apparatus belongs, shall be construed accordingly.''.'.

No. 13, in clause 2, page 5, line 19, at end insert

'(d) the periodic reviewing of gating orders with respect to their continuing expediency in all the circumstances for the purpose of reducing crime or anti-social behaviour; and with respect to the requirements of subsections (2) and (3) above.'.

No. 44, in clause 2, page 5, line 19, at end add

'(d) the reviewing of gating orders following requests from a person who would be identified for the purposes of subsections (4) and (6)(b) above.'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Just for clarification, as these amendments are quite specific, I will seek a short debate on clause 2 stand part, if that is in order. I will therefore curtail my comments to simply moving the amendments at this stage.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to delete the text of lines 10 to 12 in proposed new section 129A of the original Government proposal in clause 2 that introduces a new part 8A, ''Restriction of rights over highway''. We are seeking clarification from the Minister of the   circumstances under which the Government will take evidence, and what the weight of that evidence will be, to conclude that illegal business activities have been conducted. Also, what precautions will be taken as to who is currently the registered owner of the vehicle?

As drafted, the wording means that we now have a change in the law whereby, even if my vehicle is out of action and I am not seeking to drive it, I am still now required to license and insure it fully, whereas before, if it was so-called ''off the road'', the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority would not require the vehicle to be taxed or insured if it was not being used for a period of six months—or perhaps longer, I am not sure. That is quite a recent change.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I may be wrong, as I am sometimes a little slow on such things, but it seemed to me that the hon. Lady's remarks relate to the vehicle issues that come later, rather than the alley gating issues dealt with by clause 2.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed. However, my understanding is that the gating order, as presently worded, says that

''premises adjoining or adjacent to the highway are affected by the crime'',

''the existence of the highway is facilitating the persistent commission of criminal offences''.

Is the Minister saying that illegal business activities would be excluded under proposed new section 129A for a gating order?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady asks me a direct question. The trouble is, I am not sure I can respond to it as I do not understand the point she is making about vehicles.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

It may be that the matter primarily relates to vehicles, but my understanding is that a gating order could be put in place if the antisocial activity were deemed not just to be youths offending, but a number of vehicles blocking a right of way. I leave that point with the Minister.

The proposed subsection (3)(b) says that

''incidents of recorded crime have taken place''.

Can the Minister say for how long he envisages that the recorded crime will have taken place? I gather that he has persistent activity in mind, so perhaps he could give an indication of the thinking on persistent activities and incidents of recorded crime. The intention of the amendment is to elicit from him an explanation of how the reference to

''persistent commission of criminal offences or anti-social behaviour'' in proposed new section 129A(3)(b) to the Highways Act 1980 Act, on gating orders, will be interpreted. Is he saying that illegal business activities will be completed excluded and that abandoned vehicles will be treated only under clause 3, which I understand to relate to abandoned vehicles and the sale of vehicles?

My concern is that, under clause 2, someone who, for example, fails to sell a car and then goes on holiday may be deemed to be blocking. However, if that issue is   best considered under clause 3, we can do so in a clause stand part debate. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how

''persistent commission of criminal offences'' will be interpreted.

Amendment No. 46 would insert a new subsection (4)(d) in proposed new section 129A on

''the likely effect of making the order on statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in, on, over or adjacent to the highway.''

I omitted to say that I have a number of interests on the register that may be relevant to the debate, and I apologise profusely for that. I also hold a modest number of BT shares and personal equity plans in other companies, which may be relevant. Amendment No. 46 comes from BT but would also pertain to other utility companies. Would utility companies be presumed to continue to have access if a gating order is issued under section 149A or would there have to be specific provision in each gating order for those companies to have access?

Obviously that does not refer only to telecommunications companies. There could be overhead lines or electricity companies could be involved. Both of those are relevant, given that the high winds that the north of England and Scotland suffered recently brought down overhead electricity and telecommunications wires. Fixed lines are not the only ones affected; mobile telephones are affected as well. A range of utility companies would expect to continue to have access, but the Bill is not clear on what provision would be made for that continued access to be considered.

Equally, to help the Government, amendment No. 47 would mean that

''the exercise of any right by a statutory undertaker'' would not be excluded. Proposed new section 129B(3) to the 1980 Act says:

''A gating order may not be made so as to restrict the public right of way over a highway for the occupiers of premises adjoining or adjacent to the highway.''

That raises various questions. How will the original wording be interpreted? Who will be responsible for policing it? Would the utility company have to apply to the local authority or could it be written into the gating order? If it could be written into the gating order, it would circumvent the whole procedure, and more than one utility company would be involved in each case.

On amendment No. 48, if a physical structure like a barrier is in place, would some means of access, such as an access code, be given to the public utility company to enable it to gain access and go about its business in the normal way? Amendment No. 49 recognises that

''statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in on over or adjacent to the highway'' should continue to have access in relation to proposed new section 129C—the procedure for gating orders—which reads:

''Before making a gating order in relation to a highway a council must notify the occupiers of premises adjacent to or adjoining the highway''. 

How much notice would be given? Does the Minister expect the local authority automatically to contact all interested parties? Would statutory authorities be allowed access at the outset, as we press for, and would that be written on to the face of the gating order?

Amendment No. 50 is tabled in the most positive and constructive spirit possible. I do not see anywhere in the Bill, including in the schedules, any definition of a statutory undertaker. The amendment sets that out in the most comprehensive way possible. It reads:

'''statutory undertaker'' means—

(a) the person by whom a relevant statutory right is exercisable (in the capacity in which it is exercisable by him); or

(b) a person having permission under section 109 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c.22) to execute road works, as the case may be references to an undertaker having apparatus in on over or adjacent to the highway, or to the undertaker to whom apparatus belongs, shall be construed accordingly.''.'.

The amendments are intended to be helpful and constructive. I think that the Minister will see why they are necessary to put the utility companies' minds at rest as to why the Bill is silent on that matter. At present, it simply refers to adjacent properties or informing and consulting the landowner. We would argue rigorously that the Government are obliged to instruct local authorities to consult the utility companies before the gating order is processed to ensure that everyone knows where they stand and legitimate companies can go about their business in the usual way.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 10:45, 18 Ionawr 2005

Amendment No. 2 and our amendment No. 31 deal with similar issues. There is a lack of clarity about the circumstances under which a gating order can be made. We do not support amendment No. 2 because it includes only criminal behaviour. We are concerned whether a gating order would be sufficient to deal with antisocial behaviour. The amendment does not refer to the persistent committing of offences. We are worried that if something had happened once a while ago, only it could become the grounds for a gating order. Therefore, we need to know more about the circumstances in which a gating order will be put in place.

We tabled amendment No. 2 because it is not clear whether paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of proposed new section 129A(3) are an either/or or stand by themselves. If it is this, that and the other, we may be trying to cover too many cases. There is a problem because we want to be able to make a gating order if, for example, people are using an alleyway as an escape route.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am trying to follow the hon. Lady, but to which part of the clause is she referring?

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

To proposed new section 129A(3), which begins:

''Before making a gating order in relation to a relevant highway the council must be satisfied''.

That is followed by paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). I am trying to discover whether they are either/or clauses and to ensure that councils have the necessary powers.   It is possible that the highway referred to may facilitate persistent crimes or antisocial behaviour, or crimes that do not affect the adjoining premises, such as muggings. The highway may be an escape route or there may be fly-tipping in the roads. It would be clear if somebody went up the alleyway and tipped something into one of the gardens, but it would be less clear if the alleyway served no useful purpose and simply encouraged bad behaviour. Therefore, we have tabled the amendment to ensure that a gating order can be imposed in those circumstances.

Amendment No. 32 is straightforward. We are worried that there may be an impact on people with a disability and limited mobility, and we want to ensure that their needs are also taken into account and an assessment made. It is sometimes difficult for somebody with a disability to focus on other things. Life is not always easy in those circumstances, either for them or their carers, and they may not understand the impact of the gating order. Therefore, we want the clause to take account of disabled people. We shall listen to the Minister's response before deciding whether to press the amendment to a vote, but the needs of disabled people are important.

On amendment No. 33, how do we assess what is reasonably convenient, because the aim of the gating orders is not to be hostile or burdensome? Other people, such as cyclists and ramblers, use walkways, snickets, alleyways and byways. We must take into account whether they would have to go a long way round as a result of a gating order.

We support Conservative amendment No. 46 on statutory works by utility companies. The points were well made and we have no difficulty with them. On amendment No. 34, we are concerned because the gating orders seem to relate to urban areas and not to the countryside. We do not want farmers and landowners to think that gating orders will be made across their land willy-nilly. Again, the Minister, with his experience of the Countryside and Right of Way Act 2000, may want to comment on that. We want to be absolutely certain about that. If that is not the Government's intention, then the farmer is going to use it for his own personal convenience without any further justification, thereby limiting the access of people such as walkers and people on cycles who go across his land. We should like more information on that.

Amendment No. 35 would affect not only businesses, but farmers. We have to be certain that we are not restricting access to premises that are used for businesses. It would be wrong not to take their needs into account. We need to give businesses a chance to adjust and to say that there are other options. Most business men and farmers are reasonable people and will probably share similar concerns that lead to the gating order. However, we need to ensure that they have the opportunity to continue to conduct their business without a gating order being put in place that would the have a deleterious effect.

I have a case that has resulted from the Highways Agency's failure to make the access to a farm absolutely clear when some land was sold, and the adjacent farmer effectively now owns complete access to that farm. The Highways Agency had got its map wrong, the farmer was quite elderly and did not notice the error, and the time lapsed in which he could appeal. Consequently, the access to his farm is owned not by the Highways Agency, who should own it, but by the adjacent farmer. It is a ransom strip. Relationships between the farmers are good and amicable, and there is no question about access, but there is the legal right for the new owner of the access to that farm to shut it off with no reference to the farmer. Indeed, he did that when the problem first arose, to prove that he had the right. There was no legal argument subsequently. So we are worried about that.

Farmers should have the right to the same access agreements as those who do not have adjoining and adjacent premises. They should have right of access by means of the key to the gate or a timed access agreement. There needs to be flexibility in that. Probably the way to deal with the problem is in guidance issued by the Government, but we need to ensure that it is covered. I am not sure whether they can deal with the retrospective problem of that ransom strip, but certainly it is something we would like to be considered now or at a later stage.

Amendment No. 36 asks again for a reasonable approach—in other words, that the barrier is not left closed when it is not needed, and that it is left open when the restriction is not in force. The presumption is on access rather than on closure. The gating order would say when the access will be closed and that outside of those times it should be left open. That is a reasonable expectation and, if people are aware of those rules, they will know that they can gain access in that way.

Amendment No. 37 reflects the possible problems arising when a barrier is installed in such a way that the space at the entrance of an alley is restricted by the structure. What sort of access will it affect? How is such a barrier to be put in place? Will it stop wheelchair users, buggies, people on mountain bikes and so on? Again, before deciding whether to press the amendment to a vote, we would be interested to hear the Government's response.

On amendment No. 38, we have concerns about the process whereby a gating order is made. If an order is proposed, it is reasonable that people should be able to consider the matter. We must also consider appeals   and whether an order should stay in force in perpetuity. What processes are there for councils to review orders?

Let us consider proposed new section 129C(1) on page 3 of the Bill. Without a requirement to make regulations, there will be no requirement for a public inquiry. With regard to more controversial cases in which a highway is used regularly as a thoroughfare by people who might not have been notified of the proposed gating order under other provision in the Bill, it is vital that a system is in place to ensure that an order has the community's support. We must involve not only the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and other partnerships, but possibly the emergency services. Is the highway used by ambulances to get to a cottage at the end of the lane? What happens when the emergency services need to get there?

More notice and consultation must be provided in that respect. That is why we propose altering the word ''may'' to ''must'' so as to ensure that such bodies are consulted when regulations are put in place. We cannot allow them to find out later. It would be dreadful if a gating order was put in place and individuals needed to go to the High Court to put right any anomalies. That is a lengthy and expensive process, and it would be completely over the top. It would be a waste of money if it came to light that someone had not picked up early on the fact that they were able to put right a wrong or inquire into it further.

On amendments Nos. 39 and 40, there is a requirement to allow a request to go to a council to review a gating order, but the opportunity for a legal appeal is too narrow. The six-week time limit means that, if an order is made in circumstances in which the council has no power to make it or the requirements were not complied with but the six-week window has closed, it can simply stay in place. Our proposal would allow more time. I am thinking back to the problem with my local farmers. The window has closed and now nothing can be done about it. We must ensure that there is good provision in instances when there is a reason why someone did not know the relevant information or was not able to put the problem right. We want the ability to appeal if circumstances change, on the grounds that the requirements for making an order would no longer be complied with. In fact, we would welcome it if the Government reviewed their approach in a number of respects.

The next provision in the Bill relates to how information is provided. Again, amendment No. 41 would leave out the word ''may'' and insert ''must''. It is essential that we understand how people get to know the information. Information on gating orders is similar to all mapping information. We are talking about street indexes, mapping and who knows the information. How is it made available to the public and others? There is a lack of clarity in the Bill in that regard.

I shall make the wider point by giving a specific example. In Guildford recently, there have been a number of infill developments, including various roads and other developments. From time to time, the little   charmers who have been dispersed as a result of dispersal orders have been dispersed to a new estate. In fact, one of the roads has been there for a couple of years but does not appear on police maps, so when local people, who pay quite a lot of money for the very desirable properties in the area, called the police, they spent 20 minutes looking for the road.

I do not believe that the Bill can deal with the generality of how maps get from A to B, but the specifics are relevant. Anyone who has been to their local police control centre will have watched someone telling the officer dealing with an incident that the group of people involved may have gone through a certain alleyway or directing the police to cut through to the next street because that is where the group is likely to be. That is normal police practice when an incident happens. If the area is gated, the police will not go to the right place; they will be better off getting into their police car, driving to the next street and catching the group there. If a police officer thinks that he will catch people at the top of the estate because they will run through an alleyway, but finds that the alleyway is closed, he will have wasted 20 minutes in trying to catch the people involved. That is a waste of police time and it upsets residents, as my e-mails show. If a gate is closed, that information is needed.

When I asked the police why the road that I have just mentioned was not on their maps, they told me that there were lots of gaps and overlaps in the information provided. Often, the police and the council submit information, and we must ensure that it is handed over in a timely manner. The regulations should ensure that councils reach a sufficient standard in keeping and providing information on gating orders. It is not enough just to do it, and in effect to say, ''That is for me to know and you to find out.'' Ambulance services keep different records from the police and the fire services use the county records, which are obtained where they are cheapest, from Ordnance Survey, and not when the gating order is made or there are changes to the roads.

We must ensure that radio operators, who have to take a lot of decisions, can deal with the situation. They are required to get on the telephone, talk to the police and get on to the next job. We want them to have good, clear information. We did not table an amendment at this stage to deal with the matter, as geographical information systems are complex. I suspect that many economies could be made in the public services by specifying standards and sharing information that would be dealt with more appropriately elsewhere, but when changes are made in the regulations, the authority should provide the information within a fixed time scale so that the police, the ambulance service and other emergency services have that information to hand.

Amendment No. 42 would ensure that when a gating order is in place people know when the gate will be open, which is important for the statutory undertakers, walkers and delivery people. There are all sorts of reasons why people need timely information, which should be available to everyone. The proposal makes it clear that it refers to an alley subject to a   gating order, rather than to a private alley. That is an important legal difference, because we are not referring to households that may have access through the gate taking over ownership of the alley, which may belong to someone else. It is important to say to whom it belongs and what rules relate to it. By identifying those people, amendment No. 43 would make it clearer who should have to pay to get the information. Some individuals may be charged, but we want to ensure that those who are directly affected do not have to pay for the right to have that information, which should be provided to them free of charge.

Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 would harden the rules to make sure that, when we look into the impact of the gating orders, we have the freedom to go backwards and say that we no longer need a particular order. We want to know that when circumstances change and the gating of a highway is no longer of benefit to the prevention of crime or antisocial behaviour—circumstances do change; that is down to local councils and the crime and disorder strategies—we can ask whether the area is still a problem. If a development has been built on the other side of a nuisance area and it is adequately lit, the gating order may no longer be needed because the circumstances that prompted it are no longer in place.

We need to ensure that we can review the orders, that people will ask whether they are still needed and that they do not just stay in place. The impact of gating orders is positive in reducing crime and disorder, and there are many other reasons why I support them. However, we also want walking strategies. We want more children walking, and we want people kept apart from cars. That is where many of the alleyways are involved. We want to make sure that we can review the orders so that we can develop walking strategies. Gating orders will sometimes work against that. Councils have difficult decisions to make, but we need to make sure that everything fits in.

Amendment No. 13 provides for the periodic reviews that we want, and amendment No. 44 goes back to my earlier point about how affected people can get a review without having to go to the High Court with their problems. Amendment No. 44 really fits in with the early amendments, because it asks people what they want to do. If someone wants to object to a gating order, they currently have to go to the High Court. That seems excessively onerous. People so often have to go to the High Court with disputes about land, and it would seem that there are more practical solutions than forcing them to do so.

We look forward to the Minister's response to those amendments, which are designed to strengthen the hand of those making the orders, but also to protect the communities and people who are incidentally affected, and particularly to ensure that the emergency services have the access that they need, so that citizens do not have an unreasonable wait for action to be taken. 

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Ceidwadwyr, Ribble Valley 11:00, 18 Ionawr 2005

I shall be brief, and speak to just a couple of the amendments. In particular, I shall refer to amendment No. 48, which deals with the statutory undertakers and on which I should like to get some information from the Minister.

I would love to declare how many shares I now own in all these utilities, but I do not have any, although I can refer to a not-very-profitable shop in Swansea, which has a lane behind it. Now and then people dump rubbish there, and people may use it at night to take illegal substances from time to time. When I worked in the shop, there used to be some kids who would go back there to sniff glue. That was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Fortunately, that does not happen these days, but such lanes are perfect examples of places where a gating order could be made at some stage, if it was deemed that crime or persistent dumping of rubbish was taking place there.

What I want to know about amendment No. 48 is how utilities will be dealt with. The amendment marries in with amendments Nos. 41 and 42, which deal with the publicity given to gates that are to be erected. I assume that, in many cases, these will actually be physical gates that are there to prevent not just vehicles but people from gaining access to the alley in question. In some cases, we may be talking just about a small ramp to stop vehicles, but in others we will be talking about physical gates to prevent the dumping of refuse or access by the general public.

Many subsections of clause 2 stipulate that some of the gates may operate only at certain times of the day. The gates will certainly not impede any normal business, and that is absolutely right. However, there must be proper signage on the gates to indicate who the key holder is, for instance, in case somebody else wants access to the lane or highway for normal purposes.

When the gates are closed at night and there is an emergency such as a fire, the emergency services will need access to that lane or highway, and I assume that they will be able to have it. In certain parts of the country there may be a lot of alleyways and gating orders, and the emergency services have to have access through the gates somehow or other. I can only assume that a procedure will be set down so that that can be done. If there was a fire, people could not go through 200 sets of keys to ascertain which was the right one for a particular area.

Would all emergency vehicles have the keys? A lot of ambulances, for instance, are not at depots any more, but are dotted all over the place so that they can access emergencies more easily. This issue needs to be spelled out a little more. There should be proper signage and a telephone number, or at least some information so that people know who has the key for the gates. 

I have looked at clause 2, but I cannot see anything about who would pay for the gates. In my constituency, there are many lanes between back-to-back houses, and I am not certain about who owns those lanes. Perhaps the householders each own bits of them. If the local authority said that those lanes should have gates and it did not own the houses—I suspect that these days there are few areas with local authority housing only; many such houses have been sold—who would have the responsibility for the erection, payment and maintenance of the gates? Once they are erected, they have to be kept in good order because they must be opened and closed. I hope that the Minister will say something about that issue.

However, generally I am in favour of the gating requirements, because in some areas of the country, lanes and minor highways are used for criminal purposes or for the dumping of refuse, which must be a constant pain for the people who live around them. One such area in Samlesbury springs to mind immediately. It is part of the public highway and a lot of trucks use it because there is a huge lay-by, shielded by a high hedge. Local residents live on a farm just off it, and they have put up with the most awful mess from people dumping rubbish, which attracts rats and other vermin. Those people are at their wits' end and are trying to get the lane closed. There has been negotiation with one of the local councillors and Lancashire county council. That area might be perfectly suited to the gating orders, which might stop the dumping of refuse and improve the quality of life—that is what this Bill is supposed to do—for the people living in that area.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:15, 18 Ionawr 2005

I am grateful to Committee members for raising a number of issues that are important to the implementation of this part of the Bill. From the start, I should make it clear that the Bill does some things but not others. The hon. Member for Guildford ranged a little wide in some of her aspirations; property over land, commoning and ransom strips are all interesting issues with which I have had to deal, but the clause has a specific purpose. I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Lady, but the clause is not a magic wand or a panacea. We do not want to limit access when there is no need to do so. From the comments made, I take it that that aspiration would be shared on both sides of the Committee. Matters such as police maps being updated seem to be local problems, although I share her wish for greater and better use of geographical information systems; I have done a lot of work on that.

It is inconceivable that the police would not be involved in a gating proposal and in its execution. Although communication between authorities is an issue in general terms, it would not be made better or worse in these circumstances. The likelihood is that, just as these powers are sought by police and local authorities, the particular alley-gating proposals are likely to be prepared by—or even at the instigation of—the police as well as local residents. 

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I am sure that the police will be involved, but there is a great deal of difference between a mapping department and the people who make the decision. There is also a lot of duplication of information, and quite often decisions are made by the crime and disorder reduction partnership strategy, so in principle that part of the police are saying, ''Yes, we are keen on that.'' I have discussed this matter extensively with my local police force and with the people responsible for IT; they agreed that there is a potential problem with there being so much duplication. It is hard to get hold of information and to know that it is there. Everybody is keeping the same information. There is a problem with making sure that the control rooms have it when things have been put in place.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

With the greatest respect, I was acknowledging the statement of the blindingly obvious that the hon. Lady has reinforced, which is that if organisations do not get their act together in exchanging information and making sure that it is available to those at the operational end of things, they should be castigated. However, we cannot change that as we deal with this clause, which specifically relates to alley gating. If those problems exist, they need to be tackled, but this clause will not make them any worse. Indeed, one can virtually guarantee that because of the interest that the police will have taken at the local level, they will be aware of that, and I would be very surprised if they were not as enthusiastic as anybody else to ensure that an order is recorded on everybody's system immediately it is put in place.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 31 are seeking clarity about what would amount to evidence of the need for alley gating, and how to make sure that it is reasonable and proportionate. Such an issue needs to be raised at this stage. However, the Bill is carefully drafted to allow flexibility for local decision making. For instance, proposed new section 129B(2) says:

''A gating order may in particular—

(a) restrict the public right of way at all times, or in respect of such times, days or periods as may be specified in the order;

(b) exclude persons of a description specified in the order from the effect of the restriction.''

That is just one of many parts of the Bill that allows flexibility in the order to reflect the circumstances and evidence that has led to the decision that an order is necessary.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am listening carefully to the Minister, but there is a difference in this regard. The statutory authorities have statutory and contractual obligations, whether in relation to the emergency services or utility companies. Could not there be a statutory consultation on a gating order?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady is addressing a different point to the one that I was just answering. I   was saying that there are many provisions allowing flexibility for local circumstances to be addressed and for a specifically tailored order to be made that fits the local requirements. The questions that have been asked illustrate the variations that might arise, including agricultural land adjoining urban land, land adjoining highways, and land on estates or at the back of business premises, and so on.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.