HC Deb 13 May 1924 vol 173 cc1152-5

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to secure to the public the right of access to mountains and moorlands. This is not a new Bill. It was introduced in very similar form in 1908 by the then Member for the Elland Division of Yorkshire, the present Minister of Education. On that occasion it received a Second Reading by a majority of 112 votes. Previous to that date a Bill of a similar kind, applying only to Scotland, had been introduced on a number of occasions. In those earlier days the Bill roused a considerable amount of interest in Scotland and other parts of the country, owing to the fact that there had been a number of rather notorious cases of exclusion from the open spaces of Scotland. But Lord Bryce, whom no one could have called a demagogue, did not base his plea on scandalous cases, but based it rather upon the health and happiness of the community as a whole. It is easy, I am afraid it is fatally tempting, for a Radical to refer to the Highland clearances of the nineteenth century, when whole populations were removed, and to the scandalous and iniquitous results arising from some of the Enclosure Acts in the latter part of the eighteenth century. But I am not concerned with those. I am not concerned with the sins of our forefathers and other people's forefathers, but rather with the welfare of future generations. This Bill was urgent 30 years ago. It is more urgent to-day, in that the depopulation of the countryside has been continuing at an even greater speed, and that great towns of the country have been increasing.

I believe that the Bill is of immediate public importance. It applies to England, Scotland and Wales. I have correspondence from all parts of the country showing how widespread is the demand for such a Measure. In Scotland, according to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests, there are well over 3,000,000 acres from which very largely the public are excluded. The same kind of thing exists in other parts of the country. There are the great populous districts around Sheffield and Manchester and Halifax, the Pennine Range and the Peak District. The whole of that area ought to be lungs for over populated districts, and from that area the public are excluded. The Bill is a very simple Bill, and I can claim that it is a modest Bill. The second Clause lays it down that the owner or occupier of uncultivated land shall not be entitled to exclude from that land people going on it for the purpose of recreation. The next Clause says that it shall be a sufficient defence, in a case of alleged trespass, for persons to show that they were on the land for legitimate purposes. There are Clauses which provide safeguards against possible abuses. I do not think that it is necessary for me to stress those safeguards, because those interested in promoting the Bill are not making any attack, as such, against the owners of property or of sporting rights. They believe it has been shown, and any impartial reader of the Departmental Committee's Report will see, that no great damage will be done to the owners of such uncultivated land.

I have been astonished during the last few days at the number of letters I have received from rambling clubs and similar organisations all over the country, showing their enthusiasm for this Bill. It is one of the hopeful signs of the present day that so many of these organisations exist. They have a very fruitful recruiting ground in such movements as the Boy Scout Movement. I feel sure that all parties in the House will agree that such a movement ought to be encouraged. To-day there is a now realisation of the influence and importance to health of the beauty of the countryside. I believe, therefore, that the Bill is sound economy. It suggests a way by which, gradually, these great, open, uncultivated spaces may be put to more economic use. From the point of view of education and health it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of these further opportunities for recreation. Opportunities are necessary and encouragement is necessary. I am convinced that if opportunity and encouragement were given to the people in our great towns to get out into the country, to know the country and to love the countryside, it would be lifting them up and encouraging a form of patriotism with which everyone in this House should have great sympathy.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gilchrist Thompson, Mr. Acland, Sir Martin Conway, Dr. Hastings, Mr. Thomas Johnston, Mr. Macpherson, Mr. Rea, Mr. Remer, and Mr. Cecil Wilson.