HC Deb 28 April 1939 vol 346 cc1469-72

As amended (in the Standing Committee),considered.

11.8 a.m.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

When moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I said that I thought it was a small and unambitious one. To-day, in the shadow of the weighty events that have occupied the House during the last few weeks, I feel that the Bill is even smaller. At the same time, I believe that it would be wrong, and would be pandering to the dictators, if even such a small Measure of social improvement as this were to be allowed to be postponed in its action, particularly as it applies to our country villages which have not yet fully shared in the advance of amenities which the remainder of the country has seen during the last few decades.

I wish to express my thanks to those hon. Members who have helped me by giving their advice and criticism, and to the Law Officers of the Crown and the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture for the help and time which they have given to the Bill. It was launched on what was a rather stormy afternoon, but the weather improved in Committee, and I hope it will remain fair this morning. I wish particularly to thank Sir Laurence Chubb, of the Commons, Footpaths and Open Spaces Society, and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is a member of the executive committee of that Society and represents it in this House. As a member of the Society myself, I was particularly anxious not to do anything that might clash with the provisions of the Town Planning Act, and on their advice, I moved certain Amendments in Committee, which were accepted. I am glad to understand from the hon. Member for South Shields that the Society are now fully satisfied with the Bill. Finally, I should like to express the hope that, if the Bill is passed, those responsible for fuel allotments will hasten to make use of it and remove those anomalies which at present prevent the working of the original plans of the promoters in the way in which they wished them to be worked.

11.11 a.m.

Mr. Ede

I wish to thank the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Col. Clarke) for the references he has made to the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society and to express the thanks of that Society and myself for the way in which the hon. and gallant Member met the very important point that we felt bound to raise when the Bill was in Committee. I believe the Bill is now one to which no exception can be taken and that it will enable these charities to be administered in a way that will be most useful to the beneficiaries who are entitled to such income as is derived from them. I join with the hon. and gallant Member in the hope that it may be used as a means of bringing some of the charities thoroughly up to date in their administration, but I sincerely hope that it will not be used unnecessarily for the development of land for which there is no claim to development.

11.12 a.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I should like to say just a few words with regard to what has been described as a small and unambitious Bill. I am sure that I shall carry all my hon. Friends on these Benches with me in what I have to say. I do not want to dwell upon the merits of the Bill, but I wish that somebody would tell us how on earth it comes about that the word "fuel" is used to describe a patch of land. I always thought that the word "fuel" meant something that could be burned. Now I understand that a fuel allotment means land. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] To me English was once a foreign tongue, and consequently, I am at a loss to understand this.

There is, however, one serious question that I want to ask in connection with the Bill. I have in mind the township of Aspull with about 6,000 inhabitants in my Division, and in the centre and scattered over the town there are about 70 acres of land that do not seem to belong to anybody in particular. The strange thing is that some of that land, if it could be bought and used, would be the most suitable spot in the place on which the local authority could build houses for the people. Would the Attorney-General be good enough to tell us whether there is anything in this Bill which would cover a case such as that? Personally, I doubt whether there is. As the land does not seem to belong to anybody, they cannot do anything with it. The old idea prevails, and is understood by everybody, that nobody dare touch the land, that it is there for common use and that nothing can be done to enclose or use it in any way for any purpose. There is in that small township, therefore, the anomaly that the whole community would like the land to be used for the purpose of house-building by the local authority and nothing can be done. I am hoping that the time will come, if such a case is not covered by this Bill, when that problem will be dealt with. There are probably patches of land of this sort all over the country that ought to be put to some use. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he replies, will give us a little enlightenment as to the position of pieces of land of that kind.

11.15 a.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I wish to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) for his tribute to myself and my colleagues. The hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) was the first person who drew my attention to this problem on the Second Reading, and I think he assumed that I had taken less interest in it than I had in fact taken, but I make no complaint about that. Although it is a small problem, it turned out to be a rather intricate one and it was difficult to discover exactly how to deal with it, without doing more or doing less than was necessary. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend who has carried through this Bill on his willingness to tackle this small but intricate problem and the way in which he conducted negotiations to meet those who, at an early stage, had some apprehensions as to the scope and effect of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) asked me what fuel had to do with land. He, no doubt, thinks of fuel only in the generally accepted sense, and I quite agree that one must make allowances for his linguistic disabilities—though they are not, perhaps, always apparent. But this use of the word dates from the time when a great deal of the fuel which was burned was either turf dug from the land, or scrub, gorse-bush and brushwood used either for kindling or for ordinary fuel purposes. Thus when the Enclosure Acts were passed and land was enclosed, from which persons prior to enclosure could get peat, fuel or brushwood, allotments were made and these were called "fuel allotments", because they were regarded as being in substitution of that right. In some cases the allotment was of land from which fuel could actually be obtained in the form of peat or brushwood. In other cases, the allotment was of land which, I think, it was intended to let so that the money thus obtained could be used for the purchase of fuel to be distributed in substitution for the earlier right.

In regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, in order to give a complete answer to him I should require what the lawyers call "further and better particulars." The 70 acres of land to which he refers and which, he says, appear to belong to no one, may be common land and may be subject and, in fact, would be subject to restrictions either by manorial right or by immemorial right, and, therefore, could not be built on without a private Act of Parliament. But one could not give a categorical answer with regard to any particular piece of land which is sterilised from building for one reason or another, without having the necessary particulars, and if the hon. Member cares to send me further details I shall do my best to tell him what the exact position is with regard to the piece of land which he has in mind.

Mr. Rhys Davies

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already given the answer by saying that it would require special legislation or something of the kind.

The Attorney-General

If the hon. Gentleman wants some sweeping enactment by which common land can be built on, it would, I can assure him, disturb that unanimity which, he claims, exists to-day among those on the Benches opposite. That really raises a larger question than any which are dealt with by this Bill. I believe that the Bill will achieve a small but useful change affecting a number of charities, particularly in the rural areas.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.