§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnes
I recognise the contrast between this Bill and the subject we were discussing yesterday, and I am not anticipating quite such an exciting finish. When the Bill was read for the First time I observed that it received similar ironical cheers from the other side but I hope, now that hon. Members have had an opportunity of reading the Bill, they will appreciate that it is quite a little Bill and quite a good Bill and probably, in different political circumstances, a Measure of this description might have been crowded out by more important and controversial legislation.
The Ministry of Transport has been urged for many years, particularly by agricultural interests, to introduce such a Measure, and the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will, towards the end of our proceedings, answer any questions or criticism indicates how closely they are associated with it.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be here in good time. I should make it plain that this is no new experiment. As a matter of fact, there are quite a number of grids—I am informed some 180—already in operation on public highways through private estates and farms in this country. In 1948 the Cumberland County Council, probably despairing of legislation, themselves took powers for the council and other highway authorities in their area to install these cattle-grids.
When I first addressed my mind to this problem I was concerned whether the installation of cattle-grids on the highways would cause more suffering to animals but, from the information I have been able to gather, there is not much danger of that. As far as I have been able to ascertain, only 12 accidents have 1584 occurred in connection with the grids that have already been installed. Certainly I cannot conceive that farming interests. from whom the main pressure for the introduction of this Measure comes, would like to see the installation of any device on our highways that would lead to any suffering or damage to their cattle.
A cattle-grid is a very simple device. It consists of a series of parallel bars, placed transversely across a road, over a shallow pit. The spaces between the bars of the grating are sufficiently wide to enable the hooves of animals to go through should they attempt to cross the grating. I do not profess to have any direct knowledge of the problem myself, but I am informed that the instinct of animals prevents them from using or trying to pass over any grating or cattle-grids of this description. For the convenience of hon. Members, I have placed in the Library a series of illustrations and plans which give examples of the way in which the grids would be installed upon the roads.
Public roads, of course, pass through private farms and estates and miles of common land, moorland and hill land, and we believe that by the introduction of these devices we can bring a considerable amount of additional agricultural land into production. In such areas the custom is for farmers to erect gates to protect their cattle from straying. In these days of the urge to acquire speed, motorists have to alight from their vehicles to unlock the gates but, as we are so often aware, whilst they put up with that annoyance they very often do not carry out their subsequent obligation of closing the gates after them. This leads to considerable irritation, and cattle can stray and both cause damage and be damaged themselves.
By placing these grids at the boundaries of common land where the fences and walls commence again, we believe that miles of grazing country can be brought into productive use quite safely. Therefore, the general scope of the Bill is to authorise highway authorities to instal and maintain these grids on the highways and to provide by-passes or ways round for cattle or horse-drawn vehicles, which, of course, would be prevented from passing over them. Their right of access to the highways must be protected, and that is why the Bill makes 1585 provision for these ways round, or bypasses.
The Bill provides for the acquisition of the land which is necessary, or of the rights on land if required for that purpose, for alterations or improvements to the grids when they are installed, for their removal when they are redundant, and for the suspension of rights to maintain gates across the roads when the grids are installed.
I pass now to a brief description of the Clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 specifies the authorities who may exercise the powers to provide, maintain, alter or improve these cattle-grids. It also imposes an obligation upon the highway authorities, where the track or by-pass interferes with or crosses a right of way, to protect public rights by complying with the requirements of the Schedule, and ensures that if a by-pass is discontinued the original right of way must be restored'.
Clause 2 enables authorities to bring to an end their liabilities to maintain a cattle-grid or a by-pass when it has become superfluous. It does not follow that once a grid is provided, it will always be necessary. Circumstances, of course, are liable to change and these provisions have accordingly been made in Clause 2.
It is essential that if we are to introduce this new device on the roadways, we shall need the introduction of the necessary traffic signs for warning motorists who are unaccustomed to them. Clause 6, therefore, will give to the appropriate authorities the power to erect suitable traffic signs and to secure the removal of any unauthorised signs. It is in Section 48 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, that the general code of traffic signs is laid down and by Clause 6 the extension of the definition of " highway authorities " in subsection (1) will make the appropriate powers exercisable by the authorities who are empowered by the Bill to provide the cattle-grids.
One of the most important Clauses is Clause 10. This empowers the Minister to make regulations as to the construction or installation of cattle-grids and necessary by-passes and works; and it obliges the appropriate authority to comply with any regulations which the Minister may make. These regulations will be a Statutory Instrument and subject to annulment by a Resolution of either House.
1586 I propose to trust initially on the good sense, experience and responsibility of the local authorities, to whom technical guidance will be given by the engineers of my Department. A technical memorandum is in course of preparation, and where classified roads are concerned the Minister will be able to exert considerable influence upon the technical features when approving schemes for the making of grants from the Road Fund. I should like to make it plain that if this permissive policy does not accomplish its purpose, regulations would have to be made.
In connection with this Clause and this part of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) has expressed his anxiety lest these cattle-grids should cause danger, injury or suffering to animals. I assume, of course, that any anxiety of this kind is shared by us all, but I am hoping that the powers which I am taking in Clause 10 will go a long way to meet this point. I am prepared, further, to give to both my hon. Friend and to all those who share a similar concern, an assurance that in the preparation both of the technical memorandum which it is proposed to issue and of any regulation's which may be made under Clause 10, there will be consultation between my Department and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Farmers' Union and any other appropriate body.
Clause 12 extends the powers of the Minister to authorise his own expenditure for cattle-grids when they are necessary on trunk roads, and makes provision for grants to be made to highway authorities should they exercise their powers under the Bill. I do not anticipate that the total annual cost of this new departure is ever likely to exceed approximately £10,000. The cost of each cattle-grid will be nominal, probably £200 or £300, and I do not anticipate that it will mean heavy expense, or that at the commencement it is likely to reach the figure I have mentioned.
In Clause 14 we meet the problem of those bodies which have already installed cattle-grids. I referred earlier to the fact that Cumberland County Council, considering these grids were essential in certain parts of their area, came to this House and secured necessary authority to proceed.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
How many have they set up?
§ Mr. Barnes
I could not say at the moment how many have been established in Cumberland, but I know there are a number there. I was unable to make any grants to Cumberland County Council, but we do not consider that they should be penalised in consequence. Under Clause 12 powers are taken to enable the Minister to give necessary grants. Section 12 of the Cumberland local Act is to be repealed to avoid the duplication of powers. Other grids which have been provided without authority will be made legal by this Clause for one year, but only for one year, during which period the authorities who installed them will have to obtain the Minister's approval for each installation. It may be that alterations will be required to enable the Minister to give approval. If the alterations are complied with, the grids will be eligible for grants, but if they are not complied with, the grids will remain illegal and not eligible for grants.
The Schedule sets out the procedure to be followed by the appropriate authorities in the exercise of their powers. It deals with the method of lodging proposals and objections and the appeal to the Minister and the form inquiries into objections may take. I trust that the brief explanation I have given will commend the Measure to the House. I am satisfied that it will aid agricultural production and facilitate the movement of motor transport in these areas, without leaving a sense of irritation.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point? He referred to the illegality of existing cattle-grids. Surely there is nothing illegal about them?
§ Mr. Barnes
Perhaps that was not the correct term. I meant that they will only become eligible for grants provided they conform to the regulations laid down.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I suppose we ought to sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman because of what befell him last night. He has not had sufficient rest and time to give full attention to the ideas and proposals behind this Measure, and consequently has not expounded it fully this afternoon.
1588 Bearing in mind that this is, I suppose, the most important Bill the Government are able to introduce in this Session, I think the Minister might have taken more than a quarter of an hour in his opening speech. We on this side of the House would have been glad to listen to him for a more extended period.
I was a little alarmed when the right hon. Gentleman started by saying that something was to be placed in the Library, because I thought for a frightful moment that it might be a cattle-grid. Hon. Members opposite certainly need to be fully " gridded " if they are to be steered in sufficient numbers into the " No" Lobby and I expect the Patronage Secretary is at the moment putting down all sorts of metaphorical grids to shepherd Members who may be inclined to stray in the future.
We are only too happy on these benches to give general support to this Bill. The Minister said it was quite a little Bill; that is so, but it is also an important Bill and the need for it is quite considerable. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us in full detail what the need was. He confined himself to the past actions of Cumberland County Council, but all sorts of local authorities all over the country are in favour of it. The New Forest Committee, in a Report in 1947, recommended that grids should be put on a new road proposed between Ringwood and Cadnam, and on Exmoor there is a considerable demand for these grids. On one common alone, that of Withypool, it is estimated that the sheep population has fallen from 2,000 to 200 in five years because of time and labour involved in looking after straying animals.
Somerset Farmers' Union hope that by provision of grids it will be possible to stock up as much as 20,000 acres of moor land on Exmoor if this Bill is proceeded with and grids erected. I understand that in Northumberland six grids have been erected. Why there is not the same legal position provided for Northumberland as for Cumberland, I do not understand, but perhaps that will be explained on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Barnes
There is provision in the Bill under Clause 14, as I stated. Provided that existing grids conform to the regulations laid down, they will be eligible for grants.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I understood that Clause 14 referred to Cumberland County Council Act, 1948. I am referring to Northumberland.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I ask a few questions, because the Minister did not anticipate some of our fears. Clause 1 gives permissive powers to highway authorities and the Clause is altogether vague about the procedure to be adopted to achieve the objects of the Bill. I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, who, I understand, is to reply, who is to move first in the application for these grids? The matter is left very vague by the terms of the Bill and no procedure is laid down.
Do the highway authority decide? For example, Hampshire County Council might very well decide in the case of New Forest ponies, that straying animals are a menace to road safety? Do they decide to apply for grids and then leave the owners and occupiers of adjacent land to express their views and, possibly, offer objections? Or does the reverse procedure obtain, that those concerned with stock raising apply through their agricultural executive committee, or through the Minister of Agriculture, and that then the Ministry of Transport, or the highway authorities, receive these applications and proceed to carry them through?
The Schedule lays down procedure for objections to various things being done after the grids have been installed and before they are removed. There ought to be a second Schedule dealing with the method of application and who is to act in the first instance in order that the grids may be provided. Otherwise a state of affairs might arise in which people wait for others to act, the formalities do not go forward and the application is not proceeded with.
Turning to Clause I, I wish to ask what happens in any possible dispute between the interested parties? They might be at variance. For example, a farmer might want a grid in a place where the highway authority considers that it would be too expensive to put it. Or, to take the reverse case, the highway authority might insist upon a grid being provided in a place where farmers and land owners 1590 think that their animals should have greater freedom to graze.
The Schedule lays down that the Minister of Transport is the deciding authority upon everything except the provision or removal of grids. Will he accept the responsibility for determining disputes on the installation of grids? If so, can he assure the House that he will be impartial, or will he always take or be bound to take the side of the road user? It may be that in the initial stages—if we reach the position of adding a new Schedule to the Bill—some other Minister, perhaps the Minister of Town and Country Planning, might be brought in to act impartially on matters of dispute between agricultural and transport interests.
I wish to refer briefly to Clause 4, which appears to apply to Scotland only. I should like to ask what is the position about liability for loss, injury or damage arising from the provision of these grids in England and Wales? It is quite clear from Clause 4 whose is the liability in Scotland, but the matter seems to be left vague in regard to England and Wales. I understand that where there has been lack of care in the construction of a grid —I emphasise " in the construction of a grid "—the appropriate authority can be sued for damages. But if injury is sustained by persons or animals because of lack of care and maintenance of a grid, or because the vegetation is allowed to grow up through the bars, completely hiding the grid, so that animals and people cannot see it, which I understand in law is a question of non-feasance, where do damages lie? What redress has the occupier? In that connection it would be useful if the right hon. Gentleman would say something about the regulations which he is likely to issue under Clause 10 governing the question of repair.
Clause 7 is rather worrying to some people, including the Farmers' Union in Dorset. They think that it may involve occupiers in additional expense in food production, extra work and risks. Clause 7 obliges occupiers and land owners to accept grids and to forgo their rights to install gates. Can the hon. Gentleman set our minds at rest on that question? The Minister spoke of 180 grids having already been installed on private estates and farms. Is the Ministry to become " grid conscious " and oblige 1591 people who, for various reasons, are most reluctant to have grids on their land, to install them, and incur expense and obligations?
I turn now to Clause 10, which is concerned with regulations. The right hon. Gentleman might be a little more forthcoming about telling us what type of regulation he is to issue. Of course those regulations will come before the House and we shall no doubt have an opportunity of debating them upon a Prayer, but it would relieve the minds of many persons who are now concerned about this Bill—the National Farmers' Union, the Central Landowners' Association and others—if they could be told now what the scope of the regulations is to be.
While on this subject I wish to say a word about the siting of these grids. The whole Bill, particularly Clause 1 (5), reads as if grids were to replace gates and that gates were to be moved to one side. That may very well be desirable for " A," " B " and " C " class roads, on which there is fast moving traffic and rather expensive grids, but it is surely a mistake, and is contrary to what has been done already, to provide on gravelled semi-private roads in rural areas, grids in the main path of the road and gates to one side. I say that because it will be much more expensive to remove gates and gate posts and install grids, break up the hedge and put the gate to one side. If a grid is put upon these by-roads in rural areas traffic will be encouraged to speed along them, and in that way the roads are more likely to suffer wear and tear.
The Minister referred to the desire for speed. He said that people did not want to waste time opening and shutting gates. It seems much wiser to do in these rural areas what is often done now in private estates, namely, to put the grid to one side, with a gravel drive, so that people are compelled to slow down after observing the warning signs, and travel to one side and then come back on to the main path, and that the gate should be left where it is, on the main road.
There is an additional reason why that would be most desirable for many types of rural roads. I refer to the danger of beasts coming up behind a high hedge at right angles. If the grid is installed 1592 on a gravel road and people speed over it and pass through the hedge, they may crash into animals that are corning along the other side, whereas if the road users are forced to go off the main path and slow down to five or ten miles per hour, it means that they are much more likely to see these animals approaching, and thus the risk of damage will be minimised. I hope that there will be a general understanding that it is by no means always to be the case that the grids will be installed right in the main path of the road—that they will often be on one side.
I wish to refer to regulations in regard to signs. I hope that the signs will be low and easily read, and will be illuminated at night, probably by red Franco reflectors on them. Where the gate is on the road, and is closed, and the grid is to one side, as I hope will be the case in the majority of instances, notices to that effect should be put up and an indication given, by means of an arrow or something of the kind, of where the grid is. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he would consult the National Farmers' Union and the R.S.P.C.A. about these regulations. No doubt he will also be in close touch with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Central Landowners' Association and other interests involved
As regards the design of grids, clearly, they must not all be of the same pattern. The Minister said that the cost was between £200 and £300 per grid. I know of one case, I think in Northumberland, where six grids are being provided at a cost of £800 each. That seems very high, but they may be the heavy grids for main roads and fast moving traffic. There should be varieties of grids, going right down to the simple thing easily and cheaply installed for roads which carry very light traffic.
I come now to the Schedule. I have already said a word or two about it and I now wish to ask why the Schedule applies only to work done on grids after they have been installed? It seems to me that the main question in dispute as to whether a grid should be laid down or whether it should be removed, should carry this business of investigation and report and local inquiry. It is quite idle to deal with the problems in the Bill 1593 which are subsidiary by this elaborate procedure, and ignore the whole question of what the Bill is about—namely, the establishment or the removal of a grid. I should like an assurance that the lettered subsections in the Schedule will be re-cast so as to add the primary object of the Bill, which is the question of the establishment or the clearance of a grid.
There are one or two questions not covered by the Bill to which I wish to refer. I should have expected that the substitution of a gate by a grid would have constituted an invitation to trespass. There will be quite a number of people who, seeing grids now where they saw gates and signs before, will take their cars and their picnic baskets and go into areas where they have never dared to venture before. That will be very nice for those looking for a place to picnic. We all welcome the country lover and the holiday-seeker, but some farmers are nervous lest land that is under cultivation may be increasingly trespassed on as a result of the provision of these grids. There is also the question of the additional wear and tear on gravelled roads, now the responsibility of the landlord and the farmer, because of increased traffic flowing at an increased speed under the influence—if I may so describe it—of the provision of a grid. I should like to know that where there is evidence of such extra wear and tear to these roads the question of compensation is to be taken into account and awarded to those whose job it is to repair these roads.
There is finally the question of the number of grids to be provided, and the cost. In the Debate on the Address the Parliamentary Secretary said:… what we propose to do will in a matter of production be out of all proportion to the actual size of the Measure Itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 8th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 317.]There is some conflict between a remark of that kind and the seemingly paltry sum of £10,000 mentioned in the Financial Memorandum. I would ask the Minister what precisely is that £10,000? Is it grants from the Road Fund, or is it the loan charges to local authorities for the money they raised from the Government? If it is the former, then it is an indication that very few grids will be provided; because at a cost of £300 or £500 each, a sum of £10,000 will go only 1594 a very short distance. But if that £10,000 is interest on loans, then clearly, at 3 per per cent., as much as £330,000 may be provided by the Government; and if the local authorities are themselves to incur an equivalent expenditure, as much as £660,000 may be forthcoming. At, say, £330 per grid, that would indicate the provision of 2,000 in the first year. We should like to know whether the sort of figures I have given is anything like what is in the mind of the Government; and broadly speaking, how many grids will be provided this year, and at what sort of cost?
Is there to be any difference in the amount of grant given to classified roads and unclassified roads? Some people are worried about that, because they believe that the bulk of the grant will go to classified roads, and that the smaller unclassified roads will not be provided with grids to any great extent. Is that cost to be borne by the Road Fund or by local rates; or will some of it be borne by private interests? If the right hon. Gentleman could give us a general calculation in that regard I think it would satisfy those who are in doubt.
As I said at the beginning, we welcome this Bill. On the Committee stage we hope to get down to it in very much greater detail, and I am sure that the sooner it can secure a passage through this House and be applied to the country generally the better.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)
May I crave the indulgence which is so generously given to hon. Members on the first occasion that they address this House? Up to the moment the County of Dorset has done remarkably well as I follow my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I understand that maiden speeches should be non-contentious and in taking part in this Debate, I feel I am speaking on a Bill which will be welcomed by the Agricultural community and the general public alike.
I live in an area where we have two commons which will benefit by the passing of this Bill. To the north of Shaftesbury we have the Semley Common which is intersected by the road A. 350; to the south we have St. James's Common which is intersected by the road E. 3091. Until the outbreak of war these commons had 1595 several gates across the roads. They were hung during the grazing period which is from 15th May until 15th November. Soon after the outbreak of war they were smashed by troops driving in the blackout. Since then, quite rightly, the police have forbidden the re-erection of these gates on account of the danger to human lives.
It is, however, necessary to keep animals confined to the common. I am pleased to say that we have a continual increase in the number of attested herds in our area. On farms which adjoin the commons it is almost impossible to establish an attested herd. Unfortunately, however, with unrestricted access to these commons, this point applies to farms which are two, or even three, miles away. Animals wander at will, and the police cannot charge the owners for letting them stray on the highway as, in the interests of public safety they will not have the enclosing gates re-erected.
I should like to say a few words about public safety. Some years before the war, I was returning to Shaftesbury one evening at dusk, and as I approached St. James's Common I saw a cyclist crash into one of these gates. Both he and the machine went over it, fortunately without any damage to the cyclist. As a result, I was successful in persuading the local authority to erect warning notices on each side of the gates on this common. As is well known to many Members of this House, Shaftesbury stands on a hill and each road leading from it is winding and steep, and each passes through a cutting. In the autumn when the winter gales start, the cattle from the common, naturally, seek shelter. Without doubt, the best shelter is in these cuttings. It is not unusual, on a stormy night, to find large herds lying across the highway.
Local motorists drive with caution, because they are aware of the danger, but strangers passing through the district are not, and each year cars are damaged and cattle are injured. On occasion, cattle have to be destroyed. By my remarks, I hope I have been able to strengthen the case for this Bill. My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has already said that notices should be erected on each side of the grid so that ample warning of their existence is given. I am of opinion that the notices should be erected on steel 1596 posts, and I suggest, as a most suitable sign, that they should read " Warning: Grid across road." Then motorists would be aware of their existence, and this would enable people to pass freely along these highways.
I should like to thank the Minister for his assurance that he will consult all interested bodies before presenting the draft regulations mentioned in Clause 10. The Minister has given certain assurances on the question of finance, but that it will be of little use passing this Bill unless he makes special grants to local authorities to enable them to carry out the work. Local authorities are finding it increasingly difficult, as a result of cuts and increased costs, to do the necessary work of road making and repair. They could not undertake the work which is envisaged on their present income.
I am told that the County Council of Wiltshire has had a report from the county surveyor that the new petrol Duty will cost the roads and bridges department an additional £7,000 a year, and that the only possible way in which the money can be found is by a reduction of the amount spent on road repairs. Therefore, I ask the Minister to assure us that he will make special grants for the installation of these grids
§ 4.25 p.m.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
Several months ago it was my privilege, at a Farmers' Union dinner in Brecon, to propose a hearty vote of thanks to the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). I performed that task with great diffidence, because he had been " having a go " at the Minister of Agriculture. This afternoon, in far more pleasant circumstances I rise to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the fine speech which he has delivered on a subject about which he has some knowledge. I am sure that the House will always give him a good hearing, provided that he speaks as a practical farmer and makes useful suggestions such as those he has made today. We welcome his maiden speech, and we hope to hear him again very soon.
I, also, welcome this Bill. I am certain that the main principles will be acceptable not only to the highway authorities but also to the farming community. In the County of Brecon this matter has been the subject of correspondence with the County Councils 1597 Association and the Minister of Transport for a number of years. There has been concern about the effect on the farming community, particularly on hillsides and on roads going over mountains, of motorists leaving gates open. This has caused considerable loss, especially to small hill farmers.
I understand that it has been suggested to the Minister that approval should be given for the erection of grids on these roads. However, we could not get to any understanding because of the legal position of responsibility for accidents. The County Council of which I am a member have thought it wise to erect one grid at their own expense as an experiment. I am glad that this Bill has been introduced, because it will solve the difficulty. I am certain that a number of other county councils will welcome it for the same reason.
There are certain points of principle in which I am interested. First, on Clause 1, cannot the county councils be considered the authority in all cases where grids are to be erected? I ask that question, because the Clause states that they will take over responsibility from rural councils but not from urban councils. It will be impossible for many urban councils in Wales, particularly for one in my constituency where the penny rate is equal to only £17 or £18, to take this responsibility. I suggest that the county council might be considered the appropriate authority in all cases where grids are required.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), raised the matter of responsibility for accidents under Clauses 3 and 4. The question of negligence in repair work or of dislodging of rails is of importance. It may be that, as a result of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, we may find a large number of young people, and others, walking along roads where grids are installed. Suppose a young lady has one of her high heels caught in one of the grids. Who will be responsible for any damage if she twists her ankle, or anything like that? It may be that they can by-pass them, but, as we know, young couples in these days take the line of least resistance. If the normal rule applies, the responsibility of the authority is very light, but it is rather hard on anyone who may be injured by a potential danger trap.
1598 Coming to the question of the grants under Clause 12, I assume that a grant of 75 per cent. will be available for Class 1 roads, of 60 per cent. for Class 2 roads and of 50 per cent. for Class 3 roads, but I should like to emphasise the position of unclassified roads. Will grants be made available for them by the Minister of Transport? At present, no grants are available for these roads, and, if the Minister of Transport cannot see his way to make grants is ft beyond the bounds of possibility that the Minister of Agriculture might become interested? At least, the name of the right hon. Gentleman appears on the Bill, and, surely, he has some interest in it.? Indeed, the Minister of Agriculture has a greater responsibility in regard to these grids on unclassified roads than perhaps anyone else, if he has the interests of the nation's food production at heart, as I know he has.
Another point arises in connection with these grants. I understand that other interests have in the past contributed to the cost of these grids. Is that principle to be applied to the erection of new grids? I would not suggest that it should be compulsorily applied, but I should like to know if other interests which would benefit from these grids will be asked to make a contribution. I also join in what has been said about the design of the grids, and I am glad that technical advice will be given, as far as the classified roads are concerned. I noticed that the Minister was silent on the subject of the unclassified roads. I suggest that that technical advice ought to be made available as well to those local authorities which decide to erect grids on unclassified roads. I am glad to hear the undertaking that has been given concerning consultations with the National Farmers' Union and I hone it will be extended to the local authorities.
Mention has been made of the warning notices, and I should like to ask what kind of a notice will be erected at both ends of the grid. Is it to be in the form of a diagram of a grid, which would be more or less like the level crossing signs at present in use, or will words be incorporated in it? If words as well as a diagram are to be used in the warning notices, is the Minister prepared to provide them in the Welsh language in Welsh-speaking areas?
1599 Another interesting point arises under Clause 5, which states that grids will be provided by authorities on roads over which they perhaps have no authority. Will the Minister see that, where the War Office has roads of its own joining any other roads used by the public, the War Office themselves will also erect grids at the junctions and at their own responsibility? I have found in my experience of two counties that sheep which are allowed to graze on War Department land for a certain fixed sum per year can get down to the main roads, and it is equally possible that sheep from roads may wander on to the War Department territory, since gates are not provided at the entrances to War Office land. There is simply a bar across the road, with perhaps a sentry posted on the spot. Who knows whether a sentry will look after sheep or not? It would be a good thing if grids were erected on War Department roads at these junctions.
There is one other matter which I should like to raise as a Welsh Member of Parliament, and that is to ask why the word " England " is used so much in this Bill, while " Wales " is left out. I know the stock reply that it is covered by the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746, but, surely, after 200 years of legislation, we ought to get down to something which people more readily understand, because since this Bill was published, the question has been put to me whether it really applies to Wales at all. Those are some of the points of principle which I desire to raise, and I shall be vigilant during the Committee stage of the Bill with a view to improving it before it reaches the Statute Book.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) has put the Welsh point of view on this Bill. I will endeavour to say something about Scotland, and I would start by expressing my astonishment that, when we are discussing a Bill of this nature, which affects vast areas in Scotland, there is no Scottish Minister on the Front Bench. I am afraid that any questions that I may ask concerning Scotland will remain unanswered, and I feel that some Scottish Minister should be present.
§ Mr. Barnes
I happen to be the Minister for Scottish highways as well as for English and Welsh highways.
§ Mr. Snadden
That may be so, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the face of the Bill, he will find that it bears the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I am only drawing attention to the fact that, when we raise questions of peculiar interest to Scotland, we are not likely to get a satisfactory reply.
I want to come straight to the points that trouble me most. This Bill is generally welcomed by the agricultural interests in Scotland, who have been pressing for just such a Measure for a considerable time, though I am bound to say that, at first glance, I did not feel that it was a serious Bill at all. I may be mistaken in my interpretation of it, and I think that may also be the case with some of my friends in Scotland, for the reason given by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).
We want to know what this £10,000 is for and how much of it will benefit Scotland. Particularly, we want to know whether our fears will be realised that our proportion of the £10,000 to be made available will be no more than 11/80ths, and whether by any chance the cost of providing these grids may not be as great as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. I have myself seen these things at work, and I know a little about them from the practical point of view. I know that we can in our country, provide them for £120, but if they were to be provided in the Western Isles and the more remote areas, the cost would be greater.
If this £10,000 fund is earmarked for the actual grants towards the cost of providing grids, we should get £1,375, which would give us exactly a dozen grids for the whole of Scotland. I may be quite wrong in that interpretation of the Bill, and we may have become suspicious about this Measure when we should have been very glad to see it. If, on the other hand, the £10,000 represents only the interest payable, that would indicate a sum of £300,000, and I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will deal with that point.
My next point, as a practical person who will have to work this scheme at 1601 home, concerns the first person who is expected to move in the provision of these grids. Is it the highway authority or the county council? There is some doubt about it in my part of the country. I want also to say a word about the cost of the grids being placed upon the highway authorities. I heard a rumour in Scotland that the County Councils Association are opposed to this Bill, because they seem to think the costs are to fall upon what maybe called adjacent owners. The Minister has done the right thing in placing the cost upon the highway authority, for the reason that the majority of adjacent owners who will be involved in schemes where grids are put into use are small men, mostly hill farmers, whose incomes are relatively the smallest in the whole sphere of agriculture and who have not a great deal to put out. For that reason, I particularly welcome the fact that the cost has been placed upon the highway authority and not upon the adjacent owners.
One point in regard to damages. It may sound rather strange for a Scotsman, who is usually pressing in this House to get for Scotland as much as England gets, to express astonishment that his English friends are not, apparently, being treated as generously under Clause 4 as we are in Scotland. If one can imagine a grid in this House and a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep being driven towards it, one would find that when they came to the obstruction, no matter how clever the shepherd or how good the dogs, they would panic. Very often damage results. They press up and get into a corner, and therefore damage may occur to stock because of the installation of these grids. I see that under Clause 4 the responsibility in Scotland is that of the highway authority, and I do not understand why it should not be so in England and Wales —why the same liability should not be assumed by the highway authority.
As the Bill now stands, the appropriate authority is vested with absolute discretion in regard to the erection or removal of a cattle grid. The Bill, however, contains the provision that where the question arises as to facilities for by-passing, for traffic to pass round the grid, then the procedure specified in the Schedule comes into operation and objection is settled by the Minister. I think that is quite a good plan, but it occurs to me that this procedure should also apply in the case 1602 of a decision by the appropriate authority not to erect or remove a cattle-grid. I should have thought that was a fair way of going about it. Perhaps the Minister will look into the point and see if that is not possible.
The other question I had in mind was put in perhaps a rather different way by an hon. Member opposite when he raised the question of grants. In my part of the country people are a little fogged as to the position under Clause 12. That Clause contains the relevant financial provisions, and I should like to know whether it permits the Minister to make grants in all cases, irrespective of existing arrangements for allocation of money out of the Road Fund. In other words, will the grants be available to the authority for unclassified roads on the same terms as apply to classified roads?
Another point is in connection with the placing of grids in the more remote parts of the country if, by any chance, they should ever appear there. We in Scotland have a lot of glens with great hill farms on either side to which, during the summer months, holidaymakers come up in cars. They go as far as they can, and then pull up beside a river and have a very pleasant picnic. That traffic has recently grown very considerably. We in the enterprise with which I am connected in Perthshire, rather encourage such people to come and enjoy the country. We do not wish to stop them in any way provided they shut the gates, because we do not want to have cattle and sheep coming down on to the public highway. But there is the important point that where, in future, gates are going to be removed and grids put in their place, there will be an increasing urge on the part of holidaymakers to go further up the glen, and then those who happen to own land beyond, which is not on county council roads but private roads, may be faced, owing to the increased traffic beyond that point, with increased costs for which, at the moment, it would seem there was no grant. I may he wrong about that; it is only speculation.
My last point is a small practical one about the warning notices, and I hope the Minister will take note of it. It may seem a very trivial thing, but, on the other hand, the whole Bill can be knocked sideways if we do not see that the warning notice is actually exhibited 1603 on the by-pass gate in order to make quite certain that the gate is closed. If the gate is left open, the primary purpose of the cattle-grid under this Bill will be defeated. I think it is a very important point, and I should like to know whether it will be dealt with under-by-laws or under Clause 10 of the Bill. This is a matter which has been raised with me by farmers in the north, and a reply by the Minister on the point would be very acceptable.
Finally, when it comes to the actual design of the grids to be installed throughout the country, will the Minister give an assurance that the National Farmers' Union, not only in Scotland, but in England and Wales, will be consulted and taken fully into his confidence? I should imagine that on the Committee stage of the Bill we shall have some points to be put forward, but I now wish to say that we in Scotland welcome the Bill, although we hope that the £10,000 does not represent the total sum that will be available under it. No doubt the Minister will clear up that point, but, as I say, despite the smallness of the amount we welcome it.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I thought I detected in the speeches of hon. Members opposite, and particularly in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) a desire on the one hand, to belittle the Bill, and, on the other, to speak of its great importance. They do not seem to have finally decided which role to adopt on this occasion. I agree with the claim that has been made that there may be matters of very considerable importance in the Bill, although the amount of money suggested is very small, especially when we think of the millions which have been voted away so very readily in this House for all sorts of purposes.
I rather suspect that the £10,000 mentioned in the Bill cannot possibly be sufficient if anything like the expenditure visualised by hon. Members opposite is indulged in. For the erection of grids not merely on third-class roads, but on byroads, almost occupation roads, for the erection, wherever there is a grid, of an illuminated sign—not an ordinary sign— 1604 which also involves greater cost, and for the maintenance of the grids themselves when spread over so large an area—and we have been told that in one instance the cost of a grid has amounted to as much as £800—the figure of £10,000 is out of the question. Such a sum for the erection and maintenance of grids over very large areas, which I know well as a motorist and where one can travel for miles seeing gates, would be useless.
I agree that it is right that we should consider an improvement of this sort, and that the Government are well justified in bringing in the Bill. But I am not speaking so much from the point of view of the farmers; they have had their case well ventilated this afternoon. Neither do I wish to refer so much to the case of the motorist, but rather to that of the cyclist who has been only fleetingly referred to by one speaker this afternoon.
Unless special care is taken with their construction, and especially if the warning of their presence is not effective, these grids can be very dangerous at night-time in places where bands of cyclists run regularly. Unless the grids are adequately maintained they will quickly get into a state where they will be a great danger to the light, narrow-wheeled machines that the modern cyclist uses. Unless the cross-pieces, girders and joists of the grids are well designed and maintained, the heavy milk wagons which now run regularly in country districts will very quickly make them very dangerous for any sort of traffic.
I thought I saw the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) shake his head. I have seen dozens of grids in use in different countries. I know some are very expensive and well made. But I can imagine a grid being used in many country districts which is made by merely putting triangular pieces of wood across the road with the acute angle upwards so as to be duly intimidatory to cattle that might want to cross. Such a grid is extremely ineffective for its ultimate purpose. It might intimidate cattle on a road which is not very much used, but it is quite ineffective where cyclists use the road a great deal. If it were placed on the highway it would get very quickly into a state of disrepair from the point of view of the motorist.
1605 It is clear that the Minister will have to devise provisos to meet these points if the needs of cyclists and motorists are to be considered. I believe it would involve an expenditure far in excess of the £10 million mentioned by the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: " Ten thousand pounds."] Well, maybe I am not so wide of the mark, when I think of the long rolling roads of Scotland and Wales where all these grids might be effectively installed, if, in error, I said " millions " instead of " thousands." However, I am not pushing that too far. I am only saying that I cannot see £10,000 being quite adequate for the purpose.
I was also interested in that part of the discussion where, as one would expect from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, and hon. Gentlemen opposite, there was a request for schemes of compensation for somebody or other. They ask that that compensation side of it should be properly ventilated, but I do not know exactly for whom that compensation was intended. One Scottish Member spoke of cattle huddling into corners and injuring themselves. How precisely that would happen as a result of a grid was not very well explained.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
They would break their legs.
§ Mr. Hudson
Cattle are supposed to dislike grids so much that they never risk their legs upon them. They would only get their limbs broken if some ill-minded farmers or others drove their cattle carelessly on to the grid, using it as a short cut instead of going through the gate provided by the scheme. I should imagine that limbs would be broken in that case, and I am willing to consider that as an objection to the whole idea of grids.
I may be willing to admit that there is a case for compensation. I know that if there is one, hon. Members opposite will find it, especially if compensation for agriculture is involved. I am very sorry for the lads who open gates. They are to be found on the high roads earning an honest penny during holiday periods. Now they are dispossessed of their jobs because the motorist can go through without need to open a gate at all. Whether these lads ought to have some compensation is perhaps a matter for consideration. However, I do not think there is any 1606 great claim for compensation to be considered in connection with this scheme at all.
If these grids are to be erected, account should be taken of the needs of the cattle. The grids ought to be broad enough and constructed to intimidate cattle so that there is no chance of a beast getting across one. But if they are broad enough for that purpose, they are then a great nuisance to cyclists. Therefore, they should be carefully constructed in such a way as to have regard to all who use them.
§ Mr. Hudson
The grids are deliberately arranged so that the cow's hoof would slip down between the transverse pieces, or, at any rate, so that half or the split hoof slips down. That could be a very great cruelty to the cow, and that is another objection to the grids.
I would point out to some of my hon. Friends that cows sometimes have more sense than farmers. The reason why a cow does not take the risk of crossing a grid is because it will get very badly hurt if it tries to cross. I can imagine cows being seriously damaged and cyclists running at speed quickly coming to grief upon some of the elementary grids I have seen constructed. It seems that hon. Members opposite never use cycles at all.
§ Mr. Hudson
Unless I had a guarantee that a grid was a well constructed device I would not be willing to go down hill at speed on a bicycle if there was a grid at the bottom where a gate used to be.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
May I put the hon. Member out of his pain by pointing out that a grid runs transverse to, and not parallel with, the road? A cyclist's wheel goes safely across it.
§ Mr. Hudson
As a good cyclist I do not accept that view, and I should be more cautious than the noble Lord appears to be despite the grid being trans. verse.
I am willing to add my blessing to that of other hon. Members who said the Bill should be passed. There has been an attempt to jeer at it because it is too 1607 small a Bill to deal with all the matters involved. I do not think it is too small. Attention should be given to moorland areas where more sheep could be reared if there was provision against their straying on the highway. That is an important provision and I hope that, as long as the other provisions I have mentioned are kept in mind, the Bill will go its reasonable course to a victorious conclusion and that the Government will have provided a very useful addition to our arrangements for the countryside.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
I have much pleasure in following the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). He spoke largely from the cyclists' point of view. I shall speak more from the point of view of the farmers, and particularly those in North Devon and Exmoor and the parts where the grids are being used. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), who raised two of the points which I had in mind and which I shall touch upon in a minute.
I represent, amongst other places, a village called Brendon; we must not get mixed up with Brendon and Brecon, or a combination of the two. Brendon is on Exmoor. When the Minister opened the Debate he mentioned that there had been only 12 accidents so far. Twelve is quite a number, considering that there are not a great many grids in existence at the moment. I understand that two of those accidents took place in my constituency. The Devon County Council have come to the conclusion, and passed a resolution on 20th April, that the responsibility for accidents would be theirs and that they would cover themselves by insurance. I think that all county councils will probably come to some sort of an agreement or arrangement by which they are covered in the case of a claim and by which they accept responsibility for accidents caused by grids.
My view about accidents on grids is this. Where a grid is newly placed, until stock get accustomed to the sight of it and to avoiding it they might be more likely to trespass on it than they would be if they had seen one there before. If they had seen one there before they would be accustomed to it and would not go that way.
1608 With regard to the construction of grids, the Minister said that he was going to consult with the N.F.U. and the R.S.P.C.A., and I understand he is placing in the House, I suppose in the Library, a copy of the proposed plans of the grid so that before the Committee stage we can consider in detail whether grids will be safe for cyclists. My view is that they are safe for cyclists, particularly very temperate cyclists. In North Devon the County Council have already constructed two grids and they have 27 applications for grids to be constructed. The cost, unlike that in Scotland, is £250. I believe that the cost could be brought below that figure if the Ministry of Agriculture went into the matter in detail.
One point which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor mentioned referred to the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary is here. Under the Hill Farming Act, 1946, I understand the Ministry of Agriculture accept responsibility for the construction of grids as improvements of non-county roads. I should think that one of the first things that would have to be determined is to what extent the Ministry of Agriculture will be responsible, if at all, for making grants under the Hill Farming Act for the construction of grids once this Bill becomes an Act. Will they share the responsibility with the Ministry of Transport or will it be entirely the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport?
Another point on the question of non-county roads is that up to now, I understand, the county councils have had no responsibility for their maintenance or upkeep, financially or otherwise; but under this Bill, although it was not mentioned by the Minister when he referred to Clause 1, they are now invested with a new responsibility for non-county roads, and I think that requires a little more explanation. The county councils will want to know just what this entails and what grant they are likely to get from the Ministry in future for non-county roads so far as the maintenance of grids is concerned.
Then there is the point, which has been touched on by one or two other Members, of the financial responsibility of the owners of land which is nearby. I take a different view from that of my noble 1609 Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke),.who said that he did not think they should have any financial responsibility for the grids. I take a view somewhere between what the Devon County Council have done and by my noble Friend's view. In their resolution of 20th April, the Devon County Council stated that where the construction of grids to replace gates across highways would be of advantage to landowners and farmers as well as to highway users, they should be provided only where the owners concerned agreed to bear one-third of the cost after deducting any grant payable. That relates to the case in which the parties are jointly interested in the construction of a grid.
The resolution also stated that in those cases where no gates exist the owners should be required to pay the whole of the cost, on the ground that the construction of grids could not be considered to be of benefit to the highway users. That is not what is in the Bill, of course. The resolution was passed before the Bill was printed. My view is that the owners of land nearby, particularly if they are to benefit more than the highway users. should bear some financial responsibility, and I believe that we should hear more about that from the Parliamentary Secretary or whoever is to reply.
There is one other responsibility which needs to be clarified in the Bill. It is no use constructing a grid to stop cattle or sheep straying, if the farmer who owns or farms the adjacent land does not keep up his fences or banks, as the case may be. There must be some sanction in the Bill by which the expense of putting up these cattle grids is not a wasted expense on account of a farmer neglecting to keep up his fences. In future we want to see plenty of grids so that the stock on Exmoor does not stray from the farms to which it belongs. With sufficient grids there will not be this endless waste of time and money involved in searching for stock, and it will be possible to increase the amount of stock carried on a farm and on the whole of Exmoor by many thousands, whether it be sheep or cattle. That is potentially very good. The added food production which this will permit -in this country will more than pay for whatever was the small figure mentioned today—£10.000 or so. It is much more likely to pay, as the hon. 1610 Member for Ealing, North, said, for a cost of £10 million. It will repay us very handsomely through the vastly increased production of stock which will result from the introduction of cattle grids.
I know there are many other hon. Members who wish to bring out various points which I have not mentioned, and there are a good many other points which have been raised by the county council. I have, however, dealt with the principal points I wished to make concerning the two speeches this afternoon and, in conclusion, I want to give the Bill my blessing, subject to certain Amendments which may have to be made later.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. H. L. D'A. Hopkinson (Taunton)
When I first saw this Bill it occurred to me that it ought to be called the " AntiCattle-Grid Bill " rather than the " Cattle-Grid Bill," because the grids are not intended for use by cattle but to keep them in or out, as the case may be. An Australian friend of mine told me last week that in Australia, where these grids are very common, if not universal, they are known as " ramps." Whatever else this Bill is, it certainly is not a ramp. It is not a question of " cosseting " or "feather-bedding" farming, but something which will meet a very seriously felt need throughout many parts of the country and among a community who deserve our attention—the marginal farmers who will be so much responsible for the increased production of beef and mutton.
There are many parts of this country to which this Bill applies but, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) I shall speak mainly of Exmoor, which I know personally. Twenty years ago there was grazing on Exmoor for large numbers of cattle, sheep and Exmoor ponies, but today the numbers have fallen very seriously. They were largely cross-bred Devon-Shorthorn steers and the little Exmoor horned sheep, and the ponies were, of course, the descendants of the pre-historic horse in this country, which contributed so much to our breeding of horses.
Today the numbers have decreased, and the reason for that is that over the past years the gates across the roads—the gates which kept them in and enabled them to roam freely over the moorland 1611 have either broken down or been destroyed and have never been replaced. The result has been that farmers have been deterred from keeping the stock, and I think the very fact that there are still large numbers of sheep and cattle on Exmoor is great tribute to the tenacity of our Exmoor farmers.
As far as the grids are concerned, I think it has been proved quite conclusively that cattle, sheep and horses cannot cross them and that there is very little risk of injury. There is bound to be some risk; for instance, lambs may fall in and hurt themselves. It would be quite impossible, however, to cycle over the grids which we are putting up on Exmoor. They are steel girders about two-and-a-half inches across, with four inches between them, and, as has been said, they run across the road. It would be quite impossible for a cycle to cross them. I inspected five of the latest grids on Exmoor last Saturday and there is no doubt about that at all.
As a matter of fact, I think it was the need for supplying these grids on Exmoor which led to the consideration of this question by the Ministry of Agriculture and, ultimately, to this Bill. The subject has been before the Somerset County Council on many occasions, principally in the first year or two following the war, when we were trying to build up our animal population on Exmoor. The question which worried the council at that time was that they believed these grids were illegal. I think my hon. and gallant Friend takes a different view. Secondly, the council were concerned at the great cost involved. As far as they could judge, the Hill Farming Act gave no benefit at all in this connection.
The subject was taken up, however, and I think it would be less than generous if I were not at this point to pay tribute to my predecessor in this House, Mr. Victor Collins, for his interest in this matter. As a result of his inquiries to the Minister of Agriculture it was eventually agreed that the subject should be further considered and a Bill introduced but, meanwhile, authorities in other counties, including the neighbouring county of Devon and elsewhere, went ahead with these grids, and they have had a remarkable record of lack of accidents.
1612 As my hon. and gallant Friend said, there were only two accidents on the Devon grids. There is one example of these grids which will be familiar to most hon. Members—the grids at each end of Windsor Great Park which were put in 20 or 30 years ago, I believe at the request of His late Majesty King George V. They have a record of only one accident in all that time. They are now being removed, following the transfer of the deer elsewhere.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
That is quite true, but that is an old fashioned type of grid with roller tubes, quite different from the modern grid, where the girders are four to five inches apart. The Somerset County Council were very anxious to avoid taking action which was illegal, but eventually they decided to put up five new grids on Withypool Hill for experimental purposes. Those are the grids to which I referred a moment ago and which I inspected last week. Although it was illegal, the Minister of Health sanctioned the payment for £2,000 for these grids for 1949-50 and 1950-51.
The Bill, which I warmly welcome, is intended to legalise this position and to provide the necessary finance. The cost is very high. There is no doubt that that must be so in most cases if we are to deal with the heavy charabancs and lorry traffic which crosses Exmoor today. The grids cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of £300 to £400 each. It has been said that many hundreds are needed on Exmoor alone, but my information is that on the Somerset side, at any rate, 16 grids will suffice. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, however, the whole value of the grids will depend on whether farmers keep up their boundary fences. In some parts, on Withypool Common, for instance, the fences are excellent, but elsewhere they are not; they have been allowed to fall into disrepair. It may be worth considering whether there is not some section in the Hill Farming Act under which assistance could be given to farmers for repairs to their fences and banks.
I should like to mention two or three points, some of which have been dealt with already. One essential feature of the 1613 system of grids, it seems to me, is the provision of some alternative means of entrance and exit. These are referred to in the Bill as " by-passes." At the same time, the Bill gives the Minister the right to do away with these by-passes or not to instal them at all. It seems to me that that is quite absurd. There is no point in having an arrangement for keeping animals safely on the commonland unless you can get them out again when you want them. Therefore, I cannot see any reason for this provision. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he could tell us what is its object, and whether, in fact, it would not be better to get rid of that provision so as to make it quite clear that wherever there is a grid there must be an alternative method of passage. I think that gives the reply to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) who was asking what is to happen to the bicyclists. This affects not only bicyclists. It affects horse-drawn vehicles, ridden horses, and pedestrians; all have to have some means of getting through alongside a grid, as well as the cattle which have to be driven in and out.
The second point that I want to mention again particularly concerned the Somerset County Council, and its examination of the question of compensation. The council finally decided, when it took the risk of installing those five grids, to insure against damage to any person or animal. In the case of Scotland, as my hon. Friend said, it is specifically laid down in the Bill that the highway or other authority is responsible for compensation for damage. That seems to me to be right. I do not think it is possible to leave the compensation completely uncertain, as it is in the case of England and Wales, where no provision whatever is made concerning it. I should like again to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to enlighten us on that point.
My final question is that of costs. I think that that has been very amply covered by other speakers on both sides of the House, but I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary again if he could give us some information in regard to the £10,000, and to tell us exactly what it is intended to cover. In connection with costs, there has been a demand from certain quarters of the House for the illumination of the warn- 1614 ing signs on the grids. I think we could use those red reflector signs. That would be a reasonable thing to do, and, indeed, a necessary thing to do. However, we cannot try to light up all the grid signs on the wilds of Exmoor—still less, I imagine, those up in the Highlands—without running literally into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Finally, I should like to congratulate the Government on bringing in this very important Bill, which will be of much value to the marginal farmers, on whom we shall depend for the increase in our beef and mutton stocks—
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I wish that he would clear up one point, and that is his references to " marginal farmers." The grids we are discussing will be of value in the production of food on marginal land, but the problem of the marginal farmers is a different problem altogether. It may not be grids that we want for them. It may be traps that they want.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The marginal farmers on Exmoor have two problems—the enclosed fields, which, I think, the hon. Gentleman will agree constitute marginal land, and which need attention; and in addition their rights on the commons above, which constitutes their other problem. There may be 16 or 17 commoners all wanting grids. However, their needs on the commons are a different problem from that of their needs in the closed fields farther down; and the farmers in that part of the country are interested not only in the fields but also in the commons themselves.
I think there is rather more in it than that. There is also the marginal " mentality," so to say. That was brought out very fairly in the Exmoor Report last year. It was made very clear that one of the things over which the farmers, whose position was discussed in that Report, were concerned was the feeling that they were neglected, and that they required some evidence from the rest of the country that the work they were doing was valued. They also wanted assistance to improve their position. I believe that the construction of these grids will be a token to those men up on Exmoor and else- 1615 where in the country who want to be given a feeling that the country as a whole is behind them. This Bill will contribute, as I was saying, not only to the ultimate improvement of our meat ration, but also to retaining that tough and hardy race up on those hills, where they will be able to serve the country in the future as well as they have in the past.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I had not intended to take part in this Debate, but several speeches have raised interesting points that I had not anticipated could have arisen on this Bill. One of them is that the supply of the grids will compel farmers to keep up their boundary fences. I should think that that is something that ought to be done entirely apart from the fixing of grids. Whether farmers have gates or whether they have grids, it is their duty to keep up their boundary fences, and to suggest that this Bill will compel farmers to keep up their boundary fences, I think, is completely off the mark.
Neither do I think that the Bill will give any increase in food production. Farmers do not decide on the number of their stock by the way in which their stock are kept in the fields or come out of the fields; and all that grids do is to control the movement of cattle to and from fields. Farmers, if they are proper farmers, keep up the quantity of stock which their land will carry, irrespective of the entrances or exits which may be supplied. The simple fact is that these grids are necessary because people are too careless or too negligent or too reluctant to close gates. If people would close the gates these grids would be unnecessary. Moreover, they are a poor substitute for gates. There is no danger with a gate, but with a grid there is.
Here I want to put a point very seriously to the Minister. I hope he will take into consultation the people who are expert on the provision of these grids. When I hear hon. Members speaking about four-inch spaces between the bars I feel that those spaces are far too wide. Many ponies' feet will go through four inches, and donkeys' feet will certainly go through; and those animals have to cross over the grids. What about calves? A calf's leg will go through four inches.
1616 That will be quite dangerous in many areas, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take into consultation the National Farmers' Union, which has men who are capable of saying what the width of the grids should be in various areas of the country.
The reason why these grids keep cattle in or out of fields is that the animals are afraid to cross them. It is the fear of the animal crossing over something which appears to it to be unsafe. Cattle will come to a grid and will stay there to examine it for a moment and then turn away. The danger is that the cattle may at some time or another be driven on I() the grid. Imagine a motor coming down the road and there is a bunch of cattle near to a grid. If the cattle are startled by the appearance of the motor behind them, they will stampede across the grid, and that is when it becomes dangerous for the cattle. All these points should be watched.
Before the grids were fully considered in this respect, I think that more experiments should have been made with the automatic gate, which is opened by the car running over a bar, similar to the switching on of traffic lights, and closed by the car crossing another bar afterwards. These experiments have been carried out in one or two places by private people and have been very successful. If there had been more experiments with this type of automatic gate I feel that we should not have required these grids. I do not like grids; the gate is far better, and before the Minister begins to build grids wholesale all over the country, I hope he will make an examination of the possibility of the automatic gate.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) has interested me very much, and I believe there is a great deal in what he has said. I have seen these automatic gates which open by the car driving over a bar in the road, and although I had not thought of making this suggestion in the Debate, I feel that what the hon. Gentleman has just said deserves the attention of the Minister, because now that these grids are in their experimental stage he might well try a couple of other devices at the same time to see which works the best.
1617 I want to add my welcome to this Bill, but I must also add my feeling of disgust to that of my noble Friend at the way in which the Minister dealt with it. The Minister used only 10 or 12 minutes in dealing with a Bill which quite evidently required a great deal of explanation. It was almost an insult to the House that he should pass it off in such a cursory manner. I believe that half of the time spent in making speeches from all quarters of the House could have been saved if the Minister had told us, for instance, exactly what the £10,000 a year which has been mentioned was to have been spent on. We have all made wild guesses and conjectures about what it is for, and we still do not know. If the Minister had taken the trouble to explain these things and put them quite clearly to the House a great deal of time and trouble would have been saved.
It is almost exactly a year ago that the National Pony Society produced a resolution in the following terms:This society is strongly in favour of bringing forward legislation permitting grids to be installed on commons and Crown land where ponies have a right of pasture.I took this up with the Minister at the time, and I am pleased to think that this Bill may have been the result of a certain amount of prodding from the Conservative benches. I give him credit for at that time offering grants to the county council from the Road Fund, but, as has been explained this afternoon, at that time there were certain legal difficulties, all of which this Bill now manages to get over. Therefore, on behalf of, not only the National Pony Society but the British Horse Society, on both of whose councils I serve, I am authorised to thank the Minister for having paid attention to what they asked him for by introducing this Bill.
In correspondence going back about 12 months, through which I had been looking, I have found some from the Exmoor Pony Society, who have explained that many farms are enclosed and roaming ponies cannot get on to them, but where the roads break out into cultivated districts these ponies do much damage to the farms when gates are left open. Under this Bill we shall still have two gates, either one on each side of the grid or both on the same side, so that the human element is still present and those 1618 gates may be left open again. I think it is less likely, now that there will be less traffic going through them, that they will be left open so often. I suggest that instead of having two gates, there should be one gate for horse-drawn traffic but a stile would suffice to let pedestrians over. After all, if the pedestrian cannot negotiate a stile he could always push open the big gate next to it. This should halve the chance of gates being left open.
Another suggestion I should like to make is this. Where these small gates are used as by-passes round the grids they should have automatic locks. There are certain gates which swing to and eventually rest in a groove and lock themselves automatically. That would be a small and inexpensive device which might well save much trouble in preventing gates being left open. The warning notices of grids ahead, to which many hon. Members have drawn attention, also want watching, and I think it is very necessary that reflecting lights should be put on these notices.
Amongst the correspondence I have been looking through I also found some letters from the Devonshire County Council, in one of which they say that the difficulty in putting up cattle grids is the shortage of steel to make them. Is that so? Perhaps the Minister could touch on that when winding-up. Is there a great shortage, and can he get over it easily? It is not much good carrying on with this Bill if the grids are not obtainable. I do not want to touch again on finance. I had several observations to make, but as so many speakers have made guesses I think it would be better to wait and hear what the Minister says in reply.
I do, however, want to touch on Clause 6, which gives power to put up these warning signs. Surely it would be much better to make it compulsory to put up the signs. On reading further in the Clause, I notice that the Minister has power to direct signs to be put up when he thinks it necessary. That is surely shutting the stable door after the horse has left—or putting up the notice after the springs of a car have been broken. It would be much better if in Committee we provided that the putting up of notices is made compulsory and not leave it for the Minister to take action when it is perhaps too late.
1619 I thank the Minister for answering a question I put down yesterday, as to whether we should be allowed to have a view of the proposed grid. He has kindly offered to produce it somewhere in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster very shortly. It would have been much better if we could have seen it before this Debate, because that would have saved much of the argument we have had about bicycles and so on being able to cross the grid. The Minister also took the trouble to get excellent plans made, which only arrived in the Library at about six o'clock last night. I would say to any hon. Member who has not seen these plans that they are well worth studying, and are extremely clear. I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Plan No. 4, with which he may be familiar; if not perhaps he will look into it. That plan is of a place where by-passes are not supposed to be necessary. The reason given is because there is a loop road going round and coming back into the road again. It appears from the plan that it must be at least twice as far to go by the loop road. The road appears to be private and, in any case, it goes through a farm yard. That may be all right for the farmer to take his stock to and from the road, going outside the grid, but the horse-drawn traffic that wants to go straight down the road, as there is no by-pass, has to go twice as far along a private road and through a farm. Therefore, I think that this plan wants looking into again, because I do not think that it is practicable.
I want to make an urgent request to the Minister to answer the many questions which have been put to him today. There have been many extremely important queries. Only a few days' ago he introduced the Merchant Shipping Bill, and he never replied to the Debate although several hon. Members asked him many questions. I hope that he will answer the questions put to him today, now that he has had a couple of hours to find out the answers which he does not know because he did not appear to know some of the answers when dealing with the Merchant Shipping Bill. I hope that he will take the trouble to find out the answers and let us have them before this Debate closes.
1620 I welcome the Bill because it will have the effect not only of controlling ponies for breeding and weeding out but of preventing a good deal of damage to crops.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
think that this Bill will be very welcome in the county I come from, the county of Devon. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) that it will not enable more stock to be kept on the moors. I believe that in our case it will. At present, when stock wander all over the place farmers are not stocking up to the full limit. As the hon. Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) has said, our own county council has beaten the pistol they have constructed two grids already and have quite a large number of further applications.
As regards accidents, I believe that there is a slight risk of accidents to animals and it is very important that the grids should be properly constructed. On the other hand, people who have had, experience of them say it really is remarkable how quickly the news gets round among the stock and the sheep, which seem to have a road safety campaign very effectively developed, that there is no future in trying to cross one of these grids.
I own I thought that cyclists could negotiate these grids with safety, though I have been a bit shaken by what the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) said. Like the hon. Member for Devon, North, however, I am still of the opinion that they can be crossed. I am sure that an intrepid cyclist like the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) would experience no difficulty. I have found it most exhilarating to cross grids on a bicycle. I believe that it is only a question of how fast one goes—the faster the better. I think the hon. Member for Devon, North, and I will take our bikes out and carry out some experiments, and I invite the hon. Member for Ealing, North, to accompany us, and we will report back to the House as to the result.
I want to make one or two detailed references to the Bill. In Clause 1 the local highway authorities are given power to construct grids on roads which are not repairable by the inhabitants at large. That is an interesting, and, I think, an 1621 important power, and how acceptable it will be will depend on the financial arrangements which can be made. I would ask the Minister what exactly the relationship will be between this Bill and the Hill Farming Act under which at present grants can be claimed, I think, towards the cost of grids. Does this Bill supersede the Hill Farming Act in that respect, or can grants continue to be made under that Act?
Clause 3, I have been told, may interfere—and I think the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), referred to this—with the protection that the local highway authorities have under the doctrine which is known as non-feasance. I have no idea what that means, but I am told that the local authority is not liable under it for failing to take action but only for acting negligently. If this does interfere, I hope that the Minister will tell us.
Clause 9 provides, in certain circumstances, for payments to be made to third parties, as it were; but can payments be received? Can the local highway authorities enter into an agreement under which payments are to be made to them towards the cost of providing the grids? When we come to Clause 12, as many hon. Members have said, we are all interested in what are the financial arrangements which the Minister has in view as between his Department and the local highway authorities.
The Development and Road improvement Funds Act, 1909, does not lay down any particular percentages for grants and we should like to know whether the percentage grants which the Minister is proposing are going to be the same as those he is at present making. I hope that he will tell us what they will be in the case of all the different classes of roads, including the roads not repairable by the inhabitants at large, because, in our own case, I think that there is a little doubt that most of the grids will be constructed on unclassified roads or those roads which are not repairable by the inhabitants at large.
When we come to the Schedule, I am a little perplexed with regard to subsection 3 (5) as to what are the circumstances in which the Minister envisages that a local inquiry can be dispensed with, and if a local inquiry is dispensed with, 1622 whether there will be any other way in which someone who has made representations can put his case and be heard. I hope that these questions will be answered. I support what my hon. Friends have said about the Bill. It is a welcome Bill, and I think it will do a great deal of good.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert (Torrington)
It is little wonder that this Bill is welcomed on both sides of the House because it has as its object the removal of some of the difficulties that face a farmer who wishes to keep sheep or cattle on moors. If there are fewer difficulties, obviously more sheep and cattle will be kept, which will have the effect of improving our meat ration. I do not want to be controversial or to get out of Order, so I will merely say there is a great deal of room for improvement in the quantity and quality of our meat ration.
I think that the Minister was a little optimistic as to the increase that will take place in the number of sheep and cattle kept. The real cause of the decline in the number of sheep, as I see it, is the shortage and inadequacy of rural housing. Many hon. Members have asked the question—and it is a most pertinent one —as to whether this £10,000 a year is to be treated as interest or capital. If it is treated as capital, and this Bill results in only 30 or 40 grids being constructed each year, it will be quite useless.
My own constituents, while welcoming the Bill, are a little apprehensive that it may cause an increase in the rates which are continually rising. Provided that it does not, I feel that I shall be expressing their point of view by saying that they welcome the Bill wholeheartedly because it will help the agricultural community.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
I am glad of this opportunity to say a few words in support of the Bill. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman could have spent a little more time in explaining the Bill in more detail, particularly as during the Debate so many frightening differences have developed on how these grids will he constructed. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) suggested that the grids would be made of triangular bars, and we have also heard about the horrifying proposal to make a 4½ inch gap between the bars. It has been sug- 1623 gested that certain animals would be able to cross the grid but that other animals will be stopped, which is certainly not my interpretation of these grids.
It has been suggested already that we are very backward in the provision of grids in this country. Those of us who have farmed in the Empire know that grids are commonplace in Africa and Australia, and I hope the Minister takes account of the experience gained in these countries. I am certain that if he does he will find it possible to cheapen the cost of these grids much more than the figures mentioned so far suggest. There is much more in making a grid than the words of the Bill—a device designed to prevent the passage of animals.A lot can be done by altering the size and position. The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) made a very good point in regard to the two distinct kinds of grid which can be provided, the one that is constructed in the road to take the heaviest loads, and the one that is put to the side of a by road which forces traffic to slow down and cheapens costs very considerably.
I constructed a grid before the war, which I drive across every morning, at a cost of £30. It is a narrow grid of light construction. No lorry can cross it, which does not matter, because the gate can be used and experience shows that lorry drivers and their mates are much more meticulous in shutting gates than the drivers of motor cars. These grids are, of course, a potential danger to cars, which may come on them without warning at night, and to animals. Only last week I had to pull out a cow which had fallen through the grid and was in danger of breaking its leg. They are also dangerous to children. Adults and children will continue to cross the grid, and there is no wish on the part of the House to prevent them from doing so.
It is the practice in the Empire to construct grids with round bars. Steel tubes are possibly the cheapest form of material with which to make these grids. Another important point is that the tubes should be removable so that an animal can quickly be released. Anyone who has had an animal caught in a grid with fixed bars will know what a difficult operation it is to get the animal out and that in 1624 many cases the animal is lost through its struggles.
The depth of the pit beneath the grid is not important. The tendency in this country is to dig a big pit, the idea being that the animal is frightened of the drop when it looks through the bars. Our experience in Africa was that this is not necessary. It was found that bars placed just a few inches above the ground were sufficient to stop animals, and that if an animal got caught its legs were not endangered to anything like the same extent as in the case of deep pits. I hope I have made the point that there is a great deal in the construction of these grids, and that a cheap grid can be just as effective as the grids costing some hundreds of pounds which have been referred to today.
I hope the Minister will realise the danger which will automatically arise when grids are put on a main road. It should be the primary object to site a grid in such a way that a motor car must slow down and this applies especially to the smaller roads. I suggest that on the main post by the grid there should be an illuminated arrow showing where the grid is sited as well as a warning sign placed some hundred yards up the road. When driving on a strange road and coming across a grid, one is generally confronted by three posts between two of which is the grid and the other the gate. It means that it is very dangerous if there is any hesitation as to which direction the car should take. The car may be heading between the wrong posts which may result in a very bad accident. I hope, therefore. that there will be two forms of warnings, the first being the early warning and the second an arrow on the gatepost.
I think that the intention of Clause 7 is clear, although I am in some doubt as to the meaning of the wording. It provides thatthe appropriate authority may require that any gate or gates installed in the exercise of the said right before the provision of the cattle-grid shall be removed.I should like an assurance from the Minister on this point. He will realise that it is important always to have a gate adjacent to a grid. I hope therefore that the intention is that a gate will be moved only a few yards on the side of the grid and will not be removed altogether
§ Mr. Barnes indicated assent1625
§ Mr. Grimston
I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman nodding. I thought that was the idea. All sides of the House will welcome this Bill. If this is the tangible result of evenly balanced parties in this House, then I can only hope that we will carry on having evenly balanced parties so that we can have more useful little Bills like this.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) has been most helpful to the House, and if this Debate is not to achieve anything else, it has resulted in all of us knowing a great deal more about cattle-grids than we did before. With regard to the response which the Minister has received from the House for this Bill, he should be rather gratified because he must at any rate have had some fear in presenting this Measure that he might get a bit of a roasting from the House, and might be considered in conjunction with St. Lawrence, as the patron saint who was grilled on a gridiron. At one moment I had thought of suggesting to him that the warning signs should have displayed on them a portrait of the right hon. Gentleman in the position of St. Lawrence as he is to be seen in the Crypt of the Palace of Westminster.
I confess I am very bemused about this Bill and particularly about the financial side and what it is really intended to do. I hope the Minister when replying will enlighten the House. Is it supposed to be a big and important Bill or a little Bill? We have been told during the Debate that as the result of these grids a substantially greater amount of marginal land will be brought into operation, and that will have a considerable effect upon food production in this country; that for the expenditure of £10,000 a year we are going to affect substantially the amount of food which this country is producing. If that is true then I cannot but believe it would have been done a long time ago. I cannot think that that is a correct interpretation of what this Bill is going to achieve.
What does this expenditure of £10,000 a year really amount to? As my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) inquired, is it £10,000 of an annual payment of charges 1626 resulting, in fact, in an expenditure of some hundreds of thousands of pounds? If that is so, then the question which we in this House will have to consider is—is the capital expenditure of a sum of that kind justified at the present time either in regard to food production or in regard to the comparative priorities of other demands for capital expenditure? I do not imagine that that is, intended to be the case. So far as one can read into this Bill, what the amount should be is an expenditure of £10,000 a year. If that is so, where do we get to then? The right hon. Gentleman said that we have at the present time in this country 180 cattle-grids, and I presume those are cattle-grids on public roads, and not grids such as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans was referring to in his private park. If these are public grids—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Whether they are private or not, at present we have 180, which I understand from the right hon. Gentleman he was making provision to take over in the first year, at any rate as regards payment. If that be so and even taking his last figure of £200 a grid, that provides an expenditure of £36,000 in the first year, whereas the financial estimate in the Bill is approximately £10,000 a year, and that is without the provision of any new cattle grids whatsoever during the first year.
Returning to this figure of £10,000 a year, if that is, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost of the annual provision of grids under this Bill, let us consider what is to be the cost of each grid. The right hon. Gentleman said he thought £200 to £300, but other figures have been mentioned up to £850, which looks as if we can come down to a reasonably firm estimate of £400 to £500. Even if it is £400, which is within a reasonable margin of the Minister's own estimate, that means that the total number of grids which we can produce in any one year is only 25.
If, in fact, we have already been able to purchase 180 grids without worrying about the intervention of the Government and without spending public money from the Treasury, surely it is not worth while going to all this trouble and having this Bill in order to produce an additional 25 grids a year. If it is, in fact, the 1627 case that the greatest advantage from these grids will be in the locality, why should not the local authority for the highways concerned—and in some cases that will be the right hon. Gentleman and his Department who are responsible for the trunk roads—be made responsible for paying for them, instead of financing them out of central Treasury funds?
I do not maintain that this Bill is in any way going to be to the advantage of the farmers. I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) that this is a traffic Bill and not an agriculture Bill. The agriculturalist is merely having returned to him some degree of justice in the restoration of the barrier across the road to keep his cattle in. He had gates before, but now after a lapse of time it is proposed to give him cattle grids. From a purely agricultural point of view, he is not being done so well by as in the past when gates existed. Therefore, what is now being done is not for the benefit of the agricultural industry in that sense; it is merely the restoration of the rights of which they had previously been deprived.
May I refer to one or two matters of some detail, one of which has already been touched upon? It is the question of responsibility for damages in the event of failure properly to maintain these cattle-grids. It is a matter which has been before the House on various occasions previously, and I am sorry that neither of the Law Officers of the Crown are here, because we debated the point to some length in 1947 on the Crown Proceedings Bill. The Attorney-General then said that that was not an appropriate Measure in which to introduce the principle that the local authorities and the central authority should be responsible for their acts of non-feasance as well as their acts of misfeasance. That is a principal which should be introduced into the Bill, and it has not been done.
The situation in Scotland has been clarified. It is clear from the Bill that the authorities in Scotland are responsible for their acts of non-feasance as well as misfeasance, but it should also be made clear in this Bill that in England and also in Wales local authorities should be responsible for their acts of non-feasance as well as for their acts of misfeasance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bring that point to the attention of the 1628 Attorney-General so that he may move an Amendment in the Committee stage to effect that alteration, which will be to the benefit of the community as a whole.
I beg the Minister to ensure that the regulations which he has the power to make are not too cumbersome. Cattle-grids are nothing new. They have been in existence in this country for a very long time. I assure him that it will not be necessary to build up a department in his own Department to look after cattle-grids. It is a subject about which many private owners and most local authorities already know a great deal. Simplicity and economy will repay him in this instance. I hope that if it is considered necessary to proceed with this Measure—in so far as it is necessary I consider it to be good and to the advantage of the community—the right hon. Gentleman will not use it as a sledge-hammer to achieve the very minor cracking of the nut which it is intended to do.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
As all the hon. Members who wish to speak appear to have done so, the Debate can now be wound up. First of all, on behalf of the Opposition, I should like to offer my congratulations to the only maiden speaker so far today, the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). Those of us who have gone through that ordeal know what a nerve-breaking process it is, and I am sure that those who heard the hon. Member will agree that it was a very useful contribution and that we are anxious to hear him again.
I also wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport on the reception which his Bill has had. It was rather different from what happened last night, as he himself said. I heard only one complaint about the Minister, and that was that he spoke too briefly. I have been in this House off and on for some time, and it is the first time I have ever heard complaints that Front Bench speeches are too short. Usually, they are too long. The right hon. Gentleman himself made the only disparaging reference to his Bill. He said that it was a small Bill which, on another occasion, might have been crowded out. I would remind the House that this is one of the major Bills of the Session. It had the honour of a place in the Gracious Speech.
1629 Let us treat it with the due dignity with which it should be treated.
The Minister said that one reason why he felt that the Measure was useful was that we all know that motorists and others are inclined to leave gates open when going along a gated road. Since the war something more trying has occurred. During the war some of these drivers were in the habit of driving armoured cars and tanks and they got into the habit of going straight on and failing to open gates at all. I have continually been told by farmers and others that drivers of a bad kind are inclined to drive their tractors straight through the gates, without opening them at all, thereby breaking the gates or the fastening. For that small reason I feel that the Bill will be useful.
That brings me to a point which was made by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), who said that he would rather have automatic gates than grids. I have had some experience—not a great deal—of automatic gates. These are the ones where the car itself opens the gates by a mechanical device and closes it when it gets to the other side. Such gates are by no means foolproof, and if a careless driver goes across the device too quickly he will break down the gate. A further objection which I have had put to me is that when going through the automatic gate one may also let through cattle which are standing round about. That could not happen with a grid.
The House will not be surprised to know that I am not addressing them as an agriculturist or on behalf of the grids which might be put in Lewisham, North. Quite rightly, the Bill does not apply to London, but I welcome the opportunity of speaking in the Debate as one who has taken a considerable interest in road development for a number of years and who, just before the war, had some knowledge of administration through having been Parliamentary Secretary at the time the Trunk Roads Bill was before the House. I welcome the Bill as doing something, however small—many hon. Members have said that it is not a large contribution—to improve our highways.
Motorists, who will be the chief gainers from this provision, are often tourists, and tourists, particularly dollar tourists, are now a very large industry in this 1630 country. I want to put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary. These grids will be new to some of our tourists from overseas, and I suggest that when they get their papers from this country—telling them to drive on the left of the road, and so on—they should be informed, when the provisions of this Bill have been fully carried out, that a number of these cattle-grids will be encountered. It is obvious that a cattle-grid may be a danger to someone who is motoring at night and has no knowledge of cattle-grids.
This is a small move forward in highway development, but I believe that it is the first Bill since 1936 to deal at all with our highways. Many of us who are interested in roads are rather anxious about what will happen when petrol is de-rationed in due course—we cannot develop this point too far tonight—and motor cars are fairly easy to obtain and there is a lot of new traffic on our roads, because since long before the war there has not been any real development of our highways. I believe that our main roads —I am thinking particularly of the Great North Road—are far behind what they ought to be to take the traffic which should go on them. Development is far behind that which has been made in the case of other roads on the Continent and in the United States of America.
I now turn, shortly, to the provisions of the Bill itself. The Minister has power in his hands to deal with trunk roads. In the early days in 1936 one of the grievances of the counties was put right when all trunk roads were put under the Ministry of Transport, which now looks after them. That being so, will the Minister be able to make use on trunk roads of the provisions in the Bill? As other hon. Members have said, these grids are required far more on secondary or on farm roads but there are certain Class I trunk roads where this provision could be used with advantage. I am thinking particularly of the Bath road at Savernake Forest, which I once used a lot but have not travelled along for some time. That used to be gated, and grids there would be a great advantage. There are other places like the New Forest, Dartmoor, some of the roads in Kent and many in Wales and Scotland, as other hon. Members have said.
The Minister has assured us that there are plans in the Library and that there will be pictures of the form of grid pro- 1631 posed. What is required on a trunk road is something much more substantial than the cattle-grids. I have seen so far in Scotland and on private farm roads, which are too flimsy. Another objection, which has probably been overcome now, is that they are extremely noisy. When anything goes over them the rattle can be heard for miles; also, most of them are extremely narrow. I have listened to the whole of the Debate, so I have not had an opportunity to look at the plans. I am sure that the House would be interested to know what proposal the Minister has in mind for the actual structure of the grids. I know that certain bodies, like the National Farmers' Union, are anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should take them into consultation before he fixes the form of grids which he proposes to put not only on main but on secondary roads.
I have been told that a satisfactory grid can be made from old railway lines. That ought to be dear to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman. He is always trying to help the railways, and here is a good opportunity to help the railways and the roads at the same time. Is any form of grid made which can be passed over at any considerable speed? One other small point arises on Clause 2, which might be developed further in Committee. There seems to be an appeal for the provision or removal of a bypass, but no appeal for the provision or removal of a grid. Is that intentional? The Minister or the county authority appear to take the sole responsibility for putting up a grid against which there is no appeal, but there is an appeal against a by-pass.
I do not know whether a traffic sign has yet been devised for the grid. I looked in the last edition of the Highway Code, where these signs are given, but I could not find If there is one, could the Parliamentary Secretary say what it is? If we are not careful it will look like a crest of the Houses of Parliament, which is also a grid. Also, is it intended to put on the gate of the by-pass a warning to people who use it that they must shut the gate or the grid will count for nothing?
Many hon. Members have spoken about the financial aspects of the Bill.
1632 Obviously, the Minister pays 100 per cent. for his trunk roads and we would like to know what are the grants for the classified road. This affects a vast number of people and I wish to know whether the Minister can give a grant—if he cannot meet the whole cost—towards roads which are not the responsibility of the inhabitants at large; that is, the private roads, because it is on many of these that the grids will be required.
There has been some argument about what is meant by the Proviso to Clause 1 (2), where the authority may deem that a by-pass is not necessary. I came to the conclusion that it was where there is some parallel road, not too far away, which could be used. I cannot see any other reason for that proviso, if we are to have a grid on a road over which they drive cattle there must be a by-pass at a point where there is no alternative. There has been no complaint from hon. Members about the form of procedure outlined in the Schedule which, in my view, is correct. At first it looks cumbersome in regard to rights of appeal, but on occasions when we take somebody's land, including perhaps a cottage garden, it is necessary to allow the person who feels himself aggrieved to have a proper form of appeal even if it takes a little longer than some of the shortened forms which we have seen sometimes in other Bills. As I have said, this is a useful little Bill, and we on this side of the House wish it well.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
We have had a very useful and somewhat lengthy Debate, and I shall try to cover most of the points which have been raised without unduly wearying the House or trespassing on its patience. Many of these matters, of course, are the sort of points that will come up again, perhaps, more appropriately on Committee stage. I shall try to deal with some of the more interesting points and give some general idea of the Government's approach to the various questions
I should like to join with other hon. Members in paying my meagre tribute to the one maiden speech which we have had in this important Debate. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, I think that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) showed great perspicacity in 1633 choosing a Debate of this importance on which to make his maiden speech. In his part of the country, at any rate, it will be realised that the importance of the subject is not affected either by the Financial Memorandum or the quips of hon. Members.
As I tried to say on one occasion, when the noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) seized upon it, the subject is out of all proportion to the size of the Measure or the money involved. If we can extend the construction of cattle-grids in the appropriate parts of the country, we shall by that small effort make possible a very considerable increase in the cattle and sheep grazing in those areas. By so doing, we shall aid our agriculture, not only in its livestock husbandry, but in other aspects also, and we shall, of course, make greater our contribution to the amount of British meat which is available for the tables of the consumers. I think that the Bill will have a very considerable effect in that way. It will, of course, help us to graze areas that at present are quite ungrazeable because of the difficulty of preventing the cattle from straying and, in consequence, getting into trouble.
Perhaps I ought at this stage to clear up a point which has arisen, not in the present Debate, but in the Debate on marginal land last Friday, when the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) raised the question of cattle grazing some of our commons and intimated that he would like the point to be dealt with here. He took the position that cattle could not graze some of these commons because, even if grids were put in at the end of the boundaries, there was still a risk of cattle straying on to the road in between. The noble Lord said that this was regarded by the police as an offence, and that owners were liable to be summoned and, because of that, would not take the risk.
Since that Debate I have taken advice, and I am told that outside some special cases—where, for example, the highway is a street for the purpose of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847—Section 25 of the Highways Act, 1864, expressly excludes from an offencesuch parts of any highway as pass over any common or waste or unenclosed ground.1634 So that it seems to us reasonable to say, as we at first thought, that by putting down these grids on the boundaries of such common land, we probably will enable the grazing of that common by the cattle, with great advantages all round.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), raised again one or two points Which had arisen repeatedly throughout the Debate. If I deal with them, as it were, on his ground, we can avoid going over them again. The main issue is that of cost. It has been raised by Member after Member on the other side. One thing which I am tempted to say, even though I have no wish to spoil the party, which has been such a harmonious one from the beginning, is that we are, of course, making a start. The continual suggestion that the amount involved is only £10,000 and will produce only x number of grids—I am not sure that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) did not get it down to a minus quantity; his arithmetic certainly went to extravagant lengths—is all very well as an argument.
But up to now nobody has had any assistance at all to do this job. Nobody has really been quite clear whether he was legally entitled to do it at all and whether he might not be in considerable trouble legally for doing it; and in presenting the Bill we are putting the legality of the thing beyond any doubt, and we are providing Government assistance for the first time. I suggest, therefore, that for a party which is continually complaining about the willingness of this Government to spend public money on good purposes, it is a little unseemly to spend the whole of an afternoon complaining that while we are doing this for the first time in the history of the country, we really ought to be ashamed of ourselves because we are not doing more. We have even had the figure of £10 million as one of the sums which have been tossed about. We really must. I suggest, keep a sense of proportion.
The position about the cost is this. We have made as good a guess as seems open to us in the light of what is known about how fast these things can be done. It seems to us that the £10,000 which we have put in the Financial Memorandum. which is, of course, not a binding figure— 1635 it is a figure which, we have expressly stated, is what we think is likely to be the sum involved—is the right sort of figure having regard to our experience on these things. It is a little unlikely, we think, that we shall be called upon from the Exchequer to provide more than that in the first year, or, perhaps, in any year, as Government grant aid for the installation of these grids.
The £10,000 does not represent the Government payment towards the charges; the hon. Member for Chichester clearly saw that. It represents the amount of Government constribution towards the cost—that is to say, in the case of a trunk road, the Government contribution will be 100 per cent. of the cost; a Class I road, the Government contribute 75 per cent.; a Class II road, 60 per cent.; and a Class III road, 50 per cent.; in other words, the exact proportions which roads now carry for works of this kind. The Government will provide these proportions of the total cost in each case and the £10,000 is what we think our share of the total cost is likely to amount to in one year.
§ Mr. Brown
They are unclassified; but I can deal with only one point at a time. As to whether the £10,000 will prove to be enough will depend to a large extent upon the spirit and vigour with which people come forward with proposals.
We have been asked from different parts of the House, who will initiate all this work. I suspect that the farming community will do so; that it will be they who will come forward with requests, suggestions and proposals. These will go to the appropriate authority of which there is a whole list, as hon. Gentlemen know, depending upon the nature of the road—who will discuss each one and will consider the contribution to the cost from the interests who are to derive benefits. The appropriate authority will consider the ability of the local authority to pay, -and so on. Then the proposal will be put up to the Ministry to be initiated by those who know most about it and who know all the advantages. We have done as much as we can to leave the discretion with the appropriate authority rather than, as somebody suggested, create some 1636 high-powered Department to deal with things at that sort of level.
With regard to unclassified roads, it is clear to all of us who have to move in the country that to a very large extent they will be the roads where these grids will do a lot of good; but they are not by any means the only roads which will benefit. On very many public roads the installation of cattle-grids would be of tremendous value. There are even some trunk roads where these devices will be desirable and where they can be provided. But to a large extent it will be on the second and third class roads where the most value will be done and, of course. on unclassified roads, as well.
At this stage my right hon. Friend is unable to commit himself, in grant-aiding these works, to go beyond his present policy in grant-aiding road works. That is to say, he does not at present grant-aid road works on unclassified roads. The Bill is drawn fairly widely in this respect but the intention is that the present policy of the Minister on other road works shall apply.
Hon. Members must remember that since 1946 there has been a considerable extension of my right hon. Friend's grant-aiding of road works. A tremendous amount of unclassified roads have been brought into the Class III category, which carries a 50 per cent. grant and a sum of money running into some millions of pounds has been paid out by grant-aiding road works since that category was brought into the scheme of things and these unclassified roads brought into it. To that extent my right hon. Friend is lessening the burden of local authorities in regard to roads which were not previously classified. There must always be a limit, but so long as his ability to spend money is what it is and there is a demand for money to be spent on trunk roads, he feels that his policy must be what it is now and must apply to cattle-grids and other road works.
§ Brigadier Peto
I understood that the Minister does not at present make any grant in the case of unclassified roads, but the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Minister will continue with his present policy. That means he will make no grants for unclassified roads.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. and gallant Member must have missed what I was 1637 saying. It seemed that other hon. Members were getting it and perhaps the hon. and gallant Member can look it up tomorrow. If it is necessary to recapitulate, my right hon. Friend.does not at the moment grant-aid road works on unclassified roads, but we are entitled to ask the House to take into account the fact that a very large mileage of what were hitherto unclassified roads have been called Class III roads since 1946. He is therefore grant-aiding road works on those hitherto unclassified roads to the tune of many millions of pounds a year. He feels he has reduced the burden on the highway authorities who hitherto have had to do the work themselves and is now justified in restricting grant-aiding to those classes of roads which, in the case of Class III, include a whole lot of what were before 1946, unclassified roads. We think it is right and it must be so that he must adhere to that policy in regard to cattle grids for the moment.
I hope it will be recognised that £10,000 will go some way towards getting this job done more quickly than before, and if highway authorities come forward.with rather more proposals, we shall have to see how far we can get. It certainly looks to us as though £10,000 will cover the work. Several hon. Members have raised the question of the appeal and asked why there is an appeal in the case of removing or not providing a by-pass but not an appeal in the case of putting down a grid.
The answer is that here again we think we should leave as much discretion with the highway authority as possible. These are major highway authorities with much bigger powers in regard to highways than they will get under this Bill without appeals and being subject to the Minister and so on. We wanted to leave them with the widest discretion and to treat them as responsible local authorities. If a grid is provided and a gate removed but a by-pass is not provided, it could be argued that someone's legal right to go down that road is taken away. It seems to us that when it is a question of taking away what has hitherto been a legal right of passage, even though that seems reasonable, there should be an appeal for anyone who is aggrieved. Therefore, when it affects an existing legal 1638 right of passage, the appeal should be provided, but it seems right not to provide it in the original instance.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North asked about the rare circumstances in which we envisage omitting a bypass. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South asked if it would not be better so to draft the Bill that a by-pass should be provided in every case, but it seems a pity so to draw the Bill that a by-pass is insisted on where there is no need for one. There might be an almost parallel road, or a road running out of the road which has a grid, and back into it, where the farmer is the only person who uses it for driving cattle and has a perfectly good means of entrance through the other road. It would be a waste of everyone's money —the farmer's, if he is making a contribution, the ratepayer's, if the local authority are doing it, and the taxpayer's, if the Government are providing it—to insist that a by-pass should be made even though no one wants it. We hope that by providing the appeal procedure we shall prevent any fractious use of the provisions to anyone's detriment.
§ Mr. G. Williams
A man driving through with a horse-drawn vehicle cannot go down the road and out at the other end. A by-pass, therefore, should be provided because the alternative would mean going down a private road and through a farm, which would be twice as far.
§ Mr. Brown
We must assume that we are not the only people to use commonsense, and if a right of way is necessary, clearly a by-pass would be provided. The case with which I am dealing is where there is no right of way necessary.
I am not referring to the question of signs, which was raised by several hon. Members, or to the shape of the armorial bearings of the sign, because my right hon. Friend is waiting to see what emerges. He has said that we shall have discussions with all sorts of people who have interests in this matter—the Farmers' Union, the R.S.P.C.A. and other people—not only about the grids, but about the signs and out of those discussions the right sort of sign and grid will be evolved.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Is it visualised that there will be conversations with the motorists' unions and the cyclists' unions?
§ Mr. Brown
I have no doubt that anyone who wants to be consulted and was not included in the list which my right hon. Friend gave, but who indicates an interest in the matter, will be heard and their views will be taken into consideration. My right hon. Friend would not want to be committed to seeing all the bodies to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, is committed, but he will be glad to hear those who have a particular interest in this matter.
I hope I have cleared up the vagueness which the noble Lord the hon. Member for Dorset, South, thought he found about who was the initiator. As far as we are concerned it will be the highways authority, but the initiation will come from the farming interests and I have yet to find that they are without influence in rural or county authorities. There will he no difficulty about them getting their influence felt.
I have been asked what about a dispute and an appeal against the decision of the highway authority? We have come to the conclusion that this matter is not as big as some of the powers already possessed by local authorities and they are responsible and major authorities. In this regard we ought not to put on them specific control at the centre which we do not apply to other wider powers. We have had a considerable discussion on the question of misfeasance and non-feasance. As will be clearly recognised, I am by no means a lawyer. It is one of the things one is happy or sad about according to one's point of view.
I am not going into a lengthy discussion about misfeasance or non-feasance, nor shall I be tempted by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) who raised the question about the difference between English and Scottish law. There is a difference and, I understand, nonfeasance is not known to Scottish law. It is known to English law and there is a circumstance of an accident which can arise which is misfeasance and on which the damaged person would have a civil claim. There is another class of damage arising out of a combination of circumstances which I gather would give 1640 rise to non-feasance in which the person suffering the damage has no claim by way of civil action but in regard to which there is some question of quasi-criminal proceedings. That.is a form of procedure which, I understand, has fallen into disuse.
Whatever the rights or wrongs may be about this matter that is the position of the law at the moment, and the person who is damaged in that way as a result of a cattle-grid will be in the same position as a person who sustains damage in any other way on the highway which calls into question non-feasance. The Government take the view that this Bill is not the occasion to make this far-reaching fundamental change in English law even if that were desired. Such a change needs to be undertaken in relation to a much bigger issue after much wider discussion of the issues involved. All we have done is to keep the arrangements in this Bill in conformity with what I am told is the present state of English law on these matters. We make no change and nobody is put in a worse position by the provisions that are in the Bill. It is not our intention to use this Bill as a means of making a fundamental and far-reaching change in the law.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us when is the right occasion in view of the fact that we have tried to introduce this limited change in the Crown Proceedings Act, the Trunk Roads Act and now in this Bill, none of which are apparently regarded as a suitable vehicle for making this alteration in the law?
§ Mr. Brown
I am concerned with this Bill and not with that far-reaching change in the law. I suggest that the hon. Member uses the procedure of this House between 2.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to seek advice from other people who are not concerned with the vast issues which are my concern, and to which I shall limit myself. What I have done is to state the law, and why there is a Clause which is applicable to Scotland without there being a similar Clause applicable to England.
I have dealt with the point raised about the Schedule procedure and why it is not attracted by a proposal to remove a grid. I have also dealt with the question raised about the £10,000 and the question of 1641 the grant payable in respect of the different classes of roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) raised one or two points. One was why the county councils could not have the responsibility in all cases. That would be entirely wrong, and it would certainly raise any number of hornets' nests if it was proposed to take away from existing highway authorities the powers, rights and duties which they have had for a long time. We can see no reason to take away those powers from those other highway authorities in order to give them to the county councils. I doubt whether we should be making a move in the right direction if we did so. One recognises my hon. Friend's tremendous interest in the question of grant aid for unclassified roads, having regard to the part of the country to which he belongs. I have- said all that I can say on that point.
The hon. Member for West Perth raised the question of Scotland's share of the £10,000. We have made no mathematical distribution of the amount in the Bill. I promise not to tell my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland of the gloomy suggestions made by the hon. Member as to how much of the £10,000 to which Scotland would be entitled. If we do not tell my hon. Friend he may not read HANSARD and the hon. Member may find that Scotland gets rather more than might otherwise be the case.
I emphasise that the initiative in this matter comes from lower down—the agricultural interests and the authorities—which are slightly different in Scotland from those in England. It does not follow that the hon. 'Member's distribution of the figures need be correct. He was one of those hon. Members who mentioned the question of the erection of signs and consultation about the type of grid. I have said that there will be considerable discussion about these matters. We attach enormous importance to getting the best we can.
We shall have to see what emerges in regard to the question of cyclists. Some hon. Gentlemen say that they can cycle over the grids, some have said that cyclists will come to a sticky end if they try to do so. It is no one's intention to bring about the sudden death or maiming 1642 of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North.
We shall take very much into account what was said by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), who raised the question, which has been raised several times by other speakers, about hill farming. The position is that there is no clash between this Bill and what we do under the.Hill Farming Act. Nor is there any intention of making a double grant for the same object. We can, in appropriate cases, approve grids where they form part of a comprehensive improvement on a hill farm where there is a private road leading off the highway, but not in other cases. We shall still be able to do that despite the Bill, and the two things will dovetail in that way, but they are not dealing with the same matter.
Mention was made of the question of other people who will get benefits out of these grids bearing a share of the cost. I agree heartily with what was said. There is no reason why the ratepayer or taxpayer generally only should be called upon to pay some part of the cost. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) raised a question about the by-pass. I dealt with that point earlier in answer to another question. I entirely agree with him about the importance of this Bill to Exmoor. If there is an area which will show the much greater importance of this Bill in relation to the amount of money contained in the Financial Memorandum, Exmoor is certainly that area. When I disagreed with him about the use of the term " marginal farmer," I was not disagreeing with him about the value of the work being done there but against a habit of talking about " marginal farmers," which is used in an altogether different sense.
I do not think there are many other points which have been raised with which I have not dealt. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) raised a question about injury. We will certainly take into account what he has said. Knowledge of all other experience in the Dominions and elsewhere is valuable before we decide on the actual type of grid. I heard only today of an excellent type, which I am assured can be seen in Wales which would obviate any question of having a grid open when one is going over it. That is a question which needs to be investigated. There is little evidence 1643 over the years from the number of grids we have in this country of any serious risk of injury; not many cases are known. It is easy to frighten people unnecessarily about that matter.
The hon. Member for Chichester asked whether this was a big or a little Bill and why if we could obtain all these results for so little it had never been done before. The answer is simple. It had like so many other matters, to await this kind of Government to find the time for it, and that is the kind of answer which the hon. Member can give to his constituents when they raise that point with him. [Interruption.] The last Government dealt with many issues but we are still overtaking the neglect of the past. As w.e. clear up one field of neglect, we can go on to another. That is why this Government is different from the last.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Is it not clear, after the revelation of the cost basis, that only about 20 grids will be provided in the initial year?
§ Mr. Brown
No. The noble Lord did not have the advantage of going to the kind of school to which I went, where mathematics played a more important part in the curriculum. It does not follow that the number of grids will be 20. I made a quick mathematical calculation on the basis of the Treasury grant to the local authorities, and including some contribution from other interests, I make the figure to be not less than 50. Whether the number is 10, 20 or 50 a year will depend upon the pace at which people come forward with schemes. The noble Lord must also have some regard to the economic situation of the country and of local authorities and the Government, and when we make a start with something which his party has not done for so long he must not expect us to clear up all the neglect in one year. One must do these sort of things slowly. I think that the Bill will have satisfactory results at little cost.
I have tried to deal as conscientiously as I can with the general points of the 1644 Debate. Many of them are points which may be brought up again in Committee when there will be ample opportunity to discuss them and we shall be ready to listen to what is said. This is not a Bill in which one dies in the last ditch on every point—one must not confuse grids with ditches: a ditch is a different thing altogether. Hon. Members who represent rural constituencies and agricultural interests will know that we are trying to remove one of the obstacles to the adequate grazing of much of our moor land and common land, which could carry cattle and sheep and make a great contribution to our food and general agricultural policy.
I hope that the House will give a Second reading to this Bill in that spirit, and let us get on with this important step in the interests of agriculture.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Bowden.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.