HC Deb 18 May 1950 vol 475 cc1399-423

3.38 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, to leave out from "road," to "subject," in line 7, and to insert: or to the owner and occupier of any agricultural land adjacent to a road expedient to prevent or control the passage of animals along the road, the authority may after consultation with such owners and occupiers and. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport will recollect that during the Second Reading a number of my hon. Friends and I referred to the difficulties which might arise in initiating the whole process of providing cattle-grids and by-passes. We felt that the Bill was vague as to the procedure which ought to be adopted by those concerned, whether land-owners or occupiers, or the highway authorities themselves, in order to take advantage of the Measure. Accordingly, we have put down this Amendment to give clearer definition to the object of the Clause and to secure that, whether the person concerned is an owner or an occupier, on the one hand, or is the highway authority, on the other hand, the two parties should be drawn together in this first Clause of the Bill and that a clear indication should be given to all concerned as to the procedure to be adopted.

We are anxious that someone should move to get a cattle grid or by-pass, installed and we are not entirely satisfied-with what the Parliamentary Secretary said on Second Reading, that the highway authority could act in some instances and owners and occupiers in others. The Amendment does two things. It gives a clear indication to owners and occupiers that they are entitled and empowered to move first in the matter of, the provision of grids and, secondly, a point incorporated in the Amendment prevents the highway authority from proceeding entirely on their own.

There is some danger that a highway authority might get an idea about a road and the provision of a cattle-grid upon it, work on that idea, draw up plans and proceed to install it, before there was any local consultation at all. We think that in various ways the whole process would be cheapened if the advice of owners and occupiers were sought ab initio whenever a scheme was adumbrated and highway authorities could be required to call them into consultation. This is what is sometimes called a second line Amendment to the one which immediately succeeds it. Some of us would not be disposed to press the second Amendment if the Minister felt there was something in the idea of the first. If we had prior consultation provided for and the highway authority were effectively stopped from proceeding on their own without consultation, it would be unnecessary to require that the scheduled procedure should be brought into play.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I wish to support the Amendment more particularly on the ground of the time that might be saved if the procedure envisaged in the Amendment took place. I think the usual procedure in the country if persons require some alteration made in a highway is well known. They write to the surveyor, or see their local county councillor, if the county council, as is usually the case, is the local authority, and, in due course, what they suggest is brought up at a sub-committee of the roads and bridges committee of the county council. In most cases those sub-committees meet once in three months. The matter then has to go to the full committee and, in due course, to the council. That takes a considerable amount of time.

Some of that time might be shortened if, in the first place, the local agricultural interests, possibly through some representative body such as the Central Landowners' Association, or the National Farmers' Union, could go straight on at a higher level to the county council. This Amendment would not entail any more expense, but it would save a great deal of time, and I am particularly supported in my view that it would be wise to adopt it by certain words that were used by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture at the end of the Second Reading. He said: 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. This Amendment is offering quick means for those requests to be canalised.

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

I want to make it plain that I do not approach this Amendment in any sense of arbitrary hostility. As the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) stated, we had a discussion on this point during the Second Reading and I think that the reply which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture then gave was an eminently sensible one. He said: I suspect that the farming community will do so;"— that is, take the initiative on the majority of cases where cattle-grids are required— that it will be they who will come forward with requests, suggestions and proposals."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1645.] My only opposition to an Amendment of this description is that it appears to me quite unnecessary to attempt to detail to persons their opportunities under a Measure of this kind.

Obviously the need for a cattle-grid springs primarily from the agricultural interest. The contacts between the agricultural interests in the locality, who would first see the need for a cattle-grid, and their relationships with their municipal representatives are generally close in those areas and they usually represent the same kind of knowledge and experience. I cannot conceive that if in any particular locality a grid were needed for any farmer, or group of farmers, they would not be aware that Parliament has made general provision for such grids and they would take the necessary steps to put the machinery into motion. I do not wish to begin to build this up into a large Bill because, as I said when I introduced it, it is a small Bill and I do not want unnecessary language, which serves no useful purpose, in it. From that angle I ask that the Amendment should not be pressed. I do not think it would serve any useful purpose.

I see the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) straining at the leash, which rather suggests that if we are not careful we may turn an issue of this kind, which I do not think is really very important, into a Debate. If the noble Lord would at this stage allow the matter to rest and not to press his Amendment, I will undertake to look at it between now and Report stage and, probably, I could make an observation then, if we do not find that we can so re-word this Clause as to embody the point he has made. Frankly, I do not want to do it, but I will have another look at the matter rather than be projected into a Debate on a matter which I do not think is very substantial.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

I appreciate the manner in which the Minister has approached this Amendment. I am inclined to agree with him that it is not strictly necessary; but I suggest to him that when he is looking at the matter again he should bear in mind that when we grant powers we should not confine those powers to the bare legal necessities, but that sometimes a great practical advantage can be obtained psychologically by putting words into the Statute which will be words of encouragement.

The initiative for using powers which Parliament grants rests not with us but, as we all understand, with other people. If we leave the Clause as it is I am very much afraid that people will say, "It is up to the local authority and if they do not do anything about it there is nothing that can be done." But, if we put in the words we have suggested, we make it abundantly clear that it is quite open to a farmer or landlord to use his initiative and the experience he has gained on his own land if he considers there is a need for a cattle-grid. He will know that Parliament is encouraging him to go forward to approach the local authority while the local authority will know that Parliament expects the farmer or landlord at least to be considered. Therefore I suggest that when he is looking at this matter again it might be useful to consider having these words in the Bill from a practical point of view, although I grant that from a strictly legal point of view they may not be necessary.

Mr. Slater (Sedgefield)

I should like to ask the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), relative to what he has said about farmers and the institution of cattle-grids, whether the opinion of the farmer is not taken into account when he makes his request to the highway authority for the putting down of a cattle-grid? If it is not taken into account in the county from which the hon. Gentleman comes I would inform him, as Chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee of the County of Durham, that we do not meet each quarter but every month, and that as regards cattle-grids, the opinion of the fanner or the representative of that part of the county is taken into consideration by the county authority.

Mr. Renton

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member says. The highways committee of the county I represent do their work thoroughly and well. The hon. Member has missed the point I wished to make. I will not repeat it but ask the hon. Member to bear in mind this example. Suppose that the legal adviser of the farmer or occupier, perhaps a country solicitor, turns up this Bill when it has become an Act and reads Clause 1, and sees the words: Where it appears to the appropriate authority for any road … he will turn to his client and say, "There is nothing there about the farmer having a say in the matter. You will have to wait until the county council do something." If that were to be the line of approach, it would be unfortunate.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

I accept what the Minister has said but I support my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in saying that the farmer and user of the land next door are more likely to know than anyone else. I hope that the Minister will consider the point.

Amendment negatived.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Viscount Hinchingbrooke.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

In view of the offer which the Minister has just made, I do not propose to move the next Amendment in the names of my hon. Friends and myself: in page 1, line 10, at end, insert: Provided that the powers given by this subsection shall not be exercised until after complying with the provisions of the Schedule to this Act.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, after "gate," to insert "with an automatic lock."

This is a small Amendment which I hope the Minister will accept because it may in the long run save a great deal of money by stopping ponies and cattle from straying over land and doing considerable damage. A gate is no use if it is to be left open. There is always the human element and anyone going through a gate may forget to close it behind them or may not bother to do so. If, as I suggested on Second Reading, a stile took the place of a second gate, that would halve the danger there would otherwise be of two gates being left open. But whether there are one or two gates some self-locking device would be a great asset.

The automatic lock I suggest is not a lock with a key; it really means that the gate is set in such a position that if it is left open it automatically swings back and a steel runner fits into a slot. It is a simple device which I have seen used in deer parks with great success. I hope the Minister will consider whether such a lock should be put on all these gates. If the little contrivance of which I have been speaking is used, the Minister will find that practically no expense will be involved, and in the long run a great deal of money will be saved by the prevention of damage.

Mr. Barnes

I do not wish to dispute the advantage of the automatic lock. Rather, would I make the point that we should not attempt to make provision in the Bill for any device of this kind. It occurs to me that such a matter is eminently one for inclusion in any technical guidance which the Ministry might agree to give to local authorities on this subject. I would stress the general attitude which I have adopted towards this Bill. The whole drafting of the Measure has been designed to place the initiative and a good deal of responsibility in these matters on the local authorities, and there is a minimum of provisions in the Bill relating to the central Government Department. That is so because it appears to me that the need with which this Bill deals arises not only in rural areas but in many isolated rural areas, and we desire to avoid in a Measure of this kind any kind of machinery provision or unnecessary reference to a central Government Department.

When we come to such matters as the form of gates and the locks that should be installed, I would remind the Committee that people in these areas often have strong ideas on such subjects. They are used to a particular type of gate in their locality or a particular form of access to their farm or fields. Therefore, I should prefer to leave the matter with which this Amendment deals for inclusion in any technical guidance we can give. I assure the hon. Member there will be no question of excluding the point he has raised.

Mr. Williams

I thank the Minister for saying that he will consider the point contained in my Amendment and possibly include it in any guidance he sends out. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. H. L. D'A. Hopkinson (Taunton)

I beg to move, in page, 1, to leave out lines 18 to 22.

The object of this Amendment is to make it obligatory upon the appropriate authority to provide a by-pass or gate in all cases. The present proviso allows the authority to dispense with that in respect of "driven, led or ridden animals," subject to the procedure for appeals laid down in the Schedule. I understand there is a difference of opinion as to whether bicycles can or cannot be ridden across these grids. What is quite certain is that animals cannot cross them. Therefore, it means that in two sets of cases the right of way for traffic may be eliminated. Those cases are those of stock—cattle, sheep and ponies—and of horse-driven vehicles and ridden horses.

4.0 p.m.

In the first case, the whole object of this Bill is to enable stock to be kept up on the moorland, and in order for it to be of any value it must be possible to get them in and out. As regards horse-driven vehicles and ridden horses, there is no doubt that some provision must be made in the wilder parts of the country, where there are horse-drawn vehicles belonging to farmers, gipsy caravans, carts and several well-known packs of foxhounds and staghounds. At the moment it would be impossible in those places for those who keep and own stock and for the owners of vehicles to move about freely. It is essential in each case that there should be some alternative form of access provided, and that it should be made obligatory.

The Minister suggested on Second Reading that it would be sufficient if in certain cases there was a loop or parallel road such as is depicted in the drawings in the Library. I do not believe that that is the case. In the drawings in the Library there is provision made for a road leading through a farmyard. I do not believe the farmers will welcome other people's stock, gipsy caravans, and so on, going through their farmyards. There is the possibility of T.T. cattle or attested herds being endangered in that way. The provision of a gate alongside the grid is by far the cheapest item concerned in the structure. An ordinary wooden gate is all that is necessary, and a few yards of gravelled road. It would be far better to make the provision of a gate or by-pass obligatory in every case. If the Minister feels able to accept this Amendment there will be a consequential Amendment in Clause 2, subsection (4) which has not been dealt with in any of the other Amendments.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I wish to make a short point in support of this Amendment. I am not quite sure of the importance attached to the words. "driven, led or ridden," but it would seem that one of the most important categories would be the animals which might simply stray. Cases will arise in the crofting counties where gates are normally opened between certain times in the year to allow the animals to pass. If there is no by-pass and no gate they will not be able to pass. I would ask the Minister to look into that point as it affects the crofting counties.

Mr. J. Morrison

I wish to support my hon. Friend. A cattle-grid is a bar to any stock driven to market on their own feet rather than conveyed in trucks. There is also the point about the horse vehicle, and the man who rides a horse, —I still do that and enjoy it. The right hon. Gentleman may know that one thing one cannot do with safety when riding a horse is to jump a cattle-grid.

Mr. G. Williams

I also looked at the plan in the Library, and apart from the road going through a farm, it also appeared to be a private road. It would seem almost intolerable that traffic which cannot go over a grid should have to go along a private road, and through a farm, and possibly a mile out of its way. There may be people living in the country who still drive into the town each day in a pony and trap. If they have to go a mile further there and a mile further back, and it takes them perhaps an hour, that will waste a considerable amount of their time during the year. The old "moke," or the pony drawing the trap may have to do another 50 or 100 miles during the year, and therefore will require more oats, and there will be a certain amount of expense to people using the route regularly. As it would be inexpensive to put up a small gate opposite the grid I hope the Minister will make it a practice to do so in every case.

Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)

I support the Amendment on one further ground which has not yet been mentioned. A case where the Minister does not think it necessary to provide a gate is shown on map No. 4 in the Library. There is shown a by-pass road which, in the view of the Minister, horse traffic could use. But he will notice that on that map there is a little triangular field in the middle, which is sandwiched between two grids. It would be impossible to get any cattle into that field without going through another field. If there are growing crops in the other field then cattle could not be taken through it at all for possibly a quarter or half of the year. I think the Minister will find that it is cutting his expenses far too fine to do away with a gate. Wherever there is a grid there must be a gate.

Mr. Barnes

That shows the danger of a Minister attempting to give an example of any particular proposal he intends to bring forward, because it may be interpreted to cover every circumstance. I do not know whether hon. Members appreciate what they are pressing me to do. All we have done here, and it is the normal device of the legal draftsmen, is to give more freedom and latitude to highway authorities in dealing with what might be an exceptional case.

It is recognised that the vast majority of cases will attract the Schedule, and there will be a by-pass or a way round provided. That is the general purpose of the Bill. But this proviso has been inserted so that local authorities need not provide one in a case where no one wants a way round. I have no objection to re-examining this matter in the light of the arguments put forward, but I would emphasise that the proviso is there to meet what in fact might be an exception to the general rule.

I thought that hon. Members would welcome the giving of that discretion to the local authorities, but if they wish the thing to be absolutely hard and fast, I will look at it again. I will not give any definite promise at this stage. The arguments have not convinced me, and I think it would be an advantage to give that discretion to the highway authorities.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The right hon. Gentleman supports the proviso on the ground that it provides for the exceptional case in the arrangement for the grids, but he gives no examples of what these exceptions could be. It seems to me that the proviso gives very considerable power to the highway authorities to select the roads on which they shall fail to provide a by-pass. A great deal of other sorts of traffic which are unsuitable for passing over grids will also want access to the roads. That traffic includes handcarts, perambulators, gipsies' vans, bicycles and motor-cycles. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) complained on the Second Reading about the effect on the bicycling community of the provision of grids. If in this proviso not even side-gates are specified to enable cyclists and motorcyclists to go through, or a wider gate for vans, perambulators or horses and carts, no progress will be shown.

This proviso really makes nonsense of the whole business of the requirement to provide by-passes. We are not disposed to accept it without further explanation from the Minister of the examples he has in mind. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) would feel very much inclined to put this Amendment down again on Report stage, because the Minister has given an undertaking that he will look at the matter and, if necessary, take rather more active steps than he has indicated today.

Mr. Renton

The Minister must make up his mind whether or not there are serious exceptional cases. If he says that there are no exceptional cases, when he has really cleared his mind on the whole matter, then obviously the proviso is unnecessary. Using the argument which he used on the previous Amendment, I suggest that the proviso should be deleted, because there is no compensating argument of encouragement such as was then put forward. But if there are exceptional cases, the Minister owes it to the Committee to tell us precisely what they are. We have a genuine fear that the kind of exceptional cases which he has in mind are just those which, if his alternative proposal of going through a farmyard is carried out, will lead to a great deal of trouble.

I am taking the right hon. Gentleman seriously in thinking that that may be the only serious exception, and I will make one or two remarks about that alternative proposal. Clearly, we are inviting trouble when we divert traffic that would normally not go through a farm and compel it to go through.

Mr. Barnes

Suppose there happened to be another and convenient alternative access, would the hon. Member still insist that the authority should go to all the trouble of acquiring the land and building a by-pass?

Mr. Renton

I have a fairly ordinary imagination. I know of scarcely any country lanes which are duplicated, and it is only when a county lane is duplicated that there would be a suitable alternative readily available. If the right hon. Gentleman can point out any remote country lane where a grid is likely to be placed and where there is a road running parallel—or two tracks running parallel or something like that—then we might listen to him; but the Committee knows perfectly well that such things just do not happen. I will grant that if they did happen, then there would be a very good reason for not having an ordinary gate immediately adjoining the cattle-grid. In that case I think we should be quibbling.

To return to the point I was making when the Minister intervened, I would say that once we put on a farm a gate, for the maintenance of which the highway authority are responsible, then there will be cases of dispute between farmers and highway authorities on the question of maintenance. There will be all the bother about the opening and shutting of gates after the traffic which is forcibly diverted through the farm. I do not think that that is fair on the occupier of the farm that we should put him to the trouble when a reasonable and suitable alternative exists. That alternative is to follow the main wording of the Bill without the proviso.

I fear that there is a genuine danger that unless we cut out this proviso, highway authorities may take advantage of it on grounds of economy. I am all in favour of economy, but we ought not to impose on the community the installation of cattle grids, or for that matter anything else, which, through a desire for economy, will lead to the kind of inconvenience and trouble I have attempted to describe. For these reasons, I suggest that the Minister has not seen our point of view. I hope that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) will not drop this Amendment without an undertaking from the Minister that he will consider the matter seriously.

4.15 p.m.

Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)

I was one of those who on the Second Reading thought that this proviso was sensible, but when I saw the drawings in the Library—I did not have the opportunity of seeing them until after I had spoken—I was rather surprised because, as I said in the Debate, my idea was that this proviso would only be used where there was a road closely adjacent which could be used. I know certain cases where that state of affairs exists. The object of this Bill is to improve roads and not to make them worse than they were before. It seems to me that what the Minister has in mind would certainly not improve the roads.

I think all hon. Members really want this Bill to work. I can visualise a position where a farmer or the owner of lands wants a grid which would be most convenient. When he realises that if he gets one, the whole of the horse and cattle traffic as well as perambulators and pedestrians will go through his farm, he certainly will not press for it. He will do all in his power to see that no change is made. There is more in this point than I thought on Second Reading, and I am glad that the Minister has said that he will consider the matter again.

Mr. Barnes

I have not really been convinced by the arguments. I still feel that the arguments in favour of the proviso are the strongest. I advise that both sides of the Committee reconsider this matter before the Report stage. I believe that, on balance, the highway authorities would prefer this discretionary power, but it is proper that both sides should have a look at it between now and a later stage.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)

I should like to try to convince the Minister. I have no doubt that the highway authorities would like to have discretionary power. I speak on behalf of all who have had experience of these grids. At my own home I have got one which is not a beautiful grid such as the Minister proposes, but a very small one which is used entirely for private purposes. It is impossible to have a by-pass which would take a horse and cart. There is not enough room for that. But we have a handgate and it is a terrible nuisance. If the Minister wants this Bill to improve the roads—and that is the real point of this little piece of legislation—he ought to make it a definite obligation that where a grid is made there should be a by-pass alongside it which would take a horse and cart or any vehicle which cannot get across the grid.

There is another example I can give from personal experience. For the purposes of convenience I thought that I would close up the grid so that foot passengers could go across and not come to any personal harm. Luckily, nobody has come to serious harm so far, but already children have got caught in the grid itself. There should be a gate next door to the grid through which children going to and from school can pass. Local authorities would like to have discretion, and I hope that the Minister will take further advice from his advisers as to the rare cases where it would not be necessary, and that he will accept this suggestion and remove this proviso before we reach the next stage of the Bill.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

There is a further reason why I would press the Minister to reconsider his attitude towards this Amendment, and if possible to accept it. As I understand it, this Bill provides in Clause 10 that certain regulations will eventually be put forward in connection with the construction of grids, which will mean that in course of time there will be regulations explaining exactly how the grid is to be constructed and its siting in relation to the road. Acceptance of this Amendment would lead to the greater standardisation of these grids, and might lead to a greater measure of economy. As I understood the Minister, he was a little concerned about local authorities incurring expense where it was not really necessary. I think that there might be a certain saving if there were a standardisation of the lay-out and set-up of these grids. For that reason also I strongly advise the Minister to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Slater

I understand the point of view of the Opposition, and I believe they are sincere in making this proposal, but I cannot agree that it should in all cases be obligatory upon local authorities to provide by-passes. In my view, the county councils, who are the highway authorities, ought to be given such discretionary powers; they have expert technicians working in their departments. I have often heard the Opposition challenging various Ministers for usurping the powers of local authorities in certain Measures they have introduced, but I certainly think that in this Bill discretionary powers ought to be afforded to highway authorities, who should be responsible for determining whether a bypass should be introduced at a grid or not.

Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)

I rise to support this Amendment, and to elaborate a little on a point which the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) seems to have overlooked. Reference has been made to taking a horse and cart a mile round on a by-pass road; but think of the pedestrian and of children having to go considerably out of their way. There is, too, the risk of catching their feet in trying to pass over the grid. For that reason alone I think that a gate of some sort should be provided at a cattle-grid.

Mr. Hopkinson

While I still feel that we need these gates or by-passes in every case, in view of the assurance of the Minister that he will look into the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hopkinson

I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out lines 6 to 13.

The object of this Amendment is to remove the proviso that where there is a wall, ditch, fence, hedge or other boundary of a nature to prevent the passage of animals which runs along the side of the road but is separated therefrom by any common or waste land … the appropriate authority may place any part of a cattle-grid or provide a by-pass, on any of that land. although it does not belong to the authority. I find it very difficult to understand the object of this proviso. There must be very few cases on a road fenced in in this way—because in this instance we are referring to fenced roads and not open common land—where a grid is wanted. Indeed, as far as I can see, it could only be where a fenced road runs into an unfenced common or moor, where part of the grid could overlap into the fenced section of the road.

I cannot understand why in this very rare case it has been decided to give an authority power to take this land when that is not done in the far more usual cases referred to elsewhere in the Bill. The acquisition of land is dealt with very fully in Clauses 8 and 9, which lay down the procedure for acquiring land in at least 99 per cent. of the cases where grids are to be provided. I cannot see why the same procedure should not be applied to those very rare cases where there is a fenced road running into a common land and a grid is wanted. In my view, this proviso should be deleted.

Mr. Barnes

I must confess that I am in a difficulty, because the argument of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) now seems to be entirely contrary to his argument earlier. The object of this proviso is to enable an authority to put a cattle-grid or a by-pass on a strip of common land. Surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that they should go to all the trouble that is required in securing a strip of common land for that purpose. It appears to me that there are all the necessary safeguards. If the Minister came to the conclusion that an encroachment upon land would be unjustifiable, he could refuse to agree to the proposal. I therefore do not quite see the point the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I should have thought there was all the advantage to be gained by retaining this proviso.

Mr. Hopkinson

Perhaps I might explain myself in a little more detail. This proviso refers to the case of a road where there is a fence or hedge running alongside with a small section of waste land in between. It does not apply to the ordinary case where we should want to put a grid, which is at the entrance to a large unenclosed common land; in the latter case the authority has to take powers to acquire the land, and there is provision for that in Clauses 8 and 9. I cannot see why the same procedure cannot be used in these very rare cases where a grid is put on enclosed land between a fence or a hedge.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimston

Perhaps I can help the Minister a little. I believe that this difficulty arises from the fact that there are different kinds of commons in different parts of the country. I think this is a sensible proviso, because in the Home Counties there is a very large number of commons consisting of a strip of 20 or 30 yards on either side of the road. As long as the sole purpose of this proviso is to place a grid at either end of such commons, I would agree with the proposal, provided of course there was a gate alongside every grid.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

May I explain why this proviso was inserted? We do often find cases, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston), where there are these small strips of common land, and this proviso is designed to enable a grid to be placed on that land. The reason for it is because it is extremely difficult, as a matter of procedure, to acquire the land, and it is equally difficult to find anybody with whom one could enter into an agreement with regard to it. Under the Bill, if we want to put a cattle-grid there, we have either to acquire the land under Clause 8 or enter into an agreement under Clause 9.

When we come to deal with these strips of common land, we are faced with the problem that common land is land owned by the lord of the manor in respect of which the commoners have certain rights of common. If we do acquire the land it means not only obtaining it from the lord of the manor but also going through the procedure to put an end to all the rights of common possessed in respect of that land. To put an end to these rights is an extremely cumbrous and complicated process. We have to apply whole sections of the Land Clauses Act, 1845, and it takes a long time, and it is not easy to find out who are the persons whose rights have to be extinguished.

The object of the proviso is that, where we have a hedge separating a small strip of common land from a roadway where we want to be able to place a cattle-grid on common land, without having to go through all this procedure in circumstances in which it may not be worth while either to acquire the land or enter into an agreement under Clause 9—if that were possible, and even that is doubtful—we may take power to place a grid on that common land. That is the only reason, and we think that the proviso serves a useful purpose and is never likely to give rise to anything more in respect of common land rights. This proviso is desirable in order to deal with the type of case in which it really would be unreasonable to expect the highway authority to go through the long process of acquiring the right to place the grid on a small strip of common land.

Colonel Clarke

While appreciating the point of view expressed by the learned Solicitor-General, I think we must recognise that we are evading an obligation to commoners in this case. There is not only the difficulty in making arrangements with the commoners and so on, but I think I am right in saying that, where a highway is widened and common land is taken, there is an obligation to provide an equal amount of common land for the use of the commoners. In this case, it is such a small portion of land that it does not matter very much, but I do not think that we should take this course without recognising that we are doing something that might be regarded by those interested in commons and commoners as an infringement of their rights. I recognise that it is extremely difficult to acquire the land, but that is not the only point, and we should remember that there are certain obligations contingent on acquisition.

The Solicitor-General

May I supplement what I was saying and make a suggestion which the Committee might think will meet the point? The position might be met by making the procedure in relation to common land subject to compliance with the Schedule; in other words, if a highway authority wishes to place a cattle-grid on common land, it shall not do so until it has gone through the procedure in the Schedule, given an opportunity for anybody concerned to make representations and also heard any objections which there may be to that course. I suggest that simply as a possible way round the difficulty, but it would need a further Amendment, because the Schedule is not made applicable to the operation of this proviso.

If the Committee thinks that this is a possible way out of the difficulty, we should like to consider it between now and the Report stage to find out whether, in fact, there is any difficulty in that kind of solution. I put the suggestion forward for consideration, and we will undertake, if it commends itself to the Committee, to consider it as a possible solution.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

We should be very happy to agree to any suggestion from the right hon. and learned Gentleman which would make this proviso more intelligible, and, if he will consider the application of the Schedule to common land, that will meet part of the case which has been put by my hon. Friend. I would only point out that it opens up the question, which many of us raised on Second Reading and to which I have already referred, of the application of the Schedule to the initiation of these cattle-grids.

Why we should apply the Schedule to people with common rights whose land is acquired and not also apply it to the owners of land in general—simply because the special situation which obtains regarding rights of objection by people to these common land roads does not obtain in the case of those who own land—I simply cannot understand. I hope, since the Solicitor-General is so friendly disposed as to listen to us, that he will consider the application of the Schedule to the common lands, and that he will also look at the second Amendment on the Order Paper, which would apply the Schedule to the initiation of grids in general.

Mr. Grimond

I understand that the reason for the proviso is concerned with the difficulty of acquiring common land, with which I entirely sympathise, and I understand that that difficulty exists in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. I should like to ask the learned Solicitor-General what procedure there is for acquiring common land other than this very complicated procedure which he has already outlined.

The Solicitor-General

The only land which can be used under the terms of the Bill is that specified in the first part of subsection (3), which relates to land which is acquired or in respect of which an agreement has been entered into.

Mr. Grimond

I quite agree, but, if it is desired to acquire a small piece of common land, must this cumbrous procedure be gone through in every case?

Mr. Hopkinson

We all know cases of roads across open moorland, from which they are separated by means of a bank or a hedge, and it may be that at such a point we may want to place a grid. There is no question of any fencing on either side of the road leading up to the grid. We shall have to acquire common land, and all the difficulties to which the learned Solicitor-General has referred will apply. These will be the ordinary cases, whereas the exceptional cases will be those of little strips. I suggest that it is illogical to have a proviso for a limited number of cases when a far wider class of case concerning commons and moors is not dealt with at all.

The Solicitor-General

We cannot operate the procedure for the purpose of acquiring common land under Clause 8 without having to go through the whole procedure; but this proviso is designed to deal with the small strip of common land which divides a fence from a road, so that, if one wants to acquire a substantial strip of such land, one must go through the procedure set out in Clause 8.

Mr. Renton

It seems that in drafting the Clause the Government made a distinction between taking a tiny bit of common land and taking rather a lot of common land. They said, in effect, "If you take a tiny bit, you need not bother to give notice to anybody, even though you are infringing the rights of commoners which have always been regarded as sacred by this House, but, on the other hand, if you are taking a bigger piece, you had better go through the proper procedure."

We have had an example this afternoon of the great value of an intervention by a Law Officer in discussing a matter which, at first sight, does not appear to have a lot of law in it. It has been most valuable to have the illumination which the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General has thrown upon this problem, and I think the suggestion he has made, that the proviso we are now discussing should be made subject to the proper procedure envisaged in Clause 8, is a very admirable one. In fact, it is such a good suggestion that I do not think he will have any alternative but to comply with it himself.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Vane

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, after "road," to insert: or where the road passes through an existing gate in a fence dividing one unenclosed common from another unenclosed common. That Amendment perhaps sounds a little complicated, but it is really very simple and solves the difficulty which was discussed in the last Amendment. If the Solicitor-General, whose last speech was entirely in favour of this Amendment, will nod and show that he will accept it I will not take up the time of the Committee any longer.

The Solicitor-General

We are prepared to accept it in principle.

Mr. Vane

That being so, I do not think I need say more than that, as far as I can see it, when the Bill was originally drafted, it was assumed that the simplified procedure for taking a mere strip of waste land for the making of a by-pass would be enough where there is a road normally enclosed and with a gate across it. But in this country there are many open commons with cross fences. I should have thought that if the simplified procedure were justified where the road was fenced it was equally justified where an unenclosed road happened to pass a cross fence—perhaps marking one common from another. I would not have thought it necessary to put the burden on county councils to go through Clauses 8 and 9, even if some lawyers think it is.

The Solicitor-General

As I intimated earlier, we think there is a lot in the argument which the hon. Gentleman has advanced. We feel that there should be something to deal with the case where there is common land or waste land on each side of the road, but no wall or other boundary running along the side of it. As in a number of these cases, we would like to think over the drafting and over the full implication of the Amendment. However, as I intimated, in principle we are in agreement with the point of view advanced by the hon. Gentleman, and if he would be so good as to ask leave to withdraw his Amendment, we will undertake to meet the spirit of what he has in mind.

Mr. Vane

In view of that kindly conciliation on the part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I beg to move, in page 2, line 28, to leave out from "way," to first "for," in line 29.

This is a small, though, some of us think, a very important point. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that on Second Reading many of us suggested that grids ought occasionally, and where appropriate, to be put at the side of the road, and not in the path of the road itself. In this Amendment we are seeking to strike out words which would define the by-pass as meaning a way, over land not comprised within the limits of the road. … By striking out that definition, it allows of the by-pass being put upon the main road and the grid to one side, or vice versa.

Earlier in the Clause—lines 10 and 11 —it says: The appropriate authority may place any part of a cattle-grid, or provide a by-pass, on any of that land …"— that is, the strip of land to which we have just been referring. Those words indicate that in that part of the Bill the choice is open to us to put the grid to one side, or the by-pass to one side, so that there is already a half concession in the Bill. I want to secure from the Minister an undertaking that in all cases highway authorities will make the selection as between the grid being placed to one side, or the by-pass being placed to one side.

There are two important points to consider in suggesting that the grid should be put to the side of the road. The first is that it effectively slows up traffic. On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman talked about people speeding along the road and failing to close gates, and said that that was why grids were being put down. If on unclassified roads, with rough or gravel surfaces, the grid is put to one side, that would enforce a slow-up of traffic. The vehicles would have to negotiate a loop, and then get back upon the main road. Obviously, if traffic is slowed up, that saves the wear and tear of the gravel or metal, as the case may be. The other important point involved is the one to which I referred on Second Reading—the danger to animals which may be actually standing on the road concealed by a rise in the ground, or which are coming up at right, angles to one side of a hedge. There might be a high hedge opposite the grid, and the animals might be coming up in single file towards that grid. If the grid is towards the side of the slowed up vehicle, there would be less danger of damage to the animals and to the vehicle.

I have seen many grids provided by private owners on their lands where that is done. It saves expense, because the gate is left upon the road—it does not have to be moved to one side—and the grid is put to one side, thus effectively slowing up the traffic. I ask the Minister to agree that these words, which define a by-pass as being over land not comprised within the limits of the road, should be deleted from the Bill.

Mr. Barnes

I regret I am unable to accept this Amendment. As I understand it, the noble Lord's proposal is that instead of having the grid on the road it should be off the road.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

In appropriate cases.

Mr. Barnes

An appropriate case is rather difficult to define. The whole purpose of the Bill is to facilitate traffic on the highways. This proposal would reverse the whole purpose for which the Bill was designed, and would certainly lead to substantial Amendments to the Bill because it conceives an entirely different way of treating these grids. I ask the noble Lord to consider this purely as an alternative and agree that we might meet his point by providing an alternative in certain circumstances. I should be prepared to look at that if it provides an additional facility. However, I could not accept at this stage the deletion of these words. It would lead to such alteration in subsequent Clauses of the Bill that it would delay the whole of our proceedings.

I suggest that the noble Lord should not now press his Amendment, because I could not possibly accept an Amendment if it led to subsequent alterations in the Bill. If his point can be met without any substantial diversion of the original purpose, I am ready to look at it in that way. I hope the noble Lord will be content to accept that suggestion. If it can be done without further Amendments and modifications of the Bill and will provide additional facilities, I will do my best to meet it, but if it represents modification of the Bill in its procedure then I regret that I would have to refuse.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

On the Minister's assurance, I would not seek to press the Amendment at this stage if he says that the effect of leaving out the words would be to lead to consequential alterations. The whole object of the Amendment is to make the siting of a grid on a by-pass permissive. On great thoroughfares they would be on the road itself, but on unclassified roads they should be allowed to be on one side. They are on one side today in a great variety of private roads which are to be taken over and administered under the further provisions of this Measure. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will look into it, and see whether he can produce the appropriate words or allow us to do so.

Mr. Renton

Where there is already a gate on the road, surely it would be right to leave the gate where it is, and make the grid just at the side of the gate. Is not that obvious? If the Minister does not accept that proposition he is not showing that abundant common sense we normally expect from him when there is no political dogma involved. Will it not add to the cost to take up the gate on a quiet road and move it to one side so as to form a by-pass? It would be far better to leave the gate there and make a small diversion. Is it not too obvious for words?

Mr. J. Grimston

I want to back the argument already put to the Minister and to add some new ones. He said the whole purpose of the Bill is to speed up traffic over the road. I submit it is not the whole purpose of the Bill at all, and that in certain cases it is very necessary to slow down traffic over the road. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) on Second Reading. Where there are high hedges coming up to what, at the moment, is a gate and will be in future a gate and grid, it is necessary that traffic should move slowly. The only way to enforce that is to put the grid at the side of the road and force the traffic to go round it.

Mr. Barnes

That may not be a desirable situation. I do not rule it out altogether. That question of slowing down may have to be dealt with by signs and directions. Equally, it may be possible that if we divert motor traffic of that description we may promote accidents or increase the possibility of accidents. As I am advised, this Amendment would lead to subsequent Amendments, and it ought not to be pressed at the moment. It is in that spirit that I approach the Amendment.

Mr. Grimston

I accept that from the Minister, of course. As I understand it, without alteration of the words in the Bill it would be impossible, in any circumstances, to put the grid at the side. There are many cases where, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said, the proper place to put a grid would not be in the road as it now exists but to one side or the other.

Mr. Barnes

Previously, hon. Members suggested something different. Now they are pressing me to consider the other side, and I readily do so.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

The Minister said that acceptance of this Amendment might mean a lot of other Amendments. He has not shown in any way why there should be other Amendments. Before this Amendment is withdrawn the Minister, in common fairness to my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) should tell us where the other Amendments will come in. The whole argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) is quite conclusive, that this Amendment would help in certain cases and improve the Bill. The fact that there may be other Amendments does not seem to me a reason why it should not be accepted.

I think that what the Minister really meant was that he had seen that this Amendment was a first-class one, that his Department had not been able to supply him with any good reason why it should not be accepted and he thought up the ingenious idea that this might affect later Amendments and take up time. He ought to accept the Amendment. If other Amendments have to come later, it is quite easy for his Department to deal with them. There is nothing whatever in his argument to show that the Amendment will do any harm in the world.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.