HC Deb 18 May 1950 vol 475 cc1423-31
Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I beg to move, in page 3, line 47, at the end, to 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. This Clause deals with the removal of grids after they are no longer required. We were told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture on Second Reading that highway authorities were responsible bodies who ought to be able to carry out the provisions of the Bill without having their work hampered by the procedure of the Schedule, which might subject the work done on a grid or by-pass to the business of investigation, and report and decision by the Minister. To some extent, those words carry weight. It seems to us they carry weight on the instigation of a grid. Clearly, the Committee, the farming community and the highway authorities are united in wishing to see this Bill have a speedy passage, and as many grids provided as the straitened economic situation of the country will allow.

A very different situation arises, under Clause 2, where grids are removed if they are no longer required. The fact that highway authorities are responsible bodies and must be allowed to go ahead in order to do what everybody wants— that is, provide grids—reinforces the case for an appeal, lying ultimately to the Minister, if those highway authorities desire to go against the main purpose of the Bill and to remove grids when, in their view, they are no longer required.

5.0 p.m.

The Schedule rightly deals with various situations in which rights are taken away. In my opinion a new right is created, and should be included in the Schedule, by virtue of the fact that these grids will have been established for long periods and that farmers and landowners will feel that they have a right to expect them to remain. In three or four years' time the highway authority may say, "This grid is no longer required; Clause 2 permits us to get rid of it, and we can get rid of it without appeal." Nevertheless, by that time there will be long usage of the grid; farmers and landowners may like it very much and may want to keep it. They will think they have a right to do so. Looking at the Schedule, they think their right ought to be included among the rights already existing when changes and alterations take place.

I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what kind of examples he can give to the Committee of grids which would not longer be required. Can we imagine a case on an arterial road, or on an A, B or C Class road where, once provided, grids would no longer be necessary and would be taken out? Can he give us any example of a secondary road leading to and from farms, and passing farms, where grids would no longer be required unless, of course the character of the land was changed, unless a housing estate was suddenly to spring up on land which had previously been agricultural land? In that case, is the right hon. Gentleman so certain that no farmer would remain in the locality with a right of retaining the grid—and who would like to have his right upheld under the Schedule? We think that giving highway authorities statutory power to get rid of these grids altogether, without the right of appeal lying ultimately to the Minister, is wrong, and the purpose of this Amendment is to attach the Schedule to the power of the local authority to remove a grid.

Mr. Hay

I support the Amendment and I think that on ordinary logic, if nothing else, the right hon. Gentleman should accept it. My hon. Friend has explained in great detail and with the utmost clarity exactly why he feels that this type of provision relating to the removal of a grid should be on similar lines to the provisions which apply when a grid is put in place. In cases like this, where we are laying down a definite procedure for the institution of grids of this kind, it is most important that we should also set out a clear procedure for their removal. As the Bill stands, no such indication is given at all—no procedure is laid down. This Amendment does something at least to cure that situation and I regard it as something which, in logic, the right hon. Gentleman might easily accept. I hope he will give a very favourable reply.

Mr. Barnes

I find these arguments particularly unconvincing. In the first instance, if a highway authority intends to establish a grid it means that they have been convinced by local opinion of the local need for the grid. It would be carrying the provisions of the Bill too far to suggest that any local authority, having first of all admitted the need for a cattle-grid and having gone to the expense of making all the necessary provisions—by-passes and ways round—would then, in some irresponsible way, remove the grid contrary to the needs of the locality. What is the basis——

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Perhaps I may answer that point. It may easily be that a long time would elapse before they eventually thought it necessary to remove the grid. I should have thought that some procedure should be laid down in the Bill by which that could be done, if at any time it became necessary—for example, if the land was no longer in agricultural use but had been built up over the course of a number of years. That is the point I was making.

Mr. Barnes

That is the very reason why I do not want to accept the Amendment. If the character of the land changed, if there was no need for the grid and if the highway authority came to the conclusion that its purpose no longer existed, why should the highway authority be put to the expense and trouble of advertisements, inquiries, objections and appeals to the Minister when all they are doing is restoring the road and restoring to the users their original rights?

When we are infringing the rights of the public or of individuals, as the case may be, it is understandable that we should take precautions; but in this case, if a local authority decides that because of the changed character of the land there is no need for the cattle to pass over that spot and that the road should be restored to the normal highway conditions, then they are restoring the original purpose of the road. I see no reason, in that case, to put the local authorities to all this trouble and I suggest that, on reflection, it will be seen that this Amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Nugent (Guildford)

With respect, I suggest that there is a marginal case which the Minister might consider and in which there is less use of the common land than was formerly the case. A time might come when it was necessary to renew the cattle-grid and the local authority might then say, "It is not used as much as it was and we might close it down." At the same time, some local farmers might still have a few beasts on the common and they would wish to keep the grid in place. In a marginal case like that, especially where the local authority was faced with new expenditure, it might be desirable, in order to protect local use, to introduce this procedure into the Schedule. I hope the Minister will see that there is some reason in what he is being requested to do and will be prepared to consider the Amendment.

Mr. Barnes

The short answer to that is that it would probably be more costly to remove the grid and restore the road than to maintain the grid in place.

Mr. Nugent

I doubt it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The Minister is singularly unhelpful this afternoon. Would he kindly look at the Schedule, subsection (d), line 15? The Schedule applies to those cases where it is deemed to be unnecessary that a by-pass should continue to be maintained for use in connection with a cattle-grid which has not been removed. What is envisaged is a case where the highway authorities will think that, although a cattle-grid is to remain, there is no longer need for a by-pass, and where it is presumed that local landowners and local farmers will object, because they still want to drive their beasts through a gate instead of over the cattle-grid. In those cases they are allowed to take their objections, through the elaborate procedure envisaged in the Schedule, to the Minister.

Is not the removal of a grid, to which they might have the same sort of objection—namely, that they want to prevent their beasts from straying—on all fours with that? I should have thought there was very little between the two cases. Under subsection (d) the right to have a gate alongside a cattle-grid—where the grid is to remain—is being taken away. Then we get the case we are putting forward, in which the local authority decides to remove the cattle-grid altogether, which may affect the rights of cattle owners and farmers.

Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)

I should like to ask the Minister whether he thinks his view is equally applicable in the case of a grid to which other interests may have made some financial contribution. Does he think that in that case a local authority should have the right to decide arbitrarily by itself whether that grid is no longer required, and, if it thinks it is no longer required, to abolish it without consultation?

Mr. Barnes

That is certainly a new point. I must confess that I did not, in considering this matter, examine that particular aspect of it. Later on in the Bill we hope to provide opportunities for persons to contribute. I will certainly look at that point. However, I do not think it alters for a moment the major matter we are considering.

Mr. C. Williams

I am rather struck by this apparently terrific desire on the part of the Minister to make it as easy as possible to remove grids. I thought the object of this Bill was to make grids and to keep them and to develop them. Yet here for the first time we have terrific enthusiasm shown by the Government—I say for the first time, because the Government have not shown much enthusiasm for this Bill—to destroy grids.

Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman is very relucant to let those whose interest it is that grids should continue in their places to have anything to do with them, or, at any rate, to know what is likely to happen about them. This is an inadequate reason for the withdrawal of the Amendment, which clearly gives a very considerable amount of protection to the people with cattle in any district. If we really want that protection to remain we ought to accept the Amendment, and if the Government do not accept the Amendment then they cast suspicion on themselves that they are just putting up cattle-grids for the purpose of taking them down again. That would be quite in keeping with the Government's methods of procedure in other respects and in the ordinary matters of life.

However, I do not want that suspicion cast upon a particular Minister at this moment. I ask the Minister, as he has, quite clearly, become seized of many of the points we have raised on this side of the Committee, whether he would not think it better to accept this Amendment. It is clearly not going to do any fundamental harm to the Bill. Then further consideration could be given to the matter before the Bill is passed. If it were found that some difficulty arose because of the acceptance of the Amendment—I do not think it will— another Amendment could be made later.

My noble Friend has put the position so admirably that there can be no good reason for not accepting the Amendment. If it is accepted now, it can be gone into by the Department, and the right hon. Gentleman will be in a comparatively easy position. We do not want these grids taken away simply because some local authority may think it advisable at some time. Really, once one puts in a capital investment of this kind —which is really what this is—one should not allow it to be taken away and destroyed, unless that is absolutely essential. For that reason I do hope that this Amendment will be accepted by the Committee.

Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman or does he not envisage removing grids when they become redundant or cease to be of use? If he does envisage removing grids at any time in the far distant future, does he envisage putting back a road in the exact state in which it was when the grid was first installed? From the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) I gathered that that is what he foresaw. I should rather like to know, because to some extent it affects some Amendments we have down later on the Paper.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Barnes

We have largely left these matters to the common sense of the local authorities. I made a general statement earlier that in a Bill of this description, dealing with people and local needs, I think there should be every opportunity to avoid undue interference from any central departmental machinery. On the question of the installation of cattle-grids and the removal of cattle-grids, surely we can rely on the knowledge and common sense of the people locally. I cannot envisage every circumstance that will arise and how every highway authority will deal with any particular item of restoration.

The general attitude adopted on this is that if they do decide to remove grids they are restoring the original rights; they are not interfering with the rights of persons; and it is not necessary, therefore, to put them through all this procedure. The question of the interests of those who contribute towards the cost is a new one, and I suppose we could deal with that in some form when any agreement is entered into. However, I will undertake to look into that particular aspect of the matter.

Mr. Hay

The right hon. Gentleman says he thinks it should be left to the common sense of the local authorities concerned. With respect, I feel he has entirely missed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). There may easily be circumstances in which a local authority in its wisdom may say, "It is time to remove that grid because it is not really necessary." But is the local authority to be the sole judge whether the grid is still necessary? There should be some procedure, some channel, open to those who wish to object to the removal of the grid; and that, as I understand it, is the sole purpose of the Amendment.

I have found the attitude of the Minister on this Amendment extremely disappointing. We all know how much it would naturally appeal to the sense of tidiness which naturally belongs to one occupying the right hon. Gentleman's office in the Government. I hope he will think again about the matter, and I hope that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) will be accepted, that the Amendment should be accepted while the matter is further and yet more deeply reconsidered, and at a later stage some words different from these but achieving the same result will be written into the Bill if necessary.

Mr. C. Williams

I deeply regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not answer my point. I asked him whether in the circumstances he could not let the Amendment be accepted and then see if it was likely really to do any harm. I am sure it will do only good. I do not wish to say that the local authorities will be good or bad; I think the Minister is perfectly right to leave these things largely to men of local judgment. However, it does unfortunately sometimes happen that the people in a place will elect a Socialist local authority. If there is ordinary sound common sense, as the Minister says, then everything is all right. I am only giving an illustration of how in the localities things can go wrong which are not necessarily foreseen here when we pass a Bill.

I really think the Minister might meet the appeal from this side of the Committee, because we have put it with very great moderation and friendliness. In the circumstances—he obviously no longer thinks the rejection of the Amendment is necessary—he might now accept it, because everyone in the Committee, certainly the people on the other side, has been completely convinced by my hon. Friends and their arguments. Or else let us have a Division.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.