HC Deb 12 July 1966 vol 731 cc1225-7
Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the better use of manorial and other waste land.

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, as is customary, I confine myself to my notes in order that I shall not overrun the allotment of 10 minutes in asking leave of the House to present my small Bill.

The problem of manorial wastes has been with us for many years. It is not a great and important matter that will excite fierce passions. However, it is one in a series of tidying-up operations to make this country a more agreeable place to live in. It falls into logical sequence with the Bill that I introduced two weeks ago, concerned with the better use of derelict graveyards, and the Bill which the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) introduced last Friday, to clear our countryside and streets of unwanted rubbish and to preserve amenities.

It might be helpful if I explained what a manorial waste is, since the paths of legal mumbo-jumbo which criss-cross the whole problem of common lands are extremely difficult to follow to anyone who is not a lawyer.

The Royal Commission on Common Land which reported in 1958 defined manorial waste as part of the demesne of a manor left uncultivated and unenclosed, over which the freehold and customary tenant might have rights of common. The "demesne" is that part of a manor which the lord did not grant out but normally retained for his own occupation and use or that of his servants, as distinct from the manorial land farmed by the villagers.

In halcyon days gone by, when manorial lords had manors to lord over, a lord would have a substantial property in his manor and grounds, and, consequently, it was in his own interests to take an active part in its case and management.

Hon Members may be interested to note, for example, that 100 years ago the Wilson family held the manor of Hampstead of which Hampstead Heath was the waste. The Royal Commission, alas, does not tell us at what stage the manorial lord of Hampstead moved to the lusher pastures of Huddersfield.

To come more up to date, lords of the manor are a nearly extinct race, and many of the manors have been pulled down or taken over by large companies as hostels and offices. The consequence is that the manorial wastes still exist, while the manor does not.

To arrive at accurate figures of areas is an extremely difficult problem which baffled even the Royal Commission, but in England and Wales there are probably about 1½ million acres of common land, and there can be little doubt that manorial wastes, to which the Bill refers, must amount to well over 15,000 to 20,000 acres.

In practical terms, this means that in many of our villages, and in a few of our towns, there are rather small strips of land, sometimes only a quarter or half an acre, but often a much larger area, which are effectively sterilised from any use whatsoever. They are, by definition, usually untended and uncared for. Often they are not properly drained, they are overgrown, and they become a longstanding eyesore and a nuisance. The lord-ship of the manor has probably lapsed. No one knows whose responsibility these wastes really are, and in the meantime the local community is denied the proper and fitting use of the land.

My interest in the matter was sparked off in my village, when such an area as this was found to be in a derelict condition. It was the receiver of the effluent of two local farms, which created a horrible smell and brought about many of the epidemics in the village. After protracted litigation it was found that the rightful owner of this small plot of land was the lord of the manor, and subsequent to that the Church Commissioners took over the responsibility and released the land to the village.

The Bill would propose to provide the ways and means whereby such bits and pieces of land can be taken over by the appropriate local authority, parish, rural district, or county council, so that it can develop and maintain the land for the benefit of the community, especially having regard to the young. Playgrounds, recreation grounds, parking lots, gardens, and swimming pools, are all examples of the sort of development which I have in mind.

The problem of tracking down such manorial wastes is a formidable one, which I do not underestimate. However,

I think that the Commons Registration Act of 1965, which provided for the registration of common land, and of town and village greens, will help, while, of course, many active parish and rural district councillors are already aware of such wastes in their districts, and, I believe, would welcome legislation to help them to help themselves.

There is in Britain a growing awareness that the beauty of our countryside is a great natural heritage which is constantly threatened from one direction or another, and civilisation and technology march on. I believe that the House is alive to the dangers which threaten our countryside, and is prepared to give support to any Measure which will enable us to make the best of our countryside, while preserving and even enhancing its unique charm and beauty. It is in this spirit that I commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Cordle, Mr. John M. Temple, Sir Eric Bullus, Mr. Harry Randall, Sir Clive Bossom, Mr. Robert Cooke, Mr. Ian Percival, Mr. John Hall, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, Mr. Donnelly, Mr. Dodds-Parker, and Dr. Reginald Bennett.