HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1139-48

(1) A local planning authority whose area consists of or includes the whole or any part of a National Park, may appoint such number of persons as may appear to the authority to be necessary or expedient to act as wardens as respects any land within the National Park which is subject to the provisions of section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, or as respects any waterway within the National Park in respect of which there is in force an Order in Council made under section 421(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894.

(2) The purposes for which wardens may be appointed by an authority under the immediately foregoing subsection are—

  1. (a) as respects any land, to secure compliance with the provisions of section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, and of the Litter Act 1958, and with any byelaws made under any enactment by the authority or by any other local authority;
  2. (b) as respects any waterway, to secure compliance with the provisions of the appropriate Order in Council made under section 421(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894;
  3. (c) as respects any land or waterway, to advise and assist the public and to perform such other duties (if any) in relation to the land or waterway as the authority may determine.

(3) The Act of 1949 shall have effect as if the foregoing subsections formed part of section 92 of that Act and were inserted immediately after subsection (2) of that section.

(4) Subsection (2) of the said section 92 shall be amended by the substitution of the words 'under the foregoing subsection' in place of the words under this section' and subsection (3) of the said section 92 shall be amended by the addition after the words 'Part V of this Act' of the words 'or subject to the provisions of section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, or in respect of which there is in force an Order in Council made under section 421(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 '.—[Mr. Jopling.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Jopling

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

In my view the Clause is the most important one which the House has to consider at the Report stage on the Countryside Bill. I moved a new Clause in Committee which proposed to extend the area of land in the country over which wardens could operate. That new Clause allowed wardens to operate over a much wider area than is at present allowed under the 1949 Act. The Government rejected it. I fear the debate was held rather late on a Tuesday afternoon, not many people were present, and there was little discussion. However, I hope this afternoon to elaborate the need to extend the area over which wardens can operate in national parks, and I hope the Government will accept the new Clause.

The wardens' service has proved to be extremely useful over the years, particularly in the Lake District. We now have in the Lake District four full-time wardens and 400 voluntary wardens. More are needed. We need more full-time wardens, as voluntary wardens are less helpful and less useful. Full-time wardens are by far the most important. The functions that wardens in the national parks are asked to perform are pre-eminently to advise visitors on routes, paths and places of interest, and in general to be as helpful as they can be to people who visit National Parks. There is also the need to control the behaviour of the more unruly minority, a very small minority, who come into the area. Finally, there is the function of supervision of bathing places and the supervision of speed limits on some lakes.

Experience in the Lake District over the last five or six years has shown that wardens are very well liked, they are most helpful to visitors and they are more than welcomed by residents in the National Park. We are not asking that wardens should have extra powers similar to those of the police or traffic wardens. This matter was referred to at Committee stage in column 991. Wardens should have the same powers as the ordinary citizen, and this is exactly what we ask. We are not asking for a new form of police to patrol the National Parks. We ask merely for more people who can perform these advisory functions, with no more powers than the ordinary citizen has. The draft Clause is specific on the control powers, and there is no suggestion in my new Clause for new policing powers to be invoked.

6.30 p.m.

In Committee, the Minister demanded the existence of byelaws before a warden service could operate. He said that it was essential to have a code of conduct so that wardens knew the basis on which they operated. However, Section 92 of the 1949 Act, which allows wardens to be appointed in National Parks, does not say that byelaws have to be in force before wardens can operate. All it says is that there has to be a power over certain land for byelaws to be invoked. I hope that, to some extent, that disposes of the Minister's objection. However, I shall return to it presently.

I turn specifically to the new Clause, where we have attempted to meet all the objections that the Minister raised in Committee. We have confined the area over which wardens could operate. Under the terms of the new Clause, wardens will only be allowed to operate on urban commons set up under Section 193 of the Law of Property Act, 1925. That Section covers areas in my constituency in the urban district of Keswick and in the Lakes and the Windermere urban council areas. In the Lakes urban area alone, 12,000 acres are involved in urban commons, and they include the parts of the Lake District which are best known to the general public, such as Langdale Pikes, Fairfield and half the summit of Helvellyn. This is the area which people know best and to which thousands of visitors come every year, and it is vital to have wardens who are able to operate on these urban commons.

It might be as well to remind the House of what urban commons mean and why they were set up under the 1925 Act. Among other things, Section 193 says that members of the public shall have rights of access for air or exercise to any land which is the subject of the Section. The point is that all this vast area of land covered by the Law of Property Act, 1925, has been open to the public for free access for over 40 years. But, by virtue of the 1949 Act which followed it, all the land is excepted, which means that it is impossible to make access agreements and arrangements over it so that wardens can operate, because wardens are allowed to operate only over land which has access agreements or orders upon it. By the very nature of these vast tracts of urban commons which are open to the public, wardens are not allowed over them by Statute, and that fact makes the whole problem extremely difficult.

The difficulty of the present situation was put to me very clearly by the chief land agent to the National Trust in the Lake District, who made the point that if someone is dying of exposure on Langdale Pikes or Bowfell, the Lake District Planning Board cannot send out its wardens to rescue him. That is the absurd situation which we have reached with the warden service because of the limitations put upon it by the 1949 Act.

My new Clause is smaller in scope than the one which I moved in Committee. In it, we have tried to meet the objections of the Minister, and I hope that it will be accepted.

The other objection which was made in Committee was that there should be an umbrella of byelaws and codes of conduct under which the wardens could operate. However, under Section 193 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, by which the urban commons were formed, there are clear and wide byelaws and codes of conduct already in existence. For instance, one is not allowed to drive vehicles on the land, or camp, or light fires. Limitations are imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Litter Act applies to the land and has to be enforced. Then on urban commons in the Lake District there are county byelaws which prohibit stone rolling and the use of wireless sets and loudspeakers. There are others for the protection of plants, and so on. Then in Section 193 there are powers for Orders of Limitation which allow more conditions to be made, but which we have no powers to enforce at present.

The remaining power for which we ask in the new Clause is that for wardens to enforce or supervise compliance with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which allow speed limits to be enforced on some of our lakes, particularly Windermere.

We ought to have more powers to enable wardens to advise and assist the public on land under the Law of Property Act, 1925, and on all waterways under the Merchant Shipping Act. The greatest use and function of our wardens is to advise and help the public. That in itself is an adequate code of conduct, without the long list of codes and bye-laws which I have read.

I want to meet a point which the Minister put to me when he tried to make out that this was a Lake District problem. That is not true, particularly when it is realised that urban commons can be and have been added to up and down the country by lords of the manor who, by means of deeds and declarations, have brought certain areas of land within Section 193. I have spoken already of the Lake District commons which are very vast, but I would point out to the Minister that in Penllyn, in the Snowdonia National Park, there are 17,000 acres. There are urban commons in other parts of the Snowdonia National Park, and the Crown Estate Commissioners have applied Section 193 to all Crown commons, and they own a large acreage in North and Central Wales and in the Snowdonia and Brecon National Parks. In Wales, there are vast areas which come under Section 193 and on which my new Clause would allow wardens to be used. There are other commons in the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks where the Lords of the manor have adopted Section 193. Examples include Spitchwick Common, with 2,000 acres at Widecombe; Haytor Down, in the Dartmoor National Park, with over 1,000 acres; and Brenda Common, with over 3,000 acres in the Exmoor National Park. This is a national problem, as I hope I have made clear. I hope, too, that I have made it clear how pressing it is and how much we need powers.

I think that the new Clause meets entirely the objections and reservations which the Minister voiced in Committee. I hope that on this occasion he will be able to accept it. If he can see his way to do it, it will be greatly welcomed all over the country.

Mr. MacDermot

As the hon. Gentleman has said, this is a much modified version of a new Clause which he moved in Standing Committee. I am not sure that its purpose is wholly attained by its present drafting, but what it seeks to do is to allow a Park Planning Authority's wardens to go on any common land or on certain waterways in a National Park. At present there are the powers of wardens which derive from Section 92 of the Act of 1949 under which they can go on any land in the authority's ownership or in respect of which access orders or agreements have been made. I believe the Lake District Planning Board in particular wants to be able to send wardens on to common land, of which there are considerable areas in the Lake District; and as the hon. Gentleman has told us, much of it is in urban districts and therefore within Section 193 of the Law of Property Act.

As far as waterways are concerned, what they particularly have in mind are the four public lakes sometimes referred to as Windermere, Ullswater, Coniston and Derwentwater. We have had considerable discussion in Standing Committee about waterways in National Parks and we were urged to seek to find ways of giving the National Parks Authorities greater powers, either by byelaws or by regulations and Orders, to control activities on waterways in National Parks.

Mr. Channon

There is another new Clause on this which we shall come to later.

Mr. MacDermot

I want to make clear that we have given close attention to that and will be coming to a new Clause dealing with that matter, but, as far as the Government's proposals are concerned, I believe we will need a little more time to get them fully completed. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are proposing to bring forward proposals which I believe will go most of the way to meet what he wants in relation to waterways.

As far as common lands are concerned, the problem here is that, as we all know, action under the Commons Registration Act is now proceeding, and I believe that there is danger in tinkering with the law affecting commons at the present time. There are already existing powers of management of commons and there are byelaw-making powers. I know that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) will take the point I am making, because it is one which he himself made when we were discussing Clause 7 of the Bill in Standing Committee. He will remember that he asked: Why should we have very curious piecemeal legislation, allowing certain developments to take place on commons in the face of the sure knowledge that a Bill will be going through Parliament on the subject within the next four or five years?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 23rd January, 1968; c. 475.] The hon. Gentleman may say that that argument does not come very strongly from a Government having made the position as it is in Clause 7, but here it is a question of striking a right balance ever it. I say at once that I have some sympathy towards the argument he is putting forward and I concede that at some stage it is desirable to make provision to enable there to be a proper enforcement of byelaws on commons and in National Parks.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman has quoted what I said in Standing Committee on commons registration and I am grateful that he has done so. I do not withdraw a single word that I said, then or now, but if he is arguing on the Commons Registration Act will he give one or two examples of the ways in which, by enacting my proposed Clause, he would, or would be likely to, interfere with the development of commons registration? Frankly, I cannot think of one. I discussed this with the Clerk to the Lake District Planning Board over the weekend, exactly in this context, and he could not think of one either.

Mr. MacDermot

I am not suggesting that it will interfere with the process of registration. The argument that has been put to me and which I have put before the House is that the sensible course would be to review the question of bye-laws and of their enforcement in regard to commons in National Parks in the context of the further legislation for commons which is proposed. The effect of that would be that we would avoid what to others would seem to be anomalies between public access in National Parks and rural commons there which were not subject to access de jure although the public may, in fact, resort to them. I believe it is the Lake District Planning Board in particular which feels strongly about this. I am not suggesting that there are not commons in other areas but we have not had representations from other areas on this. If that Board feels strongly about this then I am prepared to consider this matter with the assistance of the hon. Gentleman.

6.45 p.m.

I do not wish to tie myself at the moment to give any undertaking beyond saying I will consider sympathetically the proposal he is making in relation to these commons in National Parks. For the reasons I have given and in particular my reference to the waterways for which provision would not be apt here, I would ask him not to press his new Clause, on my undertaking to examine the matter further in the light of what he has said.

Mr. Peter Mills

I should like strongly to support my hon. Friend on this Clause. I am grateful to the Minister for saying he will look at this again. Although he does not wish to be pressed on it, I hope he will look at it very carefully, because I believe there are many reasons why we ought to have National Parks wardens. There is the necessity for assisting people advising them on routes, roads and paths and places of interest. What I am really concerned about, however, is the situation when trouble arises on a moor or common. This is becoming more and more frequent as more and more people come into the countryside. The whole object of this Bill is to have people come into the countryside and we want them to enjoy it; but on these bleak moors, particularly places like Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, it is extraordinary how quickly people can run into trouble, and I should have thought wardens were the very people to assist them, showing them where they were, guiding them to the nearest town or village and giving first aid. Then there is the problem of mist descending quickly and suddenly upon people who do not know where they are. Here, again, wardens could help.

I would have thought this kind of problem will increase. I can only tell the Minister that over the last year or two, particularly on Dartmoor, we have had serious troubles and people have died through exposure and from other causes. I am sure that this kind of problem will increase and park wardens could assist in such difficulties, guiding people and helping them out of trouble. I hope that the Minister will consider this aspect when he is deciding whether or not to accept this new Clause, because I believe it is a very real point and that there will be increasing problems and difficulties in the future as more and more people come into the countryside.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

I rise briefly to support this Amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling). The Minister of State in his reply endorsed a statement made in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington): Because we cannot make law purely in relation to the Lake District, which has a special case, I could not advise the Committee to accept the Clause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 13th February, 1968; c. 995.] I understand that very few hon. Members were present in Standing Committee when this Amendment was moved. Perhaps in those circumstances it is not altogether surprising that my hon. Friend's statement was not challenged. I should like to challenge it and to inform him that there is certainly concern in the Peak district about extending powers of wardens. I should like to draw particular attention to the Twelfth Report of the National Parks Commission, 1961, Appendix E, paragraph 12. This says: We recommend that Section 92 (Wardens) of the Act should be amended so that wardens may be appointed to perform duties designed to secure a proper standard of behaviour on the part of persons visiting National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Their appointment should not depend upon the existence of access agreements or orders or on the ownership of land by local authorities. This is a clear recognition by the National Parks Commission of the need to go much further than the new Clause proposes. I therefore hope that my hon. and learned Friend will recognise that this problem is a national one and not restricted to the Lake District. He should at least make this concession and provide protection and coverage for commons.

Mr. Channon

I am glad that the Minister of State has agreed to look at this again, although he cannot accept the new Clause. There is genuine feeling on both sides that this should be tackled. Hon. Members on his own side, the hon. Members for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) and South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) have signed the new Clause, and we on this side feel strongly about this. We hope that the Government will move an Amendment in another place to meet these very real points and that we will not have to wait for further legislation before action is taken.

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful for what the Minister of State has said and I hope that something can be done in another place. A Clause of this sort would encourage other lords of the manor to bring land under the umbrella of Section 193—so that the public would have access to more land, as we all want—because they will know that a warden is available. Owners of land want to know that their land is being looked after and visitors supervised by wardens I hope that something useful may come out of the hon. and learned Gentleman's consideration. I hope that we can consult hon. Gentlemen opposite who have supported this, since a provision of this sort will meet, if only in part, all the points of the Lake District Planning Board, which will be splendid for the Lake District. I thank the Government for their attitude, and, with the leave of the House, I would like to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.