HL Deb 09 May 1939 vol 112 cc969-97

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill it seems hardly necessary to remind your Lordships that the subject of access to mountains has been before the public for a great number of years and that many attempts have been made to pass Bills with the object of allowing access to mountains by the public. Hitherto those efforts have not met with any success whatsoever, largely, I think, owing to a lack of sweet reasonableness on the part, not only of the promoters, but also of those who were affected by such a Bill. However, recently a Bill called the Access to Mountains Bill received a Second Reading in another place without a Division. On that occasion the Government spokesman, in giving the Government's blessing to the Bill, stated that while the Government approved the principle, they thought that the Bill was a bad Bill. In fact, so much did the Government spokesman think it was a bad Bill that he repeated that remark two or three times in the course of his speech. And it was a bad Bill. It did little more than affirm the desire of those who wished to ramble, and it ignored all the necessary difficulties and details which would be involved in the fulfilment of that desire.

In consequence of the Bill getting a Second Reading, those who were interested took steps to try to improve that bad Bill and make it into a good bill. As a result, I am now moving the Second Reading of another Access to Mountains Bill. It is nothing like the one that received a Second Reading in another place; indeed the only thing, I think, that the two Bills have in common is part of the Title, and only part, because in another place, after the Second Reading, the Title was both altered and added to. The only part of the Title that remains is the words "Access to Mountains," and I propose at a later stage radically to alter even those words. As a result of its receiving a Second Reading, those who were interested had many conferences, and the Bill now before your Lordships is the outcome of those conferences. In effect the Bill is a Bill that has been agreed by all those who would be most affected by its operation. Those who took part in those conferences, besides the promoters, were the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Central Landowners' Association and the Land Union, and the sporting interests were also represented. I think it would not be out of place to pay a tribute to the work done in this connection by the Secretary of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society, Sir Lawrence Chubb. I think that the agreement that we have reached must be attributed in a very large measure both to his great knowledge and to his tact.

There are two main considerations which need to be borne in mind when you study this Bill. The first is that it is a Bill which deals in fact with a situation which has arisen. For a very long time people have been in the habit of rambling, or walking, or hiking, whichever term your Lordships prefer to use. I prefer the word "rambling" as covering every activity of that nature; but it is only in recent years, with the improvements in modern transport, that it has reached very great proportions, and it is now, under the stimulus of the Government's physical fitness campaign, increasing to a very material degree. The situation is that there is a large and increasing number of people who desire to walk over land and get their exercise, their recreation, and their health by so doing. I think it is a situation which, quite candidly, needs regulating, not in the interest only of the landowners, but also of those who desire to indulge in this pleasure. Because in any form of society, whether you be a Right Wing Conservative or a Left Wing Socialist, there must be regulation in the interests of the majority.

The second main consideration which I want your Lordships to bear in mind—and I think perhaps, as it is a very detailed Bill, the more important consideration—is that this Bill does not deal only with the organised ramblers. The organised ramblers are a very efficient body, and in my own experience, and I think the experience of a very large number of landowners, are very good people to deal with. One does not have trouble from them. They have their code and their courtesy, and they respect the rights of the landowner and the occupier of the land. Indeed, I think if it was only they who had to be dealt with, there would be no need for any Bill.

But this Bill cannot stop short at organised ramblers. It deals with the whole country and every person in the country, and there are a very large number of people in this country who are not in the rambling organisations, many of them people with motor cars. I think very often those people who go and wander over the countryside, having reached remote parts in their motor cars, are the worst offenders against good taste and the comfort of others. There are also such people as poachers, to whom the right to go on the land would be a godsend. There are tramps, too, and I have no doubt that your Lordships could mention many other classes of people of all sorts who would like to go on the land for purposes other than that of purely physical recreation. It is with those principally that the Bill must deal. It is a Bill, in fact, to deal, first of all, with the ill-behaved rambler; and I might also say it is a Bill to deal with the ill-disposed landowner. There is nothing, so far as I can find, in the Bill that the well-behaved rambler need fear, nor the well-disposed landowner either. So that it is in fact a Bill which deals with the ill-disposed rather than with the well-disposed.

In considering the details of this Bill there were two major difficulties which confronted those who were concerned with framing it right at the outset. The first was that connected with the financial side of it, the possibility that permission to ramble might involve landowners or occupiers in financial loss. This was a Private Member's Bill, and therefore there could not be any compensation clause in it. So that difficulty had to be overcome, and it was overcome in this way: it is laid upon the Minister—your Lordships will find this in Clause 3 (5) (c)—that he cannot make an order for access if there is likely to be "material depreciation of the capital or rental value of the land … or material loss or damage." That, I think, is the real safeguard to the landowner in the Bill.

The second major difficulty arose over the definition of the kind of land to which the Bill should apply. I think we all in our own minds know what a mountain is, or a moorland, or heath, and so on, but it is extraordinarily difficult to find a definition which would be suitable to an Act of Parliament. In fact, it proved virtually impossible to define the kind of land to which a Bill of this nature should apply. That difficulty has been got over in this way. The kinds of land to which the Bill applies are rather loosely defined, but the excepted lands are very closely defined. In that way the difficulty has been got over very successfully. Even so, the difficulties of definition have not entirely been surmounted for, if your Lordships turn to Clause 2 (2) (b) at the top of page 3, you will find the words "sheep walks" used. The question was raised in another place as to what was a sheep walk and what was the definition of a sheep walk. Again, we here probably know what we mean by a sheep walk, but it is extraordinarily difficult to put a definition into language which is absolutely clear in an Act of Parliament. I have given a promise that I would try at a later stage to define "sheep walk" rather more closely, but I have not yet found a suitable definition. Upon these two major difficulties, and the way in which they have been got over, really rests the whole structure of the Bill. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that as a result a Bill has been introduced which, while it does not give to the ramblers all that they ask, and does not perhaps entirely fulfil the hopes of the more extreme landowners, is a Bill which meets the situation which has arisen and is, in effect, a really good Bill.

If I might take your Lordships briefly through the Bill, clause by clause, there are one or two points of importance which will arise in detail, and on which I would like to say a word or two. So far as the first clause is concerned, that simply is a general provision giving access, subject to regulations, and I would only draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the access is confined to the period between one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. The regulations which will be imposed on such land will only have effect during that time, and the ordinary law of trespass will be effective in the hours of darkness. Clause 2 is really a definition of the kind of land to which the Bill applies and, as I pointed out, there is a rather exact description in subsection (2) of the land which is definitely excepted from the operation of the Bill. Clause 3 concerns regulations for the making of orders by the Minister. As your Lordships will see at the beginning of the clause, it states that there are three classes of persons who can apply for an order—the owner, certain classes of local authorities, and organisations deemed by the Minister to be representative of persons likely to benefit. Most of this clause is machinery, but I would also draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (5) (c) of Clause 3 on page 6, which is a material one regarding loss to the landowner. I think it is perfectly clear, and I need not explain it any further.

Clause 4 is a machinery clause, dealing with maps which need to be attached to an order. Clause 5 gives the Minister power to vary an order so as to exclude people from an area if there is danger of fire. I think that is a most desirable provision to be included in the Bill. Clause 6 gives in detail what people are not allowed to do, and must be read in conjunction with Clause 7, which is a penalty clause. So far as Clause 6 is concerned, it is rather full. There is a great deal in it, and in my view it really should constitute in its way a code for those who wish to ramble. As I said before, there is nothing in the Bill, and there is nothing in this clause, which the ordinary rambler need fear, because all the things in this clause which are prohibited are things which a person who knows how to behave will avoid doing in any case. The clause is designed to deal with the person who is ill-behaved or ill-disposed.

So far as Clause 7 is concerned, which is the penalty clause, I would draw your Lordships' attention more particularly to the proviso in subsection (1) at the top of page 11. Might I say incidentally that in the first line of page 11, when the Bill was first issued to your Lordships, there was a very vital misprint which has, I understand, since been corrected? There was a "not" which was left out so that the Bill read: A person shall be guilty of an offence under this section by reason only of any unintentional failure … and so on. This particular proviso raises a question which has had considerable prominence and which is of importance. It has been said that this Bill materially alters the law of trespass. That shows a certain lack of understanding of what the Bill does and is quite definitely an exaggeration of its provisions. Actually what this proviso says is that should any particular piece of land to which an order applies be closed to access at any period of the year for any purpose, and should anybody intentionally trespass at the time when it is so closed, he shall have committed an offence.

To that extent it does alter the law of trespass, but I want your Lordships to realise that the land to which this alteration in the law of trespass, if I may so call it, applies, is land to which people will be given access. They are getting something in exchange for a penalty which did not exist before, because, as I understand the ordinary law of trespass, the landowner can request them to leave his land, and if they do not do so he can—I am subject to correction by those who understand the law better than myself—use just so much force as is necessary to remove them. Under this Bill, normally speaking, people will be entitled to go on all land that is made accessible, and the landowner will not be entitled even to request them to leave, but there may be times when, under an order from the Minister—and I want your Lordships to remember this—that land is closed to access by the public, and it is only if they intentionally go on that land when it is so closed that they will be subject to any penalty.

I think there is more than one argument which can be deduced in favour of such an alteration, if you like to call it so, in the law. First of all an order of the Minister which is laid before Parliament is in fact an order of Parliament, and it should be subject to certain pains and penalties if it is ignored. I think one can also say that in fact such an alteration is no alteration at all, because you have such places as commons and public parks where there are rules and regulations and by-laws, and land that is made accessible under this Bill will come some way towards being in the nature of common land. Although specifically in the Bill it does not so become it partakes of the nature of common land. I think in the interests of everybody concerned it should be regulated and the regulations made by the Minister should be enforcible by penalties which everyone can understand. So much for that question of trespass, about which, possibly, subsequent speakers may have something to say. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the actual amounts of the penalties. For ordinary contravention the penalty is £2 but in the case of a contravention of any of the provisions specified in paragraph (b) of Clause 6 it is £5 for the first offence and £10 for the second offence.

Clause 8 deals with the saving of rights. I think that that particular clause may be the subject of certain drafting Amendments, but it is very necessary that the landowner's rights should be saved as against those who ramble on the land. Clause 9 is to protect statutory water undertakings and I believe is put in with the approval of the Ministry of Health. Clause 10 is a machinery clause, and so is Clause 11 dealing with regulations that the Minister may have to make. So far as Clause 12 is concerned your Lordships will notice that subsection (2) says that this Act shall not extend to Scotland. As I understand it, Scotland was excluded from the Bill at the request primarily of the Scottish rambling associations themselves, and also of local authorities who were rather apprehensive of the Bill in that they thought it might reduce rateable values. Personally I regret that Scotland should be outside the Bill, and I think it is just possible that Scottish people may, when they have read the Bill in the form in which it is now before your Lordships, reconsider that decision. There is yet time because we have a Committee stage in this House and a very short Amendment would soon put Scotland into the Bill.

I have just had a note handed to me. I made a mistake just now when I said that orders in this connection have to be laid before Parliament. Apparently they do not have to be laid before Parliament, but still, on that question of trespass, an order by the Minister is in effect really an order by Parliament and should not be ignored. There is one thing to which I would like to refer that is not in the Bill. In another place, in the Committee stage, there was put upon the Order Paper a new clause providing that landowners could, by deed deposited with the Minister, bring within the scope of this Bill land which is excepted under Clause 2 of the Bill. I want your Lordships to understand exactly what I mean. That means that if you have, for instance, a woodland to which you are prepared to allow people to have access under the conditions of the Bill, you could by the pro- posed clause deposit a deed with the Minister and the land would be accessible. That was ruled out of order in another place by the authorities of the House as being outside the scope of the Preamble of the Bill, but personally I feel that such an addition to the Bill would be of immense value. It would enable the well-disposed landowner to bring within the scope of the Bill areas which otherwise would not come within its scope and it would therefore give that much greater access. There are areas to-day in this country to which people do go against the will of the landowner because he has no control over them, but if he could control them under the terms of this Bill he would give people free access and they would no longer be trespassing.

I believe such a provision would bring within the scope of the Bill very much larger areas than are at present covered by this Bill. I hope to be able on the Committee stage to move that that particular proposal should be put into the Bill, particularly as I understand first of all that your Lordships can do what you like, and secondly, that since it was ruled out of order in another place, they have altered the Title and the Preamble. I think to anybody with common sense it now would come within the scope of both the Title and the Preamble. I have now dealt with the Bill as a whole. Before I conclude I would only repeat the one thing which I think is of great importance, and that is that there is nothing in this Bill, so far as I can see, which the well-behaved rambler and the well-disposed landowner need fear, and that the Bill does in fact deal with those who do not know how to behave and it does not touch those who behave properly. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Radnor.)

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl and those who have been associated with him in producing what is described as an agreed measure on this subject of long-standing and sometimes acrimonious controversy. An honourable Member of the other House, Mr. Creech Jones, and the Secretary of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society entered into these discussions with a mind ready to make generous concessions. They have cer- tainly done so. I remember that several years ago I was Chairman of a Committee appointed to consider the desirability and ways and means of establishing national parks. We produced, although I say it, a very good Report and I think it is a great pity that it has been pigeon-holed all these years. I hope the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, will take note of that reminder, because I am quite sure a lot of bother would have been saved if that Report had been given effect to, and still would be. Therefore I would like to preface what I have to say on this Bill with an expression of the hope that it will not share the fate of the very important proposals contained in that Report, which I have no doubt will be given effect to some day by a more far-seeing Government.

I confess that when I was asked to take an interest in this Bill I thought by the Title that it was going to be, to me anyhow, a rather more satisfactory Bill than it seems to be. I would like to address to the noble Earl some questions concerning points which certainly must qualify the ardour of one's support. The description given by the noble Earl to the Bill is, I think, essentially correct. It is a great measure of what one may call disciplined access and it will certainly provide access under a form of discipline to which no sensible, right-minded person could object. The first point to which I would direct your Lordships' attention is that the Bill deals with land described as mountain, moor, heath or down. I would like to ask whether that will include some of the glorious cliff land which we have in different parts of the country? In Devon and Cornwall, for instance, there are cliff walks which it might be difficult to describe in any of those ways. The land might, perhaps, be described as moor—sheep graze there—but I am not sure. I have walked scores of miles on them without being stopped or molested by anybody, although I did come across decayed boards stating that trespassers would be prosecuted. It is impossible to imagine anyone doing any harm, except perhaps by breaking one's neck by falling down the cliff. I would like to know whether such walks are included in the Bill. If they are not, they certainly should be included.

Then, access is to be provided or made secure only through land subject to an order. What about access now avail- able to lands that are not, and will not be, subject to an order? For example, in Clause 2 (2) there is a list of lands exempted from orders and as to which orders will not be made. It seems to me a very good list. Opposite the little house where I live there is a footpath across the fields to the church, though I do not say I use it very often for that purpose. These fields would be excluded. An order could not be made under this Bill applying it to these fields. Does it happen, therefore, that the right of access—because it is a public footpath—would be in any way prejudiced by the fact that these lands are not included in the Bill? I think not, but we ought to have an authoritative statement on that point and, if need be, a specific provision in the Bill itself. I do not think anyone would object to the classification of offences provided in Clause 6. If we can by any means do anything to prevent people smashing gingerbeer bottles and leaving them lying about in choice places, it will be a public service of no common character. The Committee to which I referred earlier made a good many recommendations in their Report on national parks, but when you get up against it you find it is very difficult to deal with vandalism and stupid behaviour of that kind.

When the noble Earl came to the penalties provided in Clause 7 my heart was rejoiced on hearing him say that the Bill had been reprinted. I had possessed myself, as they say in another place, "for the purpose of greater accuracy," of a copy of the Bill last week and I read at the top of page 11: A person shall be guilty of an offence under this section by reason only of an unintentional failure to observe the regulations. I must say that I began to think that the hostile criticisms I had seen in the newspapers were fully justified. It is comforting to find that those responsible regarded the omission of the word "not" after the word "shall" to be of such importance that the Bill ought to be reprinted. I had prepared quite a good speech on that particular point and now that the Bill has been reprinted the bottom is knocked out of any criticism. At the same time I think that what the noble Earl said should be fully understood. There has been a lot of misinterpretation as to what the clause actually does, and I hope that the noble Earl's explanation will be widely read and thoroughly understood. So far as these lands are concerned, although for the first time access will be ordered in the way described, it will be made secure, which it has not been hitherto. If the Bill achieved nothing more than that it would mark a very great advance.

There is another point which I would ask the noble Earl to consider between now and the next stage. In Clause 8 there is a list of rights which have to be safeguarded. Nothing in any order shall affect persons doing the number of things set out on pages 12 and 13 of the Bill. What I want to know is, suppose that a person does any of these things, does that automatically take the land out of the scope of the order? If it does, it might very soon reduce the amount of land which has been made subject to the order. For example, some of the things under Clause 8 (1) (a), such as mining, quarrying and laying of pipes—which are all perfectly reasonable—and the erection of posts. It is quite a simple matter to erect a few posts. Does that mean that if a person erected a row of posts he might automatically take out of the operations of an order a considerable area of land which had deliberately been mapped and made the subject of an inquiry and an order? It does not say what the posts have to be erected for, or whether there must be w ire between them, or anything of that kind; all you have to do is to erect a few posts.

I well remember years ago, when I lived in Devonshire, that I used to walk over to a charming place called Manaton, beside Dartmoor. People had been accustomed, as far as I know, from time immemorial to walk about there and picnic and the like, and did not do any harm. On one occasion some ill-advised person—I will not say who—erected a row of posts across this piece of the moor. As far as one could ascertain, they did not do any good and they did not seem to mark any boundary of any sort or kind. He erected the posts, however, and put a row of wire on the top, the purpose being, I have no doubt, to prevent people walking about. What happened was that, by stealth or otherwise, the natives came and uprooted the posts. They were re-erected two or three times, and finally, being a wise man, the man who had put them there gave it up. Still, there was no particular reason why he should have erected the posts in the first place. It is important to know whether you could take out of the order, by doing any of these very proper things, land which quite properly would not be land subject to an order, and the simplest of all is the one which I mentioned and into which I ask the noble Earl to look—the erection of posts. I think everybody will agree that it is very important that, if this Bill can be placed on the Statute Book and worked with good will by all the parties concerned, we should not leave any very considerable holes in it whereby it may be evaded afterwards. These are, in the main, Committee points that I have been raising, but there are three or four of them, and I think that they are of great importance to the Bill. I hope that between now and the Committee stage the noble Earl will consider them. Short of them, I and my noble friends will do what we can—in a critical mood—to support the Bill.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to say a few words in support of the Bill which was moved so clearly and in such persuasive terms by the noble Earl opposite. As has been made clear, this is an entirely new measure under an old title. It is a new measure because the circumstances in which the original measure, the Mountains Bill, was moved have entirely changed. So far as my recollection goes back, the original movement was inspired partly by people interested in mountaineering, who had climbed in the Alps, the Carpathians and perhaps also in the Caucasus, and who could not see why they should not be able to climb anywhere they pleased, in Scotland or anywhere else. There was a further sentiment in favour of those who lived in the immediate neighbourhood of the mountains to which the Bill would be applicable and who sometimes found themselves debarred from taking exercise by the preservation of game. Since then, of course, as the noble Earl has stated, the whole position has been changed by the ease of locomotion and the cheapness of transport, so that, where half a dozen people may have gone fifty years ago, three or four hundred might now want to enjoy the same advantages.

I remember, for instance, that a great friend of mine of the older generation, Mr. James Lowther, who represented the Tory faith in its most undiluted form, said when talk was going on about footpaths and open spaces that every man had a right to go to his work in the shortest possible way, even if it meant crossing through any park or coverts or any private properly. Probably, however, neither he nor most of his contemporaries, including those who were not such strict Tories as he, would have said that anybody has a right to go anywhere in search of exercise or amusement. Now, as I say, the position has entirely changed. The noble Earl spoke of the help which had been given by the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, of which I have the honour to be President, and I felt, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Harmsworth, who is its Chairman, would also feel, grateful for the tribute which the noble Earl paid to the work done by Sir Lawrence Chubb. But equally, I am sure, a tribute ought to be paid to the careful examination made of the proposals and the moderation of opinion shown by the representatives of the Central Landowners' Association—I can say that, although I belong to that Association myself—and of the Land Union, the principal bodies representing landowners.

The result is this agreed measure, which is undoubtedly something of a compromise, because, as the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, pointed out, there exist a certain number of landowners who are pure curmudgeons and who dislike seeing anybody on their land. I do not think there are very many of them. Equally there exist also a certain number of purely inconsiderate ramblers, people who think they have a right to go anywhere and do anything when they get there: pick flowers, take birds' eggs and commit every atrocity of that kind. Those are also very few in number, and as regards the last point it must be remembered that there is nothing in any Socialist opinion which would in any way justify the behaviour of those people. They are pure anarchists, and I should be prepared to point out to them that if the time were to come when private ownership of land ceases, and all land becomes public property, they would probably be in a much harder case than they are in at this moment. My impression is that the guardians appointed by public authorities to look after land in public ownership would be a harder body of people to get on with than the ordinary gamekeeper or watcher, and therefore I should be very sorry if people who hope they will be able to go anywhere and everywhere remained under that kind of delusion.

I think it is also necessary to point out, when we speak of landowners' objections, that this is also very much, at least quite as much, a farmers' question in some cases, such as the cases we have seen a good deal discussed in another place and elsewhere, including the question of danger to sheep, particularly at certain times of the year. These are matters which have aroused great interest and some alarm in the minds of the farming community, and they do help to make necessary those particular safeguards of which Lord Addison spoke, and on which I will say a word in a moment, with regard to the change, which I agree has been spoken of in very exaggerated terms, of the existing law of trespass. I cannot say that I have ever regarded the existing law of trespass as anything specially sacred, or inspired by special wisdom. After all, it relates to a state of society altogether different from that which obtains at this moment. As we all know, the matter has been perpetually raised by owners of land by the erection of notices saying that trespassers will be prosecuted, when everybody knows that they cannot be.

The whole question of the rights and wrongs of trespass have remained in a very unintelligible state and I agree that so far as public rights are concerned there is really nothing for the public to dread from this particular provision. As has been clearly stated, certain areas under the supervision of the Government Department are to be set aside at certain times, for explained reasons which presumably are good reasons; and I cannot see that anybody has a right to complain of being regarded as committing an offence if he intentionally breaks a regulation imposed by the Government. I trust, therefore, that that provision in the Bill will be fairly accepted by those some of whom I think have quite generally misunderstood it. I am quite sure that in the long run we shall find that most of the people who ramble will continue to be reasonable people, anxious not to do damage, as an immensely large percentage of them is at present. Equally I am sure that the landowning community as a whole will desire to accept this measure in a most friendly spirit.

I think that probably in the course of the debate somebody will remark with regret that Scotland is not included in the measure. I understand that it was practically impossible, owing to certain differences in the law, that Scotland should be included, but I should hope that the time will come when a Scottish measure on similar lines will be passed through Parliament. Otherwise at some points of the Scottish border a very strange situation, I can imagine, might arise for those who ramble over the quite indistinguishable border line. I hope also that the measure will pass through this House with as little amendment as possible. There is one important Amendment to which the noble Earl alluded, which I hope will form part of the Bill, but from the point of view of the return of the measure to another place I hope that no great amount of amendment by your Lordships will be thought necessary, and that the passage of the Bill through this House will be easy and prosperous.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading, not only on his presentation of the Bill but also upon having obtained beforehand an agreed measure. I do not believe that it was really quite so difficult to get agreement as many thought it would be, because I think there was misapprehension in many places. Pictures have been drawn, largely by people with very little knowledge of the matter, representing the landlords as selfish ogres, surrounding their land with wire, behind which were keepers with guns prepared to resist invasion, and on the other hand representing the ordinary hiker-rambler as an individual with a newspaper in one hand and a trowel in the other, ready to jump the fences, do as much damage as he could, and to leave the torn newspaper strewn on the ground behind him. The facts are really nothing of the sort. The very large majority of landowners are only too ready to give all reasonable access to their land, and the enormous majority of ramblers are only keen on getting God's own air, hearing birds sing, and seeing flowers and trees growing.

But there are of course exceptions, for whom this Bill is intended. There is the selfish landowner, who refuses access which he might quite reasonably give without any damage to himself. There are, on the other hand, certain persons who do damage. And it is by no means always the poorest classes of people who do this damage. Probably some of your Lordships have noticed that in practically every county by-passes and main roads are now being beautified with trees and shrubs and bulbs—and very much they needed it with their permanent concrete posts and wire. And, moreover, it is an unfortunate fact that occasionally—not very often—these bulbs are dug up, branches are cut off trees, and even shrubs are uprooted, and the chief offender is usually a man with a big motor car.

I imagine that outside your Lordships' House most criticism of this Bill will be with regard to Clause 6 and the list of offences. When I first saw them I was a little bit horrified, because I noticed that if a good many of the letters by which they are numbered had not been double-banked there would not have been enough letters in the alphabet to go round. But afterwards certain considerations occurred to my mind. The first was that, enormous though the list of offences may be, it is nothing like the number that an ordinary self-respecting decent-minded farmer could invent between sunrise and sundown. The second is that, after all, these scheduled places will be something in the nature of public parks, and as public parks, naturally, regulations of some sort must be insisted on. Thirdly, I venture to think that in remarkably few cases will use be made of the penalties for this tremendous list of offences.

I believe that propaganda will be the surest way of effecting this purpose. There is now in practically every village school a good deal of propaganda going on against defacing the countryside, and I rather wish it were extended more widely than I think it is in the towns. I would venture to make one plea, that this propaganda should include a statement of what I believe to be the simple fact, that the Almighty, when He created bluebells, did not create them for the purpose of picking. He did create certain flowers for that purpose, like daffodils, and cowslips, but not bluebells. I believe your Lordships will agree that there is not a more beautiful sight than a slope of bluebells under a growing oak wood in which the young leaves are just coming out. I believe you will also agree with me that there is not a much sadder sight than bunch after bunch of bluebells, picked half an hour before, lying withered and wounded on the road just outside that wood.

That I think will at first be the most common criticism of this measure; but there is one which comes afterwards which will gradually grow in intensity. People will see a schedule of moor, heath or down—Lord Addison mentioned something of this sort just now—and they will say: "Oh, hang it all, I have been accustomed to go there for years. No one ever stopped me. I have always had that. Thank you for nothing." I venture to suggest that the reason why so little is given is that there is in fact so little left to give. I know that the Party of noble Lords opposite have an almost pathetic belief that the nationalisation of the land will cure every ill that agriculture and even the human race is suffering under.


Oh, no.


Not the human race; well, the agricultural population. Even the noble Lord is a little bit affected by that delusion. I think they fail in one matter—observation; for, I venture to suggest, they fail to observe that during the last thirty years nationalisation of the land up to, in fact, 90 per cent., has taken place. And I venture to think I can prove that. There exists to-day an enormous area of land, which is in fact totally nationalised. It includes roughly one thousand square miles which have been nationalised and are run under the county councils for allotments and small holdings. That land has been purchased, which I believe is the method to be adopted. It belongs to the nation, and it is run by an open soviet in the form of a sub-committee of the county council.

Now, what is the difference between that land and the land that remains under the landowner? Are wages up? Certainly not, they are regulated by the Wages Board. They remain exactly the same. Are rents lower? Not a bit; rents are slightly higher usually. Is there more access to that land? No, it is exactly the same. Are the buildings better? They are better than some, but they are no better than the average estate buildings, in spite of the fact that that is the only land in England that does not pay a contribution to the upkeep of the nation in the way of Death Duties. I venture to think therefore that the reason why there is not much given under this Bill is that there is in fact not a very great deal left that can be given. But I welcome this Bill very heartily if for only one reason—namely, that I think when the people of this country appreciate that they are getting as a right what they were getting as a favour, even if it was almost universal, they will appreciate their right, and they will take much care to see that the beauties of the countryside which they enjoy can also be enjoyed by many others besides themselves. I hope this Bill will get a Second Reading.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I shall trouble your Lordships for a very few moments only, because much that I might perhaps have said in other circumstances has been said so admirably by previous speakers. Lord Radnor, in a speech of singular lucidity in introducing the Bill, has explained clearly all the difficulties of the past, and the measures taken under this Bill to remove them. From the point of view of the society to which I belong, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, my noble friend Lord Crewe has already put the position of that society before you. May I say that I welcome the assurance of my noble friend Lord Addison that this Bill will receive the support of the Party he represents? The Bill has been before the country, as we have been informed, for rather more than fifty years, and in all my connection with the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society the subject has been one of anxiety to us because, whereas on the one hand ardent spirits in the Peak District and the North of England generally—pedestrians, ramblers and hikers—were all for a very strong Bill indeed, we on the other hand felt, if I may express the opinions of the society, that the sort of Bill that was from time to time presented to Parliament was an impossible Bill, as in fact the history of those Bills has proved. They asked for far too much. They had no consideration for the perfectly legitimate interests belonging to land.

So for years this matter was brought up again and again in Parliament and insistently to the attention of the Commons and Footpaths Society, and I am afraid we were beginning to earn some sort of reputation for not really caring so much about the interests of open spaces as we pretended. That, as I say, was not the difficulty. It was because a reasonable Bill, possible to be passed through Parliament, was never in all these years presented to us. Then at length we took the matter, if I may say so, to some extent into our own hands and, as your Lordships will be aware, the conferences and discussions that have taken place in regard to the present measure have taken place very largely on the premises of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society. We have done our best as a society to contribute our knowledge and experience to the elucidation of a very difficult problem.

Here I should like to join in the chorus of well-merited praise that has arisen in this House this afternoon in regard to the incomparable secretary of that society, Sir Lawrence Chubb. We have had all the time the advantage of his quite unrivalled knowledge and of his good judgment, and latterly we have had the advantage also of the presence of Mr. Creech Jones, who has piloted the Bill through the other place with such distinguished ability. Then, again, we have had with us the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and the representatives of the Central Landowners' Association and the Land Union. If I may say it of Lord Radnor in his presence, I should like to say that throughout these conferences I was as much impressed by the tenacity with which he and his colleagues stuck to material points as by the sympathy and liberal-mindedness with which they treated the problem as a whole. And so after many years, during which I for one did not believe that a satisfactory Access to Mountains Bill could be produced, we have this Bill—not perhaps entirely satisfactory—in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Like noble Lords who have spoken before me, I trust and have the confident expectation that your Lordships will pass it, and that before very long this Access to Mountains Bill will be on the Statute Book.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like in the fewest possible words to express my deep satisfaction that this epoch-making Bill—for epoch-making I regard it—should have come before your Lordships' House with the fair prospect of its being not merely acclaimed as a very valuable contribution to the law relating to the user of land, but also of its eventually reaching the Statute Book without any very material amendment. As the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches has pointed out, the law of trespass in this country is most chaotic, and I for my part welcome this Bill as doing a great deal for the first time to clarify and regularise it. It is very heartening to me, at any rate, as desiring very much more extensive rights on the part of health-seeking pedestrians and, on the other hand, as representing to some extent the land-owning community, to find those who have so ably and for many years championed the interests of the public who desire to have freer access to the land of this country joining hands so warmly and sympathetically with those who represent in this House the landowning community.

But I am not altogether satisfied with the Title of this Bill. When one scans Clause 2, one finds that it does not define the particular type of land to which the Bill applies. Under that clause it is quite possible for the Minister, as far as I can understand, to make any land in this country, but not in Scotland, answer to the description of mountain, moor, heath, or down. If that is so, subject of course to the exceptions stated in subsection (2) of Clause 2, it would be more intelligible to the general public if this Bill, instead of being called the Access to Mountains Bill, were designated the Public Access to Private Land Bill because that is what, in effect, it is. First of all, you exclude Scotland. To exclude Scotland in an Access to Mountains Bill is something like the play of Hamlet without Hamlet. As far as I can see, although there is no land which could possibly be described in my own immediate neighbourhood, or within fifty miles radius, as mountain, moor, heath, or down, there is plenty of land which in the opinion of the Minister of Agriculture might properly come within the four corners of this Bill, as I hope it will.

When I turn to Clause 2, subsection (2) (h), I find that land comprised in an ancient monument is excluded from the scope of the Bill. I for my part, living in an area peculiarly rich in archæological treasures, many of which have already come under the control or partial control of the Office of Works as constituting an ancient monument, I should very much deprecate such land being deprived of the advantages of this Bill so far as the general public are concerned. All the more so in view of such a clause as the noble Earl has adumbrated as desirable—namely, a clause empowering the landowner, all the more if he has an ancient monument on his land, if he chooses by deed of gift, to bring such land within the scope of the Bill. Surely it is very desirable, in the interests of the public, that such a provision should be made. I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I warmly welcome this Bill. When I see those who champion the rights of health-seeking pedestrians and those who represent the landowning community clasping hands in your Lordships' House with a view to a happy arrangement between both these classes of the community, the sight brings joy to my heart.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, as a well-disposed landlord I should like to pay my tribute to Lord Radnor and those who have worked with him in producing a very practical, agreed Bill out of what used to be—perhaps because the promoters did not deal with it in a practical way—a very contentious subject where there was very little cause for contention. My own experience, like that of other noble Lords who have spoken, is that the average walker, rambler, hiker—whatever you call him—is a most excellent guest to have on your place. He very seldom does any damage at all. He puts a good deal of energy into his exercise, and he comes because he loves the country just as much as those of us who live as much of our time as we can in the country. The man who really does the damage is a much fatter and more prosperous kind of person, who comes in a closed motor car, who takes what he is pleased to call, and what we used to call, carriage exercise, and then, having sat with the windows tight shut smoking a very fat cigar, he emerges with an equally fat partner and probably sets alight to your moor, having first picked anything which is within range. That is the person whom good landlords and bad Socialists can both join equally in reprobating, and possibly in controlling.

I think the Bill is thoroughly sound. I believe myself that there is only one danger. A great deal of nonsense has been talked in the past about the danger of disturbance to game and things of that kind. I know one moor—some of my noble friends in this House may recognise it—not far from a large Yorkshire town, where grouse have bred in the largest possible numbers wholly undeterred by an almost equal number of amorous couples who used to go wandering about upon the moor. It is one of the few moors which has preserved a consistent bag year after year. I do not think one need bother much about disturbance. But the real danger, whether it be to moorland or to forest, is the danger from fire, and if that comes it comes suddenly. It comes, of course quite unintentionally, but it spreads and it destroys certainly for ten or fifteen years, and, if it is a woodland, for more than a generation, not only the value of the property but the value from the farming point of view of large sheep runs. It destroys the value of the woodlands, and it destroys the whole amenity of the people for whose very benefit this Bill is being passed. Therefore I am glad to see that a practical clause—at least I think it is a practical clause—Clause 5, has been inserted to guard against what I believe to be the only real danger, and that is the danger of fire, which we should all equally be anxious to guard against.

As I understand it, the provision is that the Minister may make an order to prevent or to control access during dangerous times, when there may be risk of fire. I think, if I may say so, it is quite right that power should be in the Minister, exercised no doubt through his local officers. I do not think it can very well be delegated to local committees, or bodies of that kind, but I think my noble friend the Under-Secretary and the promoters of the Bill would agree that what you want to do is to be quite sure you get an order quickly where there is a real need for it. It is no good shutting the stable door after the horse has escaped. You may get a comparatively short period of very hot dry weather when the risk of fire is very great. Now in such a case the order that people are to keep to the footpath, or whatever it may be, ought to come into operation very quickly. Equally, you may get, after a week a sudden thunderstorm and a great downpour of rain, so that the order becomes entirely unnecessary. Now where there is need the order ought to operate quickly, and it ought to be taken off the moment it ceases to be necessary. I am sure it will not be beyond the wit of my noble friend, who will have to administer the Bill through his proper officers, to get an order on quickly in the interests of everybody. In the interest just as much of the people who are going to take the benefits under this Bill as or the owners or occupiers of the land or anybody else, an order should be got on quickly in the necessary case and be taken off immediately it ceases to be necessary.

I did not rise to make any criticisms at all of the Bill. I think it is very well constructed, and that it shows great patience and practical willingness on the part of all the people concerned. The landowners and preservation societies and the people who are going to have a right of access under this Bill have not really different points of view. They really have the same point of view, a desire that the beautiful things of England may be used and enjoyed by as many people as possible and to the best advantage. I think I differ from my noble friend the noble Viscount who spoke before me, about the Title of the Bill. No doubt, as regards the long Title, your Lordships could frame it in whatever is the most appropriate way, but we are an illogical people, and for years and years we have talked about access to mountains when, illogical people that we are, a mountain was about the last thing we were thinking about. Comparatively few have the energy or the opportunity to ascend the so-called mountains of this country, and as Scotland, for some reason or other that I do not quite understand, is being excluded from this Bill, the Title, Access to Mountains Bill, is still less logical as a title. What we really mean is access to heath lands, downs, moors and open spaces. On the other hand, as we have talked about access to mountains, and as this was the phrase under which this question has been discussed for so long, I think probably if you did not continue to call the Bill the Access to Mountains Bill the people who are to be satisfied by it would not believe they had got what they wanted, that for which they have been striving for so long. I think your Lordships would be wise to continue to call it the Access to Mountains Bill.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, in regard to the regret which has been expressed that this Bill does not extend to Scotland, I suggest the reason is that if it did the language would have to be considerably redrafted and the Bill would become practically a new Bill. One point was mentioned by the noble Viscount just now about which I think perhaps sufficient precautions are not taken. I should like to ask the noble Earl if he is satisfied with the sufficiency of the penalty for fire in Clause 7. I think the danger from fire is very much underrated. I knew of three fires only last winter on a piece of ground to which the public has free access.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I was not in the least asking that the penalty should be increased. I have no great belief in the amounts of penalties. My point was that the order should be made quickly and taken off quickly when the need for it ceased.


The point I wish to make is that each of those fires brought danger to a considerable community. I think that the danger from fires is very apt to be under-estimated.


My Lords, I should not like you to pass the Second Reading of this Bill without having a clear opinion from myself upon its merits. I think it is in all respects an admirable Bill, and I would add, with some large experience in these matters, that in my opinion it is remarkably well drafted. It is not necessary for me to say anything more. I hope the Bill will receive a Second Reading and will go on the Statute Book with practically no Amendments.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, you will have noticed in the statement issued by the promoters of the Bill that reference is made to negotiations undertaken with the encouragement of the Government between organisations representing the landed interests and those concerned with the preservation and extension of public rights and privileges. Therefore it is scarcely necessary for me on this occasion to express on behalf of the Government full support of the measure which my noble friend the Earl of Radnor has so clearly explained in moving the Second Reading. I am sure that it must be a matter of great joy, not only to the ever-increasing number of persons who choose to call themselves "hikers," but also to the vast body of landowners who welcome the greater facilities now offered to the public for sharing with them the joys of fresh air and country life, that there has been expressed on all sides this afternoon a unanimity of opinion that the provisions in the Bill are so framed that neither owners of property nor those persons who will benefit by access to the type of land defined in the Bill will have cause for complaint in the years to come.

It was particularly gratifying to note that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, speaking on behalf of the Party he represents, had no substantial complaint to make in respect of the provisions of the Bill. The minor criticisms made by the noble Lord were really Committee points, to which the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, will no doubt reply. I think, however, I may deal with one point mentioned by the noble Lord. The position in respect of land which is exempted under Clause 2 will not be prejudiced in any way whatsoever. The land to which he referred, and the footpath to the church, which he frequents, will remain under exactly the same conditions as in present circumstances and only the law of trespass will apply to that land. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, suggested that instead of Access to Mountains Bill a better title would be Public Access to Private Land Bill. The noble Viscount feared that the Minister would be empowered to make an order in respect of any land that was selected if he chose, but the noble Viscount will see if he looks at Clause 2 (2) (b) that excepted land includes agricultural land other than sheep walks or cliff. Therefore this Bill at present is limited to moorland, heath or down.

That brings me to a point raised by my noble friend the Earl of Radnor who, at the close of his speech, made a suggestion that the provisions of the Bill should include land, other than moorland, heath or down, which he personally thought owners might like to throw open to the public if the safeguards in Clause 6 could be applied to it. In support of that he quoted an instance of a woodland, where bluebells grow in profusion, to which the owner would wish the public to have access, provided there were certain safeguards. Under the present Title of the Bill, Access to Mountains Bill, there would be a difficulty, I think, in including that type of land but I gather that my noble friend is going to tell your Lordships that at a later stage he will suggest altering the Title to Rural Access Bill, in order that such a provision might be included. As to that I would like to say that in the view of the Government it will be necessary to go cautiously if this is to continue to be an agreed measure. If it is to experience in future stages the degree of unanimity that has been shown this afternoon, it will be necessary not to introduce Amendments which may bring conflict where conflict has not been shown up to date.

My noble friend Viscount Swinton raised the important question of fire to moorland. I have personally had great experience of moorland fire. Only a few years ago I had approximately 2,000 acres burned by a fire started by a pedestrian crossing the moor. Owing to a change of wind the fire was not put out for five days, and it is doubtful whether it would have been put out then had I not been able to obtain the valuable assistance of the military authorities at Catterick Camp. I would like to assure the noble Viscount, however, that the procedure which is suggested to carry into effect Clause 5 of the Bill is very similar to that followed under a Foot-and-Mouth Disease Order. The noble Viscount will know that there has been no serious or general complaint that that procedure has caused delay. The applicant, who in most cases will be a landowner, will immediately send a request for closure owing to drought, to the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, who will notify the Minister. It will then be necessary for notices to be posted at certain points, stating that for a certain period the land will be closed. I hope that that procedure will satisfy my noble friend and others who share his anxiety.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, questioned whether the penalty for causing a fire was sufficient. He will see, however, that included in the penalty clause there is a provision for compensation for damage. I know from personal experience that damage can be a very expensive item, and I think that the provision in the Bill is very rigorous if full compensation for damage is provided for. I conclude by expressing on behalf of the Government our very great pleasure that this Bill has received unanimous support on all sides of the House, and I trust that it will be possible for the promoters to agree to meet noble Lords at a later stage of the Bill so that it can go on to the Statute Book as acceptable to all parties concerned.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, there has been such a chorus of approval of this Bill that there is really very little for me to reply to. I must say, however, that I am extremely grateful to all those noble Lords who have spoken so moderately and with such informed interest on the Bill. I hope that one result of our debate will be to allay the fears of those people, both landowners and ramblers, who are apprehensive of the consequences of this Bill. There is, as some of us realise, a great deal of misapprehension, and I hope that our debate this afternoon will have done something to remove those difficulties.

I think an answer is required to one or two questions. First of all the noble Lord, Lord Addison, wanted to know whether cliff land was included under Clause 2 (2) (b). He will see that that subsection dealing with excepted land mentions agricultural land "other than sheep walks or cliff"; and so presumably and in fact cliff is included within the operation of the Act, because it is not excepted land. My noble friend the Earl of Feversham dealt with footpaths. As regards the question by Lord Addison concerning Clause 8, that clause deals only with the saving of rights of landowners. That is to say, taking the instance which the noble Lord used himself, it merely makes clear that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a landowner from putting up posts and other things, or, in fact, to prevent a landowner from making a proper use of his land. A rambler, in fact, has no right to interfere with the landowner in his proper function; but the mere putting-up of posts or doing other operations does not take that land out of the order. The only thing which will take it out of an order is that the user is altered so as to bring it within the category of excepted land if it were not so before. I do not think there were any other points in what the noble Lord, Lord Addison, said.

I should like to refer for a moment to what Lord Cranborne said, and to his horror at the number of offences. I would tell him that at one stage that list was very much longer. Indeed, I could tell your Lordships that at one stage it was so long that we came to the conclusion that even Mr. Chamberlain with his umbrella would not have been allowed to ramble, because the umbrella would have been an erection within the meaning of the Bill! So that list has been shortened appreciably. The noble Lord also said that there was not much good in this Bill because a great deal had already been taken. I think a great deal is in fact given, because what has been taken has been taken outside the law, and under this Bill those people who have rambled where hitherto they should not have rambled will do so in future in the knowledge that they are not breaking the law of trespass.

On the point mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, about ancient monuments, I am not quite clear, and I will look into it, but I rather think that ancient monuments are already dealt with by enactments of their own. I was rather hoping that my noble friend Lord Fever-sham would be able to deal with that point, but he did not. In any event I will look into it and make the position quite clear. So far as fire is concerned I need say very little, except that I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that the penalties on that point are of far less importance than are such regulations as will prevent fire. I think my noble friend Lord Feversham made it clear that the regulations will be such as to enable the risk of fire to be minimised as far as possible. The noble Earl also said something on the suggestion I made that another clause should be incorporated into this Bill allowing access to land by deed made by the landowner. He said that the Title as it stands now would not allow of that. The Title, however, was altered in another place and now reads: An Act to secure to the public access to mountains, moorlands and certain other land. That seems to me fairly wide. But in any case, as I have already indicated, it is suggested that the Title, Access to Mountains, is rather a misnomer and should be altered. May I conclude by once more thanking your Lordships for the welcome you have given to the Bill, and by expressing the hope that your Lordships will now give it a Second Reading?

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.