§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]
§ Clause 1:
§ Extension of class of land for improvement of which grants may be made under the principal Act
(3) In this section—
(a) the expression "livestock rearing land" means 'and situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath. being land which is, or by improvement could be made, suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle but not for the carrying on. to any material extent, of dairy farming, the production, to any material extent, of fat sheep
or fat cattle or the production of crops in quantity materially greater than that necessary to feed the number of sheep or cattle capable of being maintained on the land;
LORD MERTHYR moved, to add to paragraph (a) of subsection (3):
Provided that livestock rearing land to which improvements have been made under an approved scheme under the principal Act shall not, by reason only of the making of such improvements, be deemed to be "excepted land" within the definition in subsection (5) of section sixty of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. 1949.
The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I shall detain the House for only a few minutes. Section 59, subsection (2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. defines the words "open country," in a very important definition, as land consisting
wholly or predominantly of mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff or foreshore.
Section 60, subsection (1) provides that there shall be an exception, and in subsection (5) of the same section, the first type of "excepted land" is defined as
(a) agricultural land, other than such land which is agricultural land by reason only that it affords rough grazing for livestock;
Turning to the Livestock Rearing Bill, we see that in Clause 1 (3) (a), some of the words that I have mentioned occur again. On this occasion they are "mountains, hills or heath." The Bill contemplates making improvements in land which falls under that description.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of improving such land, and I have not the slightest criticism of any such improvements—in fact, I think they are now overdue. What I am worried about is lest this Bill, when it becomes law, may to some extent nullify the access provisions of the National Parks Act. Having achieved a considerable measure of access under that Act, I am apprehensive lest some access shall be taken away by the passing of this Bill. I put down this Amendment to try to secure that that shall not happen, and to ask whether His Majesty's Government have considered this particular point. I have ventured to put down what I think to be an acceptable Amendment in order to achieve the object. The wording may not be perfect, but no doubt I shall be told whether the Amendment can be accepted or not. I should like to draw
attention to the third line of the Amendment, which says:
… by reason only of the making of such improvements …
§ This is my attempt to bring about a small point, but one which I feel is one of some importance. I am most anxious that the public shall not be denied access to a large area of land simply by the passing of this Bill. It seems to me possible for the land to be improved in the way contemplated without that access being denied. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 35. at end insert the said pro-viso.—(Lord Merthyr.)
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARI OF LISTOWEL)
I am sure that we all share the noble Lord's desire that people should be able to wander as freely as possible over our hills and moorlands, and that, so far as possible, the rights which they enjoy under the National Parks Act should be maintained. But we must consider the interests of food production. That is why the public do not have free access to agricultural land. I am afraid that we cannot accept this Amendment, because we feel that if it were included in the Bill the effect would be harmful to agriculture. I believe that we have the support of noble Lords opposite for the line which we feel obliged to take in regard to this Amendment. If it were accepted it would mean that a sheep or cattle farmer who had improved his land under the scheme, possibly making rough grazing into good pasture, would find that his land would still be accessible to hikers and visitors from the neighbouring towns. That would be most undesirable. It would put the farmer who has improved his land under the scheme, and who received a grant from public funds, in quite a different position from the farmer who had improved his land out of his own pocket. Moreover, there would be a grave risk that these visitors, if they were allowed to walk freely about the farm, would do damage to newly-seeded land; and even more serious would the result be if farmers were deterred from promoting improvement schemes because they knew that hikers would be allowed to wander about on their land. This would possibly prejudice the production of the amount of meat which we hope 833 to secure under the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will see the force of the objections to his proposal, and that in the light of what I have said, in which I have the support of the noble Lords opposite, who are equally anxious to safeguard the interests of fanning, he will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.
I must say that the noble Earl has not reduced my apprehension in this matter. Certainly I will not press the Amendment to a Division, but I am still glad that I put it down, because it has elicited from the Government something of the true position, which can low be studied. What I am worried about now is this. Supposing that pasture on a mountain or fell is improved by the production of better grass, by whatever means, does that mean that under the Bill that land, which would have been access land under the National Parks Act, will automatically not be access land? If I am right in this assumption it will be a very important change indeed, and one which may affect large areas. To my mind that point is worthy of close study. I would make only one further point. I think I should be right in suggesting that when the National Parks Act was before your Lordships' House the underlying principle of access land was that there should be access to unenclosed land—in fact, I am not sure that it was not suggested that a re-definition of the words should be made. Surely, the whole point was that people should be allowed to have access to unenclosed land. Under this present Bill it seems to me that a great deal of unenclosed land can be, and I hope will be, improved. Does that mean that thousands of acres of this land will cease to be access land, merely because the grass has improved? I do not want to make the point again, but I believe that it is important and will need to be closely studied by all those who take an interest in the matter. I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ LORD HARLECH
Before the Amendment is withdrawn, I should like to ask whether the Government have consulted the National Park Commissioners on this point. I agree that we do not want this access to be granted outside the National Park areas, but in the limited National Parks there seems to be a strong case for the National Parks idea being allowed 834 to have at any rate reasonable predominance.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Minister of Local Government and Planning has been consulted on this matter.
With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, has said. I should like to remind him that Part V of the National Parks Act does not apply only to National Parks, but to the whole country. Therefore, the point I am making applies to the whole country. I agree that it is all the more important in National Parks. I notice that the noble Earl, in his reply a moment ago, did not state that the National Parks Commission had been consulted, from which I gather that they have not been.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported without amendment.