§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Now that the functions of the Minister of Agriculture in relation to commons have been transferred to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, it falls on me to present this Bill to your Lordships. Its object is to get registers made throughout England and Wales of common land and of town and village greens, and the purpose of doing so is to ascertain what common land there is and what claims there are to rights of common or ownership in respect of it. There is a similar purpose in relation to town or village greens. When the registers have been prepared in a provisional form from claims made, there will be time for objections to be made and decided; and once the registers have been finalised they will be conclusive as to what is common land or a town or village green, and they will also be conclusive as to rights of common. It will then be possible to make provision by further legislation for the better management and use of the land.
"Common land" is a phrase used with various meanings. One would hope that it was like the elephant—difficult to define but easy to recognise. Unfortunately, even recognition is not always easy, and the exact extent of common land is unknown or at least unrecorded. But, to take rough figures, out of 32 million acres in England, slightly more than 1 million are common land. In Wales, the proportion is higher, and out of slightly over 5 million acres, nearly half a million are common land. So, in England and Wales together, there are some million and a half acres of common land; say, an acre out of every 25 acres in the country. This is of course a considerable area, and commons vary widely in their type, their size and their geographical distribution. Most of them derive from the common use of grazing land lying outside some centre of arable land, the arable land being farmed in individual holdings. The 86 great extent of common land, some four-fifths of the total common land in England, is found in the hill-farming areas of the Pennines, in the Lake District, the heart of Wales, and the uplands of Devon and Cornwall. In the Midlands and in the South and East of England there are now fewer commons, with a rather patchy distribution as between one county and another. It is the case, however, that a substantial area of common land, some 70,000 acres, lies within 50 miles of the centre of London, and the social importance of such an area is obvious.
Common rights derive from early systems of land tenure; so early, that the late Lord Jowitt complained in this House on February 23, 1955, that we were encumbered by a mass of Anglo-Saxon laws and he wished to goodness that someone would send those laws packing, bag and baggage! In those early times there was room for everyone; but as the population grew so did the process of appropriating common land into private ownership. During the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century enclosure seems to have been usually by Private Act of Parliament, and the process amounted to an agrarian revolution resulting in some 6½ million acres of land in England and Wales ceasing to be used as an open field or common. Legislation from 1836 onwards has led to the protection of the commons, partly in the pastoral interests of the commoners and partly in what I may call the access interests of the public. The Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society was founded in 1865, and celebrates its centenary this summer. In 1898 the Corporation of the City of London bought some 6,000 acres of Epping Forest and, two years later, nearly 500 acres at Burnham Beeches.
As your Lordships will gather from those purchases, the importance of land open to the public near London was by this time becoming fully appreciated, and in 1866 the Metropolitan Commons Act forbade any enclosure of Metropolitan commons. Ten years later, the Commons Act of 1876 put further restrictions on the enclosure of commons, and made some special provision for suburban commons. There was, however, no general right of public access except 87 where commons had been set aside by enclosure awards for the recreation of the inhabitants of the parish. There were customary rights of access to town or village greens, which are separately treated in this Bill.
Even to-day the public has no right of access to a common in every case, but the Law of Property Act, 1925, provided for public access in some cases—those of Metropolitan commons, of commons which are wholly or partly within a borough or urban district, and of waste land of a manor similarly situated, whether or not that land is subject to rights of common. Moreover, the same Act allowed the owner of the soil of any common to declare it open to public access if he deposited the appropriate deed with the Minister of Agriculture. This last provision has now been applied over a total area of slightly more than 120,000 acres. Another section of the same Act forbade any building or fencing except by the consent of the Minister, if such building or fencing hindered access to common land; and the Minister for this purpose had to take into account both the benefit of the neighbourhood and private interests, those interests being obviously the interests of persons having rights in the common. The view has been taken that the Minister's power to consent is a restricted one, and less than 3,000 acres in all have been allowed to be fenced or built on.
It seems, therefore, that although people sometimes think that anyone can go on to a common, there is no right of access except in a minority of cases; but, of course, the minority includes the commons particularly important for this purpose in the Metropolis and in other borough and urban areas. These urban commons amount in England and Wales to just over 150,000 acres, and if we add the commons which have been declared open by the owners of the soil, we get about 270,000 acres in England and Wales open to public access out of a total extent of about 1½ million acres of common land.
To turn from one use of commons, for public access and recreation, I would point out that many of them, particularly in the upland areas, are still most important for agriculture; but their very nature as commons has led to a steady 88 diminution of their agricultural use. I do not think I can do better than quote paragraph 163 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land, published in July, 1958 (Cmnd. 462). It is as follows:Taking common land as a whole we are left with the impression that it is the relic of an ancient system of land management which has caused it to lag well behind other land in agricultural production. To a large extent. the commoners have remained outside the scope of recent agricultural legislation, ineligible for either its benefits or penalties, and incapable, as commoners, of contributing to the industry's increased productivity. The administrative machinery through which their use of the land might have been adapted to modern conditions has mostly disappeared, and they themselves have in consequence become increasingly uncertain of their rights and unable to co-operate. Lacking vitality locally, the whole system which legislation over the last century aimed at preserving has tended to ossify instead. The result has all too often been the neglect of the land with the loss of production to the commoners and of amenity to the public.Public anxiety about the state of commons has led to various inquiries and Commissions, of which for the moment I need only mention a return made in August, 1873, to the House of Commons by the Inclosure Commissioners, and the 1958 Report, from which I have just quoted. The 1873 return shows well over 1½ million acres of common land in England, as against the 1958 total of slightly over 1 million; and the Welsh total in 1958 is also about two-thirds of what it was in 1873. This reduction is too large to be explained by lawful enclosures, having regard to what was lawful at the time, and there must have been a great deal of eating away of common land by neighbouring proprietors—and also, indeed, some actual disappearance for practical purposes of the treatment of common land as such. Some of the reductions in individual counties are startling. In England, the West Riding is said to have had about 226,000 acres of common land in 1873, and just about half as much in 1958. In Wales, 109,000 acres in 1873 in Montgomeryshire had been reduced to under 9,000 acres of common land in 1958. It is more than doubtful whether we have any accurate general picture of what is now treated as common land throughout the country. It is certain that we have no such picture of what is in law common land.
89 There is a similar uncertainty about rights. In some cases the Lord of the manor is well known, the commoners are well known, and the common is managed carefully by them or on their behalf; but in many other cases the Lord of the manor has been lost, and goodness knows who the commoners are. There is always the prospect that an improvement of the common may be made at the expense of those known to be interested, and that others unknown may then appear to prove their rights and claim the benefit of the improvement. There is even the wider prospect that no one interested can be found and that there is no one concerned to make the improvements required, whether in the interests of agriculture or of public access.
I now turn to the 1958 Report, which was made between December, 1955, and July, 1958, by a distinguished and expert body of Commissioners under the chairmanship of Sir Ivor Jennings. Their terms of reference were:… to recommend what changes, if any, are desirable in the law relating to common land in order to promote the benefit of those holding manorial and common rights, the enjoyment of the public, or, where at present little or no use is made of such land, its use for some other desirable purpose.The Commissioners collected a mass of evidence, including evidence from some noble Lords who are Members of this House, and they produced a Report which itself is the best possible tribute to their industry, their expert knowledge in various fields and their sound judgment in forwarding, through all this difficult and complicated material, the public purposes in their terms of reference. I have rarely, if ever, seen such an excellent and interesting Report, and I am sure that the public are indebted, not only to the members of the Royal Commission, but also to those who so carefully gave evidence. I may perhaps add that the Report is well illustrated throughout, and, if I may be allowed a personal word, I took particular pleasure in the photograph of the jury of the Court Baron of Painswick and in that of the members of the Potboilers' Management Committee looking over Hatherleigh Moor in Devon.
The extensive recommendations of the 1958 Royal Commission are contained in two chapters and summarised in a third, at the end of their Report. The first 90 is concerned, as is this Bill, with the registration of rights, land and title. The second is concerned with public access and the management and improvement of common land. The recommendations in the latter chapter are not within the scope of this Bill, but I hope that I have indicated the lines on which action is required.
The Report was published in July, 1958. Two years later, on July 26, 1960, the Minister of Agriculture, in a Written Answer to a Question in another place, stated that the Report brought out clearly the difficulties caused to all concerned, including commoners and the general public, by uncertainty as to the nature, ownership and extent of common land and common rights. He commended as valuable the recommendations for establishing the facts and interests by means of registration. He thought it possible that the Commission's proposals for registration might be effected in a shorter time than they suggested. There would then be much to be said for making provision in a later measure for the better management and improvement of common land, its preservation, the public right of access and the wholesale repeal of existing legislation. It would be difficult to make worthwhile progress on those matters until more was known about the facts and interests involved. A further statement was to be made after discussion with local authority associations and other interests. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture also organised a Working Party in which valuable help was given by some distinguished local government officers.
More than a year later, on November 6, 1961, the right honourable gentleman's successor in the Ministry stated, again by way of written reply, that suggestions had been made to the local authority associations and other interested bodies for a scheme of commons registration, broadly on the lines recommended by the Royal Commission, but taking considerably less time than the twelve years envisaged by the Royal Commission. He said that he was now satisfied that such a scheme was practicable, and legislation would be prepared for the purpose, though it could not be introduced that Session—that is to say, the Session 1961 to 1962. He had it in mind to allow three years for the registration of claims and two years for the registration of 91 objections. Registration, he said, was a desirable step in itself, and the establishment of the facts would pave the way for action on the remaining recommendations of the Royal Commission.
My Lords, the road to General Elections is paved with good intentions, but in this case, at any rate, the good intentions were not followed up. There was unlikely to be great dispute about the need for registration, or indeed about the form and scope of it. But more than three years have now elapsed since the last-mentioned statement, and it now falls to a Labour Government to find time, pending the introduction of much more controversial legislation on other matters, to bring forward what I suggest is a much-needed Bill and one which is unlikely, I trust, to be contested in principle, even if there may be differences on minor details. I am not, of course, suggesting that there is no room for controversy about what will be required at the next stage, after registration.
I now turn to a summary of the clauses of the Bill, some of which necessarily reflect the involved character of the whole subject. I will not try to deal with minor points, but I will, of course, do my best to answer any questions which may be put in the course of our discussion. The Bill does not apply to Scotland (there are no commons there), and it will come into force not immediately but on an appointed day or days. Clause 1 deals with the registration, which I have already mentioned, and provides that if, after a period, land which could have been registered has not been registered, that land shall cease to be common land or a town or village green. Similarly, after the same period, any rights of common which have not been registered will lapse. The period is to be fixed by an order of the Minister and must be at least three years from the day when the Act comes into force. My right honourable friend intends the period to be a minimum of three years, and I shall have more to say about that later.
A further provision relates to land to the ownership of which no claim is made. As regards unclaimed town or village greens, there is provision later on in the Bill, in Clause 8, for vesting in borough or county district councils and in one 92 event in parish councils. The future of unclaimed common land, however, is left to be determined by subsequent legislation. Some rights of ownership have been registered under the Land Registration Acts; so, too, have some rights of common. The rights of ownership or of common so registered are safeguarded; but there is to be no further registration under those Acts of rights of common capable of being registered under this Bill.
Clause 2 constitutes the Greater London Council and county or county borough councils, as the case may be, as registration authorities. Clause 3 makes it clear that in the first place registration shall be provisional, and ensures that the local authorities concerned shall take steps to inform the public. Clause 4 is concerned with the arrangements for provisional registration, and enables a registration authority to register as common land, or as a town or village green, land about which no application for registration has been made.
Clause 5 deals with objections to entries made by way of provisional registration. Unless such objections are withdrawn or conceded, the registration authority is to refer the matter to a Commons Commissioner. Where no owner is registered, the registration authority itself may lodge an objection to a claim that land is common land or to a claim of rights of common. Clause 6 deals in a general form with the disposal by Commons Commissioners of disputed claims and with arrangements to cancel or confirm them, as the case may be. Undisputed registration claims—that is to say, registrations to which no objection has been made within the period allowed for objections—become final under Clause 7.
Clause 8 deals with unclaimed land. To begin with, mere must be an inquiry by a Commons Commissioner as to ownership, and if he succeeds in finding an owner appropriate entry will be made in the register. If he does not, then, as I have already indicated, a town or village green vests in the local authority. Clause 9 provides that, subject to the machinery for objections, an entry in the register shall be conclusive evidence that the land is common land or, as the case may be, a town or village green 93 and conclusive evidence of any rights registered over it, but not, of course, of ownership.
Clause 10 exempts from registration not only the New Forest, Epping Forest and the Forest of Dean, but also any land indicated in an order of the Minister. The Minister, however, in making such an order is restricted to cases where the land is already regulated under other Public or Local Acts and where no rights of common have been exercised for at least thirty years past and the owner is known. Clauses 12 and 13 provide for the amendment of the registers under regulations in certain rather special cases, or by the High Court in cases of fraud in connection with the withdrawal of objections or the failure to make them, as also in some other special circumstances. Clause 14 deals with a rather technical matter, the quantification of indefinite grazing rights; while Clause 15 is concerned with some special points in the application of the doctrine of prescription.
Clause 16 prescribes the appointment by the Lord Chancellor of the Commons Commissioners, who will have legal qualifications, and one of whom will be the Chief Commons Commissioner, as well as with the appointment of Assessors to help them in cases calling for special knowledge. There is provision for costs, on a county court scale, and for the fees and allowances of the Commissioners. Clause 17 allows appeals from the Commissioners to the High Court on points of law. Clause 18 deals with regulations that the Minister may make and Clause 19 with his orders. The regulations will be mainly concerned with questions of form and procedure, and with information for the public and local authorities. Both regulations and orders are subject to the usual Negative Resolution procedure.
As to the closing clauses of the Bill, all I need say at this stage is that, while in Clause 21 the definition of "common land" and the reference to "rights of common" are not as clear as ideally one would like them to be, that comes from the nature of the subject. They have been drafted on expert advice and after full consideration of possible alternatives. On past experience we do not expect that they will give rise to any serious practical difficulties, and the best advice I can give 94 to those concerned is: "If in doubt, claim—or at least consult a solicitor; and remember that claims may be not only for rights of grazing, but for rights to cut turf, to take fish, brushwood or sand, and so on." An explanatory note will be made available to and by the Commons Registration Authorities.
My Lords, I must now indicate the principal departures from the recommendations of the 1958 Royal Commission. The most important point is the shortening of the time for registration. The Commission recommended the following timetable: first, a year between the coming into force of the Act and the opening of the registers; then eight years, during which claims and objections could be made; and then a further four years only for objections. The period of one year corresponds to the arrangements now made for an appointed day on which the Act will come into operation. The remaining twelve years seem unnecessarily long; and they so seemed to both the Ministers of Agriculture whose statements I referred to earlier in my speech. It is now proposed to have three years for registration and two years afterwards for objections. It seems convenient, however, to divide the three years registration period into two equal periods of eighteen months, and it is hoped that those periods, between them, will run from the beginning of 1967 to the end of 1969.
In order to keep the public fully informed, there will have to be an interval of three months or so before each objection period begins. It is hoped that most of the claims will be put forward in the first eighteen months' period so that any objection to them can be disposed of by October, 1970, and during the first registration period there will be no charge for registration. There will be a charge of £5 for claims notified during the second claims period, but the fee will be waived if prior notice has been given.
The reason why the Commission recommended as long a period as twelve years for claims and objections seems to have been that they intended the register, once finalised, to be conclusive not only as to the status of the land, whether or not it was common land, and as to rights of common over it, but also as to the ownership of the land. I think, however, as did the two Ministers whose statements I have quoted, that that is an unsatisfactory reason for long delay. We 95 feel that it is better to have registration of title to land dealt with only under the Land Registration Acts, and to provide, as the Bill does, for the necessary steps to that end. That is another divergence of a rather procedural character from the recommendations of the Commission.
A third divergence from the recommendations of the Royal Commission is on their recommendation that the ownership of any unclaimed land should vest in the Public Trustee. It seems that such an arrangement would put unfamiliar duties on the Public Trustee; and, in any event, we must surely find out a good deal more about the commons and rights over them before we make any arrangements for their vesting in some public authority. A minor divergence is that the Royal Commission recommended a right of appeal from a Commons Commissioner to the Lands Tribunal, but the limited right of appeal to the High Court seems preferable.
My Lords, the uncertainty about the extent of commons, about the rights over them and the individuals interested has not, of course, applied to every case; but it has been widespread and it has led to a broad acreage of our country being ill-maintained and inadequately used, whether for purposes of public access and amenity or for agriculture. We have let outmoded customs and institutions get the better of us; and in the modern world an element of the traditional or the picturesque is not necessarily a sufficient reason for the preservation of the useless or the harmful. Our first step must be to remove the uncertainty; and that is the object of this Bill. We hope by the means I have outlined to get enough information to see what further action is required. On that subject there are about fifty recommendations in the Report of the Royal Commission, and it is clear that in most cases we shall be called on to strike a proper balance between the need for public access and enjoyment, on the one hand, and agricultural and pastoral needs, on the other; and, while having due regard to all such private rights as are in active use, to take as our final aim the public advantage in the widest sense of those words.
Your Lordships will see why, pending fuller information, I do not wish to comment 96 in detail on the fifty recommendations I have mentioned. They are the fruit of careful inquiry and sensible consideration, and they should not be neglected or overruled without good reason. I will allow myself one comment, and one only. The more I look at the matter, the more impressed I am with the differences in circumstances, not only between one district and another but often in particular cases. It seems possible that the Royal Commission, having cleared away much of the fog surrounding the whole question, may have thought the way forward a little clearer than it may prove to be. We shall have to be sure that future legislation is sufficiently elastic to deal with local and particular differences, and we shall have to give full scope to the knowledge and, I hope, the good will of the local authorities concerned. They took an active interest in the work of the Royal Commission and spent time and trouble to provide it with local information and, in some cases, with suggestions by way of evidence. For that, we owe them warm thanks; and, whatever legislation we pass, it will be largely on their interest and their co-operation that a better use of common land in the future will depend.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—Lord Mitchison)
§ 7.3 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has introduced this Bill, if I may say so, with great detail and great clarity and the House will be very grateful to him for the trouble which he has taken over this. I must say that this is a fascinating subject, although a highly complex one, for the law of commons stretches back, as the noble Lord has pointed out, over hundreds of years. Not only does it become in the process mightily complicated and diverse, but the language it uses seems to come out of a vocabulary entirely of its own. And one of the most valuable parts of the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land, I found, was the very last part to be written—namely Appendix VI, which provides one with a glossary of all the words used in the law relating to common land and translates them for one.
For one who is not well versed in the law, and particularly in mediaeval law, I 97 found this glossary required almost continual reference to discover who was or what was or what were the duties of such names as "Ffridds" and "heafs", "balks" and "botes". So obscure are the functions of many of these entities that I could not help calling to mind the words of a puzzle poem I remember learning, not on my master's instructions, when I was a child, relating to someone or something whose purpose was not readily apparent from its nomenclature. It goes something like this:Who or why or which or whatIs the Aquand of Swat?Does he sit on a chair, or a sofa, or squat?I could not help feeling that that might be applied to some of the people whose names are referred to in this Report. It is interesting to find that a landgrave is not, as the innocent might be expected to consider, a receptacle for the deceased, but none other than a human being who has certain interests in a common in Cumberland; and, as the noble Lord pointed out, a potboiler is not a facet of modern sophisticated engineering, as one might expect, but somebody who may have an interest in a common in Devon.
These names go far back into our history and with them go back a wide spectrum of rights and privileges, permissions and sometimes obligations. The rights of commons and commoners and, indeed, of the public are jealously guarded. In every case, they are individual and by no means universal. Every common has its own specific rules and rights and they may not be the same as that of any other. Frequently, the owners of the commons may be in doubt. Frequently, the rights of the commoners may be in doubt and may not even be known. Frequently, it may not even be known whether a place is in itself a common.
"Common land" conjures up a picture of a village green, and possibly a game of cricket on it, but of course it can stretch from such a common or even a roadside verge right up, as the noble Lord explained, to the vast and rolling areas of Devon and Yorkshire. Often these commons are places of beauty and of agricultural value. Often they require modernisation and better husbandry. But how can one start with this, when often it is not known what the law is or who are the interested parties? Often the law 98 affecting a common may be the custom handed down from one generation to another.
I hope that the law relating to common land will be tidied up, and well tidied up, in future. This Bill can be welcomed as a first partial step in this direction. The preparation and consideration of this Bill has been going on ever since the Royal Commission reported in 1958 and it follows fairly closely the recommendations of the Royal Commission, except for the fact that the period of time in which people may register is greatly reduced. This I would certainly welcome, for I cannot believe that twelve years would be required in order to effect a registration. But this is merely the first step to be taken over common land. It is merely the compiling of a register of people who have interests in the common land—that and nothing more. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to put on their thinking caps and draw up a Bill for the second stage in the modernisation of the law of common land. Of course, there is the probability that they may not be here to present it themselves, but at least they can follow the example of their predecessors, which was to leave to their successors a Bill which, if not ready, is at least very nearly ready to be presented to Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has frequently castigated the laws of the country for being out of date and inadequate. Indeed, he is setting up law commissioners to rectify this. And if I may, with the greatest and humblest respect to the noble and learned Lord, put forward a suggestion, it would be this: that the law commissioners might like to try their hands out on the law of common land. They certainly could not do any damage. It would occupy them for something in excess of a hundred days. And it would be a long overdue and fascinating reform, which would perform a highly useful service to the Statute Book, to the public and to the people who have an interest in the common land.
It is considered that 1½ million acres of land in England and Wales are common land, much of which is unproductive. Of course, it may be in the national interest that it should be unproductive, but to my mind it is indefensible that it should 99 be so because the law relating to it is so chaotic that nobody knows how to make it productive or, if they do know how to make it productive, they do not know whether they would be allowed to do so. It is for this reason that the Royal Commission was set up, and it was not long before they realised how complex the law was. It took them three years to deliberate and gather information, and they made a variety of recommendations. This is, of course, the first step, and we welcome it. We look anxiously forward to the second step.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, in what I am going to say to your Lordships I am expressing generally the views of the Commons Preservation Society, of which I have the honour to be Treasurer. We welcome this legislation: indeed, we have been asking ever since the Royal Commission reported in 1958 that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible. As regards the Bill and its provisions, we welcome it, so far as it goes; and we particularly welcome the frank and unequivocal assurance that the Parliamentary Secretary has given us that it is the Government's intention to follow this registration Bill with a further Bill which will be of a more constructive kind. It is, of course, impossible to do that until the existing rights have been defined, which is the purpose of this Bill.
Commons, certainly in the parts of this country which are thickly inhabited, have become of immense importance for reasons quite different from those which led to their original growth. The common land was owned by the Lord of the manor, and the commoners had strictly limited agricultural and rural rights in connection with them. But, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, in the 19th century, with the immense increase in population in this country, it came to be seen, particularly by the remarkable body of public-spirited men who formed the Commons Preservation Society—men most of whose names are well-known in Parliamentary history—and by Parliament, that in many parts of the country the greatest importance of the Commons was that they should be available for access for walking and riding by the general public.
100 When we reflect that it was only as a result of the Parliamentary activities of these men that Wimbledon Common, Hampstead Heath, Berkhampsted Common, Plumstead and in large measure the Forest of Epping, were preserved from being enclosed and used as building spaces, it is obvious what an important task it was to preserve them. It is, of course, necessary that agricultural rights should be preserved in places where they can be usefully exercised; and, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, it will be important that the substantive Bill, which is some day to follow this one, should hold a balance beween the rights of access of the urban masses and the rights of the commoners.
I think the machinery of this Bill is well calculated for this purpose. We first of all have the provisional registers in which will be set out, first, the extent of the commons; secondly, their ownership; and thirdly, the rights of the commoners. During the time that these registers are provisional, it will be possible for anyone to raise objection, and matters in dispute will be decided. After the lapse of a period of time, as defined and laid down in Clause 1 of the Bill, the registers will become conclusive evidence of the existence of these rights. That seems fair and practical. But it is important, first, that under that procedure all rights should be registered; and secondly, that registers should be complete and exhaustive of known rights.
It is not clear from the wording of the Bill whether anyone may register rights or whether it is limited to those who have an interest in the land. I am inclined to think that probably it is limited to those who have an interest in the land, because Clause 5 (4) provides that local authorities may, even if they have no right in the land, intervene. If persons who have No 1nterest in the land cannot register, then no member of the public can register a right of access in the case of a large number of commons. In many cases—and the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech said in the majority of cases—the public have no right of access. Under the Law of Property Act, 1925, and other legislation the right of access is given in a number of cases which the Parliamentary Secretary set out, and I need not quote them. But the fact that in a large number of cases no right of access exists 101 as of right, means that no member of the public will be able to register such a right in the case of those commons. I say "as of right", because often there is practically no way of preventing the public from enjoying the use of those lands. But it is important, I think—and I hope in the Committee stage to probe this matter further—that the public should have the right to register.
Will all commoners register their common rights? Many of them may not know what their rights are. A great many of them may not care to exercise their rights. One only has to think of the right of pannage—that of allowing pigs to run freely and gather acorns at certain times of the year—on many of the commons, especially those with modern roads and transport crossing them, to appreciate that it is not a right which is of any value.
Will the owner always register his ownership? What inducement will he have to do so if there is any chance that no one will register common rights? In that case, it might well be that the period of three years will elapse without the fact that this is a common having been registered under this Bill; and I presume that in that case the owner, instead of being the owner of the land subject to extensive commoners' rights, will, in fact, acquire a freehold unencumbered estate in fee simple. The Parliamentary Secretary in his speech lent support to the point that I am making when he spoke of the eating away of common land by neighbouring owners, and of cases where the Lord of the manor was lost and goodness knows what had happened to the commoners. This is an important point which we shall have to pursue in the Committee stage, in order to ensure that the machinery of this Bill does not lend itself to a deliberate act on the part of the owners of commons of not registering in order that they may secure an unencumbered freehold estate.
Will local authorities register? Some of them certainly will, and others may not. The Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society has experience of local authorities, and some of them have been most diligent in seeking to preserve rights of way. Others have been most apathetic in the matter. It is extremely important that we should make certain that this apathy should not result in the loss of valuable rights under this Bill.
102 Those points have been made on the assumption that no one without an interest in the land can register. But if I am wrong in my interpretation of the Bill, and if anyone without an interest in the land may register, I must ask the Government whether it is likely that anyone will do so. In the first place, a person without an interest in the land very likely lacks the information upon which to base an application for registration. Secondly, he has No 1ncentive to do so, and, thirdly, he may well be deterred from doing so because, under Clause 16 (4), he may incur costs on the level of county court proceedings if he does so and fails. Fourthly, where ownership of common land cannot be ascertained, it is not vested under this Bill in any body. It is the view of the Commons Preservation Society that this is almost an invitation to neighbouring owners to seek to extend their property at the expense of land which, ex hypothesi, under this Bill cannot be vested in anyone to hold it in the interests of the public as a whole. That is all I need say at the moment about the danger that rights will not be registered under this Bill. If they are not registered under it then, with the efflux of time, under Clause 1 (2) they will be extinguished for ever.
I now come to the second main point that I want to make. It appears to us that these provisional registers ought to be comprehensive. But they will not be. Clause 4 (3) provides that:No person shall be registered under this section as the owner of any land if the land is registered under the Land Registration Acts, 1925, and 1936 …Clause 11 (b) provides for deletion from the register if, after land has been registered under this Bill, it is found that it had previously been registered under the Land Registration Act, 1925. We think that the register of commons should be a comprehensive list of all the commons and common rights. It is only in that way that the public can know what is common land.
I would point out to the Government that under Section 112 of the Land Registration Act, 1925, the public have no general right to inspect the land register set up under that Act. The wording of the Section 1s:… any person registered as proprietor of any land or charge, and any person authorised 103 by any such proprietor, or by an order of the court, or by general rule, but no other person, may inspect and make copies of and extracts from any register…It is therefore a matter of great importance, to enable the public to ascertain what common rights are, that they should not merely be included in the land register set up under the Act of 1925. Even when these registers cease to be provisional (and under Clause 12 they may be amended), there is still no provision in Clause 12 enabling them to be amended to include rights of ownership excluded under Clause 4 (3) of this Bill, which is what is included in the register of the Act of 1925. Finally, the fact that there is no registration of ownership of unclaimed commons also means that there is a serious further lacuna.
Those are three points that I have made: first, that registers may not include all rights; secondly, that registers must not include ownership already registered, and, thirdly, that where ownership of common land cannot be ascertained it may not be registered. In order to deal with these three points we recommend the creation of a Custodian of Common Land. This is a modification of the recommendation referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech, contained in the Report of the Royal Commission, that in such cases the ownership of common land should be vested in the Public Trustee. We are disposed to agree with the Government that the Public Trustee, with his multifarious responsibilities and financial outlook, is probably not the best person to administer a number of pieces of common land scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country. We therefore make the alternative suggestion that there should be set up a Custodian of Common Land who should be entitled, first, to register all rights that are claimed, including the right of the public to free access, and, second, to claim for himself, and be vested with, ownership of commons if the owner negligently or wilfully declines to register his ownership himself.
While on this point of the law of commons, I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that the Ministry of Agriculture, from which his new Minister has taken over these responsibilities, was, I regret to say, under Ministers of both political Parties, guilty 104 first of requisitioning common land in war time, in order to increase food production; of extinguishing commoners' rights, and then of selling the land, as ordinary freehold, to private individuals. I am not criticising the requisitioning. But I do say that to requisition common land and extinguish the commoners' rights, and then to sell it as ordinary freehold, is the kind of thing that we should regard as reprehensible in private individuals, and we regard it as equally reprehensible in a Government Department.
I need not go further into past wrongdoing, but 475 acres are left and still owned by the Minister. I ask that this new Ministry of Land and Natural Resources will make a good start to its career by giving to this House an assurance that it will not dispose of that land but will restore it to be common land. If the Government, wisely, were to accept the Amendment regarding the Custodian of Common Lands which I propose to move, it would be very appropriate, as a birthday present, if they vested in that Custodian of Common Lands the land of which they remain still possessed.
My Lords, Clause 18 gives very wide powers to the Minister to make delegated legislation. I dare say that it is quite all right; but we shall have to look at it at the Committee stage. I think that perhaps the definition of common rights in Clause 21 is not quite as comprehensive as it should be. We can have very interesting debates on some of those words to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers has referred from the glossary containing the delightful and romantic rights that were exercised over the waste of manors in mediaeval times.
I welcome this Bill, and I believe that the Government's intentions are exceedingly good. But, at the same time, I feel that it does not make sufficiently clear the public interest in commons as a whole, especially those near large centres of population, and I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to any Amendments which my noble friends and I may move in order to try to improve this Bill.
§ 7.32 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to make only a very brief intervention. I have had a long-standing interest 105 in this problem of commons and common land and I must confess that I was one of those who ventured to give evidence before the Royal Commission. I live in a district where large areas of land are grazed in common and are most important to the economy of many farms, and there is also, by tradition, a very wide measure of access; but I hope that noble Lords will see that I shall be speaking rather more from the agricultural point of view than that of my noble friend who has just sat down.
We are, I think, all glad to see this Bill, the first stage of overdue common land legislation. My memory is fairly good, if not such as to remember every detail of a draft Bill I may have seen some time ago, but I do not believe there is very much here in print to-day that was not in print several years ago, and since that time the Bill has been slowly moving up the list, hoping for space in an overcrowded legislative programme. But I am glad that noble Lords opposite have given it their support and a deserved priority, and I should not like to miss this unusual chance of being able to pay tribute to something they have done.
The whole concern of this Bill is registration. Registration is very important, but it is not an end in itself; it is only the means to an end. We naturally cannot expect even an outline of any Bill or Bills which may follow in several years' time, but at least I hope that the Government will give, not only us here but the many commoners up and down the country some idea of their thinking at this stage. Those people are entitled to ask for this. We heard that the Government are going to pay respect to the "proper balance". This is a good Front Bench phrase, but it is very difficult for any individual in a remote part of the country to assess how that is going to be applied to his particular problem.
I take it, from what the noble Lord has said, that the Government are in general support of the Commission's principal recommendations, but I hope that when the noble Lord comes to wind up he will tell us something about Recommendation 25, which is on page 131 and is a recommendation about access which has aroused a great deal of interest in some areas. Nobody wants to see traditional access curtailed but, equally, the noble Lord would not wish, if he had common rights over 106 fell in his home district, suddenly to find that those rights were so crystallised that he could no longer run a bull with his heifers on the common, which is the sort of consequence which could follow turning this traditional permission into a proper statutory right.
More particularly, I hope that the noble Lord, when he winds up, will give us more information on several points which are of the greatest interest to commoners with agricultural interests. While no-one in an area like the Lake District wants to see any diminution of public access which has grown up and been welcomed over the years, none the less, I hope that the noble Lord will make it clear now, to avoid difficulty and misunderstanding later, that common land is not the same as public land. A lot of people think it is. Various interlocking private rights in and over common land, although many are quite small rights, are very valuable to those who enjoy them. I do not think that that distinction is sufficiently clearly understood by many.
Secondly, when we come to common land which has a significant agricultural value, I hope that this will be given full recognition and that those who own the soil and the rights of common will be able to regulate such commons with a view to their improvement and to the increase of agricultural production. At present it is virtually impossible to effect any such regulation; the law is too complicated. I believe there is one successful example somewhere in Northumberland where a scheme of regulation has been worked out in our time, but since any scheme in most districts is liable to be blocked by one awkward man, there is no purpose in embarking on anything so difficult and where success is so unlikely. Time has marched on, as the noble Lord said, and no one to-day can expect a manorial court really to take control over schemes of regulation of commons.
But, having said that, we must admit that common land remains part of the pattern of our countryside, even though there are too many examples of derelict land and overstocked or over-sheeped hill grazings in those areas. The Ministry of Agriculture may be a little timid of seeing increased production of any commodity to-day, but by the turn of the century who knows whether the increased food from the improved million acres or 107 thereabouts of common land may not be needed and may not be very valuable, not only for the people of this country but for peoples in other parts of the world? Hence I hope that the Government will not overlook the significance of the opportunity they have of improving agricultural production from this very large area.
There is then the question of the production of timber, which is a subject on which I ventured to give evidence. Commons to-day are mostly bare enough. There were trees on them to give shelter and they added to the amenity, but such timber has largely disappeared to meet our needs in two wars. Although the Lord of the manor in many cases would be within his rights in attempting to replace this timber, he would be a fool if he tried, since he has no right under the law to protect the young trees, and there would be a complete certainty that no young plantation could possibly become established under existing conditions. I would say that there is need for rapid action here for the re-establishment of these lost timber stocks, which were considerable, and, further, to make it possible for willing commoners and their Lord to regulate commons in the interests of agriculture.
There are many facets of this problem which are very complicated and may take a long time to consider, even after all this evidence has been collected, but there are other problems of which I venture to think these are two which are much less complicated. I believed that they could even be brought within the scope of a Private Member's Bill, and I tried in the past to see whether that could be done, but the "Establishment" always seemed to be against me and thought and spoke in terms of comprehensive legislation, of which we are considering the first stage here to-day.
My Lords, this Bill may concern only registration, but I think it is meaningless when looked at from one direction unless we do know a little more. I pay tribute to the noble Lord who introduced this Bill. He gave an immense amount of information in a relatively short time. He was very clear and easy to listen to. None the less, I hope that when he comes to wind up he can tell us rather more about the Government's thinking. I am 108 sure we are entirely justified in asking the Government to confirm their policy, which must be of the greatest interest to the very many commoners up and down this country; and in one particular regard I hope he can tell us something: that it is not the Government's intention to pursue any wide policy of compulsory acquisition of large areas of common land, for whatever purpose. No doubt there are certain nationalisers within the Government's ranks who will urge them to do this, but I should like to think that the others were strong enough to resist this temptation. I would think it a pity, too, if even, in their quest for more land, too large areas of our commons in fact became Forestry Commission land and completely covered with uniform forests. For the rest, I hope we can all make progress, not only with the Bill but also with the registration and with the subsequent stages, and do this with the minimum of controversy and the maximum of agreement.
§ LORD CHUTER-EDE
My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble and learned friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the disclosure of the Government's intentions that he made in the course of his speech, and I share with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, the feeling with regard to the ultimate end of what we are now embarking upon in this Bill. For it is quite clear that this first Bill will not do more than provide us with a list, and once one has a list it is always very dangerous to wonder what the next thing will be, and particularly to take any steps in making use of the list for the promotion of one's own ideas.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that he was Treasurer of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. For five years I was the President of that organisation, and from the information that was given to us it is quite clear that that organisation was started about one hundred years ago. It is some proof that at odd times progress is made in this country that, at the end of one hundred years, we have got as far as this first Bill. How many centuries it is going to take us to see through the issues that really arise on this measure it would be very dangerous to prophesy; the only certainty is that one would not be here at the end of any time that one was tempted to mention.
109 The noble Lord, Lord Molson, mentioned several matters that arise on this measure and I hope that the Government will tell us that they intend to tackle this task, not in this Session but in a series of Sessions, steadily moving from the vantage point that they have established for us by introducing this particular Bill. Among the difficulties that will confront us is that not many people know that they have rights of common. In the promotion of two important Private Bills on behalf of local authorities the persons who were associated with me had to advertise for persons who claimed rights of common to notify us that they possessed them, and in neither case did we get a single reply. And one of these was a particularly important Bill that was promoted for the regulation of Epsom and Walton Downs, two very valuable commons, especially to the people of London, although of course they have as such no right in them at all. And the curious thing is that commons are now sought to be preserved in the main for the recreation of the urban population, and all connection with agriculture appears to have disappeared from the agitation in respect of them.
If when people are asked by local authorities to intimate that they have rights of common they take no steps to notify the persons advertising that they possess them, I think it is clear that the collection of the information required for the registers will be a task that will take a very long time, and that we shall have to take some pains to stress the importance of the information being supplied. The society which the noble Lord mentioned has plenty of evidence that it is exceedingly difficult to get any information on the point from people who undoubtedly possess rights of common. In fact, I sometimes thought it all depended on how the people in the big house treated the villagers whether you could ever get any information at all. If the people in the big house behaved as reasonably good neighbours to the poorer section of the population you got No 1nformation at all, but if the people in the big house had acquired the reputation of not being very good neighbours you could get so much information that it would appear that seventy or eighty years ago the main task of very many children in working-class cottages was listening 110 to their grandparents telling them where the rights of way and rights of common were. In such cases there was no difficulty at all in getting the evidence, if you could only find somebody who would believe it when you presented it.
It is important, now the Government have decided to implement at any rate some parts of the Report of the Royal Commission, that we should steadily go forward with it and in future years, no matter what Party may be governing the country, we should have a continuous succession of Acts bringing this matter fully up to date and making the information as wide and as reliable as possible. The reception of the Report when it appeared was sufficiently good to assure the Government that there would be plenty of interest in the matter.
It may be that I am not holding out a very inviting prospect to the Minister, who is not generally anxious to have to ask for time in successive years to carry through a policy, but unless the Government and successive Governments are prepared to regard this as one of the routine tasks to be performed by Government during the next twenty years, the Royal Commission and all the good will that it engendered when its Report was published may very well have been in vain, and that would be an appalling responsibility for this generation to take on in regard to the needs of posterity in the relatively near future.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat for rising a few moments ago. However, when I saw that he was on his feet it made me sit down firmly. I had the honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chuter-Ede, as President of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and therefore it is fitting that this evening I should follow him in your Lordships' House. I also wish to have the opportunity of congratulating him on behalf of your Lordships for the contribution which he has made to our discussion, I think his first. It was a great pleasure for many of us to know him in another place. We all know him as an authority on a wide range of matters of great interest 111 to the citizens of this country, on which his observations are always of the greatest value. I, at any rate, who have spent a good deal of my life in this movement feel that it is a compliment to the open spaces movement, as I believe Lord Eversley once described it, that Lord Chuter-Ede should have chosen this particular occasion on which to make his maiden speech to your Lordships. There is a wide range of subjects on which he is a great authority, and we hope that on other occasions he will again address us on many of these subjects.
Although it is late and few of your Lordships are left here, I should like to take up a little time this evening on this topic in which I have been interested for a long time. Incidentally, although this Bill itself is, in a sense, a technical measure and within a limited compass, every speech which has been made has encouraged us to look at the wider horizons with which the Bill is concerned. I think it is unfortunate that a matter of this importance should be relegated to a late hour after other measures, and to a House which is, in effect, almost empty. A better time ought to be found for discussion on a measure the implications of which are so wide. I was glad that the noble Lord indicated that, and that it has emerged in every speech which has been made tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, and I approach this with a rather different attitude from that of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, although I do not think there is any necessary enmity between us. I think our common objectives work well in with each other. This enormous area of common land which is left in this country is to me a great reservoir for the ordinary citizens to get the healthy recreation in the country which they need, and which it is imperative that they should have; and it is because it is a preliminary step to that end that this Bill is so important.
It is quite true, as Lord Inglewood says—and of course everybody here knows it quite well, although in the country it is not so well known—that common land is not public land in the sense that everybody has the right to use it. It may be that from time to time, under that impression, damage has been done to 112 agricultural interests, and an enmity for a long time undoubtedly existed between the agricultural interests and those of us who like to go into the country and walk across the commons. To a large extent I think that has disappeared, although not entirely so. To me, one of the really important things is that this right should be extended. I am not going to cross swords at the moment with the noble Lord about the nationalisation of land. I think the needs of the young people of this country, particularly the right to walk across these commons and to enjoy themselves there, can be secured without necessarily going as far as that.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is quite right in saying that there is really not a great deal between us, and he knows that I am a great lover of the Lake District and like to walk around it as he does. Nevertheless, I think we ought to be quite clear at this stage as to what we are doing. I am as proud as he is of the traditional access which, in fact, everybody enjoys over enormous areas of country in the North of England, with the absolute minimum of trouble. I would say that this state of affairs has grown up quite happily by friendly understanding on both sides.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I am not challenging the noble Lord. It was he who trailed his coat. Both of us do our best to defend the Lake District, which is under considerable pressure from other interests further south, as he and many of your Lordships know.
I was grateful to the Minister for referring to the centenary of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. Looking back at the early days of the Society, it was founded by Lord Eversley. He was the principal force behind it a hundred years ago. A most remarkable man, he was in fact a son of a Clerk of the Parliaments. He lived to be 97, and he said that he had known personally thirteen Prime Ministers, seventeen Lord Chancellors and seven Archbishops of Canterbury. That is a pretty good score. He gathered round him some of the most remarkable men of that mid-Victorian period—men like John Stuart Mill, Forster and Leslie Stephens, and others, who are household names in literature and politics. They built up an organisation which, as can be seen from 113 Lord Molson's speech, is still much alive, and obviously would be much alive when it has had the Presidency of Lord Chuter-Ede for all these number of years. There is a mass of informed information there and an enormous experience of this problem, which I hope that the Minister and the new Ministry will feel themselves not only free to call upon but encouraged to call upon, because I am sure that we can give them a great deal of help.
This Bill is machinery, and if it is to work in the right way it will be valuable machinery. But it is not impossible that it will not work in the right way. If it does not, it may prove a two-edged sword and do a great deal of damage, especially when one considers the three-year rule. I am not altogether happy about the three years, because at the end of that period, as Lord Molson has pointed out, rights will be extinguished for ever. This is an area where the interests of the general body of citizens are so vague, and there are so few organisations there to protect them and to forward them, that it might easily be that in the short period of three years rights of the greatest value will be lost to young men and women, indeed to all the citizens of this country. Therefore, I feel that this proposal that it should be the definite job of somebody like a Custodian of Common Lands, is an important and vital proposal, and I hope that the new Ministry, to which we are all looking forward with eagerness and expectation, will be able to see its way to meet us on points of this sort.
I think that the Minister pulled his punches in a way, because it is a scandal that it is now some seven or eight years since the Jennings Report was published, and that we have had to wait for this Government before a Bill was introduced. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was doing a good job of work at the Ministry of Agriculture and was doing his best to get this over. This small Bill is not going to take a great deal of time, either here or in another place. It is a scandal that it should have had to wait so long. I echo what the noble Earl. Lord Ferrers, and other speakers have said, in encouraging the new Ministry, which, after all, has such a wide area of interest to cope with in the Ministry of Agriculture, to devote particular attention to this important problem of the commons, I hope they will not be 114 satisfied with getting this Bill through Parliament and then saying, "We can sit back and spend a lot of time thinking". I hope that they will be thinking hard from the word "Go", because, as my noble friend Lord Chuter-Ede said, unless they are doing so through these coming years very vital and most valuable interests of the community will be lost for ever.
It is late; I have a number of other points I should like to make, but the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has indicated them effectively. Therefore, I hope that this is just the beginning of a long period of intensive thought and work on the protection of these really wonderful areas. Many of them are places of outstanding beauty, some of them in the most lovely areas of the whole country, like the Lake District and Wales—places not just where one can get fresh air and have recreation, but where one can do so in some of the loveliest country in the world. Therefore, I feel that this is, in a sense, an historic occasion, and that in passing this Bill we are at the beginning of a long and fruitful prospect of saving these wonderful parts of the countryside for the people of our islands.
§ 8.3 p.m.
My Lords, I rise not to address your Lordships on the Bill under discussion but to offer to the noble Lord, Lord Chuter-Ede, from noble Lords on this side of the House, congratulations on his maiden speech. He, of course, comes to us with a great reputation, and I am sure that all of us, wherever we sit in this House, will much look forward to hearing from him often in the future.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think that it verges on the impertinent for me to congratulate my noble friend Lord Chuter-Ede on a maiden speech, but I know that he will not take it in that way. He has always recognised the real good will which he has had from Members of the other place, on both sides of the House, although I sometimes feel that he has never quite recognised how very large that good will is. On this particular occasion I am especially glad that he chose to speak, for I know his interest in 115 this subject. I know, too, that he understands full well what I believe to be a most important side of it, and that is the r^ le that will necessarily have to be played by county councils up and down the country. I agree that county boroughs are also concerned, but that is a rather different matter. I do not want to develop this at great length, but I have known the noble Lord ever since I have been in Parliament. I have never heard him say a word that was not both wise and timely. I have never known him fail to be kind to anybody who needed kindness. And I have never known him fail to make a really funny remark when it was appropriate to make it. I cannot say more to him than that.
I have listened with great interest to all the suggestions made on this Bill. Some of them will be raised again in Committee, and therefore the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will hardly expect me to deal with them in any detail now. I want to say one or two general things which I hope may help him a little in his consideration of what he has put forward. The first thing I would say is that I do not think there are nearly so many loopholes in the Bill as he thinks he has found. The answer, in a good many cases, is to be found in Clause 4 (2). The local authority is to represent the public, and in those cases the local authority will be the appropriate local council. I mentioned this in my opening speech, but only very shortly.
I agree with the noble Lord that the claim under Clause 4 (1), except for status, must be by someone interested, and I think that he will find confirmation of that if he looks at the provision in a later clause for enabling either a landlord or a tenant to make a claim for registration. That provision would obviously not be necessary if people having No 1nterest could make claims, as they will be able to for status. I think it is pretty clear therefore—indeed, I doubt if it needs amendment—that it must be someone having an interest, save in the case I have mentioned.
Another point which I hope to deal with is this. We came to the conclusion—and I am certain it is right—that one cannot have two systems of registered ownership side by side. Either the registered ownership has no meaning in one 116 case or they will conflict. What, in effect, we have done is to make the registration of ownership here for the purposes of this Bill an inconclusive registration—one which is really a peg, as it were, on which one has to hang a certain amount of other things. But we have avoided a conflict with the land registration authorities on the matter. I feel quite certain in my own mind that that is really inevitable, given the land registration legislation.
I see the difficulty about public access. Possibly something might be done to meet that point, but I think the cases in which owners fail to register will be rare. When one looks at it carefully one sees that it is not in the interests of an owner simply to fail to register because he thinks that no one will claim rights of common, for in that case the local authority would step in and apply to register the land as common land. Consequently he would find himself not with unencumbered freehold but with somebody concerned to have the land registered as common land.
One other point about ownership is that it is not only a case of registering the ownership of the actual land. There may be questions of registering ownership of what I suppose one should call dominant land—that is to say, land to which these rights of common appertain. Though it is not the same land as that over which the rights are exercised, a man holding a farm may have rights of common in the ground in front of the farm and it may be necessary to get some indication of what the dominant land is, as well as of the land over which the rights of common are exercised. We are not quite certain—and I want to look at it again—that we have provided for that being indicated; and this is the point on which we may have to consider an enlargement of the registration-making power. We may have to ask for a little more information from people on that particular narrow, technical point. On the regulations generally I have looked at the clause very carefully, and I am far more afraid that the powers are too little than that they are too large. The Clause 1s very tightly drawn, and if one looks at what it provides for, one sees that it is confined to the things I said: to the giving of information to the public and other important but procedural matters.
117 I turn to the apparent conflict—it really was no more—between Lord Molson and Lord Inglewood, the one upholding the rights of public access and the other saying that agricultural interests were vital. I do not think that there is any real conflict. If one looks at Recommendation 25 of the Royal Commission, one finds that it is subject to the conditions in the National Parks Act. One of those conditions, the last one printed, is that the public in exercising their rights shall not interfere with the rights of other people. So that the apparent conflict is not, I think, there in that case.
But what I think is indicated quite clearly is that there will have to be schemes of management, and so on—the recommendations, in fact, of the Royal Commission—and that they will differ widely in different parts of the country. As regards some of the upland commons in the Lake District there is already in fact, if not in law, public access, and the real difficulty is that it is necessary to go a very long way to get to this land. If I read the Report rightly, not only humans but sheep find it a long way to go, so the commons are neither fully grazed nor fully used for public enjoyment. I do not think these problems will prove too difficult, but I must repeat what I said at the end of my opening speech, which I think answers a good deal of what was said to-day.
This is a case where the success of what we do, however many thinking-caps we put on, is going to depend on the co-operation and good will of local authorities. In my view, they will find more reason for co-operation in the terms of this Bill, and the possibilities it opens to them, than they have found in the past. It is quite true that there is much more inducement in some cases than in others. In Northamptonshire, for instance, I think I am right in saying that there 118 are either no commons at all, or only a very negligible quantity, but a number of village greens, which are rather a different kettle of fish, if I may use that expression. The authorities were, on the whole, good as regards the Royal Commission—or so I understand—and I feel that when you appeal to people to do a thing of this sort you can get co-operation if you make it clear that you really intend business yourself.
May I say to my noble friend Lord Chuter-Ede, and to everybody else concerned, that I hope we shall not have to have periodic legislation. We are trying to avoid that. But I agree that we shall have to keep this business actively going, with or without other legislation, and that it is no use just getting this Bill passed and then sitting back and doing nothing. For one thing, an explanatory leaflet is going to be a very important document. A good number more things may be wanted for which it is not necessary to provide in the Statute but which may matter a good deal in practice.
In the last resort, my Lords, what are we really doing? We are trying to make proper use for public purposes of no less than 1½ million acres in this country, where our institutions or our laziness, whichever it is, have got the better of us in the past; and where people over the centuries have been infringing public rights and the rights of commoners simply because no one was looking and no one bothered. Surely there could be no better subject about which to call for real help from local authorities than 1½ million acres of the country, which, after all, we all love, or we should not be having this debate or this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at thirteen minutes past eight o'clock.