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Clause 10—(Improvement Of Common Lands)

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1943

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I beg to move, in page 7, line 7, to leave out "recoverable," and to insert "recovered."

This is purely a drafting Amendment, and the same thing applies a little later in line 11, where we are also asking to leave out "recoverable" and to insert "recovered."

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 7, line 9, leave out "in," and insert "on."

In line 11, leave out "recoverable," and insert "recovered."—[ Mr. Húdson.]

I beg to move, in page 7, line 26, at the end, to add:

"(4) A notice served for the purposes of this section shall specify the sum which the owner on whom it is served is required to pay and the rights in respect of which he is required to pay it and that sum shall not exceed either of the following limits, that is to say:
  • (a) the amount by which the value for agricultural purposes of the specified rights will be increased by the doing of the work;
  • (b) the same proportion of the expenses as the amount aforesaid bears to the amount by which the value for agricultural purposes of all the rights affected will be increased by the doing of the work."
  • This Clause, as the Committee will see, deals largely with common lands, and the object of the Amendment I am moving on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower) and other hon. Members is to endeavour to protect owners of common lands from any undue charge or high charge which they may be unable to bear. If the Minister was in a position to make a concession, it would be a pity if this Amendment was not moved.

    I realise the motives which led my hon. Friends to put down this Amendment, but the situation with which Clause 10 is designed to deal is, so far as I know, unprecedented. The situation is that there are a certain number of fells in Cumberland, and the right of grazing over those fells is at present completely uncontrolled. In the normal case of fells each farmer has what is called a stint, and that entitles him to graze a certain number of cattle and sheep under certain conditions. Whatever may be the original rights of the owners, the lords of the manors, they certainly have not been exercised for many years. They have lapsed. My committee in Cumberland consider that by doing a certain amount of work on the fells they can materially improve the grazing of those fells and, therefore, the number of cattle and sheep that those fells will carry. But it is clear that if we are to spend the State's money on this improvement, we must be able, after the improvement has taken place, to control the grazing. At present after the improvement had taken place anyone would be entitled to send as many cattle and sheep on to the fell as he liked and undo the good work which had been done. Therefore, we shall have to take possession technically of the fells, do our improvements and lay down an agreement with the farmers as to the number of cattle and sheep they are entitled to graze, the conditions under which they can graze them and the time they can graze them. In view of what we believe to be the increased agricultural value of the work we shall do, we think it only fair to recover from the farmers a reasonable proportion of the cost.

    I may say that this has never been tried before. We cannot possibly say what the final result will be. Frankly, it is an experiment, and for that reason we do not want to be tied by the particular wording of this Amendment, which might quite conceivably prove to be wholly inappropriate. I can, however, give an assurance that we shall carry out the principle of the Amendment and that in apportioning the cost we shall decide to the best of our ability what is to be the proportion of the cost that can properly be charged. But we think that to have this Amendment in the Bill would seriously hamper our work, because it is taken from a Clause in the Bill which applies to quite different circumstances. In view of the assurance that we shall take the spirit of the Amendment into account when apportioning the cost, I hope my hon. Friend will feel justified in withdrawing the Amendment.

    My right hon. Friend mentioned the fells in the North. Is this sort of thing liable to happen in other areas where there are large commons, such as Exmoor and Dartmoor?

    No, Sir, it is designed to cover only the cases which have come to my knowledge so far, that is, the Caulbeck and Skiddaw group of fells.

    But can this Clause be made applicable to commons in other places, or does it apply only to the North country?

    It applies only to similar conditions. If it were found that any similar conditions existed, clearly the Clause would give us power to take similar action if it was appropriate, and in that case my assurance would hold good. We would carry out the spirit of the Amendment when apportioning the cost.

    Can the Minister say how the additional cost will be recovered? Will it be by lump sum payments or rental? It would appear that a rental would be more reasonable, as the farmer might only be a short period in his holding and then give place to someone else.

    I should not like to commit myself. This is an experiment which has never been tried before. I agree that the odds are that we shall do it by an increase of the rent, but I should not like that to be taken to mean that if a man came along and said, "My share is £5; instead of having to pay an extra couple of shillings for 20 years, will you take a fiver?" it would not be a reasonable thing to do.

    I am glad that my moving the Amendment has enabled my right hon. Friend to make this extremely interesting statement, because it is of vital importance that these large areas which have a productive capacity which may be very much developed should be brought under some rule and order. I wish him well in his experiment. Owing to the assurance that he has given, which is extremely satisfactory and fair, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment,

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.