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Clause 27—(Surveys Of Public Paths, Etc, And Preparation Of Draft Maps And Statements)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 18, after "thereof," to insert:

"as to the grounds upon which it is alleged that a right of way subsists over such path or other way."
The Clause with which this Amendment deals sets out the procedure to be followed by an authority in preparing what is to be the material for discussion in the future as to whether a right of way exists or not. I imagine myself that over England and Wales generally there will be little dispute over a great number of these rights of way, which are often well known to the inhabitants in this locality, and hallowed by usage over a great number of years. However, it is important not to shut one's eyes to the fact that there are occasionally disputes as to whether or not a right of way exists, and in country life those disputes are frequently acrimonious. Depending, as they do very often, for evidence on the recollection of the oldest inhabitant, it is often difficult to be absolutely certain of what the facts are.

I am in a little difficulty with regard to this Amendment because I can see the counter argument to it—that it is, perhaps, asking a lot from a local authority to set out in every case in which it makes a map the grounds on which the right of way is alleged to exist, particularly in a case where there is no dispute about it. It may be said that it will delay matters, and really what I am trying to achieve is that, where there is a genuine dispute and it is alleged that a right of way exists, and someone disputes that honestly, then, if there is to be an argument about it, the person who disputes the existence of the right of way ought to be put in possession of a statement of the grounds on which it is asserted that the right of way exists.

This is only to bring this particular form of dispute into line with the practice of our jurisprudence as a whole—that the person charged with a crime is always provided with the evidence against him. Even in civil actions, before a case goes to trial there is an elaborate series of pleadings from both sides, the intention of which is—though it is not always fulfilled—that the ground on which the two sides are standing should be fully disclosed to their adversaries, so that when the matter goes up for trial all uncertainty should have been disposed of, a simple matter remaining for decision—at any rate, a relatively simple matter.

In this case, where a dispute about a right of way arises, and somebody over whose property the right of way is said to pass denies the fact, he ought not to be left in the dark to the last minute as to the ground on which the right of way is alleged to exist. I think the Amendment would be of advantage to everyone concerned, and that it would lead to a diminution of acrimony in the countryside.

I say I am in a difficulty about it, because there is an Amendment later which I have put down to Clause 9, in page 18, line 27. That Clause is really an appropriate Clause for dealing with representations and objections as to draft maps. Perhaps, it would have been more appropriate to have moved this Amendment in there. I understand that that Amendment is not to be selected, so I put my arguments forward upon this Amendment, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in furtherance of that co-operative spirit which has characterised our discussion so far, whether he can make a general statement that he will endeavour to do something to meet the substance of the point which I have made.

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman was also speaking to the next Amendment, in page 17, line 20, which I think is part of the same matter.

I fully understand and sympathise with the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman. As he spoke he both addressed himself to the Amendment and gave his own reasons for rejecting it, which I fully accept. However, I recognise that there is a point to be met. Whilst obviously it would be administratively unreasonable to ask the local authority to give the reasons for including every single right of way in their preliminary particulars, even in an abbreviated form, I think that where there is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, a bona fide dispute which is likely to go to the quarter sessions the owner of land ought to know very broadly on what grounds it is alleged that there is a right of way.

I do not agree that he ought to be informed fully; that would be too burdensome on the authority—certainly within anything like the seven days the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. Nevertheless, I think that there is a case for their being informed in a broad, general way as to whether the point relied on is dedication, or the oldest inhabitant, or prescription, or what sort of case there is. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that between now and the next stage I shall consider what can be done along those lines and, if it is practicable, put something down, I shall be very grateful. I can promise him that it will get sympathetic consideration.

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I gladly accept his assurance and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 17, line 20, to leave out from "authority" to the end of line 21, and to insert:

"are requisite for the proper information of the public and of the owner, lessee or occupier of the land over which a right of way is alleged to subsist."
As the Bill is drafted the authority is obliged to give certain information,
"as in the opinion of the authority it is expedient to record in the statement."
We seek to substitute our proposed words for the present words:
"it is expedient to record in the statement."

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take it that that will be looked at in the same context as the previous Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.