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Clause 52—(Rights Of Way Subject To Conditions For Securing Efficient Use Of Agricultural Land)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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I beg to move, in page 40, line 32, to leave out from "husbandry," to the end of line 34, and to insert:

"to carry out on the land any farming operation, and
(b) it is convenient in the course of that operation to disturb the surface of the path."
I suggest that we might take together this Amendment, the next one, in page 40, line 37, to leave out from "section" to the end of the line, and to insert:
"so to disturb the surface of the path,"
the next four, which are consequential Amendments, and the consequential Amendment in page 41, line 1. The point with which they are concerned is very short, although the Amendments are voluminous. They refer to Clause 52 which provides for the ploughing up of paths in the interest of good husbandry and food production. It contains provisions for the restoration of the path as soon as may be. It occurred to my hon. Friends and myself that the Clause mentions only ploughing, whereas a number of other operations are requisite in modern agriculture. There is harrowing, by the disc harrow, work by the rotary cultivator, and other implements, all of which might be employed to the advantage of agriculture and food production, but might be excluded from the operation of the Clause because they are not used strictly for ploughing, which, I take it, is confined entirely to ploughing with the ploughshare.

The words we have tried to put in are wide enough to cover the case. We think it is convenient to use the phrase
"disturb the surface of the path."
The whole thing is still limited to agricultural purposes. If the right hon. Gentleman has any better inclusive term, I shall be willing to consider it. I am sure that the Clause as it stands is too narrow to include all permissible agricultural operations, except the operation of ploughing.

The Clause as drafted appears to carry with it the duty on the occupier of the land to make restitution of the path. If the Clause is broadened by the inclusion of a whole number of agricultural processes, some of which follow the others at intervals, it would appear that there would then be a duty on the occupier to restore the land on several occasions after a series of agricultural operations. Therefore, it can be said that if it will broaden the Clause in this way, some other form of words will have to be found to make it clear that the farmer has to restore the land only when a series of agricultural operations is concluded.

Did the right hon. Gentleman mean a series of operations or the same operation with different methods of machinery?

I meant one operation. In subsection (3) of the Clause there is an obligation to restore within a reasonable time after the operation is completed. That would probably preclude the matter to which the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) has drawn our attention.

The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) put the case reasonably. There is no doubt that there is a case. Once we swallow the word "plough," it is obvious that it is too narrow to leave it at the word "plough." While it may be that "plough" is too narrow, it may equally be that the words suggested by the right hon. Gentleman are too wide. It should be possible between now and the next stage of the Bill for my right hon. Friend to find some form of words—possibly some list of farming operations—which we would be prepared to include rather than to use a generic term such as the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes), it is apparent that if one were to alter the first word "plough," one would have to make corresponding alterations in the way he suggests. Any alterations we make will not affect the interests of the societies in which he is interested.

I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary that this matter is to be looked at again in the light of what I have said and that it will be the endeavour of the Government to find some words, perhaps not so wide as mine, which include and describe all proper agricultural operations which might have the same effect on the path as ploughing does from the point of view of preventing access, and that steps will be taken to ensure that "agriculture" is not confined to the plough alone. On that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in pages 40, line 45, to leave out "within a reasonable time," and to insert "as soon as may be."

This Amendment is a small one and may seem to be a twist on a form of words. In view of the discussion that has taken place, I believe that it has rather greater weight than merely the substitution of one form of words for another. If land is ploughed and cultivated and sown with corn, there will still be a public right of way across that field. When the Minister looks at this matter, it will be necessary to provide that the footpath or the right of way shall be restored and made useable, even though there is a crop there. The words "within a reasonable time" may mean a great deal of dispute and misunderstanding. Bearing in mind other matters that have been raised, I believe that the Minister will agree that the words "as soon as may be" are preferable.

9.45 p.m.

I do not think there is any great difference between the two forms of wording. The second is, perhaps, a little more rapid and I fully accept the points made by my hon. Friend and am prepared to accept the Amendment.

I suggest that the words should be "as soon as possible." "As soon as may be" is almost a facetious expression and almost like saying, "that is as may be," whereas "as soon as possible" is more concise and, I suggest, more grammatical.

I prefer the words in the Bill. I agree that "reasonable" is naturally distasteful to hon. Members opposite, but, in a matter such as this the much clearer words should be used and we should not try unnecessarily to hurry the returning of land in this respect. Realising that most hon. Members opposite are far removed from agriculture, I regret that the word "reasonable," which is simple, easy, understood by everyone and much more practicable in its application, should not be left in the Bill. I do not propose to divide against the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) who has apparently moved the Government away from all forms of reasonableness, as was so easy once they strayed from the path of reasonableness. Nevertheless I say that it is not very wise nor helpful to agriculture.

Amendment agreed to.