The essential first step is to establish the facts—what land, in England and Wales, is common or a green, what are the rights of common over it and the identity of the owner of the soil. This will be achieved by the Commons Registration Bill, now before the House, which will pave the way for further legislation to provide wider facilities for public access and enjoyment, and an increase in the productivity of the land.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the need for urgency in this matter in view of the threat of industrialisation and urbanisation of existing common land? Will he also bear in mind the possibility of extending common land by taking over some of the large estates?
The question of extending common land does not arise out of the legislation to which I have referred, but common land can be created either by deed or by local planning authorities. Some of the legislation to which reference has been made this afternoon may help in this connection.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is a conflict between the unrestricted access of the public on to common land and recreational purposes, and that one cannot have both? Of which is he in favour?
This is one of the reasons why we want, first, to establish the kind of common land that already exists and then to see that the use of it is fairly distributed between the genuine needs of the public for recreation or, in certain cases, for increased productivity. Of course, in regard to access for the less active sports, my right hon. Friend in this Ministry which has been created is in a particularly suitable position to undertake this task.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that while these inquiries are going on a good many commons, particularly the smaller ones, are being ruined—are being damaged by the unlicensed dumping of old building materials and other rubbish? Although it is tie responsibility of the local authority in many cases, cannot some steps be taken to enable chief constables to take more interest in them so that the police could intervene on more occasions?
The hon. Gentleman's question does not arise specifically out of the Answer which I gave. When we get to the second stage of legislation there will be schemes of management for commons so that they may be looked after very much better than they are at present, for today a large number of commons apparently have no one in charge of them. In regard to the other part of the supplementary question, I expect that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is already actively considering what can be done about the dumping of motor cars and matters of that sort.
Every endeavour will be made to find the owner. First, schemes can be made to register common rights. I do not think there is any dispute about that. Secondly, owners should register, but where an owner of a common or open space does not register, the Commons Commissioners will use all the means open to them to try to discover the owner. To that extent, where the right is not claimed we will do all we can to discover the identity of the owner of the soil.