HC Deb 01 July 1864 vol 176 cc647-55

rose to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the terms of a Resolution of the Select Committee on Royal Forests in Essex which sat in the Session of 1863. It might be in the recollection of the House that in February, 1863, it was agreed to present an Address to Her Majesty praying that Crown forestal right existing within fifteen miles of the metropolis should not be disposed of, nor encroachments thereon be permitted. The encroachments which had been going on were, however, continued; the public paid no attention to the rights of the Crown, and the Government paid no attention to the Vote of the House. A Committee was afterwards appointed to inquire into the subject, and by it a most elaborate Report was presented to the House. The Members of the Committee, of whom he was one, were nearly equally divided in opinion. The minority, in which also he was included, thought it better to leave the whole thing as it was; the majority, on the other hand, were in favour of enclosing certain parts of the land which had not before been used by the public, and of retaining portions which it was proved they had been in the habit of enjoying. He now admitted that he had changed his view; and, together with another hon. Member of the Committee who was one of the minority, had come to the conclusion that the majority was right. It might be objected that no inclosure at all should be made; but though that was his former opinion he did not now go to that extent. He thought, however, that unless something were done soon to preserve a portion of the forest in question to the public there would be no forest left, and not only would the Crown lose its right but the public be deprived of the privilege they had long enjoyed. One of the Resolutions of the Committee to which he had referred was to the effect, that a considerable part of the forest having been enclosed without consideration of Crown rights, the Crown be recommended to take immediate steps to ascertain its rights and to abate such inclosures. As yet, however, as was admitted recently by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, no steps had been taken by the Government to carry the Resolution of the Committee into effect, or to prevent any further enclosures taking place. The Committee further recommended that the sanction of Parliament should be obtained For the inclosure of the remaining portion of the forest, to ascertain the rights of the several parties interested, and to make provision for securing an adequate portion of the forest for the purposes of health and recreation, for which, it has been proved to your Committee, this forest has from time immemorial been enjoyed by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and the metropolis. It would be said, perhaps, by the Government, where was the money to come from with which to carry the recommendation into effect? He would tell the Government in reply that the Crown held 2,000 acres, which had been taken out of the forest, and which were worth £100 an acre, and to those the public had some claim. This would be seen from the fact that Fairlop Oak was situated, and Fairlop Fair was accustomed to be held, on the very spot in possession of the Government, and from which land the Government were deriving a revenue of £4,000 or £5,000 a year. The public by usage had a right to the portion of the forest referred to, and as this portion was worth at least £200,000, the Government could not say they had not the funds with which to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. Further, after paying the expenses of draining and fencing, this land yielded a profit of £15,000 on the sale of the timber. He therefore called on the Government to stop the encroachments that were being made on the forest, and to carry into effect the recommendations of the Committee. In conclusion, he begged to move— That, in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Government should at once take the necessary steps to carry into effect the Recommendation of the Select Committee on Royal Forests (Essex) in Session, 1863, and which Recommendation was as follows: 'To obtain the sanction of Parliament for the inclosure of the remaining portion of the forest; to ascertain the rights of the several parties interested; and to make provision for securing an adequate portion of the forest for those purposes of health and recreation for which, it has been proved to your Committee, this forest has from time immemorial been enjoyed by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and the metropolis.'


The House having already resolved "that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," it is not competent for the hon. Member to move any further Amendment to the Motion that I do leave the Chair.


said, that the hon. Member, in complaining of the Government for not carrying out the Recommendations of the Committee, had not made allowance for the difficulties in which they were placed; but if the course they had adopted had not been satisfactory to the hon. Member, it had satisfied the House. In February last year the House voted an Address to the Crown, praying it to give directions that no sale to facilitate inclosures should be made of Crown lands or forestal rights within fifteen miles of the metropolis. The recommendation of the Select Committee, however, was that the lands should be inclosed, and that the rights of the Crown in Eppitig Forest, which were merely those of keeping and hunting deer over open spaces, but which prevented inclosure as long as it remained, should be sold. In this conflict between the Report of the Committee and the Resolution of the House, the Government had felt it their duty to follow the latter as long as it continued unrescinded. The Address to the Crown had been agreed to, he must remark, rather in opposition to the opinion of the Government, who thought that it was scarcely fitting that the forestal right of the Crown over Epping Forest, the soil of which was private property, should be used as an instrument for converting that private property into public property; and they were advised by the Law Officers that it would be very difficult to institute successful legal proceedings for the purpose of abating bit by bit encroachments over a considerable space. Moreover, they had also doubted whether it would not be subversive of the principle of the Acts relating to the land revenues of the Crown, that a large expenditure should be incurred in asserting rights which, when vindicated, would be productive of no income to the Crown. The Committee of last Session in their Report recognized the force of the objections made by the Government, and expressed an opinion that to employ the forestal rights of the Crown to obstruct the process of inclosure would not only be a course doubtful in point of justice, but one which, judging from the experience of the past, was likely to fail in securing the desired object. He was inclined to think it would be advisable that some Resolution, such as that which the hon. Member had wished to move, should be adopted by the House; but he took exception to the words stating that Her Majesty's Government ought at once to take the necessary steps for carrying out the recommendation of the Committee of last year. It would not be in the power of the Government to do that. The question was not one merely as to disposing of the forestal rights of the Crown. If that were all, they could, no doubt, either sell those rights to the owners of the soil or obtain in exchange for them some equitable equivalent for the benefit of the public. But the Committee recommended that open spaces in the forest should be inclosed, subject to the reservation and acquisition of an adequate portion for the health and recreation of the inhabitants of the metropolis. As the law now stood, it rested with the owners and others interested in these open spaces to originate the proceedings for inclosure, and the Government had no compulsory power to require any open space to be inclosed. It was a difficult question, too, from what source the means of purchase should be derived. The hon. Member had endeavoured to dispose of that difficult question by saying that the Government could, without coming to that House, appropriate 2,000 acres to the purpose of a public park in Epping Forest. The £200,000 which the hon. Member said was the value of the Crown property in Epping Forest, was however as much portion of the landed revenue of the Crown as any other, and the Crown had no power to divert that amount to the purposes contemplated. It was very undesirable that the House should commit itself indirectly or by implication to the making of any grant for the acquisition of that portion of the forest which it was desired to procure. The question was actually under discussion between the Treasury and the Metropolitan Board at the present moment, and a letter had been written to that Board from which, as it had been already moved for, he might be permitted to read the following extract:— Their Lordships are even more unable to act upon the second alternative proposed by the Committee" (that now recommended by the hon. Member). "Parliament, by the Act 14 & 16 Vict. c. 42, which separated the Departments of Woods and Forests and Land Revenues and of the Commissioners of Public Works, assigned certain Royal Parks in the neighbourhood of London to the management of the latter department, in order that they might be maintained principally for the recreation of the inhabitants of the metropolis, and left all other portions of the landed property of the Crown under the management of the Commissioners of Woods, in order that during Her Majesty's reign the revenues should be administered for the benefit of the Exchequer. By this Act Parliament decided the extent to which the recreation of the inhabitants should be provided for from public funds, and, it may be added, that it has very liberally provided by annual Votes for the maintenance and embellishment of the metropolitan parks and gardens. Not only, however, does the Act of 1851 define the extent to which public aid should be afforded for this, but the enactment above quoted clearly throws upon the Metropolitan Board the duty of providing any additions to the public parks which circumstances may require. My Lords, therefore, before they decide upon any further proceedings on this subject, wish to ascertain whether the Metropolitan Board is disposed to take any measures for obtaining Parliamentary powers for the inclosure of Epping Forest as a place of recreation under the authority of the enactment in question (18 & 19 Vict. c. 120, s. 144, and 19 & 20 Vict. c. 112, s. 10). If they should be disposed to do so, my Lords will be prepared to consider any arrangements for the cession of the rights of the Crown which may be necessary for effecting the objects in view. Two courses presented themselves to the Committee as applicable to the remaining portion of Waltham Forest—one is to discontinue the sale of the forestal rights of the Crown, vigilantly to maintain these rights without regard to the question of cost, for the purpose of preventing all future inclosures, and to preserve the forest in its present extent and wild uninclosed condition. Tour Committee are of opinion that to employ the forestal rights of the Crown for the purpose of obstructing that process of inclosure to which the Lords (Commons?) and copyholders of the manors comprised within the forest are entitled, in common with all other persons similarly situated, would not only be a course of doubtful justice, but might in accordance with the experience of the past fail in securing the desired object. A reply had been received from the Metropolitan Board, asking for further information before deciding upon the proposition made to them; and therefore he was not in a position to state what course the Government might decide upon taking, with a view to carry out the suggestion of the Committee as to setting aside an adequate portion of Epping Forest. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with this explanation.


preferred wild forests to tame parks, and would rather see Epping Forest kept in its present wild state by asserting the forestal rights of the Crown than that portions of it should be inclosed in the manner proposed. It was far more enjoyable for residents in the neighbourhood, and for visitors from London in its existing condition; while, as a question of economy, the 7,000 acres still uninclosed could be purchased for £30,000, and at least £70,000 or £80,000 would be required to lay down 100 or 150 acres, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be an expensive process to act upon the Crown forestal rights and to abate inclosures; but this he looked on as a frivolous excuse. Did the right hon. Gentleman imagine that no corresponding expense would be entailed upon the encroachers, or that any person would like to engage in a lawsuit with the Crown? Moreover, if the Crown were successful in one suit there need be no apprehension that other suits would follow. The inclosures going on at the present moment, he believed, were taking place upon grounds over which the Crown had parted with its forestal rights. In such cases the power of the House no longer existed; but the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this subject was bound, he thought, to give some evidence in support of his views, and likewise to account for his own change of opinion.

The present position of the question was most unsatisfactory, and he hoped the hon. Member for Lambeth, who carried a Motion with regard to it a few evenings ago, would at the commencement of next Session move for a Committee to inquire into the whole subject of open spaces, with which might be advantageously coupled a further inquiry into the general working of the Inclosure Act.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was virtually the author of the Select Committee—[Mr. PEACOCKE: No]—having carried a Resolution preventing the sale of forestal rights over Epping Forest. He (Sir John Trollope) had been appointed a member of that Committee, and he was bound to say that the interest of the Crown, and the consequent protection which it was calculated to afford, seemed in this case to be almost infinitesimal, extending as it did only to the right of keeping deer in the forest and consequently to herbage for them. The real question was as to the persons in whom the right to the soil was vested. The real right to the soil was vested in these, and if they could agree to go to the Inclosure Commissioners, under the General Act, they could at once obtain an inclosure, and the rights of the Crown would be preserved by a small allotment but it was the lords of the soil, the commoners, and the copyholders who were the proper persons to stir in the matter. They had nothing whatever to do with the public. The public might squat upon it, or live the life of gipsies upon it, but they had no right to interfere with its ultimate appropriation. The Committee recommended larger allotments for purposes of public recreation and enjoyment than the Inclosure Commissioners had the power to award. They recommended that from 150 to 200 acres, not lying altogether, but separated by intervals of space, should be allotted to the public in this manner. There was a great difficulty in dealing with Epping Forest in that respect. If, for example, a larger allotment was set out than usual, it must be vested in some body which would improve it and keep it in proper condition. This was what ought to have been done in Chigwell. There fifty acres were appropriated to the public that were neither drained, levelled, nor inclosed; no monies were provided for those purposes; they were useless for recreation, and, unless they were placed under the care of the Board of Works or the Metropolitan Board, it would be impossible to make this land useful for the public at large. As he took a somewhat utilitarian view of this subject, he could not agree with his hon. Friend (Mr. Peacocke) as to the value of the land in its present wild and unimproved condition. It was covered with brushwood, with tangled briars and thorns, and nineteen-twentieths of it was useless except to feed a few scrubby cattle and miserable ponies. It was a disgrace to our civilization that within fifteen miles of the metropolis 7,000 acres of land should be allowed to remain in such a state when it might so easily be turned to some useful account. Let any one visit the forest in unfavourable weather and the result would be that he would leave his upper garments on the bushes and his shoes in the mud. The Committee took the practical view of this subject, and the hon. Member for Maldon the poetical and sentimental. He (Sir John Trollope) introduced a clause in the Report, which was, however, negatived, giving to the Government Department the credit he thought it deserved for the improvements it had made in Hainault Forest, which now produced £4,000 a year, whereas formerly the same land scarcely produced barely £500. If a similar improvement were made in Epping Forest it would be conducive to the public interest as well as to private advantage.


said that, having regard to the Resolution come to the other evening respecting open spaces, the proper plan would be to appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject, and the present matter would then properly form part of the inquiry, and he should move early next Session for such a Committee. His object was to preserve the forest in its wild and uncultivated condition, because that formed its greatest attraction in the eyes of those for whom it was desirable the forest should be preserved. If the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury had gone to a division, he should certainly have voted against it, not only because it was antagonistic to the vote of the other evening, but on account of the expense of laying out this park, and also the annual cost of the maintenance of a park of 7,000 acres. The proper course was to refer the matter to a Select Committee, to investigate not only the open spaces and commons in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, but also the state of Epping and other forests. The rights of the Crown in regard to Epping Forest were very small, it was true; but if the Crown would only retain the rights it possessed, that would be the best guarantee that the forest would be preserved in its present state for the inhabitants of the metropolis. He would remind the hon. Member that no one was more energetic than he in opposition to the expenditure on Kennington Park, which was infinitely small in comparison with that which the hon. Member now proposed to lay out in connection with Epping Forest.