§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, the scheme proposed under this Bill would, on the whole, give great satisfaction to these persons who were interested in the preservation of Epping Forest. The arbitrator, to be appointed under the Bill, would have to determine what compensation should be given in respect of that part of the Forest which was some time ago wrongfully inclosed, and which would now be restored to the public. As many other questions would have to be decided by the arbitrator, it was hoped that the Government would state to the House who the arbitrator nominated by the Government would be. There were some objections to the Bill in points of detail. With regard to the constitution of the Board of Management, the Government were wise in confiding the preservation of the Forest mainly to the Corporation of the City of London, as they had shown a great interest, and taken an active part, in asserting the rights of the commoners. There were to be 12 members of the Corporation on the Committee of Management. He suggested the addition of two or three representatives of the East of London and other parts of the Metropolis that were specially interested in the preservation of the Forest. He held that the popular element should be represented on the Committee. It had been suggested 1621 that this might be done by the nomination of the hon. Members for the time being for Hackney and the Tower Hamlets, who might serve as ex-officio Members of the Committee. He also thought it not undesirable that some nominees of the Crown should be members of the Committee of Management. In saying that he did not wish to throw any doubt on the management of the Corporation of the City of London of the Forest. His only fear was, that they might do too much by attempting to convert the Forest into an ornamental park instead of simply preserving its natural beauty. He hoped the latter course would be adopted by the Committee. He objected to the method in which the Bill dealt with the rights of the inhabitants of Loughton. Many hon. Members of the House, he durst say, were aware that the inhabitants of Loughton had from time immemorial enjoyed the right of lopping trees of the Forest for firewood during the winter months. They believed they enjoyed that right through a grant of one of the Tudor Kings. They believed the grant was given on the condition that at midnight on every 11th of November they should perambulate the Forest and strike an axe into a particular tree. It certainly appeared that from time immemorial the inhabitants of Loughton had lopped trees upon a part of the Forest consisting of about 1,200 acres. The Bill proposed that the question of the validity of the right claimed by the inhabitants of Loughton should come before the arbitrator. The Epping Forest Commissioners had distinctly announced that this right existed, and, therefore, there could be no reason for putting the inhabitants to the great expense and possible risk of having their right decided upon by the arbitrator. Suppose the arbitrator decided that the custom or right existed, then the Bill provided that it should cease, and that compensation should be given to the inhabitants by moans of an annual payment of money or by doles of fuel. That solution appeared to him to be a very unwise and unsatisfactory one. He ventured to suggest that the Bill should recognize the custom as it had existed from time immemorial, and that it should be left to the arbitrator to decide in what way that right should be exercised for the future; or if it were thought desirable that the custom or right should cease 1622 to exist, then that some compensation should be awarded by the arbitrator in a manner which might be clearly beneficial to the inhabitants of Loughton. He had to thank his hon. Friend opposite for bringing forward the Bill in this shape. He believed that, on the whole, it would give satisfaction to the people of London, and he ventured to hope that under this Bill the Forest of Epping would be restored to its original position as a forest containing something like 6,000 acres, instead of being curtailed to, say, about 3,000 acres—that, for generations to come, it would be left in its wild condition; that it would not be improved and ornamented, but be left as a forest in the widest sense.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that, after the way in which the Bill had been received by the hon. Gentleman opposite, he did not think it was necessary for him to trespass long on the time of the House. He agreed that the settlement of this long-vexed question would confer benefit, not only on the inhabitants of the district itself, but upon the dense population of London. With regard to the arbitrator, the appointment would be one which would, no doubt, command the complete confidence of the House. The arbitrator had been chosen; but the Government could not, at present, name him, as he had not really consented to serve. However, he hoped to be able to give the name of the gentleman before the Bill passed through Committee. The hon. Member for Reading had expressed an anxiety that the Conservators would not attempt to turn the Forest into an ornamental park, and he entirely agreed with him upon the point; because, if the Conservators would content themselves with improving the drainage of the land and effecting certain similar improvements, the Forest would remain one of the most enjoyable bits of wild scenery in the neighbourhood of London. The hon. Member had referred to one or two points on which he differed from the framers of the Bill. In the first place, he did not altogether approve the constitution of the authority who were to be intrusted with the management of the Forest. The hon. Member had, however, acknowledged fairly enough that, after the efforts the Corporation of the City of London had made for the preservation of the Forest, they were entitled to be intrusted with a large share 1623 in the management of the property, especially as the Corporation would have to provide funds for the payment of these claims which might be established before the arbitrator. Another body of people, who were deeply interested in the maintenance of the Forest as a recreation ground, consisted of the inhabitants of the localities abutting on the land so devoted to the benefit of the public; and, in the opinion of the Government, they were entitled to be represented on the Board of Conservators by those whom they might elect. It was therefore provided that the Verderers would be eventually elected by the commoners generally. Difficulties would arise in making any Members of that House ex-officio members of that Board, and, in his opinion, the Corporation of London would take sufficient care of the interests of the population of the East of London. He thought, on the whole, that the Government had selected these to act as Conservators who would fairly represent the people interested in the proper management of the Forest. The interests and feelings of the Crown would be sufficiently represented by the Ranger. He trusted that the Bill would now be read a second time, in order that it might be referred to a Select Committee, and that the result of its coming into operation would be to preserve the Forest for the recreation of the public, and to add one more to the air-breathing spaces of London.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
said, he was glad to be able to give his cordial support to the Bill. It embodied the main purposes of the agitation which had been raised on the question, and, at the same time, treated with indulgence those persons who had acted illegally. He thought that the Corporation ought not to have so predominant a share in the management of the Forest; but that some persons representing the feeling of these portions of the Metropolis which were contiguous to the Forest should be added to the Verderer and the executive committee, in order to secure more of a balance of power and a fuller consideration of various tastes and interests. He hoped that that matter would be dealt with in Committee.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed, to a Select Committee. Three to be nominated by the House, and two by the Committee of Selection.