HC Deb 11 August 1882 vol 273 cc1531-3

, who had given Notice that he would call attention to correspondence with the War Office respecting recent fires in Woolmer Forest; and to move— That the management of Woolmer Forest by officials under the War Department has given just cause of dissatisfaction and alarm to the owners and occupiers of adjoining lands, said, that various fires had occurred in the Forest, doing more or less damage to adjoining lands; but on the 23rd of May a large and serious fire took place, by which damage to the extent of £2,000 was occasioned to the property of Mr. Smith, an adjoining landowner. An official inquiry was held under the direction of Major General Sir Henry Have-lock-Allan; but the evidence on that occasion was restricted to the cause of the fire by which the damage complained of arose. Mr. Smith, the gentleman at whose instance he had brought this subject forward, was much dissatisfied with that inquiry, because he was not permitted to show that the same persons who had lighted the fires in the earlier part of the year were also the authors of that which caused his loss. It was reported to the General Commanding the Division, as the result of the inquiry, that it was not caused by War Office officials; but Sir Daniel Lysons recommended that, instead of being under the charge of a warder, these forests should in future be placed under the management of an officer of the Royal Engineers. Notwithstanding the inquiry that had been held, there was ample evidence that these fires in the Forest were lighted by the officials for purposes connected with the preservation of game. Lord Selborne, who was a resident in the district, introduced Mr. Smith to the Secretary of State, and wrote stating that his impression was that the fires were not accidental, but originated through the most dangerous system of clearing wild ground for the preservation of game by burning the heather. The numerous inhabitants in this district had a right to be informed that the attention of the Secretary of State had been personally directed to what, to them, was a most serious question—namely, that steps should be taken to prevent the recurrence of these fires.


said, that a Committee of that House which sat many years ago unanimously resolved that Woolmer Forest should be sold; but that proposal had never been acted upon. Crown Forests were not saleable, except under Act of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) thought proper to introduce a Bill authorizing the sale of Woolmer Forest, he (Mr. Arnold) would give it any support in his power.


, as a friend of Mr. Smith, whose complaint had been brought forward, could assure the House that whatever, he said was thoroughly reliable. This mode of clearing wild land was very dangerous, and could be for no other purpose than that suggested by the Lord Chancellor, who was not very likely to have arrived at his conclusion with regard to the origin of these fires on insufficient evidence—namely, the preservation of game. He therefore trusted that until the suggestion of the hon. Member for Salford was acted upon, and the Forest sold, orders would be given from head-quarters for the discontinuance of so dangerous a method of clearance as that of burning the underwood.


said, no one connected with the War Department could complain of the calm and able statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in setting forth the grievances of those of his constituents who resided in the neighbourhood of Woolmer Forest. A Regulation had been framed which provided that the Chief Engineer at Aldershot should be specially charged with the duty of superintending this property, and looking after the warders. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to argue that because the fire of the 12th of March was lighted by the Government officials, therefore the subsequent fires were lighted by them. After the fire in May, Sir Daniel Lysons ordered a Court of Inquiry to be assembled. It was presided over by Sir Henry Havelock-Allan, and among its members was Colonel Harrison, one of the Chief Engineers at Aldershot. That Court was of opinion that the fire at Woolmer Forest on the 22nd of May was caused by some incendiary, and not by any Government official or servant. He confessed he thought it highly desirable that further precautions should be taken, especially in regard to the clearings. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the new Regulations, which provided, among other things, that an officer of the Royal Engineers should be present with a sufficient number of men to prevent the fires from spreading, and to extinguish them when necessary, and also that all residents in the neighbourhood should receive adequate notice before the fires were lighted.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to,