HC Deb 21 March 1928 vol 215 cc525-30

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the bye-laws (b), (c), (j) and (k), with respect to the New Forest, be annulled. In moving this prayer I wish to apologise for the absence of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), whose name is attached to it on the Order Paper. Whilst there are four items mentioned in the prayer, I am proposing to call attention to only two of them (b) and (k). For the information of hon. Members I may say that there are some 11 by-laws lying on the Table of the House making Regulations for the public use of the New Forest and the Forest of Dean. I am not opposed to any reasonable Regulations for the preservation of public property and the convenience of the public, but amongst these by-laws there are two which are slightly ambiguous, and under which it seems doubtful whether the rights of the public are being preserved. The preamble of these by-laws with regard to certain acts which are prohibited in the New Forest says: Except in the exercise of the rights of the commoners, or in so far as they may be authorised in writing by the Forestry Commissioners, or the Assistant Forestry Commissioner for England, or the Deputy Surveyor in charge of the forest, and any person who does any of the following unauthorised acts shall on summary conviction as in manner provided by the Forestry Act, 1927, be liable to a fine not exceeding £5, and in case of a continuance of the offence to a further fine not exceeding 10s. for each day during which the offence continued. Then there is a by-law (c) which shows what is prohibited: Encamping upon any such waste or enclosure or erecting, placing or leaving thereon a tent, booth, swing, pole, clothes line or other erection whatsoever. We should like to know from the hon. Member in charge of the Forestry Department whether that refers to an encamp-

ment of gypsies only, who may stay for a considerable time, or whether picnic parties would be prohibited from having a holiday for half a day and partly camping and making use of the amenities of the forest. I suggest that the by-law should either be annulled or so amended as to make that quite clear.

By-law (d) deals with the use of the forest by motor cars, chars-a-bancs and other vehicles. The by-law speaks of The placing or leaving thereon of any motor car, char-a-bane, waggon, cart, carriage or van or other wheeled vehicles between sunset or sunrise or for business purposes or so as to cause any damage. There is no explanation as to how this by-law will apply in those hours between sunset and sunrise. This point does not apply to the preceding Clause dealing with encamping, and I want that point made quite clear. Then there is by-law (j), which is even more ambiguous than the other by-laws I have quoted. It reads: Interfering with, obstructing, or annoying any person or persons engaged in riding or who, with the consent of the Commissioners, are engaged in shooting or fishing, or any person lawfully and peacefully using the forest. Does that by-law mean that the public who make a general use of the forest are to be prohibited or excluded from certain parts of the forest where persons are allowed to ride or where permission has been given to shoot or fish and so on? In this particular by-law there is a very great restriction with regard to the privileges now exercised by the public and a reservation allowing special privileges to certain people. I think something should be stated as to whether that is the case or whether, on the other hand, there will be free access to all parts of the forest to the public, even though shooting or fishing or riding may be taking place. I want to know why it is that the enforcement of these bylaws and legal process under which they are to be enforced are being reserved to the Verderers of the Forest. It has been pointed out that that would be a Court of Justice, and they will be entitled to exclude from the forest any person they have reasonable grounds for thinking are likely to commit offences against the by-laws. I hope I have given some grounds for asking for an elucidation of these points from the representative of the Forestry Commissioners. On this side, we are as anxious as anyone that public rights should be maintained.


I beg to second the Motion.

Sir LEOLIN FORESTIER-WALKER (Forestry Commissioner)

I think the House will appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman has placed his views before the House regarding these bylaws. I think we shall all agree that any public property ought to be looked after in the interests of the public who, after all, are the owners of that property; and there is nothing really, when one analyses these by-laws, which is not quite well known in almost every part of Great Britain. These by-laws which have been set up for the New Forest are in accordance with the Forestry Act, 1927, and are exactly similar to those for Epping Forest and other forests in this country. The by-laws have been agreed to by the Verderers, on which body are members of the local bodies in the New Forest and members of the Advisory Committee which has been set up; and no question or objection, so far as we have heard, has been raised about them.

I am really rather amazed at their modesty when I find that the London County Council by-laws are far more stringent than arc ours in the New Forest, and their fines are very much larger. We do not intend or propose in these by-laws to prevent the public enjoyment of the New Forest, but. what we do propose is that the public shall be safeguarded in the enjoyment which they will get of that lovely forest. We want to increase its safety from fire and other dangers, so that the enjoyment of the general public shall not be jeopardised. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) referred to (c). I do not pretend to be a lawyer, but to my mind "encamping" means erecting a tent or camp and sleeping there. I do not think that one would encamp for a picnic; at any rate, that is not my idea of the word. I am open to legal correction, but to me encamping obviously means forming a camp, and forming a camp is usually erecting either a tent or a shed in which you sleep for a day, or a night, or a week, as the case may be.

The question has been asked why we object to clothes-lines. Clothes-lines are not very ornamental. We have numerous people who live in and around the New Forest, and it is quite likely that some people might put up clothes-lines outside their gardens, so as not to take the sun off the cabbages which they arc growing. We do not want people to dry their clothes on our property, or on the nation's property. That is the reason why the word "clothes-line" is put in. I feel quite sure that it can cause no possible objection. Moreover, this encamping can be subject to approval by the Commissioners. If anyone wants to encamp, he goes and asks the Commissioners or the Assistant Commissioner, or the Deputy Surveyor, if he may do so. If he says "Yes," it can be done. The probability is that if no harm is done he will say "Yes."


Is it not necessary to apply in writing?


It is much better to put things in writing, because people are so apt to forget the difference between what they say one day and what they remember the next.


Under the Regulations for Epping Forest, do people have to write for permission to sleep out?


I am informed that these are exactly similar to the by-laws of Epping Forest under the Epping Forest Act.


To my knowledge, they are not. In any case, they are violated every summer day.


With regard to (j), which deals with interfering, obstructing and annoying, I would like to point- out that one of our objects is to encourage sport in that area. A person who goes in for sport in the New Forest is not a millionaire, but a man with a small income, and he has to work very hard even to get one or two shots in the day. He has to take out a licence which costs him £20, and he will be very lucky if he gets value in game to the amount of 20s. Another thing is that he saves us the expense of keeping down rabbits, which are not very helpful in connection with forests. There is no proposal that a gentleman who is riding should ride over anyone; there is no suggestion that any. one who is shooting would interfere with anyone who wants to walk through the forest. It is a large area. You might walk through the forest for a week and never see a man shooting. I do not think there is any sound objection to these by-laws. They are not proposed to be used to keep the public out but they are proposed for the safeguarding not only of the public but of the forest itself.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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