HC Deb 01 November 1949 vol 469 cc215-39
The Deputy-Chairman

I understand that the Opposition would like to discuss the first two Amendments and, of course, the numerous consequential Amendments together and to reserve their right to divide on the first two.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "five," and to insert "six."

For the convenience of the Committee, if you agree, Mr. Bowles, all the other Amendments on the Order Paper down to Clause 7, page 4, line 18, could be discussed together, but we should like to have the right to divide, if necessary—that will be dependent on what the Minister says—on the first two Amendments.

The Bill proposes a new constitution for the verderers, the governing body of the New Forest. Hitherto, operating under the New Forest Act of 1877, that body has been composed of one official verderer, appointed by the Crown, who acts as chairman and six other verderers who are all elected persons. The Bill proposes certain changes in the qualification and electoral procedure of the verderers. These Amendments do not quarrel with the changes in the Bill to that extent, but the Bill goes further than merely altering the qualification of a verderer and the method of election.

It proposes to increase the number of verderers appointed by the Crown from one to five so that of the total of 10 verderers proposed, only a half, instead of six-sevenths, in future will be elected persons. When it is remembered that the elected half of the verderers does not include under this proposal the chairman, who has a casting vote, it will be seen that this is an important change. Its effect is that the balance of power, which has hitherto resided overwhelmingly with the elected verderers, is transferred to the hands of nominees of the Crown in one form or another.

The Amendment which I am moving, and the others which are being discussed at the same time, have the effect of moving the balance of power back to the hands of persons who are freely elected in accordance with the improved procedure laid down by this Bill. We propose that the elected verderers should number six instead of five and that those appointed should be three instead of five. We propose to remove one of the two nominees of the Minister of Agriculture and those to be appointed by the Forestry Commission and the Minister of Town and Country Planning. We propose to retain the power of the Minister of Agriculture to appoint what I might call an amenity verderer, and to give him power also to appoint another verderer who is specially concerned with the flora and fauna and other objects of scientific interests in the forest. The verderers would then consist of six elected and three nominated persons. One of the nominated persons would continue to be the chairman, with a casting vote as the official verderer.

We think that this sort of body would be more in keeping with the tradition and the needs of the New Forest. After all, the powers of the Crown and its various agencies are already well safeguarded by statute. Those statutes are binding upon the elected verderers and there is no need for the Crown to take the further protection of also having its nominees on the board. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what the nominees of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning are to do that they cannot do already without being appointed verderers?

The right hon. Gentleman said during the Second Reading Debate that the duty of the one who is to be appointed to represent the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries would be to advise the other verderers on questions of technical agricultural interest. But people can advise without being verderers. Even the Cabinet receives advice from experts from time to time, I presume, on technical, financial and military matters, but it can take that advice without making its advisers Cabinet Ministers. I should have thought that without making the agricultural expert a verderer his good advice would be freely available to the elected body which I have proposed. In contrast to all the shortages which we suffer in this world, I have never found that good advice was not a superfluous commodity. There is no reason why because a man is to give technical advice, he should be made a member of the body itself.

There seems to me to be nothing in the history of the verderers to suggest that the elected persons would not be careful of the public interest. Indeed, the responsibility is firmly placed on their shoulders, and I do not see what advantage is gained in the long run by taking away this responsibility or whittling it down by the appointment of the proposed number of nominated people. It is quite clear that in the past the verderers who were elected as to six-sevenths of their number, have taken care of the public interests committed to them, and, all the evidence suggests, have struck a fair balance between the rights of the commoners, the public and the Crown.

I am aware that there has been a long history of negotiation on this matter. I have not been a party to the negotiations, I do not know what is the mind of the Minister on these Amendments, but in whatever form the Bill emerges from our discussions, I shall join with the right hon. Gentleman in urging every one concerned to work harmoniously for the good of the Forest. But while the Bill is still before us and our duty is to scrutinise it and make such suggestions as occur to us, my hon. Friends and I have misgivings about these proposed changes in the constitution of the verderers, and we think that the scheme embodied in our Amendments is a better one.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest and Christchurch)

It seems to me that in making these proposals the Government have made two errors. The first is that they have not understood what the Court of Verderers is supposed to do. The second is that in framing their proposals they have never really worked out what the result of their alterations will be.

If I may weary the House for a moment with a few words about what the Court of Verderers has always stood for, I would say that it is a body which was established in the time of William the Conqueror when these Royal forests were made. It was established for one purpose only—to see that the servants of the Crown who had charge of whatever Royal forest it might be, did not abuse those powers against the rights of the commoners and of the public. It stood impartially as an interpreter as to how far the Crown prerogative should go, but far more important as a local and immediate court to which any local resident could come and appeal if he thought that the Crown had gone too far in what was claimed as the prerogative of the Royal forest.

That was the situation of the verderers in the time of William the Conqueror. Of course, like so many things in the Middle Ages, that sort of body fell into disuse as the Royal forests became disused. That was particularly so from the time of Queen Elizabeth to Pitt. But in the case of the New Forest the verderers were recreated in 1877 by a special Act of Parliament so as to see that the last remaining Royal forest, as it had then become, should still have a body of independent people who would safeguard, from unreasonable demands of the public or the Crown, or from any quarter whatever, the small commoner in the New Forest so that he should still have his rights, should still be able to exercise his power of pasturing cattle, etc.

No one will contradict me when I say that so far, in those years since 1877 the verderers have never had a complaint raised against them of being partial to one side or the other. The one thing that has never been said against them is that they have shown themselves prejudiced on one side or the other. As I am a verderer myself I ought to have declared my interest before I made that rather flattering remark about the court.

4.0 p.m.

Now we have something different. We have a Court of Verderers in which it is proposed to put the actual balance, so far as deliberations are concerned which result in a vote, upon the nominees of whichever Government may be in power from time to time. It is true that on the matters of enclosure this balance is left the other way, because representatives of the Minister of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission are not allowed to vote. But on all general matters the power of voting strength is now placed on the nominees, and I can only think of three reasons why this should be done.

The first is that the Minister has evidence that in the past the verderers have not done their job well. I have no evidence of that; I have heard no single complaint. If that be the reason I hope the Minister will tell us today. The second reason is that there is some new task that the Court of Verderers will have to perform in the future and that the Minister feels he must have these nominees for this new task. Again I have never heard of any such new job. So far it has never been mooted in another place, either on the floor of that other place or in the Select Committee. It may be that the Minister has something of that nature in view, in which case again I hope he will tell us.

There is a third reason, and I am afraid this is the truth; that the Minister wishes to have these nominees because in their appointment he sees a way of controlling further the New Forest. That is the only reason I can see, and in fact I must repeat that Lord Robinson, speaking as chief Government witness in another place—

The Deputy-Chairman

I considered that last time after the quotation had been made, because I thought that Lord Robinson was speaking in reference to the report of 1947 and giving evidence there; but I understand it was a speech he made in another place, and therefore I do not think he should be quoted.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I was proposing to refer not to a speech, but to evidence given before the Select Committee. I thought that as that evidence was given as the principal witness on behalf of the Government, it could be quoted. Whether the evidence given in another place before the Select Committee is quotable or not will make a great difference to the Debate this afternoon.

Mr. Shackleton (Preston)

Before you answer that point, Mr. Bowles, may I submit that we are entitled to make use of evidence given before the Select Committee. It seems to me that the essence of the Select Committee is to provide facts on which judgment can be made and we ought to be allowed to quote from it.

The Deputy-Chairman

If it is evidence and not a speech, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is in Order.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

It seems to me that the evidence given by Lord Robinson tended to the view that the Minister in fact, for one reason or another—and we shall later be able to discuss those reasons—was to have sufficient power on the Court of Verderers to see that his view was carried through. What we have tried to do is to see that the Court of Verderers, against which no complaint has been raised and against whose functions and the execution of their duties no complaint has been raised, shall carry on. We do agree particularly with a desire to see that the flora and fauna and other amenities are preserved and that the Minister shall appoint one verderer to cover amenity values.

We have gone further and taken a phrase from the National Parks Bill so as to get yet another verderer who shall be concerned with the wider aspect of both nature and amenities. We think, that by that means we shall have a court which will truly represent not only the local interests, but also the interests of the public, and a court such as in the past has done a good job fairly and equitably without fear or favour.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I have listened to all the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) and I remain unimpressed. The Baker Committee devoted many months of valuable time to this extremely difficult problem. They consulted not only local interests, including verderers, but also national bodies, and they recommended that there should be 10 verderers in addition to the official verderer, of whom four should be elected and the remaining six appointed.

The committee were probably right, but in deference to local opinion I felt they had gone a little too far. I therefore decided to fix the figures at five elected verderers, the chairman, and four others to represent the Ministry of Agriculture, the Forestry Commission and the local planning authority—in this case that would be the county of Southampton—who are to represent the amenity interests.

It seems to me having changed the figures from those recommended by the Baker Committee, that was a fairly sound balance for a Court of Verderers to look after not only the interests of local commoners and the rest, but also national interests. After all, the New Forest is not an exclusive preserve for local commoners. It is a great national park. There are national interests within it and the nation has paid year by year to preserve those interests. I see no reason at all for departing from this arrangement which we reached after many months of consultation and negotiation.

These arrangements, taken in conjunction with certain other provisions of the Bill, would take away the right of the verderer representing the Forestry Commission to vote on enclosures for afforestation. We leave it entirely in the hands of the five elected verderers to decide whether or not there shall be enclosure. It seems to me that the same thing applies to the Ministry of Agriculture representative. I think therefore that the concession we made in another place makes that a workable and well-balanced constitution for the new Court of Verderers.

I was rather shocked to hear the right hon. Gentleman talk about the balance of power of this Court of Verderers. I should have thought that when the 10 persons came together it would not be a question of division on party lines or special interests, but that they would come together for the purpose of preserving the amenities and caring for the grazing and woodlands and the outside interest of visitors, and that on such things a division would be a very rare thing indeed. My original conception was that the Court of Verderers would come together to serve both the local and national interests at the same time and that few or no divisions on the lines indicated by the right hon. Gentleman would take place.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of subsection (4) of Clause 12 and subsection (6) of Clause 14, because that does dispose, more or less, of his argument about the balance of power. Subsection (4) of Clause 12 says: The verderer appointed by the Forestry Commissioners shall not vote on any question arising on a presentment under this section. Therefore, the elected verderers become the absolute majority and there can be no enclosures for afforestation purposes without the consent of the verderers. The same remarks apply to Clause 14 (6) where the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture cannot vote on any matters relating to enclosures for agricultural purposes. The elected verderers have an absolute majority—

Mi. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

But his loyal colleague from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning presumably can cast a vote in favour of the proposition of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Mr. Williams

No, that is not so. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have read the Bill.

Mr. Bracken

Yes, I have.

Mr. Williams

The Ministry of Town and Country Planning does not get a representative at all.

Mr. Bracken

It gets one under amenity value.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. I shall explain why in a moment. The point I have been making is that under these two subsections the elective verderers are given an absolute right to determine whether or not there shall be any enclosures for afforestation or agriculture—which simply means for improving grazing at the expense of the State. That was a very large concession on top of the concession made in changing the constitution from the recommendations of the Baker Committee.

Moreover, this matter was dealt with exhaustively in another place and by a Select Committee. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest does not shake his head to suggest that the Select Committee did not deal with this matter exhaustively. If he does, I recommend him to read page 25 of the first day's hearing. There he will find that the constitution of the Court of Verderers was dealt with exhaustively and finally turned down.

Mr. Bracken

It says, "at great length."

Mr. Williams

Exhaustively or at great length—I will accept anything for the sake of peace and quietness. If it was at great length it was exhaustive. The point is that, after having dealt with it with counsel present and witnesses available, they turned down the proposition which has been proposed again this afternoon. We have gone a very long way to meet the local interests. Apparently, there is only one person in the whole of Great Britain who is dissatisfied—the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest.

Mr. Bracken

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. There is another.

Mr. Williams

If another one has emerged this afternoon, he is a late comer. He has only just discovered that the New Forest adjoins Bournemouth. It is a rather belated recognition.

The Baker Committee said in their Report that it was well nigh impossible to reconcile all the so-called differences of opinion in the New Forest and, indeed, were anybody to try to succeed, they feared that they would cause immediate trouble because the local interests within the New Forest regard differences of opinion and grievances as the major amenities within the New Forest. Apparently the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest justifies the statement made by the committee. It may be that there is something in history, but my understanding of the hon. and gallant Member is that his history of this matter, starting with William the Conqueror, is all wrong. It seems to me to be fantastic for William the Conqueror to set up a Court of Verderers to tie his own hands.

4.15 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury asked two plain questions. He asked what the nominees of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission were there for and what they were to do, and suggested that if they had advice to give they could give it without becoming verderers. The verderers themselves recognise—they embody it in their petition—the interests of the Ministry of Agriculture who are the virtual owners of a very large area of the New Forest. They realise that they have a national interest to care for. The Forestry Commission have planted or they care for a large area of woodlands and they have a great interest in all parts of the Forest, so much so that annually they have been spending £2,000 or £3,000, not exclusively on forestry work, but on drainage, the clearing of undergrowth and so on, so that the commoners can have a better time than they would have had if this expense had fallen upon their shoulders. The Forestry Commission and the technicians obviously know the needs of the New Forest area.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Do they?

Mr. Williams

I should have thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would concede that. It is because the verderers and certain other interests were unable or unwilling to move in certain directions that there was any necessity for setting up a committee for the purpose of smoothing out many of the difficulties, trying to ascertain what the legal position in regard to the New Forest really was, and taking steps to clarify it.

The Ministry of Agriculture representative would be there exclusively for the benefit of the commoners, for the purpose of advising and guiding them if any portion of the area should be taken over temporarily for agriculture, to be returned to the commoners after reseeding so that the number of livestock that the land would carry would increase enormously. They have undertaken experiments which I referred to in my Second Reading speech and which I would not say were unique, though some of them were extremely successful. With the advice now available to us we are satisfied that large areas, done intermittently, a small space here and there, can be improved to the benefit of the commoners, and ultimately I hope, perhaps in terms of milk or beef, they will be advantageous to the State.

I have looked at this proposal with as much sympathy as I can, but I think that the concessions we have already made are such that I cannot hope to go further. As against the six appointed members recommended by the committee, we provide for only four. As against the four elective verderers recommended by the committee we provide for five. For the more important purposes—enclosures for afforestation or agriculture—we leave the verderers with an absolute majority. I think that that is a well balanced and workable court, and I am unwilling at this late stage to change the constitution. I hope that the Committee will not hesitate to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Bracken

There is no more attractive speaker in this Committee than the Minister of Agriculture. He could charm a bird off a tree, but not off one of the trees of the New Forest. His history was slightly muddled. I think he slandered William the Conqueror when he said that he would not have permitted any liberty in the Forest. On the contrary, he admitted far more liberty than our tyrannical Socialist Government. Furthermore, in order that the forest men might make quite sure that their masters in Whitehall were kept in order, King William's son was slaughtered in the Forest. The foresters lament that but they hope to have another opportunity later of dealing with tyrants.

Having listened to the Minister's speech, I am reminded of a remark made by Bishop Creighton that nobody does more harm than he who goes about trying to do good. That is what the Minister has been pushed into doing. Why pack this ancient court with nominees of the Ministry of Agriculture or the Forestry Commission? We are told that the other verderer who represents planning is going to protect the amenities of the forest, but that is really completely absurd. We who live in that part of the world have seen the frustration of the planners in trying to protect another glorious part of the South—the Isle of Purbeck, which has been desecrated. The local planners say that the verderer appointed by the Minister certainly does not represent any successful endeavour to prevent the destruction of amenities.

Mr. Shackleton

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell me where in the Bill there is a reference to a planner appointed by the Minister in respect of town and country planning?

Mr. Bracken

The hon. Gentleman has a pedantic mind, which is very successful in keeping him from his ideal place. The only point was that the planning authorities have a right to appoint a verderer.

Mr. Shackleton

No, the Minister.

Mr. Bracken

It does not matter; the whole point is the planning authority. This interruption is both irrelevant and very wrong.

The Minister paid a tribute to the Forestry Commission today and said that we ought to be grateful for all that they have done. Well, what have they done? They have planted these abominable conifers, which may be all right on the misty isles of Scotland or on some of the rugged mountains in that part of Britain, but which are an abomination in the New Forest. I feel very strongly, and I think I may get the hon. Member for Preston to agree with me here, that the very people who should not be let loose in the New Forest are these pine-planters. It is disgraceful that the finest forest left to us in Britain should now be at the mercy of people who plant these filthy conifers. [Interruption.] If the Minister of Education has an interruption to make, perhaps he would not mind getting up and making his interruption in clearer tones? I see; the right hon. Gentleman is not interested in the matter of the amenities of the countryside.

Nothing could be worse from the point of view of the last great remaining forest in the South of England than that we should have these conifers. The Forestry Commission have only one idea in life, and that is to plant these abominable trees wherever they can find a space that will receive them. They have already destroyed much of the possibility of developing food production in Britain by planting their trees, and we certainly do not want them in the New Forest.

If the Minister would only agree—I suppose he finds this very difficult at this late hour—to get rid of the verderer who represents the Forestry Commission, we might be in a position to withdraw our Amendment. Public Enemy No. 1 to the New Forest, of course, is this Forestry Commission. I know the Minister is a broad-minded man, though he has probably never studied the interests of the New Forest. If he will, at this rather late hour, accept from me a manuscript Amendment which has the object of keeping the Forestry Commission away from the New Forest, I think my hon. and gallant Friend would probably be able to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Shackleton

I had intended to deal mainly with the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre), but the intervention of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) has introduced precisely that type of confusion which invariably arises whenever the right hon. Gentleman honours this House with his presence. He started off by making one misstatement when he accused me of being pedantic when I attempted to correct him on a point of fact. The right hon. Gentleman said that the verderer appointed by a local planning authority would be a nominee of the Minister, and he said that the local planning authority was appointed by the Minister. Where the right hon. Gentleman has been during these last few years I do not know, but he surely must know that that is totally incorrect.

Let us examine precisely what the composition of the Court of Verderers is going to be. I have a certain amount of sympathy with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the New Forest when he questions whether or not the forestry verderer can add to the usefulness of the discussions of the Court of Verderers. I believe that the original proposals for the appointment of a representative of the Minister of Agriculture and of the Forestry Commission did go a long way to meeting local interests when they were trying to thresh out the nature of this Bill before the Baker Committee. At any rate, the point arose and it has gradually become incorporated in the Bill.

Whether or not there is any serious danger of these so-called nominees of the Minister interfering with the discussions of the verderers, one thing is quite apparent, and that is that the more the interested parties can get round a table to talk over their difficulties, the better chance there is of an agreement. I believe that the Minister has made an extraordinary effort to meet the feelings of the commoners and others. It is quite clear that the majority power rests with the local interests. This talk of "packing" is pure malicious nonsense, designed to produce the type of reaction which will drive the right hon. Member for Bournemouth into becoming a "Maquis" in the New Forest, and the right hon. Gentleman will have something to learn about the "Maquis" in the near future.

We can tell the Minister that we know that this Bill is necessary, and that, in fact, the people of the New Forest and those who study the interests of the New Forest realise the need for it. The Minister has done his part by making a large number of concessions, though there are some on which I wish he had gone further. To suggest that this court is liable to oppress local interests is sheer nonsense and totally untrue. How can any council or committee be regarded as packed "when, in fact, only two out of 10 members are appointed by the Government? Those are the actual figures, and I commend that fact to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth.

Therefore, I suggest that the Committee would be wrong at this stage to accept the Amendment, and that we should accept gratefully the concessions which have been made. Above all, we should moderate our language in considering this Bill, because it is going to work, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite is seeking to achieve precisely the effect which I am sure all people, both in the New Forest and outside it, are anxious to avoid, namely, the creation of ill-feeling. I therefore suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he should make any further interventions, he should think before he speaks.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Forest of Dean)

I only speak because it happens that my constituency, the Forest of Dean, has a similar kind of problem to deal with as that, which is the subject of this Bill. There are ancient rights belonging to commoners which go back for hundreds of years, and which, under the common law of the land, have to be recognised. At the same time, however, there is the growing need of the nation for timber. In the Forest of Dean we have a verderers' court similar to that in the New Forest. It settles differences, but does not now play the part which it formerly played.

4.30 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Will the hon. Gentleman say how often this verderers' court meets?

Mr. Philips Price

It meets once a year. It functions all right, but I do not think it has the same function as the court in the New Forest. I was a Forestry Commissioner for three years, and I know that it is very difficult in the New Forest, because there is a very large area there belonging to the commoners, and one very much wonders whether it is really playing its full part, in the production of either food or timber. It seems to me that the time has come when a rearrangement is necessary, which, while safeguarding the rights of the commoners, will at the same time make better agriculture possible. It seems to me that that will be the general effect of Clause 1, and, therefore, I do not think that the Amendment is necessary.

I would point out to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) that the soil in the New Forest is eminently suitable for growing conifers. It is the best soil for that purpose which I know of anywhere. I would go so far as to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one should not destroy certain parts of the ancient forest; one should keep a portion of it, at any rate. But to say that conifers are filthy, and all that, is really ridiculous. There is really fine conifer soil in the forest, and I am sure that the Forestry Commissioners understand perfectly well how to increase the timber resources of the country, and, at the same time, to retain the amenities. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's speech has been helpful in this matter.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

We have had to complain many times during the last few months about the Forestry Commission, and after the speech to which we have just listened I find it hard to imagine that anything more is necessary to show how right we were. I do not want to follow the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) on all that he has said, because we shall have the opportunity of doing that on later Amendments. But when he says that the soil of the New Forest is eminently suitable for conifers, he should remember that, in fact, all that the Forestry Commission has done is to use for the planting of conifers clay soils which are ideal for growing oak.

Mr. Philips Price

The soil of the New Forest is not entirely clay; there are large areas of what is called "Bournemouth sand."

Mr. Shackleton

On a point of Order. Is it in Order, Mr. Bowles, to discuss conifers when we are dealing with the Court of Verderers, because we shall be discussing the question of enclosures later on?

The Deputy-Chairman

It is in Order for hon. Members to discuss that matter on this Amendment.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

All I want to say is that there is evidence—and I can give it to the hon. Gentleman if he desires—to show that the whole of the area used by the Forestry Commission could be put to much better use for purposes of timber growing than is at present the case.

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that there are sufficient experts on the Forestry Commission to advise how to deal with the soil?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

It is not quite so simple as that. As far as I can make out, the order goes forth for a certain sort of timber to be grown, instead of the people concerned being asked about the type of soil and what it can grow.

Mr. Shackleton

Would not the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that this is, in fact, an argument in favour of having a Forestry Commission representative on the Court of Verderers?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The hon. Member lives in the New Forest, and I credited him with having an elementary knowledge of what happens. The Court of Verderers has no jurisdiction whatever over the enclosed land held by the Forestry Commission. Such land is entirely under the control of the Forestry Commission, and they can do what they like with it.

I was rather sorry that the Minister went out of his way to attack me, because I do not think that I could be accused of being pugnacious. He said that I was now the only person who remained dissatisfied. I do not think that he even believes that to be true. If he does, then I suggest that he should look into it a bit further. The right hon. Gentleman refused to answer the three simple questions which I put to him. The first was, are these nominees to be appointed to the court because of some job which the verderers have not done in the past? The second was, is there any new job which they are to be asked to perform which the verderers have not done in the past. The third question was, if neither of those two things are true, then what on earth are they for?

The Minister went into a long-winded and wordy statement to the effect that the Forestry Commission could advise the verderers of this, that, and the other. I do not know whether the Minister knows it, but the late Deputy-Surveyor, Mr. Young, attended the court on every single occasion, both at open session and in committee. As one of the verderers, may I say that his advice was of the highest value and was always taken into consideration. There is nothing that a deputy-surveyor—and I presume that his successor is going to do the same thing—can do which cannot be done without having this representative on the court. I ask the Minister to tell us in detail what this member of the Forestry Commission is going to do on the court.

In another place—again if I may quote the evidence given—the idea was that we should have a member of the Forestry Commission so that he could advise which areas might profitably be enclosed for timber production. The Minister carried that a little further by saying the same thing about the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture with regard to the enclosure of agricultural land. Both the representative of the Forestry Commission and the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture could do exactly the same thing by making presentment in open court and by giving their evidence. There is no single function under those heads which demands that they should be members of the court.

What is the member appointed by the authority approved by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning going to do? We have not heard a word about that yet, and I think that we ought to know something. The Minister went on to say, "Look at the concessions that we have made; we have given you one extra elective verderer and we have cut down the nominated verderers." The Minister has made no concession at all. All he has done is to say that all nominees are to come from Whitehall and that nominees so far as the local authorities are concerned can be cut out. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not use that argument again.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I was wrong about the antiquity of verderers and their functions. I always regret that people should sneer at antiquity and at what has done yeoman service during the centuries. I ask the Minister, if he has time, to look at an Act relating to forest laws; it is the Act of Edward I, Chapter 33—"Ordinatio de Forestia." Even at that time the verderers were accepted as being the instrument which I have described. Even at that date they were of considerable standing and antiquity. I ask the Minister not to be content to view the problems in the New Forest from Whitehall, but to go there and try to learn what has been achieved and what can be done in the Forest if only an opportunity is given.

The right hon. Gentleman says that he has made concessions. I ask him to think back to the time when this Bill was first introduced in another place, and think of the changes which have taken place since then. Not one change followed as a graceful act of the Ministry. The whole of the changes and improvements were achieved because people in the New Forest fought the right hon. Gentleman's Bill at great expense to themselves. I suggest that before he makes these allegations so glibly about Members of Parliament being the only people who are dissatisfied, he should study the case and come here with more facts than he possesses at the moment.

Mr. T. Williams

It is only from a sense of courtesy that I rise to say a few more words. If I were to appoint an official political or Parliamentary sneerer I should not go beyond the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). I think he is par excellence a sneerer at those who have done most to try to reconcile all the local authorities. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was not sufficiently courteous to tell the Committee that perhaps those local interests in the New Forest had a privilege extended to them that rarely is given to any section of the community in this country. A draft Bill was produced, and was taken along to the representatives of local interests who were allowed to discuss it ad lib with my representatives.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre


Mr. Williams

I am talking, and I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to let me continue my story. The representatives of local interests were consulted at almost every stage. If the local interests, which were very often conflicting, did not always agree with the hon. and gallant Member's forest philosophy and did not get whatever they required, that is regarded as a failure on our part to appreciate the requirements of the New Forest.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

May I interrupt? I should only like to make it clear that I did not refer to those consultations, as I had always understood that they were of a privileged nature and should not be referred to publicly.

Mr. Williams

I am prepared to accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement, but so long as he now admits that that was the case, I am quite happy. Long before the Bill was presented in another place the local interests as well as the national interests had an opportunity to examine the rights and wrongs of the proposed step to bring the New Forest up to modern conditions.

Mr. Bracken

There is nothing unusual in that.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Williams

Anyway, they had privileges which are not extended to many people. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the "packing" of this Court of Verderers. When there are two representatives of two Government Departments, and eight representatives of non-Government Departments, it seems to me that the packing is in the other direction. When the right hon. Gentleman condemns out of hand these "pine planters" and "conifer fans," he must have forgotten the absolute importance of softwood in this country. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that before the commencement of the last war we were importing upwards of 90 per cent. of all our softwood? At this very moment our horticulturists are up against impossible competition because they have not sufficient softwood for packing and presenting their produce, compared with the continentals who have plenty of softwood.

Mr. Bracken

May I interrupt to say that the right hon. Gentleman's argument is far beneath the character of his office? He might just as well say that we ought to tear up the plants in Kew and grow cabbages and carrots.

Mr. Williams

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about conifer fans and pine planters, he might reflect on the necessity for softwood in this country. I am credibly informed by those who are supposed to be experts that there is a good deal of land in the New Forest which is practically useless either for grazing or farm purposes, and that was brought out fully in the Report of the Baker Committee. I am satisfied that if the Forestry Commission were to ask for further enclosures, only the poorest of poor land would be planted with either one tree or another. It seems to me that on all counts the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. and gallant Friend have not made out a case for changing this well-balanced constitution of the Court of Verderers. In view of all the concessions that we have already made, I am unwilling to concede this point.

Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)

A great deal has been said in this Debate about amenities. Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it would improve the amenities of the New Forest if we were to clear the "Bracken" from the neighbourhood of this forest?

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The argument with which I sought to justify this Amendment was that these gentlemen whom it is proposed to appoint from the various Departments and from the town planning authorities could easily advise efficiently and well without being members of the Court of Verderers. Would the right hon. Gentleman tell me what additional advantage would be gained if they were given the status of verderers?

Mr. Williams

I will readily answer that question. I have always said that the Forestry Commission has been spending from £2,500 to £3,000 per annum within the Forest more or less for the benefit of commoners. There is no denying that the average amount spent has been between those figures. In this Bill we take power for the Forestry Commission to spend a further £1,500 per annum. It seems to me, therefore, that the Forestry Commission, who are already engaged in extensive operations and who will be permitted, with the assent of the elective verderers, to plant over 10 or more years perhaps 5,000 more acres, have a sufficient interest within the Forest to allow them to be represented by at least one of the 10 verderers.

I repeat that during the war experiments were carried out on re-seeding to improve the pasture for animal carrying. They were largely successful. On the Second Reading I quoted from "Country Life" an article by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who is in no doubt about it. Surely the Ministry of Agriculture are theoretically the owners of a very large area of the New Forest. They have, therefore, an interest in it. They have an interest as to how it may be used. If they carried out experiments at all it would be at the expense of the Government of the day, whatever Government it might be, and on all counts I think they are entitled to at least one expert adviser out of the 10 verderers to see that the best use for agriculture is made of any parts that may be improved.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I have been privileged to hear only the last part of the Debate and I quite honestly say to the right hon. Gentleman that his last remarks have caused me very seriously to wonder what is the main object of the Government. I have followed the right hon. Gentleman and the Government on many of these occasions, and every time I have noticed that their object is gradually to pack any local body. First of all, they put on the body three or four officials nominated, driven and directed by the Government, who gradually worm into the local authorities, who are really representative people. They are not just like Government Departments, like the Forestry Commission or the Ministry of Agriculture, with vast blocks of land for which the unfortunate taxpayers have to pay and which are generally manipulated so badly. They then claim the power to appoint three or four officials representing different departments. That surely must be a complete and utter waste of the time of Government officials.

It would be quite sufficient for one representative of the Government as a whole to represent all these three departments. There is no earthly reason why one representative should not do the whole thing. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman telling me that they are to send down an expert on town planning, another expert on agriculture and another on forestry. They may be technical experts, but it will be completely useless unless they have common sense. One individual with common sense would be far more valuable than all these experts.

For that reason I want, as an ordinary taxpayer, to see these numbers cut down. Most of these things are only excuses for Government officials to have jobs in the countryside. I see it all over the country. It is one of the worst forms of extravagance at the present time. I agree that there must be a Government representative on this court, but I think one would be enough. If any specialised evidence were needed or if the Government wished to give evidence, all that would be necessary would be one of those open courts which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) has explained so ably. In the future, as in the past, the Government official could come down and explain the position. That would not be on every occasion. To seek an opportunity of going all the way down to the New Forest on every occasion and having a day at each end would be a pure waste of time and Departmental money.

If the Government have any belief in the policy that they should cut down needless administrative expenses, then they have, in the Amendment now before the Committee, a wonderful chance to cut expenses and to reduce the work of three or four Government officials. I am only too willing to help the Government along the path of virtue. It takes a good deal to make even the Chancellor of the Exchequer look at the path of virtue, but if there is any sincerity in the Government and in their desire to reduce needless expenditure, surely they will never have a better chance of doing so than that which is offered here.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out "four," and to insert "two." There is no need for me to add anything further.

Question put, "That 'four' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 241; Noes, 125.

Division No. 266.] AYES [5.0 p.m.
Acland, Sir Richard Freeman, Peter (Newport) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Albu, A H. Gallacher, W. Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Mainwaring, W. H.
Alpass, J. H. Gibson, C. W. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Anderson, A. (Mother well) Gilzean, A. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Attewell, H. C. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Mann, Mrs. J.
Austin, H. Lewis Goodrich, H. E. Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Awbery, S. S. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Mathers, Rt. Hon. George
Ayles, W. H. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Mellish, R. J.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Grenfell, D. R. Messer, F.
Balfour, A. Grey, C. F. Mikardo, Ian
Barton, C. Grierson, E. Mitchison, G. R.
Battley, J. R. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Monslow, W.
Bechervaise, A. E. Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Berry, H. Guest, Dr. L. Haden Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Binns, J. Gunter, R. J. Mort, D. L.
Blyton, W. R. Guy, W. H. Moyle, A.
Boardman, H. Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Murray, J. D.
Bottomley, A. G. Hale, Leslie Nally, W.
Bowden, H. W. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil Naylor, T. E.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Bramall, E. A. Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hardy, E. A. Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Harrison, J. Oldfield, W. H.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hastings, Dr. Somerville. Oliver, G. H.
Brown, George (Belper) Haworth, J. Orbach, M.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Paget, R. T.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Herbison, Miss M. Pannell, T. C.
Burke, W. A. Holman, P. Pargiter, G. A.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Parker, J.
Carmichael, James Horabin, T. L. Parkin, B. T.
Chamberlain, R. A. Houghton, Douglas Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Chatsr, D. Hoy, J. Paton, J. (Norwich)
Chetwynd, G. R. Hubbard, T. Peart, T. F.
Cluse, W. S. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)
Coob, F. A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Popplewell, E.
Cocks, F. S. Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Porter, E. (Warrington)
Collins, V. J. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Porter, G. (Leeds)
Cook, T. F. Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool) Price, M. Philips
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Proctor, W. T.
Corlett, Dr. J. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Pryde, D. J.
Cove, W. G. Jeger, G. (Winchester) Ranger, J.
Crossman, R. H. S. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.) Rankin, J.
Cullen, Mrs. Jenkins, R. H. Reeves, J.
Daines, P. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Reid, T. (Swindon)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Keenan, W. Richards, R.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Kenyon, C. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Kinley, J. Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D. Royle, C.
Deer, G. Lavers, S. Sargood, R.
Delargy, H. J. Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J. Scollan, T.
Diamond, J. Lee, F. (Hulme) Scott-Elliot, W.
Dobbie, W. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Dodds, N. N. Leonard, W. Sharp, Granville
Donovan, T. Leslie, J. R. Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Dumpleton, C. W. Lewis, T. (Southampton) Simmons, C. J.
Edelman, M. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty) Logan, D. G. Skinnard, F. W.
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Longden, F. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Lyne, A. W. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Evans, John (Ogmore) McAdam, W. Snow, J. W.
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) McAllister, G. Sparks, J. A.
Ewart, R. McEntee, V. La T. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Fairhurst, F. McGhee, H. G. Swingler, S.
Farthing, W. J. McGovern, J. Sylvester, G. O.
Fernyhough, E. Mack, J. D. Symonds, A. L.
Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) McKay, J. (Wallsend) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Forman, J. C. McKinlay, A. S. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Maclean, N. (Govan) Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Wells, P. L. (Faversham) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) West, D. G. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Thurtle, Ernest Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.) Willis, E.
Timmons, J. White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Tolley, L. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G. Wigg, George Woods, G. S.
Vernon, Maj. W. F. Wilkins, W. A. Yates, V. F.
Viant, S. P. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst) Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.) Williams, D. J. (Neath) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Warbey, W. N. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove) Mr. Pearson and
Watson, W. M. Williams, Ronald (Wigan) Mr. Richard Adams.
Webb, M. (Bradford, C.) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Amory, D. Heathcoat Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Baldwin, A. E. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Osborne, C.
Baxter, A. B. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Hollis, M. C. Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Bennett, Sir P. Hope, Lord J. Pickthorn, K.
Birch, Nigel Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Boles, Ll.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Hutchison, Lt.-Cm Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Bossom, A. C. Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Price-White, D.
Bowen, R. Jeffreys, General Sir G. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Bower, N. Keeling, E. H. Rayner, Brig. R.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Kerr, Sir J. Graham Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Renton, D.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Cmdr. J. G. Lambert, Hon. G. Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Bromley-Davenport, Ll.-Col. W. Langford-Holt, J. Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Byers, Frank Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Ropner, Col. L.
Challen, C. Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Ranfrew, E.) Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Savory, Prof. D. L.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Low, A. R. W. Scott, Lord W.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Lucas, Major Sir J. Shephard, S. (Newark)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Crowder, Capt. John E. McCallum, Maj. D. Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. or Wight) Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Davidson, Viscountess McFarlane, C. S. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Digby, S. Wingfield Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Maclay, Hon. J. S. Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.
Drayson, G. B. Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) Touche, G. C.
Drewe, C. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Turton, R. H.
Duthie, W. S. Marlowe, A. A. H. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Eden, Rt. Hon. A. Marples, A. E. Vane, W. M. F.
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Ward, Hon. G. R.
Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L. Maude, J. C. Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone) Mellor, Sir J. Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Gammans, L. D. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Gates, Maj. E. E. Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Williams, C. (Torquay)
George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey) Neven-Spence, Sir B. York, C.
Gomme-Duncan, Col A. Nicholson, G. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Grimston, R. V. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Harden, J. R. E. Nutting, Anthony TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Odey, G. W. Major Conant and Mr. Studholme.
Head, Brig. A. H. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.