§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. E. C Redhead (Walthamstow, West)
The Bill, being promoted by the Corporation of London, might in other circumstances have been charged to the responsibility of the right hon. and learned Member whose constituency embraces the City of London. I am conscious of the fact that, had he not been precluded from fulfilling that task, it would have been carried out with more skill and clarity of exposition than I could hope to muster. I shall, nevertheless, do my best to explain the provisions of the Bill.
I confess that I never imagined that I should ever find myself responsible for urging upon the House a Bill promoted by the City Corporation; indeed, I can imagine that some of my hon. Friends may be looking a trifle askance at me at this moment, wondering why I should assume this responsibility. I hope that my explanation of the provisions and scope of the Bill will set at rest any fears or apprehensions that they may have.
The responsibilities of the Corporation of London are not confined to the boundaries of the City. By an Act of 1878—the Epping Forest Act—the City Corporation became the conservators of Epping Forest, that forest which is a 285 survivor of the Ancient Royal Forest of Waltham, now very much attenuated but consisting of approximately 6,000 acres of woodland and open glades, stretching in a narrow strip in a broken line from the boundaries of the Boroughs of West Ham and East Ham in the south, through the Boroughs of Leyton and Walthamstow—mention of which will explain my interest in the provisions of the Bill—and on to the Boroughs of Wanstead, Woodford, Chingford and the Urban District of Chigwell.
The Corporation has vested in it responsibility for the custody of Epping Forest, and it has with that the statutory obligation to preserve the forest in perpetuity for public recreation and enjoyment. It is important to say, in considering the Bill, that the City Corporation has acquitted itself of that responsibility throughout the years in an entirely satisfactory manner and with impeccable regard for the obligation laid upon it by the 1878 Act.
There exist in respect of Epping Forest some ancient rights of common, whereby commoners have the right to exercise the grazing of their animals upon the open waste lands of the forest. These rights of common were reaffirmed by the Act of 1878 and defined in terms, but the exercise of these rights has, in recent years, led to a succession of complaints. The operations of a relatively few active commoners in turning out cattle to graze upon open land has led to widespread complaints in the vicinity of Epping Forest about the depredations of these cattle, which wander away from the forest into the adjacent urban areas, which, since 1878, have become—especially in the southern part of the area of the forest, where most of the grazing land lies-densely built-up and densely populated areas, traversed not only by main roads which bear an increasingly high flow of traffic but also by roads which are appropriate to the urban areas themselves.
I emphasise that this wandering of cattle is not only on to the main roads that carry main line road traffic; on frequent occasions these cattle, being unattended and unaccompanied by any herdsman, wander deeply into the urban parts of the adjacent areas, invading the gardens of private householders. There have been numerous complaints of 286 damage not only to lawns, flowers and flowerbeds, but also to fences and bushes, and also complaints of quite serious losses by a number of householders who have been subjected to this nuisance.
Many complaints have also been made about the dangers on the roads, with the increasing flow of motor traffic in modern times. These complaints have been voiced and ventilated to the City Corporation itself, to the local authorities in the vicinity of the forest, and to the police, and have been reflected over a very long time in the correspondence columns of the local newspapers. I go so far as to say that to deny—as one body of objectors has—that any kind of nuisance is created by the straying animals is to fly in the face of the accumulated evidence of such complaints as have come from every one of the districts to which I have already referred.
On 20th February, 1959, I had the opportunity, on a Private Member's Motion, of initiating a debate on the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land, published in 1958. I then took the opportunity to refer to this problem in the area of Epping Forest and sought to ventilate the grievances of the many complainants whose complaints have come to my notice. In the course of that debate I was supported by further evidence of a similar kind by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey)—who had himself had a dossier of such complaints before I became a Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) and the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison).
In the course of that debate Sir Harold Webbe, then a Member both of this House and of the City Corporation, announced that the Corporation had concluded an agreement with the commoners, whereby the latter would voluntarily restrict the exercise of their rights of common and would accept certain conditions for regulating that exercise in the future. This was done with a desire to minimise the problem which had arisen in these urban areas.
The agreement contemplated that no cattle at all should be let out to graze upon forest land for the three winter months from the end of December to the end of March; that in the northern part 287 of the forest area, north of the line Chingford Lane, they should always be herded when they were released for grazing, and in the southern part they should always be tethered. Accompanying these conditions was an undertaking by the City Corporation to cultivate and fertilise the main grasslands so that they might thereby deter the cattle from straying too far afield.
I think I am right in saying that hon. Members who, with myself, raised this matter in the debate, welcomed this announcement. We were willing to wait to see how it worked out in practice. We were all of the same mind that we would infinitely prefer a solution of this problem along the lines of a voluntary agreement which did not involve the abrogation of the ancient common rights. We did so particularly bearing in mind the words which Sir Harold Webbe used in his contribution to the debate. I quote from HANSARD of 20th February, 1959. Having outlined the steps which I have summarised Sir Harold went on to say:I believe that they will prove to be adequate. If they are not adequate, further restrictions may have to be imposed, but I am quite certain that the City Corporation will not seek legal powers to enforce the restriction of the commoners' rights until every possibility of getting the nuisance dealt with by voluntary arrangements of this kind has been exhausted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 706.]It is a matter of great regret that this agreement broke down in practice. I do not think that I am going too far when I say that it was never really implemented. I do not want to go into the reasons. Various reasons have been put forward by the commoners themselves why they were unable to comply with these conditions. One was the difficulty of engaging herdsmen for the task. In consequence of this breakdown complaints from scores of householders and public authorities in the area of the forest have been intensified, and the depredations by these cattle still go on up to this day.
At one stage certain of the local authorities were contemplating joint action for the promotion of legislation which would have entirely extinguished the rights of commoners. Everyone was loath to contemplate that extreme step. Consultations took place with the City Corporation. Pressure was exerted on the 288 Corporation to do something positive to remove this nuisance and this danger in the area of the forest. To the City Corporation it appeared that there were three choices before it. It could abolish the common rights which, as I say, everyone was loath to contemplate, or it could fence in the forest so that cattle should be kept inside. That was an impracticable proposition either on the question of cost or by reference to the statutory obligation of the City Corporation to preserve the forest for the enjoyment and recreation of the public at large. Quite clearly, any such large-scale fencing would have denied free access by the ordinary public to a large part of the forest.
Thus, the decision of the Corporation, taken reluctantly, was that the only way of proceeding was by way of legislation restrictive upon the exercise of these rights. Thus this Bill which is before the House tonight, which in Part II proposes that as from 1st January, 1963, all animals put out to graze on forest lands in the exercise of these rights of common shall be tethered and that the commoners shall be entitled to monetary compensation for such restriction on their rights as involves loss, subject to the conditions specified in the Bill.
There is included in the Bill machinery for arbitration to determine upon disputed claims. This Bill in its present form has the specific support by resolution of the local authorities of the Boroughs of West Ham, East Ham, Walthamstow, Leyton and the Urban District of Chigwell. Only one authority in the area, Wanstead and Woodford, has specifically gone on record in opposition to the provisions of the Bill, although I venture to say, with the utmost respect, that the attitude on the part of that authority does not appear by the evidence which is available both to the City Corporation and in the columns of the local Press to reflect the universal feeling of the citizens of that borough.
To put the matter into perspective, I point out that the number of active commoners, which has never been more than thirty-five in the whole course of the last thirty years, is today twenty-five, only seven of whom exercise their right in respect of the grazing of cattle. The rest do so only for the purpose of 289 grazing horses and ponies. As a matter of self-interest, the owners of those animals ensure that their horses and ponies are tethered. Thus they will not be in any way adversely affected by the provisions of this Bill.
I turn to consider some of the matters and objections which have been voiced to the proposals of this Bill. First, I refer to the Report on the Bill by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Chairman has quite properly and appropriately called attention to other private Bills dealing with the question of common land in other parts of the country, which have been brought forward since the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission. Those Bills have been either withdrawn or rejected because of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, because it has been thought inappropriate, perhaps, to anticipate general legislation based on the Report of the Royal Commission or that private legislation was an inappropriate way of dealing with problems of the kind instanced by those recommendations.
In this instance similar apprehensions or possible implications do not arise. In this Bill there is no proposal, nor is there lurking any intention, to alienate the common land from the use and enjoyment of the general public. The Bill is confined to the limited problem which I have outlined in its relation to Epping Forest where, I submit, by reason of the growth of urbanisation of a large part of the surrounding area a great deal of which, by the way, is within the scheduled area of the Greater London Plan—special circumstances obviously arise because of the heavily built-up character of the area.
I understand that the only prospect of early legislation following the Report of the Royal Commission—here I have no doubt that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be able to confirm my understanding of the situation—is legislation to provide for machinery for the registration of common rights, a process which is expected to last for five years. That particular aspect need give rise to no concern about the common rights of Epping Forest being involved, for those commoners are easily 290 ascertainable and registration represents no real problem. Beyond that, if this Bill, or any other solution, were deferred while awaiting legislation on the whole ambit of the Royal Commission's Report, that could be done only at the risk of intensifying the difficulties to which I have alluded.
Turning to some of the objections, it has been argued that this Bill will destroy the rural character of the neighbourhood of Epping Forest, that it is after all very pleasant to be able to contemplate cattle roaming in the forest. If that were all that were involved I do not think for a moment that I should be pressing this Bill on the attention of the House. The point at issue is not cattle roaming in the forest but the fact that they do not confine themselves in their unattended state to the forest but wander into urban areas. Whatever rights of grazing of forest land may exist, they should not be exercised at the expense of the rights of many more individuals in respect of property and safety of limb on the roads, where these wandering cattle have intensified the hazards to motorists.
It is argued that householders should fence against the common for their protection. It is argued that such a step would be a reasonable step for them to take in their own interests. The Royal Commission made it abundantly clear that there is no legal obligation on a private householder to fence against the common. Even if there were such an obligation, it is clear that the kind of fence which would be necessary to keep these cattle out would be wholly inappropriate to an ordinary dwelling-house.
It is argued, too, that the Bill presages the possibility of other encroachments on the public use and enjoyment of the forest. It is said that the Bill is to be regarded in a rather sinister light as the thin edge of the wedge. I affirm, with the full authority of the City Corporation, that the Corporation has no such purpose or intention and, indeed, would vigorously oppose any effort by any other body so to act in consequence of the passage of the Bill. It would in any case be entirely foreign to the whole history of the Corporation's custody of Epping Forest.
291 It is said that the tethering of animals in the manner proposed in the Bill will involve cruelty to them and that they will be exposed to the risk of irresponsible young people harassing them when they are tethered. There is nothing strange about the tethering of cattle. I gather that it is done in other countries. I know that it is done in Guernsey. In any event, I cannot imagine anything more cruel than the present practice of turning out these cattle to wander unattended, at the mercy of irresponsible youngsters, who hound and harass them and force them, often enough, in considerable numbers on to busy highways where they get mixed up with the congested traffic, to the danger of motorists and themselves. I am given to understand that it is not unusual for the keepers to come across the body of a luckless animal which has been in collision with a motor vehicle on the road and crawled away to the in some obscure thicket.
It is also argued that these cattle make a contribution to keeping down the growth of the forest and that, if this right were removed or limited, it would be to the disadvantage of the forest and, therefore, affect the enjoyment of the forest's delights by the public. I am informed that only 223 cattle are at present involved. If anyone wants to raise the issue of the impact of the Bill upon the country's milk supply, permit me to say that, according to my information, not more than three cows have been detected in Epping Forest in the exercise of these common rights in the last three years. For the greater part, they are a collection of bullocks. In any event, 1 am authoritatively informed that the numbers concerned do not make any sensible contribution to the well-being of the forest. I am told that it would require more than 2,000 head of cattle to do that job effectively and that for this purpose the City Corporation has had to rely upon mechanical means, which can be readily extended to meet whatever small deficiency the removal of these cattle will bring about.
Valid and serious objection has been taken to the proviso in Clause 8, which would limit the compensation to be paid to the commoners to an overall total of £30,000. I am authorised to say that, if the Bill is given a Second 292 Reading, the Corporation will ask leave of the Committee to delete this proviso. I hope that those who feel—I accept this point—that it is an objectionable proviso because it is entirely unprecedented in legislation of this kind will be assuaged by this information. In any case, assured on this point, the few active commoners who originally lodged a petition against the Bill have now withdrawn their petition. This is an important and significant factor in the consideration of the Bill.
For the rest, the provisions in Part III deal with a number of miscellaneous matters of relatively minor importance which I do not think are contentious in themselves and with which, therefore, I will not weary the House in detail. Any point at issue upon them can well be dealt with in Committee. I believe that the major and most important part of the Bill, namely the provisions in Part II, provide the real and sensible solution in all the circumstances to what has become for hundreds of householders an intolerable nuisance, entirely out of keeping with modern conditions and requirements in an urban area. I believe that the Bill will remove a source of considerable annoyance, damage, loss and danger in a way which I believe to be wholly fair and equitable to the few commoners concerned. I commend the Bill to the approval of the House.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) has given the House a very clear exposition of the purposes of the Bill. As time is limited, I shall speak for only a few minutes on Part II. Epping Forest means much to my constituents and to the constituents of my colleagues sitting round me. Verderers of the forest are among my constituents. We value the forest, its amenities and its traditions. So does the City Corporation, which has sponsored the Bill. The record of the Corporation, which has been so tenacious of the traditions of the forest and zealous and jealous for its amenities, should give the House confidence in the Bill.
We would all have wished that the object could have been secured by voluntary agreement and without the necessity 293 for paying compensation. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West explained, the proposals outlined by Sir Harold Webbe in the debate on common land in February, 1959, did not succeed. We want to preserve the forest, but, speaking for very many of my constituents, we want also to preserve the life and limbs of our people.
I have in my hand a formidable return of accidents resulting from cattle straying from the forest land on to the highways. These are only accidents which wore reported to the police between 1st January, 1959, and 15th March, 1962. Taking the accidents within my constituency in Loughton and Buckhurst Hill, there were 14 collisions with, and accidents caused by, straying deer; eight such accidents were caused by cattle, and one by a horse.
We are sometimes told about the possible cruelty of animals involved in the provisions of the Bill, but I wish that any person advancing that argument could see some of the horrible injuries and suffering which have been occasioned to deer and cattle as a result of accidents. They also stray into shopping streets and residential areas, wreaking havoc with the lawns and flower beds of the citizens.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
My hon. Friend mentioned deer. I am very interested in this. There is nothing in the Bill to restrict the movement of deer.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am sorry if I strayed from cattle. I do not think that it matters for the purposes of the Bill, but there is provision for a deer sanctuary.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has slipped. He would agree with me, if he went to the forest, that the deer do not often come out into the residential areas. They stay within the forest. They are not to be seen on the roads.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I was just quoting from the return of accidents, and I thought it only fair to mention that deer were also involved, but that does not make it any the less desirable to provide for the tethering of cattle. I believe that Part II of the Bill will reduce serious road accidents without causing 294 any damage to the character and enjoyment of the forest, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I have listened very carefully to what has so far been said, but, as you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, I am opposed to the Second Reading of the Bill, and there is on the Order Paper an Amendment in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends asking the House to refuse to give it a Second Reading.
In putting down that Amendment, we have been actuated not so much by the specific argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Waltham-stow, West (Mr. Redhead) in relation to what is in the Bill, but by two motives, one general and one specific—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry, but I should have said that I was not proposing to select the hon. Member's reasoned Amendment, because he can say what he wants to say without that being done.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker.
With the leave of the House, I shall content myself by saying that I am not particularly concerned with the merits or demerits of the Epping Forest proposals but, as a frequenter of the forest over a great many years, I have enjoyed its amenities, and I regret that the City Corporation should have found itself reluctantly compelled to seek statutory power to do what everyone had hoped might have been done by voluntary agreement.
I object to the Second Reading on two grounds. First, there is a question of principle. As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the whole question of London government is in the melting pot. We have debated the proposals contained in the Government's White Paper, on which there has been a division of opinion. One thing to which all my hon. Friends object is the recommendation of the Royal Commission, endorsed by the Government, that the special powers of the City of London should be preserved.
We think that in any reform of London government, whether in the way proposed by the Government or in any 295 other way, it is an anachronism to preserve those special powers of the Corporation. We think that if the London County Council is to be abolished because it is regarded as out of date, a fortiori the City Council is an anachronism, and its preservation cannot be justified in any reform of London government.
Consistently with that view, therefore, it seems to me to be quite impossible for any of my hon. Friends to support a Measure which gives additional powers to the City Corporation. When we examine the proposals for London government, which we shall get next Session, we shall no doubt have a number of Amendments aimed, if not at the abolition of the City Corporation as it now is and functions, at a complete redistribution of its functions so that the City is merged with various other Metropolitan boroughs in some sensible scientific form of London government. When we get to that stage, we shall have to consider what Parliament should do about some of the functions now exercised by the City Corporation, whether with regard to Epping Forest, markets, bridges, or anything else.
Whatever may be the history of the City—and I have as much affection for its historic association as have other hon. Members—that does not, in my view, justify the retention of the special powers and privileges of the City Corporation. Until that reform of London government has taken place, it is completely inconsistent for any of my hon. Friends to support a Bill which gives the City Corporation any additional powers—
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
Does that mean that my hon. Friend is arguing that, meanwhile, whatever alterations there may be in the prospective reorganisation of local government in London, the existing authorities should not exercise a sense of responsibility for their citizens?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I certainly think that they should, but, at the outset of the consideration of the Bill, it is important to put it in the context of the pending general reform of London government.
I therefore think that it is a mistake in approach for us to do anything 296 which is based on the tacit acceptance of the view that the powers of the City Corporation, as they existed in the past, will continue to exist. As we are promised legislation on this subject next year, I think that this question of Epping Forest, and the other questions raised in the Bill, can quite well wait another year. I should have hoped that, as a matter of principle, I should have had the support of all my hon. Friends who oppose the Government's proposals for the retention of the City of London Corporation as a separate unit of local government.
That is my first point. Now, we all regret, Mr. Speaker, that your own position in the Chair renders it impossible for you to speak in this debate on behalf of your constituents, but the fact that the City of London has such a distinguished representative in this House cannot, of course, inhibit us—and I am sure that you will be the last to wish any of us to be so inhibited—from expressing the kind of criticism that we feel it our duty to express.
My second and specific reason for objecting to the Bill being given a Second Reading is that it omits to make any provision for dealing with the Caledonian Market site. The Caledonian Market site is of very great interest and concern to the inhabitants of the Borough of Islington. That site consists of 29 acres in one of the most favoured parts of the borough as seen in its natural setting, because it stands at the top of a ridgeway, with glorious views both to the east and the west, overlooking various parts of London. That site has been derelict for over twenty years—apart from four acres which have been used for abattoirs.
I need hardly remind the House that, with the exception of Shoreditch, the Borough of Islington has less open space per 1,000 of its population than has any other London borough. In addition, there is in Islington, as in nearly every other London borough, a great housing shortage. It has been a running sore to the people of Islington that, in their own borough, 29 valuable acres have been deserted, derelict, unused for a period of over twenty years, at a time when the borough is screaming for additional houses, and for open spaces so that the children of the borough may be kept off 297 the streets and have some playgrounds in attractive surroundings.
Had those 29 acres belonged to any ordinary individual, the borough council or the London County Council would have taken power to acquire them by issuing compulsory purchase orders. Unfortunately, one local authority cannot exercise compulsory-power-order jurisdiction over land belonging to another local authority. Therefore, Islington Borough Council has been unable to do anything about this without the co-operation of the City Corporation. I regret to say that we have not had that co-operation.
It was only a few years ago that the City Corporation promoted a Bill one of the objects of which was to seek power to move the present Covent Garden Market to the Caledonian Market site in Islington, or, at any rate, to use part of the Caledonian site for some of the purposes of the Covent Garden Market. I am happy to say that, as a result of the determined protests of my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) and Islington, Southwest (Mr. A. Evans), we were able to scotch that monstrous project and that no longer is there any risk of any part of Covent Garden being moved to the Caledonian Market site. We have been able to save it for the purposes of housing and open spaces, for which it is ideally situated.
The reason given by the City Corporation for not having done the ordinary and sensible thing of releasing this land to Islington Borough Council is, I understand, that the City could use four acres of it as abattoirs. That, I understand, is the reason given by the City Corporation and the explanation which has prevented the borough council from using the land sensibly, instead of it remaining derelict. It is true, and anyone going down York Road will be aware, that one frequently sees cattle being driven from the terminus at King's Cross to these abattoirs to be slaughtered. I have been urging for years that this practice should be stopped and that the abattoirs should be removed and the whole 29 acres released.
A few years ago the City Corporation suggested putting up a limited number of houses on a site adjacent to the 298 abattoirs, but although the people of Islington are desperately short of housing accommodation there is a limit to what they will stand. They were not prepared to have houses put up adjacent to the abattoirs. The L.C.C. objected to it on planning grounds. We have been asking for years that the area should be cleared and used for housing purposes, but what has happened? Having removed the Covent Garden menace, there were certain negotiations between the Court of Common Council and the L.C.C—and the Cattle Markets Committee of the Corporation was authorised to conduct negotiations with the trade. A time limit, to 30th June, 1960, was set by the Court of Common Council for the completion of these negotiations. That date has been passed by a period of eighteen months and nothing has been done.
For that reason some of my hon. Friends and I were amazed to find that this Bill, promoted by the City Corporation, made no provision whatever for the removal of these abattoirs. I am not content to support the Second Reading unless we have an absolute and categorical assurance that, not later than next Session, specific proposals will be made either for the removal of the abattoirs or for their abandonment. There is no need for the City Corporation to provide abattoirs. There is certainly no need for them to do so in Islington. The provision of slaughterhouses by local authorities—whether the City Corporation, or any other local authority—is a purely permissive matter. There is no statutory obligation on a local authority to provide abattoirs. Anyone can provide them if he can get the necessary planning consent.
It is monstrous that the well-being, health and welfare of the inhabitants of Islington should have been sacrificed all these years because the City Corporation wanted to use these four acres in Islington as abattoirs and, thereby, sterilise the whole of the 29 acres. It should have been made clear, not only in 1960 but years ago, that these abattoirs should be removed so that a sensible, comprehensive plan could have been worked out by the borough council in conjunction with the L.C.C. for the replanning of the area. The L.C.C. has already—I believe with the consent of the Minister, 299 who has shown great interest in this matter—adopted a redevelopment plan which does permit of a large number of houses, a new school and a large area of open space.
That brings me to the question of finance, because I understand that there have been certain financial discussions on this topic. This matter should be brought into the open because many of my constituents complain of the exorbitant rents they have to pay. They also complain, of course—as do local authorities, including the L.C.C.—that one of the reasons why council tenants are charged high rents is the high cost of land. About twelve to fifteen years ago land in Islington was being sold for about £7,000 an acre. Comparable land in Islington today, as a result of the vicious inflation of land values in London, has risen, comparing like with like, to £50,000 an acre.
The last thing I want to find is that in any financial negotiation the Borough of Islington, or the inhabitants of the borough, are penalised in any way with regard to the cost that may have to be paid, one way or another, as a result of this inflation. It would be monstrous for the City Corporation even to contemplate benefiting through its own inequality and neglect and attempting to evaluate these 29 acres of the Caledonian Market site at today's value when, if the Corporation had done its duty, the land could have been transferred to Islington Borough Council twenty years ago for about one-seventh of its present value.
But the matter goes further than that. I hope that it will be conceded, as a matter of commonsense, that once these filthy abattoirs are removed from the fair Borough of Islington, and once the City Corporation has removed its scrubby hands from this site, this area of land will be recognised for what it is.
§ Mr. Percivall Pott (Devizes)
The hon. Member is talking about a scrubby area. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hands."] He must be fully aware that this comes under a health authority, which has never raised any objections to the abattoirs and the way in which they are run.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am not objecting to the way they are run. I am asking for their removal from the Borough of 300 Islington. It has been conceded for a long time, and urged by the L.C.C. and the Islington Borough Council, that they should be removed. There is no case for their being in Islington.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I know quite a lot about this matter. It would be wrong for the House to have the impresson that the City is not, in conjunction with the L.C.C., doing everything possible to find an alternative site for the abattoirs. As I understand, the City is prepared to grant the free use of this land to the L.C.C. and Islington, provided the L.C.C. is prepared to face up to the cost of building the abattoirs.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I was talking about the cost, and one of the ingredients in the cost is what value will be placed on this land. It is all very well to hear what the L.C.C. intends to do, but the L.C.C. is to be abolished.
§ Mrs. Corbet
The whole point of my interruption was that, under the agreed terms, no value will be placed on that land. It could go free of charge to the authority which is prepared to develop it. The L.C.C. agreed long ago to bear the abattoir costs.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The House will have noticed this alliance between the City Corporation and the L.C.C. It is my duty to say what I think should be done in the interests of the people of Islington.
It is a scandal that 29 acres of land in Islington should have been left derelict for so long. It is high time that these abattoirs were removed and these 29 acres made available—I would say preferably to the Islington Borough Council, but certainly to some local authority—for sensible development. I am not at all sure that any compensation is properly payable by the Islington Borough Council or by the L.C.C. for the removal of these abattoirs. I want the abattoirs removed or abandoned and this land given to the Borough of Islington for its rightful purposes.
These are matters ultimately for Parliament to decide. As I was saying, before long we shall have a Bill dealing with the whole reorganisation of London. The present proposal is that the Boroughs of Islington and Finsbury should be merged. My hon. Friends say that there is no possible case for 301 the retention of the City of London as a separate local authority. The City of London is contiguous to the Borough of Finsbury, which, as I say, is to be merged with the Borough of Islington. I have no objection to the City of London being merged with Finsbury and Islington so as to form one sensible local government unit, in which case all these problems about compensation between the City and the Islington Borough Council and the L.C.C. would disappear.
It does not seem to me that it can make sense, in any reconsideration of London government, for one local authority, and, in particular, the richest and most privileged local authority in the country, because 100 years ago it had a pedlars' market where the Caledonian Market now stands together with a few abattoirs, to deprive the Borough of Islington indefinitely of its right to use that valuable site for a sensible purpose.
§ Mr. Pott
The hon. Gentleman is talking as though the borough market was part of Islington. It is not, never has been and never will be. I know that the hon. Gentleman would like the Borough of Islington to take over the land and to put it to another use, but he must face the fact that this area belongs to the Corporation of the City of London. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to take it over—there would be great opposition if he tried to do so—he must take it over at valuation. There must be no wishful thinking on his part that he can "pinch" a valuable area from the great Corporation of the City of London because it suits his local taxpayers.
§ Mr. Fletcher
This shows us where we are getting to. I contest every word of what the hon. Gentleman says. First, he denied that this land is part of Islington. It certainly is part of Islington and ought to be part of Islington.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The hon. Gentleman does not know his history. This is an integral part of the Borough of Islington. It was only in 1850 that this House gave the City Corporation certain powers with regard to it. But, just as this House gave the City Corporation certain rights with regard to that 29 acres in 1850 or thereabouts, today this House can take 302 those rights away. It is for this House to decide what is right, equitable and just. If the hon. Gentleman argues that because the City Corporation is a wealthy, privileged, unique unit of local government, and because it was given 29 acres in Islington 100 years ago or more, it is now right and just that the impoverished Borough of Islington should have to pay some inflated value for this land to the wealthy City Corporation, that seems to me to be monstrous. I do not understand how any argument like that could be adduced in this House.
I gave way to listen patiently to the interjection of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) and I want to reply to it. I stress that it is for this House to decide what should be done. That is why there will be a Bill for the reform of London's government and that is why I object in principle when the powers of a local authority are arraigned. Any local authority, whether it be the City Corporation or any other authority, is not entitled to something as of right and for ever. The argument for the reform of London government is based on the assumption that common sense, equity, justice and sound local government require that some changes should take place. In any change which takes place, these 29 acres, which admittedly are now redundant for a pedlars' market and for abattoirs because abattoirs in the middle of Islington are regarded as unhealthy should be restored to the Borough Council. No question of compensation arises.
§ Mr. Pott
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The fact is that by Statute the 29 acres about which we are speaking happen to fall in one local authority's area. To demand that they should be in some other area is justifiable, but to suggest that they should be returned to Islington without the payment of compensation is complete nonsense. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he is talking complete nonsense when he says that Islington has a right to these 29 acres. It has no more right to them than the man in the moon. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that by Statute they belong to somebody. The hon. Gentleman can argue that the right to them should be 303 transferred—I am not arguing that point—but that is not dealt with in the Bill. The Bill has nothing to do with the transfer of local government rights.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is precisely because the Bill does not deal with that matter that I object to the Bill. The only respect in which I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that this is a matter for Parliament to decide, but I assert that there is a principle of justice in the realm of local government law that if 29 acres in Islington were allotted to the City Corporation 100 years ago for a purpose which has become obsolete, that does not justify the City Corporation in claiming as of right compensation at an inflated value which is the result of its dereliction of duty.
This matter is worrying my constituents. They come to me every week and say, "We are on the housing list. Why cannot we have somewhere to live? Why are not houses put on the 29 acres in Caledonian Market?" Am I to say to them, "That land does not belong to the Islington Borough Council. It belongs to a neighbouring, friendly local authority which has special privileges and which, although you are living in slum, overcrowded and insanitary conditions, is entitled to deprive you of houses and to stop the borough council and the L.C.C. putting up houses there. It is entitled to sit on that land for twenty years and see its theoretical value inflated year by year. It is then entitled to stop the borough council from erecting houses on it unless it first pays the wealthy Corporation a fancy price so that you poor people, who have nowhere to live, will have to pay an exorbitant rent."?
If that is the argument of the City Corporation, I am very glad that we now have it on record. To me, it seems monstrous. It is because it is implicit in what the hon. Member has said that my constituents in Islington feel so aggrieved about the subject that they have asked me to take the opportunity presented by the Bill to ventilate this grievance and to protest most vehemently on their behalf about this attitude.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has certainly shown 304 himself a master of the non sequhur. There appear to be two arguments that he advances against giving the Bill a Second Reading. The first is that he envisages the disappearance of the City Corporation. I understood, however, that his party was opposing the reorganisation of London local government. It seems curious to want to have it both ways. If one is opposing reorganisation, the City of London Corporation will remain in the foreseeable future and, presumably, the very real advantages of the Bill should be put into effect as soon as possible. The same is true even if the City Corporation is to be done away with.
If the most able presentation by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) was correct, the Bill appears to be highly necessary in connection with Epping Forest and the commoners. What can be gained by putting off the passage of the Bill by objecting that other provisions which cannot now be put into it are not present, I fail to see.
In addition, the hon. Member for Islington, East might have been a little more frank had he disclosed to the House that in a letter to him dated 23rd March, the City Corporation disclosed that theyhave decided to seek powers in the next session of Parliament to dismarket the market land at Islington and to close the abattoir. If these proposals are approved by Parliament the site will thereafter be freed and made available by the Corporation for housing and other purposes.I am told that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has been informed of that plan by the City Corporation. In those circumstances, is it not clear that, while the hon. Member has made his point for the benefit of his constituents, it is hopelessly irrelevant to the Bill and it would be a disgrace if the Bill were held up for a moment on that account?
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
I am sure that the whole House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) for the clear and reasonable way in which he has commended the Bill, although, as I shall seek to show, his speech seemed to contain a good deal of special pleading.
305 My hon. Friend made it clear that the substance of the Bill is contained in Part II dealing with Epping Forest and Chat the miscellaneous provisions contained in Part III have been added as a sort of make-weight because the opportunity of presenting a Private Bill has arisen. I shall, therefore, direct my remarks to Part II of the Bill.
I shall deal with some of the points which my hon. Friend made during his speech, but his case would have been much more powerful if he could have shown that the attitude which he has taken today and the case which he submitted to the House had been put as powerfully before the Royal Commission on Common Land when it considered the memorandum from the City Corporation and heard witnesses in support of it. The witnesses supporting the City memorandum at that time took a very different attitude on some of the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred.
Secondly, my hon. Friend sounded what, I thought, was a rather triumphant note to the effect that the City Corporation had been able to "square" the present commoners who would withdraw their opposition. I remind him that it was precisely because, a century ago, the lords of the manor in the forest and the commoners were "squared" so consistently to the detriment of the public interest that the agitation started which eventually led to the City Corporation itself taking over the forest and being given statutory authority by the Epping Forest Act, 1878.
Before I proceed further, I support what my hon. Friend has said about the work which the City Corporation has done under that Act and the real sense in which they have been conservators of the forest. They have a distinguished record in this respect and it is, therefore, with some reluctance that I find myself opposed to the Bill that they are now promoting.
In the past, Parliament has frequently passed Private Bills affecting forests and commons in a variety of ways which I need not particularise. It is, however, equally true—and this is germane to the debate—that since the Royal Commission on Common Land reported in July, 1958, Parliament has taken a quite different attitude. The position is that 306 except in a few cases where common land has had to be acquired for existing statutory purposes, Parliament has not permitted such Bills to proceed.
Let me give one or two examples. In the Session of 1958–59, the St. Neots Urban District Council promoted the St. Neots Urban District Council (Commons) Bill to provide for the regulation of that common. That is a precedent which is relevant to the present Measure. Although there was in that case only one petitioner against the Bill and not several, as in the present case, the Committee made a special Report in which it said that it considered that the wide issues of general principle raised by the Bill should not be settled by means of private legislation having regard to the then recent Report of the Royal Commission. In view of that Report from the Committee, the Bill was rejected.
Again in the 1958–59 Session, the Plymouth Corporation submitted the Plymouth Corporation (Harrowbeer Aerodrome) Bill, in which it sought to provide for the establishment of an aerodrome on land which formed part of Roborough Common and for that purpose to authorise compulsory acquisition of the land and the extinguishment of common rights thereover. That Bill, which was introduced in another place, was referred to a Select Committee there and was rejected.
I mention those two Bills because they are referred to by the Chairman of Ways and Means in the Report which he made to the House under Standing Order No. 85 on 12th March last, to which my hon. Friend has referred. I ask the House to note the reasons why he did so. It was because he was of the opinion that there were special circumstances in so far asno Private Bill whose main object was to regulate common land has been passed by Parliament since the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land was made in 1958.In connection with that Report, I should like to make particular reference to the last paragraph in it. There, the Chairman pointed out that no question of acquiring common land arose and he suggested that since the forest was virtually surrounded by built-up areas, it must clearly involve special problems which may not be of general application.
307 On that, I hope it will not be regarded as out of order if I point out that the reference to the question of compulsory acquisition of land was quite unnecessary as it is irrelevant in the present case. While the Royal Commission came to the view that common land should be preserved in the public interest, it is clear that the need from time to time to develop common land for specific statutory purposes will continue to be necessary. What is important, and what I wish to emphasise, is that the special Report of the Committee on the St. Neots Bill to which I have referred clearly was of the view that the regulation of commons ought not to be settled by private legislation. That, however, is precisely what the City Corporation is seeking to do with the present Measure.
It is true to say that in dealing with private legislation the House tries to hold the scales evenly between all those who come to seek powers from it. In my view, to allow the present Measure to proceed with the part dealing with Epping Forest would create a situation in which there was one law for the rich City Corporation and another for the smaller St. Neots Urban District Council.
On the general objections to the Measure, I should like to add this. On 20th February, 1959, as my hon. Friend himself has said, the House passed the following resolution on the Motion of my hon. Friend:That this House welcomes the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land and subject to points of detail upon which further consultations may be deemed expedient, urges Her Majesty's Government to give early consideration to the recommendations of the Commission and to announce its intentions thereon.No doubt, we shall hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary what progress has been made. I think that it is true that those further consultations have been taking place and that progress has been made towards the legislation which eventually will be presented to this House. What I have said constitutes, I think, a fairly substantial case on general grounds against conceding the present Measure.
One or two special points were brought forward by my hon. Friend 308 upon which I ought to comment. Before doing so, I think that the House ought to remind itself what the Epping Forest Act, 1878, provided. There are three provisions in particular to which I should like to draw attention. Section 5 provides thatAll rights of common of pasture … as they exist at the passing of this Act, shall continue, without prejudice, nevertheless, to the provisions of this Act…Section 7 provides thatThe Conservators "—that is, the City Corporation—shall at all times keep Epping Forest unin-closed and unbuilt on, as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public …Section 9 provides thatSubject to the provisions of this Act, the public shall have the right to use Epping Forest as an open space for recreation and enjoyment.I think that it is, therefore, very clear from all these provisions that this is not merely a matter to be settled as between the City Corporation and the commoners, but that there is a public interest which in fact affects the whole population in the Greater London area.
The proposal is that as from 1st January next an animal shall not be turned out in the forest unless it is tethered. I am informed by people who have practical knowledge and experience that it is, in fact, impracticable to tether animals in the forest. If it is argued that this is being done in a number of cases in respect of horses, as referred to by my hon. Friend, these are, I am informed, cases in which single horses are tethered near the commoner's holding. The majority of the animals grazing in the forest are cattle, and if they were to be tethered they would need constant moving and watering. As my hon. Friend remarked, there are no herdsmen available for this purpose.
One of the likely results of the cessation of grazing is that the forest will become overgrown with scrub birch and thorn, making it, in parts, quite impenetrable and useless to the public for recreation purposes. I understand that a method of keeping the forest clear has not yet been devised which is as effective as grazing.
Witnesses who attended upon the Commission in support of the memorandum put in by the City Corporation 309 referred to this point in their evidence. For example, the late Lieut.-Colonel Edward N. Buxton, who was a very familiar figure in his time in Epping Forest, and a verderer, and who was very interested in the protection of all public rights, in reply to a question from a member of the Commission as to whether he would like to see a fairly big increase in the agricultural use of the forest, replied, in paragraph 2536:Yes, in the use for grazing. It is pathetic not to have the amount of grazing we had before.The view which I have expressed about the undergrowth was confirmed by Colonel Chappell, another witness, and also a verderer, who stated:The clearings in the forest are in fact being very much invaded by birch and thorn as a result of the reduction in cattle numbers.On both these points, this is the evidence submitted on behalf of the City Corporation, which certainly does not tally with the case put forward by my hon. Friend.
The second basis of the Bill is the alleged inconvenience and damage to adjoining occupiers. On this aspect, I would suggest that this consideration cannot justify the curtailment of well-established grazing rights. Most of these occupiers, to whom my hon. Friend referred, occupy buildings on land which, in the past, was enclosed out of the waste and in respect of which they are liable, from a commonsense point of view if not from a legal point of view, to fence against the common, particularly as one must remember that these people have the benefit of the openness of the common and the rural surroundings on their very doorsteps.
The third leg of the case submitted by my hon. Friend is the danger to traffic. In this case, I submit that only an over-riding necessity with regard to possible traffic danger could justify the severe curtailment of the commoners' rights of grazing. The figures of road accidents do not establish that stray animals are the cause of a significant number of accidents. The City Corporation itself dealt with this point in its evidence to the Royal Commission on Common Land. Perhaps I might read the relevant part of that memorandum. It said, in paragraph 19 (iv): 310It is desired to emphasise that the conditions of urbanisation and traffic now obtaining … do not of themselves constitute a criterion as to whether or not grazing rights in. and consequently the penetration of cattle into, those Parishes should be curtailed…The greater proportion of the whole of the Forest grazing land lies within these Parishes, to which the cattle enlarged upon the Forest are naturally attracted. The rights of inter-commonage are as valuable and important as ever they were. Intensification of road user and greater urbanisation have occurred side by side, and it is sometimes readily forgotten that the roads became established on, and cross common land, and the dwellings erected alongside common land.That, surely, is arguing that the occupiers of the land adjoining and the people who use the roads in the forest must take the common as they find it.
I conclude with a letter I have received from the Epping Forest Association. This says:If the Epping Forest cattle go, for that is what tethering will mean, the whole character of Epping Forest will be endangered by the proposal to keep it in order by mechanical means. Such means, we feel, will start by tidying and end by ruining the 6,000 acres of natural woodland adjacent to London.I hope that, in all the circumstances, hon. Members will scrutinise the Bill with considerable care, and that, even if they decide to give it a Second Reading, they will support the proposal to delete Part II, dealing with Epping Forest.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
I have often heard it said that one cannot raise any subject in the House without somebody having some peculiar and special knowledge. The hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) has been talking about verderers. I have been a verderer of Epping Forest. I am not at the moment because I do not live in the area. My great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather were verderers before me. My great-great-grand father was also a Member of this House.
My grandfather was not a verderer, because he was one of the wicked lords of the manor who were supposed to be fighting against the rights of commoners by enclosing Epping Forest. I cannot help feeling that my ancestors and their opponents—although they fought tremendous battles they were very often great friends with their opponents—both parties must be turning cart wheels—if that is the right expression to 311 use—with amusement to hear again in this House almost exactly the same arguments to destroy commoners' rights as those which led to the extinguishment of the lords of the manor in the long legal action which preceded the 1878 Act. That is remarkable.
I want to make one correction to the interesting document which the City Corporation has put out. The lords of the manor in those days were made by the Crown to buy out their rights at considerable cost. That is how they acquired the position they did. That fact is left out sometimes when a lord of the manor is hung in effigy.
The lords of the manor set out to try to improve the amenities of the forest. They tried to reclaim land which had gone to seed and to make it bear fruit. Now, of course, we have to make it safe for traffic—which is the great thing to do these days. The wheel has turned full circle, and we see the City Corporation using similar arguments to those used by the people who tried to protect the lords of the manor's rights in the old days in 1870.
But times change. Old wrongs must be forgotten—with, I am afraid, old rights. But whatever happens, let us not forget that Epping Forest is not a park. It is a forest. I have been a verderer, and I know that the forest has been lovingly maintained as far as possible in its simple and natural state. The regeneration of trees has been done naturally. There was no planting in my day. This has been done to try to keep the forest in its old traditional, fascinating state.
However, even if times change I hope that we can keep the forest as it should be. I will not take an active part in the proceedings on this Bill, but it would have been mean for one of my name and family connections and with such links with the forest, to have refrained from speaking. I should like to wish the forest good fortune and good conservation in the future, and to thank, on behalf of all of us who have had something to do with Epping Forest, the City Corporation for the great work it has done.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I intervene for only a few minutes 312 because I wish to follow up a statement made by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), who is now, unfortunately, not in his place. He referred to the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that the City Corporation had given an assurance that the Metropolitan Cattle Market site would be freed in due course for housing and other social purposes.
It is indeed true that the Corporation has given that assurance. I have its letter in my hand now. It is from the Guildhall and it is signed by the City Remembrancer. It says:I am now in a position to inform you that the Corporation have decided to seek powers in the next Session of Parliament to dismarket the market land at Islington and to close the Abattoir. If these proposals are approved by Parliament the site will thereafter be freed and made available by the Corporation for housing and other purposes.That is all I have to say on this Bill. The assurance is satisfactory as fax as it goes. It proves that my hon. Friends and I were right in our persistence in this matter. It proves that one way to stimulate a possibly reactionary local council is to put down a Motion for an Instruction when its Private Bill is before this House.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I was feeling a little happy just now that the debate had moved from Islington and its slaughterhouses to Epping Forest. I spent many General Elections being slaughtered politically in Islington, and I was rather regretful about having to turn to that, even in debate.
I want to move to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Lewisharn, South (Mr. C. Johnson) on the question of commoners' rights in Epping Forest. Part II of the Bill is, as I see it, for the benefit of the motoring public. I see no good argument for this Bill in saying that there are a number of motorists who do not drive in such a way as to draw up within the length of their vision, and, therefore, run down the cattle in Epping Forest. That is not a good reason for the Bill, but I do not propose to argue it from that point of view.
If the Bill is for the benefit of motorists, and if it is for that benefit to take away the rights of owners, then 313 those rights should be propertly compensated. We have had many Public Bills lately in which, for the sake of traffic, or for the sake of car parking, those who have property rights have suffered. It is most commendable that the promoters of this Bill have proposed compensation for rights which they are proposing to take away. They set out the rights of the owners to compensation and a fair number of people are concerned. I understand that there are some 200 registered commoners. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Waltham-stow, West (Mr. Redhead) said there were twenty-five active commoners. I am not quite certain what he means by "active commoners". There are about 200 who have common rights. They may not exercise them, but they certainly have a right to exercise them. As he said, there are seven who really exercise those rights.
I am told that one of the graziers estimates the value of his rights of grazing there at £1,000 per annum. Therefore, it would not have been right to limit the amount of compensation payable, as was first attempted in this Bill and, indeed, is in the proviso to Clause 8. I do not know, I suppose no Member of the House knows, the exact value of the commoners' rights. Some of the rights may be of very small value; others, as I have indicated, may be of substantial value.
It is not right that we in this House should be called upon to value those rights here and now and to say that they shall not exceed £30,000. Once one puts a limit like that in a Bill those who are liable for paying compensation could allow the first claimant to have £29,999. It does not matter to those responsible for paying compensation how much they allow in one figure. They leave it for those claiming compensation to squabble it out among themselves. That would not have been a right principle to adopt, and I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West inform the House today that the promoters were prepared to withdraw that proviso. It is a proviso which has no precedent whatever, and it would have formed a very dangerous precedent for future Bills.
The promoters did have the courtesy to inform me beforehand of what the 314 hon. Gentleman was going to say. I am very glad that he has put it on record in this debate, and I would indicate to the House that, although I have a Motion on the Paper for an Instruction on this point to the Committee on the Bill, having regard to the assurance given by the hon. Gentleman for Walthamstow, West, I do not wish to move that Instruction.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to say just a few words in support of the Second Reading of the Bill for two main reasons. The first reason is that part of the forest, strangely enough comes within the northern part of my constituency. It must seem strange to think that the forest should stretch so far as West Ham, but, of course, Wanstead Flats is part of the forest and is in my constituency.
Another reason is that while I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that the City of London Corporation has a name for being very reactionary, and in many respects it is, I would inform him that my very first employer was the City of London Corporation. Therefore, to that extent I have to declare an interest. Moreover, my late father worked for over forty years for the City Corporation and drew a pension for over twenty-five years. My experience of the Corporation has been that on questions of general interest and in so far as it can treat its workers and staff on a fair and proper basis, it does so.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was going on to say further that it has always been as helpful as it possibly could to the users of the forest. I talk here not of those who graze their cattle, but of the ordinary working men and women and their children who have literally no other place in the East End of London to go, other than Wanstead Flats and Epping Forest. The Corporation has always done all it could to help to support the amenities of the forest and to see that they should not be interfered with.
I agree with hon. Members who have spoken about the safeguarding of the interests of the users of the forest. I accept that, but it is rather strange that, with one exception, each of the local 315 borough councils which has an interest has in fact come down not only in general terms but by actual resolution in favour of the Second Readng of the Bill and of Part II. I was rather surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) say what he did about the interest which is shown for the users of the forest. I did not think that Epping Forest stretched as far as Lewisham.
My own borough council has by resolution declared itself to be completely in favour of the Bill. Incidentally, one cannot say that my authority is under pressure from the City of London Corporation because—fortunately for West Ham—we have not got one single Conservative on our council. Nevertheless, in this instance the council supports the City Corporation.
There are other issues. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) spoke of the danger of traffic accidents involving cattle. That is quite true. The cattle not only wander into back gardens, damaging fences and other property, but they cause danger to children. Cattle wandering about can be frightening. When there is a mild stampede, young children become frightened, and women who take children out in prams to the Wanstead Flats area have complained about cattle coming right up to the prams and frightening the children.
There is also the rather annoying matter of the fouling of the Wanstead Flats area. Though objection can be made to dogs fouling the pavements, that is not so bad compared with the heavier fouling by cattle. In this East End part of London there is a very active and conscientious association called the Essex Playing Fields Association which, with the co-operation and assistance of the City Corporation, has gone out of its way to reseed and returf with fine grass the playing field areas on the Wanstead Flats to enable school children to play football matches on Saturday afternoons and to allow people there to enjoy the sight and use of decent grass areas rather than mud flats.
Naturally, the cattle find that here there is beautiful succulent young grass. Why should they worry about going into the depths of the forest when they can 316 wander on to the Wanstead Flats where they not only eat the grass but do damage to the turf with their hooves? I cannot see what harm can be done to the seven farmers who now claim that they will lose such a great deal. It is not too much to ask that the cattle should be tethered. Cattle are tethered in other parts of the world, and it is not impossible to make watering facilities available. Obviously the cattle would not be tethered within a yard or two. They could be allowed a reasonable amount of ground to graze without causing damage and difficulty to ordinary householders who often have no more than a little patch of green at the back of the house which they call their garden. Many of them work very hard over the weekend on the garden only to find the following weekend that the cattle have broken up the fences and eaten the shrubs. That is very annoying.
I agree with what was said about compensation. What about compensation for the people who have spent their last few shillings on buying a few bulbs or seeds, and who then find their gardens destroyed by cattle? No provision is made to compensate these people.
I commend the Bill to the House. I cannot for the life of me see why there should be any objection to it. If there were any question of interfering with the rights of ordinary people to use the forest, I would be the first to oppose the Bill, but as all the local authorities concerned with the exception of one have come down in favour of the Bill, I suggest that the House ought to give it a Second Reading.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
I support the Bill. The main and general case for it was so persuasively put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) that I think it merely remains for those who support the Bill to add evidence from their boroughs, and it is evidence from the Borough of East Ham that I wish to bring to the attention of the House.
My hon. Friend said, as did other hon. Members, that nearly all the local authorities directly affected by the Bill were in favour of it. I was aggrieved and surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that the exception was the Borough 317 of Wanstead and Woodford. He went on to say, however, that the borough was not expressing the unanimous point of view of the residents. I assure my hon. Friend that he is correct in that assertion, because I have direct evidence that some residents in that borough are very much behind the Bill because they suffer from the activities of wandering cattle, which it what we are discussing.
The Borough of East Ham has built the Aldersbrook Estate within the boundary of Wanstead and Woodford. The residents of that borough are our tenants, and on a number of occasions they have come to East Ham Town Hall to complain about cattle being a nuisance to them. Over a period of eighteen months no fewer than 10 cases were reported at the town hall. This may not seem a large number, but it must be remembered that we are marginal to Epping Forest, and authorities nearer to, or in the forest, must have had numerous complaints.
The Aldersbrook Estate to which I have referred is almost completely fenced off from anstead Flats, except for the entrance to the estate. This leads to the additional difficulty that on occasions cattle go through the entrance into the area of the estate and then have difficulty in finding their way out. This means that they roam around and cause damage in a comparatively restricted area for a considerable period of time. I understand that on the night of 23rd–24th January of this year no fewer than 25 cattle went into the area of the estate and caused a great deal of damage.
Those are the reasons why the tenants, through their association, have been getting together a petition in support of the City Corporation seeking the powers in the Bill, and it is on their behalf that I urge the House, despite the arguments put forward against it, and which certainly have not convinced me, to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
A good deal of time has passed since it could be said that while it was a crime to steal the goose from the common, it was not a crime to steal the common from the goose, and in recent decades, at any rate, we have all been very anxious to maintain commoners' 318 rights and to protect ancient rights in places like Epping Forest. I quite agree that it is proper that if those rights are deprived, there should be compensation for them. I further think that there should be interference with commoners' rights only where the case for the public advantage and public benefit in doing so is established to an overwhelming degree.
I think that case is made here, and I rise to support the Bill and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) on his most admirable explanation of the purposes of the Bill. I wish only to add one word to what my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) has said. It is a quaint occasion when both hon. Members for West Ham should be raising as a constituency matter the grazing of cattle, but the surprising always seems to happen in the House of Commons, and it has certainly happened here.
I wish to confirm what he has said about the real nuisance which this grazing in causing to the playing fields at Wanstead. I remember some time ago going with the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) to the opening of these playing fields, when I saw with what devotion the work had been done and what expense had been put out for these admirable playing fields. I understand that serious interference is being caused to the enjoyment of these playing fields by this nuisance. Wanstead Flats are a vital lung for that part of London, from which the residents of my constituency derive great benefit and advantage, and it is intolerable that this nuisance should deprive them of that which has been so dearly obtained for them.
Accordingly, I fully support and give a welcome to this Bill. It is necessary, it is justifiable and its provisions seem to me to be wholly reasonable.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I rise to support the Bill, but, before doing so, I should like to make a brief reference to objections which have been raised by hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) made a very careful and earnest plea for additional housing facilities in 319 his own constituency. I fully sympathise with his plea, particularly as I myself was born in Islington, and in my early days went on many periodic excursions with my mother to the then fascinating Caledonian Market. I know the area very well indeed—almost as well as my hon. Friend. As far as I could tell, the two main points in his argument were these. Firstly, additional powers should not be given to the existing City of London, but he was quite prepared to give them provided that the City Corporation made some concession regarding the Caledonian Market. As, apparently, that concession has now been granted, presumably, my hon. Friend's objection falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Fletcher indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Sorensen
His second point was that he was very concerned with placing human rights above those of cattle. I entirely agree with him, and that is precisely the point that I apply in respect of the major part of the Bill concerning Epping Forest. I hope that on those grounds, my hon. Friend will now give substantial support to the Bill. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) also put forward a very earnest plea, based largely on theory, which was quite remote from the actual circumstances of the case. I therefore draw his attention to the remark at the end of the document signed by the Chairman of Ways and Means:In the case of Part II of the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, however, no question of acquiring common land arises, since the Corporation of the City of London already own Epping Forest by virtue of an Act of 1878. Moreover the position of the Forest, virtually surrounded as it is by built-up areas, must clearly involve special problems which may not be of general application.I hope that that will so convince my hon. Friend as to lead him to withdraw his objection and support the Bill.
I join with others in paying tribute to the Corporation of London for its foresight, public spirit and careful supervision of this most valuable treasure, which is enjoyed by the people not only of my constituency and adjoining constituencies but of the whole London area, and further afield. Whatever we may say by way of criticism of the Corporation, that point should go on record.
320 The Corporation cannot be accused of desiring to whittle away or reduce the existing amenities of the forest. I have found the Corporation, if anything, over-jealous to preserve every inch of the forest. No portion of it can be acquired, even for road widening purposes, or anything of that kind, without at least an equal amount being added elsewhere, so that the forest never decreases in size. If anything, it becomes larger as time goes by.
It is true that the existing Epping Forest is only a fragment of the original forest, which at one time spread right up to the Wash. If we go back into history in order to discover who had the original title to certain lands we make some interesting discoveries. The land originally belonged to the people of this country. I dare say that my own private road—the only private road in the district which is guarded at one end by a Socialist M.P. and at the other by a Socialist councillor; a rather strange paradox—was originally a portion of forest land. If we go back into history we shall find that that applies to many portions of land around the elongated green area which is so enjoyable. The map shows how, from time to time, there must have been an eating into the forest—the exercise of squatters' rights over a certain period and then possession by private persons of what was originally public land.
I have lived in Walthamstow for nearly fifty years, and in my present house, immediately adjoining the forest, for over thirty years. I confess that in my opinion for a long time the sight of the cattle added to the amenities of the district. Indeed, it is still vary pleasant to look from my study window across the forest and to see a number of cattle pleasantly and quietly browsing. On one occasion I referred rather facetiously, and not with the innuendo that some people thought, to the fact that as I looked from my study window I could see large numbers of my constituents. I quickly added "four-legged ones".
This pleasant scene, which I still witness from time to time, nevertheless began to lose some of its attractiveness as time went by. This process began some years ago, when I was awakened early one morning—at about half-past four—and descended from my bedroom in pyjamas and dressing gown in order 321 to chase a dozen cows down the road. I could not catch them. They turned into Wood Street, at the bottom of the road. In the end I managed to persuade half a dozen of my bovine fellow-creatures to turn back. The rest were lost in the wilds of the district which is represented adequately by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey), who can speak for Wanstead and Woodford even more eloquently than can the Wanstead and Woodford Council.
Such events gradually modify one's aesthetic enjoyment. Even when the Post Office acquired a small plot of land at the side of my house and erected a fence, the cattle still came through. Last summer my son carefully planted a number of rose bushes in the front garden, only to discover, two or three weeks later, that the whole lot had been consumed by cattle. I only hope that the roses affected the milk of the few feminine cattle in one way or another. The same has happened more than once when they have broken through fences into my garden. Early one morning my wife found that a half a dozen of these beasts had trampled over the whole garden—including what we grandiosely call the lawn, although it is only a grass patch. I mention this because it is representative of the experience of large numbers of other people.
There are two grounds on which we support this Bill. One is the nuisance caused and the destruction of domestic amenities. The other is the danger which is caused by these cattle. I have received a long list of accidents and the possibility of accidents. 142 in the last two and a half years, but I could add materially to that number. Although my constituency may not be so adversely affected as that of Walthamstow, West or Walthamstow, East, it still is affected in some measure. I suppose that in the last three or four years I have had fifty letters complaining bitterly about the danger and nuisance which is caused. With very little investigation I am sure that I could add substantially to the 142 occasions on which a record of information has been furnished.
One only has to look at my constituency to realise that, whatever may have been the aesthetic value of cattle wandering through the forest, it is now more than counter-balanced by the 322 absurdity I shall describe. At Whipps Cross Corner, where I live, there is a busy thoroughfare with a constant stream of traffic which every morning and evening for an hour and a half or two hours hardly stops until thirty or forty cattle wander in leisurely fashion across that stream of traffic holding it up for long periods. That in itself is sufficient to show that whatever might have been acceptable and justifiable in the past no longer now applies.
We should not tolerate it in Westminster. We should not dream of allowing cattle to wander down Whitehall holding up the traffic. Why should we tolerate it in a highly urbanised area round the forest? The area round the forest is far more urbanised than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Every bit of available land is taken up for housing and the whole nature of the area has completely altered.
I hope that the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to this Bill. Years ago it was appreciated that cattle could be a danger and a nuisance. Remnants of pounds remain not far from my house. Cattle were driven into them when they wandered too far from the roadways. Because of the relatively smaller number of police than we need, that is not done in these days. I have felt inclined more than once to drive cattle into a pound. I could put only two or three in and thirty or forty would get away. Even then I should be responsible for providing them with fodder and water or I should be prosecuted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for impounding animals without due care. I mention this to show that in bygone days it was recognised that wandering cattle could be a danger and a nuisance. That is far more so today.
Therefore, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. West. Whatever objections there may be to this Bill, they are secondary to the urgent need to see that those who enjoy the forest and reside near it shall no longer have to face this danger and nuisance.
§ 8.59 p.m.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
If, as 323 the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) has said, it is strange that the two hon. Members representing West Ham divisions should both intervene in the same debate and speak about grazing cattle, it is equally surprising that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be concerned with a City of London (Various) Powers Bill.
It seems that the Bill has rural implications which have aroused considerable interest. Therefore, it is perhaps not inappropriate that I should make a brief intervention. I know that this is essentially a House of Commons question, but there are two topics to which I want to refer, one in the Bill and the other not in the Bill. I hope that it will be accepted that I do so in explanation and not in any sense of advocacy.
First, as to Epping forest. My right hon. Friend does not wish to express any views, nor, indeed, is he in a position to do so, on the merits of the Corporation's proposals for the forest which are contained in Part II. With regard to all commons he is in a special position. Under the various general enactments relating to common land, the Minister of Agriculture has functions which are quasi-judicial, but he has no initiative. It is for the interests concerned with a particular common to put forward proposals relating to it.
In considering any such proposals which are put to him, my right hon. Friend is required by Statute to have regard, on the one hand, to the effect on private interests in the common and, on the other, to what is described as the "benefit of the neighbourhood". I mention this because I suggest that tonight the House should approach the Corporation's proposals from the same standpoints as those from which my right hon. Friend would have to approach them if the initiative were taken by other commoners and a proposal was put to him and it was his responsibility.
I have referred to the general legislation relating to commons, but some commons, of which Epping Forest is one, have their own code of private legislation. Whatever may have happened before 1878, the City Corporation has been chiefly responsible for preserving Epping Forest as open common land 324 since then. The 1878 Act gives powers to the Corporation to manage the forest as conservators, and the Minister of Agriculture has no jurisdiction under the Act, nor is he mentioned in it. If the Corporation requires fresh or amended powers, it must seek them from Parliament, as it is doing tonight. I say this without in any way expressing a judgment on the merits of the present proposals.
It has been suggested that the proposals of the City Corporation ought to be put back until they can be considered against the background of the Government's proposed legislation arising out of the Report of the Royal Commission on Common Land. This is not wholly relevant. The Minister has already announced that legislation is in preparation to give effect to the Royal Commission's recommendations on the registration of common land and common rights, as a first step. My right hon. Friend answered a Question in the House not long ago.
Hon. Members will know that I cannot give any date as to when they can expect such a Bill to be introduced. However, such a Bill is unlikely to apply to Epping Forest, because under the special Acts administered by the City Corporation the extent of the land and the extent of the common rights over it are already fully established. Therefore, there would appear to be few respects in which the first Bill which the House may soon be considering will have any effect in relation to Epping Forest.
As I understand it, the point at issue on the Bill tonight is whether the commoners' rights should be restricted in any way, subject to compensation, because of difficulties that the grazing of cattle is alleged to cause to local residents. This is a local issue, no doubt of the greatest importance not only to those most immediately concerned but to the whole neighbourhood. It ought to be considered on its merits by the House and, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, by a Select Committee. However, it does not seem to me to be the sort of issue which would justify my right hon. Friend taking a particular line either for or against these proposals.
The second topic to which I want to refer is the Caledonian Market and abattoir. One hon. Member has already 325 declared his interest. I will declare mine. I am a Freeman of the City of London. I am also a member of the Skinners' Company.
It may be thought that I therefore have a special interest, but I assure the House that the Skinners' Company—
I am coming to that.
The Skinners' Company has never been interested in calf skins, with or without warble fly punctures which may arise from slaughtering in this or any other market, but it was concerned in medieval times with furs like minever. I have declared that interest, but I hope that the House will appreciate that it is an entirely academic one.
My right hon. Friend is concerned to see that the present abattoir—or, for that matter, any abattoir—is either brought up to a satisfactory standard or is closed, but it is for the City, and not for him, to decide in the first place whether to discontinue the provision of slaughtering facilities or to rebuild the slaughterhouse elsewhere, or to bring it up to proper standards where it is now sited.
The planning decisions which are relevant here are for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Reference has already been made to the fact that there is no disagreement in principle over the planning proposals to use the site when redeveloped for houses, schools and an open space, but not for an abattoir. The question uppermost in some hon. Members' minds tonight, therefore, turns on the question of timing: when is this redevelopment likely to come about?
The City Corporation has for some time been in negotiation with traders about the terms on which it might build a modern slaughterhouse on another site. Whatever the outcome may be here, and whether or not the City decides to go ahead, is a question for the City and for the City alone, and not for my right hon. Friend. But I have the assurance of the City of London that it 326 intends to propose legislation in the next Session of Parliament to deal with the Caledonian Market site for purposes other than a market and slaughterhouse. I hope that these few words of mine will be of some help to the House in considering whether to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
We are all very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having guided us so well and so clearly in such a very difficult matter. I confess that I find much more difficulty than do most of my hon. Friends in making up my mind. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, this is an interesting example of what happens when one tries to live a rural life in the middle of a great built-up city; it is bound to cause trouble and difficulty. People who get romantic about the rural life might pause to wonder whether there is all that amount of fun in it when they face some of these problems which, I suppose, are not completely unknown in other parts of the country as well as here.
From what has been said by hon. Members on both sides, there is no doubt that there is here a real local problem which must be looked at sympathetically and carefully in order to try to hold a fair balance between the different interests involved. I was startled to hear what that kind of interest was. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said that for one farmer these grazing rights were worth £1,000 a year. That struck me as being a very large amount, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will remember it at the time of the next Annual Price Review, because it certainly made me think that farming had some profit in it, after all.
We are also dealing with tradition The City of London should be very careful before it interferes with traditional rights. There is not really all that amount of difference between a cow wandering through the streets of Wan-stead or Walthamstow and a City Corporation continuing to exist in a modern world. If the City Corporation is to allow Parliament to remove these traditional rights, it is setting a precedent that may possibly go very far.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Does my hon. Friend not know that but for the City of London spending a huge 327 fortune in the 'sixties of the last century there would be no Epping Forest today?
§ Mr. MacColl
I do not want to get involved with my right hon. Friend in a discussion on the history of the City of London.
§ Mr. MacColl
If my right hon. Friend is in any doubt about good deeds I would commend to him some of the writings of Lord Morrison of Lambeth.
Two general questions, which suggest that this is not the appropriate way to tackle the problem, have emanated from our discussion. The first was touched upon by the Parliamentary Secretary: whether or not general legislation should be introduced before a drastic change is made in the balance of rights in Epping Forest. That is for each hon. Member to weigh up and consider. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that in this Parliament, or, at any rate, next Session, some general legislation would be introduced.
The second point is that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher). Is it wise to give the City of London increased powers or. indeed, any powers at all when the whole future of London government is in the melting pot? I find that a difficult one, especially in view of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), who tried to have it both ways, saying that he was against the reform of London government, but was equally against allowing the City to have these powers.
If we are to have this reform, and the House accepts the idea, I still have sufficient faith in the sanity of the House and in public opinion to believe that no reform of London government will leave the City of London in its present position. I speak as an individual and I cannot believe that that is possible. Therefore, I cannot believe that it is right to extend the powers of the City of London at a time when its position is so precarious and vulnerable.
It is worth recalling that there are precedents. A few years ago the 328 L.C.C. wanted to take over the district nursing service in the County of London which had, in many places, been within voluntary organisations which were finding it difficult to carry on. This was a vital question, for it affected public health. The Minister of Health refused to give permission to the L.C.C. to do this precisely on these grounds—that the reform of London government was so near that it was wrong to add to the powers that already existed.
I can think of another example; the application of the building byelaws in the Public Health Act which was passed last Session. In that Measure changes were made for the provinces but were not applied to London—although, ironically, they were applied to Middlesex—because, it was said, the future of London government was so uncertain that it was undesirable to give any further powers.
With these precedents the House must consider whether it is questionable or wise, through a Private Bill of this sort, to give these powers to the City of London. That is entirely a matter for each hon. Member. In any case, this has been a valuable debate and has helped to clear up some of the issues involved and, to many of us, has drawn aside the curtain on the fascinating sides of life in London.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Wakhamstow, East)
This has been a fascinating debate. It has enabled my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as he said himself, to bring the authority of his office to bear on the affairs of the City of London. It has enabled the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), somehow, to talk about an agricultural price review within the context of this Bill. It has enabled my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Mainland) to remind us that his great-grandfather sat in this House at a time when Epping Forest was just as much in the news as it is tonight. It has enabled the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) to take us on what I would describe as an interesting detour via the Caledonian Market. We then come back to the hon. Member for Widnes talking about the merits of the Corporation of the City of London per se.
329 Hon. Members on both sides of the House who know anything about the history of Greater London will agree that what the City Corporation has done for London in the acquisition and the subsequent care and maintenance of Epping Forest has been a wonderful thing for which we should all be grateful. There could, perhaps, be a divergence of view between the two sides of the House as to the future of the City Corporation, but I cannot see that that is any excuse for trying to shelve the issue before the House tonight. What might or might not happen to the City Corporation some time in future is not exactly relevant to the pressing problems which some of us have been trying to bring before the House in this debate.
In so far as any controversy remains, it centres around Clause 2 of the Bill. I therefore hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I confine my remarks entirely to that Clause. The hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) suggested that this Clause should be deleted and that the Bill had done some special pleading in this Clause. It was odd that he should say that, because I proposed to suggest that the hon. Gentleman was doing a lot of special pleading in his own remarks. However, I hope that I shall be able to deal with some of his worries and fears to his reasonable satisfaction.
I wish to emphasise at the outset what has been said already, namely, that Part II of the Bill would never have been necessary if the cattle had been content to stay in the forest or if voluntary means could have been found to keep them in the forest. The problem is not simply one of inconvenience to people resident in or near the forest, nor of danger to people using the highways traversing the forest, as is somewhat naively put forward in the petition submitted by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council. The problem is one of the danger, nuisance and quite serious damage wrought by these animals as they wander through built-up suburban streets and along the busy, congested main roads of North-East London.
The City Corporation, the promoters of the Bill, have issued a statement in support of this. A glance at the map 330 on page 7 of the statement on behalf of the promoters will show the interwoven pattern of forest land, some of it only five miles from the City of London itself and the heavily built-up suburban areas through which it sprawls. Some of the most tempting grazing land in the forest lies to the south—that is. in the Woodford, East Ham and West Ham areas. But perhaps even more tempting to the cattle than this grazing land are the shrubs, flowers and young sprouting plants of suburban gardens.
The plain fact is that to keep these animals out if they are determined to get in is more than the defences of most suburban dwellings can cope with. To argue that householders should have been made aware of this situation, as is argued in one of the petitions, when they moved into the area is nonsense and ignores the fact that these animals wander astonishingly far afield out of the forest to which they should confine their activities.
In the 1959 debate, I gave many details of the damage which they had caused over a very large area. I mentioned the tragic death of a young constituent of mine who collided with one of these animals when driving home one night. Between 1st January, 1959, and 10th March this year, there have been sixty-four road accidents notified to the police involving straying cattle.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, South suggested that there had not been many accidents. How many is "many"? The hon. Member might have agreed that sixty-four was more than enough. In paragraph 11 of the Petition against the Bill, the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council—and I am sure that the whole House will be delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) in his place this evening—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—blandly states:Your Petitioners deny that these animals cause nuisance.There have been sixty-four recorded road accidents involving one human fatality and other human injuries; sixty-four recorded road accidents, all of them killing or maiming cattle; more than a hundred incidents involving cattle reported to the police over the same period and dozens more complaints made during that time to individual Members of 331 Parliament, to local authorities and to the Corporation of the City of London, and yet the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council solemnly denies that these animals cause nuisance.
If ways could have been found of preventing this nuisance, this damage and this danger by keeping the animals in the forest, I repeat that the Bill would never have been necessary; but the interwoven pattern of forest and suburbia makes this impossible short of complete enclosure of the forest. This, we are all agreed, is undesirable and, I would say, impracticable. The Epping Forest Act, 1878, imposes upon the Corporation of the City of London a clear duty to keep the forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. This the Corporation has consistently endeavoured to do, but it is rightly no less concerned that its management of the forest should be acceptable to persons residing in the forest area.
It is little short of effrontery to suggest that the City Corporation, with its great and selfless record in preserving the forest for the benefit and enjoyment of Londoners, could in any way be conniving at destroying the valuable heritage which it has so generously endowed for us. My view is that the Bill, by reconciling the changing needs of urban society with the preservation of the unchanging beauty of the forest, will further enhance the reputation for good management which the City Corporation so justly deserves.
It has been argued, and the hon. Member for Lewisham. South sought to argue it, that the very nature of the forest could change if the cattle ceased to wander. This ecological argument should not, however, be taken too seriously. The efficient control of briar, birch and thorn by wandering cattle in Epping Forest would require nearer 2,000 head of cattle in the area concerned than the 220 or so currently involved. This is even assuming that the cattle could be persuaded to do all their grazing in the forest rather than in suburban gardens. If we already have a formidable toll of road accidents and other nuisance with 200 head of cattle, what would be the position if we brought in the 2,000 that would be 332 necessary for ecological control? Traffic would be brought virtually to a standstill.
For many years, the City Corporation has had to resort to mechanical cutting and clearing on a large scale. The Corporation's considerable experience in this work makes it confident that the whole task could well be performed mechanically. We should be grateful that the Corporation is prepared to do it.
The problem has become worse because the number of cattle at large has doubled between 1955 and the present day. In 1959, which year saw the largest number of cattle wandering in the forest—279 of them—we had the greatest crop of accidents and complaints. To contemplate grazing more cattle, as some people would advocate, at a time when the number of vehicles on the roads is increasing month by month would be little short of lunacy. There have already been enough accidents.
§ Mr. C. Johnson
Do I understand from what the hon. Member is saying that he now refutes the evidence submitted on this point by the two witnesses for the City Corporation, Lieut-Col. Buxton and Col. Chappell, who stated exactly the contrary?
§ Mr. Harvey
I am coming to the question of the evidence given before the Royal Commission. I want at the moment to suggest that there have been enough accidents and maiming of cattle to warrant action. I hope that the hon. Member will not dissent from that on the information I have given this evening.
There are some who seek to argue that the tethering of cattle would be cruel. Is it less cruel than to enable them to roam freely in heavy traffic? 1 have seen them terrified among the nose-to-tail traffic returning through the forest on an evening or at weekends, and 1 have seen hooligans attempt to stampede them in that traffic. Nothing could be more cruel than the ordeal to which these animals have been subject already, and their hearts might beat more calmly if they were tethered in the pastoral heart of the forest.
I do not feel that I need refer to the question of compensation raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) except to say that the 333 City Corporation has behaved as generously over this as over all its dealings with the forest.
The case made by the horn. Member for Lewisham, South about the difference between the evidence given before the Royal Commission and the state of affairs that we are putting forward tonight is fairly simply explained. At the time of the Royal Commission it was hoped by all of us, the City Corporation and the Members of Parliament involved, that a voluntary solution had in fact been found to this problem, and all of us, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West said at the beginning of the debate, hoped at that time that a voluntary solution would be found to which we could willingly subscribe. In point of fact, that voluntary solution has eluded us. The number of cattle has actually doubled since 1955 while the volume of road transport has been going up at the same time. The difficulty, which some of us foresaw then—that road transport is increasing month by month and year by year and, therefore, that the problem must get worse, even with the same number of cattle as now—has come to be appreciated by everyone. It is on these grounds that one has tonight to take a somewhat different stand from that taken in 1957.
There remains the need to re-emphasise that this Bill has nothing in common with the St. Neots Bill. That was clearly brought out in the Report by the Chairman of Ways and Means. There is no question of acquiring common land. There are, as the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) has said, special local problems—this was emphasised by the Chairman of Ways and Means in his Report—that are not of general application. The Chairman of Ways and Means went on to stress that the passage of this Bill must not be regarded by other local authorities as a precedent for promoting similar legislation where the special considerations that I have sought to place before the House tonight do not apply.
In answer to the criticism that this Bill is premature in that it anticipates Government legislation arising out of the Report of the Royal Commission, I would stress that my right hon. Friend 334 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it clear on 6th November last that legislation was being prepared to make provision for the registration of claims in respect of common land—that is the legislation to which reference has been made tonight—and he also made clear that five years would be allowed for the registration of claims and objections.
Such is the management of the City Corporation that all this information is already recorded or readily ascertainable from existing records in respect of Epping Forest. There is no need to wait another five years or more for legislation affecting the forest which we can speed on its way tonight.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to bear in mind that, at the present rate, if it gets no worse, to wait five years before we do anything would involve another 100 road accidents. Is that what the hon. Member for Lewisham, South wants, or what any of us want? I think probably not.
Not the least important factor for us to note is that the commoners themselves have withdrawn their objections to the Bill, and there is, in the circumstances, surely no need for any hon. Member to oppose a Second Reading, which will send the Bill to a Committee where any Amendment that might be thought necessary can be adequately dealt with. I call upon the House to endorse its confidence in the good management of the forest by the City Corporation, and to recognise the special nature of the local problems that this Bill seeks to deal with, by giving it the unopposed Second Reading which it so richly deserves.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps the House will allow me to instruct myself about the Instructions which were put on the Order Paper. Does the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) wish to move his?