HC Deb 26 March 1974 vol 871 cc354-71

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I have to inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), which I have no doubt is in accordance with his expectations.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In accordance with custom and procedure, I must declare an interest. The whole forest lies in my constituency, and I am sorry to say that, that being the case, I am precluded from taking part in the Committee proceedings which will follow later this year should the House give the Bill a Second Reading.

On 4th July 1973, the House approved the Second Reading of a similar Bill promoted by the East Sussex County Council. This is a new House of Commons, with many new Members. I hope that hon. Members will agree that it is only courteous for their benefit to state the objectives of the Bill and the reasons for it, to describe its main provisions and to say a few words about those clauses in respect of which people still have doubts and criticisms.

The thinking that provides the basis of the Bill comes from the report of the conservators which took two years to prepare. It was the basis of many discussions between the county council and the board of conservators. The report was published in July 1972, and consultations subsequently took place with other bodies, including the Countryside Commission and the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, which, together with the Friends of Ashdown Forest, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Sussex Trust for Nature Conservation, fully support the Bill.

The forest covers about 6,400 acres and its soil is vested in the lord of the manor, the Lord Buckhurst, who also supports the Bill.

The existing legislation and arrangements for administering the forest were considered by those who prepared the report to be inadequate and out of date. What the promoters seek to do—I cannot emphasise this point too strongly—is to ensure that the forest is protected as a quiet and natural area of outstanding beauty. To judge from the many conversations which I have had on the subject and the correspondence which I have received, that is the unanimous view of critics and proponents alike.

With the mounting pressure on open space in the already overcrowded South-East and the increasing use of the county for leisure pursuits, an area such as Ashdown Forest must have proper management supported by strong financial backing if it is to survive in its natural state.

It is argued both by the conservators —some of whom are elected by the commoners and give their services free—and by the county council that if they do not make the necessary changes to provide the protection which is wanted there is a real danger, as the years go by and the pressures mount, of the forest's being exploited for unsuitable and organised activities which may be desirable in some other parts of the countryside but which are totally inappropriate here and unwan- ted by the local inhabitants in general and the commoners in particular. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that this is not a selfish attitude for my constituents to take.

There is a desperate shortage of unspoiled natural countryside that can be enjoyed within a reasonable distance of London and the south coast by those seeking quietude and natural peace. That is why the Bill sets out in Clause 16—to which the most controversial clauses are subservient—the duties of the conservators, the managing body of the forest, in the following manner: It shall be the duty of the Conservators subject to the provisions of this Act at all times as far as possible to regulate and manage the forest so as to protect the existing rights of common upon the forest, to protect the forest from encroachments, and to conserve it as a quiet and natural area of outstanding beauty. Nothing could be clearer than that.

It is worth noting that for the benefit of those who have enjoyed 750 years of rights of common for the first time the protection of existing rights of common is a duty imposed on the conservators. Clause 16 imposes duties, and the remainder of the Bill enables those duties to be performed.

As the promoters of the Bill see it, the problem is that there is no specific provision for many of the supervisory and other functions which the conservators are obliged to carry out in the course of their day-to-day administration of the forest. The existing legislation never envisaged and therefore was never designed to cover the greatly increased use of the forest by members of the public at large. The conservators argue that they now run the risk of exercising powers which are not lawfully vested in them.

I turn now to the problem of financing the administration of the forest, which is one of the gut problems facing the conservators. Financially, the cost of administering and protecting the forest has risen to such an extent, as anyone reading the report can see, that it is no longer feasible to expect the commoners, by means of the present rate, to meet more than a small proportion of the required income. It is especially unfair to expect to do so in these days when only a few commoners exercise their rights of common which are grazing and the collection of wood and bracken.

The existing arrangements of financial contribution of the local authorities is no longer working properly. In recent years the Ucktield Rural District Council, in whose area the forest wholly lies, has limited its contribution to £1,500, and two other councils to £250 and £200 per annum. Both the latter councils, with their small contributions, will on 1st April merge into the new district council in West Sussex. The main burden of local authority support has therefore fallen upon and been met by the East Sussex County Council.

The report recommended—and the Bill gives effect to the recommendation—that all the local authorities in East Sussex should be relieved of their discretionary financial liabilities and that responsibility for the board's excess of expenditure over income in any one year should be the statutory liability of the East Sussex County Council.

Without the guarantee of financial support, the county council believes that the conservators will find it very difficult to administer the forest properly and will have to rely on voluntary support and the rate paid by the commoners. This inevitably raises in some people's minds the question whether the forest should be taken over and turned into a country park, where the rights of common would he extinguished. What is more, in a country park activities might be allowed which were inconsistent with Clause 16—the quiet and natural beauty clause.

If the Bill fails, I hope that hon. Members and those outside this House will realise that there will be financial insecurity, with no immediate prospect of solution, and that something will have to be done quickly about financing the forest.

As the Bill stands, the county council will have to pay the largest part of the cost of running the forest. Not unnaturally, it argues that it should have an overall majority of representatives on the board of conservators. These representatives can either be elected councillors or people appointed for their special knowledge.

Finance is all-important, therefore. Expenses rise year by year. At the moment expenditure is running at about £13,000 per annum. The more people come, the greater the risk of fire and the need for litter control, as well as the protection of the flora and fauna, and the improvement in grazing. All that costs money.

At present, the 6,400 acres of the forest are run by a full-time clerk, one secretary and just two rangers, who are all responsible to the conservators and are elected and unpaid voluntary servants of the forest. Some people say that this whole operation can be run more cheaply. I hope that hon. Members will agree that the preservation of the forest and the carrying out of these arduous duties are too important to be neglected.

The question of finance leads me to a subject which was one of the reasons for the promotion of the Bill. Under the provisions of the Countryside Act 1968 the county council would be eligible for grant to defray the expenses of running Ashdown Forest, but in order to retain the independence of the conservators a clause was introduced into the original Bill to enable the grant to be paid direct to them. That clause was disallowed, on the advice, last year, of the Department of the Environment, in view of the provisions of what is now the Local Government Act 1974. The conservators can now receive a grant direct, provided that there is secured to the public a right of access over the entire forest. It is argued that such a right now exists. If so, it is not expressed in the legislation governing the forest.

The public are at present permitted general acres:;, but this is at the will of the lord of the manor, and the right of access of the public is limited in legislative terms, whatever the practice may be, to a few selected areas.

I think that is a confusing situation, which those who compiled the report—they had legal advice—believe should be clarified. This the Bill seeks to do, and thereby to ensure beyond any shadow of doubt that the conservators shall be eligible for grant.

Finally, I turn to the amendments made to the Bill and some of the more important reservations that certain people still have about it.

Clauses 7 and 8 provide for a new form of constitution which gives an overall majority on the board of conservators to the county council. This is being objected to by certain of the commoners.

Clause 14 relates to the voting at meetings by commoners. The arrangements in the original Bill were strongly criticised in the House last year as being feudal and anachronistic. Hon. Members will be pleased that in its new form this clause, together with Schedule 1, introduces the respected parliamentary democratic tradition of one man, one vote, in the election of conservators, and that is accepted by the majority of commoners.

Clause 17, which allows the planting and felling of trees, has run into criticism because it is feared that it could lead to commercial exploitation of the forest. I assure the House that the promoters of the Bill will be glad to consider any form of amendment to meet that point. One that springs to my mind is to limit the planting of trees and shrubs in any one year to a total of 10 acres, with a maximum of one acre for each plantation.

The object of Clause 18 is not, as some might assume, to encourage the licensing of activities totally inconsistent with Clause 16 which, I remind the House, is the overriding clause in the Bill, but, on the contrary, to introduce control of activities which are acceptable provided that they are within reasonable limits.

Clause 20, which allows the conservators to buy or sell land, is thought by some critics still to be too widely drawn. The forest, however, to those who know it well, is a strange place. It is not tidily laid out, with convenient boundaries. There are enclaves within it which do not form part of it. The power in Clause 20 is needed to enable appropriate boundary adjustments to be made or for enclaves, which are not part of but are beneficial to the forest, to be bought. Of course, consent for that must be sought from the county council and the Secretary of State.

Clause 20 would also seem to some, to take a ludicrous example, to enable the lord of the manor to purchase land in, say, the centre of Manchester in exchange for land in the forest for the use of speculators. That is how it has been put in conversations that I have had with some of my constituents.

These are important matters of drafting which the promoters are fully aware may be thought to require attention. Certainly some of the points that I have mentioned require attention, although I recognise that there is already an important protection in the Bill; that any one commoner has only to object to any of these proposals—the buying and selling of land, and so on—to require the holding of an inquiry by the Secretary of State.

I am concerned that all my constituents, be they commoners, local residents or councillors, should have every opportunity of making their views known and having their suggestions and amendments properly discussed and considered. There will be plenty of time.

Some people have complained that there has been undue haste in the promotion of the Bill. There were many discussions during the progress of the last Bill, which spent five days before a Select Committee of this House and was passed with only minor amendments. It has also been through the House of Lords. If, as I hope, the Bill goes before a Select Committee again, I understand that the promoters have undertaken not to seek a date for the Select Committee to consider it until the beginning of June. That will provide plenty of time for further discussions and consideration of additional amendments, and time also for the new county council, which will assume responsibility for the Bill on 1st April, to consider closely its provisions as well as to study the views of those who either object to its provisions or have specific amendments to make.

I welcome the opportunity for further discussions and I shall do all that I can to bring about a meeting of minds of all those who share the basic desire to protect the forest for all time in its natural state against the pressures of modern urban life.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I think that I have some objectives in common with my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) in wishing to see a resolution of the disagreements between the promoters of and the objectors to the Bill. However, there are some points that I should like to put to my hon. Friend.

The first concerns an important point of principle, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give it sympathetic consideration. It is not an equal contest when a Bill is in Committee, because, on the one hand, there are the promoters, who have the apparently bottomless purse of their ratepayers from which to pay lawyers to plead their case, and, on the other hand, there are the objectors, the commoners of the Ashdown Forest, of very slender financial resources and not in a position to hire expensive lawyers to carry their case through the protracted sittings of a Private Bill Committee.

I felt it desirable that the various parties should meet to try to reach agreement before the Bill was introduced so that there could, in effect, be an agreed Bill going through the processes of the House. Incidentally, that would save a lot of ratepayers' money, as well as the slender resources of the commoners.

The Bill failed to get through the House during the last Session and here I must refer to the intransigence of the promoters. It was not until the Bill died at the end of the last Session that they amended the procedure to one man, one vote.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

What about providing for one woman, one vote? I understand that the Bill makes no provision for women to have voting rights.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The point made by the hon. Lady is not facetious, but of substance. What the hon. Lady is referring to is a situation in which a common holding is shared by two people, one of each sex: the man is entitled to vote, but the woman is not. Perhaps I may return to this later, because it is a point of substance and not a trivial matter about women's lib or otherwise.

The promoters of the Bill cease to exist on Sunday night, and the new council takes over from then. It was my hope that during the time that Parliament was dissolved—and to that extent there was an unexpected hiatus during which progress could have been made—the objectors would be able to meet not just the existing promoters, who will cease to exist on Sunday night, but those who will take over the promotion of the Bill, including its handling in Committee.

The parliamentary agent acting for the promoters of the Bill did his best to bring about such a meeting. However, it did not take place, and the reason for that which most concerns me is that the promoters who are to take over the Bill on Monday refused to meet the objectors to the measure except as observers. I now propose to read the relevant paragraph of a letter sent on instruction from his principals by the parliamentary agent to the vice-chairman of the commoners committee.

The Writer states: I am instructed to reiterate that neither the Chairman of the new County Council nor the Chief Executive considered it appropriate for them to be present at a meeting to discuss the details of points arising on the Commoners' opposition to the Bill which is promoted by the old County Council and has been the subject of proceedings before both Houses of Parliament in a previous session. It is proper for those officers who have handled the Bill from the outset to be introducing any amendments to it. The new County Secretary will however be present at the meeting as an observer and will be in a position to pass to the new County Council the views which are expressed by those attending. The objectors took the reasonable view that there was not much point in having a meeting to deal with possible alterations to the Bill with an authority which would cease to exist before such alterations could be made. On the other hand, the new promoting authority, which would handle the Bill in Committee if it were given a Second Reading, refused to attend such a meeting except as observers. Thus, the efforts both of myself and of the parliamentary agent to bring about a meeting in the hope that the questions at issue between the objectors and the promoters could be resolved came to nought, once again because of the intrasigence of the promoters. It is only right, when two parties are completely unequal in terms of their financial resources, that, where possible, the items at issue before them should not be resolved by the prohibitively expensive Private Bill Committee system, but rather by civilised meetings outside the House before the Bill is introduced.

I should now like to read some important communications that I have received from responsible bodies interested in this matter. The first is a letter dated 8th December 1973 from the Clerk of the Rural District Council of Uckfield. Incidentally, by 18th December the old Bill had died. As my hon. Friend said in introducing this measure and recommending it to the House, the only difference of any substance was the inclusion of the one man, one vote provision, but that was not the issue upon which the Rural District Council of Uckfield was opposed to it.

So that I shall not mislead the House, it is necessary for me to read the letter written by the clerk of the district council rather than paraphrase it. He says:

"Dear Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop,

I hope you will not regard it as presumptuous of me to write to you but having read Hansard on the debate that took place in the House on 23rd August I much appreciate your interest in this Bill. References have been made to the Uckfield Council and their attitude towards the Bill, some of which are misleading and for your information I would like to put the record straight.

The Uckfield Council have always maintained that there has been no necessity for fresh legislation. Under the existing Ashdown Forest Act, 1937 the Local Authorities have representation on the Conservators and complete control over their finances by virtue of the Local Authorities making a voluntary contribution to the expenditure.

When the Bill was first introduced before Parliament in November, 1972, it was pointed out that none of the reasons put forward by the County Council for promoting fresh legislation could be justified. The County Council argued:

  1. (a) That they had to have financial control. As I have already explained, means of financial control already exist and indeed it would always be possible to reduce the basis of the voluntary contributions to an Agreement by the exchange of correspondence if there should ever be a need for the financial position to be clarified in any way.
  2. (b) The County Council stated that they required the public to have access to the Forest. The public have never had their right of access denied but in any event if it were necessary to clarify the position adequate legislation exists in the Law of Property Act, 1925 for the Lord of the Manor to make a declaration to this effect.
  3. (c) The County Council claim that the legislation should enable grant to be paid from the Countryside Commission, but here again adequate provision exists in the Countryside Act and, as you will know, the Clause in the Bill to this effect was deleted."

Mr. Johnson Smith

I explained that.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am reading out the letter, rather than commenting on it.

It goes on: In our early negotiations with the County Council, we emphasised that the Uckfield Council saw no purpose in incurring the expense of fresh legislation and we did stress to them at that time the necessity to consult the Commoners but for whose existence Ashdown Forest would not now exist. But the County Council, very unwisely in my view, virtually ignored the Commoners and they certainly paid no attention to the suggestions we made regarding the voting process whereby the Commoners elected their representatives to serve on the Board of Conservators. As you will be fully aware, this particular issue has been the subject of some considerable anxiety by the Commoners who apart from this are concerned with certain clauses which might be used to the detriment of the Forest by its development in some form. As you well know, the carry-over motion before the House failed as did the Bill before Parliament was prorogued. The County Council stated that they would consult the Commoners for their views regarding any new Bill but all they have done is to ask the Conservators to seek the views of the Commoners which is, of course, of considerable difference. The County Council have recently decided to introduce a fresh Ashdown Forest Bill in the form of the filled-up Bill as it came before the House at the Third Reading amended only to provide for the voting of the Commoners on the basis of one-man one-vote. The Uckfield Council petitioned against the original Bill on the basis that it was unnecessary and undesirable but they were advised by Counsel that their arguments would not be attractive to Parliament and as we had secured much by negotiation, it was decided not to incur any further expenditure and to withdraw the Petition. The County Council's decision to promote fresh legislation will come before my Council in the near future, when I anticipate that they will decide to take no further action in the matter, but my purpose in writing to you now is to emphasise that the Uckfield Council have never been convinced as to its necessity and are indeed apprehensive as to the possible dangers of some of the clauses in the distant future being used to the detriment of the Forest. If, therefore, it is stated in your presence that the Uckfield Council are in favour of the Bill, I should be grateful if you would correct any such statement. For your information, I enclose herewith a copy of a letter recently addressed to the Clerk of the East Sussex County Council, the promoting Authority, which specifically draws attention to this point. The Uckfield Council subsequently passed a motion which endorsed the gravamen of what is in the clerk's letter. I received a telegram yesterday from the Vice-Chairman of the Association of the Commoners telling me: East Grinstead UDC Monday last rejected motion approve Ashdown Forest Bill and consequent Bill and consequent changes in their function by 10 votes to 6 1 abstention S0136A refers as with Uckfield stop 3 forest parish councils—Buxted, Danehill, Hartfield—also asks County withdrawal Bill. So the existing second-tier authority in whose entirety the forest lies does not wish to see the Bill passed tonight. The three parish councils named do not want it passed tonight. More than 60 per cent. of the commoners have signed a petition that would mean, if it were granted, that the Bill would not be passed.

I am not one who says that no Bill will ever be needed on this matter. The gravamen of the case that I am putting to the House is that, because of the financial inequality among the various parties involved and because the promoting council ceases to exist on Sunday night and because the council taking over promotion of the Bill has refused to meet the objectors to discuss with them their objections before Second Reading, the just and prudent course would be for the House to refuse the Bill a Second Reading tonight. There will then be ample time, on an entirely clean and fresh basis, for the new county authority to meet the commoners and all the other parties to discuss the matter de novo.

Mr. Johnson Smith

I should not want my hon. Friend to mislead the House. The East Grinstead Urban District Council, which approved the Bill, a week ago had the debate which my hon. Friend mentioned when it rejected approval of the Bill. That is not the same thing. It is a very quick change of mind, but, leaving aside the reasons which led to this change of mind—I have spoken to some of the councillors concerned—it is misleading the House to suggest that they are opposed to the Bill. They were just rejecting approval of the Bill as it stands. I am not suggesting that the House should accept the Bill as it stands. I said that there were certain amendments which could be made to it. I am just asking for a Second Reading; that is all.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I read out the cable verbatim and, unless the statements in it are wrong—the House knows what was in that cable—I accepted it in good faith. My hon. Friend does not seem to be seized of the point, with which I believe he may disagree, that the right place for agreement to be reached is before the Bill comes to the House at all, not to leave the objectors, many of whom are of no financial substance, in the impossible position of trying to fight promoters with the bottomless purse of the ratepayers' money—

Mr. Johnson Smith

No, not a bottomless purse.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Yes, a bottomless purse—and able to employ any counsel they like. The right thing to do, in their view, is to refuse the Bill a Second Reading tonight and to let the new county authority start again in good faith. The new county authority is not responsible for the drafting of the Bill.

A number of matters need to be looked at, not only Clauses 17, 18, 19 and 20. There is the question, for instance, of the composition of the conservators. Some may feel that this body should not be confined to the local county council, the new second-tier authority and the commoners, that perhaps some of the associations representing the interests of a wider public might also be represented. On the other hand, the existing promoters have declared that they are unwilling to entertain any amendment to the composition of the conservators as given in the Bill.

On that basis, I finish as I began by saying that the fair and reasonable thing for the House to do tonight is to ask the promoters to withdraw the Bill and, failing that, to decline to give it a Second Reading, so that the matters at issue may be temperately and reasonably discussed and, I hope, agreement on them reached, a new Bill drafted on the basis of those discussions and introduced into the House, where it might well be unopposed, thus saving everybody involved—the ratepayers and the objectors, but not the lawyers—the immense expense that will otherwise fall upon them. That is why I say that the Bill should not be read a Second time.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

To some, in their maiden speeches, it is a duty to pay tribute to their predecessors in the House. For me it is the greatest pleasure. Sir Tufton Beamish represented the Lewes constituency for almost 29 years. During that time he was a popular and serious Member of the House, as in recent years he has been and is still a conscientious member of the European Parliament. In spite of the acknowledged burden of this dual responsibility, he always worked hard for all of his constituents and was their much loved and much respected representative. He will be missed in Lewes, and I believe that he is missed here.

As it is a particularly long time since the House was reminded of the character of the Lewes constituency, I hope that I may be allowed to dwell on that for a few moments, as is customary. In this Parliament of minorities it is particularly a pleasure to do so, as it was at the Battle of Lewes that Simon de Montfort defeated Henry III and the first representative English Parliament was formed. It is also a particular pleasure to be speaking now after exactly 100 years of Conservative representation of the constituency of Lewes and at the start of what I hope may be the second century of such good sense among the electors of that constituency.

But the Lewes constituency is attractive for reasons other than electoral reasons. Through the constituency, from east to west, run the South Downs, no longer the virtually exclusive preserve of the sheep of that name, but still providing a geographical backbone to the farmers in the constituency. Through the Downs cut two rivers—the Cuckmere, which exits to the English Channel through the Seven Sisters Country Park and Bird sanctuary, and the Ouse, which runs the full length of the constituency, from Newick in the north, which is just three miles south of the Ashdown Forest, through to the thriving port of Newhaven in the south.

This port, under the usually benevolent eye of British Railways, enjoys the boom of increased trade and tourism with Europe, the growth of interest in sailing and boating in all its forms and, not least, the return to prosperity of the local fishing fleet, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren), my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine). my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), as well as my predecessor, have shown such an interest.

To the west of Newhaven are the residential areas of Peacehaven, Telscombe Cliffs and East Saltdean, many of whose residents are retired and have been grateful for the actions of the previous Government in drawing proper attention to their needs and taking those actions to meet them which have been such an inspiration to the present Government.

To the east of Newhaven lies Seaford, for many years predominantly a retirement community but more recently attracting by its balmy sea breezes and attractive surroundings younger married couples, working there and to the east and west.

Coming inland through some of the prettiest villages, of Alfriston, Selmeston Firle and Berwick, to name but a few, there is the market town of Hailsham, which with Lewes can boast the most lively and prosperous cattle markets in the South-East. From Hailsham in the east to Plumpton and Ditchling in the west, there is no place in the length and breadth of the Kingdom in which one will find more beautiful countryside. May I extend a most open and cordial invitation to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and through you to all Members of the House, to visit me there?

I have dwelt long on the glories of the Lewes constituency, not only because they deserve to be honoured but because they provide the indispensable backdrop to the Bill that we are discussing tonight. In this small island of ours no one natural recreational amenity can be considered in a vacuum, separated from the others, most particularly from others contiguous to it. To this extent the Ashdown Forest is part not just of the Sussex amenity scene but of the amenity facilities of London and the whole of the southeastern part of England. The Seaford Head Nature Reserve, run by the Lewes District Council, the Ditchling Common Country Park, which is just being pieced together by the East Sussex County Council, and the Seven Sisters Country Park, already mentioned, are but three recreational facilities which fall, all or part, within my constituency and which all have a bearing on our attitude to the Ashdown Forest.

All these facilities are administered by local or county councils which are charged with the conservation of the flora and fauna of these parks for the benefit of those who use them, from wherever they may come—and they do that very well. Ashdown Forest is of the same stature as these parks. Indeed, some may say that it is greater in stature than some of them. It is no longer a vulnerable local wood existing on borrowed time and with gifts of money. It is a feature of our countryside which is recreationally important, ecologically important and environmentally important. It is common land and, as such, it must be protected.

That, I believe, is the true object of the Bill. Indeed, following the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier today, it is, I hope, not impertinent to say that the Bill has uniquely all the attributes which hon. Members on both sides of the House surely seek in any legislation. It is designed to provide for financial stability in a world in which financial stability is at a premium. It is designed to match representation with responsibility—a situation which is not always so, as everyone in the House knows. The Bill provides for more effective management and better control, yet at the same time establishing for the first time wider legal rights for the public use of the forest, be they men, women or children who use it. Over all of this it protects the existing rights of common upon the forest. The people of Sussex are proud to have been so often in the vanguard of planning for coast and countryside. I join my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) and my hon. Friends who represent all the constituencies of Sussex, vast numbers of the commoners of Ashdown Forest, the majority of the Board of Conservators of Ashdown Forest and the overwhelming majority of opinion in Sussex, in supporting the Bill. I beg that it be given a Second Reading.

7.48 p.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

I have been a Member of the House since 1955. I have sometimes wondered whether it would ever fall to my lot to

congratulate a maiden speaker on the excellence of the speech that he had delivered to us. I am delighted that I have saved this occasion for today, for three reasons.

The first is the quality of the speech which we have just heard and which delighted the House. We all greatly look forward to hearing a lot more from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). The second reason why it gives me great pleasure to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend of his very felicitous speech is that he happens to be my Member of Parliament. The only complaint that I have is that tie aid not mention the village in which I live, which is the nicest village he represents. The third reason why I greatly welcome this opportunity is that, as a number of hon. Members may know, my hon. Friend has the unique distinction, probably, of both his parents having been Members of the House successively. Therefore, we have a very warm place in our hearts for him. We hope that he has a long and happy career with us in the House.

I want to say three things about Uckfield, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) referred. First, Uckfield petitioned against the Bill in the House of Lords but withdrew its petition after its objections had been met. Secondly, Uckfield has not been outstanding in the financial contributions it has offered to make to Ashdown Forest. Thirdly, it is worth remembering that there is no suggestion now, and I certainly did not get any impression of it from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, that Uckfield wanted to accept any financial responsibility for the maintenance of Ashdown Forest.

In these circumstances, it is my pleasure to support the motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 33.

Division No.4.] AYES [7.51 p.m.
Aitken, J. W. P. Biffen, John Burden, F. A.
Allason, James Body, Richard Butler, Adam (Bosworth)
Ancram, M. Brown, Bob (Newcastle upon Tyne, W.) Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich)
Atkins, Ronald Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Clark, William (Croydon, S.)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bruce-Gardyne, J. Clegg, Walter
Baker, Kenneth Buchanan-Smith, Alick Cocks, Michael
Conlan, Bernard Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol, W.) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Rost, Peter (Derbyshire, S.-E.)
Cope, John Kershaw, Anthony Sandelson, Neville
Costain, A. J. Knight, Mrs. Jill Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Crawshaw, Richard Lamborn, Harry Silkin, Hn. S. C. (S'hwark, Dulwich)
Dempsey, James Lamont, Norman Sinclair, Sir George
Drayson, Burnaby Le Marchant, Spencer Skeet, T. H. H.
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Smith, Dudley (W'wick&L'm'ngton)
Durant, Tony Loyden, Eddie Snape, P. C.
Eadie, Alex Luce, Richard Spence, John
Edge, Geoff Mayhew, P. (Royal T'bridge Wells) Sproat, Iain
Elliott, R. W. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Stanbrook, Ivor
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stanley, J. P.
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Monro, Hector Stodart, Rt. Hn. A. (Edinburgh, W.)
Evans, J. (Newton) Moore, J. E. M. (Croydon, C.) Stradling Thomas, John
Ewing, Harry (St'ling.F'kirk&G'm'fh) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Fairgrieve, Russell Mudd, David Tebbit, Norman
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Murray, Ronald King Trotter, Neville
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Neubert, Michael Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.) Newens, Stanley (Harlow) Viggers, Peter
Fletcher. Ted (Darlington) Newton, Tony (Braintree) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Fookes. Miss Janet Oakes, Gordon Weatherill, Bernard
Ford, Ben Orbach, Maurice Winterton, Nicholas
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'field) Osborn, John Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Fox, Marcus Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Woodall, Alec
Gourlay, Harry Parkinson, Cecil (Hertfordshire, S.) Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Grant, George (Morpeth) Perry, Ernest G. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Gray, Hamish Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Young, David (Bolton, E.)
Hampson, Dr. Keith Rathbone, Tim Younger, Hn. George
Hannam, John Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Harper, Joseph Rees-Davies, W. R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Renton, R. T. (Mid-Sussex) Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine and
Hatton, Frank Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith
Hawkins, Paul Rifkind, Malcolm
Bates, Alf Kilfedder, James A. Stott, Roger
Cohen, Stanley Kinnock, Neil Tierney, Sydney
English, Michael Lamond, James Tyler, Paul
Faulds, Andrew Latham, Arthur (CityafW' minster P'ton) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Madden, M. 0. F. Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Whitehead, Phillip
Hamling, William Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hooson, Emlyn Silverman, Julius Winstanley, Dr. Michael
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Steel, David Mr. Robert Maxwell-Hyslop and
Judd, Frank Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth,Fulh'm) Mrs. Lena Jeger
Kerr, Russell

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.