HL Deb 07 June 1866 vol 183 cc2021-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


presented a Petition of Owners of Land in the New Forest, praying for Amendment of the Bill, and to be heard by Counsel against it. The petition was signed by 700 persons, consisting of the most important landowners, of the small freeholders, and of the farmers holding land in and in the neighbourhood of the New Forest. He believed that the parties complaining would be seriously aggrieved if the Bill were to pass in its present form, but he could not support the prayer of the Petition to be heard against the Bill, as that would be contrary to the rules of the House. He should, therefore, if the Bill should pass the second reading, ask their Lordships to send it to a Select Committee, and refer the Petition to them, in order that it might be seen whether or not the Petitioners' fears were rightly founded.


presented a Petition of J. W. Pycroft, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, praying that the Bill may be referred to the Examiners, or that the Petitioner may be heard by Counsel against it. Mr. Pycroft, the noble Lord said, was a gentleman who had paid a great deal of attention to the question as to how far the rights of the Crown over the foreshores extended; and he now complained that in the Bill there was an indirect assumption on the part of the Crown of a right to the foreshores. The matter was of considerable importance, and as there had been a recent decision against that assumed right, there ought not to be an attempt made to indirectly assume such a right in an Act of Parliament.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that its objects were, in the first place, to provide that the expenses of the management and of the improvement of the Crown lands, at present paid out of the income derived from that property, should be placed to the capital account of the Land Revenue of the Crown, and should be defrayed by a charge on the income of the lands, extending over a period of not more than thirty years. It was difficult to know how to deal with the costly improvements which were requisite to develop the property, and which could not properly be paid out of the income of the year. The result of the proposed change would be to prevent the income derived from these lands being materially and improperly reduced during the life of Her Majesty. The next object of the measure was to transfer one moiety of the income derived from the working of the minerals on the property to the capital account of the Land Revenues, instead of including the whole of the sum arising from that source in the income, as had been done hitherto. The Bill also proposed to deal with the right of shooting over the New Forest, and also over the Forest of Dean, and with certain other minor matters connected with the subject. One of the most important alterations it proposed to effect was to transfer the management of the foreshores from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to the Board of Trade. Some objection had been raised to the words of the clauses relating to this matter; but he could only say, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that their only desire was to transfer existing rights of the Crown in such property—whatever they might be—from one Department to another. With regard to Claremont, the Bill proposed to give to Her Majesty during her life the use of that place, which had belonged for life to the late King of the Belgians, but on his decease had reverted to the nation.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."(The Lord President.)


said, as the subject on which he was about to address their Lordships was only interesting to those who were connected with the New Forest he had to crave their Lordships' pardon while he explained the case brought under their Lordships' notice by the petition he had just presented. Some years ago, in 1851, an Act known as the New Forest Deer Removal Act was passed. By that Act the Queen had power to remove the deer from the New Forest, and to enclose 10,000 acres of the land in addition to 6,000 already enclosed. The Act might therefore be regarded as an arrangement between the Crown and the commoners of the New Forest. One of the clauses of the Act declared that Her Majesty might grant licenses to sport in the Forest under Her sign manual. This right, it was true, had been previously exercised; but the mention of it in the Act was an assurance to the commoners that that was the way in which it would continue to be carried out. Now, what was complained of was, not that the authority had been transferred from the Crown to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, but that the latter were about to convert the licence to shoot into a lease of the shooting. The difference to the commoners between the two systems was very material. Under the present system those who had merely shooting licences had no control over the Forest, no power of getting up game, or of keeping down vermin, or of interfering with the free use of the Forest, It was proposed to divide the Forest into eight or ten districts, for the shooting over which a rent of £2,000 a year was expected; and he was informed that by another Bill that had been introduced into the other House the Commissioners were empowered to let certain small portions of land on building leases, so that keepers' cottages might be erected by the lessees of the shooting. Now, the total acreage of the New Forest was 92,362, and the result of the adjudication by the Commissioners under the Act of 1851 was that the right of the commoners to pasturage, &c, extended over 65,212 acres, the number of claimants being 881, and the number of houses having rights of fuel, &c, being 1,579. Those rights were circumscribed by that Bill, and if the licensing system was introduced there was every probability that they would be further impaired, for a large head of ground game would most likely come up, to the great injury of the commoners. It was feared, moreover, that whereas at present there was no impediment to walking, riding, or driving through the Forest, the lessees, whose interest it would be to make as much out of shooting as possible, would do away with that free user, and would provoke continual litigation by the closing of roads. Already, indeed, two roads had been closed, and the gentlemen who combined on a former occasion to preserve the highways of the Forest had determined to devote the residue of the fund they then raised to resisting such aggressions. If the free user of the Forest were interfered with, it would materially depreciate the value of the land in the neighbourhood. Many of the men had bought land there because they would have the free use of the Forest without doing harm to any one. The commoners did not object to this Bill on the ground of the shootings being let what they wanted was that the present system of letting them by licenses should be continued, instead of, as proposed, by leases. There was a proviso inserted at the end of the 4th clause of the present Bill, to the effect that the licences granted under the 9th section of the Act of 1851 should not be interfered with. The existing licences terminated at the end of the shooting season in February; really, therefore, there were no licences in existence under the 9th section. Either, therefore, this proviso was a sham, or, as he believed, it indicated a desire to make some amends to the commoners by effectually preventing the Woods and Forests from letting the shootings by lease. Practically unless they had broken any of the rules of the licence, those who held it under the sign manual held it for their lives. There were eighty-two or eighty-three persons who stood in that position; and this fact he thought would prevent the Woods and Forests from letting the shootings by lease, It might be thought there was a large amount of game in the New Forest. Now, such was by no means the case. There might be some black game and a few pheasants; but every one of these must be reared and fed. One black cock, two pheasants, and perhaps an old hare would be considered not a bad day's sport. The shootings had very little to do with the question. The chief object was, by continuing the licensing in opposition to the leasing system, to maintain the free user of the Forest. The commoners would not object to the Bill if the noble Earl would confine it to simply transferring from the Crown to the Woods and Forests the power of letting by licence instead of by lease. It was rather curious that a Liberal Government should be the first to propose turning the Crown lands into a great game preserve. He thought such a measure would be likely to induce a great many poachers to resort to the neighbourhood of the New Forest; for nothing was more demoralizing than the preservation of game which was ineffectually preserved. These poachers would be constantly brought up before the bench by the new lessees, and great litigation and disturbance would be the consequence. If the noble Earl did not agree to the suggestion he had made, he should ask their Lordships to refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs.


said, he concurred generally in the observations of his noble Friend. The Bill did a great deal more than it purported to do. When he first saw the Bill, which bore the simple heading of "Crown Lands Bill," he had supposed that it was some matter-of-course measure, and that it was of no great importance; but when he looked into it he found that he was mistaken. It was not a mere matter of the transfer of the foreshores from the Commissioners of the Woods to the Board of Trade, but it proposed to do a great deal more—it proposed to take a power which it was doubtful that the Crown possessed at that moment—namely, the power of selling, leasing, and applying the foreshores. He believed that great evils would result from the proposed transfer of power from one Board to the other. In Scotland the Crown had made various claims in reference to the foreshores, and the consequence was that the landowners were obliged to combine to resist the encroachments of the Crown, but many persons who could not afford to resist had been obliged to submit to injustice. He would add that almost every legal decision which had been obtained had been against the Crown.


observed, that though the President of the Council had stated that the object of the Bill was simply to transfer powers, and that it was not intended to confer any new right upon the Crown with respect to foreshores, nor to interfere with adjacent proprietors, yet there were expressions in the Bill which went very far towards conferring additional rights upon the Crown, and which it would therefore be necessary to alter. In many parts of the Bill he considered the rights of the Crown to foreshores was stated in too wide terms; but his objection had most force in reference to Scotland, since in England the law relating to foreshores was fixed and certain, whilst in Scotland the right of the Crown was altogether doubtful. He was able in reference to the petition of Mr. Pycroft to bear testimony to the importance of that gentleman's researches upon this important question, and, therefore, he should propose in Committee, instead of Clauses 8, 9, and 10, which dealt with the question of foreshores, to insert one single clause, that the Board of Trade should have and exercise all powers and authorities, rights and privileges whatsoever with regard to the foreshores, which the Commissioners of Woods were at present entitled to exercise with regard to the same.


, in reply to the statement made by the noble Duke (the Duke of Buccleuch) that the Bill, under the pretence of making a mere transfer of powers from one Department to another, clandestinely sought to give new powers to the Crown, declared with the most perfect Confidence that the proposed enactment with respect to the foreshores conferred on the Crown not one particle of power which it did not possess at present. On the contrary, the clause had been carefully worded, so as to preclude all possible doubt on that head.


wished to say a few words as to the Crown leasing the right of shooting in the New Forest. He had lived in the vicinity of the New Forest all his life, and could bear testimony to the fact that the shooting there was scarcely worth having. The country was an open one; it was not made for the rearing of game; there was little or no corn there, and if some cockney sportsmen should take it into their heads that it would be a fine thing to shoot in the Forest, and should pay for the purpose the money which the Government required, they would have to rear every bird by artificial means. Moreover, there were perhaps not 200 acres of corn land in the whole 70,000, and therefore any game raised there must feed upon the crops of the adjoining farmers. It was not worth while, therefore, he contended, to make a change which would put an end to that good feeling which now prevailed in that part of the country, and which would be a breach of the agreement which had been entered into between the Crown and the commoners, to the effect that the Crown should give up the right of keeping deer and the commoners give up the right of commoners over certain lands. Numerous convictions for poaching would, he felt assured, be the result of the proposed legislation, while fires and other outrages would in all probability follow. Under those circumstances, it would be far better to leave things as they at present stood.


thought that the value of the shooting in the New Forest was underrated, for some of it he believed was very good, and certainly was very wild and picturesque. If the Bill passed the Crown would be ready to make reasonable arrangements with the present licencees, instead of a lot of strangers being introduced.


said, that while disposed to agree with those who regarded the shooting as pretty good, he would remind the House of the arrangement which had some years ago been made, in accordance with which the deer in the Forest, which had been found to be a great nuisance in the neighbourhood, had been confined to an enclosure of 10,000 acres set apart for the purpose, adding that if the shooting were leased as proposed large heads of game would be kept up, and the residents in the immediate vicinity of the Forest exposed to the still greater nuisance arising from the increase of rabbits and hares.


said, that if they let the right of shooting to a perfect stranger, they could not expect him to pay rent for it unless he were allowed to have his own keepers and to get as much game as would compensate him for his outlay. So, if they let Crown lands and then said that no others persons but the Queen's keepers should have the right of going there, and that they should have the power of keep ing down the game as much as possible, it would be rather absurd to expect Gentlemen to take leases of those lands.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.

And on Monday, June 11, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

Ld. President V. Halifax
M. Lansdowne L. Blantyre
E. Doncaster L. Harris
E. Malmesbury L. Silchester
E. Powis L. Portman
E. Nelson L. Stanley of Alderley
E. Morley L. Northbrook
V. Eversley