HL Deb 07 April 1927 vol 66 cc904-13

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Clinton.)


, who had given Notice to move, That the Bill be read 3a this day six months, said: My Lords, I beg to move formally the Amendment which stands in my name, but I should like to explain to the House that I take this course because I have not had an opportunity before of calling attention to certain important points in connection with the Bill. The measure lays down certain lines upon which the Forestry Commissioners may act and it affects, of course, the New Forest as well as other forestry areas. I do not propose to raise any question of general policy: rather should I like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, who I am sorry is not here to-day, upon the excellent work they are doing. The questions I desire to raise relate to the New Forest. There are two points in this Bill as it stands—I think they have been referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, and by other noble Lords—upon which I desire to obtain some clearer explanation than has been given.

In the first place I desire to call attention to the expression "beneficial nature" in proviso (a) of Clause 2. The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, raised this point either on the Second Reading or during the Committee stage, but I do not think the answer given was quite satisfactory. It would appear that unless a person had an interest of a beneficial nature in the New Forest he would have no rights under this Bill. It may be, of course, that the word "beneficial" in this case does cover the right or the custom of the public in the New Forest, but if not it might follow that nobody would have the right to walk in the New Forest. It is because I want to know if the rights of the public are guarded in this respect that I should like to have a statement from the noble Lord. I take it that the noble Lord would not be in favour of removing the public right to use the New Forest. I think my noble friend Lord Parmoor is of opinion that "right" is the wrong word, but at any rate there is a custom of the public to use the New Forest. That has gone on now for several hundred years and I venture to think it is more appreciated to-day than it has ever been before. If any of your Lordships lived in the neighbourhood you would see, almost all through the year, all kinds of people walking through the New Forest. They are brought there by motor charabancs and other public conveyances, and I can honestly say that never before has the British public appreciated the New Forest as much as it does at present. Therefore no attempt should be made in any way to limit the use of the New Forest by the public, but rather it should be encouraged. That is the first point.

Then, in proviso (c) of the clause, the words appear "after consultation with the verderers." In the original draft of that clause it was provided that Regulations should be made "after consultation and agreement with the verderers." The verderers were given the privilege of having to agree with the Forestry Commissioners as well as having to be consulted. We thought that was a very valuable thing because we who represent the locality also represent the commoners and, to a large extent, the public. It seems to me that when these by-laws are being made the consent of those who represent the public should be obtained. Therefore we were glad to see the words "and agreement" in the original draft. I notice, however, that as the Bill now stands these words are cut out. Perhaps, in practice, the Forestry Commissioners would not make by-laws until every effort had been wade to come to an agreement with the verderers; still, the words have been cut out and it would appear that legally at any rate the Forestry Commissioners could make by-laws without our consent and against our wishes. Probably the noble Lord will be able to give me some assurance on that point.

Another question which I wish to raise is about the cutting of the Burley Old Wood. It is rather a technical point to raise on this Bill, but it has to do with the Forestry Commissioners. About three months ago several acres of Burley-Old Wood, which is noted for its beauty, were cut and the trees were taken away and sold. Not only was that, in my opinion, illegal under the Act of 1877, but it was an extraordinarily unwise thing to do. As the noble Lord will probably know, already it has roused feelings of great anxiety and distress in the neighbourhood and also amongst representative societies such as the National Trust, the Commons Preservation Society and other bodies which have under their special care beauty spots in this country. Luckily, before very much harm was done, the cutting was stopped, and I believe that some assurance has been given, or an understanding arrived at, that no more cutting is to take place. I venture to think that the cutting was altogether an inexcusable act. Not only was it a very foolish thing to do from the point of view of arousing hostility and offending public opinion, but it was contrary to the New Forest Act, 1877, of which Clause 6, which deals with the Crown's right of enclosure, contains the following words:— Care shall be taken to maintain the picturesque character of the ground and not wholly to level or clear the woods, but to leave from time to time a sufficient number of the most ornamental trees; and to keep the woods replenished from time to time by protecting the self-sown plants, or by planting trees in the vacant places, having regard to the ornamental as well as the profitable use of the ground. That clause is sufficient in itself to protect the portions of the old woods that are within the enclosures.

In another part of the, Act, in Clause 8, there is a comprehensive provision which seems to me to cover the whole position. It runs as follows:— The ancient ornamental woods and trees in the Forest— including, of course, those within the en-closures— shall be preserved, and except in so far as is provided by this Act the Forest shall remain open and unenclosed, and wood shall be provided for the satisfaction of fuel rights without the sacrifice of ornamental timber. The opening words of that clause seem to me to be a direct mandate from Parliament to the effect that there shall be no cutting down of the ancient ornamental woods and trees, and I very much regret that the policy in conformity with this Act that has been followed by various Deputy Surveyors of the Office of Woods and Forests, and until recently by the Forestry Commission, should have been abandoned on this occasion, if only for a short time. I hope that the noble Lord may be able to give us a very definite assurance that no more cutting will take place of any ornamental timber in disregard of the Act of 1877. In this connection I notice that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill suggested on the Second Reading that an advisory committee should be formed, assisted by representatives of certain local bodies, by the verderers and by one or two institutions that pay special regard to these places all over the country. I think that this is an excellent suggestion. I accept it for my own part, and I believe that the verderers are entirely friendly to it. If they had only been consulted I am sure that this cutting would not have taken place.

It is the national and ornamental value of the New Forest that must come first, and I was very disappointed to read a letter to The Times from an official, as I understand, of the Forestry Commission, in which he suggested that economic considerations must come first in these matters. The whole tenour of the Act of 1877 is that the ornamental and national character of the New Forest must come first. I may tell your Lordships that the amount realised by the sale of a few logs of ornamental timber here and there is infinitesimal, whereas the New Forest as a whole is our greatest and most beautiful national park, the value of which cannot be estimated in a financial sense. I am sure that the noble Lord in his heart regrets, as I do, that this cutting took place. We cannot put back the trees that were there a few months ago, but I hope that we may do a good deal by this debate to-day and that the noble Lord will be able to help us to see that nothing of this kind occurs in the future.

In conclusion I would only say that, so far as the Court of Verderers is concerned, we have been anxious for a long time past, and we are anxious to-day, to work in the most friendly way with the Forestry Commission. We realise that they are doing very excellent work in the New Forest and elsewhere. We have had our points of difference with them, but, generally speaking, we work in harmony. I only want to tell the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that if this atmosphere of friendliness, which I would do everything in my power to assist, is to continue there must be no sudden and more or less secret cutting of wood. I hope that he will take immediate steps to set up the advisory committee that has been suggested and that this committee will really be allowed to have a voice when there is a question of cutting non-ornamental timber; for the Committee will doubtless agree that under the Act of 1877 there is no power to cut timber that can be described as ornamental. I hope that I have made my points clear and I have no wish to detain your Lordships at greater length. I trust that the noble Lord will be able to give me the assurances for which I have asked.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.)


My Lords, some of your Lordships will doubtless recollect the unwearied campaign of the late Mr. Auberon Herbert on precisely the two points that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu—namely, the abstention from cutting old timber in the New Forest on economic grounds, and also allowing the natural tangle to grow. I saw with great surprise the letter in The Times to which the noble Lord has referred, suggesting that the policy of the Forestry Commission no longer follows that laid down in the Act of 1877 and that the matter is to be treated on economic grounds alone. I think that the letter said that these trees could not be preserved in their beauty, that they cumbered the ground and must be cut down. That is not the opinion of us amateurs and of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the New Forest. We trust that the policy laid down in the Act of 1877 will be adhered to. Is it to be the deliberate policy of the Forestry Commission to abandon the aim of preserving the old timber and to run these old plantations on economic lines alone? I think it is desirable that this point should be made perfectly clear. As regards the rights of the public, I am bound to say that I understand that the Commons Preservation Society, which has taken a great interest in this matter, is satisfied that none of the reasonable rights of the public, as such, are interfered with, and accordingly I do not raise any opposition on that point. I consulted the society after the Second Reading, and they told me that, so far as they were concerned, they were satisfied that these rights were preserved.


My Lords, the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has raised in connection with his Amendment are not all closely concerned with the Bill itself, but they are of sufficient importance and public interest, I think, for your Lordships to allow me to reply to them in such detail as may put the position clearly before, the House. As regards the rights of the public, my noble friend opposite has, I think, answered the noble Lord's question for me. The Commons Preservation Society and other bodies are satisfied that no infringement of such rights will take place, and I can assure your Lordships that no infringement is intended. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, also referred to the provision for agreement which originally appeared, as I understand, in the Bill, although I was not aware of it, with regard to by-laws placed before the verderers. This matter was raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor during the Committee Stage, and he satisfied the House and, I have no doubt, satisfied himself in a manner of which I entirely approved, that we as a Commission and, as successors of the Woods and Forests Department, in charge of the Crown Woods, could not subject the rights which are laid down for us under the Act of 1877 to any other body. But I am confident that consultations on matters which really relate to the amenity or picturesqueness of those forests are very unlikely to cause disagreement between two sides both of whom are intensely anxious to preserve for the nation the beautiful heritage which it possesses in the New Forest.

With regard to other matters, such as the cutting of Burley Old Wood, I do not wish to attempt to argue upon a matter with which I am not very competent to deal—namely, upon the meaning of certain words in the Act itself, but Lord Montagu has suggested that the Act specially prevents any body, whether the Forestry Commission or any other body, from cutting ornamental trees. I think that is too wide an interpretation to place upon the clause to which he has referred, because in the previous clause it is quite clearly stated that in cutting care shall be taken not wholly to level the woods but to leave, from time to time, a certain number of the most ornamental trees. It seems to me that that does imply that there may be cutting of ornamental trees. It is of course most unlikely that anybody would treat the Forest in such a way that these ornamental trees might be destroyed.

The Act of 1877 is the Charter of the New Forest, and it does lay down, I think, quite clearly, certain duties which those in charge of the Forest, from a forestry point of view, have to carry out. Your Lordships ate aware that there are something like 63,000 acres, of which only some 16,000 can be enclosed at one time. It was provided in the Act that Her Majesty—Queen Victoria was then on the Throne—should exercise rights of enclosure only in such places where enclosures had existed up to that time, the whole amount not being more than 16,000 acres, and when Lord Olivier talks of the possible destruction of the whole Forest, I hope he will recognise that we are not exercising rights over the open Forest but only over certain enclosures, in which we have certain duties to perform. Our duties, I think, are three in number. They are to cut, to maintain the picturesque character of the woods, and to replenish those woods.

It is clear, and I admit, that the care of the picturesque overrides all those, but the work of replenishment must be done to preserve the picturesqueness. If you take one of these beauty spots and let it go so far that the trees rot and buckle back on their stems, and no light is let in to the young growth, then for future generations they will only be a wreck of their former selves. The object of the Commission in replenishing is to keep these beauty spots intact for all time, and to let in sufficient light, so that the young growth may go on. That is the method generally called the "group system," which is in use on the Continent, and notably at Fontainebleau. The point under consideration at the moment is whether the cutting in Burley Old Wood was greater than need have been for the purpose. The noble Lord alluded to a letter in The Times, which he thinks came from someone connected with the Commission, saying that the economic view must always take precedence of any other. I do not think that letter is likely to have come from the Commission.

At the same time this replenishment is necessary to preserve the natural beauty of the Forest, and it is a matter of opinion how that replenishment should take place. It is for that purpose that we are calling in advisers—an advisory committee consisting of representatives from all the bodies interested in the New Forest, the verderers, the New Forest Association, and representatives of the National Trust and the Commons Preservation Society. I think that is a very strong body to assist the Forestry Commission in doing what they want to do, which is to preserve the amenities of the Forest. I think that with those bodies all imbued with the same idea there is little fear of that want of agreement which has been alluded to. I hope that my reply will take away from my noble friend's fears, and I am certain that when the Committee is appointed the noble Lord among others will do his best to assist us in carrying out the duties which we have to perform.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord who moved the Amendment to the Third Reading Motion will be satisfied with the explanation which Lord Clinton has given. In the first place I understood him to say, in the nature of a public undertaking, that there will be no interference with public rights in the Forest. I was anxious about that for this reason: I recollect that nearly thirty years ago, when the noble Lord's father was chairman of the body of verderers, a long Inquiry, occupying about thirty days, took place with regard to a proposal which would undoubtedly have interfered with public rights in the New Forest. I may say that I was in favour of the proposal—as an advocate—but we were defeated, public rights in the Forest were substantiated, and that interference not allowed. I think it is an excellent matter that the noble Lord should give an assurance on that point.

With regard to the second point, in connection with the by-laws, I dealt with that during the Committee stage, but I am glad that he has restated that those will be carried out on the ground of general agreement; and understanding that some additional by-laws were necessary in order to carry out the purpose of this particular Bill, I assented on the understanding that the matter would be carried out in agreement with the verderers and other bodies interested, and did not press my Amendment any further. There is one point about which I wish to ask the noble Lord. I think every one who knows the Forest would think it a sacrilege that ornamental trees should be destroyed there on economic grounds. But do I understand the noble Lord to say also that any interference in the nature of cutting, so far as the Forestry Commission and this Bill are concerned, would only be in connection with plantations? Of course plantations have to be dealt with—they have to be thinned and dealt with in various ways—but do I understand him to say that it is only in connection with plantations that cutting would take place under the powers of the Bill?


If I used the word "plantations" I probably used a wrong term. The word I ought to have used was "enclosure"; that was my intention at all events.


That quite satisfies me. We all know what is meant by "enclosures" in the New Forest. There are 15,000 or 16,000 acres of them, whereas in the New Forest generally a very large proportion of the property is private property—it is roughly half private and half public property. Having regard to what the noble Lord has said about enclosures I hope that on that point, too, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, will be satisfied. There is no one who, from his interest in forests and as a verderer of the New Forest, is more likely to take public action for the protection of forests.


After what has been said I do not wish to press my Amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, for what he has said, and I hope that, after the friendly sentiments to which he has given expression with reference to the remarks I made, everything will go well.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read 3a, and passed.