§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU rose to call attention to the recent cutting of old and ornamental timber in the New Forest contrary to the provisions of the New Forest Act of 1877, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether orders can be issued to treat the New Forest henceforth as a national park dedicated to the enjoyment of the public, and whether its management in future could be undertaken by the Office of Works instead of by the Forestry Commission, who are chiefly concerned with the planting and cutting of timber for commercial purposes, and are not primarily interested in preserving the beauty or amenities of forest areas; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I go into detail in regard to the Motion which I have put down I would like to make a few preliminary remarks. First of all, I hope in this debate to say nothing which will prejudice the chances of a friendly settlement of the outstanding questions which are at present under discussion between the Forestry Commission and the New Forest Advisory Committee and the Verderers. Secondly, I think it would be only right for me to say that the noble Lord who, I understand, is replying on behalf of the Forestry Commission has always been most courteous in his consideration of this question and, though his official position may render it difficult for him to say as much as I should like him to do on some of the points that I am going to put forward, I feel certain that he is aware of the strong feeling that exists and will do his best as far as he can to persuade the Commission to consider that feeling. I would also like to say 185 that I do not propose to discuss in general the policy of the Forestry Commission. It is the duty of that Commission, as your Lordships know, to plant trees, to cut them and generally to promote the interests of forestry, but the Forestry Commission has mainly to look at the matter from a commercial point of view.
§ The Commission is not primarily interested in any question of beauty. By its very constitution it has not to consider even the interests of the public; it is a body which has to make as much money as can be made by cutting the trees and by planting so as to provide for the needs of posterity in case a shortage of timber should arise. Whether that shortage will ever occur to the extent that some foresters think is a matter of opinion. I shall not go deeply into that question to-day. Our real quarrel with the Forestry Commission is that it is almost impossible for it, so far as we can see, to detach itself from the commercial consideration of this kind of question. I know the noble Lord has said on previous occasions, and I believe Lord Lovat has also said, that regard is being paid to the amenities of the New Forest and its beauties, but, so far, we have seen direct evidence to the contrary. It has been said that this question of the New Forest is purely a local question. That I am prepared to deny in, tote. It is true that we who live in the locality naturally have taken up this matter more keenly than it has been taken up in other places, but the New Forest is a national possession. In addition to that, there are unborn generations coming after us who, if the policy that is at present in force is carried on, will not, in our opinion at any rate, enjoy the beauties of the Forest in the way they would have done had the trees now being cut been preserved.
§ In confirmation of my statement that the case we are defending is a national case, I may say that we—that is, the New Forest Association—are supported in our action by the Commons Preservation Society, a very important and old established society, which for many years past has watched over public amenities in relation to commons and footpaths and has done a great deal of good work. The National Trust also supports us. Everybody knows that that Trust has done 186 excellent work. We also have the assistance of the Selborne Society, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and of the recently established Council for the Preservation of Rural England, over which my noble friend the Earl of Crawford presides. I think that list of five very representative national societies ought to give the answer to those who say that this is purely a local agitation got up by the people in the locality who may be interested, while nobody else is much interested in the preservation of the Forest.
§ For the benefit of noble Lords who may not be quite aware of the position of the New Forest, I would like to give a rough outline of the position to-day. There are 64,000 acres in the New Forest, of which 17,000 acres only are inclosurable. Not more than 16,000 acres, however, may be enclosed at any one time. The Crown during my lifetime—my memory goes back over fifty years—has never enclosed up to the limit of 16,000 acres, but we do not deny that the Crown has the right, to do so. Whether it is wise to do it is another point. What I want the House to understand is that of those 16,000 acres, over which the Crown has undoubted rights of enclosure and planting subject to certain limitations which I will presently state, only about 2,000 acres are in dispute to-day. Those 2,000 acres, in our opinion, ought to be regarded as "ancient" and "ornamental"—to use the words of the 1877 Act—and ought to be treated as a national possession. The question is: Are they to be out by the Forestry Commission in exactly the same way as any other parts of the Forest, which may consist of conifers, are cut. Our view is that the words of the Act cover the 2,000 acres in dispute. I am not going into the legal aspects of the matter, however. My noble friend Lord Darling, who has lived in the New Forest the greater part of his life, is much better able to deal with the legal argument relating to what we think is an infraction of the Act, and I would rather leave that argument to him.
§ I want to emphasise once more that the real dispute, so far as the cutting of old wood is concerned, refers to somewhere about 2,000 acres. For many years past, in the time when Mr. Lascelles was deputy surveyor and when Mr. Leese succeeded him, there have been occasions when a certain amount of friction has 187 developed—because it must be remembered that the New Forest is not in the sole ownership of the Crown. It really belongs to three sets of owners. The Crown has the rights of the lord of the manor, but the commoners have very considerable and valuable rights, and the public also have rights, laid down in the Act of 1877, of having the old woods kept open and of roaming over the open part of the Forest at their own will and pleasure. Lately, however, we have noticed distinct aggression on the part of the Forestry Commission. I do not accuse the noble Lord of acting in an aggressive spirit, nor am I blaming the Forestry Commission, but, whether with or without their knowledge, local officers have displayed this aggressive spirit. The result is that never in my long experience of the New Forest have I known anything like the hostile feeling that has been developed there, and I do not think that from the point of view of the Forestry Commission itself it is wise for the Commission to allow this feeling to become still more intense.
§ Just fifty years ago, my father and Mr. Briscoe Eyre got the Act of 1877 passed, with the consent of the Government of the day. That is our charter in the New Forest. It limited the rights of the Crown in some directions, it defined the duties of the Crown representatives, and it renewed and re-established the old Court of Verderers, one of the oldest courts in the country. That is the Act on which we principally rely. Ten years of very hard work had to be done before that Act was passed, and I tell the House that if it takes us five or ten years to re-establish what we think is the law, and to bring home to the Commission what we think to be their duty, there are many of us who will willingly fight for that length of time.
§ I come now to specific instances of what has happened lately. Unfortunately, I was out of England in February and March; I was in the Far East. When I came back at the beginning of April I found, not only that the whole district was in a turmoil, but that people in London and all over the country were very much agitated about what was going on. There had been cutting of a wood called Burley Old Wood—which I think has been alluded to in a previous debate in your Lordships' House—about which an undertaking 188 had been given by a previous Commissioner of Woods and Forests that it should not be cut. That, I acknowledge, was an oversight, and if it had been known that the undertaking had been given that wood would not have been cut. Since that time more old woods, varying from 150 to 250 years old, have been cut. We in the Forest consider that that is a distinct breach of the undertaking given by my noble friend who sits below me—that is, as we understood it. I know that my noble friend will probably tell the House that the undertaking which he gave dealt only with Burley Old Wood, but the people in the Forest did not so understand it and if they were mistaken it was a mistake which was quite natural.
There was a report in The Times which I think confirms that. In a report in The Times of March 3, Lord Lovat is reported to have said:—
The Forestry Commissioners did not intend to carry out any more felling until such time as the Committee had been appointed and had had an opportunity of functioning.
That seemed to be fairly conclusive. Then, on April 26, I had a letter from Sir Hugh Murray, one of the Commissioners, who says, in reference to complaints about other wood being cut, that the deputy surveyor did not consider that he was contravening Lord Lovat's assurance that fellings would be suspended in all the old ornamental woods until such time as a Committee should have been appointed and consulted. That naturally gave me the impression that all felling was to be suspended. In addition, there was a shorthand note made at the time of the proceedings at Lyndhurst. I cannot say that the shorthand writer was absolutely correct in everything he put down, but this is what he did take down:—
Meanwhile he (ford Lovat) definitely undertook that all felling operations should entirely cease pending the formation of such a Committee and a meeting between it and the Commissioners.
I do not think that we can blame those in the locality if, after those three statements that I have read out, they came to the conclusion that the noble Lord had, as we thought very courteously and wisely, given an undertaking that until the Advisory Committee was set up no more trees should be cut. Before I pass from that subject, let me add that in
my long experience of public life I have generally found that reports in The Times, at any rate, are correct. I do not say that this particular report was not condensed, but one can generally rely upon these reports and I hope that the noble Lord who sits below me will excuse my saying that there was considerable ground for a little—shall I say misunderstanding? in this matter.
§ Since the middle of April a great deal more cutting has gone on in certain woods. I will not trouble the House with the names of all of them, but I will mention Pitt's Wood. This wood was planted under the Act of William III, the timber is a little over a hundred and fifty years old and it is one of the most beautiful woods in the Forest. That wood has been very seriously damaged from a picturesque point of view, and what we consider to be clear felling has taken place on the eastern side of it. There had been clear felling again at Aldridge Hill Wood. In that case I think there may be something to be said for the Commissioners. Whether they were legally entitled to do it is another question, but I think the natural regeneration is going on there very well, and they may have done a wise thing. But there again I think they broke the law. What it comes to is that we understood locally that the noble Lord was going to suspend cutting until the Advisory Committee had an opportunity of examining and reporting, and naturally the fact that cutting went on before the Committee was set up has produced a very serious state of tension in the locality.
§ I should like to ask also, having had some experience in my own woods, the reason for this curious haste to smack down all these old trees. Those who have private property would not think of cutting hardwood trees during the summer season, for many and obvious reasons. First of all, as everybody knows, when the sap is in the wood the oak is not so valuable as when it is winter-cut. There seems to be a curious haste to cut down these old woods, and how can we wonder if it is interpreted locally as being caused by the fact that the representative of the Forestry Commission in the locality is so afraid of some check being put on his actions that he is cutting, as many trees as possible before anything is done to stop him? It is not as if much money had been obtained from these poor 190 old trees. We know from a Parliamentary Question put on the 27th of last month that only 10d. a foot was obtained for oak and 4d. a foot for beech. I know that this is the average price for the trees cut, but I am credibly informed that about 1s. 2d. a foot is the maximum. You may have trees 250 years old and more being cut for the miserable return of 1s. 2d. a foot, and that means that if the tree has a bole reaching to half the height of this Chamber it would fetch somewhere about £2 10s. or £3; and for that a great tree that has taken 300 years to grow has been sacrificed! I do not think that even the Forestry Commissioners can justify this.
§ Then again, one of our accusations against the Forestry Commission is that, instead of replanting where oaks have grown, with hardwood and broad-leaved trees, like the oak, the beech, and possibly the ash, conifers have been planted in their place. This has been denied in some quarters, but I see from a Parliamentary Question on June 23 that 835 acres of conifers have been planted since January 1, 1926, as against 32 acres of oak. That does not look as if oak is being replaced by oak, and it seems to suggest that oak is being replaced by fir. I am one of those who have a good deal to do with the engineering trades, and my experience in engineering is that concrete and steel are more and more taking the place of wood for constructional purposes. I very much doubt whether these 800 acres of conifers that have been planted will ever repay the cost of their planting. Certainly no private owner would have done this. It may be that there will be a rise in timber in the next 100 years, but all I can say is that it is much more likely that fresh methods of construction will be used and that we shall have lighter steel and better concrete, and wood will become just as much a thing of the past in house construction and other purposes for which it is now used as oak has given way to steel in the building of ships.
§ With regard to the cutting of old trees, I would ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Forestry Commission, even if he cannot see his way to give all the undertakings to-day that we hope he may be able to give, to realise that we do feel most deeply on this question. To many of us, including myself, these old 191 trees are like old friends and to see them cut down—trees that you have known all your life—is a very sad thing indeed. No one would do it in his private park, no one would think of doing it in an area like Windsor Park or Richmond Park or any of the great London parks. But all the answer that we have had, at any rate up to now, is that the matter will receive consideration and that after all this is a forestry area.
§ I should like to tell the noble Lord also that I have had many letters from societies whose names I have not read out and from many private individuals on this matter. The noble Lord knows enough natural history to be aware that when you plant fir the gloom overhead to a large extent destroys the flora, and it also destroys—this may be a small point to some people, but it is a big point to others—the butterflies and moths, some of which are exceedingly rare and are not found elsewhere than in the New Forest. It alters the whole natural history of the district. One of these societies, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is quite right when it says that if you plant groves of fir to replace oak all the bird-life tends to disappear and most of the flora and fauna disappear too.
§ I turn to the question of the commoners' grievances. At this moment all political Parties are vying with each other to re-establish the small holder. We have all kinds of State-aided schemes to break up farms and plant a new race of yeomen. We are all, I think, in sympathy with those aims. In the New Forest we have 3,500 of these yeoman farmers, who are living to a large extent on their own land and to whom the exercise of the right of common is almost the most valuable part of their holdings. It is not only the exercise of their right of common that makes the Forest important to them; it gives them a sort of free life and the wider outlook which comes to men who do not live in enclosed surroundings. The Commons Preservation Society, to whose excellent work I have already alluded, will tell you that men bred next to commons, whether in Surrey, or in Wales or in Scotland, or elsewhere, are more independent and generally much more intelligent than those bred in enclosed countries. The race of New Forest commoners is a very valuable race and I think very strongly that nothing should 192 be done to affect their continued existence. One of their great grievances is this (and I believe it is a grievance which the noble Lord has expressed his willingness to abate): all over the open heaths, which used to be in most charming contrast to wooded country, are now growing Scotch firs, which spread like a plague in every direction. My noble friend Lord Darling can tell you that between where he used to live and where I live now, twenty or twenty-five years ago there was not a fir tree to be seen, but now those heaths are absolutely clogged and overgrown by Scotch fir.
§ I believe that the noble Lord sympathises with us on that point, which has become a serious grievance to the commoner. It overgrows his pasture and prevents grass coming up, for, as is well known, no grass will grow under fir trees. And, although we have often been promised by those in command of these forests that this nuisance shall be abated, so far all we have seen is a constant increase in the number of firs, which crowd our open heaths and are closing up what we know as the lungs of our country. It is not as if there were not some beautiful Scotch firs in the New Forest inside the enclosures, but we are talking about this foreign tree—it came, I believe, from the Baltic—which is not an indigenous tree and is doing a great deal of harm.
§ Then I come to a second grievance of the commoners. Although up to a few Years ago the gates of some of the enclosures were locked at times, they are now locked for something like three to four months of the summer, and no one can get through. I have had the courtesy of having a key myself, but I am talking about the ordinary commoner. In some cases his cattle cannot get through to feeding grounds and it has become a very serious deprivation of the commoners' rights. One of the grievances which they keenly feel—I am bound to say that I sympathise with them—is that these gates are unlocked during the hunting season and locked up during the non-hunting season. I am the last person to throw a stone at hunting, but is it fair and in accordance with the democratic spirit of our age, and in accordance with what should be understood to be the wishes of the Crown, that you should open the gates to those riding horses 193 while hunting, and close them to the poor man and his pony? I do not think it is justifiable from any point of view. If the gates are open to one class they should be open to another. The treatment should be equal to all classes, whatever their social position.
§ There are also other points of which the commoners complain. Just recently some of the commoners of Burley offered to put up the money to drain one of the local bogs. Leave to do so has, I understand, been refused. They wrote to Mr. Osmaston and he refused to allow them to do so. I think that is tactless, to say the least of it. Now I come to another point which is indirectly a hunting point—namely, the killing of deer east of the line. For many years, although the Deer Removal Act, 1851, is still in force, it has been winked at. The New Forest is about, the only place except Exmoor where the wild red deer exists. I am sure that the noble Lord would be the first to condemn such a proceeding, but the red and other deer are being shot by keepers east of the line with buckshot, and one of my own employees found the body of a deer with buckshot through it. It must have lived for days in agony. I also found the skeleton of another, which had clearly been killed with buckshot. If he wishes to diminish deer on the east side of the line I hope he will be able to see that we shall be able to keep a few deer east of that line. We have very few left.
§ There is another point that I wish to put to the House. If Lord Dawson of Penn were here he would have spoken upon it and, I am sure, much more ably than I can do. I ask the House to consider what is the value to the public of these great open spaces. Some noble Lords may think that the New Forest is somewhat remote from the large centres of population, but there are Portsmouth, Southampton and Bournemouth not far away, and it may be said that a million people are living within easy motor access of the New Forest. These people never had such opportunities of seeing the New Forest as they have to-day. At holiday times not only charabancs but thousands of small cars may be seen there, and the occupants resent almost more than any one that the enclosures should be locked up. The public say, 194 and I think rightly, "After all, we the nation are the owners and we think we should be able to do what we have been able to do for many years, which is to go into the enclosures. Why should hunting people alone do so?" I dare say the noble Lord will say, and I believe it is true, that they are allowed access but are not allowed to wander. I am sure it is not the desire to prevent the public from having access to these enclosures, but the effect of locking the gates is that women and children cannot get in. If that is to be the policy I ask the noble Lord whether the difficulty cannot be got over by making stiles, or providing what are called kissing gates, in order that people may walk through these enclosures without having to climb over the gates.
§ I do not propose to detain the House much longer. I would like, however, to refer to that part of my Notice which has reference to the Office of Works. It merely is an idea of my own, but since that was down on the Paper I have received a very large number of letters and resolutions backing up that point of view. The Forestry Commission, as I have said already, is essentially a commercial body. It is quite right, to be a commercial body. The Office of Works, however, is always in contact with the public. Everybody knows how well it has restored the abbeys of London, and how well it has run the London parks. It looks after Richmond Park, Windsor Park and other great, areas of that sort. It has that sort of public spirit in it which does not seem to exist in the Forestry Commission. If it were possible from the administrative point of view to take the New Forest, make it a national park, and hand it over to the Office of Works, not only would matters run much more smoothly but we would have absolute confidence that, in the future, the beauty aspects of the New Forest would have precedence over every other consideration.
§ The noble Lord represents in this House the Commission, who in their turn represent the Crown in the New Forest. The New Forest of 64,000 acres is the largest area in the whole of Hampshire, and probably in the Southern counties, under one control. It is the biggest landlord and has more houses and probably more people living on it than any other estate. I would ask him if it is wise to antagonise nine-tenths of the people on the estate. 195 There are 3,500 commoners and you may add to them 5,000 or 6,000 more people who are living there, making 10,000 people who live in that district and who are in a state of furious hostility against the present policy. Can you administer a great estate of 64,000 acres in a state of perpetual enmity with those who live there? If this estate had belonged to a private owner, he would have been pilloried long ago in both Houses of Parliament in terms far stronger than I can use.
§ Those of us who run big estates know that nowadays we have to use conciliation on every possible occasion, and that we have to consider the wishes of those who live near us much more—and quite rightly—than ever before. Is the Crown setting a good example in this matter in the New Forest? Is it possible for them to continue on the present system? Is it, true that the Commissioners are so disturbed by the various acts of illegality by commoners and others—which I do not for a moment defend—that they are going to double and treble the number of their watchers and keepers? I hear that is the policy to be adopted in the coming spring. It is not repression that will cure the trouble, but conciliation. You can only administer a large area like this by the general consent of those living in the area. I advise the noble Lord to recommend to his Commission a policy of that kind. It is not as if the Commission wanted the New Forest badly. According to their last Report, they have 350,000 acres that they can use for commercial forestry. If they want to exercise this commercial forestry, why cannot they leave our old wood alone and practise their commercial forestry elsewhere?
§ I do not want to say anything that will prejudice the chance of a friendly settlement. I would like to say as a member of the Advisory Committee—and I am sure I speak for my colleagues as well as for myself—that we have tried our very best on that Committee to show a reasonable spirit, and we are most hopeful that the Commission will meet our representations in a friendly spirit on their side. It is probable that far the best way would be that we should be consulted by the commoners on the one side and by the Crown on the other and that we should be able to come to a friendly arrangement. I hope for peace in that direction. 196 But do not let the noble Lord be under any misapprehension. Feeling is far stronger than he perhaps realises. I implore him, for the sake of the New Forest, of the commoners, and of the beauty of the New Forest, in the future to turn his thoughts towards peace.
§ If I have spoken somewhat strongly on this question, I know the House will forgive me. The New Forest is a unique area in the world. Its old trees are a wonder to those who visit them, whether they come from the State forests of Germany, from the great natural forests of North America or from the forests of the Himalayas. The hardwood trees of the New Forest are one of the wonders of the land. Cutting those trees is like selling your soul. To make money you might have building sites in Hyde Park, you might allow advertisements to be put on the Cenotaph, but it is selling your soul. This policy of cutting the old trees is, in our opinion, selling the soul of the New Forest. I believe that when England knows it will protest in far stronger terms than I have done to-day against what is a national calamity. I beg to move.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, I rise to support the appeal of my noble friend Lord Montagu. The New Forest has from time immemorial been one of the most prized possessions of the Crown. It has been regarded and treated for centuries past as a great national park, of which the beauties and the amenities were to be preserved and maintained for the benefit, not only of the inhabitants of the Forest, but of the nation at large. For more than two centuries past provisions have been made by the legislation of this country for the protection of these ancient woodlands. In 1698, in 1808, and again in 1851, Acts of Parliament were passed expressly providing for the increase and the preservation of timber in the New Forest. Early in the 'seventies the attention of Parliament was called to the position of the woods in the New Forest and a Select Committee was appointed to look into the matter and report. The result of the Report of the Select Committee was the passing of the New Forest Act of 1877.
I should like to refer to two passages in that Act. In Section 8 there is an express provision that "the ancient ornamental woods and trees in the Forest 197 shall be preserved." In Section 6, which deals with timber in the enclosures in the Forest, it is laid down that, as regards the enclosed lands, in cutting timber or trees or in improving the woods, "care shall be taken to maintain the picturesque character of the ground." Then it makes provision about what should be done in regard to planting. That Act was passed, and for some time, I understand, it worked very well. At that time, and for some considerable period before, the care and custody of the New Forest was in the hands of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, and after the passing of that Act, and so long as the Forest remained under their control and management, there appears, so far as I have been able to ascertain, to have been no complaint, at any rate no serious complaint, as to the treatment of the ornamental and other timber in the Forest.
In 1919 the Forestry Commissioners were established, and a few years afterwards the care of the New Forest was entrusted to them. But may I point this out—and I venture to think that it is of great importance in connection with the Question that we are now discussing—whatever power the Forestry Commissioners possessed they had to abide by the provisions of the Act of 1877. Those provisions remained, and still remain, in full force and effect. And, indeed, so important were those provisions thought that in the Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act, 1923, which was the Act which transferred the New Forest to the Forestry Commissioners, there was an express provision in the Schedule to the effect thatAll Acts … relating to any property transferred under this Act … shall continue of full force and effect.…So that under the very Act from which the Forestry Commissioners derive their title express provision is made for the continuance of the Act of 1877, which involves the maintenance, preservation and care of the ornamental and other timber in the Forest.
No one, certainly not myself, would call in question the competence, the diligence and the care with which the Forestry Commissioners have transacted the commercial part of their business in regard to those areas—many large areas outside the New Forest—which they had 198 to carry on, and very properly, for commercial purposes. But I cannot but think that they, or their subordinates, have formed a somewhat erroneous opinion as to their rights and duties in regard to these woodlands which are vested in them in the New Forest, or portions of those woodlands. Because it appears that they do not pay sufficient attention to the provisions of the Act of 1877. They appear to think that their primary duty as regards the whole of these woods in the New Forest is not to preserve the ancient ornamental woods and trees in the Forest and to maintain the picturesque character of the grounds but to develop the Forest on commercial lines.
They have been cutting down in large quantities in certain portions of the Forest beautiful old trees, selling them for what they would fetch, and planting disfiguring trees in their place—I think the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, characterised them by an even stronger expression. And may I say incidentally that the question of the plantation of conifers seems to me all the more important because I read in the Report recently issued by the Forestry Commissioners themselves, that the outlook for the supply of hardwoods, such as oak, in the future in this country is most disquieting. I do not suggest for a moment that in dealing with some of the trees in the New Forest the Commissioners should not take account of the profitable, as well is the ornamental, use of the Forest. I do not dispute that, but I suggest that in regard to those portions of the Forest which ought to be preserved for ornamental purposes they have had primary regard to the commercial aspect, and not sufficient regard to the ornamental aspect and to their duty of preserving the amenities of the Forest.
Let me very shortly tell your Lordships what they have done in certain portions of the Forest—and I take my information from answers given in the House of Commons. An answer was given on May 23, from which it appears that since September 1 last the Forestry Commissioners have felled nearly 17,000 trees, hardwood and softwood, and have sold about three-quarters of them for what appears to be the insignificant sum of a little more than £6,000. In the Burley Wood enclosure they have made large clearances, and have cut down 29 ornamental timber 199 trees, of which only about half were even alleged to be decayed or decaying. There was another answer given on June 2, from which it appears that they now intend to cut down still more hardwood trees in the Forest in the coming autumn and winter. It appears also from an answer given on June 23 that since January, 1926, they have cut down in the New Forest nearly 16,000 oak and beech trees about a hundred years old, and they have sold the wood at the prices mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu—prices which, to me at any rate, appear to be extremely inadequate, and even if they had been more adequate I doubt if the Commissioners ought to have done that.
Since September, 1025, they have planted no less than 835 acres of conifers and only thirty-four acres of hardwood. It may be said and, with truth for what I know, that these are not so much the acts of the Commissioners themselves as of their representatives in the New Forest, who either misunderstood, or possibly exceeded, the instructions given by the Commissioners. However that may be I do not know; the facts are as I have stated. And I should be very glad indeed if the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, when he replies were able to reassure us on this point, and to tell us that the Forestry Commissioners do not intend to treat these portions of the New Forest as purely commercial undertakings, but intend to have due regard in future to the provisions of the Act of 1877.
I have been down to the New Forest lately. I am a constant visitor there, and I do not think that Lord Montagu in the least exaggerated the situation when he said that most, if not all, of the inhabitants of the New Forest, of all classes and all ranks, are under grave anxiety, and it is perhaps not too much to say that they are indignant at what has gone on. I earnestly hope, as Lord Montagu has said, that in dealing with this matter both the Forestry Commissioners and all those interested in preserving the great beauties and amenities of this ancient Forest for that very large number of the public from neighbouring towns and elsewhere who constantly visit it, may approach the matter in a spirit of good will on both sides and 200 with a sincere desire to arrive at a satisfactory result. And if, as I have no doubt he will, Lord Clinton does his best to achieve that result, he will have earned the gratitude, not only of the inhabitants of the New Forest, but of that very much wider and larger public who are interested in its preservation and who still enjoy its beauties.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I recognise that my noble friend has brought a very heavy charge against the Forestry Commission for its administration of the New Forest; at the same time I acknowledge that the noble Lord has used a considerable amount of restraint in his language, because I know something of the somewhat thunderous atmosphere which pervades the forest at this moment and the really excited state of public opinion there. I think if my noble friend had translated the views of the people there accurately into the words or the phrases they might have used, he would have gone to the full limit of language which is prescribed by Parliamentary usage. But he has refrained from that, and I can only say this with regard to the first part of his remarks, that we regret as much as any one can regret that suspicion of the Forestry Commission and all its works should arise there. There has been smouldering for probably centuries, and occasionally breaking out into flame, trouble between the Crown and, first of all, the commoners and then with other representatives in the Forest, and we do regret very much indeed that in the early years of our administration of the Forest it should have broken out again so strongly, but I am going to ask my noble friend to believe—and I know he will probably have great difficulty in believing—that we in the Forestry Commission are at least as anxious to preserve the picturesque character and the amenities of this great national Forest as the noble Lord himself or any one of his friends.
There are several points raised by my noble friend with which I will endeavour to deal in order, but I would like first of all to speak for a moment about certain methods now being adopted in the Forest which I sincerely hope will lead to an entirely friendly and satisfactory conclusion of some, at all events, of the difficulties which have arisen. Before my 201 noble friend Lord Lovat retired, to our very great regret, from his Chairmanship of the Forestry Commission, he initiated a Committee, consisting of many interests both local and national, to deal with the New Forest and generally with the rural beauty of the nation. That Committee he initiated for the purpose of advising the Commission on matters relating to the picturesque character of their work, and the reference to that Committee was that they should assist the Commission to schedule those areas of outstanding beauty in the Forest, which should be set aside from the ordinary treatment of the remainder of the enclosures. I may remind your Lordships that the ordinary treatment of the remainder of the enclosures does not mean a commercial treatment. I think my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu agrees with that, but I gather that my noble friend below me [Lord Danesfort] thinks we are out for purely commercial purposes.
We are absolutely bound, of course, by the Act of 1877, which lays down in perfectly clear terms instructions for the management of the enclosures. We are not to clear some and we have, in the words which my noble friend below me quoted, "to maintain the picturesque character of the ground" and we have always to leave on the ground "a sufficient number of the most ornamental trees." That does not necessarily mean, legally, that we are to fell no ornamental trees. But whatever may be the actual wording of the Act a great deal of judgment has to be used in carrying on woods under ornamental methods. In connection with the Advisory Committee I wish to say that they have had two meetings and I am glad to state that already they have been able to make a recommendation to the Commission that certain portions of the more beautiful woodland should be reserved from ordinary treatment. I have not the least doubt that the Commission and the Advisory Committee, with good will on both sides, will have little difficulty in coming to a conclusion on that particular matter, and I hope that will go a very long way towards settling—even if it does not absolutely settle—the differences which have arisen. At all events, it will be a sign to all concerned on both sides that we and those who are locally interested in the Forest are exceedingly 202 anxious to meet one another over its management. On that particular point I hope my noble friend may be satisfied.
I should like, before I go further into the points raised by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, to deal with one or two matters that were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Danesfort. I do not want to charge him with using language of exaggeration, but he evidently is under the impression that our object in dealing with the New Forest is to lay the whole Forest to the ground and sell it for what it is worth, which, he has already told us, is not very much.
§ LORD CLINTON
It appeared to me that the noble Lord was talking on a very large scale of the felling of enormous quantities of ornamental trees. That really does not fit in with the knowledge of anybody who knows the work that has been going on in the New Forest during the time that we have had control. I think the noble Lord did say that we had sold large quantities of hardwood trees and planted pine in their place. The pine, as my noble friend says, was an exotic so far as the New forest was concerned, but not so far as this country was concerned. It was brought here in the year 1770 for the main purpose of making masts and bowsprits for the Royal Navy, and the planting of that fir has been continued, but only in ground that is not suitable to the growth of oak. No one managing a forest, particularly when managing it for a nation, would plant the inferior timber of Scotch fir if he could get the valuable timber of oak to grow, and it is only on those places where oak will not grow that fir has been put in. No doubt, as my noble friend said, it has been put in places where he does not want it, but so far as the Commission is concerned, it has been kept solely to the areas where nothing else would grow. It has been said, and quite truly, that the recent plantings in the New Forest have been in fir and there is a very complete justification for that. During the War the demand was for fir, over 2,000 acres of fir was cut, and it is those 2,000 acres which are now being 203 planted. But there is no question of substituting the pine for the oak where the oak will grow.
Then I think we were charged with accepting too low a price—an inadequate price, I think, was the expression—for the oak that we sold. I do not think the noble Lord ought to value timber without seeing it. The reason we had to accept 10d. a foot for oak will be apparent to most noble Lords. It was that the timber was not worth more. Nearly the whole of the oak which has been cut and sold during the last few years has been timber of what we call an unthrifty nature. I was asked by my noble friend Lord Forster, who is good enough to act as Chairman of the Advisory Committee, to ascertain for him if fellings in the Forest could stop pending arrangements. It is not easy to stop felling, because contracts are entered into lasting for some time and they have to be fulfilled, but I have ascertained, in the matter of fellings that are going on in these enclosures at the present moment, that in every case save one they consist of dead, or nearly dead, oak. There is no possible advantage to the locality or to the Forest in keeping on the ground oak that is merely dying upon its feet.
My noble friend has told the House that there was an undertaking not to cut any timber in Burley Old Wood. I have no doubt whatever that there was an undertaking, but I think my noble friend has already told the House that he does recognise that we had no knowledge of that undertaking. The fact was that the Commissioner of Woods and Forests, about the year 1880, wrote a letter to a resident in the Forest saying that no cutting would take place in Burley Old Wood, except, I think, the cutting of dead trees. We had, of course, no notion whatever that that letter existed. We could hardly be expected to look through the files of some forty-five years to find a letter of which we did not know the existence. If we had known of that letter undoubtedly it would have received full respect, but as we did not know of it a cutting was made in Burley Old Wood. That was made purely for the purpose of regeneration, purely for the purpose of continuing the enclosure of Burley Old Wood, and it seems to us that from time to time cuttings must be made in the Forest if you are to maintain the whole Forest in continuing beauty. Most of 204 us know that there is nothing so difficult as to manage ornamental woods properly. Those of your Lordships who have ornamental woods of your own will know that there is more art in that matter than there is in ordinary forestry management, and that the greatest art of all is to conceal the art you use. The cutting in Burley Old Wood was purely for the purpose of continuing the Forest. There was no question of commerce in the matter. As the trees cut were dead or dying there was naturally not much commercial advantage from cutting them down.
Questions of that kind, I hope, will disappear as a result of the appointment of our Advisory Committee, but while I hope that my noble friend and his associates may be satisfied to some degree with what I have said, I know that it will not satisfy a very large number of people. I am bound to recognise from correspondence in the Press, from statements I have heard made and from conversations that I have had with people, that they do believe immense harm is being done over the whole Forest, new and old. Their real desire is that the Forest should be left alone and left entirely to nature. But we have to carry out the Act of 1877. Under that Act we are bound to keep the woods replenished. We cannot keep them replenished by leaving them alone. Everything in nature is doomed to die and these great trees, some day or other, will fall to the ground. What will take their place?
You will get mainly the minor produce of the Forest—thorn, whitebeam, crab apple and many other trees. Many of these are very beautiful in themselves, but they are not trees which should be allowed to extend over large areas. They cannot, of course, be compared with the majestic beauty of the great oaks which now exist in the Forest. Among that minor produce you will get a certain amount of beech coming through, which I think may be trusted eventually to grow into fine trees, but you will not get oak. Oak, probably more than any other tree, is exacting in its demands for light. It cannot compete in the struggle for existence with these other classes of trees, and in time is crowded out. Go through the whole Forest now, and in any of the older enclosures you will frequently see 205 that oak has germinated on the ground. You will find, perhaps, oak two or three years old, but it will be exceedingly difficult to find any proportion of trees which are between ten and fifteen years old. That is obviously insufficient to keep the oak forest growing in its natural beauty. I do not know of any instance of an oak forest which has grown up without treatment.
Apart from that there is reason to fear as to the future of the Forest altogether. There appeared in The Times recently a letter in which the writer borrowed an expression and applied it to the Forest, describing it as a giants' cemetery. Of course that is a term of the very greatest exaggeration, but I think there is reason to fear—not in our time; the present or the next generation may see no change—that unless something is done to keep the whole Forest going then it may deserve that description a century, or even less, hence. There are actual instances I could show you pointing the danger signal to the oak in the Forest. We had—not in our time, but before—a classification of the oak woods in the enclosures one hundred years old. Out of over 7,000 acres—I think the figure was 7,900 acres—which were existing at that time one-fourth, or 1,900 acres, were described as in some stage or another of decay. In Burley Old Wood there exist 1,700 trees, of which something like 320 are dead or dying. That is one-fifth of the whole. One cannot overlook these things and we who are responsible are bound to advise that steps should be taken to preserve and replenish the Forest. Thus it is, I fear, certain that future generations may blame this generation very severely and will receive as their share a Forest that is merely a wreck of its present magnificence.
The question of public utility was also raised by my noble friend. He recognised that in this Forest we have an area that is of great importance, not only to those who live there, but to those who visit it for pleasure from all over the world. But let us look at this matter in some proportion. There are included in the boundaries of the Forest about 63,000 acres, and of these 45,000 acres are left to nature. No hand of man goes into those woods. There is open forest amounting to 5,000 acres and a balance of about 40,000 acres of open land. That is to say, there are 206 some 45,000 acres altogether in the Forest that are already, in the words of my noble friend, a national park. The only care that we are allowed to take of that area of open woods is to take out from time to time sufficient dead wood to supply the commoners with fuel.
With regard to the open forest, the bare land, nature there has been recognised as being boo liberal in her profusion and has spread these Scotch firs, to which so much objection has been taken, over them. I am not at all clear how they have been allowed to remain there. It would have been, one would imagine, a matter between the commoners who have grazing rights and the Department of Woods and Forests or ourselves, but so far as I know, in every case where the commoners require land to be burnt for the improvement of their grazing, it is done for them by those who have been in charge of the Forest. But while I recognise that to many people there is a great beauty in a mixture of heather-land and clumps of Scotch fir, I think that in this particular case it has been overdone. I must also remind my noble friend that great care will have to be exercised in getting rid of the trees now, otherwise you will get a most unsightly and deserted-looking place for many years to come.
Out of the whole area we have something like 45,000 acres of land which is in all respects a national park. With regard to the balance of 16,000 acres, which alone we have to control, it is open to the public for something like nine months in the year, but the gates are locked for three months in the year. No exception is taken to people climbing over the gates if they wish, but I recognise that this is not always a very convenient mode of access. The gates have to be locked from time to time merely for the purpose of keeping out stock, but custom is a curious thing and the gates remain locked for three months because they always have remained locked for three months. This applies not only to the ordinary gate which lets in stock, but to the side gate also, which is quite unnecessarily locked, and while some step would have to be taken to convert these side gates so that they admit people and not stock, I have already given instructions that this shall be tried in some cases to see how it can be done.
207 We were charged with felling against the instructions of the Act at Pitt's Wood and at Aldridge Hill. Fellings have been going on in both these places, I suppose, for some twenty or thirty years. They have been continuous, I think, at Aldridge Hill, where they may have increased lately. I do not know if this is so, but certainly the timber in Aldridge Wood is in a bad state. Yet a sudden objection is made to our doing it now. Why was no objection made during the course of the last twenty years, while this was going on? I think I understand the reason. Something is found that, in the opinion of the local people, the Commissioners have done wrong, and quite naturally everything is hunted up to see if something more can be found to add to the general complaint against them. In conclusion, let me say one word with regard to the request that the Government should give instructions that the New Forest should be made a national park. It is not, I think, in the power of the Government to give those instructions. It would entail repealing at least two Acts of Parliament and, if the noble Lord wishes his idea of a national park to be carried out and if he can persuade people that it is advisable in the interests of the Forest and of the nation, his first task would obviously be to agitate for the repeal of those Acts. I think that I have given your Lordships as much information as I am able to give in this short time.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I think that those who live in the neighbourhood of the New Forest will feel greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for bringing this matter before this House, to which they look for a sympathetic hearing and such remedy as may be possible through greater attention being paid by the Commissioners to the Statute of 1877. For a long time I lived in the New Forest, and my family live there now. I go there and see what is going on, and I can assure your Lordships that there is the strongest possible feeling at this moment that the Commissioners have lately been grievously misusing the powers given to them by Act of Parliament. The Act of 1877 gave them powers to enclose and plant certain portions of the New Forest. It limited the area thus controlled by words 208 of which I think the Commissioners have often lost sight. In all that they do, when they cut wood and when they replant, they are to have regard to the ornamental nature of the Forest. That is in black and white in the Act, as has been said more than once, and that is what those who live there feel convinced that the Commissioners have—shall I say?—forgotten. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton, who has not been responsible for many months for what has been going on, has admitted this, and your Lordships will not desire to visit upon him the sins of his predecessors.
§ LORD DARLING
Oh, yes. It is this. They have cut down oaks in Burley Old Wood when they had promised that they would not do so.
§ LORD DARLING
I beg my noble friend's pardon. I thought that it was admitted that the Chief of the Woods and Forests Department, Lord Loch, had written to somebody in the New Forest and had said that he would not allow the oaks to be cut in Burley, and that later this was done; and that this had happened because, among all the correspondence received by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, they had not remembered that letter. As they seem to have forgotten it, I will do them the favour of reading to them what Lord Loch said when this question of Burley Old was brought up in 1884. He said:—It is not my intention to cut down trees, unless dead or far gone in decay, and not even then if their removal would interfere with the general beauty of the place; nor is it intended to treat Burley Old as a plantation in the ordinary sense of the word.They have done it. Those who live there know that they have treated Burley Old as a plantation in the most ordinary sense of the word.
At the time when I was first notified that cutting down in Burley Old had been begun I went down there, having heard that five acres of ground had been cut. I think I am correct in saving that I found that eleven or 209 thirteen oaks had been cut, and, speaking from memory, twenty-seven beech. So the question of very large cutting ought to be ruled out.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I have not measured it but Lord Montagu tells me, on his responsibility, that the amount of wood cut in Burley Old is about two and a half acres. My own son is sitting in this House, but not yet allowed to address it. If you would allow me to move the adjournment of the debate until be is in a position to address your Lordships, you could receive his first-hand evidence as to practically every tree that has been cut in that particular plantation. I fear that that would be an unreasonable request, and I will not make it. Lord Loch went on to say this:I consider, as the representative and guardian of the Crown rights of the New Forest, that I am, in the interests of the Crown, deeply responsible for the preservation, as far as may be, of this type of old English scenery in its perfect beauty, which is so dependent on woods retaining their old character and associations with the past; and. I believe the best security for the continued preservation of the New Forest, with all its privileges and all its charms, is to be found in enlisting public interest and sympathy, in protecting from encroachment those rights under which it exists.That is what we feel and that is why this debate was originated.
Why is it that the New Foresters are suspicious that their rights are encroached upon by the Commissioners? In 1868 Mr. Cumberbatch was deputy surveyor of the New Forest. He was what Mr. Lascelles afterwards was. Mr. Cumberbatch wrote this to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests:—It appears to be important that the Crown should, as soon as possible, exercise its rights of inclosing the 16,000 acres authorised by the 1851 Deer Removal Act.On that I will ask: Why should they exercise their rights at once? The answer is this:—because, exclusive of other advantages, by so doing all the best pastures would be taken from the commoners, and the value of their rights of pasture would thus be materially diminished, which would be of importance to the Crown in the event of any such rights being commuted, as suggested in the 31st Report to Parliament.Did you ever hear a more discreditable recommendation made by an official of the Crown? Enclose the 16,000 acres; do not 210 enclose them impartially, but take all the best pastures; diminish the value of the commoners' rights all you can and then buy them out! To this day the memory of the commoners goes back to the time when the New Forest was enclosed by the Norman Kings, and when they were deprived of their rights without compensation. But William Rufus himself, if he could write—I do not think 'he could—would hardly have written anything as bad as that.
What came of it? There was a Commission and Lord Henry Scott, the father of my noble friend, took part in the Commission, and it is due to him that the. Act of 1877 was passed. In the course of that Commission Mr. Kenneth Howard, Chief Commissioner of Woods, was asked by Lord Henry Scott this question, and this answer (which I will also read) was given to it:You are not disposed to repudiate this sentence of Mr. Cumberbatch's letter of December 31, 1853?No. I do not repudiate it; I can only say it had better not have been printed.Things went on and people in the New Forest believed themselves badly treated. Mr. Fawcett, afterwards Postmaster-General, was in the habit of walking in the New Forest. I believe it is said that the law is that you may walk but may not wander. Mr. Fawcett was of the same opinion as was expressed by the noble Lord who wrote:There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,and I am afraid he used to wander. At any rate he got a Commission appointed, people of great authority sat upon it, it made a long and careful Report, Lord Henry Scott took great interest in the matter, and the end of it was the Act of 1877.
What did that Act provide? In the New Forest theme is a strong opinion that the Act only applies to the enclosed land, and that in any other part they can do as they please. Any one who will read it carefully will see that it applies to the whole of it. In all that they do they are to have regard to the ornamental character of the place, and not only—
§ LORD CLINTON
Does the noble Lord say that we are only to have regard to the ornamental character of the place?
§ LORD DARLING
I say that the Act says that wherever you go to plant or to fell timber you must have regard to the ornamental character of the place. You can destroy a distant scene by putting up a tall chimney. You have got to have regard to the ornamental character of the Forest and you cannot cut down old-standing and beautiful timber simply because you say: "It is in my enclosure and I have a right to do it in my enclosure." If the Commissioners will read this Statute and will have regard to it, they will see that they cannot work their own sweet will within their enclosures and say: "If the Forest looks hideous in consequence, we have not broken the Act." My noble friend Lord Clinton mentioned what sort of timber they had been cutting and why it fetched so little. That is exactly one of the things of which the inhabitants of the Forest complain. Unthrifty timber was cut that it was a trouble to get rid of. Yet it looked well and people came from afar to see it. Was it really necessary to cut it down?? Why did you not leave it there? I should like to see the bill for cutting it and for hauling it and find out what profit was made in the transaction. It may have been a very bad bargain to have cut this unthrifty timber if it was picturesque.
What is another reason that is given for cutting this old oak? It was suspected in the New Forest, but I never knew it admitted before: it comes out now that they have entered into contracts and they say they must keep them. That is why they have done it. They would be sued for breach of contract if they did not keep their contracts. What is said to that is that it was improvident of them to have entered into those contracts. It is no excuse for a man to say: "I have to commit a crime because I have promised to do it. As an honourable man I must keep my word." The noble Lord said that great art must be used in dealing with wood forests and he went on to say that perhaps the greatest part of your art is concealing how artful you are. It is an old maxim—and I should have thought that while this House is still unreformed the noble Lord might have used it—"Ars est celare artem." While we are still exactly what we are that language might be permitted. How is the art concealed? Pitt's Wood was mentioned. A month ago I 212 went through Pitt's Wood and there were oak trees there which I was told were about 200 years old. They were beautiful trees and things of beauty while they stood. I saw them lying on the ground, worth what? Tenpence a foot, is it? Go and look at the place and tell me if due regard has been had to the ornamental character of Pitt's Wood.
The Act says, in Section 6:—Provided also, as respects lands in this section mentioned, that in cutting timber or trees for improving the woods, or for sale, 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 spaces, having regard to the ornamental as well as the profitable use of the ground.What was done? They are told what they must do, they must leave from time to time a sufficient number of the most ornamental trees. They cut Pitt's Wood. They cut the 200 year old oaks. I imagine that, while it was being done, someone came along with this Act of Parliament and said: "In the interests of art—and you must be careful to conceal your art as well as you can—in the interests of concealed art you must leave some of those ornamental trees." They did. They left two fir trees and, as to one of those, an oak, whether by accident or design, knocked the top off it as it fell. Now they can say: "See how we have regard to the second part of Section 6. Look at the artistic scene that has replaced Pitt's Wood. Look at the contrast of that fir standing straight up and of that one there with its head knocked off. You should praise the Commission for its love of art." These are the things which exasperate the people of the New Forest.
I hope, as the noble Lord said, that a period of peace and amity is about to begin. There is an Advisory Committee appointed. I know who they are. They are people with knowledge of the Forest, with every right to speak for those who live there, and not ignorant of the commercial value of timber. I do trust that not only will they be consulted after the wood has been cut down but, before anything of the kind is done in the old and ornamental parts of the forest. If the Commissioners wish to cut down the firs that their predecessors planted, let them 213 do it and no one will shed a tear. If they wish to cut down the firs which have been allowed to spread all over the places where people pasture their cattle let them do it. But, before they cut any ornamental timber, it is to be hoped that the Advisory Committee will be consulted, that they will be allowed every opportunity to give their advice, and that, when they have given it, it will be treated with the respect to which it is entitled. I could say much more upon what to these people is a burning question, but I feel sure that this debate that has taken place to-day will have called attention at least to the existence of the New Forest, to the absolute necessity of not treating it as a mere wood to be cut down and made into pulp for printing newspapers, but of leaving it as nearly as possible for what it is—a thing of beauty which cannot be replaced except after hundreds of years. And this debate will have done something to satisfy those who have the interest of the Forest, at heart.
But I would mention this. Feeling in the New Forest is very strong on this matter, and many people have wanted to take the opinion of the Judges by going to law about it, and asking for an injunction. I do not know why they should ask me, except because I am no longer a Judge, but they do ask me, and I have said to them: "For Goodness sake, whatever you do, don't go to law; and, if you will go to law, above all don't go to law with the Crown. If you win in the end you will have had such an unpleasant time on the way that you will repent that you ever began going to law at all." But there are laws, and there always have been, which if rightly understood will protect these people, the commoners, who were so despised by Mr. Cumberbatch, and will protect the public who desire that these trees should stand, partly for the good they do, partly because of the beauty that they are and the pleasure that they give.
There are laws, I say. I will read one—I do not know whether it has been repealed or not. It may have been put into some Statute repealing many good laws. It shows how long this unlawful practice has been going on. This is a law of Ina, King of the West Saxons, and this is what it says:And for those who clandestinely cut wood (of which the very sound of the axe 214 shall be sufficient conviction) for every tree he shall be mulcted thirty shillings.Fancy what that was in the time of King Ina!—A tree so felled, under whose shadow thirty hogs can stand, the offender shall be mulcted three pounds.Many of those trees were trees under which thirty hogs could shelter—I do not mean motor people who go through the New Forest, but the ordinary cattle of the place. Those trees have gone, others still remain, and I trust that the Commissioners will listen to the words of the noble Lord below me, Lord Montagu, who spoke so feelingly of these trees which he had so long known, and which now have been cut down for fuel or other purposes. What he said brought into my mind lines which one cannot remember without some feeling—The oak that in slimmer was sweet to hear,And rustled its leaves in the fall of the year,And whistled and groaned in the winter alone,Is gone—and the fir in its stead grown.And the fir would not of its own wickedness have grown there, but the Commissioners of Woods and Forests went and planted it.
My Lords, I do not propose to go back to the time of William Rufus, or even to 1877, but I shall confine myself to the present day. I live within about forty miles, of the New Forest, and am fairly well acquainted with it, and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a word on this occasion. I do not desire to associate myself directly with either of the protagonists, but merely to speak as one of those members of the public referred to by Lord Montagu, to whom the New Forest is a very precious possession, and who value it for its beauty and not, I am afraid, for its commercial value. I am quite sure—more sure, I think, than perhaps Lord Montagu was inclined to be—that the Forestry Commission mean well, and I think it possible that they mean better now that their attention has been more called to it than they did before. But I also feel sure that they are none the worse, and have been none the worse, for a little watching, and I think we who are interested in the New Forest are very much indebted to Lord Montagu for 215 being the watch-dog of the New Forest. I only hope that this Advisory Committee which is going to be set up and the close touch which will be maintained between the Commissioners and those interested in the Forest will lead to matters going so satisfactorily that it may not be necessary for your Lordships often to be troubled with these debates in the future.
I heard with great pleasure from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, who has not long succeeded to his present post, that they propose, wherever possible, to plant oak. That is clearly as it should be. Oak is a timber that no private person can afford to plant, and therefore it is the more fitting that the Government, which has the money and can afford to wait, should plant oak wherever it can do so. I was not quite sure whether Lord Clinton had been convinced that even an old and partially decayed oak might well be left standing. I rather thought he had not been convinced of that. From the point of view of beauty an oak which may be and, as we hear, is commercially almost valueless, may be a very valuable asset, and it would be a thousand pities to cut down these old oaks and partially decayed oaks, which would remain things of beauty for another generation or so, before it is necessary to deal with them. I recognise, of course, that no forest goes on for ever. Things must decay, and you must replant, but I am not sure—and I am not convinced from the course of the debate—that perhaps the Forestry Commission have not a little unduly hastened (shall I say?) the time of replanting.
I do not know that I entirely sympathise with the last part of the Question of the noble Lord, in which he suggests that the Forestry Commission should be replaced by the Office of Works. Personally, I attach very great importance to afforestation in this country, and I do not think that a forest is any the worse managed if an attempt is made to manage it on commercial lines. I should not be at all sorry to see the commercial aspect of timber-growing kept in view, provided the Forestry Commission in this instance remember what the Act of Parliament directs them to do—that they must subordinate it to the ornamental character of the Forest and the enjoyment of the public. I think that that lesson has perhaps been learnt by now. If not, we 216 can trust the noble Lord to let us hear about it. But as one of those very numerous people of whom the noble Lord spoke, who use the New Forest and value and admire it, I do hope that everything possible will be done to preserve its amenities, and I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord for raising the subject.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (LORD LOVAT)
My Lords, I hope you will allow me to intervene for a moment in the debate as one who was, a very short time ago, responsible, as Chairman of the Forestry Commission. I am sure that no member of the Forestry Commission could take any exception to what the noble Earl who has just spoken said, and I am glad that the last act of mine on leaving the Forestry Commission on March 3 or 4—the appointment, or the sending out of the letters of invitation for appointment, of a Committee to advise the Forestry Commission on the subject of the treatment of special areas in the New Forest—seems to have received universal support in this House.
Before I deal with the main point on Which I wish to speak, may I refer to one or two questions which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has raised? I must say I am most astonished to hear that the commoners are opposed to the action of the Forestry Commission in the New Forest. I am particularly astonished to hear that any offer of theirs to do drainage schemes has been refused by the Forestry Commission. I would like to point out to the noble Lord that during the whole period of the Commission's rule in the New Forest—which does not go back a very long time—they have done more for drainage schemes in the. New Forest than had been done in the previous 100 years. We spent, I think, £1,400 on one occasion and, if my memory is correct, £600 on another occasion, and on neither of those occasions were we able to get anything like the contribution that we hoped for from the other side. I may say it was only by frequent and personal visits to the Treasury that we were able to get the sums that we did spend. After that it is very hard to have it thrown in our teeth by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu that we have done nothing in the way of drainage to help the commoners. I think that is hardly fair.
I think even that is disputed by my noble friend Lord Clinton; it has not come to our notice.
It is curious if it was refused locally, because we always keep the whole of the New Forest matters in our hands.
With regard to the question of the Scotch fir, I think our arrangements for that were satisfactory. The Commission are thoroughly alive to the encroachment that the Scotch firs have made info the commons pasturage, but we have had no complaint. The ordinary process is a complaint made by the commoners to the verderers, who bring it before the Verderers' Court and so it is passed on to the Forestry Commission. Orders have been issued for burning as much as possible. Some commoners have themselves said to me during my visits to the New Forest that they were satisfied and that the burning of the pasturage was much better done than in the past. The Forestry Commissioners have done what they could to get the heatherland burned, and as to those horrible little Scotch firs that spring up all over the commons, we have done what we can to get that rectified.
With regard to the question raised by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu on the subject of the replacement of timber by steel, may I assure your Lordships that one of the duties of the Forestry Commission to-day is to pay special attention to, and watch the fluctuations in, the world's timber supplies. We believe, and we know that the American authorities believe and that the world conference held in April last year in Rome believed, that there is a grave danger of the shortage of coniferous timber. As your Lordships are aware about 95 per cent. of the timber used in this country is coniferous and only something just over 5 per cent. hard wood. I would not advocate that land which can grow oak should be planted 218 with coniferous timber, but to say that coniferous timber may not be wanted in the future to the extent that it is at present is certainly prophesying a thing which is against the evidence. It has been proved over and over again by statistics that a nation's requirements in timber vary with its commercial development and, curiously enough, that substitutes add to rather than decrease the amount, of timber that a country uses.
From the speeches of several noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion it seems to have been ignored that the area which is growing hard wood and the area which is growing soft wood are defined in the working plan and have not been varied since the time that the Forestry Commission took over the management of the Crown woods. We are continually accused of being desirous of turning the whole of the New Forest into coniferous timber, whereas in fact we are carrying out the exact working plan, which has not been altered in any important detail, that was laid down something like thirty years ago. That plan is still being acted upon. I have mentioned this matter more than once in the New Forest and I mention it now for the second time in this House. We are continually having the accusation made that the Forestry Commissioners are doing nothing except plant soft woods and that the area in which hard woods are grown is being contracted. That is not so. It is natural that we have to reafforest first any area which will carry hard woods, even those at the present moment carrying soft wood. As soon as that crop of soft wood is ready for felling the area will be returned to hard wood if it can grow it. It is obvious this must be the policy of any sound Forestry Commission. As the noble Earl has pointed out, no private individual at the present rate of interest can possibly grow hard wood. It is, therefore, the duty of the Forestry Commission to grow hard wood as and when it can, but it is not the duty of the Forestry Commission to grow hard woods in certain areas which are not suited for them. In the rage for hard woods one hundred years ago, some areas of the New Forest which were not suitable for hard woods were nevertheless planted with them, and there are some hard 219 woods, seventy, eighty or possibly one hundred years old, which are even now only in the state in which, properly grown, hard woods should be after twenty or thirty years' growth.
But that is not the point I wish to speak about to-night. I would like to refer to some remarks which the noble Earl made, and I acknowledge that he spoke in sympathetic terms. If you have to carry out the Act, to treat the old, beautiful woods successfully, to maintain them as woods and yet preserve their beauty, you are faced with a task of extreme difficulty. Section 6 of the New Forest Act of 1877, which has been frequently referred to, definitely lays down at the end that those woods must be replenished from time to time by self-sown plants and by the planting of trees in the vacant spaces. I hold that any authority which may look after the New Forest, if it allow those beautiful woods to die, so to speak, on their feet will not be carrying out the principles of that Act, and I think that a Committee, such as has been appointed and is now prepared to act, will be able to help very considerably the Forestry Commission in treating these areas to the best advantage.
A point was made by the noble Lord that I gave a promise on March 3 that no felling should take place after that date. I was referring at the time I made that remark—I made an almost identical remark two or three times—to those beauty spots referred to by Lord Manners, who had raised the question in a letter to The Times of that date. I think the promise that I made was fully carried out, as is shown by the fact that the day I returned to London I issued the invitation to the Committee. I sailed for Brazil the following day and I naturally thought the Commission would meet within a week. As a matter of fact I understand the delays were such that it did not meet for two months, but I cannot hold myself responsible for the delays nor can I hold myself responsible for more than the promise I actually made, which referred to those particular woods mentioned in the letter to The Times. I believe my 220 promise was carried out entirely, but if there was any mistake no one regrets it more than I do. As, however, I was overseas I could hardly control the action of any other individual than myself.
I would like to add that I sincerely hope that a good feeling will exist once more between the inhabitants of the New Forest and the Forestry Commission. May I say on behalf of the Forestry Commission, that that small area of land out of the 300,000 acres under the Forestry Commission presents more difficulty than any other. We get more petitions from that quarter and very often one is exactly opposite to another. While I am sure the Forestry Commissioners wish to carry out their duties to the best advantage there, they have to deal with three groups of people who, as a rule, do not see eye to eye on many of the subjects with which they have to deal.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the House for the patience with which it has listened to this debate and for the evidence of interest in the subject shown by the speeches which have been delivered. There are just two points with which I would like to deal. One is the question whether oak replenishes itself naturally. Obviously it has done so in the New Forest for centuries. I do not think there need be any fear on that score. Great woods like Mark Ash are all naturally planted. As to the gloomy prognostication of the noble Lord, I would like to quote a report by Mr. Clutton, a man of great experience, who in 1875 said that in his opinion Mark Ash would not exist fifty years hence. I am glad to say that it is in a splendid state now. I would like to ask the noble Lord to give special attention to the area now being replanted with fir, and I should also like to ask that in the annual reports which are published by the Forestry Commission information should be given as to the number of trees cut, the amount of money obtained for them, and as to the species cut, whether broad-leafed or fir. After what has been said, I do not wish to press my Motion to a Division.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.