HL Deb 11 February 1964 vol 255 cc541-52

6.35 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the New Forest Bill that in considering Clauses 3 and 4 they have due regard to the need to preserve as far as is reasonably practicable public rights of access; and that in considering Clause 10 they have due regard to the undesirability of too much ornamental timber in a natural forest. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Instruction standing in my name. I regret that I was not able to be present in your Lordships' House when this Bill was given a Second Reading. My noble friend Lord Crathorne, with his usual courtesy, was kind enough to refer to two matters which, on behalf of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, I had wished to raise and about which I had written to him. In both cases he went a long way to give us the reassurance that we sought.

The first matter dealt with is the possible interference with public rights of access if and when the A.35 is fenced. At column 1317 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for January 30 [Vol. 254], my noble friend said: I should like to assure your Lordships that wicket gates or stiles will be provided at points where defined paths meet this main road and that the appropriate bodies will be consulted about the location of these wicket gates or stiles.'

The second point dealt with Clause 10, by which power is given to verderers to permit the Forestry Commission to plant ornamental timber. I raised the point with my noble friend Lord Crathorne that we did not want too large an area to be planted up with ornamental timber in what is by nature a more or less primeval forest. Again, he very kindly gave satisfactory assurance, so far as it went, at column 1318: The verderers accept in principle that the powers under Clause 10 should not be overused, but there would be great difficulty in arriving at a proper figure for the purpose of describing a maximum acreage … It was because of the extremely friendly and co-operative nature of my noble friend's replies that I drafted the Instruction, so that it should direct the attention of the Select Committee only to particular matters to be looked into in detail.

It is not our intention to oppose the principle of the Bill. All that we ask is that they should preserve, so far as is reasonably practicable, public rights of access, and should have due regard to the undesirability of too much ornamental timber in a natural forest. I hope, therefore, that this Instruction, which is merely a guidance and not mandatory and does not interfere with the general purposes of the Bill, will be acceptable to my noble friend who moved the Bill and also to your Lordships.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the New Forest Bill that in considering Clauses 3 and 4 they have due regard to the need to preserve as far as is reasonably practicable public rights of access; and that in considering Clause 10 they have due regard to the undesirability of too much ornamental timber in a natural forest.—(Lord Molson.)

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for moving this Instruction, because it enables me to make yet another Second Reading speech and to say some of the things I failed to say on the previous occasion. However, personally, I think the House ought to be extremely careful about accepting an Instruction of this kind; and one, furthermore, which is vague and deliberately worded. It is open to the Select Committee to read the speeches either on Second Reading or on this occasion, and it seems to me that an Instruction of this kind gives undue emphasis to one particular aspect of the matter.

There is a further reason why I should object to this particular Instruction, and that is in regard to the words about having due regard to the undesirability of too much ornamental timber in a natural forest. The noble Lord called it a primeval forest, I think, but the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will know that it is neither a natural nor a primeval forest. Indeed, the only possible natural part of it is the ornamental timber. My Lords, the ornamental woods to which reference was made in the Baker Committee's Report, the ancient beechwoods and oakwoods, are, of course, the original part of the forest. But a large amount of open forest was certainly not natural when it started, and the greater part of the forest that carries trees, as opposed to the large open areas, comprises plantations of the Forestry Commission.

I think it would be a little unfortunate (and I do not know what is the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, on this particular point) to send to the Committee an Instruction which is as misleading as this one. On the subject of the ornamental timbers, I would point out that there are powers in the Bill to enable certain enclosures to be made for the preservation or, equally, the replacement of these ornamental areas. In the past, there has been deep suspicion on the part of the commoners that anything the Forestry Commission did would be for some baleful purpose. But I am happy to say that relations between the Forestry Commission and the commoners in the New Forest have steadily improved ever since the 1949 Act was passed. Although there are powers to make certain enclosures—and I think there ought to be a limit on the amount of this—I really cannot see the justification for directing the Committee to consider this particular matter; and especially to consider it as opposed to all the other provisions of the Bill.

On the subject of public rights of access, I am, of course, in complete sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, but it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, gave fairly satisfactory undertakings. What would be far better would be to have no fences at all. I should hope, if we were to pass this Instruction, that the Select Committee, when they consider the whole Bill, would still have regard to the question of whether we want the New Forest—as undoubtedly it would seem to many people to be—ruined by posts and wire along the main roads. We know that the original proposals for what was mistakenly called a "ha-ha" fence, but which was nothing of the kind—it was a bank and a ditch—have been dropped. A ha-ha fence would be far too expensive but entirely acceptable, and would of course be greatly preferable to anything else. But now we know that, after the first abortive attempt to put up a picket post, where one saw something looking rather like a parapet—a most hideous bank which cut off the view of the Forest—that idea has been dropped. The noble Lord dissents, but I understand that in fact this idea of a bank and a ditch has been abandoned. The proposals are partly for posts and rails in some places, but mainly for wire and posts; and, again I am wondering whether the Select Committee should consider whether this is, in fact, desirable. I objected to this on the Second Reading. Since then I have had any number of objections from people who live in the Forest and who wish to preserve it.

The Bill proposes to extend fencing to the A.35. I think the A.31 has already gone, and to this we are committed. But if they are going to put fencing on to the A.35, then there is no alternative but to put it also on to the A.337, which joins Cadnam and Lyndhurst. I am wondering—and I put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne—whether, when the matter is considered, we ought to consider the possibility of a speed limit. I have the figures of animals slaughtered in the forest, and the number of accidents which have caused loss and have killed human beings; and since the great majority occur at night, it is possible that even a speed limit at night would meet the case. In regard to the accidents to animals which occurred in 1963, there were 349 (which includes one pig injured), and of those 278 took place at night.

I hope that the noble Lord may consider this point, and I hope that the Select Committee will consider it, if—as I am sure they will—they have due regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, even if we do not pass this particular Instruction. There is already to be one road through the New Forest on which people will be able to drive, if they so desire, at 80 miles an hour. The length of the A.31 within the New Forest is about eleven miles, maybe twelve. The noble Lord, Lord Congleton, will know this. Whatever happens, I should have thought that some attention (and this is not, perhaps, a matter for legislation) ought to be paid to the possibility of a speed limit. We are here seeking to preserve one of the great beauty areas of this country, and I think the public, and indeed the inhabitants of the New Forest, many of whom favour this, ought to be prepared to pay some price with a diminution in speed. So instead of getting along that 11-mile stretch in 15 minutes, let them take 22 minutes or something of that order.

My Lords, these are all very complex questions. They are questions which the Select Committee will surely be examining when the Petitions come to them. While I have sympathy with the first part of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, I have the greatest doubt as to whether, on a Hybrid Bill, we ought to have an Instruction of this kind. I am wondering whether there is some other noble Lord who, from a constitutional point of view, might have views on this point. With a Private Bill it may well be necessary, but here there is the Second Reading and there will be a full Committee stage when we can make our views known. In these circumstances I personally hope that the noble Lord, having put his case very well, except in regard to his references to the ornamental woods, will not press the proposed Instruction.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, it would be contrary to the Rules of the House if I were to take any part in this debate on the merits of the arguments that have been used, and I do not propose to do that at all, but I am concerned, as a Member of your Lordships' House, about the procedural point here, and perhaps other noble Lords may be worried also. I see that the Lord Chairman of Committees is on the Woolsack, and I do not know whether he can help us in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that an Instruction of this sort would perhaps be out of order, and your Lordships should not agree to this Instruction because the Select Committee upstairs are perfectly at liberty to take these points themselves. Well, my Lords, are they? This is a point on which I think your Lordships might be enlightened by somebody who knows about the question. I am under the impression that the Committee upstairs are entitled to deal only with the Petitions that are being argued before them, and that they are not entitled to range widely over other matters that are not specifically brought before them. In that case, if a matter has not been raised on Second Reading, and if there is not to be a Committee of the Whole House, I do not see, unless an Instruction is given to the Committee—not an Instruction to do any one thing but an Instruction to pay regard to a clause—how the Committee upstairs can look at that clause. But perhaps I am wrong, and perhaps somebody can enlighten us on that point.


My Lords, I should be greatly indebted if the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees could deal with that point. My reason for putting down this Instruction was exactly that to which my noble friend has referred. I understood that it would not be constitutionally proper for the Select Committee to pay attention to matters which had not been brought before it either in the form of a Petition by parties outside this House or in the form of an Instruction passed by this House.


My Lords, I have listened with interest to what has been said upon the points raised, and perhaps it would be to the advantage of your Lordships if I informed the House that there are two Petitions against this Bill, which of course means that it is an opposed Bill and that it will, unless the Petitions are withdrawn, be heard by a Select Committee upstairs in just the same way as any Private Bill. This Bill, of course, is a Hybrid Bill. Indeed, because it is a Private Member's Bill and a Hybrid Bill it is in itself a somewhat rare species. I do not recollect any other Private Member's Hybrid Bill; but there is nothing against it on that score.

So far as the Motion before your Lordships now is concerned, I can only say, as Chairman of Committees, that I can see no objection to this Motion inasmuch as it does not tie the hands of the Committee in any way. It merely draws the attention of the Committee to two clauses. It does not tell the Committee what to do or what not to do; and, therefore, it seems to me to be harmless at least from the strictly neutral point of view.

I should perhaps add that the Motion draws the attention of the Committee to two clauses, which I think are Clauses 3 and 4, and tell your Lordships that in any event I think the attention of the Committee will be drawn to those same two clauses, unless the Petition of the New Forest Society for the Prevention of Straying Animals is withdrawn, because I see that in the Petition they refer to and recite, among other clauses, the provisions of Clauses 3 and 4. Therefore, unless there is some alteration, I apprehend that the Committee will in any event have to look at those clauses. I think that those two things are all I can tell your Lordships at the moment: first, that I can see no objection to this Motion, but, second, that it may be superfluous because the Committee will have to look at the clauses in any event.


My Lords, Before the noble Lord sits down, I would point out that he has mentioned Clauses 3 and 4, but what about Clause 10? Is the point that, if there were no Petition on a particular clause, the Committee would not be entitled to look at that clause unless they were instructed to do so by this House?


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl. I did not notice the mention of Clause 10 in the Motion. I do not at the moment see any reference in the Petitions to Clause 10, and I therefore think that the noble Earl is quite right in making that last point: that they might not have their attention drawn to Clause 10 by the Petitions—a hurried look at the Petitions rather indicates that—and that the Motion before the House does that very thing.


My Lords, may I ask the Chairman of Committees a question? He rather implied that the Committee upstairs would consider only Petitions that were brought before it; but surely the Committee will carefully read the speeches that were made on Second Reading and the various points that were then brought out in criticism of the Bill. Is that not so?


My Lords, if I may, with the permission of the House, speak for a second time in answer to that question, the procedure in the Committee upstairs will follow precisely, I think, the procedure of a Private Bill Committee. The custom there is that the Committee do not pay attention to all the clauses in a Bill: they pay attention upstairs only to the clauses which are opposed. Whether they read your Lordships' speeches is a question which I would rather not answer, but I rather suspect that most Committees probably do not read all the Second Reading speeches or the speeches on a Motion such as this. It is true, as the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has suggested, that the probability is that the Committee upstairs would not pay attention to clauses which were not opposed or to which their attention had not been specially drawn.

Perhaps I should add just this. The various Government Departments which might be concerned with the Bill may make a report on the Bill, and those reports are available to the Committee. As your Lordships will no doubt know, Government Departments cannot petition against a Bill, but they can report on it, and usually do—that is, those which are interested—and the Committee have the advantage of having available to them the reports of the appropriate Departments.


My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am for the observations which have been made by the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees, and to add that, so far as I am concerned this evening, speaking on behalf of the Promoters of the Bill (because it is a Private Member's Bill and a Hybrid Bill), having given the undertaking on Second Reading on behalf of the Promoters that these particular points would be looked into, then I naturally do not dissent from the Instruction now moved by my noble friend Lord Molson, for the reason that the Chairman of Committees gave. He has spoken with authority, whereas I can speak only—shall I say?—without authority, but it appeared to me, as explained to me, that there was a doubt whether these points could be effectively considered by the Select Committee unless an Instruction of this nature were moved. As I, on behalf of the Promoters, had said they would be considered by all concerned, naturally I do not dissent from the Instruction moved by my noble friend Lord Molson.


My Lords, had hoped not to rise to my feet, but after what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said I think there is a point on this Instruction which should be made clear. The timbers of the New Forest that are open and are the old timbers are known as the ancient and ornamental woods of the Forest. I think it rather confusing to look at the comment about too much ornamental timber which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, made in reference to Clause 10. I think he literally means foreign ornamental timber which is being imported into the Forest. In this case there is confusion in the terms used, and I should be happier if that were made clear.

May I just say one thing to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton? So far as the ha-ha fence scheme is concerned, I may say that the present one has been dropped, but I understand from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England that they have approached the Ministry of Transport and that the Ministry of Transport may have agreed that the present fence should be a temporary one while a new scheme of ha-ha fence or bank is developed. In his reply the noble Lord may be able to expound that, but I think we should have this question of ornamental timbers clear.


My Lords, I wonder whether, with the leave of the House, and with apologies for speaking three times, I may add one more comment. The point was mentioned, but I have not answered it. May I point out to the House that, this being a Hybrid Bill, the position is that after the Committee upstairs have dealt with it and allowed it to proceed—if they do so—the Bill is dealt with in all respects as a Public Bill. This means that it will be referred to a Committee of the whole House.


My Lords, does it not follow, from what the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees, has said, that any noble Lords who have representations to make about Clause 10 will have the opportunity to make those representations in the form of Amendments to Clause 10 to be taken at the Committee stage on the Floor of the House; so that that matter may be dealt with then, notwithstanding that this Motion may not be passed this evening?


My Lords, may I, with your permission, say two things? I am grateful to my noble friend. I had understood—and I think the Commons Preservation Society had understood—ornamental timber to mean exotic trees which, however beautiful and attractive in gardens and parks, would not be suitable in excessive quantities in the New Forest. But, naturally, if my Instruction is passed by your Lordships that point would be brought out fully in the Select Committee. In reply to the noble Lord, I would say that it is, as my noble friend Lord Crathorne said, extremely difficult to define accurately how much should be enclosed for this ornamental timber. It is essentially the kind of thing that can best be discussed by a Select Committee upstairs; it is not the kind of thing we could usefully deal with on the Floor of the House. I hope that noble Lords will agree to this Instruction I have moved.


My Lords, might I, with your permission, speak again? Dealing with the noble Lord's last point, I had understood that the Promoters of the Bill had already agreed with the Commoners' organisation to a maximum figure for new ornamental woods; and I had understood it was, in fact, 200 acres. I should have thought that this might have been inserted in the Bill by the ordinary process when the Bill comes back to this House. The noble Lord will find there will be trouble if he does not agree; because I have had some very strong views on this point. It is a little unfortunate that we are using the wrong word in this Instruction. The word "ornamental", as the noble Lords, Lord Congleton and Lord Waldegrave, know, has a specific meaning in the context of the New Forest. I do not want to press too hard; but, the Petitions, and the one in relation to straying animals, goes right to the root of the Bill. It seems to me, as the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman of Committees, said, that this was bound to follow; and these particular clauses were the ones that would be specifically examined in full. I do not want to take up the time of the House, and if your Lordships desire to pass this Instruction I should not wish to stop you. But personally I do not think it is a very useful thing to do.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at four minutes past seven o'clock.