HL Deb 30 January 1964 vol 254 cc1311-39

6.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it occurred to me that it might strike some of your Lordships as curious that a North-countryman should be submitting this Bill for your consideration and asking the House to give it a Second Reading. But the answer is a very simple one: I was asked to undertake this task by the Promoters of the Bill. I readily accepted, for three very simple reasons: I am a lover of anything connected with the countryside; I am a lover of animals; and, thirdly, I feel that this is a good Bill and one that is required in the area for which it legislates. So I submit it with confidence to your Lordships.

As is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, in the first sentence: The main purpose of the Bill is to reduce the number of accidents in and adjacent to the New Forest involving animals and motor vehicles by providing such fences and cattle-grids as may be necessary to contain animals within the New Forest. This is really only a further extension of many Acts that have gone before, but the New Forest goes back far in our island history. From the researches I have made I find that the first record of the New Forest is as far back as the days of King Canute, when it was known as the Forest of Ytene, or, in other words, the Land of the Jutes. After the Norman Conquest, it was enlarged and became the New Forest; and it was, in fact, the last Royal forest to be created in England.

Since those days Parliament has from time to time interested itself in the wellbeing of the forest and of the people and animals who live in it. I do not propose this evening to go back further than 1851—and I shall deal with that only very shortly. In 1851 the Crown surrendered the rights to keep deer in the forest, and in exchange for that right the Crown received powers of inclosure which might easily have threatened the whole future of the forest. Shortly after that, in 1877, an Act was passed curbing the power of the Crown to a limited acreage for inclosure and reconstituting the Court of Verderers. Under that Act the verderers were charged with the duties of maintaining the open forest and ensuring the rights of the commoners. Unfortunately, at that time no adequate funds were provided for this purpose, and the verderers had to depend entirely on marking fees. These were fixed under the 1877 Act at the rate of 2s. 6d., and this maximum remained unaltered until 1949, which was the last occasion upon which your Lordships and another place were asked to legislate about the New Forest.

In 1949, as a result of the Baker Committee, a new Bill was introduced and passed into law. This Act did not fully implement the Baker Report—and that is important to note at this particular juncture, particularly in regard to adjacent commons, which this Bill now seeks to rectify. It did, however, apportion responsibility between the Forestry Commission and the verderers for the upkeep of the Forest, and also allow greater revenue to be obtained by charging extra marking fees. In point of fact, the scales of marking fees at this moment are 20s., plus 10s. per animal. But, above all, the 1949 Act reconstituted the Court of Verderers on the basis of five elected verderers, four of whom were nominated and are nominated, with the Crown appointment of an Official Verderer—and here I know your Lordships will be pleased to see the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, with us this evening, as having given up the arduous duties of the Forestry Commissioner he has now become Official Verderer for the New Forest. The mere fact of creating this body once again under the 1949 Act healed the running sore which had existed for many hundreds of years between the commoners and the Crown, and to-day I think I can assure your Lords, with complete confidence, that the verderers and the Forestry Commissioners work hand in hand for the benefit of all that goes on in that corner of our country.

In doing this work they are both ably supported by various local societies. I will just mention the three perhaps most important. There is the New Forest Association. This is a semi-national body concerned with preserving the amenities of the public and the special fauna and flora of the New Forest. Then there is the New Forest Commoners' Defence Association, and they particularly concern themselves with trying to improve the grazing and thereby the standard of farming that can be obtained by those with rights over the New Forest. And, thirdly, there is the New Forest Cattle and Pony Breeding Association. Their special task is to consider the well-being and the standard of ponies in the New Forest; and strict rules are enforced as to the stallions which may roam in the Forest. One result of their work has been that the New Forest pony is now accepted as being one of the most popular breeds of pony in our country. All these associations support the Bill which your Lordships are considering this evening.

However much the 1949 Act did for the New Forest, much has happened since then; and during these last fifteen years, owing to the vast increase in motor traffic and the speed at which it travels, as well as the advent of the caravan (to give just one figure of interest, in the last two years the number of caravans in the New Forest has increased by over 100 per cent.), and because of new urban development in that part of the country (to give examples of that, the Fawley Refinery, the Monsanto Chemical Works on the East side, and on the West the big expansion of Bournemouth), it became clear to the verderers that further legislation was required.

In view of these facts, in 1961, three years ago, the verderers decided to approach the Hampshire County Council and to initiate discussions to prepare new legislation. These negotiations led to the establishment of an unofficial Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, who, as noble Lords will know, is the representative in another place for the New Forest, to try to reach common agreement on the form that future legislation might take. The following bodies have taken part in and have expressed general approval of the Bill: the Forestry Commission; the Council for the Preservation of Rural England; the National Trust; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; the British Veterinary Association, and the National Farmers' Union.

So far as the National Farmers' Union is concerned, I must here tell your Lordships of a proviso. Negotiations are still taking place with one local branch, and it is hoped that these may be resolved before the Bill reaches its final stages through Parliament. Negotiations are, in fact, taking place at the present time, but I am not in a position to say that a result has been reached by the whole of the county branch of the N.F.U. The local authorities are also in general support of the Bill, and include the Hampshire County Council, the Wiltshire County Council, the Borough of Lymington, Ringwood and Fordingbridge Rural District Council, the New Forest Rural District Council, the New Forest District Association of Parish Councils and the Salisbury and Wilton Rural District Council.

There is just one general criticism I have heard in regard to this Bill. It has been said in certain quarters, and especially by those who have petitioned against the Bill, that it is a personal Bill of Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre. But I have his authority to state to your Lordships that, whilst he had the honour to be the Chairman of the Committee which framed this Bill, it is in no sense his own personal Bill. All the various bodies who attended the meetings of the Committee made it clear at those meetings that they must report back before committing themselves to any proposed legislation. This has been done, and no Petitions have been submitted by any local authority against the Bill.

Now if I may, I would turn to the detailed clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 alters the perambulation of the New Forest so as to take in certain common and other land adjacent thereto and so as to extend the powers of the verderers to the added areas. In addition to taking in certain areas, it also excludes certain areas, and these two areas almost balance each other out. Under subsection (1) the effect of the alteration is the addition of approximately 7,500 acres and the exclusion of 9,000 acres. These definite areas are shown on the plans which have been deposited in connection with the Bill. One further point with regard to subsection (1) which is of importance is that if your Lordships agree to give this Bill a Second Reading tonight, Amendments will be proposed during the Committee stage under which part of Wiltshire known as "No-man's-land" will be excluded from the proposed added areas.

Subsection (2) extends to the added areas the powers of the verderers under the present enactments relating to the New Forest. Here I should like to emphasise that, except to a limited extent to which I shall refer in a moment, the powers of the Forestry Commissioners under those enactments (which, broadly speaking, are confined to the part of the existing New Forest in Crown ownership and subject to common rights) will not be extended to the added areas. The verderers' by-laws are mainly directed to protecting the health of animals. Under subsection (3) it is proposed to extend the Forestry Commissioners' bylaws under Section 2 of the Forestry Act, 1927, to the parts of the added areas already subject to common rights. So far as this subsection is concerned, it is proposed to introduce an Amendment during the Committee stage to make the position somewhat clearer than it is at present under subsection (3) as drafted. In this connection, it may be mentioned that by-laws made under Section 2 of the Act of 1927 may not take away or injuriously affect any right of common without the consent of the person entitled thereto. The Forestry Commissioners' by-laws relate to such matters as the lighting of fires, camping, the parking of motor vehicles and the prevention of nuisances. So much for Clause 1.

Clause 2 really contains the machinery provisions for preparing the additional plans to which I have already referred. The proposal amounts to reopening what is known locally as "the atlas"; that is to say, the plans prepared by the Forestry Commissioners under the New Forest Act, 1949, showing the lands to which are attached rights of common within the New Forest as it exists to-day. The clause also contains provisions for appropriate consultation, and also confers rights to object to the additional plans when they have been prepared. These rights are the same as those conferred by the Act of 1949.

Clause 3, which is an important clause, deals with fencing. By subsection (2) the verderers are enabled to erect fencing along or adjacent to the altered perambulation for the purpose of containing animals. This fencing, with the cattle grids to be construced by the Hampshire County Council as highway authority, will provide a protective seal around the New Forest which will prevent animals from straying outside the perambulation and so help to reduce accidents.

Under Clause 3(4) the verderers will also be able to erect what is known as "drift fencing" within the New Forest. This is a safeguard, because animals become accustomed to crossing highways within the New Forest, for example to reach a watering-place, at a point which is extremely dangerous from the traffic aspect, especially near some blind corner or other. Drift fencing would enable the animal to be diverted to a safer crossing place. It would be of benefit to the animals themselves and also to the general public and the motorist. It is emphasised that the powers for both perimeter and drift fencing are confined to the open waste lands of the Forest—that is to say, Crown land subject to common rights —and to a small portion of land which is marked on the deposited plans. This clause also contains certain safeguards in respect of highway matters and amenity. Since the erection of fencing amounts to an interference with private rights, notices had to be served under the Standing Orders upon the owners, lessees and occupiers of the lands concerned. No Petition has been deposited against the Bill by any such owner, lessee or occupier.

I turn now to Clause 4, which contains permissive powers to fence the main road A.35 from Southampton to Christchurch where it traverses the New Forest. These powers are similar to those conferred by the Act of 1949 in respect of the trunk road from Cadnam to Ringwood. Again, these powers are intended for the reduction of the number of accidents. There is one further point I should mention, at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Molson (who is unable to be in the House this evening), on behalf of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. It deals with possible interference with public rights of access if and when A.35 is fenced. 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.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Does that mean—and I may have misunderstood the noble Lord—that access will be only at a point where there is a side road; that there will be no access on a long stretch of road where there is not a side road?


The noble Lord has misunderstood me. The point with which I was dealing was the importance of not interfering with public rights of access to the New Forest if fences are created along the main road. I was thinking more of paths rather than side roads. The public would be prevented from getting access unless these stiles or gates were created.

I turn now to Clause 5. This clause is intended to preserve the protective seal around the New Forest when it has been created. It prescribes that no alteration is to be made so as to provide or enlarge a means of access to the New Forest unless a cattle grid or other works are installed to prevent or restrict the passage of animals. It will be appreciated that, for example, the building of a new housing estate within the altered perambulation, with a new highway to give access thereto cutting across the protective seal, might allow animals to stray outside the New Forest. This would defeat one of the main objects of the Bill. Clause 6 is an amendment of Section 18 of the 1949 Act. It does not extend to the added areas and calls for no comment.

Clause 7 deals with an entirely different subject, the question of pannage. Pannage is the term used to define the time when one is allowed to turn out pigs. I am not an expert on this subject. Up to now, the existing time of pannage has been September 25 to November 22 in each year. This has been found to be inconvenient in practice, and power is now sought under this clause to enable the Forestry Commissioners to fix pannage time (of not less than 60 consecutive days) after consultation with the verderers. This clause has no application within the added areas.

Clause 8 enables verderers to make temporary enclosures for the purpose of preventing the suffering of animals during severe weather. That is a measure which would be used, such as in the severe weather of last year, to give temporary shelter. Clause 9 seeks a permissive power to pay the reasonable travelling expenses of the appointed verderers in attending official meetings.

Clause 10 would enable the verderers to authorise the Forestry Commissioners to create new ornamental woods and to enclose land for the purpose. These powers are restricted to the part of the New Forest now owned by the Crown and subject to common rights, and therefore do not extend to the added areas. Here, again, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has asked me to raise a point on this clause. He feels that some maximum acreage that may be used for ornamental planting should be inserted in the Bill. The verderers accept in principle that the powers under Clause 10 should not be over-used, but there would be great difficulty in arriving at a proper figure for the purpose of describing a maximum acreage in respect of enclosures made under the clause. However, the verderers would, of course, consider carefully any suggestions which might be made on this point. It may be worth noting that the verderers' powers cannot be exercised except "on a presentment". This is a form of procedure before the Court of Verderers which gives an opportunity for objections by interested parties. Your Lordships will see that in the clause as drafted no one enclosure made by virtue of this clause shall exceed 20 acres in area.

Clause 11 refers to the Forestry Commission by-laws. Clause 12 makes provision for the increase of certain maximum fines for offences under the verderers' by-laws. The present maxima were fixed as long ago as 1877 and are now considered to be out of date. Clause 13 makes similar provision in respect of the Forestry Commission's by-laws. Clause 15 safeguards the position of the National Trust, and this clause has been approved by them. That concludes the detailed clauses of the Bill.

It remains for me to inform your Lordships that two Petitions have been deposited against the Bill; one by a small minority of commoners who allege that they hold rights over parts of the added areas; the other by the New Forest Society for the Prevention of Straying Animals. If the Bill is given a Second Reading by your Lordships, these Petitions will stand referred to a Select Committee upstairs. My Lords, this Bill is a necessary Bill; it is a helpful Bill; and I hope your Lordships will see fit to give it an unopposed Second Reading. I move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Crathorne.)

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to speak for more than a few minutes on this Bill, especially since my fellow-Yorkshireman felt it necessary to explain why he was involving himself in the affairs of the New Forest. It seems to me that it will be far more useful to hear the views of noble Lords on this complex and, to some extent, controversial subject: and I may say that the Government are anxious to hear such views. Indeed, this is why I have sought to speak rather earlier to-day than is customary for a Government spokesman on a Private Member's Bill.

My noble friend Lord Crathorne has stated with clarity and force and feeling the objects of the Bill, and I do not need to tread the same paths. From the point of view of Her Majesty's Government, the provisions of the Bill seem to have two sides, requiring separate treatment. The first is the question of the gridding and fencing of the perambulation or perimeter of the Forest. In this connection I understand that the County Council have put in certain sections of gridding and fencing to fill in the gaps between existing fences. This fencing follows closely the perimeter line proposed by the Bill, but the powers conferred in Clause 3(2) will be useful in filling the relatively few gaps which I understand still exist. The Government can, therefore, give its support to this side of the Bill.

The second side of the Bill, and one on which I think it would be proper for Her Majesty's Government to maintain an open mind for the present, covers various proposals dealing with or affecting common rights. Some of these are controversial, and my noble friend has informed your Lordships that some owners of common rights in the area have presented a humble Petition to Parliament praying against the Bill. I do not think noble Lords will expect me to say more about this, which is essentially a matter for consideration under our Select Committee procedure. Your Lordships may be aware that this is fully in keeping with the quasi-judicial attitude which my right honourable friend must maintain towards applications in respect of common land which are put to him under Statute. My Lords, I look forward to hearing the views of your Lordships on this Bill.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Crook, I am speaking from this Despatch Box, but I should make it clear that I am not speaking officially on behalf of the Opposition. I suppose that it would be right if I were to declare an interest. I am a constituent of Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, though deprived of the right to vote either for or against this matter, and there are common rights attached to my small property in the New Forest. Anyone who knows the New Forest will realise that this subject is one which is of great importance, not only to people living in the New Forest, but to tens of thousands of people who enjoy the quite extraordinary beauty and amenity of that area. It is an extraordinary thing that you can walk off the road and you are then, suddenly, in country as wild as you can find anywhere.

The fact that there are so many qualities in the New Forest does not make it particularly easy to legislate. I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, on the extremely agreeable and uncontroversial way in which he introduced this Bill, but it would be quite mistaken not to recognise that this is a controversial Bill. The fact that the majority of commoners in the New Forest support it does not alter the fact that public interests are involved; and, indeed, the interests of others such as the National Trust commoners—those from outlying areas—who are also affected. The Bill is, of course, subject to the Hybrid Bill procedure and, as the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said, a Select Committee of this House will have an opportunity to hear the Petitions. We cannot, however, give the Bill its Second Reading unless we at least give some consideration to the arguments for and against; and the Petitions themselves go very much to the heart of the opposition to this Bill.

If this Bill has an easier passage than the last New Forest Bill, it will be doing well; because I well remember (and I think the noble Earl. Lord Radnor, will remember) that that Bill aroused passionate feelings. Indeed, the New Forest commoners almost came out with their reaping scythes, if they had any, prepared to defend their rights against the King's Woodsmen. It is ironic that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who shortly after became Chairman of the Forestry Commission, was, in fact, the biggest commoner of them all. But, one way and another, thanks to the wisdom of this House, passions were assuaged and a solution was reached which I think it will be agreed on all sides has worked extremely well, whatever difficulties there may be. One thing we can be quite certain about is that, even if this Bill is passed, there will be a large number of difficulties still to be resolved in the future. I must say straight away that, despite my doubts about this Bill—and I shall refer to them, because I think it is right that we should consider them—I am inclined to give it qualified approval. Indeed, I would recommend that it should have its Second Reading. But we shall have to rely a great deal on wisdom upstairs to solve some of the difficulties.

I must refer, first of all, to the problem of the outlying commoners. The outlying commoners' position is an obscure one legally. If, one day, the Government found time in their timetable, they might deal with the question of commons; indeed, this matter really ought to be the subject of Government legislation. I congratulate the sponsors of this Bill upon producing such a very ambitious Bill and bringing it forward, when clearly there was no chance of the Government's doing so, possibly because they were afraid of getting their fingers burnt as a previous Government did with a New Forest Bill.

But some of the outlying commoners have a genuine complaint. There is the man who has been turning out animals. I know of one case—I think it is true; I was told of it by a leading figure in the New Forest—of a man who is every day turning out 50 head of a dairy herd and bringing them in for milking, and they never stray into the New Forest. At present, he turns them out free, but in future he will have to pay marking fees equivalent to £50 a year. We ought not lightly to take away rights of this kind. Common rights are inevitably very contentious things, and of a doubtful legal validity. None the less, so far as that individual is concerned, he reckons that he has these rights; and his fathers before him, probably. If there is any considerable number of these outlying commoners who are aggrieved at the proposal, we must clearly try to persuade them, though efforts so far appear to have failed.

I rather regret that the noble Lord called them, I think, "just a small minority". How small? I am told that there may be 50, 60 or more; and of course, as the noble Lord knows, there is one branch of the N.F.U.—probably not a very largely attended meeting—which voted against this change. We must recognise that the opposition has not yet been satisfied, and I think it will be for the Select Committee (I will not go too far into this aspect to-day) to see whether a solution can be found. But certainly I think it a very dangerous precedent to take away rights of any kind by means of a Private Member's Bill of this sort. It may well be that some kind of compensation, some undertaking to delay the demands for marking fees, will meet their particular problem.

When we turn to fencing, all I can say is that anyone who knows the New Forest must very greatly regret the idea of having these endless fences along either the A.35 or the A.31. It is one of the glories of the New Forest that you can drive along, stop and then walk off straight into the forest, and that it is open with a spaciousness that is not found anywhere else, at any rate comparably as beautiful, in the South of England. The fencing is not going to be attractive. The original suggestion, to build ha-ha fencing (if that is the correct term), is not, I am told, likely to be possible, and I can well imagine that it would be prodigiously expensive. I do not know why nothing has been done to fence the upper road, the Cadnam—Ringwood Road, under the 1949 Act, but we have to face the fact that it must be done. My Lords, this is going to be very expensive; and to fence the A.35 is going to be even more expensive. A charming thing about this Private Member's Bill is that if, in fact, the public authorities choose to exercise the powers given to them, it will enable them to spend between £80,000 and £100,000 of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money. Clearly, this is not a matter about which, by Private Member's Bill, one can do anything, but the power is to be given.

Even then, my Lords, this problem of animals on the road will not be solved. Anyone who knows the New Forest knows that these animals are a perpetual hazard. I doubt whether there is any resident in the New Forest who, if he has driven regularly, has not been involved at one time or another in an accident. I myself have been. The slaughter of animals on the roads is pretty grim at the moment. It is distressing how often one comes across a car with a dead animal, or possibly an animal that is not dead, lying beside the road. If the Government and the authorities decide to do so, we shall fence the main roads, but there will still be many miles of forest roads which will not be fenced; and drift fencing will not solve this problem.

There is an argument that animals should be kept in enclosures within the forest. This is a proposal which, to my prejudiced mind, I admit, is a rather alien one. The essence of the New Forest is that animals have been able to wander at large. It is they who have to a large extent created the countryside. But this was before the days of motor cars; and people and animals will continue to be killed. I have details, with which I will not bother the House now, of animals that have been killed on back roads. I have known motor-cyclists from my own village who have been killed through running into an animal on a dark night—and there are, of course, a number of animals which are particularly difficult to see. There are some black steers which wander around the New Forest at night, and, with a car approaching from the other direction, the chance of seeing them is very slight indeed.

We shall not solve this problem by this particular Bill, and it is a matter for consideration, even if we do pass it, whether, in the light of the present circumstances, there should not be set up a further Committee of Inquiry, comparable to the Baker Committee. There is some controversy, of course, as to whether the forest is over-grazed or under-grazed. I have always been brought up to believe that it was under-grazed, but there are those who suggest that it is over-grazed. We have to take into account (and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, will correct me on this) the fact that if these outlying commons are brought in—and I shall be interested to know why one particular common is to be excluded; the noble Lord will no doubt tell us why during the Committee stage—this may bring an extra 2,000 animals into the forest. My Lords, it will probably be necessary—indeed, I think public opinion will demand it—for the agistor service to be considerably strengthened, and particularly for powers to be given for quicker action in regard to the destruction of animals that have been injured. Had the proposal been to enclose certain areas and to confine animals to them, it might well be that there would be plenty of grazing to sustain them; but I am concerned about what would then happen to the edges of the Forest that would be visible to the roads. I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, might be involved in some toxic chemical-spraying exercise: his propensity in this direction is well known to us all. I think we should all regret this.

I think the economics of this scheme need to be looked at. A number of differing views have been expressed on the cost, and we have to face the fact that, to preserve the New Forest as it is, to preserve it for the commoners, the taxpayers and the ratepayers will have to pay a great deal of money. But I must also make it clear that I do not regard the commoner as someone who is exercising a right which works only to his own advantage: it certainly works to the advantage of the whole area.

There is one point about which I am concerned, and that is a point which I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne: the extent to which there genuinely is local authority approval. I was informed—and this may or may not be aecurate—that the Hampshire County Council had not specifically lent support to this Bill. I think this is a matter of much importance—because, in a way, this is a matter of great concern to the authorities—that their views should be at least as well represented as those of either the verderers or the commoners, or of the voluntary societies. It would be helpful to know in what terms the County Council, the Ringwood District Council or the New Forest Council actually gave their support. I am particularly concerned with Hampshire, since they presumably will be the highway authority.

My Lords, I shall not take up any more of your Lordships' time now, other than to remind the House again that this is not a straightforward, simple proposition. Individual rights are involved—the rights of the outlying commoners—as well as the safety, survival and relief from suffering of large numbers of animals which at the moment suffer an unpleasant death and also cause the death of human beings. These are matters that the Committee may be able to resolve, but we shall undoubtedly have to look at this Bill again after it emerges from the Committee. I hope that those who are supporting and sponsoring the Bill will go as far as they possible can to meet the very real objections that have been made against it.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of the New Forest Bill. I speak not as one who has any special knowledge of the New Forest, or even lives in the area, but as one who is keenly interested in both forestry and the adjustments of the countryside that are necessary to meet present-day conditions. Large numbers of interested parties are concerned with the New Forest, and although this Bill set out originally to be both non-political and non-controversial, the petitions lodged have proved that not all parties agree. Whatever one's views on fencing animals in special enclosures, or on carrying out the intentions of the Bill, it must be unanimously agreed that some immediate steps must be taken to prevent the needless slaughter of the animals that occurs year after year. Indeed, the Forest is earning itself a bad reputation in this respect, and the verderers are virtually powerless at present to act. For this reason I am supporting the Bill, and, in my opinion, new legislation is urgently required.

The argument expressed by the Society for the Prevention of Straying Animals in their Petition is economically sound, as regards fencing. But I wonder whether it would be the right answer in practice. First, the character of the Forest would change, and this is something that everyone for generations has jealously guarded. Secondly, the number of animals will be restricted severely. Finally, the areas outside the enclosures would require continual maintenance and expense. I believe the power this Bill will give to the verderers in regard to fencing would make a considerable difference, and if it were coupled with a speed limit imposed on all roads (except the trunk roads) crossing the forest this could well be a successful combination.

The most controversial part of the Bill would appear to be Clause 1. Much as I respect everyone's private and public rights in this country, I feel that for the good of the Forest the perambulation should include the areas specified in the Bill. I understand that if it does not then it will not be practicable to fence off the Forest, and further slaughter and unnecessary danger to the animals will result. It is my opinion that the benefits of the grazing of the whole Forest, which many of those who petitioned do not at present have, coupled with the care in winter and the all-the-year-round supervision by the agistors more than outweigh the present marking fee of 30s. per animal.

Under Clause 6 the question of camping sites is dealt with by the Bill, and here again I feel that this legislation is long overdue. The present unrestricted sites used by the public are proving a disgrace to the Forest; and over 7,000 milk bottles alone were picked up last year, together with tons of rubbish. It seems very sensible that the verderers should have the power to allot certain camping sites and prevent the whole Forest from being made into a disorderly mess. I should like to conclude by saying that, in my opinion, this Bill gives the powers necessary for the verderers to manage the Forest in a proper manner in the interests of the Forest itself, the animals and the public. I therefore trust this Bill will pass during this Session of Parliament as speedily as possible.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, when I first heard that a Bill was to be introduced to reduce the number of accidents to motorists and animals on the roads of the New Forest I was delighted, because these accidents have for many years been something of a blot on our civilisation. But when I read the Bill I was sadly disappointed. It seems to me that the Bill is really an elaborate means of giving powers to all the authorities to do nothing. This may seem rather an extreme statement, but my reason for saying this is that the Bill is permissive and not mandatory. It says to the highway authority and to the verderers of the Forest, "You may do this or that"; but it does not say, "You must do this or that, and do it without delay." We can see the result of this type of permissive legislation by looking back to the Act of 1949 in which permission was given for the fencing of the A.31 trunk road from Cadnam to Ringwood. I recently asked how the work was getting on and if it was nearing completion. I was informed that the work was not started until the autumn of 1963. Fifteen years' delay in starting to implement a permissive Act of Parliament! The trouble is that this Bill will still contain the permissive element. So much for the highway authority.

This Bill also gives permission to the verderers of the Forest to carry out certain operations: to fence the new perambulation which is intended; to enter into an agreement with the high- way authority concerning the provision and maintenance of cattle grazing; also to erect such drift fences as may be considered necessary for the safety of animals and such other fencing as will obviate dangers to persons or animals. But I am informed that the verderers are at present unable to maintain more than four agistors.

If any noble Lord does not know what the duties of the agistors are I will tell him. They are a small body of men enrolled and paid by the verderers and they are responsible for the food, drink and general welfare of the animals in the Forest. The commoners and those who turn out animals into the Forest relinquish the right or duty of looking after their animals to the verderers, who engage the agistors to carry out the work; but they are unable to pay more than four agistors for the whole of the Forest, and that number is not enough. For one thing, if a pony is wounded or injured on the road and has to be killed an agistor has to be sent for to put it out of its misery. It is at present imperatively necessary that that number of agistors should be increased.

Of course, if a large area is to be added to the Forest then still more agistors will be necessary; but I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said in his opening address that the amount of land which will be subtracted from the Forest will be roughly equal to that added. The verderers are already committed to a sum of £7,000 for the work with which they were saddled in connection with the fencing of the A.31 fifteen years ago. They are in no position to pay that sum. I am informed that their accounts show that their total possessions—investments and cash in the bank—fall far short of that amount. How, then, can they be expected to take on these new commitments with any hope of fulfilling them in the foreseeable future?

As to the cost of the scheme, the A.31 fencing is estimated to cost £53,000 (I am taking figures based on the findings of the Hampshire County Council and the Ministry of Transport), subject to an increase when the dual carriageway is built—that is to say, certain fencing that is put up for the single carriageway will have to be pulled up and moved farther back when the dual carriageway is built. The perimeter gridding and fencing is estimated to cost £55,000. Fencing the A.35, which is a new operation, sanctioned by this Bill, will probably cost £88,000. Then we must consider the compensation to be paid to the commoners for the loss of grazing rights on the verges, and that will be quite considerable. The total cost for the fencing of these two main roads, with the ancillary work, is likely to come to over £200,000. This is so far as the Bill takes us; but it would be absurd to fence in the A.31 and the A.35 and leave the A.337, running from North to South, and the 36 miles of B-class road, unfenced. So, the job of protecting against animals by fencing the roads would ultimately cost something in the neighbourhood of £400,000 of public money.

An alternative plan of leaving the roads unfenced and making enclosures within the Forest has much to recommend it. A tentative plan to make four enclosures of about 2,000 acres each within the Forest has been worked out, and the cost is estimated at £39,000, including cattle grids, stiles and other devices to allow the public to have free access to the enclosures. One of the arguments that have been raised against these enclosures in the Forest comes under the heading of amenities—that is to say. People may object to seeing lines of fences stretched across open spaces of the Forest. I think the people would have to be very aesthetic to allow that to worry them very much. At any rate, I would put to them a question: Which would they rather see—some fences running across the Forest, or dead and dying ponies on the road?

I am now coming to a very important point. The verderers could not possibly be expected to find such a sum of money, but it is only about one-tenth of the ultimate cost of protecting the lives of the stock in the Forest by fencing the roads. I suppose it would be possible to find some way of making the money available out of the great saving which would accrue to the highway authorities if this plan were to be accepted. After all, it is all public money, and if the highway authority is saved a very large sum it ought to be possible to find the much smaller sum for the alternative plan.

It is no job of mine to try to reform the somewhat archaic procedure of the verderers' organisation, but I think that it is important that the verderers should have some source of income adequate for the duties which they are called upon to perform—putting up safety fencing, cattle grids and so on. I do not know whether the suggestion that I have to make will commend itself to the authorities, but it is as follows. There are commoners and non-commoners who graze their stock in the Forest. The commoners have what amounts to an immemorial right to graze their stock in the Forest, but the non-commoners, who have been allowed to graze their stock, so far as I can understand without any limitation to the number of head that any non-commoner may introduce, have rights which are much more modern and much more tenuous. My suggestion is that the fees which non-commoners pay for grazing their stock should be raised so as to give the verderers a working income for the duties which they have to perform.

At present, supposing the highway authority is blamed for being slow in getting on with the work, they can always say that the verderers owe them £7,000 for this, and when the verderers pay up what they owe, they can get on with the work. As I say, I think it is important that the verderers should have an adequate income for the duty which they will always have to perform, whether the scheme adopted is the fencing of the roads or enclosures within the Forest.

There is one other point which I will mention in conclusion. If the insurance companies would adopt a self-denying ordinance and refuse to pay insurance on ponies that were killed on the roads, I am sure that the accident rate would almost certainly decline. At present, for a dead pony an agistor has a power of signing the death certificate up to a value of £50. He signs two copies of the certificate, one going to the insurance company and the other to the knacker. If the pony is valued at over £50, then the certificates have to be signed by a veterinary surgeon.

The present situation is strongly criticised by a large number of voters in the New Forest area. They are indignant at the continued mass slaughter of animals on their roads. It may be thought, perhaps, that this Bill will allay their indignation by the prospect of some early and practical steps being taken; but I fear that such expectations will be disappointed, especially when the voters consider the fifteen years' delay which followed the last permissive Act of this nature. This Bill, in my opinion at any rate, is too basically unsound to be licked into shape by any Amendments in Committee. I earnestly hope that it may be withdrawn, and an alternative mandatory Bill, such as would have the effect of putting an early stop to this slaughter on the roads of the New Forest, substituted in its place.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I do not follow him in the arguments he has put forward. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I must declare my own position, because, in spite of having a North-country name, I was born and brought up in the New Forest, and I live there and farm there. I can confirm what my noble friend Lord Crathorne was able to say in his preamble. I am also a member of the Council of the New Forest Association. I was a member of the small committee which met on several occasions during the last two years and advised Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre on his Bill. I may say that some of the things he wished to do we advised him not to do, and he did not get it all his own way.

I approach this Bill from a slightly different angle than any that has been put forward so far. I should like to go back to the Baker Report: that is the Report of the New Forest Committee which reported in 1947. Various things in that Report were not included in the 1949 Act. At that time I was not in this country, and I do not know why this was not done. But it is interesting to look now at some of the recommendations and comments that they then made and see what has happened. First of all, I should like to look at page 45, which refers to war-time encroachments. There they refer to the aerodromes in the Forest and to the danger of industrial development immediately adjacent to the Forest, particularly in the area between Southampton Water and the New Forest. In their recommendations they recommended that on no account should industrial development be allowed, because they thought it would be injurious to the Forest.

On page 69 they refer to the growth of population and the effect that house building, the increase of population which would result, and subsequently more house building, would have on the New Forest. The Industrial Revolution has now arrived, subsequent to the war, alongside the New Forest. A large oil refinery has been built in this area, where it was recommended that there should be no development. Factories are following; and of two large power stations, one is built and one being built. This has necessitated a considerable influx of population to work in the area. There was not housing available for these people to live in, and, in the first instance, they had to be brought considerable distances to work. Those houses are now being built or have been built. Roads have had to be laid to approach the factories and the new housing estates. Electricity pylons have had to be put up to carry the electricity from the power stations. There was not land in this small strip for all these things to be done, and part of the Forest has had to be taken and used for this purpose. I am sure that this was a warning sign which made it imperative that the boundaries of the New Forest should be established quite definitely so that this process should not continue. I cannot think of any way of doing that other than by putting a fence round the whole area, much though that goes against the grain

I think it is also of interest to look at page 70 of this Report and to observe that it was the view of the planning authorities that this sort of development should not be allowed. On page 81 the Report also recommended that the adjoining commons should come within the New Forest and under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Commission. That obviously raises difficulties. But, if I may revert for one moment to the social question, housing in the New Forest is now a difficulty. The population is changing. There is the old commoner population of horticultural, forestry, and agricultural workers and employers who belong to the area and are natives. But coming in are the commuters and a large number of retired people. A great many of these people come to the area not realising quite what they are coming to, and they are not altogether in sympathy with their surroundings or the conditions under which they live.

For instance, one of the new housing estates put up for the people who are to work in new factories was an open-plan housing estate and, quite naturally, the inhabitants of these houses were very angry to find that their gardens had been trampled and spoiled by forest animals. There is only one way to get over that problem in so far as I can see, and that is to put something between these people and the animals. That, surely, must mean a fence.

When it comes to the accidents on the roads, I think it is true to say that in recent years at least one-third of those accidents have taken place outside the boundaries of the forest. Animals have strayed from the forest. This also can be stopped only if the animals are to be kept within the area, and that difficulty can be overcome by fencing.

If I may now revert to the Bill, I see that the provision; within it are all in line with the Report of the Royal Commission, but I will not bore your Lordships with the detail. The amending schemes and the planting of trees and the cost of fencing are all deliberately mentioned in the Royal Commission on Common Land, and so far as costs go it was the opinion of the Ramblers' Association at least that the cost of such things should be met from public funds. Clause 1 of the Bill, dealing with the alterations of the perambulations, and including certain of the outside commons within the New Forest, I find very complicated indeed. But as I understand it, the commoners who turn animals into the New Forest have also the right to turn them on to the exterior commons. The commoners who turn their animals on to the exterior commons do not have the right to turn their animals into the Forest. This, if I may say so, is a ridiculous situation. It could be solved by including the commons within the New Forest, and giving the commoners of the exterior commons the right to turn their animals into the Forest as well.

There are certain difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. re- ferred, and I think these probably are better dealt with upstairs. As to the fencing of the main roads, provisions were put in in the 1949 Act and an excellent scheme for putting up ha-has was included. Part of that work has been done, and I hope that it will be finished under the ha-ha scheme. As you drive along the main road you see on the left or right of you a bank, and beyond that you see the open forest. You do not see a fence, bys, posts and the rest of it. As you look from the Forest you look up to an even bigger bank, and if you are lucky you do not see cars. They can go along the road and not be seen. I think that achieves the object for which this scheme was developed, and I hope that will be continued. It is my personal hope that it will be unnecessary, when the scheme on the Cadnam-Ringwood Road is completed, to fence the land from Bournemouth to Lyndhurst, because, as in the instance to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred, I think it will be entirely against everything which I have known and have been brought up to believe in so far as the Forest is concerned. It will, in fact, cut the whole Forest in two, and there will be a considerable restriction on both the commoners and on the public.

Next may I turn to Clause 7, which deals with the alteration of the time of pannage and the turning out of pigs. This is an old fixed date which is fitted in with other arrangements for shutting up animals in the Forest. It is true, however, that the acorns and beech mast do not stick to a fixed date, and the object of turning pigs out into the forest is to clear up the acorns and beech mast which fall. Provided the period of 60 days is included, as it is, I can see that there can be little objection to the date being adjusted year by year in order to coincide with the fall of the food the pigs will eat, the acorns and the beech mast.

Clause 10 refers to the creation of new and ornamental woods. One of the particular difficulties here is that there are in the forest individual trees which are of interest. They may be landmarks, or special trees which are situated in the open common lands of the forest, and they do not come under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Commission. Quite a number of these trees are reaching the state where they are dying and about to fall down. Nobody can do anything about replacing them at the present moment because they cannot fence an area, put up a tree and leave it to grow, eventually taking away the fence. Under this clause this will now be possible.

May I turn now to what my noble friend Lord Kinnoull said about the camps? I should not like the House to have the impression that the establishment of fixed camping sites would stop people camping in the Forest. It is the inalienable right of the public in general to camp, walk or caravan in the Forest where they like; and while they may be directed to sites, they may still camp anywhere in the Forest. That is written into the Bill, and this new Bill does not in any way alter that existing right. As to the position of the commoners on the adjacent commons, I find myself in great difficulty. I am sure that there will be objections here, but, the owners of these commons, (who in time to come might get some benefit from them if this area were allowed to be developed; and it is possible that that might happen in the future) have not objected, and in this instance they are sterilising a possible improvement of an asset which they have.

My Lords, having seen some of the background to this Bill, I can only commend the Bill to your Lordships and hope that you will give it a Second Reading. Then, when the Select Committee have dealt with the arguments upstairs, we may again see it and be able to consider it in detail at that time. I give my wholehearted support to the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne.

8.10 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to express strong support for this Bill, but at this hour I feel that it will not be necessary for me to say very much more than that. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, in introducing the Bill gave such a comprehensive explanation, both of the background to the Bill and of the individual clauses, that it would be futile for me at this hour to go over any of that ground. Also, if I may say so with due respect, I listened with great interest and appreciation to the very fair speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in which he sketched the difficulties inherent in this Bill; and no doubt more will be said about them at a later stage in this House. All these, however, are matters for the Select Committee in the first place, and I will not waste your Lordships' time now by attempting to go into them.

This question of the New Forest is one of the oldest in the land. It goes back to the days of King Canute, and over the centuries there has been a constant series of disputes between representatives of the Crown and commoners. The only time when one could safely say, without fear of much contradiction, that that situation ended was in 1949, when the Act was passed as a result of the recommendations of the Committee of 1946 I think it would be fair to say now that the day-to-day life in the Forest has shown a noticeable improvement of atmosphere since the 1949 Act came into operation, and the relationship between the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the Crown, and the commoners and the general public, has been unquestionably that of friendly co-operation and understanding. But experience has shown that some revision of the Act is now needed to bring the administration of the New Forest into harmony with modern thought and modern conditions. This is what this Bill endeavours to do, and I strongly support its Second Reading.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour certain of your Lordships would not want a second long speech from me, but I should very much like to thank all the Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in this debate and who have made such extremely interesting and constructive speeches. I should like to answer the two main criticisms which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, brought out extremely well and which, of course, are very difficult to answer. The first deals with the outlying commoners. He kindly gave me notice of this when we were discussing this Bill, and I have done my best to look into it. No doubt we shall all have an opportunity of studying it before the later stages.

It is impossible to answer precisely how many outlying commoners will be affected by the Bill. When I said that a Petition had been submitted by a small minority, I used the words advisedly, because however we like to look at it, it is a minority. How one can get exactly at the right figures it is very difficult to know. In the villages concerned the number of holdings, which corresponds to the number of ratepayers, is 1,846. So if, for instance, you accept (which I understand the Promoters do not) that all the 60 signatories to the Petition represent 60 separate holdings, then it would be 60 out of 1,846. Another way, which might give a better comparison, would be to take the number of electors on the electoral roll. For those parishes the number of electors in the area concerned is 3,830: and compared with that figure 60, of course, is smaller. Those are the two possible ways of making the comparison, but it is very difficult to give a precise answer, for no precise figures are kept.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Would he then tell us the number of commoners who exercise their common rights in the New Forest, and the number of electors?—because he would find the minority was about the same. I do not think these comparisons are at all valid.


They are pretty reasonable.




All right; but they are the only figures you can get. You cannot get precise figures, and it is for the noble Lord's colleagues in the Select Committee to try to analyse the figures of those who have sounded the position and see whether these signatories do, in fact, all represent different holdings.

The other point which I should like to clear up to the satisfaction of the noble Lord is in regard to the local authorities' consultations. From the inquiries I have made, I am perfectly satisfied that the consultations have gone on all the time, although it is quite fair to say, as the noble Lord indicated, that no local authority has actually passed a resolution saying that they were in favour of the Bill. Throughout last year there were various meetings. Although it was an unofficial body, there were two local meetings during 1963 attended by the representatives of the local authorities concerned. Minutes were circulated and the local authorities were given drafts of the Bill before it was introduced. Therefore, there has been full consultation with them.

So far as the Hampshire County Council is concerned, which the noble Lord quite rightly said is most particularly concerned with the Bill, being the highway authority, while they support the Bill in general, they at the outset had certain points to raise on clauses, but these have been met. Although I cannot say for certain, I am informed that at me next meeting of the appropriate committee of the County Council in early March they are likely to accept the Bill. It is for the future to determine what happens. For all those reasons, I think the noble Lord will agree that it can properly be claimed that the Bill meets with the general approval of the local authorities, since no local authority has thought fit to petition against it. Some of the other points raised by the noble Lord are more for the Government than for me, but all points will be given most careful consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, was in a rather gloomy frame of mind, and I prefer to take the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Milverton, to the effect that, although the 1949 Act was far from perfect, the results since it came into force have been all for the better. My noble friend Lord Congleton, who actually lives there, referred to the Baker Report, and although he, again, regretted that more was not put into the 1949 Act, he also intimated to your Lordships that there has been improvement since then.


My Lords, my interest is almost entirely concerned with the ponies on the road; and very little has been said about them this evening. That is the problem which I consider to be the most important.


Thank you very much for those remarks, but I think the whole of your Lordships' House is equally anxious and worried about the ponies as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, himself is, and it is thought that, although it may not be, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton said, the complete answer, if this Bill, as eventually agreed, I hope, by this House comes upon the Statute Book, it will do much to help in regard to the mortality of ponies in the New Forest.


My Lords, I do not think I would ever have said "although it would not produce the complete answer". I think it is very doubtful how much of an answer it will produce; I am genuinely doubtful about that. As the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, said, it is an Enabling Bill, and whether anybody is going to do anything about it I do not know. I do not think we want to be too optimistic.


We do not want to be too optimistic, but I think we want to be more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, who, I thought, was very gloomy. There were other parts of his speech which deserve very careful thought and will be given very careful thought by all those concerned, and I thank him very much for that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, also for his contribution to the debate, and hope that your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.