HL Deb 24 March 1964 vol 256 cc1215-45

7.4 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the House to be in Committee (on Recommitment) on report of the Bill from the Select Committee.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.

Moved, That the House do resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]


This Bill has been amended by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, and the Amendments made have been incorporated in the Bill.

Clause 1:

Alteration of perambulation of New Forest

(4) Subject to the provisions of this Act the lands which are designated on the additional plans certified under section 4(4) of the New Forest Act 1949 (hereinafter referred to as "the Act of 1949") as extended by section 2(3) of this Act as lands to which are attached rights of common of pasture over any part of the added areas shall be treated as lands to which are attached rights of common of pasture within the perambulation of the New Forest as altered by this Act.

LORD CRATHORNE had given Notice of several Amendments, the first being in subsection (4), after "pasture" where that word first occurs, to insert: "or a privilege of pasture". The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. This Amendment, and other Amendments to Clauses 2 and 16 which are consequential, are designed to give effect to the views of the Select Committee on this Bill as expressed in paragraph 2 of their Special Report. Here I should like to quote the Special Report. In paragraph 2 they say: … that the reasonable privileges at present enjoyed by people who turn out animals on the adjacent commons should continue to be enjoyed by them, even though there may be difficulty in establishing such privileges as legal rights.

To achieve this end these Amendments have all been agreed between the Promoters of the Bill and the petitioning Commoners, and, indeed, the National Trust. The position, therefore, is that in respect of the commons within the added areas which belong to the National Trust and the Wellow Parish Council great difficulty has arisen in the past in determining whether or not common rights did, in fact, attach to particular holdings. This led to much local discord, and in the end it was decided, I think wisely, that irrespective of the existence of common rights, holdings adjoining these commons should be given the privilege of the pasturing of animals. The effect of these Amendments, therefore, is to place holdings—and I emphasise the word "holdings," as opposed to "individuals"—to which a privilege of pasture is attached on the same footing as holdings to which rights of common of pasture are attached. Thus, not only will the existing privileges continue, but they will also be extended within the whole of the altered perambulation. In other words, this brings all these new people in on the same terms as the original commoners in the original New Forest area. This is the object of these Amendments. I hope that they meet with the wishes of the Special Committee on the Bill as explained in paragraph 2 of their Special Report.

At this stage it may be convenient to your Lordships if I deal quite shortly with paragraph 3 of the Special Report, which deals with the question of concessions on marking fees. I should like it on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT that the Promoters stand by the concessions offered in the letter of February 18, 1964. That letter is quoted in paragraph 3 of the Select Committee's Special Report. But it may be mentioned also that it is not only intended to cover commonable animals normally turned out on the commons in the added areas, which have in the past been in the habit of remaining on the commons as at December 1, 1963, but it goes further, and includes other animals which would otherwise fall into this category, save for the fact that their owners normally turn them out at certain other times of the year—for example, during the summer months. The intention of the Promoters is to try to meet the suggestion and recommendation in paragraph 3 of the Report of the Select Committee. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 5, Ater ("pasture") insert ("or a privilege of pasture").—Lord Crathorne.)


I should like to get one thing clear on this Amendment. The noble Lord referred to certain commons only. I think it should be made clear that this will apply to all the outlying commons which are brought within the perambulation and not only West Wellow.


I give that assurance right away.


I thought that point should be made clear. The second point is this. I should have thought that the common rights over other commons, particular Hyde Common, were a good deal more firmly established than the noble Lord has suggested. Certainly I am told that they have been exercised for a very long time. Indeed, my note suggests that this goes back to the time of Edward I, though, unfortunately, it has been altered in ink, and it might be Edward VII. I am now told that these rights have been exercised for centuries. I think that we should have that on record. I shall have further points to make on the Question, That the clause stand part, but your Lordships might take note of the excellent work which the Select Committee have done, as they did on the previous New Forest Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


There is still a certain amount of dissatisfaction among some of the outlying commoners. I suspect that it is perhaps impossible to satisfy all the commoners, but the situation is made mare difficult in the absence of any general legislation in regard to commons—legislation which, one hopes, some Government will one day find time to enact. There is still scope for some further concessions or further clarification. In introducing a Bill of this kind it is exceedingly difficult to make sure that all the interested parties have been fully consulted; and whereas I would not in any way criticise the Promoters (I know the great efforts they have made, and particularly the efforts made by Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, the Member of Parliament for the New Forest, with a long family tradition there), the fact remains that there is one group of commoners—I cannot speak for the West Wellow ones—who are still anything but satisfied.

I very much hope that this Bill will pass, and, with the imminence of a General Election, I realise that we are legislating against the timetable, and that if we do not get this Bill through the chance may disappear. On Second Reading I pointed out that it is a hard thing to interfere with people's rights, especially when they feel that such rights are immemorial and are satisfied such rights are genuine, and where there is legal reason to suppose that is the case. Representations have been made by certain people from one common, a group who did not petition against the Bill, for reasons which I do not know, but which may have been connected with a desire not to hold up the Bill, or possibly not to spend money. They had relied on representations from the National Farmers' Union to see that their entitlement was protected and that their rights were confirmed. The Promoters of the Bill have gone a considerable way in clarifying the position, including the action of the noble Lord in his last Amendment in confirming the right of pasture. Furthermore, there are proposals with regard to a concessionary rate of payment towards the verderers. There are suggestions that they should in fact maintain their own agisters. They already maintain part-time voluntary agisters. No doubt they will now come in some degree under the verderers.

On the question of representation, we are confronted with a strange institution, the Court of Verderers—the old Court of Swainmote. I shall have to be careful what I say about this, because I know the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, is a great expert in these matters. The fact remains that there could be some further concession made in regard to some special representation on the Court of Verderers, whether it be by a federal institution or some other method. There is a possibility of verderers being elected for a particular area. I do not favour this very much, but in this transitional stage it is highly desirable that these matters must be settled if the peace of the New Forest is to be maintained.

And peace has not always reigned in the New Forest. Having solved the ancient war between commoners and the King's woodsmen by the 1949 Act—and the Forestry Commission is now greatly beloved in a way it was not in the past—we do not want one set of commoners who are aggrieved. We do not want a feud, for if a grievance grows up it may lead to a disproportionate waste of effort in resolving it. I should like to suggest to the noble Lord that certain steps should be taken to ensure that the local interests in these outlying commons are specially taken care of. It is possible that they could have their own committee. Certainly they want to make quite sure that their rights are firmly established. It may well be that their interests are related to tithe or Ordnance Survey numbers, but I would suggest that this particular suggestion should be borne in mind.

I stress that there will be slightly different interests. This is a Private Member's Bill, and there has not been a further committee to investigate the New Forest like the Baker Committee. It may be that in time we shall have to have such an investigation. We want to make sure, so far as possible, that not too many people are left unhappy about it, and some of those who feel they have had these ancient rights for a long time have been concerned about this. I think it is unlikely they will petition, but we must not ignore the fact that there is still a right to petition in another place and that such a petition might gravely endanger the Bill.

I hope, therefore, that the Promoters, and in particular the verderers, however irritated they may be—and when you are embarked on a great enterprise and are well aware of the virtues of what you are seeking to do the temptation to ignore feelings, justified or otherwise as they may be, may be strong—will have proper consultations. There have been accusations that they have not properly consulted. Frankly, I think that if one were to consult everybody properly one would have to wait a hundred years before one had such a Bill. None the less, I think that further steps should be taken in this matter, and that it is in relation to the passing of this clause that we should note them.


I should like at this stage to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for raising this point. It is a new point, and I should like to say at once that I am certain your Lordships will agree with the principles underlying his remarks to your Lordships on the question whether this clause shall stand part. When we come to their detailed application, we have now got this new point which will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Although I cannot give any assurance that the verderers will be able to meet in exact detail the suggestions that he has made, I certainly can give, on behalf of the Promoters of the Bill, the complete assurance that the verderers will take cognisance of the suggestions that have been made and will look into the propositions that they suggest. There are, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will know, many kinds of committee. There is an advisory committee, an official committee, a sub-committee, and all kinds of various methods by which local opinion can be brought into consultation as we see how the Bill works. If the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will accept it from me on behalf of the Promoters that they will certainly look into the points he has raised, I think that is as far as I can go this evening.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Designation of additional lands entitled to rights of common pasture]:


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 31, after ("exist") insert ("or over which a privilege of pasture was exercisable on 1st December, 1963").—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment, also, is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 34, at end insert ("and also designating the lands to which a privilege of pasture over any part of the added areas was attached on 1st December, 1963, specifying in relation to the lands the extent of that privilege").—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This is a further consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 45, at end insert ("and whether any, and if so what, privilege of pasture is attached to any such land").—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


I am not sure whether this is the right point at which to ask one question. I take it, in the light of the Amendments moved by the noble Lord, that we have been dealing only with the question of pasture. I hope I am right. In fact, I wanted to be clear that the other rights—rights of turbary, mast and the rest—which have existed, will continue to be exercised as in the past, and that this clause does not really affect these rights.


I can give the noble Lord a complete assurance on that. The Amendments deal only with pasture.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Fencing, etc.]:

7.25 p.m.

LORD DOWDING moved, after subsection (3), to insert: (4) The verderers shall, by adjustment of grazing fees or otherwise, put themselves in a position to fulfil all their financial commitments, particularly as regards the maintenance of a number of agisters adequate in the opinion of the Minister for the welfare of all the animals permitted to graze in the Forest.

The noble Lord said: I am interested in the welfare of the animals grazing in the forest, and in the prevention of accidents on the roads. I am only incidentally interested in the verderers and their affairs; but when the verderers grant permission for animals to graze in the forest they make themselves responsible, not only for the animals' food and water but also for their welfare. The verderers have taken over these responsibilities from the owners, and they are not fulfilling them adequately. They employ four agisters to care for about 6,500 animals, and these four men are not enough. I have here an account of efforts to help a sick and suffering animal after its condition had been noticed by a passer-by. A man out for a walk with a friend found a pony lying down and obviously in great pain. This was at 1.10 p.m. The man immediately telephoned an agister, and they waited for over two hours, but nobody came.

At 3.50 the man came to my informant's house and reported the situation. At 4 p.m. my informant started a round of telephone calls which included an agister's wife; a veterinary surgeon's receptionist; the veterinary surgeon's wife, who was also a qualified veterinary surgeon; the police; and the clerk to the verderers, twice. All were unhelpful except the police, but they said that they could do nothing until they were satisfied that every agister had been telephoned. Finally, at 4.45, the police rang up to say that an agister was on his way to the pony, and at 6 p.m. two agisters arrived and took charge of the situation—about five hours after the first finding of the pony.

Considerable delays also sometimes occur before the arrival of an agister when a pony is lying injured on the road after a car accident. A correspondent living at Ringwood writes as follows: The plight of the unfortunate animals, some of which lie injured for hours before an agister can be found to destroy them, is pathetic. The verderers say that they cannot afford to pay more than four agisters, and this account seems to be true in present circumstances. The purpose of my Amendment is to ensure that the verderers should, by one means or another, put themselves in a position to meet their just liabilities.

There are two classes of people who are permitted to graze animals in the forest, commoners and non-commoners. The commoners have rights which, if not actually legal, are hallowed by ancient customs. The non-commoners are not in the same position. Some of them do, not live in the forest. One, at least, lives in Australia. If the raising of grazing fees is not a practical suggestion, then other means must be found of enabling the verderers to fulfil their obligations and to pay their way.

I have with me the verderers' accounts for the year 1962, which are the latest I have been able to obtain. The pay, insurance, commissions and expenses of the agisters amount to about £2,880; that is to say, £720 per agister. The excess of expenditure over income for the year was £750, or about 17 per cent. of the income. It seems obvious that some positive action is required. I am told that if any Amendment is made to this Bill at this stage, even if it received the approval of the noble Lord who is introducing it, the Bill would have to be referred again to the Examiners and the delay involved would very probably result in the Bill's being lost altogether owing to the imminence of a General Election.

I do not wish to subject the Bill to any such hazard, and I shall not press my Amendment to a Division. I hope, however, that the Committee will agree with me that the matter warrants some consideration by Her Majesty's Government, and I would ask the noble Lord who represents the Minister concerned to suggest to his right honourable friend that he should initiate discussions with the verderers which may enable them to balance their budget and, at the same time, fulfil their obligations to the animals whose welfare they are representing. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 40, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Dowding.)

7.32 p.m.


I know the Committee will be pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is not prepared to press his Amendment to a Division, because, as he truly says, there would be a definite danger of losing this Bill. Although it may not do all that the noble Lord would wish, I feel confident—and I am sure that he must also—that if the administration of the Bill goes according to plan it must be of considerable advantage to the animals in the New Forest, and particularly to the ponies. I should also like to tell the noble Lord that he is not the only Member of your Lordships' House who is interested in animals. We all have this matter very much in mind, and very much at heart, and should wish to do anything that can be done, by legislation or otherwise, to minimise danger to animals and to human beings. That is the intention of the Bill now passing through your Lordships' House.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is aware that the Petition which was originally submitted by the New Forest Society for the Prevention of Straying Animals was withdrawn on February 26, because of an open letter to the Petitioners on behalf of the Promoters, two sentences of which I will quote: The verderers believe that the effect of the Bill by restricting the area within which the agisters have to operate will be to make the existing agisters more available. Nevertheless, it is the intention of the verderers to increase the number of agisters even if it involves an increase in marking fees in order to make provision for their remuneration.


I am aware of the situation there; but my point has been to get something more than an intention from the verderers to do something or the other. I think I have shown from the accounts that they cannot employ more agisters without going still further into the red. My suggestion was aimed at the noble Lord who represents the Minister to see whether it would not be possible to initiate some direct consultations between Her Majesty's Government and the verderers, rather than rely on a vague promise made in a letter which, so far as I can see, cannot be fulfilled in the existing circumstances.


I was just coming to that point, when the noble Lord rose in his place. The point about consultations—and I have the authority of the Minister to say this—is that, in fact, consultations are going on all the time, because on the Court of Verderers there is, first, the official verderer, who is certainly not appointed by the Minister; then there is one verderer appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, himself, in his capacity as Minister. Furthermore, there is a verderer appointed by the Forestry Commission for which the Minister of Agriculture is the official liaison, so far as Parliamentary affairs are concerned.

So there are two direct representatives on the Court of Verderers—one from the Ministry of Agriculture and one from the Forestry Commission—who can keep in the closest possible touch with the Minister and the Forestry Commission on all the points which the noble Lord has raised. I know that the Committee are entirely sympathetic to the noble Lord, Lord Dowding. We wish him well in everything he tries to do for the animals; and I believe that this Bill goes a long way to achieve what he desires.


I do not think we can do very much about it to-day, but there is no doubt that the shortage of agisters is a serious problem in relation to the matter which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has raised. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the evidence before the Select Committee, in which Mr. Scott (who is, I believe, the clerk to the verderers) suggested that the agisters had a great deal of their time taken up by attending to injured animals. Quite obviously, we are all in favour of doing something about this matter. The difficulty is that the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is trying to do it by legislative action, and I do not think that can be done. Nevertheless, I do not think that the situation can go on as it is. The marking fees that are paid have gone up 800 per cent. in the last few years, but they are still ridiculously low, and I think it ought to be made clear to the commoners, who may or may not be public-spirited in this regard, that their leaders, including some of the verderers, will not be able to resist public pressure in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said that the size of the perambulation has been reduced, but it has been increased in one respect, and the net effect is that even more animals are going to belong to the Forest by the introduction of the new commons. One of the problems of the New Forest is that animals are turned out not only by people who live in the Forest, but also by people who do not, and there is one particular operator (I think that is the word) whose black steers are a menace on the roads. In last year's cold spell they caused a great deal of anxiety among people in the Forest, because it was felt they were not properly attended to.


Has he not changed to Herefords?


I do not know what his animals are. I saw one breaking its way through somebody's hedge the other day, for which the individual was responsible. Those of us who live in the Forest know to whom I am referring. There are a number of these animals and I do not see why the operator should not pay bigger marking fees for the privilege. I certainly support those verderers who are in favour of an increase in fees. And a brave step has been taken by the Member for the district in another place, which may or may not get him Commons votes but will bring him merit, in proposing that there should be an increase in fees for agisters. Something has to be done about it.


I must say that I did not feel satisfied with the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, because these Government representatives have served on the Court of Verderers for some time and they have not done anything about the finances of the Court. It seems to me it is quite impossible to increase the number of agisters unless there is money to pay them. Therefore I should welcome a word from my noble friend who represents the Minister, if he would say one on this subject.


The only word I can say is that I have listened to the noble Lord and I will pay careful attention to his words and bring them to the attention of my right honourable friend. This is a Private Member's Bill, and so far as the Committee stage is concerned I really have only a listening brief. Naturally I have been interested by what the noble Lord has said, and I will give it even more attention when I have had the opportunity of reading it.


Before we leave this matter, may I point out to the noble Lord that the 1949 Act was amended in this House to give a majority to local representation—that is, of elected verderers. The original proposal would have given the Minister, in effect, power to achieve this very thing. None the less, these members are there to represent the public interest. I am glad the noble Lord said that he would take note of this, because they certainly are in a position to bring some influence to bear on the Court.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, for his words. As he says, this is a Private Member's Bill, but, if I may say so, the Forest is a Royal Forest and the Government must have some responsibility in the matter. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.46 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON moved, after Clause 3, to insert the following new clause:

Speed limit for motor vehicles

" .—(1) It shall not be lawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a road within the perambulation of the New Forest (in this section called 'a restricted road') at a speed exceeding forty miles per hour.

(2) A person convicted of an offence of driving a motor vehicle on a restricted road at a speed exceeding forty miles per hour shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.

(3) This section shall not apply to the road from Cadnam to Ringwood (A.31).

(4) This section shall come into force on such date as the Minister of Transport may by order appoint not being later than one year from the date of the passing of this Act.

(5) The power to make an order conferred by the last foregoing subsection on the Minister of Transport shall be exercisable by statutory instrument."

The noble Lord said: I suffer from the same disability in regard to moving this Amendment as my noble friend Lord Dowding, because we do not have the time to send this back to the Select Committee, and I think that this is unfortunate. Perhaps I ought to have moved an Instruction at an earlier stage, but a time-table based on the unknown judgment of the Government, as the result of a Gallup Poll or the results of the Greater London Election, handicaps us a bit in dealing with legislation.

One of the main criticisms of the Bill is that it has not gone far enough in its declared intention, contained in the Explanatory Memorandum of the original Bill, to reduce accidents. I fully acknowledge that this Bill, which has many merits, would contribute to that end; but there is only one fundamental solution to the problem of accidents—that is, to reduce the speed of motor vehicles.

I should like to give your Lordships some figures in regard to this problem. These figures are probably official verderers' figures and may not be absolutely complete, because animals may crawl away and not be found and agisters may not be notified. None the less, what has happened over the last eight years is quite striking. In 1955, there were 170 accidents to animals, but in 1963 that figure had risen to 349, although I should say that it represents a reduction on the 1962 figure, which was 378. Taking the 1962 figure, this includes 198 ponies killed, 92 cattle killed, 9 donkeys killed and 14 pigs killed. I doubt whether any fencing is going to prevent pigs from being killed, though noticeably there were only two pigs killed in 1963.

Of the 349 animals killed or injured in 1963, 175 of the accidents took place on the A.31 and the A.35. It is proposed to take powers in Clause 4 to fence the A.35, which is the lower Southampton—Lyndhurst—Bournemouth road, in addition to the powers already existing under the 1949 Act to fence the A.31, the Southampton—Cadnam—Ringwood road, which is really the fast road to the West and which is in process of being fenced at this moment. There is little doubt that the fencing of this road will reduce the serious number of accidents that have occurred on it. In 1963 there were 80 accidents (that is the number of vehicles involved) on the A.31, and on the A.35 there were a similar number. But if we deduct this number—and it is difficult to harmonise these particular statistics—there is still a large number of accidents on other roads.

If one looks at the map one sees the A.337, which runs from Lyndhurst to Cadnam and which is a fast road, and there are a serious number of accidents there. Although the greatest number of accidents occur on these main roads, there are still a large number of accidents on other roads. I confess that I, myself, was involved in an accident a few years ago, just outside my own village of Burleigh; and I know of a young man from that village who was killed while riding a motor-cycle, due to running into an animal late at night.

In our traditional British way, we have not yet made any mention of human beings. This is a serious hazard. If you drive through the New Forest at speed—and despite the warning signs, many people do, both in conditions of clear daylight and in appallingly bad conditions—and there is an approaching car, even with its headlights dipped, it is impossible to know whether an animal, possibly followed by another one, is going to leap acrcss the road.

There is a further argument in favour of my Amendment for a speed limit; that is, that I do not want to see any more fencing in the New Forest. Yesterday I drove along the A.31, and the fence that is being put up there is of a most depressing kind. You have these great and beautiful vistas of open moorland, with the open forest, where you can drive along roads or drive off on to the side road at some convenient point, and walk straight across into moorland or forest land that is as wild and beautiful as you will find anywhere. This is going to be spoilt.

Very strong views have been expressed by neighbours and others on this subject, and I have here a number of letters from people some of whom have an interest. In some cases it may be purely the enjoyment of the forest, and in others it is that the writers turn out animals. There is a strong view that the A.35 (and this point relates also to my next Amendment) should not be turned into a permanent speed track, fenced off by ugly fences along one of the most beautiful roads in the world. I would argue that to put a speed limit on every road except the A.31 would not be a serious hardship to anyone. The distances involved are not great. The particular stretch of the A.35 for which it is now proposed there should be powers to fence is only ten miles, and, if it should be a fixed rule that people should not proceed along that stretch at more than 40 miles an hour, they are not going to lose much time. I know that arguments will be produced that this would not be enforceable. In relation to the A.35, I would say that this is quite untrue, because there are police cars moving along that road, regularly patrolling it in the ordinary way. So I see no reason why there should not be a speed limit.

I should like to urge that the whole of the New Forest should be treated as it ought to be—namely, as a great national heritage and a National Park, and there should be a speed limit of a kind that you have in other National Parks, such as, for instance, Windsor Great Park. Nor would it be necessary, I submit, to have signs all over the New Forest indicating a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. I do not know whether there are signs all over Windsor Great Park, but it surely should be possible, if this were made an enclosed area (and that is why I want to apply it to the whole of the New Forest), to keep people down to reasonable speeds.

I know that it will be disputed whether speed is the cause of these accidents. There are, of course, certain particularly dangerous times. Of the 349 accidents in 1963, 278 took place after dark. It is conceivable that a speed limit, if it were enforceable, should be confined to the night time. But I think it would be difficult to have a night time speed limit only. The evidence, to my mind, is quite clear: if we could reduce speed in the forest, we should reduce the number of accidents, both to animals and to human beings. Since this is now to be a matter that will fall within the competence of the Government—because they have power, as have the Hampshire County Council, to make representations—I think they should take into account the strong local feeling.

If the noble Lord, or any noble Lord, should dispute that, I would draw attention to the evidence given before the Select Committee, where Mr. Scott, again speaking for the verderers, made it clear that the verderers would be in favour of such a speed limit. What he said was this: I think I can say the verderers are very much in favour of a speed limit being imposed. This has been suggested in the past, but it has always met with opposition, mainly from the county police, who take the view that such a speed limit cannot be enforced. But the verderers would welcome a speed limit on all unfenced roads. If this is done, some extra expenditure may be necessary; but there is a great deal at stake. The only argument, as I understand it, is enforceability—and I recognise that this is an important argument. The evidence which the Minister's own representative gave before the Select Committee was that the ruling factor was enforceability. The Chairman of the Committee asked: It is the unenforceability rather than the desirability which is the ruling factor? and Mr. Glover said: Yes, my Lord. Therefore, we know that the Ministry already accept the view that such a speed limit is desirable. It is not possible to put this into the Bill, but it would be possible for the Minister or the County Council to take action in the way that has been asked.

I could produce a great deal more evidence in the way of local opinion on this matter, but I will quote only one letter, in which the writer says: … why should there be such a speed track now that the New Forest exits are all, or practically all, gridded? And why should it not be treated as a park, like Richmond, with a 40 m.p.h. speed limit enforced on all roads, so that the inhabitants and those who want to drive at a reasonable speed and enjoy the scenery are at liberty to do so? For those who want to pass rapidly through the forest there will still be the A.31, which will be enclosed and can provide the fast travel which those on a long journey want. Since I shall, at a later stage, have to withdraw my Amendment, I hope that we shall have (although I doubt it at this stage) some encouraging words from the Minister. Meanwhile, I should be interested to know what is the view of the Promoters of the Bill. I am informed that certainly the commoners of the New Forest would be in favour of this limit. I am also informed that the New Forest Pony and Cattle Breeding Society would be in favour of it. I would assure noble Lords that there is a very strong feeling in regard to this matter, and I hope that certainly the Promoters of the Bill, and the verderers, will continue their battle in this direction. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 3, insert the said new Clause.—(Lord Shackleton.)

8.0 p.m.


I will not detain your Lordships for very long, because I know it is getting late. I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—I think I agree with everything he has said. I think the enforceability of a speed limit is a difficulty. I would have preferred 45 m.p.h. because the modern car, with its efficient modern braking, perhaps helps to make 45 m.p.h. possible. It is not that I wish in the least to see motorists going faster. I agree with the noble Lord opposite on this subject. When I have not been imprisoned in the Palace of Westminster, or at liberty to some degree in Scotland, I have lived for thirty years in my spare time, weekends and so on, within a mile of the border of the New Forest, and I know these roads. Indeed, nine days ago I took the time to drive for 50 or 60 miles through these forest roads to educate myself further. Even on the main trunk roads, such as the A.31 which is being fenced, as the noble Lord said it is not deer fencing, and there are many deer. Deer fencing, of course, would cost a vast sum—I admit that. The fast motorist, the speed merchant—I think the Americans call him a "hot-rod"—is in danger of hitting a buck, not only with danger to the buck, of which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, would disapprove, but with danger to himself. His own fault, maybe. One young man who I am told had one of these cars, said that he could already get up to 100 m.p.h. on this road, but with the fencing he would be able to do 110 m.p.h. He might hit one of these animals at any moment. On the minor roads, the unfenced roads, of which the noble Lord is speaking, he is perfectly right. The noble Lord mentioned pigs. I did not know that pigs were so nomadic as to go wandering about from the mud in which they normally keep their noses stuck; but there are certainly the deer, the ponies and the cattle who come leaping out from the undergrowth. If anybody interrupts me to say that cows or cattle do not leap, I must remind them of the cow that jumped over the moon. I include cows, or cattle.

That is really all that I have to say on the subject. I think the bright idea (which I do not suppose has ever been operated anywhere) of having a speed limit automatically enforced, be it 30 or 40 m.p.h., at lighting-up time, is well worthy of consideration, but I do not suppose it is possible under the present conditions. Anybody who knows the forest knows the dangers—I think it is a most frightening place in which to drive a motor car. It is all right on the twistier roads, because then you cannot speed. But in the open places people go whizzing along, and never know when ponies are going to cross a road. It certainly has its dangers, not only to the animals, with whom the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is so rightly concerned, but also to the drivers or passengers of the motor cars concerned. I have pleasure in supporting the noble Lord opposite.


There are one or two points on which I must take contest with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, so far as certain local opinion with regard to the speed limit is concerned. I can tell your Lordships that the question of the speed limit throughout the forest was discussed at great length in various unofficial committees and unofficial bodies before the Bill was drafted. There was great difficulty over the difference of opinions and views of what the speed limit should be; of how it should be enforced; whether there should be one at all, and what the effect would be on through traffic, local traffic and the different interests within the forest, such as the local tradesmen, the Chambers of Commerce, and the commoners. All these people had different views, and so it was quite deliberately left out when the Bill was drafted; there was considerable difficulty and very many opinions.

I myself come clown on the side of not having a speed limit, and I will try to explain my reasons. I think it would he a mistake not to take into account the effect when the A.31 gives a dual-carriageway trunk road from which all animals are excluded. It is difficult to assess how much traffic will be automatically transferred on to that road and, therefore, will have no contact with the animals of the forest. It is certainly my hope that so much traffic will be transferred to that road that there will not be the heavy through traffic, the big lorries and the big charabancs, which everybody tries to overtake and so possibly do not pay attention to other things on the road or near to them. If all that traffic can be transferred to one road the reasons for speeding in the forest will be reduced.


May I ask the noble Lord from which road he expects it to be transferred to the A.31? There is a heavy incidence of accidents on the A.337 which runs North and South. If anything, traffic will increase on that road. Where does the noble Lord expect it to come from?


I think that when the new bridge at Redbridge is built, instead of the traffic turning South-West, it will tend to turn North-West, and so move from the A.35 on to the A.31. I hope that answers the noble Lord's question. Of course, the roads have to be completed, and that has not been done yet.

May I refer to the noble Lord's comments about pigs in 1963? I think it was a year in which there was very little pannage, because there were not many acorns and not much beech mast, so there were few pigs out in the forest and few pigs to be involved in accidents. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that powers exist for imposing this speed limit. The Minister has power, and so has the Hampshire County Council.

I believe that if a speed limit were imposed they would be forced to put repeater posts alongside the road. That, I think, is the technical term for the small indications of the speed limit which have to be put every half mile (I think it is) between the main posts in an area which is not obviously a built-up or restricted area. If I have it right, these posts were introduced under the Road Traffic Act, 1960. Also under that Act, in circumstances of country where you would not expect there to be a speed limit, no prosecution can be brought unless these small indicator posts are put in between the main restriction posts. So I would suggest that imposing a speed limit will achieve nothing, because even if the police could stop the people and presumably charge them, they could not be convicted, or there is a defence already written in and therefore it may be possible to get over the charge. But I would suggest that that is one of the reasons why the police have always stood out against the imposition of a speed limit on these roads.

Whether that particular difficulty can be overcome I do not know, but I am sure it would be quite wrong to have repeater posts. I suspect that these would tend to attract animals to the roads. At the moment, on the whole, they stay away from the roads; but here is a small, blinking, shining object, and small animals would find it a convenient rubbing post and something interesting to lick. I think it might well have the opposite effect to that which is desired.

I do not think that the difficulty that comes at night would be met by any speed limit whatsoever. I know of two cases of persons who were driving, certainly at under 40 miles an hour and, knowing the people, I should think probably at under 30 miles an hour, but who were involved in a collision with animals at night; and I think if there were any statistics, which I do not think there are, they would show that accidents of this sort have been occurring and will continue to occur.

I should be entirely willing to support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on this particular Amendment only if it meant that we should be able to do away altogether with fencing along roads. I cannot myself believe that that, in fact, is so. On the face of it, I would suggest that the speed limit seems a very helpful thing that would assist in getting over the whole of this problem, but I think when one goes into the detail of it one in facts gets nowhere. So, on the whole, I come down against this Amendment.


I think the nature of the Amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has proposed is such that it brings me into this discussion, not perhaps to your Lordships' surprise, although you have to tolerate my speaking for a fifth time this afternoon. I am not a bit happy about the Amendment. Frankly, I do not like the Amendment, and I will tell your Lordships why. But first I should like to make it perfectly clear that I do not wish to dissociate myself in any way from the objects that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said he had in view—reducing accidents, both human and animal, and reducing risks of all kinds. I am bound to say to him and to your Lordships, however, that I cannot agree that it would be a good thing to do in the circumstances to do what this Amendment proposes, for reasons which I will explain in a moment.

Rather contrary to what the noble Lord has said, I think, that the Amendment is, first of all, unnecessary; secondly, undesirable; and, thirdly, unworkable—and I would put them in that order. It is unnecessary because the Hampshire County Council, as the highway authority, already have powers under Section 11 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, to impose a 40 miles an hour speed limit on these roads. The exception, of course, is the A.31, where the power rests with the Minister. That is the unnecessary part.

Section 11 procedure also provides for the giving of public notice and for consultation with the police, which the noble Lord's Amendment does not do; which is the first element of undesirability that enters in. Further, it would make the position regarding speed limits in the New Forest completely different from that in any other part of the country—which is undesirability Mark II. Neither the Minister nor the County Council consider that a speed limit would be justified on these roads. We hold very strongly to the view that if a speed limit is to do any good it should he one that is respected by the drivers who are using that part of the road. We think very strongly that to earn the respect of the motorist the road on which a speed limit is imposed should have at least some of the criteria of the kind of places people would expect to find a speed limit—there should be building development, traffic, waiting vehicles, schools, whatever it might be, and side turnings. We do not think you can ask people to respect a speed limit on an open road. That is the third stage of undesirability.


May I ask the noble Lord what he means by saying that it is necessary for there to be traffic? I would point out to him that we are talking about traffic.


I was well aware that we were talking about traffic. I mean traffic going to and fro; a "mixture" of traffic, if the noble Lord prefers that. I do not mind if he wants to pick me up on a point of that kind. But a road going through a forest is not the type of road on which people would expect to find a speed limit in force. If people are on that kind of road they do not, we know well, respect a speed limit unless it is enforced by the police. Whatever the noble Lord tried to destroy in anticipation of the argument being made, I say that the police are not in favour of this, because they say it could not be enforced.

The noble Lord told us that there are police cars going up and down the A.35. What about other roads? Are people going to expect to be "pinched" for doing 60 or 70 miles an hour down one of the side roads, if that is possible? They know they are not. I do not think that is going to do any good. The noble Lord tells us that the verderers are in favour, and if he says so, then of course, I accept it from him. But I have had the same information as the noble Lord, Lord Congleton: that the local authorities in the Forest, the commoners' associations and amenity societies, particularly when they met together in September, 1962, were not in favour of such a restriction except in the built-up areas, where one would normally expect to find one.


Could I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Surely the kind of speed limit which people expect to see when they see signs in a built-up area is a 30 miles an hour speed limit. This Amendment seeks to impose a 40 miles an hour speed limit, which has very different, and much more specialised, applications. Surely, almost everybody in England knows something about the New Forest and the difficulties there of the animals, and when they come to the New Forest and see a speed limit of 40 miles an hour they are not going to be put off that because it does not look like a built-up area to which a different speed limit applies.


A 40 miles an hour limit can mostly be found in built-up areas, which have recognisable characteristics; and if the noble Lord—let us face it—thinks that most people do not respect them there, how much less are they going to respect them on a side road running across open country?


You should get them enforced in places where they already exist and are not respected. It is a rotten argument that because existing speed limits are not enforced you cannot have any more.


I do not think it is a rotten argument at all; I think it is an argument in my favour.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble, Lord, but he mentioned the commoners' associations. I cannot remember the date off hand, but approximately a month ago there was a public meeting at which the Commoners' Defence Association and the Pony and Cattle Breeders' Association were represented, and that meeting expressed the view that a speed limit would help. I think that was contrary to what the noble Lord said. It was certainly contrary to the view of previous meetings.


It is, apparently, contrary to what I said by virtue of the fact the noble Lord has more up-to-date information than I. My information is exactly what I said: that the commoners' associations and amenity societies had been against a speed limit. If there has subsequently been a meeting about which I have not heard, the noble Lord is probably right. But I think I should mention this question of repeater signs. These would be necessary by law—it is no good hoping they would not—at 325-yard intervals, to be precise; and whether that would be desirable in the forest, I should have doubted. The question whether they are present in Windsor Great Park does not arise, because there is no speed limit there and there is no need to have one; but if there were a speed limit there would have to be these signs. If there is this great increase in accidents, I am sorry to say that the answer lies in fencing, because the noble Lord's speed limit Amendment is not a starter.

8.22 p.m.


I do not want to detain your Lordships for more than a few seconds, but I know the mover of the Amendment would like to know the view of the Promoters of the Bill. The Promoters are in favour of some sort of speed limit, and especially a temporary one, for a trial period, to see how we get on. I think the debate has been extremely interesting and it has shown how quickly opinion changes in this particular area. The noble Lord, Lord Congleton, said that recently quite a different view was taken from that held a year ago. I believe that this situation will go on. All I would say to the Minister (he was not helpful, but it is the kind of reply I expected; and he is bound to give the reply of the Ministry) is that, so far as the New Forest is concerned, we must remember that no precedent can possibly apply, because it is something entirely different from anything else anywhere else in the British Isles. That is a point that must be remembered. I think that it is wrong to accept advice on precedents on this particular area.

I am certain that to have this debate on record will be useful. The Promoters will look into the point with the local authorities, because it is quite clear that this proposal will not get anywhere until the Hampshire County Council are in agreement, and then they might push the Minister further. In the meantime, the Promoters will keep their eyes very carefully on this problem and take it into consideration in consultation with the interested parties.


I am sorry to intervene again, but I must say that if the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, thinks I was talking on precedent he is not right; I was talking about the law of the country, not about precedent. I must remind him again that there already exists this power if the county council want it.


It is a handicap that the Minister was briefed only as far as 1960. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Congleton—


Would the noble Lord say that again?


I said that I was sorry the noble Lord was briefed only as far as 1960, so far as opinion is concerned.


The date I mentioned was 1962.


The noble Lord is not quite so out of date—I apologise. I suppose it is unfair to expect Ministers to know everything; we tend to think they ought to, especially the noble Lord. But the fact is that there is a decisive development in opinion. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, for coming forward with that information. His own argument was rather based on the views held at the time the Bill was being originally thought about and discussed, but I can well understand the Promoters not wishing to get in a tangle on this matter, so running the risk of not getting the general support which they needed. We know that they have had quite a bit of trouble in other directions, and they do not want the county against them. I would stress this is a matter on which there is very strong feeling. And, after all, it did call into existence the New Forest Society for the Prevention of Straying Animals. One may or may not take this Society seriously, but the fact is that many people who are deeply concerned about this problem got together in an effort to find a solution. I do not believe—and the evidence is not there—that fencing the A.31 will solve this problem.

Then there is the problem of the other roads. The noble Lord, I know, lives not far from the New Forest, and has no doubt frequently driven through it. But there is particularly this problem of the A.337. Why are powers not being taken to fence this road?—because accidents will continue to grow more serious. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, gave a number of reasons. He said that it was not necessary, not desirable and unworkable. First of all, it is necessary because of the attitude of the authorities to this matter. Secondly, it is desirable because the whole object of this Bill is to prevent accidents. I agree that there is one undesirable aspect—and this is another reason why I shall not press the Amendment to-day: quite clearly it would have been desirable for this point to be argued out in Committee, and for the local authorities and the police to have had an opportunity to express a different view. What I cannot accept, any more than the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne can, is the argument that we cannot do this because it is different. It is precisely because it is different that we want to do it. It is because we do want to get it understood that different conditions apply in an area which we want to preserve. It is already beginning to be known by some people as "gridland" because there are grids all over the place. I shall have more to say about fences at a later stage in this Bill. When we see more fences of the kind being put up now, it is going to be very sad indeed.

I would therefore appeal to the Minister and to the Promoters to consider whether there is not, perhaps, a case for a speed limit. The problem of repeater signs is, I agree, a difficult one. It is perhaps an argument for having dealt with the matter in this Bill, when we could also put an Amendment in the Road Traffic Act in regard to the requirement for repeaters. I would support what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said, that people would be prepared, with training, to expect this. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, takes a dreary, depressed view of motorists when he does not think they are capable of respecting a need of this kind. This seems to me something we cannot accept if we are to preserve areas like the New Forest.

Finally, on enforceability, I would say that if we want to keep the New Forest—and there are other areas—we may have to pay for this, and this may mean more police. As it is, I know what will happen. We shall have the A.35 fenced, which will be a great loss to the scenic beauty. There will inevitably be another bill to fence A.337 and other roads. Before withdrawing the Amendment I would say this. I do not expect the Minister to be able to say more to-day, but there is very strong feeling. There has been this change of attitude. I think he will find if he consults the Ministry of Agriculture, which is also responsible for forestry, that the Forestry Commission might have a view of this matter, and that there is a general change of attitude in favour of a speed limit. If no other noble Lord wishes to speak on this, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Fencing of road from Southampton to Christchurch]:

8.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?


Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport may also care to consider this matter. In Clause 4 we are giving powers to public authorities to spend a large sum of money—a sum of money which could be estimated at somewhere round £100,000 or £200,000—to put up a fence along the A.35. My observations are really in regard to the type of fence that might be put up. The fence that has already been put up on the A.31 is a good workable fence, but it spoils the area. The Baker Committee recommended that a ha-ha fence should be constructed. The description in the Baker Committee Report of this fence was not, I believe, strictly of a ha-ha fence at all. As I understand it, a ha-ha fence is a vertical wall with a ditch and then a slope, so that if you are standing on the side above the fence you cannot see that there is any fence at all—you just see that there is a bit of a ditch. This is going to be extremely expensive.

I have consulted some people, including one young man who is actually building a road at this moment and who has also a good deal of experience of preserving the countryside. I would urge that before we put up more of these unsightly fences—perhaps this is a matter on which the Promoters of the Bill will also have views—we should consider the possibility of a sunk fence. This is a fence with a visible bank, but instead of being vertical it slopes at an angle with a small fence vertical to that slope. Such a fence would probably be slightly more expensive—indeed, quite considerably more expensive—but it would still be less expensive than a ha-ha fence.

Strong feeling exists on this matter. The first experiment at Pickett Post in regard to a fence of the Baker Committee type was rather disastrous, because there was a horrible great bank, a sort of parapet almost like the top of a trench, which spoiled the view. My fence would not produce this effect. Some of the soil might have to be disposed of elsewhere, but I am told that if you are building a road there is no particular difficulty in getting rid of soil. If necessary, it would have to be spread. The figures I have had on this proposal would suggest that it would not be much more expensive.

I would say that there are strong feelings—certainly there are some verderers who feel strongly—that if we are trying to preserve the New Forest we should have the sort of fence that will not block the Forest as much as the one that has been put on the A.31. We are giving power for the building of such a fence. I should be interested to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, has any views on this matter. I hope we shall get co-operation between the local authorities and those concerned with preserving the countryside. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, would not dissent from me in regard to the object I am seeking in this matter. I am just asking that, before we finally take a decision and put up the sort of fence that is being put up now, something rather more attractive will be considered.


Before the noble Lord replies, may I ask him to answer a further question? I understand that the Ministry of Transport have given an undertaking that the present fence on the A.31 road is agreed to be a temporary provision and not the final answer. He may not be able to answer that, but I understand it to be so. I was told so by one of the senior members of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England who are much involved. It would be helpful to know that. That would be the first stage.

I can only then go on to say how much I support Lord Shackleton in his point. The present fence is appalling, and is the last thing that anybody could possibly wish to see. I hope it will be possible to adapt the ha-ha principle to what is at present required. Lord Shackleton was good enough to show me the design of his new fence. It certainly produces the effect of looking from the road to the forest without obstruction, but when you look from the forest to the road, you can still see all the horrible vehicles. I wonder whether the noble Lord could help over this question of the fence.


I will let the noble Lord know what is the precise position, because I do not have it in my mind at the moment. All I would say is that I take note of, and agree with, the principle expressed: that one does not want ugly fences stuck about beautiful places. But all it had occurred to me to say, in a personal and not in an official capacity, and merely "thinking aloud" on what the noble Lord said about the sunk type of fence, is this: although it is cheaper, unless it is deeply sunk and is a rather high fence, and therefore extremely expensive, it has a lot against it as a means of keeping animals in. My reason for wishing to "pop up" in a personal capacity, is that I have just such a fence along my garden, and the way the heifers lightheartedly dance over it, whenever they feel inclined is quite remarkable. It is quite a sizeable obstacle. If the noble Lord is going to press for a particular fence of that type, it must be on a fairly large scale or it will not have the effect that everybody wants—namely, to keep the animals off the road.


Is the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, going to express a view? It would be interesting to know what the Promoters think about it, because it is they who are insisting on taking the power in this Bill.


All I can say at this point is that, so far as the Promoters are concerned, they have not got that far yet. But there is no doubt that discussions will go on with the parties concerned to see which is the right kind of fence, and great attention will be paid to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.


I am astonished to hear it suggested that the Promoters have not yet got on to this. I think the noble Lord does not do justice to his colleagues in this matter. I am sorry to hear about Lord Chesham's sunk fence. I will show him the diagram that I have. There will be some animals against which no fence is proof. I am worried about some of the black steers in the New Forest. Then there is the point that the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, mentioned, of the deer. There were 60 deer killed on the road. This slaughter will continue.

I think we have extracted all we can on this point. I hope that the amenities will be borne in mind. I am quite sure that the verderers will strongly support some satisfactory solution.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Saving for National Trust]:


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 39, after ("exist") insert ("or over which a privilege of pasture was exercisable on 1st December 1963").—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 40, leave out from first ("lands") to ("without") in line 42.—(Lord Crathorne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.




Brought from the Commons; read 1a, and referred to the Examiners.