HL Deb 11 May 1981 vol 420 cc332-45

2.57 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord Aberdare in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Disposal of land]:

Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert— ("(a) It shall be a condition of sale in any disposal that existing public access and amenity provisions shall be maintained.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is absolutely essential to the proper working of the Bill. I must remind your Lordships that, in the view of most people in this country, the purpose of the Forestry Commission is not just an economic exercise in the buying and selling of timber; the commission has a very important social, recreational and educational purpose. By its work, it has contributed enormously to knowledge and understanding of the countryside and has promoted access to its woodlands to people from all over the world. The fear of many of us is that by its sales of Forestry Commission land to private owners, there might be some diminution in the provision of these vital facilities.

I call them vital facilities without any exaggeration whatever because I am sure the whole Committee will agree that in the stresses and tensions of modern life, particularly urban life, recreation in the countryside and the use of leisure in fresh air, particularly amid woodland beauty, is of special value. Access to the countryside and the ability to walk in the woods and get to know country life is of infinite importance in trying to instil in young people some balance and understanding of what life is about.

This question involves not only health but relaxation and education. I am encouraged to have a note from the Whitley Council, trade union side, of the Forestry Commission which says: The maintenance of public access and recreational facilities which already exist should be a condition of sale, especially in national forest parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is not just a question of asking the new purchasers to leave open the footpaths. The Forestry Commission does a much more important promotional job through the erection of forest cabins and educational centres, and I might add—though perhaps it does not fall strictly within the amendment—undertakes the building of houses for the accommodation of foresters, as well as training, and the supply of trees for breeding and so on. To sell on a purely commercial basis to faceless investors, or to people who would not know a pine beauty moth from a cabbage butterfly if they saw one, the woods where special promotional measures have been taken would seem not to fulfil the real purpose of the forests of our country.

I am thinking in particular—to give just one example—of Placked Walk, designed for the disabled by the Forestry Commission at Abbots Wood, in Bedgebury Forest. That was done well before the International Year for the Disabled. The Forestry Commission definitely and purposely laid out a walk through the woods, accessible to people suffering from disabilities, including those in wheel chairs.

There might be angelic commercial purchasers or private forest owners—and I hasten to say that I know many private owners of forests who do much to promote public access and understanding. But I honestly have my doubts as to whether we could take it for granted that all such amenities would continue to be available, with high standards not only of access, but of education about flora and fauna, with facilities for school camps and for day visits by school children, where they can have practical geography and botany lessons. What confidence could we have that new owners would necessarily spend resources on these kind of projects?—since to do so would demand a great deal of money and attention. The marking of forest trails and the setting up of camp sites, for instance, are essential in what can be, especially for many urban children, a rather frightening environment. Such facilities are necessary, but they all cost money. It has been estimated that this side of the commission's activities cost about £3½ million last year. That figure was given in a Standing Committee in another place, and I mention it in order to remind your Lordships' Committee that the problem of access and amenity is not without an economic aspect.

It might well be said that we can trust whoever buys any of the lands to continue this good work. It might be said that the Forestry Commission will not sell unless there is this kind of understanding. If that is the view of Her Majesty's Government, why not put it in the Bill? In the meantime we can go only by advice. The Association of County Councils, in its memorandum on the Bill, observed: Private ownership usually reduces opportunities for access and public recreation. I have not heard any equivalent statement of the other point of view: that private ownership increases access, or even maintains access and public recreation.

An anxiety was also expressed by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation. In a statement the society said: If these woodlands are offered for sale on the open market, we believe that there is a danger that some will attract prices beyond the means of any organisation prepared to acquire them for conservation reasons and further losses or damage of important wildlife habitat would result". I think that we are all aware that often when pension funds (which have been mentioned as potential purchasers of our woodlands) or other financial institutions buy works of art for investment purposes, the first thing they do is to lock them away. Where people make purchases purely for investment purposes there is no earthly reason why they should share the things with other people. The last thing that they want is public enjoyment. I am afraid, and so are many of my noble friends, that the same attitude will apply to land if the motive for acquisition is basically financial and is without any social purpose.

Therefore I move the amendment, very much hoping that the anxieties that I have expressed will find sympathy on all sides of your Lordships' Committee. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that with the pressures of modern urban life, with the pressure on land for all kinds of purposes all over the country, the one thing that we must make sure about is that there is no deprivation of access or of leisure facilities or holiday amenities for the people of this country. I beg to move.

3.8 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

First, I should like to commend the amendment to some extent. One has in mind a picture of a nice open forest, with fairly mature trees, and paths, and it would be very unfortunate if such an area were sold and immediately closed to the public. In fact, I think that would be inexcusable. But one must look a little further than that. First, the Forestry Commission planted its trees entirely for investment purposes. They were planted probably at 4-ft. intervals and were thinned out over many years until they were growing at intervals of 15ft. or so, as is seen, for instance, in the attractive Scots pine forests through which one very much likes to walk. To suggest that such a forest, having been grown at enormous expense, should then be sterilised forever as a conservation area, is to negate the whole point not only of planting, but of the Forestry Commission itself.

Whether the Forestry Commission keep the forest—and the commission would fell it in due course—or whether it is sold, it must be felled at some time. That is what it is there for. Probably it will be felled in 10-acre lots. There might be a gap of half a mile before the next area to be felled. One sees in particular in Scotland that next to an area that has been felled, there are young trees, and further along there is an area of 30-year old trees. Half a mile further on another lot has been felled. It is not a question of felling an entire hillside at a time. But felled the trees must be, and then there must be replanting.

The question then arises as to what happens if access is statutorily allowed through such a wood which has been planted with young trees at 5-foot intervals. I can from personal experience tell your Lordships' Committee what happens. If people are allowed into the forests, they will break down the fences. Sheep will get in and do much more damage than rabbits will do, though they will get in, too. People will get in and set fire to the forest, and I know to my cost that once a forest is on fire, it has to be left to burn, or it is extremely difficult to put it out if it is at a young stage. Therefore, while it might be all right to have access while the forest is a high forest, the right to access must not be tied because otherwise following replanting access would be totally and utterly impracticable.

Lord Hunt

I wish to support the amendment that was so movingly and tellingly moved by the noble Baroness, and I endorse totally the reasons that she advanced for ensuring through legislation that access by members of the public will not in any way be prejudiced by the passing of the Bill into law. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, began his intervention by saying that it would be inexcusable if access were denied to members of the public as a result of a transaction made possible by the Bill, but, if he will forgive me for saying so, so far as I could understand he then proceeded to excuse that very thing.

I rise only to make one additional point. It is one which came up time and again during the consideration of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. It is to remind your Lordships that we are legislating in this Forestry Bill not for a matter of months and that once this Bill is law it will remain on the statute book, probably unamended, for a number of years. At least four years will elapse until after a new Parliament has been elected before any kind of modification can be brought in. In those several years following the passage of this Bill into law, no end of harm could be done to the interests of the public and to young people in particular.

Lord Inglewood

I have sympathy for much that the noble Baroness has said but I did not think that the picture she painted was the picture of Britain today. The time may come when the people in this country share the same sort of feelings that the Germans have, which is almost a mystic interest in their woods. It is a country where people go out in thousands every weekend. That is not the case in this country. None the less, I think it is our responsibility to see that access and the sort of opportunities that the noble Baroness spoke about are not unduly restricted. I should like to see the word "equivalent" here as far as access is concerned. When one is dealing with any sort of estate or forest management, it is often inconvenient to have an ancient footpath running in a certain line when there would be little hindrance or inconvenience if it were to be moved. I should like to think of the use of the word "equivalent".

When it comes to the question of who buys woodland in this country, I cannot believe that it is done only for financial reasons. Anybody who has been a woodland owner with his family for some generations will know that nobody ever made any money out of woods. There are mixed motives. In general, those people who have owned private woods in this country have been reasonably generous in the opportunities for access. What is difficult is access to the smaller woods. It is easier when you own a big block to have a footpath or even a bridlepath running through one part of it; but when you own a number of small woods it is more difficult to welcome access on a wide scale. I should like the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment if she can get an assurance from the Minister that he will look at it again before the next stage of the Bill to see whether he could not put in proper safeguards but which would not bind us as tightly as the noble Baroness would like.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I support the noble Lord who has just spoken. This appears to be a sensible and harmless amendment. I do not think the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, are valid. It says in the amendment: It shall be a condition of sale…existing public access… The Forestry Commission do not give access to young woods, newly planted where people can wreak the destruction that the noble Lord was talking about. Also, speaking for myself, it is a sensible condition to put in because all countrymen have a dislike of seeing a certain type of townsman about their property. In my breast there often arises the old feeling: "Here be a townsman, 'eave half a brick at him", when I see people come out into the country and pull the daffodils that I have planted for their edification. I think protection is necessary because owners do not like to see people walking about their property and, where there has been existing public access, I cannot see why the Government should not give an assurance that this right will be protected.

Lord Gisborough

I take up the point that the noble Lord made in referring to me. The point is that the timber of today will be the young plantations of tomorrow, and if you put a footpath through you cannot or may not be able to replant.

Lord Hawke

As one who lives at the edge of a fairly large Forestry Commission estate I would regret it if it were ever sold and went into private hands. I am sure that the first thing that would go up will be the "Trespassers will be prosecuted" boards. It is the favourite dog walk area for most of the large town of Horsham. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood has said, I do not think the amendment is quite practical because we have access at the moment to this forest only by courtesy of the Forestry Commission. To give anybody a legal right to go there would be inimical possibly to the growing of timber.

We must get some sort of compromise. I personally have never seen this wanton destruction of young plantations going on in this large area. They continue to extend their forest, plant new bits and put up rabbit fences. I have never seen anybody pulling them down or hopping over them. There are rides there. The chief menace is the little girls on their ponies who cut up the rides. Even there the Forestry Commission, by putting up polite notices, "Please do not ride here", or, "You can ride here", have managed to curb that slightly. What is wrong is that this Bill exists at all. Why Her Majesty's Government, who say they are short of time for everything, should waste time on this silly step, I do not know.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I should like to support the amendment moved in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger. It has been said that what we are talking about is protecting existing rights in the forest. What are these existing rights? The annual report of the Forestry Commission reports that an estimated 24 million day visits were made to commission land during the year and that 1.5 million camper nights were spent on Forestry Commission property during the year. To me that is an important right to protect. The access to forest land which is taken advantage of to that extent should be protected in the legislation.

I can recall, when I used to go hill climbing and walking in Scotland, that it was not unknown to find a notice at the access to some of the mountains, "Private property. Keep out!" I remember what is now one of the most beautiful parts of the Forestry Commission property, the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. It was formerly owned by the Duke of Montrose. It was known as Duke's Road. You had to pay a toll to the Duke to get access to the Trossachs and that part of Scotland. If the Forestry Commission have contributed anything, they have contributed a great deal to providing a source for home grown timber supplies, but they have also provided a revolution in access to the countryside. That has been taken advantage of by young people who go out from the cities at the weekend and camp and walk the forest trails. It is done with great good sense and protection for young plantations. It is well designed. Their notices are not offensive. They protect the quietness and beuty of the forest.

I would suggest that that protection is worth writing into the Bill. I am not suggesting that all private owners of forests are imbued solely with the desire to make more money out of their investment. I have been impressed by the responsibility shown by many, even many noble Lords in this House, who are large forestry owners; but there is a danger that in introducing this commercial aspect we will sell off assets of the Forestry Commission to private ownership as a source of investment; and that we shall destroy the kind of relationship which existed between the commission and private ownership and will transfer the concern of the people who owned woodlands over many generations to pension funds and others who look at the balance sheet at the end of the year and say, "How much is this earning for the potential pensioners in the pension fund?" I suggest there ought to be this very important part of our national heritage. The right of young people to have access to the countryside should be protected and should be written into the Bill in terms of the amendment which has just been moved.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Roberthall

I was hoping to support the amendment. I am very much in favour of it. However, our attention has been called by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, to the dangers which are in the word "existing". If to include the word "existing" is taken to mean that the whole pattern that exists at any moment is frozen, then there may be something in the feeling that this condition would prevent the good management of the woodlands. I wonder whether the Government will accept the suggestion which has already been made that some other word, such as "equivalent", may be substituted, keeping the meaning. However, if it is the case that the word "existing" is too restrictive and would freeze the pattern, then perhaps this matter could be looked at.

Lord Dulverton

It is not very often that I find myself differing from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, with whom I have worked for many years in the world of forestry. In giving his support to the noble Baroness's amendment I think he is getting too worried. I know he has proclaimed his interest in the House before now as chairman of a commercial forestry enterprise. Commercial as they may be, they provide very good facilities for the public in many of their large forests.

I believe that this safeguard could be written into the Bill in a simpler and all-embracing manner, and there are amendments coming later this afternoon which suggest that it should be written into the Bill that sales of land should be carried out only in consultation with and on the advice of the Forestry Commissioners. The Forestry Commissioners have it in black and white in their terms of reference that they are, among other things, to take care to provide facilities for the public recreation in their woods. If this point was written into the Bill, that the Minister must consult with and get the advice of these commissioners before he sells any land, then I do not believe there would be any need for the amendment of the noble Baroness, although I am entirely in sympathy with its purport.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

May I ask whether the Government realise the number of amenity places that have been provided by the Forestry Commission for the public in the areas in which the commission operate? I happen to live almost in the middle of the largest forest in the South of Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who is chairman of the Forestry Commission, initiated a number of excellent picnic places and areas where people can go and study. There is a place where one can study the different kinds of trees. It is not exactly a museum but it is a place where one can learn about the trees. It is an absolutely first-class amenity. I cannot imagine anybody—if they were rash enough to buy some of that vast forest—who would do away with that. It is most important that people should realise what an extremely good organisation the Forestry Commission has been regarding the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the trails that people can follow. He mentioned the Queen Elizabeth Forest. I cannot say I know it fairly well, but I am a member of the Carnegie Trust which was responsible for erecting a very good building where meals and so on are served. People can walk all round the forest which is now managed by the commission. All these facilities make forestry far more important and interesting to the public than just miles of conifers, which is what the alterative is. I am not very much in favour of miles and miles of conifers, as your Lordships know. If the amenities are there then it is a good idea for the public to be able to use them. I do not think that they should have access to destroying or spoiling them. Indeed, if they do that they should be prosecuted. But when it comes to the amenity arrangements that have been made by the commission and by some of the private forestry companies it is important that these arrangements should be safeguarded and open to the public if they want to go there.

I should like to ask whether or not this could be done without the amendment. Is this amendment essential for access to be available to the public? It ought to be available. Whether or not the wording is correct (and the noble Lord who has just spoken feels it is not quite right) the principle that has been established particularly for the Forestry Commission—as I say, I live in the middle of a forest—is something that should be preserved.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am very conscious of the feelings which have been expressed from all parts of the Committee that the existing facilities and recreational enjoyment, which is a feature of some of the woodlands which have been established by the Forestry Commission, should be maintained for public enjoyment. The Government have been conscious of this in the deliberations which have gone on before the publication of this Bill. There are difficulties about writing this kind of provision into a Bill. I shall have to go into them in a minute although one hesitates and does not like to be too legalistic.

The noble Baroness's amendment is designed to ensure that facilities for public access provided by the commission should be maintained after sale. That is the first part of her amendment. She goes further and wishes to ensure that what she calls "amenity provisions" should be maintained. If I may say so, that is a very vague term. I assume, being as charitable as I can, that it is really linked to public access because it follows the phrase and therefore we can include what I might call recreational facilities and amenities and so on.

Baroness Jeger

I am sorry if the noble Earl did not hear what I said. I thought I made it clear that "amenity provisions" referred to forest cabins, camping sites, forestry trails and caravan sites.

The Earl of Mansfield

With respect to the noble Baroness, it is not what she tells the Committee; it is a question of what people who come after all of us have to read into this Bill. So we have to try to get it right. Most of the forests are totally uninteresting except for those who wish to grow trees there. I do not know how far out of the towns noble Lords and Ladies go, but I have seen vast ranges of sitka. If one tried to get into them one would merely injure oneself, unfortunately. If there are existing rights of way then nothing that this legislation will do will interfere with them.

But we have tried to take into account the sentiments which the noble Baroness has expressed. One of the matters which the Forestry Commission will have to pay heed to when considering such sales is the extent to which an area is used by the public. I use that phrase advisedly. If the Forestry Commission decides that public access is important, then it will not sell the area at all, but it will have a sale and lease-back, and in that way all the amenities can be preserved and there will be no change. In my submission, that is an important safeguard.

The trouble with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, is that there are some major legal difficulties. If the purchaser were required to maintain, for instance, access and amenity provisions, that would be a duty for the benefit of the public at large and not to any one person. That really does not fit into our conveyancing system in this country, and that remark applies to Scotland just as well, because the system is concerned essentially with private rights. It would be difficult to define in detail these rights for the purposes of conveyancing. If they were not set down at very considerable length, there could be endless disputes as to what they meant and their precise extent.

The next difficulty would be the enforcement of the covenant by the public. Any action to do so would have to be taken by the relevant Minister because he would be the vendor; but by then he would have relinquished his interest and, since he would not have suffered any damage, it is difficult to see what form of redress would be available against the purchaser. The next point is that covenants of this type cannot be framed to bind successors in title to the original purchaser. In other words, whatever one might wish to achieve so far as what I might call the first generation is concerned, it certainly would not bind successors in title.

Apart from problems with the legal difficulties, I do not believe it is right to require someone to allow the public on to his land as a matter of legal right without any form of control; although as I have said, if there are rights of way then this legislation will make no difference to them. It would be an extremely odd and very difficult statutory requirement, for instance, to make a purchaser legally responsible for maintaining such facilities as picnic sites or way-marked trails. The Forestry Commission can, of course, vary its facilities and the way in which it makes them available according to its by-laws; that is very useful for the Forestry Commission, but those provisions would not be available to the purchaser. One control which is exercised by the Forestry Commission is that to prohibit the lighting of fires which, particularly in the case of young woodland, can be very dangerous indeed; no such control would be made available to the purchaser.

I do not believe that in many cases the public will, in fact, be barred from access to the forests if they are sold. I was slightly surprised by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, because in the Recess I took up an invitation which his company very kindly extended to me to visit Eskdalemuir to see what facilities have been made available there to the public. Although the weather was not exactly kindly, I did see for myself the immense trouble which has been taken by the company, not only to make the forest accessible but also safe, interesting, informative and indeed educational to the thousands of children who make use of its visitors' centre every year. I have no doubt that that company, under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, is looking to the bawbees just as much as any other! I am very aware of the concern which people may feel if they believe that the public cannot avail themselves of our countryside, and that obviously includes woodlands, if a sale takes place. I myself do not believe that the pension funds and similar institutions will jeopardise their goodwill by closing off these woods or forests. Other corporations which I know a little about certainly do not take that view although I know I must not mention them. I do not believe it would be right—and certainly it is not legally possible—to put some kind of statutory burden of this kind on the buyer. I have refrained from pointing out, at least in detail, the depressive effect that this sort of statutory requirement would have on the possible price, because I do not believe that that consideration is as important as the consideration which I have set out. In those circumstances and with a mild sense of regret, I cannot accept the amendment. I hope that upon reflection the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, will see that, however well-intentioned this amendment is, it cannot be put into the Bill, and I hope that she will join me in that view.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Sandford

I am entirely in sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, but I have to agree with my noble friend Lord Inglewood and my noble friend Lord Dulverton that, for a whole variety of reasons, this is not perhaps a topic that can be dealt with very conveniently, if at all, as my noble friend has said, in primary legislation. For instance, it would not deal with the problem which concerns the district of Forest of Dean, with which authority I have had some discussions about this. Public access there does not rest on rights but on privileges accorded to the Crown, so the public access there would not be safeguarded by this amendment even if it was passed.

I am disappointed that my noble friend is not able to say any more than that it is not legally possible. I was relieved that he did not say he would give a personal assurance that all this would be all right because, as he has just told the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, it is not what people say during the debate that matters, whatever their personal integrity—and nobody's integrity is in question in this case—but what is actually in the Bill. We have to get into the Bill some way of ensuring that the purposes of this amendment are safeguarded in a way whereby Parliament can call the Minister to account. If that cannot be done in primary legislation, then we can see if it can be done in some form of secondary legislation, in papers, in notices, in memoranda, or something else which has to be submitted to Parliament by the Minister before he intends to act. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister would care to comment on this suggestion before the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, decides what to do with her amendment. I hope that at this stage the noble Baroness will leave it to see whether discussions could carry the matter forward before the Report stage.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

May I also seek clarification on a point that was made by the Minister? I believe he said that, in consideration of the sale of any forest which had a large number of amenities and was much used by the public, then the commissioners and the Minister certainly would not sell it but they might instead arrange a sale and lease-back. Did the Minister actually say that there was an instruction to that effect, because I do not see it in the Bill?

The Earl of Mansfield

I believe there is a danger of going down a woodland path much further than this comparatively simple amendment justifies. I have quite a lot to say about this when I come to speak to future amendments, but what the noble Lord will know from previous debates is that the way in which the Forestry Commission is expected to carry out its function—which is the important function under this Bill—is not to sell woodlands which, for a variety of reasons, may not in fact lend themselves to sale in a particular instance. This applies to the matter of such amenities as access.

Lord Davies of Leek

I have listened to the Minister and I am sure that he meant what he said, but he seemed to contradict what he said earlier, because he appeared to imply that nobody would struggle into these coniferous forests; they would get scratched with prickles and so on. Then, later on, he talked about people enjoying amenities. This Bill seems to give such wide qualifications to a Minister. This is happening with every kind of Bill that we have. The Bill says in the Explanatory Memorandum: "Clause 1 substitutes for section 39(2) of the Forestry Act 1967 a provision enabling Forestry Ministers to dispose,"— and here is the active bit— without restriction or qualification, of land acquired for forestry purposes.". That may be land acquired centuries ago for forestry purposes. It may be land where privileges exist, as they do in the Forest of Dean; and without any restriction or qualification the Minister has this power. We are giving away heaven and earth in this Bill.

Baroness Jeger

I should be modest to a fault were the drafting of this amendment to be questioned, and if there had been any constructive suggestion from the Minister I should most happily have received it. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, whose sympathetic approach to this problem I very much appreciated, that when this amendment was drafted in a form of words referring to "existing public access", that did not mean in my mind or, I am sure, in the minds of my noble friends that every single footpath must be maintained exactly where it is. "Access" is a much wider word. "Access" means that people can get into a wood. It does not mean that if there were new plantations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, referred, the owners would not have the right to say, "Access is not to be here. Will you please take your ponies up there?" I am sure that that is the only sensible way to interpret the term "public access".

As for the question of "amenity provisions" being rather vague, I thought that that would be helpful to your Lordships. I thought that if I had made a list of pony trails, caravan sites, rivers for fishing and rocks for climbing, that would be restrictive and boring, and rather a nuisance to those who have to implement the Bill. The noble Earl the Minister has great faith in the Forestry Commission's powers in this matter and he believes—and I share this belief with him—that they would be most sensitive about the future disposal of their land. But the trouble with this Bill is that we are not talking about the Forestry Commissioners; we are talking about Clause 1, which enables the Minister to dispose of land.

If noble Lords would look not only at Clause 1 but at the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, they will see that Clause l is explained as: enabling Forestry Ministers to dispose, without restriction or qualification, of land acquired for forestry purposes. So what is the good of the Minister's saying to this House, "We know that there are to be no restrictions and no qualifications, but we will have a word with the chaps and try to see that everybody plays the game"? I really think that that is an insult to your Lordships and to any legislative chamber. We are here to lay down the law of the land, and the law of the land is set out in the Bill. It is not set out in jolly assurances from optimistic Ministers.

The Minister said—and I am glad that he spelled this out—that the amendment would benefit the public at large and not any one person, and therefore it does not fit into our conveyancing. The whole purpose of this amendment is to benefit the public at large and not to benefit any one person because he happens to have the money to buy up precious land which ought to be the heritage of the public in this country. As for the argument that it does not fit into conveyancing, I would ask: Was conveyancing made for man, or was man made for conveyancing? As an old civil servant, I know too well that argument about things that are not legally possible. In the course of my long and varied life, I have seen so many things that were said not to be legally possible suddenly become more than possible, when any Government so wished.

The Minister objected to the amendment on the grounds that it was not legally enforceable on a subsequent purchaser. There is a future amendment which I hope will allow us to raise that point and to keep in order on it. I should have thought that this was another very substantial reason for throwing out the whole of Clause 1. But I shall not get myself out of order on that point at the moment. Then the Minister said that putting in such a condition of sale would have a depressive effect on prices and sales. There is nothing that I should like better. I do not want to see spiralling land prices and competition for the purchase of the land of this country which is in ever short supply, with the demands of industry, agriculture and so on. I should be very happy if there were a depressive effect on prices. We are not playing a game of Monopoly here; we are talking about land which cannot be reproduced in any shape or form.

Therefore, if these purchasers were frustrated silviculturists, who really wanted to buy woods because they liked woods, then I should be happy for them to get them at a lower price by virtue of accepting this condition of sale. The only people who will not want to accept this condition of sale are those who do not care about public access and do not want people to go on to their land. That is why such people would not buy land with this condition of sale on it. Therefore I submit that those are not the kind of landowners that we want to replace the Forestry Commission, with all the care that they are taking in dealing with their lands.

I wish that we had been able to have some meeting of minds over this. But I think that it would be unfair to expect the noble Earl the Minister to come even a couple of steps along the woodland path, or half a mile along the bridleway, because I have read very carefully the reports of the debates in another place, and I know perfectly well the hard-nosed Government attitude to this Bill and to this amendment. I am sorry to have to speak a little more roughly than I should wish, but I feel that the division in our thinking is absolute and total. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment, and I hope that there will be support from all sides.

The Earl of Mansfield

Before the matter is put to a Division, perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness, and your Lordships, that she herself said that she had drafted her amendment quite deliberately so that, if the words "public access" were not meaningless, they were deliberately vague. She said that she wanted to write something into the law of the land, and confessed that the words "amenity provisions" were deliberately vague. I told her—and I do not think that anybody has sought to deny what I said—that even if the words were not deliberately vague they were legally unenforceable. In these circumstances, the noble Baroness is asking the Committee to support her in the Lobby; in other words, she wants to write into this Bill two phrases which are deliberately vague and, as she said, not framed in a boring manner so that they will be specific. In this case, if there is an abuse of the Committee I know very well who is abusing it. It is surely not right to try to write into a Bill what is very nearly a wrecking amendment simply because one does not like the principle behind a Bill. On that basis, if the noble Baroness insists upon dividing the Committee I hope your Lordships will know which way to go.

Baroness Jeger

I must take issue with the Minister on that point. This amendment was put forward with all goodwill, and I thought moderately, and with the support of many people. The correspondence I have had from many conservation societies certainly echoes much of the debate which we had on the Countryside Bill a little while ago. I think it was an abuse of the Committee for the Minister to speak as he did.

3.51 p.m

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 100.

Airedale, L. Grey, E.
Amherst, E. Hale, L.
Amulree, L. Hampton, L.
Ardwick, L. Hanworth, V.
Avebury, L. Henderson, L.
Banks, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hunt, L.
Beswick, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Birk, B. Jacques, L.
Blease, L. Janner, L.
Blyton, L. Jeger, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kennet, L.
Briginshaw, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Brockway, L. Leatherland, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Listowel, E.
Byers, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Clwyd, L. Longford, E.
Collison, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. McNair, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Mishcon, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Oram, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Denington, B. Pargiter, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Peart, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Reilly, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Richardson, L.
Gosford, E. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Granville of Eye, L. Rochester, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Sainsbury, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Saltoun, Ly. Underhill, L.
Seear, B. Vernon, L.
Shinwell, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Spens, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Stone, L. Willis, L.
Strabolgi, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kimberley, E.
Allerton, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Alport, L. Long, V.
Avon, E. Loudoun, C.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Lyell, L.
Bathurst, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Bellwin, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Belstead, L. Mancroft, L.
Bessborough, E. Mansfield, E.
Birdwood, L. Margadale, L.
Bledisloe, V. Marley, L.
Bridgeman, V. Melville, V.
Brownlow, L. Morris, L.
Caccia, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Newall, L.
Clancarty, E. Northchurch, B.
Clinton, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cockfield, L. Onslow, E.
Cottesloe, L. Orkney, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Daventry, V. Pender, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Perth, E.
Derwent, L. Portland, D.
Dormer, L. Powis, E.
Dulverton, L. Radnor, E.
Dundee, E. Redmayne, L.
Ebbisham, L. Reigate, L.
Eccles, V. Renton, L.
Effingham, E. Romney, E.
Ellenborough, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Elles, B. St. Davids, V.
Elphinstone, L. St. Germans, E.
Exeter, M. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Faithfull, B. Sharples, B.
Ferrers, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Forbes, L. Soames, L.
Forester, L. Somers, L.
Gainford, L. Stamp, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gisborough, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Grey of Naunton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Gridley, L. Trenchard, V.
Haig, E. Trumpington, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Vickers, B.
Hawke, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Waldegrave, E.
Hood, V. Westbury, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Wigram, L.
Ilchester, E. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Killearn, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

House resumed.

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