HL Deb 09 July 1987 vol 488 cc760-74

4.49 p.m.

Third Reading debate resumed.

The Earl of Malmesbury

My Lords, the speech of my noble friend Lord Manners was most enlightening and comprehensive and I should like to congratulate him on it. I hope that the House will consider most carefully the several points that he made. Like my noble friend, and indeed the verderers and others who petitioned against the Bill, I was disturbed that the Select Committee should regard the village environment as the most important factor.

In the course of his speech my noble friend Lord Manners mentioned that the verderers were there to protect the New Forest and thus the interests of those who live in and around it and the interests of those who come to enjoy and visit the forest. The Court of Verderers is an imposing body. It was brought up to date by the 1949 Act. I wish to tell noble Lords something of that establishment. The court numbers 10 verderers; five are elected and five are appointed. The elected verderers are elected by the commoners and it is normal for those elected to possess a special knowledge of the forest.

The verderers are elected for a term of three years at two separate elections; two at one election and three at another. The five appointed verderers comprise one who is appointed by the Minister of Agriculture (the New Forest is vested in the Minister and he is the landowner of the forest); another one is appointed by the Forestry Commission, which acts as agent for the Minister. A further verderer is appointed by the Hampshire County Council, which is the local planning authority. One important verderer—although they are all important—is the amenity verderer, who is elected by the Countryside Commission. The fifth verderer is appointed by the Monarch, who is the official verderer and who is by custom the chairman of the court. That body has a lot of weight and a great deal of knowledge.

I was astonished and rather disturbed to learn that the landowner of the New Forest, the Minister, never consulted his appointed verderer. I queried that and I have seen the Minister's correspondence with the official verderer. I also saw the Minister's reply and I was, to put it mildly, disturbed and rather shocked by it.

As was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Manners, the Minister's reply conflicts with his predecessor's mandate in 1971. As my noble friend said, that mandate was brought up to date in 1982. The mandate stated that the New Forest must be regarded as national heritage and priority must be given to the conservation of its traditional character. The mandate also stated that the wishes of Parliament as set out in the 1877 Act should be carried out.

The Countryside Commission spent two days in the New Forest. It was not just the officers of that body who visited the forest but the members themselves. I am uncertain as to how the Select Committee deals out its time, but unfortunately its members spent only one day visiting the New Forest. That means that they virtually spent only a portion of the day visiting the forest because of the travelling time involved. They hardly saw the New Forest. As it is a vast place of roughly 100,000 acres, they remain forcedly somewhat ignorant of the forest. As can be seen from its report, the committee's only concern was concentrated on the town of Lyndhurst and on the house "Oakfield-, which is believed to be on the market anyway.

As your Lordships will know, the Countryside Commission has always argued that the New Forest should be treated as though it were a national park and that the principles of dealing with roads in such areas should be applied to the New Forest. Those principles demand that in the first instance avoiding damage to the countryside should be a major factor in the selection of any route. Accordingly the Countryside Commission argues that the bypass should avoid the open forest; in other words, landscaping the wrong route does not make it the right route. I am of course referring to paragraph 45 of the Select Committee's report, where it states that route 5A (the outer route) can be made into the right route by sensitive engineering and landscaping. Because of the wisdom of the Countryside Commission that undoubtedly is a mistaken policy, on the wrong route.

Again your Lordships need no reminding that the Countryside Commission is the expert on amenity and is appointed by the Government. It is therefore surprising that there is no mention of the commission in the Select Committee's conclusions, when the national importance of the New Forest was one point on which there was agreement between the promoters and the petitioners.

Finally, I wish to make it absolutely clear that the verderers and the petitioners appreciate the need for measures to relieve the traffic at Lyndhurst. They feel that the route proposed by the Bill cannot on amenity grounds be justified and they have put forward a suggestion for an alternative route which could be more acceptable environmentally.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, in this case the report of the Select Committee is much to be welcomed. I express the gratitude of the House to the members of the committee, who have heard arguments presented sincerely and clearly by counsel on either side. As a result the following matters are clear. First, a bypass for Lyndhurst is essential. That I think is agreed on all sides.

Secondly, a decision as to which route it should be is essential. Noble Lords will see in the last observations in the report that the members of the Select Committee have decided in favour of what may be called the compromise route. Paragraph 44 of the Select Committee's report states: The Committee have, therefore, concluded, on the basis of all the evidence they heard, that Route 5A is the right route for the bypass". There is the decision made. A decision is essential. I ask myself what the consequences will be if that decision is rejected. It does not mean that the alternative route is accepted at once. Who if you please will promote another Private Bill to put forward this alternative route to Parliament? I doubt whether Hampshire County Council will. I doubt whether anyone would present to Parliament the alternative route with all the expense, investigation and so on that that would entail. I am afraid that if the route which the Select Committee has recommended is rejected by the House today, there will never be a bypass for Lyndhurst.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend permit me to interrupt him? I think that he is wrong in saying that there will be a necessity for legislation if either route 6A or 5A, the inner route, was adopted. That was made clear in the report of the Select Committee.

Lord Denning

My Lords, my noble friend has anticipated me. I am sure that that paragraph in the report is quite wrong. The alternative route would require legislation. The relevant paragraph is not in the findings of the committee but rather in the summary of the petitioners' cases in paragraph 41, which says: The final advantage of an inner route was that it would not require legislation". My answer is that it would require legislation. I say that both as a lawyer and as a Member of this House. I shall come on to that point. One of the earlier passages in the report dealt with the need for a private Bill to deal with that matter. The committee says that that is a matter which it leaves to the House. I have looked into that and perhaps I may tell your Lordships how the legislation came to pass.

In 1949 we had a most important statute, the New Forest Act, which brought the verderers and everyone else up to date. The subject of that legislation was a report of over 100 pages by an expert committee led by Mr. Baker in which the verderers were considered, along with many other things. The roads were also considered. The committee considered the two trunk roads, the one which goes from Cadnam to Lymington and the one going through to Ringwood, and said that they would remain. But it went on to add in that same paragraph that it regarded a north-south bypass to Lyndhurst as essential. When the Bill went through Parliament, it did not include that bypass. The trunk roads were included but the bypass was not included. I suggest that that was done because everyone realised that further legislation would be needed to prescribe the route of that bypass.

The 1949 Act laid down the trunk roads and laid down provisions for roads other than trunk roads. It only laid down provisions for unfenced roads. As we all know, fencing is absolutely essential in these motoring days for the protection of motorists and of the ponies themselves. Section 17 dealt only with unfenced roads. If the highway authority wished to make, an unfenced road, that could only be done with the consent of the verderers. The verderers' consent could not be unreasonably withheld. That was for the protection of the commoners. If a fence was put up, commoners by a right going back centuries could throw it down because it would interfere with the free grazing of cattle and ponies. Section 17 dealt only with unfenced roads. The statute, by design, did not deal with the fencing of new roads. Fenced roads require a Bill to come before Parliament and it must be a Private Member's Bill.

The Select Committee quoted part of the Erskine May Report and perhaps I may refer to the whole of that part. At page 907 it states: No rule, however, has been established which precludes the promoters of a private bill from seeking the repeal or amendment of public Acts. A private bill is itself an exception, in some degree, from the general law, or seeks for some powers which the general law does not afford and the fact that it provides for a repeal or an amendment of public Acts is far from always being a fatal objection to its being introduced as a private bill. The provisions of some public general Acts relating to public health are regularly amended, in some degree, with regard to particular localities, by means of private bills". Your Lordships will know of such public health Bills. We have general Acts and then perhaps a private Bill from Manchester and Merseyside and the like.

As regards the constitutional position, I believe it is perfectly proper and necessary for a private Bill such as this one which the Hampshire County Council has promoted to secure the addition to the public Act in respect of Lyndhurst itself so that there can be a fenced bypass road around Lyndhurst. That is essential. As I said, if it is suggested that the inner route should be used without legislation, so far as I can see that is absolutely wrong. There is nothing in the Act or anywhere else to permit it. Those are the legal points with which I wish to deal.

Paragraph 47 of the report states: The Committee conclude by drawing attention to the fact that in allowing the Bill to proceed, they have done so in the knowledge that the County Council, in promoting a private bill, have adopted an unusual procedure for the construction of a highway"— and that may be true— and one which avoids the veto of the Verderers which Parliament in 1949 regarded as an important safeguard for the New Forest. I do not regard the 1949 Act as giving any veto to the verderers in respect of a newly fenced road. In 1949 Parliament left that for further legislation.

I suggest that the report of the Select Committee should be accepted. Otherwise, Lyndhurst will not have a bypass in the foreseeable future.

5.7 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, it may seem strange to your Lordships that I have risen to speak about Lyndhurst in the New Forest when I normally speak about Scotland. However, my interest in the subject goes back to immediately after the last war when the father of the present noble Lord, Lord Manners, gave to me, as chairman of the National Association of Youth Clubs, one of the most beautiful houses in the New Forest, namely, Avon Tyrrell. It was to be used by young people for holidays, conferences and so on. It has been an outstanding success and has made an enormous difference to hundreds of thousands of young people. Although I am now too old to go there for such activities, I have always been grateful for that marvellous donation and the fact that it has meant that many young people have been able to go to the New Forest to learn about it and to walk and ride about in it.

I have read with some interest the report we are discussing today and I have one or two queries which I should like to make. I do not understand why the county council promoted a Private Bill for the Lyndhurst bypass which make it impossible for the oldest and most important organisation in the New Forest—the verderers of the New Forest—to be consulted. It seems to me that that is a curious way to carry on.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Will my noble friend allow me to intervene? I am informed that there were considerable and prolonged consultations with the verderers; with the noble Lord, Lord Manners, and others. I very much reject the suggestion that there was no consultation.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I am very sorry if I have made a mistake, but it seems to me from reading the report that the verderers were overruled.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, it is very desirable that the House should be told whether there was consultation with the verderers particularly on route 5A. I understand that there was not.

Lord Manners

My Lords, the consultation that I originally had with the county council was right at the outset and the council told me that it proposed to adopt route 3 as being the cheapest and most economical route and the one which best suited the environment of the forest. It was only subsequently that the county council changed its mind, I think at the request of the district council, and then started to press for route 5A. I admit that I had two meetings with the chairman of the county council at which I made representations, but there were no discussions as such.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I think that that perhaps answers the noble Lord. In any case, I was only reacting to what I had read in the report and the conversations with my noble friend Lord Manners. I also understand that in 1983 the planning inspector proposed another route and not the one which the Select Committee is suggesting. I wonder why that advice was not taken.

I have also received, as I expect have most of your Lordships, letters from the Countryside Commission saying that it is opposed to route 5A. The Commission is anxious to support the verderers in their case. The Countryside Commission is a very influential body and it is one that we are all deeply concerned about. It stresses for not only the New Forest but for many other parts of the United Kingdom the importance of the countryside and its preservation. Therefore it is important to take some account of what the Countryside Commission has written, and I am sorry that that does not appear to have been one of the matters which was considered or in any way influenced the decision.

This is a debate which many people know more about than I do, and I am therefore only supporting my noble friend Lord Manners and the verderers because I know of the great importance of the New Forest, its preservation and all that it stands for. I hope very much that we may consider this as a matter of just as much importance as the bypass for Lyndhurst, which we are all in favour of. It is the way that it is done that matters, and I understand that the verderers have a better suggestion than that put forward. I am prepared to back the verderers in this matter.

5.14 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, as the second member of your Lordships' Select Committee, apart from the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, our very able chairman, to speak, I should like to say a few words to your Lordships about our consideration of this Bill.

First, I should like to say, in answer to my noble friend Lady Elliot, that during the 13 days in which we sat in this committee we heard evidence from the Countryside Commission at quite considerable length. Therefore it cannot be said that, in the end, our report did not agree entirely with the Commission; but neither can it be said that we ignored it.

Most of us on this committee, certainly myself, at the start knew very little about Lyndhurst in particular and not a great deal about the New Forest. I certainly did not, However, I believe that to be right because it meant that we had no preconceived opinions about the situation in Lyndhurst and we had no axes to grind. Nevertheless, we very soon became aware that whatever recommendations we made at the end, they would make us very unpopular with a lot of people.

I should like to comment very briefly on and underline the committee's reasons for rejecting the proposed route of the objectors—route 6A. It has been commented upon by my noble friends Lord Manners and Lord Malmesbury that we were only there for a day. In fact, we were there long enough to see Boltons Bench and to stand on it. On the ground, the proposed route 6A seemed to be disastrous to the peace and well being of the people of Lyndhurst and, incidentally, to the people who visit Lyndhurst.

I am open to correction here, but the proposal was for a fenced road with a roundabout about 20 yards or so from Boltons Bench. It would go through, and in my opinion it would effectively divide the village from its principal recreation ground. It seemed to me also that however cleverly designed this road, and however many underpasses and bridges and so on that were incorporated, it would be very difficult for even an able-bodied person easily and without effort to cross from the village to Boltons Bench. Certainly he would be unable to cross without encountering a lot of noise, traffic, and so on.

A little beyond Boltons Bench I observed that the bypass would actually pass within 50 yards of the worst point of congestion in Lyndhurst high street. That does not seem to me to be a bypass at all, or to make very much sense. The proposed bypass is only 50 yards from the present congestion. A further point is that further north the route cuts through a minor recreation ground. I cannot remember whether it is a cricket ground or an athletics ground, but it is called the Paddocks. To the south it would destroy a very beautiful and well-kept private garden and the Okefield. On this point I should like to say to my noble friends Lord Manners and Lord Malmesbury that it seems to be totally irrelevant whether or not this house is now for sale. It was the beauty of the garden itself and of the house that concerned us and not the financial situation of the individual who happened to own it at the time we looked at it.

At any rate, I came to the conclusion that no bypass at all was the only alternative to route 5A proposed by the county council. We established fairly early on that there would be no question of our recommending that there should not be a bypass. In these circiumstances, and after 13 days of listening very carefully to many different opinions, it appeared to me and obviously to my colleagues that route 5A was the only viable option. It is a little late for anyone to come up with something better, and frankly I do not think that anything better could be found.

Finally, I should like to congratulate the officers of Hampshire County Council, who I do not think have yet received any congratulations today. They presented their evidence very well and they were very fair. I congratulate them on carrying out a thoroughly thankless task.

5.19 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, may I correct the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, on the point that it is late in the day to debate this issue? This Bill has to go through another place with all the same procedure. It is important, therefore, that if there are points of disagreement this House should make them known on Third Reading so that when the matter is debated in another House and goes into Select Committee there, it will be realised that this is, as the committee makes clear, a difficult issue.

Although I wish to disagree with the committee on certain matters, I am bound to say that I am immensely impressed by the effort, ingenuity and fidelity that the members of it brought to discussing what is, speaking socially, a very complicated issue in a very difficult part of the world.

My interest is that I have lived in the New Forest off and on for nearly 50 years. I have never exercised common rights, but I have had common rights attached to my house. I am bound to say that the Official Verderers, the noble Lord, Lord Manners, and the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, have had the most difficult job in the world. I know of no area where there is more contention. They are poised among the commoners, the Forestry Commission, the county council and the visitors. They have to preside over the Court of Swainmote. I still remember the problems that arose in 1949 when Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, who was the Member of Parliament, tried to get the 1949 Act through the other place, where I was a Member. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, remembers that.

It was my view at that time that we had arrived at a settlement, that Clause 17 would provide protection, and that that would be that. It has been made abundantly clear that it is possible for a private Bill to override public legislation when it is considered, in this case by the committee, to be the right thing to do. However, the committee leaves to the House the judgment on whether it is the right decision.

We could get into a semantic argument here. We are strongly advised to take the Select Committee's advice. However, at the same time the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has told us that there is one important paragraph in its report; namely, paragraph 41, which is wholly wrong. That is a matter which will need to be further considered. I do not know whether the noble Lord who chaired the committee so admirably wishes to argue with the noble and learned Lord. He is a great friend of us all and he has been kind to me. I know that he likes an argument.

The point is clear. The committee states: The final advantage of an inner route was that it would not require legislation. The Verderers had indicated that they would be prepared to agree the permanent loss of certain land from the Forest. Since the land taken out of the Forest would have to be fenced out, legislation would not be required for fencing as was required for the present route proposals. Therefore the implications of a private Act undermining the provisions of a public Act"— we agree that it does not undermine it; it is correct to have a private Act— would not have to he faced".

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, he will have observed that paragraph 41 of the Select Committee's report to which he has referred is not part of the committee's conclusions; it is part of the summary of the petitioners' case.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the committee does not go out of its way to disagree with the point.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Or accept it.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, that is a point of interest. This is not a Committee stage, though it is tempting to treat it as such. I believe it is the view of the Official Verderer that legislation would not be necessary and that an agreement on fencing could be achieved without difficulty. However, that is a point for further consideration.

Elsewhere in the report, there is a reference to the inspector of the 1983 inquiry who rejected route 3 and found route 5A preferable to route 1. The route which is now recommended is described as a compromise. I do not regard it as a satisfactory compromise. The inspector suggested that another route should be considered in detail. That became route 6, which subject to alterations at its southern end became route 6A, and is the route now favoured by the forest's interests. Was it considered by the county council? I do not believe there is evidence that there was any consideration.

I must now be critical of the county council. We all know that county councils work extremely hard. I know that the opinion of some county councillors is that their county council is not always sufficiently concerned with the very special nature of the New Forest. The New Forest is unique, and only those who understand it realise how-special it is and how important it is to protect it. If I may use a rather far-fetched analogy, it is a little like the Antarctic: we do not want people mucking it up unless it is necessary.

However, the county council was prepared to allow Shell to drill in Denny Wood, a beautiful wood. It was only because the Minister called in the planning application and there was an inquiry that there was a change. There are disturbing proposals. There is a proposal for drilling near Boldre, not far from where I live. However, that does not bother me. The well that Shell has drilled will only be of significance if a battery of wells is drilled. That will be necessary to prove that there is oil. The other place will need to give careful consideration to this matter.

I regret the fact that the committee did not take the view of the inspector that the amenities or environmental interests of Lyndhurst were of less importance than those of the forest as a whole. The county and the committee did not share that view. We are grateful to the committee. I should be interested to know whether it would be possible to have route 6A without an Act of Parliament. It would be infinitely cheaper and would save legislation. That may be something that can be considered in another place.

Viscount Hood

My Lords, may I comment on that point? As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, paragraph 41 was part of the case put forward by the petitioners. The committee's conclusions start on the opposite page. The committee concluded that routes 6 and 6A were not a satisfactory solution to the problem. If they were not satisfactory solutions, it does not matter whether or not they need legislation.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, at the risk of making a different point, the noble Lord is saying that legislation would be irrelevant as the committee was against the route. The noble Lord is not saying that it could be done without legislation.

5.28 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships have listened with great care to the arguments on both sides on whether the Lyndhurst bypass should follow the line proposed in the Bill or should take another route. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, who chaired the committee so skilfully, has already told your Lordships, the Select Committee came to the conclusion, after a lengthy hearing and after a visit to Lyndhurst, that the route selected was the best one. I think that your Lordships should give due weight to the committee's decision.

I wish to refer to a matter which is mentioned in the committee's special report and to which some of your Lordships have referred. It is the question of whether it is right that a public Act of Parliament—namely, the New Forest Act 1949—should be set aside by the promotion of a private Bill. I fully endorse what is so clearly set out in paragraphs 21 to 23 of the committee's report; namely, that private Bills often repeal or amend the general law. I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord confirm that. I respectfully agree entirely with what he said on that subject.

Lord Shackleton

Hear, hear.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I also heard the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, agree with that point. One of the main purposes of private legislation is to confer upon the promoters of private Bills powers which they cannot obtain under the general law, or to allow them an exemption from the restrictions of the general law.

One of my duties as the Chairman of Committees in the Unopposed Bill Committee is to examine, with the aid of my counsel, all Private Bills which come before Parliament. I can tell your Lordships that many of them seek the amendment of public Acts. The Unopposed Bill Committee examines each case with care but where on the merits it is appropriate that public legislation should be amended that power is certainly granted.

I think that it is very important to put on record the fact that, as Erskine May confirms, it is normal for a Private Bill to amend public legislation. Whether or not it is right to accept such amendment in any particular case is of course a matter for Parliament to decide.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, perhaps I may speak with the permission of the House. I was one of five Members of your Lordships' House appointed to this Select Committee. I should like to stress that the matter of consultation—which has been touched upon but not dealt with in detail—was a matter of great concern to me. We spent almost a day dealing with the question of consultations.

I was in no doubt after hearing the evidence that the county council—over a period of almost six years if my memory is correct—had set up exhibits, consulted with relevant bodies, and placed advertisements in the press requesting submissions. There was also an obligation on bodies which have a statutory duty to inquire into conservation and other matters to submit evidence. We therefore had every reason to believe that every opportunity was given for adequate consultation with all interested persons.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate but I was a Member of the Select Committee. Perhaps I may say a few words to try further to explain paragraph 41 which concerns the need for fencing.

The need for fencing arises provided that the animals have access to the roadside. The verderers had recommended an alternative route for the purpose of which they were prepared to give up certain lands. They were prepared to fence the animals out of those lands; the animals would therefore not have access to the route of the road. That would eliminate the need for the road to be fenced at that section.

As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, this was only part of the petitioners' case. However, the Committee accepted that it was a fair point. If it had not, it would not have raised the matter in the report or it would have made its own comment about it.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. It deals with a part of the country with which I am not familiar. However, I listened to much of the Second Reading debate, and I have listened to this debate. I read with great care the Second Reading debate and the report of the Select Committee. I now believe that I have a certain affinity with the area, although I have a long way to go to be anything like as familiar with it as almost everyone who has spoken in the debate so far.

Perhaps I may make a minor criticism of the Select Committee report. Coming as I do from an area far removed from the New Forest I should have been happier if the plan appended to the report had been rather more detailed so that I could have looked at the general area of the ubiquitous Bolton's Bench, which is not mentioned in the plan, or The Paddocks, or Okefield private house, or many of the other important landmarks which appear to be so familiar to so many of your Lordships. I went to the Library yesterday and today to try to orientate myself with the area of Lyndhurst and its relationsihip to the New Forest. I was not able to obtain a great deal of material. Since the debate started my noble friend Lord Blease has shown me some of the material that was available to the Select Committee. The whole area is now much clearer to me.

The plan, with its accompanying text, illustrates very fully the dilemma that any committee faces. The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, was absolutely correct: whatever decision it made would have created enemies. It is not an uncommon dliemma in similar circumstances.

When I read the report of the Second Reading I was struck by the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, both of whom seemed to be familiar with the area as it was a long time ago, long before anyone had thought in terms of the traffic of the late 20th century, although from reports it was beginning to get rather crowded in the early 20th century. The village was never built for such traffic. Any attempt to accommodate this traffic and to make life more bearable for the people of Lyndhurst offends the very ancient rights in the New Forest. The county council therefore had a duty to find an answer, although it knew that, whatever the answer, it would be impossible to please everyone.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, we are only at the beginning of this issue. The Bill has to go through the other place, although I do not know whether it will go through exactly the same procedure; I do not know whether they will ask for a Select Committee to look at it or whether they will decide that Route 6 with 6A added, compared with the old Route 3, will be better than the route suggested by the county council. This is an issue which only the other place can ultimately decide. However, I believe that the debate today, and that at Second Reading, and the report of your Lordships' Select Committee, will be of considerable help in assisting the other place to make up their minds.

This is a Private Bill. There is a completely free vote if the matter goes to a vote. Having seen some of the pictures of the very considerable traffic congestion in the town of Lyndhurst, I believe that the quicker we have this bypass—as outlined by the Select Committee and the Hampshire County Council—the better.

5.39 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene very briefly on behalf of the Government. During the Second Reading debate on the Bill my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale made it clear that the Government took the view that it is for the promotors to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are necessary and justified. I was interested in and enjoyed the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Manners, and my noble friend Lord Malmesbury. I realise that the verderers have a heavy and increasing responsibility in these days when the pressures upon the area for which they are responsible become greater and not fewer.

I need to answer one point. My noble friend Lord Manners was critical of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture for not becoming involved in this matter by taking a definite line. I should like to say in reply that the Government are convinced that any encroachments on the forest of the kind we have been debating today should be very carefully considered. Given the apparent consensus that a bypass in some form is urgently needed, the Government's view is that in bringing this Bill before Parliament the promoters provide an opportunity for petitioners and others to set out their case fully to the Select Committee. We believe that this procedure provides the best opportunity for arguments from either side to be properly weighed and judged not by the Government, but by Parliament.

Having said that, I appreciate the strong feelings held by the promoters, the residents of Lyndhurst and those who have petitioned against the Bill over the proposed route. The Select Committee has considered all the issues very carefully and we must be grateful to it. The Bill has been allowed to proceed, but with the clear expression of view that the inner route, that is route 6/6A, really will not do. It is now a matter for Parliament to decide.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Congleton

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to conclude the debate on this Third Reading. We have heard a number of extremely interesting views from distinguished minds. Let me say at once that I am not a legal person and I am not qualified to enter into complex arguments or to give a view about what seem to me to be complex legal and constitutional points.

I remind the House that we have heard that the Countryside Commission spent two days in the New Forest and that the Select Committee, to whom we are very grateful, spent a day in Lyndhurst. For 19 of the first 25 years of my life I was a resident, on and off, in the parish of Minstead, two and a half miles from Lyndhurst. Therefore I claim with reason to speak with some knowledge of the area covered by the provisions of the Bill.

We have heard from the noble Viscount, the chairman of the Select Committee, that the Select Committee reported that route 5A was the right one and it was correct because all other routes seemed to converge on Bolton's Bench; routes 6 and 6A, for all that they may or may not need fencing, still converge on Bolton's Bench. That has to be borne in mind and is an important point.

We hear a lot about ecology these days, do we not? When I was an undergraduate years ago, the word "ecology" occurred once in my biological textbook. There may have been a chapter on it and that as the heading, but it did not say much about ecology. It is a new science. If I understand it correctly, the science of ecology is a branch of the general science of biology. It is concerned with the interaction of living species one upon another. It is so often assumed that the only species which matter are the non-human species. We hear about the birds, the fish, the large animals, the small creatures and so on, and the plants. We sometimes forget—and even the scientists are guilty of this from time to time—about the human species upon whom the birds, the beasts and the fish have an effect; and the human species have an effect in the opposite direction. It seems to me that the Bill is very much concerned with trying to decide where the least damage can be done to the natural environment around Lyndhurst. The human environment of Lyndhurst has been so grossly distorted over the last 30 or 40 years as to make life very difficult and pretty unpleasant on some occasions for those who live there. I ask your Lordships to bear that in mind when coming to a conclusion on this matter.

It is perfectly true that minimal damage—it will be minimal damage—is likely to occur if the route of the bypass follows 5A. I am sure we all accept that, but it seems to me that the Hampshire County Council leant over backwards to instruct us, to try to reassure us that the works concerned with the building of a bypass, the route to be followed, the reinstatement work and the monitoring of all these things will be done to the highest degree possible with consultation and advice from terrestrial ecologists and with the verderers. I read earlier today a letter from the verderers which gave that reassurance. It is important to the Hampshire County Council that if the Bill becomes an Act and the route follows 5A there will be close and strict consultation with the verderers who are important.

One cannot have lived for 19 years as I did in the New Forest without understanding the importance of the verderers. The Official Verderer, the noble Lord, Lord Manners, and his predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, and my family have been friends for many years. I was disturbed to read a report in The Times on Monday which used the words "acrimony" and "bitterness". Let me assure the noble Earl and the noble Lord that there is no acrimony and no bitterness in my soul on these matters. I take a different view and that is all it is. I am quite certain that that view is reciprocated by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord in terms of acrimony and bitterness—there is none. I see the problem from a different angle. I wanted to make that point because I was disturbed to read the report in The Times that there was acrimony and bitterness. There is none here, my Lords, where we conduct our affairs in a different spirit, and quite right too.

The noble Lord, Lord Manners, mentioned "We who love the Forest's beauty and wildlife" as if the petitioners against the Bill were the only ones who loved the Forest's beauty and wildlife. It is not so. Again I refer to the fact that I lived 19 of the first 25 years of my life in the New Forest and I love the forest, its beauty and its wildlife. I am quite satisfied that what is contained in the Bill will do minimal damage to the area of the forest within the immediate environs of Lyndhurst. It is not only petitioners against the Bill who may be counted among the lovers of the New Forest.

We heard about the West Wellow bypass and my goodness they need a bypass. I use that road two or three times a week journeying from south Wiltshire to Southampton. They need a bypass at West Wellow because the road is dangerous. We heard about the coal-fired power station at Fawley. My mind goes back to 1942 or 1943 when there were proposals to build an oil refinery. It so happened that a member of my family was then chairman of the rural district council in the New Forest. A great fight was put up. The whole thing was called in by the Minister of the day. He is a Member of your Lordships' House, but he has left the Chamber. The refinery went ahead in the teeth of opposition from local interests. I am speaking, as it were, on behalf of my family in the matter because I feel it is possible to take a different view about different things at different times.

I am grateful, as we all are, to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whose place I have usurped here today. I apologise to him for that, but it seemed to be the best way of going about it. With his usual clarity and skill he brought out many points in his intervention in favour of proceeding with the Bill.

I have talked about ecology and Lyndhurst. If I do not refer to some speeches it is not because I have no comments to make about them but simply because of the time factor. I turn now to the robust, if I may use that word, address of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He said, and we all agree, that the Select Committee reported that a bypass is essential. There is no difference among us about that. A bypass is essential. He said, and we all agree, that the Select Committee report carries the recommendation that it is route 5A that should be followed. Then the noble and learned Lord asked the question: What is the consequence if the Bill is rejected? Throughout the proceedings on the Bill—the Second Reading, the determinations of the Select Committee and now this Third Reading debate—we have used the expression that "controversy has raged", or something like that, for 50 years. It may interest noble Lords to know that I received a letter the other day from one longstanding resident of the New Forest which makes it quite plain to me that the first acquisitions of land in order to secure a route for a bypass around Lyndhurst—it is the old route through Pike's Hill, Emery Down and coming in at Swan Green—date from 1928. That is 60 years ago bar six months. So I come back to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. What will happen if this piece of legislation is now rejected? Is everybody to hang about for another 60 years?

There is the question of the legal and constitutional respectability of the Bill. That has been thoroughly aired and debated and I think we must accept that the Bill is respectable. But I leave it there. We heard from the noble and learned Lord at Second Reading; the question is dealt with in the special report of the Select Committee; and we have heard again at Third Reading today from the noble and learned Lord. If anybody is still questioning the legality of the Bill, there is nothing that I can say that will dissuade him from an alternate view.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who said that in his view it was route 5A or nothing at all. It is a persuasive view. I think that I could go along with that. The noble Lord, Lord Shackelton, referred to Route 6A and said that he would like to have another look at it. It would not require fencing, or it would require fencing but it would be legal if it was not fenced—it becomes very complicated at this point. The danger is that this will go on and on. Route 6A converges on Bolton's Bench again. We are back to Bolton's Bench and that is no good. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that it was legally all right—another view about the legality of the Bill.

We have heard many speeches. I invite your Lordships to contribute to a lessening of the—I was about to say "horrors"—inconveniences and discomforts of the people of Lyndhurst who for years now have suffered from an overdose of traffic. I invite your Lordships to contribute to a lessening of the discomforts for the motorists, the car travellers, who suffer on a steaming Saturday or Sunday morning. Go and have a look at them, my Lords. Between 11 o'clock in the morning and 2.30 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon families become overheated, cars become overheated, and the language becomes overheated. It is not much fun and no progress is made. It is uneconomic for them and destroys their enjoyment.

I have said enough. I hope that we shall not have to wait another 60 years. I fervently hope that your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.