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New Clause—(Preservation Of Trees During Interim Period)

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1943

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The Minister may, for securing the protection of existing amenities, make general or special interim development orders with respect to the preservation of single trees and groups of trees, and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, such orders may—
(i) include provisions with respect to specifying areas of woodland as areas to be protected;
(ii) provide for the registration by the interim development authority of such single trees of such description as may be specified in the order;
(iii) provide for the cancellation of registration of any tree or the cessation of the application of the provisions of any such order to any group of trees;

(iv) provide for a right of appeal to the Minister against any decision of an interim development authority in relation to any tree.—[Mr. Douglas.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause deals with the preservation of trees during the interim development. There is power under existing legislation to make provision for the preservation of woodlands or groups of trees, or even isolated trees in the scheme, and such provision being made in the scheme and the scheme becoming operative, then the position is safeguarded. But there is no means of securing the preservation of trees until that point is reached, and therefore this Clause is intended to give powers to secure the preservation of trees during the interim development period. This is a matter of very great importance, especially at the present time, when woods are being' felled to a very large extent and therefore there is very great temptation to cut down trees which may have some commercial value but which may at the same time have a very high degree of amenity value. Those which are most important from this point of view are very often the product of a great many years of growth, and it is impossible to replace them except with very great care and in a very long period of time, and therefore I hope that the Minister will favourably consider this. Many of us are familiar with cases in which development has taken place with a ruthless disregard of trees existing on the site, where with just a little care and forethought in the planning all or most of them could have been preserved with very great advantage to the people who will hereafter live in the houses built. It seems very desirable that some steps should be taken during the interim development period in order to safeguard these amenities. The Clause is drawn in the most moderate terms. It gives a right of appeal to the Minister by anybody who is dissatisfied with the step taken by the local authority, and I sincerely hope he will accept it.

I wish to support the Second Reading of this Clause. It is a reasonable Clause; it should appeal to a reasonable Minister. One delightful and most interesting feature in the discussion of this Bill was the great peroration of the Parliamentary Secretary of this new Department. I shall remember it as long as I have a mind to remember. It was beautiful, I thought. The Minister traversed the whole of the British Isles in wishing to preserve the timber. He described how vital it was that we should preserve the timber of Wensleydale, of Pembrokeshire; in fact, if I had to go through all the geographical districts touched upon in that great peroration, I should unduly take up the time of this Committee, and I do not wish to do so. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister, or to the Parliamentary Secretary, or both. We have had the peroration; I hope we shall have the pep, and that he will accept the Clause.

With the object that the movers of this Clause have in view I think we must all be in sympathy. We all deplore, too, that the beauty of our countryside in the past has been marred by careless felling, and how, under the harsh necessities of war, we are forced to cut some of our noblest trees. My trouble is that to accept this Clause in its present form would be outside the scope of this Bill, which deals with interim development and is framed on the Act of 1932, with words having the same meaning as they. had in the Act of 1932. Development, in that Act, as I pointed out in my Second Reading speech, is concerned roughly with buildings and that sort of thing; it does not consider agriculture to be development, which I consider to be wrong. Neither does it consider woodlands and so on as development, and I am afraid that this Clause will not fit into the structure of the Bill as it is at the present time.

There is one gleam of hope in this matter. As the Committee is aware, there is a very strict control by the Ministry of Supply on the felling of trees and the disposal of them* for sale. Under Defence Regulation 68 they made two Orders prohibiting the sale or purchase of growing trees for felling except under the authority of a licence from the Minister. There is also a prohibition against felling trees of over 1,000 cubic feet. We have got into close touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply on this matter, and they do what they can to ensure that when there is this necessity for war purposes for the felling of timber it is done in a way which is least harmful to amenities. Harmful in any case it must be when trees are felled, but we shall do our best to limit the damage which war is causing to our countryside. When we can pass from the stage of this Bill, framed. on the Act of 1932, and its phraseology bearing the same meaning as in that Act, where development really means building, we shall have this point very firmly in view, and when I get a chance of introducing further and more positive legislation on this subject, I will try to give effect in that legislation to the motive which inspires the movers of this new, Clause. I regret that, owing to the form of this Bill, it is not possible to accept it in this Bill.

I also sympathise very much with my hon. Friends who down this Clause, but I am not sure that what they seek would be best carried out by the Clause. I do not symptathise—I apologise to the Attorney-General for again being critical—with the answer given by the Minister. That answer is wholly insufficient to meet the needs of the case. It is difficult to do more than give a hint of why I think so, because to do more would be out of Order. I am not sure that I can follow what the right hon. Gentleman said without putting myself out of Order. This question is far more important than the question of what the Minister of Supply, is doing or is not doing, as the right hon. Gentleman, having been Minister of Agriculture, knows. It is not only a question of amenities, but the whole question of timber supplies in England', and how they can be increased.

The proposed Clause starts with the words:

"The Minister may, for securing the protection of existing amenities, make general or special interim development orders."
I think, therefore, that my Noble Friend is going beyond what the movers of the Clause intended in suggesting that the Clause is concerned with something other than amenity.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his very courteous interruption. The point where I thought the right hon. Gentleman was, I will not say out of Order, but very near the bounds of Order, was that at which he proceeded to tell us what the Ministry of Supply were doing. What has that to do with the amenities of the country? The Ministry of Supply is an ad hoc body with power to cut timber. This Clause suggests steps to protect the amenities of the countryside in any question where trees—I might say, afforestation—is concerned. What I wanted was some assurance that the whole question of forestry in England—we can only discuss amenity here—was being properly considered by some Government Department. The only thing that the right hon. Gentleman could shy was that the Ministry of Supply did have some regard to amenities; but the Ministry of Supply is a supply Ministry, it has nothing to do with amenities. Could he not give an assurance that he will consider, before the Bill finally leaves this House, and after consultation—I would make a very strong point of consultation—with the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, how he can deal with this most important subject?. I would press for some such assurance. I agree that I do not think that the Clause in its present form is satisfactory, but the subject is one of great importance, which I do not think was answered in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

The speech of the Minister raised a point which I would ask you, Major Milner, to be good enough to deal with. He seemed to suggest that the whole discussion was out of Order. He used words which suggested that this Clause was outside the scope of the Bill. If that were so, I suggest, you would not have called it. I ask you to be good enough to inform the Commitee whether the discussion is in Order or not.

The right hon. Gentleman did, no doubt, quite accidentally, reflect on the Chair. I considered whether the Clause was within the scope of the Bill, and, after some hesitation, I decided that it should be called. The discussion may proceed on that basis.

Permit me to say, Major Milner, that I had no intention of reflecting in the slightest on the Chair. My use of the expression "outside the scope of the Bill" was intended to apply to my argument that the Bill is founded on the 1932 Act, and that the 1932 Act made it impossible to bring this Clause in. I had no intent of reflecting on the Chair, and if I did so, I apologise.

We are under an obligation to my hon. Friend for introducing this new Clause. He has touched upon a matter which is vital to the people of this country, and particularly to those who live in industrial areas. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept the Clause in its present form, he might, as the Noble Lord has said, give very serious consideration to this matter between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place, or else get an alteration made in another place. I have wanted to deal with this subject for a long time. It was my lot, along with quite a number of industrial Members, to live for a number of years in a colliery district where if one saw a tree one felt that one was in a jungle. The deprivation of not being able to see trees and such features is one of the bitter memories of my life. I then went to another part of my county where there were small clumps and estates, where people had spent the better part of a century in building up woods. It was almost like being born again to see those trees. That is an experience which is not common in Southern England, particularly in the rural areas, but it has a vital effect on the outlook of some of the people of this country.

Timber is now badly needed. We are seeing the wholesale slaughter of clumps of trees in the partof the country from which I come. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Ministry of Supply have powers in this matter, but, if so, those powers are not very actively used. So far as I can see, the country is being cleaned up, and very few trees are being left. We understand the reason for that, but we want to see that everything possible is done to save a few clumps for amenity purposes. It is not sufficient to have a great forest 20 or 30 miles away. That is useful; it has certain values; but we want to see the replanting of the clumps which are destroyed, so that the boys of this generation and of future generations can go bird-nesting, climbing trees, and swinging about, just as boys in the past have done. If the right hon. Gentleman can at some future stage of the Bill accept the principle of this Clause he will not only render a great service to town and country planning but also to the country generally, in this and future generations.

I am rather surprised that the Minister should have adopted towards this Clause a narrow, legalistic, and pedantic attitude. He declined to accept it, on the ground that it does not deal with interim development. But surely this is an incident of interim development. Are the amenities which are adjacent to a house to be entirely disregarded during the interim development period? Is it no concern of the Minister that these amenities may be destroyed during that period? This Bill gives power to restrict interim development, to prevent buildings from being erected. Is it suggested that it is not important, where steps are taken to preserve amenity by preventing wrong building from taking place, that steps should also be taken to preserve amenity by preventing trees from being sold? The Minister has suggested that the Ministry of Supply have powers to prevent trees from being felled; but is it true that those powers extend to trees of all kinds? Do they not apply only to trees which are valuable for timber purposes? Some of the trees which it is desirable to preserve for amenity may have no value as timber. Have we any assurance that the Minister of Supply directs his attention to the question of preserving trees from the point of view of town planning and amenity, or does he direct his attention to this problem from a totally different angle? Surely, it is not the function of the Ministry of Supply to determine town planning questions. The powers of the Ministry of Supply will come to an end at some stage—let us hope an early stage—and what would be left to fill this gap? Are we to understand that the Minister has no desire to fill it? If he intends to fill it by some other Bill which is to be introduced shortly, then it is a different matter. We would not be so insistent upon this point, but he has given no pledge to the Committee that he has any intention of that kind.

Perhaps I ought to say a word or two in reply to the observations which have been addressed to me, as it is obvious that the Committee feel keenly on this point. I have heard their views on the matter and I agree that it is very desirable indeed to get machinery to enable our trees to be protected from the amenity point of view. I was trying to point out to my hon. Friend that in the way he seeks to secure it, you cannot 3o it by an interim development Order, using the word "development" in the sense that it is used in the Bill and in the 1932 Act.

Because an interim development Order is limited to allow development of applications for permission to carry out development, and development is in the Act to which I have referred, in Section 53:

"'Development,' in relation to any land, includes any building operations or rebuilding operations, and any use of the land Or any building thereon for a purpose which is different from the purpose for which the land or building was last being used:
Provided that—
The use of land for the purpose of agriculture, whether as arable, meadow, pasture ground or orchard, or for the purposes of a plantation or a wood, or for the growth of saleable underwood, and the use for any of those purposes of any building occupied together with land so used, shall not be deemed to be a development of that land or building."
That is my difficulty here.

Let me put a simple case. Suppose somebody applies for permission to develop a piece of land as a building estate and that piece of land has trees on it, and in course of development of plans he submits he is going to destroy all these trees, is that development or not?

I should say that within the meaning of the Act the 'building of houses is development. But you have to look at each case on its merits, and if it meant the wholesale destruction of beautiful trees, one should look at it very carefully.

That is the whole point. In so far as the trees would be cut down for the purposes of building houses it is quite another thing, but the Clause itself goes to the extent of preserving single groups of trees and parks and so on which would not be affected by development at all. If it were merely a question of taking into consideration the amenities of trees before land is needed, then that is something to be looked at, but the powers sought in this Clause will not fit. I will give an assurance to the Corn- mittee—I am much interested in what has been said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton)—that I will have another look at this and see whether there is anything we can do about it. I am sure that we cannot do anything in this Clause, but we will see what we can do. If we cannot do it in this Bill, we shall very carefully consider what powers are necessary in future legislation to enable us to carry out this beneficent object.

We should all be grateful to hear of my right hon. Friend's willingness to agree to the suggestion that he should consult with his right hon. and gallant Friend the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, as it really is very important, for the Forestry Commission own a great deal of land within areas around London which is likely to be subject to this Bill and to interim or development Orders. It is very important that he should consult with the Chairman of the Forestry Commission and see whether something can be done.

I have already had several close consultations with the Chairman of the Forestry Commission on the general aspect that my right hon. Friend has raised, and I shall of course continue to co-operate as closely as I can with this very important body from my point of view.

In view of the statement which the Minister has made, and in the hope that during the course of his consideration of this matter he will devote a little attention to the question of whether the definition of development should not be extended somewhat more widely in order to deal with matters of this nature, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.