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New Clause—(Epping Forest And Burnham Beeches)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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(1) The provisions of this Act mentioned in the next following subsection shall not apply to any of the lands under the regulation and management of the Corporation of London as Conservators of Epping Forest, or acquired by, and vested in, that Corporation under the Corporation of London (Open Spaces) Act, 1878, in the area known as Burnham Beeches.

(2) The said provisions are Part II of this Act, Part V thereof, and sections seventy-eight to eighty-four thereof.—[ Mr. Silkin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

There was in Committee a great deal of feeling that the City Corporation should wholly or in part be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. I promised to consider the matter sympathetically, and I hope that this new Clause meets the point. I have not been able to go the whole way with the City Corporation, for I feel it may be necessary to exercise the powers of the Bill in relation to the provision of roads. This new Clause exempts the Corporation from Part II, Part V and from sections 78 to 84, which are the Clauses relating to areas of outstanding natural beauty.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this Clause does not go quite as far as I, for one, would have liked. I raised the matter in Committee, and I should therefore like to say "Thank you" to the Minister for having met us as far as he found it possible to do. I had the support of my hon. Friends behind me, and I must say, and acknowledge freely, the invaluable assistance of the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), as well as of the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Bechervaise). The Clause is an indication of the desire of the Minister to meet the points of substance which were raised, and I acknowledge with gratitude his consideration.

I think you will allow me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to say one word to the Minister. I think he has been generous in meeting us as far as he has gone. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite has just said, it is not entirely all we wanted, but I shall be frank and say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has gone further than I thought he would go. He did not have the support of the whole of the Committee. I thank him on behalf of my own constituents, who feel very deeply about this matter, and also on behalf of the people of the East End of London to whom these areas of outstanding natural beauty are their natural playground. I pay my tribute also to the Corporation of the City of London who have done such magnificent work in the past few years in looking after Epping Forest.

I should like to express my disappointment that the Minister has not seen fit to accept what I thought were the very convincing arguments which I advanced in the Standing Committee on this point. I would draw attention to the disproportionate consideration that the Government constantly give to the City of London. We had exactly the same state of affairs on the Representation of the People Bill, when it was not considered proper for the City of London to be associated with Shore-ditch and so, as a special sop to the City of London, we allowed them to amalgamate with the City of Westminster instead.

The same principle seems to have been acted upon by my right hon. Friend in this case. I cannot believe that if this beautiful and important tract of country had been owned by any other local authority, say West Ham, or the Urban District Council of Enfield, that we should have been showing the same consideration for them as we are doing because the local authority is the City of London. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) was perfectly right in paying a tribute to the importance of this open space. All of us would deprecate anything which would damage that beautiful tract of country. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that there is anything in the Bill which, if it were applied to Epping Forest or Burnham Beeches, would do them any sort of harm. In fact, it is clear that it is extremely improbable that either Epping Forest or Burnham Beeches would ever be affected by the Bill, and if they were affected, I can hardly believe that it would be the fate worse than death which my hon. Friend the Member for Epping obviously had in mind.

Another aspect of this Clause comes to light when we read it in relationship with Clause 91, which we shall be discussing later. That Clause applies the Bill to Crown land. We find there, in subsection (1), the following words:
"The following provisions of this section shall have effect for applying certain provisions of this Act to Crown land, that is to say land an interest in which belongs to His Majesty in right of the Crown or the Duchy of Lancaster, or to the Duchy of Cornwall."
Then follow various categories of Crown land. In Subsection (2) we find these words:
"Part II of this Act may be exercised as respects any interest in Crown land."
Farther on, we find, in Subsection (6)
"Parts IV and V of this Act shall apply to Crown land."
It seems a most extraordinary state of affairs that we should be asking the House of Commons to exempt the City of London from the provisions of this Bill, and, by a special Clause, Clause 91, we should apply the Bill to land which belongs to and is in the possession of His Majesty. Further, while it seems extraordinary that we should be placing one local authority in a privileged position vis à vis other local authorities, it seems more extraordinary still to place it in a privileged position, vis à vis the Crown of this country.

As the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) has exhausted her right to speak, I hope she will not mind my saying a word in reply to the attack—I can call it nothing less than an attack—and the rather slighting references made against the City of London. I am a Freeman of the City—

—and I cannot listen to them in silence. There is no question of undue influence by the City on the Minister, as has been suggested by the hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood); it is in consideration of the long record of the City's association with Epping Forest. About 70 years ago the City took steps to free the forest from the danger of being built over, and since then they have spent a great deal of money on it and taken a great deal of trouble to keep it in the state in which it is now.

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say exactly how this Bill would damage Epping Forest if it were applied to it?

As I have said in the case of other smaller forests, I believe that a great deal of the association and the character of the forest would be lost. If the management passed from the present verderers to a central body which has not the advantage of 70 years continuing knowledge of the development of the forest and the operation of long-term plans—certainly there would be an interruption—it would be a great deal to its disadvantage. Apart from that, there are in the Bill provisions for erecting places of refreshment and so on, which I am certain the commoners of Epping Forest would very much resent. There would be a considerable difference in its status if the forest came within the Bill. The rather slighting references to the City and the City's association with Epping Forest cannot be allowed to pass unrebuked.

I only rise because of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). He mentioned that he is a Freeman of the City, and he therefore feels unduly sensitive, apparently, about the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). I am not merely a Freeman of the City but was born in the City, and I am also a liveryman of a City company. I am not, therefore, likely to be unmindful of the rights of the City of London in this respect. It seems to me singularly inappropriate that one of the reasons why the hon. and gallant Gentleman supports the Clause is that the verderers and those who have long experience of Epping Forest might raise objections to the provision of places of refreshment and other amenities for the enjoyment of those who may wish to take their recreation and pleasure in the forest.

8.45 p.m.

I said that the commoners would take exception, not the verderers. Verderers are responsible for looking after the forest and have long-term plans, but the commoners would object.

I think that is a reflection on the good sense and good taste of the National Parks Commission. I hope that wherever they have the administration of a national park they will have regard to the knowledge of commoners and others in many places where precisely the same conditions will exist, as, for example, on Exmoor, where there are rights of common and where the same kind of objection will be raised and we hope those objections will be considered.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe because I had always hoped that in this National Parks Bill we were doing our utmost to provide national park amenities and to make the beauties of the countryside as easily available as possible and as reasonably available as possible to the general public. I cannot see why Epping Forest should not have been just as available as any other similar area and why we should not trust the National Parks Commission in the same way as we are to trust them in regard to other areas of equal value, such as Exmoor, to the people who live there.

I do not know to what my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) is referring. There is no suggestion in the proposed new Clause that Epping Forest will not be as available as it has always been. This is a question of management; not of availability.

I am quite aware of the point raised by my hon. Friend, but the whole trend of the discussion has been that this Clause is welcome because of the special circumstances, and I say that the same claims could have been put forward by any hon. Member for any area in which he is interested. I could put forward as many claims for Exmoor, or The High Peak—

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.