CITY OF LONDON (VARIOUS POWERS) BILL (By Order)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th June 1962.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

9.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

I beg to move, to leave out "now considered" and to add: recommitted to the former Committee in respect of the provisions relating to Epping Forest which appeared in the Bill as originally deposited instead thereof.

I am aware that, by moving this Motion, I am asking the House to adopt a procedure which is very rarely invoked. I assure the House that hon. Members on both sides who have put their names to the Motion have not done so lightly, but with a full sense of responsibility for the course which we ask the House to adopt.

On 3rd April last, the Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading by the House of Commons. The Committee has so amended the Bill as to delete Part II. Having regard to the comment made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. N. Stewart) on the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, with which the House has just dealt, I should make clear that the deletion by the Committee of Part II of this Bill is not something which the House can allow another place to deal with in due course, because the Bill would now go to the other place without Part II appearing in it. There would be no circumstances in which Part II could be considered unless we adopt this procedure of asking the House to recommit the Bill.

Part II strikes out from the Bill what most hon. Members who have constituency interests in its contents would regard as the whole essence and purpose of the Measure. Without Part II the Bill is emasculated. While I accept that committees inquiring into Private Bills have considerable powers, I would remind the House that far the greatest part of the time taken on Second Reading was concentrated on Part II.

When the House gave the Bill an unopposed Second Reading it did so fully cognisant of the importance of Part II to all the interests concerned. On this ground alone one can only feel that there has been some misconception by the Committee of the attitude of the House to the Bill which they should be afforded an opportunity of reconsidering. The Committee has not dissented from the view that cattle straying from Epping, Forest into the streets and gardens of adjacent suburbia cause a nuisance and danger on the road. Not one witness called before the Committee seriously sought to deny either nuisance or danger.

What seems principally to have concerned the Committee is the practicability or otherwise of tethering cattle as a solution to this problem. The City Corporation admitted that it doubted whether tethering was practicable and Mr. Gerald Gardiner, for the promoters, said on the first day: It is not impracticable to tether a horse or the individual cow, but, so far as these herds are concerned, we would accept the fact that it will probably be impracticable, and that is why the compensation is being provided. Mr. Gardiner went on to say: Our recommendation derives from considerations which stem from the desirability of making no more alteration to the ancient rights than the necessity of the case requires, commensurate with a practical alleviation of the current problem. In other words, the provision of tethering meant that the City Corporation was seeking to avoid the abolition of commoner's rights The rights of common would be preserved for the future and for the benefit of smallholders and owners of horses and ponies, which are invariably tethered at the present time. In other words, without abolishing the general rights of common, the stipulation in regard to tethering was expected to prevent the current method of grazing beef cattle which has been the cause of all the trouble in the area.

Compensation provisions were inserted in the Bill to enable the losses of the active commoners to be measured. Any other method of limiting the free rang- ing of cattle would cause difficulty in regard to compensation and might restrict the business of the active commoners without giving them any opportunity of recompense.

The House may ask what other methods there would be except those provided in the Bill. It is important to recognise that the principal alternative method available, if the Bill or Part II of it is lost, is one which the Committee could not possibly have envisaged and which, in my submission, calls for its further consideration. On the second day Mr. Gardiner told the Committee: The cattle owner is in fact committing a criminal offence when he allows his cattle to be unattended on the highway. That is before it can get to the householder's garden. They are not strictly permitted to have cattle unattended, and indeed it would be a criminal offence to do so anywhere outside the green land. The "green land" was an area on a map shown to the Committee. Mr. Gardiner went on: It would, of course, be possible to stop all this either by so identifying them that everyone who suffers damage could sue them, which no doubt would make the whole thing uneconomic; or by prosecuting every time they are found outside the green land. It would be another way of stopping their common rights because they would have to have herdsmen which they cannot afford and again they would get no compensation.

9.30 p.m.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

Mr. Gardiner, from whom my hon. Friend has been quoting, was simply counsel for the promoters. That was said in argument and by way of contention.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

Certainly, and what he said was not disputed by any other counsel there and is not capable of being disputed because it is fact.

The local populace has never been told what Mr. Gardiner so clearly stated, that a criminal offence is committed when cattle roam unattended on a highway if that highway is not part of the forest. More and more, therefore, if local people who feel aggrieved as the situation at present stands are denied Part II of the Bill, they will tend to pester the police to take action. More and more the police will have to prosecute until the whole business of grazing cattle in this way becomes impossible for any commoner. He may find himself unable to common cattle and unable to benefit from the generous compensation offered in the Bill. I cannot think that that is what the Committee intended.

In terms of civil law, too, the Committee stage brought out the fact that some commoners insure themselves against damage done to property, but is is clear from the evidence that this insurance is based on the fallacious assumption that local residents have a duty to fence against the forest. That they have no such duty is now abundantly clear.

How this may affect future claims against the commoners or the future attitude of insurance companies remains to be seen, but one thing is abundantly clear, namely, that the active commoners themselves would rather have the Bill, the whole Bill, and its entitlement to compensation. The commoners are not among the petitioners against the Bill. The petitioners against the Bill are the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council.

Worthy bodies though they are, it is worth bearing in mind in the context of the Bill that the Council for the Preservation of Rural England has a national membership of approximately 5,000, including some local residents, that the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society has a national membership of 2,300, including some local residents, and that the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council serves a population of 61,000. Against this, 630,000 people reside in the areas of the local authorities of East Ham, West Ham, Walthamstow, Leyton, Chingford, Chigwell urban district, Epping urban district, Waltham Holy Cross urban district, and Epping and Ongar rural district, all supporting the whole Bill.

I have received a letter from the Town Clerk of Walthamstow, who tells me that the finance and general purposes committee of his council on 20th June, passed a resolution stating: That a Petition be presented to Parliament against alterations in the City of London (Various Powers) Bill in so far as it deals with Epping Forest, that the Common Seal of the Council be affixed to the Petition, and that the Town Clerk take the necessary steps to implement the object of the Petition, including the engagement of Parliamentary Agents. I understand that similar action has been taken by the county borough of West Ham. I have reason to believe that other local authorities concerned are prepared to act similarly and to seek to appear before the Committee if the Bill is recommitted. The reason that they did not act earlier was that they had left the matter in the hands of the Corporation of the City of London and they could not believe, after the debates in the House in February, 1959, and April, 1962, that the Bill could possibly be emasculated as it has been in Committee. I would urge that this constitutes another very good reason why the House should recommit the Bill tonight, since a whole body of new evidence can be put before the Committee in this way.

One suggestion was made before the Committee that I might perhaps mention. It is that grazing might be limited to the summer months. Such a limitation was, in fact, tried in the winter of 1960–61, and the commoners found it utterly uneconomic and were not prepared to repeat the experiment in the subsequent winter. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that such a solution would be generally acceptable to the commoners today, but even if, as has been suggested, this solution were to mitigate the nuisance and damage to property aspect of the problem, it would hardly help at all the road traffic aspect, since it is in summer, and particularly during summer weekends, that traffic into and out of the forest is at its peak.

In the Second Reading debate in April, I drew attention to the fact that upwards of 23 accidents occurred every year directly involving cattle; that is to say, about 10 per cent. of all the animals grazing in the forest are involved in a road accident every year, so that, if nothing is done for, say, a further five years, the House will be condoning that there should be at least another 100 accidents, every one of which could be avoided by taking action now.

The Chairman's Report to the House said: The Report of the Minister of Transport contained no recommendation". This is so simple a statement of fact as to be utterly misleading, because Mr. G. A. Barry, of the Ministry of Transport, appeared before the Committee on the fourth day on which it sat, and he said this about the attitude of the Ministry of Transport: My Minister's position is that his sole interest in the Bill is road traffic and safety matters, but in view of the fact that a good deal of evidence was produced as to the seriousness of the accidents and the question of who was to blame I think perhaps I should clarify the basis on which this Report was made. II rests on a very simple proposition, which is that there are undoubtedly occurring a fair number of accidents involving cattle. If some measure such as that suggested in the Bill is introduced, whereby the cattle are restrained from wandering on to the roads, that will automatically eliminate a certain class of accident entirely. To that extent, the Minister views this as a good thing from his point of view of road safety. We think it would be desirable, even if it is only making a small contribution to road safety, and I think that is all there is to report. All there is to report? Is there any Member of the House who dissents for a moment from the contention that if a certain class of accident can be eliminated entirely, this House and its Committees have some duty to take this possibility seriously?

Let me say this final word. The Corporation of the City of London has endeavoured to act as an honest broker in all this, reconciling in the best possible way the various interests involved. If this attempt fails, it can see no other way in which it can resolve the problem. These conditions must worsen, either for the general public or for the commoners, or both, in all the various ways which I have endeavoured to explain. I have sought to show that the introduction of tethering need not be regarded as a serious reason for rejecting Part H of the Bill. If it would help the House, I understand that the Corporation would be prepared to add the words tethered or otherwise adequately restrained into a filled Bill to be presented to the Committee. It is my hope that this suggestion might help the House and the Committee out of any difficulty that remains over recommittal.

I hope that the House will agree that I have adduced sufficient reasons for asking the Committee to give further thought to the not unimportant problems involved in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Carol Johnson Mr Carol Johnson , Lewisham South

Tonight the House is having a debate of a rather unusual character as has been indicated by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey). It is as well that hon. Members should appreciate fully what they are being asked to do by the Amendment. Whatever it may be in farm, the Amendment is an attempt to treat this House as a court of appeal against the decision of a Committee of the House constituted by the House for the express purpose of considering the Private Bill referred to in the Amendment. The Committee examined the alleged facts on which the Bill is founded and in the light of the evidence submitted to it decided that the allegations had not been duly proved.

The first point on which I take issue with the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East relates to the importance which he attaches to the fact that in April last this House gave an unopposed Second Reading to the Bill. I wish to direct the attention of the hon. Member to the exact significance and importance of that decision. The hon. Member has misled the House as to what it implies. The position is clearly set out on page 945 of Erskine May, 16th Edition. If bon. Members wild permit me, I will read it, because it is against this background that the Amendment should be considered: The second reading of a private bill corresponds with the same stage in other bills, and in agreeing to it the House affirms the general principle, or expediency, of the measure. There is, however, a distinction between the second reading of a public and of a private bill: a public bill being founded on reasons of state policy, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and affirms those reasons; but the expediency of a private Dill, being mainly founded upon allegations of fact, which have not yet been proved, the House, in agreement to its second reading, affirms the principle of the bill conditionally, and subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee. When we turn to the findings of the Committee, we discover that in the conclusions of the Committee the Chairman dealt specifically with the aspect of the matter relating to Part II and Epping Forest. He said that the Committee find that so much of the Preamble as relates to Part II, Epping Forest. has not been proved. It is against that decision that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East and those associated with him are appealing to the House.

I would remind the House that that decision was arrived at by a Committee which sat for four days and heard eighteen witnesses as well as representatives of Government Departments, and which was assisted by counsel for the promoters and for the petitioners. I think the last point important, for it cannot be argued that the Committee was not fully informed on the legal aspects of the matters contained in the Bill. In fact, one of the members of the Committee put this point specifically at one stage by saying: Can I be quite certain that if either Counsel misleads us on law the other one challenges? That was apparently agreed. It cannot therefore be argued either that the facts were not fully before the Committee or that there was any misdirection on the law relating to them.

In those circumstances, there appears to be no case in support of the Amendment, and there is no precedent in recent years which can be called in aid. The position seems to be completely covered by the statement in Erskine May where on page 986 with reference to Private Bills it says: This course, however, of recommitting a bill of which the committee have reported the preamble 'not proved'"— which is the case in relation to the City of London (General Powers) Bill— is unusual and requires a strong case to be made out for its adoption. I submit that the hon. Gentleman has completely failed to produce any such strong case.

Moreover, even if the House were to agree to a recommittal, this would not in itself achieve any useful purpose, for in the absence of any specific direction to the Committee, the Committee presumably would come to the same decision as before, but it would have this unfortunate effect from the point of view both of the promoters and the petitioners against the Bill, that they would be put to a good deal of additional expense.

The petitioners took pains to see that all the available evidence was before the Committee, and one would surely be entitled to assume that the City Corporation did the same. From remarks made by the hon. Gentleman this evening, it appears that that they have had second thoughts and now wish to submit other considerations, but surely it is not for this House to provide them with that facility.

9.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

It is not the City of London Corporation which has had second thoughts and wishes to submit further evidence, but other local authorities.

Photo of Mr Carol Johnson Mr Carol Johnson , Lewisham South

If that is so, this would surely be a never-ending process? It seems to me that the solution is to be found in the words used by the Chairman of the Committee. He indicated clearly the way out for the promoters. When announcing the decision of the Committee, after referring to the findings of the Committee that the Preamble relating to Epping Forest had not been proved, he said: The Committee recognise the situation in which the City Corporation find themselves but are compelled to have regard to the fact that the only solution afforded in the Bill refers to tethering and that other possible solutions have not been sufficiently considered and discussed with the interested parties In that connection, one of the witnesses for the petitioners—and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East omitted to say that one commoner was opposed to the Bill and gave evidence against it —made a number of constructive suggestions dealing with the problems raised by the Bill. These should certainly be looked at. When this has been done and the consultations suggested by the Chairman of the Committee have taken place, the City Corporation might like to consider coming to Parliament again with a Bill drafted on different lines and one which will not arouse the opposition which the present Bill has done. This cannot be done this Session, however, and the promoters should not be encouraged to believe that if they dislike the findings of a Committee of this House, they can come and ask that the Committee should be instructed to have second thoughts or consider something that the promoters failed to put before the Committee in the first instance.

I hope, therefore, that for all these reasons the hon. Member will withdraw his Motion or that, if he does not withdraw it. the House will show its confidence in the Committee by refusing to create a precedent which can only undermine the whole of the present system for dealing with Private Bills.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

I rise to express the same point of view as has been put by the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson). I listened with some surprise to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey). He dealt—I am sure, with the utmost sincerity—with the question of merit as to whether the tethering of these cattle was a good or bad thing or the right or wrong solution to the problem which one finds in Epping Forest.

That is not a matter that we ought to go into in any way tonight. The issue surely arises on a clear question of principle and procedure. Like the hon. Member for Lewisham, South, I am a member of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, which lodged a petition objecting to these Causes in conjunction with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council. I took no part in the Second Reading debate, however, because I did not think that my view on the tethering of cattle in Epping Forest was of great value to the House.

This is precisely the sort of matter which, under our Private Bill procedure, is properly left to decision in Committee after the hearing of evidence from witnesses, arguments from counsel and all the rest, by a semi-judicial procedure. I thought that the Commons Society had decided rightly, like the other objectors, to make its objection through counsel and witnesses before the Private Bill Committee.

I shall not say anything tonight about the merits. This House sets up a procedure for Private Bills and says to people, "This Bill does not go through Committee of the whole House or a Standing Committee. it is no good writing to your Member about this. We have appointed four of our number and you must lodge a petition in a formal way and come before those Members on a certain day with your counsel and witnesses, and they will listen to everything which you have to say and decide on our behalf upon these detailed points Which arise on a Private Bill".

That is what happened here. The parties came and incurred great expense. The hearing lasted four days, with leading counsel on both sides. Eighteen witnesses were called and the whole matter was thrashed out by people who had local and expert knowledge of the issues raised. At the end of that process, when our colleagues to whom the matter has been remitted decide in our name that one side has prevailed and the other has failed, is it to be decided to sweep all that aside and to cancel the proceedings for no other reason than that the result is disagreeable to those who have failed, possibly unexpectedly for some of them?

What way is it to treat petitioners and objectors by saying, "Of course, if you incur this expense and trouble and fail, the proceedings shall stand, but if you go through this process and succeed, we will set it aside without hearing evidence. We will not hear the witnesses or the arguments, but we will simply set it aside upon a debate held at ten o'clock at night in a rather thin House". Is that the way to carry on our Private Bill procedure? I ask the House to consider whether this is a responsible process upon which we are asked to embark tonight.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton

May I ask the hon. Member this simple question? Am I to assume by his argument that, automatically, whatever comes from a Committee must be accepted quite blindly by this House?

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

If the hon. Member had sat on and listened, that was obviously the next point in my argument to which I was coming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East is not asking us to do something that has never been done before in the history of this House, but is asking us to do something which has been done only on the rarest of occasions. As far as I know, judging from Erskine May, it has not been done since 1913—and never for this sort of reason. The only time that the House in the past has recommitted a Bill from a Private Bill Committee has been for some quite special reason and never upon the ground that it was surprised by or did not agree with the result.

May I tell the House the sort of occasion upon which this has been done? The last occasion was in 1913 when, owing to the lateness of the Bill in the Session the promoters decided to withdraw it and the Private Bill Committee therefore reported that the Preamble was not proved. The House then recommitted the Bill, giving the Committee power to split it into two Bills, one containing the unopposed provisions and the other containing the opposed provisions, so that it could pass a Bill containing only the unopposed provisions in the short time left in the Session and stand the others over for some later procedure.

There was another occasion in the same year where the Committee itself, having before it the interesting question whether East Ham should be constituted a county borough, decided that this raised novel and important questions of general principle and invited the House to discuss them and to recommit the Bill, if it thought fit, for further consideration by the Committee. The initiative was taken by the Private Bill Committee saying to the House, "We should like the reinforcement of a public debate in the House on this issue."

The occasion before that was in 1902, when the Committee reported that the Preamble was not proved and the House picked out some unopposed Clauses of the Bill and said, "We will recommit the Bill to you in respect of the unopposed parts and you can pass that, but where you have found against the promoters and in favour of the objectors, that will remain cut out".

There are only about another six precedents in the whole history of the House, and on every occasion all that the House has done has been to let unopposed Clauses go through by a process of recommittal where it felt that the Bill was separable and the Private Bill Committee had rejected the whole Bill but the House thought that some of the unopposed parts might go through on their own.

That is the history of this procedure. The House is being asked tonight to do something which it has not done for the last 100 to 120 years—to cancel the proceedings before a Private Bill Committee in which the objectors have succeeded and to tell them that they have wasted their time. If this Bill went back to the Committee, without instruction, in respect of these Clauses, I suppose that the whole process would have to be gone through again, with counsel and 18 witnesses. It would be impossible for the objectors to recover their costs because the Clause has been struck out, and if it were put in again it would not be put in for the protection of the objectors and it would, therefore, fall outside Parliamentary Costs Acts. That is the sort of hardship which occurs if one starts to monkey about with well-established and understood procedure.

That being the background, what are the reasons which my hon. Friend put forward why we should take this dramatic and outrageous step? The Walthamstow Council and one other borough——

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

That makes it worse. They did not realise that the objectors might succeed. They knew that petitions had been lodged by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons Society, the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.Proceedings on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill set down for consideration at Seven o'clock this evening by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House). —[Mr. Vane.]

Question again proposed.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

They knew that these substantial and important bodies had lodged their petitions, would be represented by distinguished counsel and would call their witnesses. But they thought, apparently, that there was no chance of their succeeding, and so they did not bother to come along and support the Corporation of London. Now the House is asked to take this extraordinary step so that they may come along and give some evidence which they had every chance of giving before but did not bother to give. That is the essence of the matter.

The City of London called five witnesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthaingtow, East also attended as a witness in support of the Bill and these Clauses and, I believe, read letters from constituents about what the cattle had done to their gardens. If that was not hearsay, I should like to know what is. If those letters could not be cross-examined, they were indeed what the soldier said. I was not present, but I have heard—this is hearsay too—that the other witnesses for the City of London also took it a bit in their stride and thought that it would be a romp, and the result was that they did not prove their Preamble. So now they come to the House and say, "Please give us another chance to go through it again. We can do better this time."

I ask the House to treat this Motion on that ground, and that ground only. as one affecting almost the decency of our procedure. It would be an outrage, a most deplorable precedent and complete departure from our long-established practice if this were to be done in this case and for these reasons. I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion and to affirm its support of those hon. Members who, on the Private Bill Committee, have discharged the function which the House entrusted to them.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton

Nothing said by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) alters the fact that the House is the final authority and that whatever deliberations the Committees may have had and whatever conclusions they may have reached, good or bad, in the end they have to be endorsed or rejected by the House.

It may well be—I do not know—that the various authorities which have been mentioned tonight have not fulfilled their obligations as they should have done. Maybe the hon. Member is correct about that; I do not know. All I can say is that the Bill, originally promoted by the City of London authority, concerns not really the City of London but our constituents—the constituents of my area, of Walthamstow where I live, and of other adjacent areas. It seems monstrous and almost fantastic that the overwhelming opinion of thousands of citizens in those urban areas should be put on one side, in the interests of either administrative nicety or of bodies with ulterior purposes.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

I must ask the hon. Member to explain what he means by "ulterior purposes". That is a most opprobrious phrase.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton

Impatient as 1 was with the hon. Member, I will enlighten him in due course. Before I explain what I mean by "organisations with ulterior purposes", I would stress again the fact that although my name is not attached to the Amendment, that is not because I lack any sympathy with it. It was through an oversight that my name was not given in. I also recognise that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) have borne the brunt of the struggle.

I return to the fact that we have this astonishing position that, irrespective of whatever the City of London may desire, the overwhelming majority of citizens in all the areas named tonight, with the single exception of Wanstead and Woodford, want this restriction imposed on the cattle.

I have said that there are bodies with what I think are ulterior motives. I turn now to those who have made a statement about this Bill. The statement is on behalf not only of Wanstead and Woodford Corporation but also on behalf of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. When I spoke of ulterior motives, I meant it in an inoffensive sense. I would remind the Council that my constituency is not rural, nor are any of the constituencies represented here tonight in this House. They are all urban areas, and, that being so, I want to know what business the Council has with purely urban areas.

Photo of Mr Carol Johnson Mr Carol Johnson , Lewisham South

If my hon. Friend would cast his mind back 100 years he would find that had it not been for such preservation societies there would be no forest at all today. It was they who saved it.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton

I have every admiration for such bodies when they do the right job, which is for rural areas and not for urban. Many organisations perform great service not only in my area but in other areas. But that does not justify their intrusion into a province which is not properly theirs. That is one of the reasons why I allege innocent and well meaning ulterior motives in this case. They are misapplying their intentions in this matter.

Let these bodies get on with the task of preserving Epping Forest itself. No one is more anxious to do that than I am. I look at the forest almost every day I am at home. I am glad to be able to see it from my study window. It is on the fringe of my constituency. But the greater part of the 90,000 people in Leyton and the 100,000 in Waltham-stow do not live in an area with rural amenities but in an urban area. That is why I spoke of ulterior motives. What has the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society to do with this Bill?

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

It is interested because Epping Forest is a common.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton

We are not discussing the forest as such but the intrusion of cattle from the forest into urban areas. I have no objection to the cattle remaining in the forest, for that is where they belong. But I object when they come out straying into gardens and leaving behind horrible messes in areas not meant for them.

I ask those hon. Members who are opposed to us in this matter, and whose energy and interest I appreciate, to realise that if they were living adjacent to the forest, as do many of us and our constituents, their policy would be very different from that which they are pursuing tonight. They would have studied some other plan to get on with the excellent work of preservation of footpaths and of the cattle in the forest, while at the same time recognising that there is a situation now which did not exist even fifty years ago, because the urbanisation of these areas has proceeded largely in the last half century, although it began well before then.

Under these circumstances, a sense of proportion is needed much more than a blind opposition with external motives misapplied. I hope that that explains what I meant by the phrase "ulterior motives"—in other words, other motives which I believe are misapplied in this matter.

Everyone knows that the wandering of the cattle in this way is an anachronism. As I have said before, the sight of these bovine creatures wandering about is pleasantly rural at a distance, but when they stray into areas quite unsuitable for them, causing mischief and danger, then their freedom to do so becomes anachronistic.

I submit again to the hon. Members opposing this recommittal to have a sense of proportion and to realise that we are not opposed to the cattle in the forest but, that, owing to circumstances which did not exist many years ago, there should be provision for preventing the dangers which are now present. However earnest and sincere the hon. Gentlemen may have been who sat on this Committee, frankly, I do not have confidence in their judgment. We are entitled to say that they have not sufficiently appreciated all the circumstances. It may very well be that those who bore witness did not do justice to their case, and it may be that the various authorities did not do all that they could in this matter; but that should not impose injustice on our constituents. Our constituents are entitled to be heard and the weight of the judgment of probably 250,000 people, through their representatives, is entitled to be heard in a way that it apparently was not heard when the Committee sat for those four days

If, for instance, the deer in Richmond Park were to wander through Richmond and the deer at the other end of Epping Forest should ever be induced to come to our area and wander on our roads or in other parts adjacent to London, railings would be put up to prevent the animals from wandering through the streets and those who have spoken on behalf of these admirable societies would then begin to see reason. We plead that hon. Members and the members of the Committee should appreciate the great weight of public opinion in every adjacent area except one, and even there, I believe, there was a very serious difference of opinion.

For these reasons, I strongly support the submission made by the hon. Member, who represents the district where I live, that the House should depart from precedent—sometimes that has been done in order that justice may be done—and return this Bill to the Gentlemen who sat on the Committee or to others who might sit on the Committee, so that they could reconsider the whole matter in the light of that submission.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Gurden Mr Harold Gurden , Birmingham, Selly Oak

I was Chairman of the Committee which the House appointed to consider the Bill. I do not intervene tonight to discuss in any way the merits of the Bill, neither to be drawn into any discussion nor even to vote. The official record shows the action of the Committee and the voting of the Committee. I intervene merely to say that it is on record that all the members of the Committee were not unanimously agreed on every single point. Speaking for the other three members of the Committee, I say that it was a very competent Committee that did its job very diligently and carefully and took into account the whole of the evidence placed before it. Those are very important words in view of what has been said tonight—"the whole of the evidence placed before it."

No fault can be found with the Committee which did its job so well, whatever the House may think of its decision at the end of the day. It showed no bias at any time. None of the Members on it had any interest at stake and did not live in or serve the areas concerned. I am in a position to say that the hon. Members concerned feel so unbiased and wish to be helpful in this matter that the Committee is quite willing to accept whatever decision the House may reach tonight, even if that necessitates further deliberation.

It is for the House to judge whether there is sufficient or fresh evidence to lay before the Committee, because if there is nothing new and nothing which the House thinks warrants consideration, it is only fair to assume that the Committee might well reach the same conclusions. If the House feels that there is good and sufficient reason why the Committee should reconsider this matter, then the Committee is at the service of the House. It is for the House to consider whether there are good and sufficient reasons.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , East Ham North

I support the Motion for recommittal and I do so as a representative of the County Borough of East Ham, which clearly has an interest in this matter. We all appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) has just spoken. It is because of the way in which Committees, such as that over which he presided, deal with these matters and the care with which they do their work and the impartiality which they show that it is very rare for the House to recommit a Private Bill in this way. Equally, it is clear that the House has the right to do so, and no one has disputed that. There are few precedents. I was interested to learn that one of them concerns the County Borough of East Ham, on whose behalf I wish to add a little to the discussion.

The views of important local authorities which surround this area and which among them represent more than 600,000 people should be an important consideration in deciding whether this matter should go back for further consideration by the Committee. Last Wednesday evening, the finance and general purposes committee of the East Ham Borough Council considered this matter and made a decision similar to that made by the other two local authorities which have been mentioned. It decided to combine with other local authorities in the area to present a petition and to brief counsel to put its views in the event of the Bill being recommitted.

It may be asked why the council did not do that earlier, and perhaps it should have done so. But it was at least reasonable for it to assume that the City of London would put a point of view which would largely represent what East Ham Council had in mind. Secondly, because Part II of the Bill had been debated so thoroughly on 3rd April, and because it was in the light of that discussion that the House gave the Bill a unanimous Second Reading, it was reasonable for East Ham, West Ham, Leyton, Walthamstow and the other authorities to assume that Part II would not be deleted in this way.

It was to their surprise that it was deleted, and in view of that they are asking for the right now to put their own view and to brief counsel themselves on the very important points that they have in mind. East Ham has two interests. First, it represents people who live on the border of Wanstead Flats. The town clerk has told me that in eighteen months he has had reported to him ten instances of cattle straying into the gardens of people living in East Ham but on the borders of the Flats. Those were only the incidents reported, and no doubt there were many others which occurred but which were not reported.

Secondly, the borough of East Ham has an interest, as landlords of the people living in the Aldersbrook Estate, which is in the borough of Wanstead and Woodford. They have suffered greater nuisance still. The estate is an area with a narrow entrance, and if cattle once get in it is difficult for them to find their way out again. On the night of 23rd-24th January of this year, 25 cattle were in the area of the estate for some hours and did a considerable amount of damage.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I speak as an enthusiastic walker. I love the countryside, and I appreciate that people who live in my constituency, in a built-up area, derive a tremendous amount of pleasure from walking in Epping Forest. I am always disposed to support the views of the Council on the various things that it takes up, but it seems to me that there are occasions—and this is one—when it goes to a rather absurd extreme. In preserving the amenities of the countryside or of rural areas we must have regard to the rights of people living in or on the edge of those areas. In this case we must also have regard to the question of road safety. The number of accidents referred to by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) which have occurred because of straying cattle should be an important consideration in the case.

For all these reasons I submit that this matter should be sent back to the Committee, especially because local authorities representing over 600,000 people are asking that it should be reconsidered, and their views ought to be respected by the House.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I am sorry to detain the House at this late hour, but the questions at issue tonight far transcend the merits or demerits of these proposals. What is really at issue is the question whether the House should go back upon a procedure that has stood for scores of years and that the Bill should be recommitted to the Private Bill Committee in respect of the provisions relating to Epping Forest.

The question has often been debated in the House, and the House has nearly always come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to go behind proceedings that have taken place in the Private Bill Committee. I remember taking part in a debate on 4th May, 1949, when the Bolton Corporation Bill was before the House. The view that I then expressed was supported by the House in the Division. The procedure laid down by the House permits full access to the Committee by objectors, through counsel and witnesses. This Motion would strike at the very roots of this procedure. I beg the House earnestly to consider seriously not merely the merits of the proposal, on which varying views may be held, but the principle of the matter.

I am sure that it would be a mistake to support a proceeding which would tend to wreck the procedure laid down by this House and followed by us for so long in dealing with Private Bills.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

The constitutional objections to the Motion are serious ones. Nevertheless, they carry no more weight than this, that the House should engage in the exceptional procedure that the Motion asks it to embark upon tonight only in circumstances which are exceptional. The burden falls upon those who seek recommittal to establish that there is, for instance, as I believe to be the case, a body of fresh evidence which was not available to the Committee and which might well lead it to come to a different conclusion.

The Chairman of the Private Bill Committee, who has addressed the House tonight, has spoken with due prudence but in a mood and manner which hold out some encouragement that if there is a body of fresh evidence available it may well induce the Committee to take a different view next time.

Photo of Mr Harold Gurden Mr Harold Gurden , Birmingham, Selly Oak

I was careful not to commit any member of the Committee. What I said was that the Committee simply wishes to offer its service to the House if there is indeed fresh evidence to lay before it. but I said how important it was that there should be something more on which the Committee could deliberate. I would not for a moment wish to commit the Committee. or any member of it.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

The hon. Member is perfectly right. What he said does not in any way commit the Committee, but, if there is available to the House evidence that there were fresh matters, not canvassed last time but which are now available, I submit that the House should give due consideration to those fresh matters. I rise, not on behalf of anyone, but in the light of representations from West Ham Council in this matter. The contents of the letter I have received from the town clerk certainly indicate that there is information which would now be represented, no doubt with vigour, energy and ability, from West Ham, information which was not available before the Committee at the appropriate time.

It is not for me, least of all, to consider why perhaps greater energy was not previously applied to this matter, but the information available to me—and it has been spoken of from other sources as well— is that, for instance, with respect to the nuisance caused by the straying of cattle far more information is available now than was placed before the Committee. Secondly, in the matter of danger further statistical evidence is available that the straying of cattle causes serious danger to the life and limb of pedestrians and motorists and, incidentally, a great deal of danger to the animals themselves.

Some of those animals have been maimed and killed by reason of the excessive use and exercise of the rights of common made by those few whose interest in this matter—let us face it frankly—is commercial and has little to do with the preservation of rural England.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) said that fresh evidence is now available. Was it not available when the Committee considered this matter? Is this not another way of saying that the various local authorities backed the wrong horse at the time and now they would like representations which they could have presented before—at some cost to themselves, let us admit? That would have been presented on a petition which they would have paid for and they would have to brief counsel, and so on.

If it was available, then is it not rather late in the day to -ay that this much-advertised Bill —which had to be advertised in the local papers and went through all sorts of preliminary proceedings in which its contents were made very well known in the area—should be held up because they decided it was not worth while spending their money on it?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

My right hon. Friend will not expect me to agree that West Ham would ever back the wrong horse. On this occasion the simple fact remains, according to my understanding, that there is now additional information available which should be tested, both in regard to the extent of the nuisance and of the danger.

10.30 p.m.

I also admire the public spirit which the Council for the Preservation of Rural England applies in these matters. But if the sight of indignant and angry householders chasing, tattle from their gardens and indignant and angry sportsmen chasing the wandering cattle from the playing fields of Wanstead, which have been developed at great expense and are a great amenity to the public, if that sight of public anger confronted with this abuse of ancient privilege represents a picture of rural England that ought to be preserved, it is not my idea of an England that ought to be preserved.

There is otherwise a good deal of attractive zeal in this matter. I am not necessarily saying that 600,000 people cannot be wrong, but: there is a considerable body of feeling and opinion behind this matter. As there is evidence, according to my information, that a further consideration of it by the Committee could well result in the reversal of its previous decision, it is proper that the House should take this step. The House is the master of its own decisions. The House is supreme. The Committee, to which consideration of the matter was referred, is the servant of the House and not its equal. It is a delegate of the House. In all these circumstances, although I appreciate that these exceptional steps should indeed be regarded as exceptional, I cannot help feeling that we are in the presence of an exceptional case.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

How many innings does the hon. and learned Member think it ought to have?

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

I think that a second innings would be enough.

Photo of Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley , North Angus and Mearns

I ought to explain why I, a Member for a Scottish constituency, seek to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at this hour of the night. I was born in a house in Epping Forest. I lived in a house in a very lovely part of the forest for the first 25 or 26 years of my life, and ever since I can remember I have spent parts of each weekend walking or riding in the forest. I am sure that I love the forest as much as does anyone in this House and that I know it almost as well as anyone who has spoken in the debate.

But I cannot help feeling that the subject we ought to be debating tonight is not whether cattle should be restricted or tethered in Epping Forest. What we are asked to consider is whether the House should carry the Amendment which seeks to recommit Part II of the Bill to the Committee of the House which has already considered it so thoroughly. I am sure that the right line was taken by those hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Bell), the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. C. Johnson) and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) who counselled the House that we should be very unwise to go against long-established precedents in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) has made it quite clear that it is his intention that the matter should be referred to the same Committee. Indeed, that is the case. A reading of Erskine May makes it quite clear that the reference is a reference back to the same Committee and not a reference to a new Committee. This is the Committee which, as various hon. Members have reminded us, considered the evidence offered to it by 18 witnesses, a Committee which sat for four days and the deliberations of which covered over 100 pages of closely typed foolscap, most of which I have read with the greatest interest. I should be very happy to debate with anyone in the House whether or not cattle should be tethered in Epping Forest, whether tethering is kind to cattle, a good thing for cattle, or a good thing for pedestrians or anyone else. But that is not what we are discussing tonight. We are discussing whether there should be a reference back.

Erskine May makes perfectly clear the grounds on which there can be a recommittal in cases such as this. On pages 986 and 987 there are various examples, some of which were quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, where Bills have been recommitted. I shall not weary the House with further examples now. I am not a lawyer, but I think it is clear from Erskine May that the sort of cases where recommittal might be justified are, for instance, cases where evidence which was not available at the time has subsequently become available. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East has said that a whole body of new evidence could be put before the Committee. The hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) suggested that there is new evidence in the case. No one has said what this new evidence is. No one has made clear that there is any evidence available now which was not amply available previously and which could not have been put before the Committee if only people had taken the time to present it.

Recommittal of a Bill might be justifiable if the Committee wrongfully refused to hear evidence, or if it made its decision before hearing one or other of the parties who had a right to be heard. Recommittal might be justifiable if the Committee was misdirected as to a point of law. None of these circumstances arises here, and no one has suggested that it does. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South that if promoters of a Bill or Members of Parliament are able to secure a recommittal merely because they disagree with the findings of a Committee, this cannot fail to result in undermining confidence in the Committees of the House.

That is the case in brief. In my view, we should resist the Motion. To summarise it, being anxious to be as brief as possible, I put the argument in this way. First, I say that we should deny recommittal on the ground that it would serve no useful purpose. The movers of the Motion do not seek to give any instructions to the Committee. In my view, the Committee could only come to the same conclusion as it reached after hearing evidence for so long and examining the matter very carefully. It is worth noting also that any solution to the problem other than the tethering of cattle would be outside the Preamble of the Bill, so no one can come forward with a new solution. The decision must be on the question of tethering which the Committee has already considered.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am following the argument with the greatest interest. I was not born in Epping Forest, and I neither walk nor live in Epping Forest. I am listening to the discussion and trying to make up my mind about what should be done. As I understand his argument, the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) says that the House ought not to recommit the Bill simply because it disagrees with the Committee. If that doctrine be right, does it not make the Committee sovereign over the House? If the House, which is sovereign, disagrees with the Committee, is not that a ground on which we ought to send the Bill back to the Committee?

Photo of Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley Mr Colin Thornton-Kemsley , North Angus and Mearns

With respect, I do not think that that is the right doctrine. As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, this House follows precedent established by long practice and enshrined in Erskine May. The Parliamentary practice is quite clear. There are precedents for over a hundred years. No Committee of this House has a matter of this kind recommitted except on special grounds. Erskine May makes the point clearly: … when a committee have resolved that the preamble of a private bill has not been proved, and ordered the chairman to report, it is not competent for them to reconsider and reverse their decision, but that the bill should be recommitted for that purpose. This course, however, of recommending a bill of which the committee have reported the preamble 'not proved' is unusual and requires a strong case to be made out for its adoption. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, who spoke When the right hon. Member was not in the Chamber, referred to several cases quoted in Erskine May where new circumstances have arisen. But no one has suggested tonight that there are new circumstances.

I think that it would be wrong for the House to do this. It would break the precedent and no useful purpose would be served. In the absence of a new direction the Committee could only come to the same decision. Recommittal would lead to additional costs. It would be contrary to the practice of the House and undermine confidence in the Committees of the House.

Photo of Mr Edward Redhead Mr Edward Redhead , Walthamstow West

I have listened to the debate with great interest, and I wish to make abundantly clear that those who have subscribed their names to this Motion have done so in no spirit of disregard for the amenities of Epping Forest. We all represent constituencies where the constituents have a passionate regard for the preservation of Epping Forest, and it would be quite wrong to attribute to us a desire to destroy its real amenities. Neither are we opposed in principle to the exercise of the ancient rights of the commoners. We complain that in the exercise of those rights there is an intrusion into the rights of house holders and the users of the highway to their danger and damage. That is the simple issue of this Bill.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing the case which was put before the Committee, or is he producing new evidence? I think it only fair that he should state why he is asking the House to depart from precedent. Surely the only serious basis for doing that is that there is new evidence. This is a serious constitutional point. If the Committee came to the same conclusion again, would the hon. Gentleman make this speech again?

Photo of Mr Edward Redhead Mr Edward Redhead , Walthamstow West

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I think he will see that it is my intention to address myself to the purpose of the Motion and not to reargue the whole of the merits of the Bill.

Reference has been made to the peculiar interests of those who have petitioned against the Bill, and whose petition, so far, has been successful. I am equally entitled to point out that those who dissent are not opposed to the fundamental aspect of preserving the amenities and beauties of Epping Forest. What we are asking has been said to be unusual and without precedent. I agree that that is so. But I wish to submit, with all humility, that because it is unusual is no reason why, if the House is competent to do what we ask, it should not do so. I believe that there is a good case for the Motion.

10.45 p.m.

It is not correct, as has been suggested in the debate, that what the Committee is being asked to do is to cancel and set aside all its proceedings to date. What it is being asked to do is to take further consideration of factors which, in the opinion of those responsible for the Motion, have not been fully appreciated by the Committee, either because the evidence which we believe to be available was not available to the Committee——

Photo of Mr Edward Redhead Mr Edward Redhead , Walthamstow West

—or because no opportunity was afforded to the promoters of the Bill to apprehend that such evidence would be required by the Committee.

I do not want to argue the merits of the Bill again, but I am entitled to point out that Part II of the Bill, which has been struck out by the Committee, was the real substance of the Bill. It was only after a full debate directed almost exclusively to that part of the Bill, in which every speaker—six in number—with a constituency interest and an intimate knowledge from personal acquaintance of the difficulties and problems that had arisen of straying cattle, had spoken in that debate in support of the Bill that it was given a Second Reading.

It has been suggested that it would be wrong of this House to set aside the considered view of the four Members of the House who were appointed to consider this matter as a Committee. I respect those Members. I do not dissent from the fact that they judged the evidence adduced before them with great care and diligence and, as they saw it, with great objectivity.

I understand the sensitivity about setting aside the judgment of those who, however tong they sat, sat for only a brief time considering this problem while others of us have had it with us for years in our constituencies. Those of us who have been concerned in this problem as a constituency matter are equally entitled to ask the House not to set aside our opinion as lightly as some would argue purely on some pedantic view of precedent and constitutional legalism.

Photo of Mr Carol Johnson Mr Carol Johnson , Lewisham South

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the obligation upon the Committee was to see whether the Preamble was proved by evidence and that the Committee was prepared to sit as long as any evidence relevant to that matter was put before it? Therefore, it is unfair to suggest that the Committee curtailed the evidence. The promoters could have brought in everything to which reference has been made tonight.

Photo of Mr Edward Redhead Mr Edward Redhead , Walthamstow West

If my hon. Friend has patience to hear me out, I will deal with that point.

I make the point also that in the Second Reading debate, only one speech was directed in opposition to this part of the Bill and that it came from an hon. Member who lives far from Epping Forest and, as far as I am aware, has no constituency interest and, therefore, had no personal local knowledge of the subject. The Second Reading was accorded by the House without a Division in the knowledge that five local authorities had indicated their support of the Bill to the City Corporation and only one affected area had opposed it. That one, it was able to be shown before the Committee, had at an earlier date expressed great concern about the nuisance and the problem arising from the very complaints which have been made by the live local authorities who supported the City Corporation in its Bill.

Considerable play has been made of the quotation from Erskine May that in circumstances of this kind it is unusual to have a Bill recommitted and that it requires a strong case to be made for this to be done. I submit that in the circumstances which I have outlined it is no less important that a vital and substantial part—indeed, the main part of a Bill of this character—should not be thrown out, nor should the House acquiesce in its being thrown out, unless there is a demonstrably strong case for so doing, and I submit that on balance the case is not strong.

I have read very carefully all the minutes of the Committee. As a test of the strength of that evidence, I venture to ask whether the opposition to this part of the Bill, and the evidence offered in support of that opposition, was so strong as to lead the Committee to a unanimous decision to throw out this part of the Bill? We do not know what happens officially among the Committee. Was there no doubt, no hesitation, in their minds? With great respect, I suggest that the readiness with which the Committee now offers, through its Chairman—and I appreciate his position—to hear further evidence, if the House so desires, indicates that in the minds of the Committee there is not a unanimous conviction that the decision was right and that all the evidence has been presented to the Committee and has been evaluated by it.

It would be wrong for the House to acquiesce in throwing out these important provisions, particularly in the light of the knowledge that we now have that three of the important local authorities which are affected have decided to lodge petitions against alterations to the Bill. It has been asked, fairly enough, why these local authorities did not do this before. Hon. Members ought to appreciate the peculiar circumstances of this Bill. Epping Forest lies within the area of local authorities who have no jurisdiction over or responsibility for its management. By purely historical circumstances, that responsibility is vested in the City Corporation. It follows, therefore, that any legislation to deal with a problem of this kind comes best and, in the minds of all of us who gave consideration to the problem over the years, most adequately and most fittingly from the body which is charged statutorily with responsibility for Epping Forest. But it is not true to say, as has been said in the debate, that the local authorities which have taken this action did not bother previously to come forward and to support the Bill. That is quite erroneous. Every one of the five to which I have referred specifically recorded by resolution its wholehearted support of the Bill and fortified the City Corporation with that information, which I believe I am correct in saying, if not brought to the notice of the House on Second Reading, was made known to the Committee during its deliberations.

Was anyone to anticipate the kind of attitude which we have heard expressed tonight? I do not think that anyone can be blamed for not apprehending that the Committee would take the line which appears to be inferred from the minutes of the proceedings and which has been expressed by an hon. Member tonight—that a whole list of correspondence received, for example, by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East, or a whole schedule of complaints of incidents concerning accidents on the road put in by the police, would be discounted because evidence was not available to prove, as would be required in a court of law in a criminal case, the actual nature of the incident in every case. Surely everyone was entitled to believe that the Committee would be sensitive to the fact that a whole schedule of complaints and a whole list of incidents compiled over the years by responsible and authoritative people would at least be accepted as evidence of a very real problem and a very real burden of complaint and nuisance in the area.

I suggest with all due respect that some distinction must be drawn as between the proceedings of a Committee of this House in such circumstances and what is properly required in the way of individual proof of a case in a court of law, and that it is wrong to dismiss that kind of evidence as being no more than hearsay.

In view of the Second Reading debate, the nature of that debate and the decision in the circumstances at it was taken, surely the local authorities who are intimately concerned in this matter, within whose area the Epping Forest lies, were entitled to believe that they could rely upon the resources of the City Corporation, the promoters of the Bill, to see it through the Committee and this House without the necessity for them to incur expense on what at that stage, after all, would appear to be no more than the unnecessary negative procedure of lodging a petition against alterations to the Bill.

Be that as it may, I submit that the fact that they have now decided so to petition in the knowledge of all the evidence that has been adduced before the Committee must surely be taken as indicative of the fact that they have further evidence of direct character apart from local knowledge, for otherwise, believe me, they would not risk the displeasure of the ratepayers in incurring expense at this stage in order to make a mere demonstration before the Committee; and if they have such evidence—as a member of one of the authorities concerned, and without wishing to anticipate what I believe is the right course, which is that the Committee should have opportunity to consider that evidence, I believe such evidence exists—in those circumstances I believe that the local authorities should have the opportunity to put it.

I am asking the House not to dismiss this Motion merely on some pedantic ground of precedent, but to look at it from the point of view of the broad public interest of thousands of people in the area affected, for if this recommittal does not take place, if there is no further opportunity at this stage for second thoughts about the issue, the only alternative is that the problems about which those of us who are concerned with the matter have complained persistently over the last few years will not only be perpetuated but are likely to grow.

I would charge hon. Members to say —indeed, I would put it to the members of the Committee to answer on reflection—whether we are right to contemplate having it upon our conscience that we are insisting upon another 20 accidents a year which by this Bill could be prevented. Surely the toll of the highways is already sufficiently appalling that we would grasp for any opportunity to minimise it even to that extent?

The only alternative to meet this problem short of legislation—and if the Bill goes out now there can, clearly, be no prospect of legislation for some time to come—is for the City Corporation to introduce new byelaws which will fortify the average citizen with the means of apprehending those who have caused damage, of suing in the civil courts, of harassing the commoners in the process of doing so and of creating, in view of the legal opinion expressed unchallenged before the Committee, a burden which would be truly intolerable for the police, for once that opinion is widely known in the locality the police will have a very busy time indeed responding to the demands of aggrieved citizens who call upon them to enforce the law as we now understand it to be.

11.0 p.m.

For all those reasons, there is a strong case at least for asking the Committee to look at this matter again. In all fairness and in all justice, whoever was responsible and whatever criticism can be advanced in respect of those who now wish to be heard and who neglected to do so before, they should now have the opportunity to be heard. They can be heard only if the Bill is recommitted. For those reasons, I urge the House, as a matter of common sense and ordinary justice, to agree to the Motion.

Photo of Mr William Roots Mr William Roots , Kensington South

A number of aspects have been mentioned in the course of this interesting debate, but it is of some importance to look at the matter from the point of view of the promoters, as it is then apparent that there are unusual circumstances. The promoters, the City Corporation, have no direct interest in the matter. They have an interest as a responsible public authority and they would not wish what is undoubtedly a serious nuisance to emanate from the Epping Forest of which they are the conservators. We have heard no sort of denial that there is a serious nuisance caused in districts round about. On the other hand, as conservators of the forest they have an important duty to the commoners.

As has become apparent, they have sought to exercise their duties by giving protection to householders by Part II and by giving commoners the serious benefit of a chance for compensation as they lose part of their rights—as they will. It is clear from the experience of many hon. Members who know the district that the rights involve considerable nuisance, but are to be given up by one means or another. The advantage of the Bill, as I think, rightly, is that some compensation for the loss of these rights would be provided.

It is apparent from the decision of the Committee that the nuisance would not be stopped and the compensation, which is of real benefit, would be lost. There has not been a single speech to suggest that anybody will benefit from the present situation before the House. It must be extremely unusual for the promoters to be in this position and for no one to be able to think of any single benefit resulting from the Committee's decision. The common rights are quite unaffected. Footpaths are quite unaffected, as various hon. Members opposite have pointed out. This has nothing to do with commons or footpaths which will not be affected in any way.

It is now apparent that to let the present situation continue is only to cause disadvantage and I remind the House of the undoubted public disadvantage in terms of accidents, quite apart from local residents and commoners. Surely, in that event, the only reason for not carrying through this procedure is that the House does it only in unusual circumstances. Can we say that there is all that on one side of the scales and, on the other, simply that

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.