Tuesday 7 November 2017

A seminar to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the ‘Charter of the Forest’ on Tuesday 7 November 2017 from 6.30pm – 8.30pm in the State Rooms of the Speaker’s House in the House of Commons.

Forging a Charter of the Commons

A joint partnership between the Shadow Chancellor, New Putney Debates and the Charter of the Forest 800 organising group, celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, first agreed on November 6, 1217.

The meeting, in the Speakers House of the House of Commons, focussed on the commons and the plan to forge new charters, inspired by the principles in the original charter.  One of the principles enshrined in the Charter was the right to subsistence. It was also the first environmental charter and the first to enshrine the rights of commoners to manage the commons. It provided a defence of the commons in general, and prevented enclosure. This fundamental part of the British Constitution stayed on the statute books longer than any other piece of legislation—and was only repealed and replaced by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act of 1971.


Hosted by John McDonnell, and chaired by him, in the magnificent room of The Speaker, with large portraits of previous speakers hanging right round the hall, the invited audience heard Professor Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto and Stop, Thief!, spoke about the history and contemporary relevance of the charter today.

Professor Guy Standing spoke about the current plunder of the commons as corporations and the rich used their influence and money to take over and privatise large parts of the commons. He called for a basic income for all.

Matt Larsen-Daw, from the Charter for Trees, Woods and People, set up by the Woodland Trust, spoke about the Tree Charter as being a contemporary offshoot of the original Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust had reached out to all sections of society to define the new charter as a people-powered movement for trees. More than 70 organisations and 300 local community groups helped to collect over 60,000 stories about trees and the important part they play in the lives of people. These stories had helped to define the 10 principles of the Tree Charter.


Julie Timbrell, of New Putney Debates, called for new charters of the commons to be drawn up with the priority being to re-claim and protect the commons. Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell-Smith, from Friends of the Earth, authors of Who Owns England? demonstrated their new on-line maps identifying secret corporate, often overseas, owners of large parts of the UK.

The meeting ended with questions, discussion and closing remarks, before wine and refreshments were served to all—with a few songs from the group Three Acres and a Cow.

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