HC Deb 16 June 1927 vol 207 cc1333-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


On this Clause I should like to ask a question of the Minister of Agriculture. The Clause deals with leases, and I see that it states that: The Commissioners of Crown lands may lease any Crown land, or any easement, right, or privilege of any kind over or in relation to the land, for any purpose whatever, whether involving waste or not, for any term not exceeding one hunderd years from the date on which the lease is made or, in the case of a lease made in pursuance of a previous contract, from the date on which the contract was made. That fixes a definite term of 100 years. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) think that 100 years is far too long a period for which to lease Crown lands. Here we are acting in the capacity of a trustee for the nation, and the nation may find, within a very short period, that a time may have arrived when there is the utmost need for it to acquire the land in order that it may have the national rights in it. To lease it for 100 years would mean that those who leased it had some thought, at some time, of acquiring it for the nation. We would ask the Minister of Agriculture to explain why 100 years has been chosen as the period. If we can find any valid reason why it should be preferable to a less number of years, we have no objection to allowing the Clause to go through.


These are powers which are of the same nature as those enjoyed by trustees under the Settled Land Acts, and the period of 100 years which has been taken is a very great deal less than the term of years for which trustees under those Acts may lease land. They may lease land for 999 years. At present, however, the Commissioners of Crown Lands can as a rule only lease for 31 years, though for certain purposes, I think the term may be 60 years, and for other purposes, I believe, in connection with mussel beds and foreshores, the term may be, if my memory serves me, 63 years. But 31 years for ordinary purposes is too short to enable them to lease lands which require a very large capital outlay, and it is in the interests of the proper use and development of Crown lands that powers should be given to the Commissioners to lease lands for a term which will tempt people to take them and lay them out for purposes for which otherwise they might not be used. On the whole, it has been thought that 100 years is a sufficient period to take, without going to the full extent of the 999 years which other trustees have, and that is the reason why that particular period was selected.


On Clause 2 I ventured to raise a point in connection with the utilisation of tides, and I do not know whether I was the more surprised at the failure of the Minister of Agriculture to vouchsafe any reply, or at the failure of some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway to apply any pressure in regard to what I consider to be a very important question. Clause 4 offers the Minister of Agriculture an opportunity of showing that he has some vision in this matter, and if he is going to make any statement on it I will sit down and give way to him with pleasure.


May I answer the question then? For good consideration I will offer the hon. and gallant Member this answer, that tides come under the Board of Trade, and not under the Minister of Agriculture.


Why is he not here to answer?


I regret that the consideration offered by the Solicitor-General is not adequate for the few minutes of time for which I propose to occupy the Committee on this question. I should like to say that this matter with which I am dealing is perfectly relevant to this Clause, whether it comes under the Commissioners of Crown Lands or not. I read that in the Irish Free State a vast scheme of utilisation of the tides is under consideration.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRay)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has had his answer. Crown lands have nothing to do with tides.


The foreshore in nearly every case is the property of the State. It may not be in every case the property of the Crown Lands Commissioners, but it is not possible for the Minister of Agriculture to say in no case do the Crown lands own any coastal property at all, and there must be some property that is within their power to release to some private individual. My argument is that no such lease ought to be made, and I am asking that an exception should be made to Clause 4 in the utilisation of the tides. It may be doubted whether the tides will ever be used as a source of power, and I admit that science has not yet discovered the secret, but no one could stand as I stood to-day, on the Terrace and see the ebb and flow of the Thames and, if he has any vision at all, doubt that some day science will discover the means of utilising that power for the benefit of mankind. It is the duty of Ministers to look forward with vision to the future. I am giving it as a free suggestion to the Minister of Agriculture. I do not think, hidebound as he is by Conservative principles, he has any scope for the display of statesmanship at all. Here is an Opportunity for him to press upon his colleagues this simple, and as I honestly believe, important suggestion, and the time will come—it may be 10, 50, 100 years hence—when they will point to him and say "It was that Minister of Agriculture who conferred this incomparable boon upon the people."

Clauses 5 (Regulations respecting leases generally) and 6 (Regulations respecting building leases) ordered to stand part of the Bill.