§ 27. Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that a recent valuation made in 1935 by the City of Westminster has shown that the ground rents of property between Piccadilly and Oxford Circus are secured only 1.1 times by the net annual value; and whether he will consider taking remedial action to improve the prospects of business in that area and to preserve the value of the Crown property involved?
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
Rates assessments, which are no longer accepted as conclusive for purposes of Income Tax Schedule A, are not normally a fair measure of the security existing for ground rents. Nevertheless, to help old tenants of the Crown, I have offered a scheme of temporary relief in cases where old tenants trading in Regent Street are in straits and are either paying a direct ground rent to the Commissioners exceeding 25s. a square foot, or, as sub-tenants, paying an unusually high rent to a direct Crown tenant who is liable to a ground rent exceeding 25s.
§ Lieut. Colonel MOORE
While thanking my right hon. Friend for his somewhat minor concessions in this somewhat important matter, is it in his opinion a wise policy or in the best interests of the State, of which Regent Street is an important part, that old and valued tenants should be driven out of the street because of the excessively high rents which still exists?
§ 30. Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the present amount of arrears of ground rent for Crown lands in Regent Street; whether some of these arrears are of several years standing and, if so, to what extent; and whether any action has been taken, or is contemplated, to remove the cost of these arrears?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The amount outstanding is approximately £150,000, including eight cases where the arrear exceeds one year's rent, in one of which the rent has been allowed by the Commissioners to fall several years into arrear to meet the 839 special difficulties of the executors of a deceased tenant. The scheme of relief to old tenants in straits, to which I referred in a previous answer to-day, will probably curtail certain arrears, but it will now be necessary for tenants generally to reduce their arrears as soon as possible.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
What is to happen to the tenants who are unable to meet these arrears, and who have been tenants in Regent Street for many years past?
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
Is the Minister not aware that Crown leases in the immediate neighbourhood, leased by private individuals and granted in the boom years immediately after the War have, in many cases, had their ground rents reduced, as they were not in accordance with what could be obtained as the rack rental value of the premises? Is it not wise for the Crown to take the lead in this matter?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The Crown has, in many cases, to be more rigid than private individuals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is one of the penalties of public ownership. I have been in communication with hon. Members interested in the matter, including the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) about having further discussion.
§ 31. Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his attention has been called to the fact that Messrs. Isobel, a firm of court dressmakers, employing 400 workers, is leaving Regent Street because to remain there has become an uneconomic proposition as a result of Crown rents being now out of proportion to present conditions; and whether, with a view to preserving the goodwill of this street in the interests of the Crown, any effort has been made to reach a satisfactory compromise with this firm which would enable them to stay?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I have seen Press references as to the reasons for the removal of the firm mentioned to another quarter 840 of London. The most important reason for removal, according to the firm's own statement, was that to a house which has no use for large window displays, Regent Street has become an uneconomic proposition. In view of this statement, I am not clear what steps could usefully be taken by the Commissioners in the matter.