HC Deb 22 February 1951 vol 484 cc1491-7

Amendment moved [5th February] in page 11, line 36, after "Crown." to insert: or the Duchy of Lancaster, and where there is an interest belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall."—[Mr. Powell.]

5.2 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Before I was interrupted while explaining this Amendment two or three weeks ago, I had drawn the Committee's attention to the discrepancy between the 1927 Landlord and Tenant Act and the Bill before the Committee, in that the former Act applied to lands held by the Crown in right of the Duchy of Lancaster and in right of the Duchy of Cornwall, whereas those lands were not covered by the present Bill. I was proceeding to examine the reasons alleged on Second Reading by the right hon. and learned Attorney-General for this omission which the Amendment standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) and myself seeks to remedy.

On Second Reading, the right hon. and learned Attorney-General said that special constitutional circumstances applied to the two Duchies, and he gave that as the first reason for the omission of those lands. But, if there are constitutional considerations which would prevent this Bill from applying to those Duchy lands surely they would equally have applied to the 1927 Landlord and Tenant Act. Therefore, I feel that the first reason given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, unless there has been some constitutional change in the intervening 24 years, can be set aside. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to draw a distinction, and said: The obvious constitutional distinction between the Duchies and the private estates, on the one hand, and the Lands Commissioners and the Government Departments on the other, what was appropriate in one case was not appropriate in the other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 391.] Subject to the advice which the Committee may receive from the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General, I submit that that distinction is a false one. So far as I understand the position, the lands of the Duchies and the lands held in right of the Crown are substantially in the same position. The revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster and of the Crown lands are both paid into the Consolidated Fund and the Commissioners of Crown Lands are responsible for the administration of the lands held in right of the Crown.

It seems to me, therefore, that the distinction which the Attorney-General sought to draw between the Duchies and private estates, on the one hand, and lands administered by the Commissioners of Crown Lands, on the other, is an entirely false one, and that lands held by the Crown in right of the Crown and held by it in right of the Duchy of Lancaster are constitutionally on exactly the same footing.

Unless, therefore, the Government can give much better reasons than those given on Second Reading for the drawing of this distinction, I suggest that we should follow the precedent of the 1927 Landlord and Tenant Act and render this Bill applicable, not only to lands held in right of the Crown, but to those held in right of the two Duchies.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not insist upon his Amendment. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, there are differences in the eye of the Constitution applicable to these lands. They are intangible in a sense, but the consideration which weighs with us is that the Sovereign is more personally concerned with the administration of the Duchy estates. But, however that may be—and that was a reason which actuated us in making this distinction, although I agree it has not been made in other Bills, though the fact that something appears in other Bills is not necessarily always the inexorable guide for a particular Bill—we thought it appropriate in this Bill to make this distinction.

But the main answer which I would make to the Amendment is that the distinction will really lead to little practical difference, because it is, in fact, the practice of those administering the Duchy Estates to act in a way similar to that in which they would have to act if the Statute bound them. The practice is the same as that laid down by the Statute, and it is the practice they voluntarily follow. In those circumstances, and in view of the different character of the interest of the Sovereign in relation to this particular Duchy land, we thought, although there are arguments which can be used on both sides, that we would in this particular case exclude them from the purview of the Bill, knowing that the result, so far as anybody was concerned, would be, to all intents and purposes, the same as if they were by name included in the Clause. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not insist upon the Amendment.

Mr. Powell

I have as great a tenderness as any other hon. Member of this Committee for the distinctive privileges of the Crown, and although the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General has admitted that by placing the Duchy lands in a special position in this Bill we are creating a distinction from what has been the practice in previous legislation, I propose, in view of his undertaking as to the practice of those administering these lands, to beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 12, line 1, after "Minister" insert "or Board."—[The Solicitor-General.]

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

Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)

When I was speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill, I raised a question about sub-tenants of Crown property, of whom I have a fair number in my constituency of North Lewisham. Their chief grievance cannot be dealt with under this Bill, for it is that being sub-tenants of Crown property, they cannot come under the Rent Restriction Acts. I appreciate that we cannot discuss that now but what is happening in the case of sub-tenants of long leases is that the lease is bought up by somebody else who perhaps does not act for the sub-tenant as the Crown wilt act; and while the Solicitor-General said just now, quite rightly, that he was sure that the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall would act in every respect as perfect landlords, the trouble arises when we get this intervening tenant. I should like to know how far these tenants are affected by this Measure.

The Attorney-General, when replying to the Second Reading on a much broader basis, was not able to deal with this point, but he kindly told me that if I was able to raise it on the Question that Clause 14 stand part of the Bill he would endeavour to give an answer. Therefore, I would be obliged if the Solicitor-General could say in what way these tenants are affected, if at all, because that is my difficulty. Whenever I have raised this question I have always been told that these tenants are not affected at all by this Clause. But because they are Crown tenants they might be affected, although if they had not been Crown tenants perhaps they could not come under this Measure. If the Solicitor-General would say a word or two on this subject I would be obliged. If, not being a lawyer, I am displaying gross ignorance I apologise to the Committee.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he says, and the question arises as to the position of mesne landlords of Crown property. When I say "mesne" I do not mean "mean"; I am referring to the landlord who stands between the Crown and the sub-tenant. I appreciate that that matter arises, but I cannot give any undertaking with regard to altering the relationship between the mesne tenant of Crown property and the sub-tenant within the scope of this Bill. I fear that is a matter which must depend upon reconsideration of the Rent Restriction Acts as a whole; it would not come within the purview of this Bill which has a much more limited purpose. That is the 'only answer I can give at the moment. This Bill does not affect that particular question.

Sir A. Hudson

I take it that it would affect a long lease—a 21 years' lease.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

In view of what the Solicitor-General has just said, I would like to know whether there is any difference between the case where the ground landlords or head landlords are the Crown Commissioners, and where the private person is the head lessor or ground lessor. Is not the position precisely the same, and do not the provisions of the Bill embrace the case—I thought they did under Clause 5—of the sub-tenant in each case? I thought we had made provision for that. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that that position is different from where the Commissioners are the head landlords, I should like him to elaborate it and make it clear, because it is an important point.

The Solicitor-General

The position can be stated, very shortly, in this way. The result of the decision of Clarke v. Downes is this: that case says that the Rent Restriction Acts do not bind the Crown, and therefore technically the Crown is not bound as against the subtenant under the terms of the Rent Restriction Acts. That difference between the case of Crown property and other property springs from the basic principle which was asserted and laid down by the case to which I referred, Clarke v. Downes. I can only say that, there being that difference which possibly leads to practical differences of result in the case of mesne tenants, we cannot undertake in the scope of this Bill to deal with that situation.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite following the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson). In the case of a sub-tenant of one of those houses which, by virtue of that decision, so far as the Crown is concerned, are not within the scope of the Rent Restriction Acts, surely the effect of this Bill will be to bring those sub-tenants within the ambit of Clause 5 of this Bill, in the same way as other sub-tenants are brought in there. Is that not so?

If that is so, surely I am right in saying that apart from the possibility of the Crown relying upon that decision to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred, the position of the sub-tenants to whom my hon. Friend has referred is exactly the same as the position of all other sub-tenants who come within the scope of Clause 5. So long as that is clear, I think my hon. Friend will be satisfied. I was a little alarmed when the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, as it appeared to me, that there was a real and substantial difference and that Clause 5 did not apply to that category of sub-tenants. It may be my fault in misunderstanding it, but so long as it is clear we are satisfied.

The Solicitor-General

We will look into this question further before the Report stage; but, as I have said, I cannot give any general undertaking to make any change. Clause 5 changes the Knightsbridge Estates case, and brings within its scope tenants who, because of that decision, would otherwise have been outside the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts. Apart from the effect of the Clarke v. Downes case which excludes the Crown from the purview of the Rent Restriction Acts, the hon. and learned Gentleman is right in saying that the effect of Clause 5 is to bring within the scope of the Acts a tenant of that kind.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said. I would only ask him this. As he has said that he will look into it, would he be so good as to inform my hon. Friend and myself of the results of his further consideration before the Report stage? If he does not table an Amendment to do something on this matter, and if there is a case which requires to be met. I am sure that my hon. Friend will seek to table an Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.