HC Deb 24 June 1954 vol 529 cc574-8
23. Captain Kerby

asked the Minister of Agriculture what, under the terms of the agreement dated 6th March, 1951, is the earliest date upon which he can terminate the appointment of Messrs. Sanctuary and Son, estate agents of Bridport, as Crown receivers.

Sir T. Dugdale

Three months' notice is required to terminate the appointment.

Captain Kerby

Will my right hon. Friend give this firm three months' notice forthwith?

Sir T. Dugdale

I have been considering the whole of this subject and have not yet reached a decision. I will deal with the question more fully during the debate.

Mr. R. Bell

When my right hon. Friend is considering this subject, will he bear in mind that this firm on 25th April, 1953, wrote to the Commissioners of Crown Lands saying: We now think that if the land"— that is, Crichel Down— was offered back in lots to the adjoining owners the total price received would be about £21,000. Please do not let the Ministry know this.

Hon. Members


Sir T. Dugdale

There is no point in anticipating the debate on the subject.

25. Mr. Crouch

asked the Minister of Agriculture what moneys have been paid to Messrs. Sanctuary and Son. Bridport, as receivers for Crown lands in Somerset and Dorset for each of the years ended March, 1952, 1953, 1954, first, for management and rent collection, secondly,

Year ended Management and Rent Collection Travelling, etc. Expenses Architectural and Surveying Work Other Payments Total
£ £ £ £ £
March, 1952 603 245 1,003 374 2,225
March, 1953 860 170 687 131 1,848
March, 1954 973 153 394 102 1,622
28. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Minister of Agriculture how far, in view of the disclosures in the Crichel Down inquiry, he intends to review the arrangements obtaining under the present system of employing local firms of estate agents and surveyors as Crown receivers on a part-time basis.

Sir T. Dugdale

The Commissioners propose to arrange for an independent review of the whole system to be undertaken as soon as possible.

29. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will publish a summary of the observations and explanations which he has received from those officials criticised in the Crichel Down inquiry which have caused him to take a less unfavourable view of their actions.

Sir T. Dugdale

The personal observations and explanations from officials criticised in the Report were made at my request so that I could assess the conduct of those for whom I am answerable.

for travelling and out of pocket expenses, thirdly, for architectural and surveying work and, lastly, in the form of any other moneys.

Sir T. Dugdale

The firm are Crown receivers only in respect of the Bryanston Estate in Dorset. With permission, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT details of the amounts paid to them in the last three years.

Mr. Crouch

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there has been an increasing amount of money paid to this firm during the last three years, and whether it amounts to thousands of pounds a year or hundreds? Could he tell the House that?

Sir T. Dugdale

The totals are: 1952, £2,225; 1953, £1,848; 1954, £1,622.

The following are the figures:

They were confidential to me and there can be no question of publishing them.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a grave suspicion amongst many people in the country that the excuses given by these bureaucrats were extremely idle ones, and would it not be a good thing and fairer to the bureaucrat and the taxpayer who pays him that these excuses should be published, so that we can all judge how idle they are?

Sir T. Dugdale

I cannot agree with that at all, but I would like to tell the House this. The purpose of the inquiry was to elicit the true facts, and the officials attended to assist this object and not to defend themselves against specific charges. When I received the report criticising the actions of persons for whose conduct I am responsible, I was bound, in fairness to them, to give them an opportunity of commenting before I decided on my assessment of their conduct.

33. Mr. Crouch

asked the Minister of Agriculture how much of the £34,000 authorised has been spent on equipment on Crichel Down; and whether he will now give instructions for the work to cease and for the whole area to be sold by public auction, subject to the existing tenancy agreement.

Sir T. Dugdale

Apart from certain preparatory work, no expenditure has yet been incurred and no work is now being done. Any sale of this land would have to be subject to the existing tenancy agreement which contains the obligation to provide fixed equipment. I would, therefore, like more time to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Crouch

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I feel that in all quarters of the House his statement that no expenditure has been incurred will be very welcome? May I ask if he is aware that the majority of property, whether it is agricultural, industrial or urban property, which is sold by auction in this country is sold subject to tenancy agreement, and very little property is sold with vacant possession? Hence I do not see his difficulty.

Sir T. Dugdale

I cannot add to my reply.

Mr. T. Williams

If this 725 acres of land is to be fully and properly cultivated, and if buildings are necessary to ensure good cultivation of that 725 acres of land, will the right hon. Gentleman put nothing in the way of the Crown Commissioners to provide the requisite buildings?

Sir T. Dugdale

As I said in answer to the Question, I should like more time to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Shinwell

In the course of his reply to a previous Question, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of a forthcoming debate on this matter. Has an arrangement been made for a debate, and if so, is it to be in Government time?

Sir T. Dugdale

I gave an undertaking in reply to a Question earlier this month that there would be a debate, but as for the arrangements for the debate, that is the prerogative of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Hurd

May we have it clearly established that the Commissioners of Crown Lands are constantly dealing in land and are, therefore, quite free to buy or sell, and indeed particularly to sell this Crichel Down property by auction with whatever tenancy restrictions there may be on it?

Mr. T. Williams

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I ask whether it is not also a statutory duty of the Crown Commissioners to invest most of the money at their disposal in the purchase of agricultural land?

Sir T. Dugdale

The Crown Commissioners are engaged the whole time in the buying and selling of land, both urban and rural. They are really an entirely financial organisation dealing with land. It is perfectly true that they are in a position to sell land. But the tenancy agreement for Crichel Down contains an obligation to provide buildings and other fixed equipment, which may not be broken.

Mr. Daines

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will await a final conclusion from the 1922 Committee before he arranges the debate?