§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have to inform the House that I have it in Command from Her Majesty to acquaint the House that Her Majesty places Her interests, so far as concerns the matter dealt with by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.
Crown Lands legislation comprises a long series of Acts, at least 17 of them, generally referred to as the Crown Lands Acts. This Bill opens a new chapter, because this is the first Crown Estate Bill. The name "Crown Estate" is more accurate than "Crown Lands". It is also rather more apt as a description of a holding of property which includes, as the House will realise, not only a large acreage of rural land, but also very valuable urban property, much of the foreshore around our coasts, some mineral and other rights, and a portfolio of Government securities.
The cardinal fact about this holding of property is that it represents the ancient hereditary possessions of the Crown. Its present capital value has been tentatively estimated at £50 million at the least. Hon. Members who have read the Report of the Committee on Crown Lands will remember that there were 1,422 manors or lordships recorded in Domesday Book as being appropriated to the Crown, besides other lands and farms.
The chequered story of the hereditary possessions of the Crown forms a key thread in the history of the financing of the civil charges of the State, which were 1556 formerly the Sovereign's responsibility. In earlier centuries, this story is dominated by successive alienations and resumptions. By 1702 there had been so many sales and grants that the net revenue was down to only £6,000 a year. However, an Act of that year placed restraints upon further alienations.
The hereditary revenues of the Crown have always borne their share of the cost of Government, as well as of the private expenditure of the Sovereign; so it was a natural corollary of Parliament's gradual assumption of responsibility for these obligations that the hereditary revenues should sooner or later be placed at Parliament's disposal. The date when this happened was in 1760, when King George III became the first Sovereign to surrender the Crown's hereditary revenues for his lifetime and to receive a fixed Civil List. The arrangement which was then inaugurated remains substantially the same today. The capital assets remain vested in the Sovereign; the income derived from the assets is made over to the Exchequer for the duration of the current reign and for six months thereafter.
Those responsible for managing the Crown Estate have, therefore, a dual responsibility. They are responsible directly to the Sovereign for preserving and, so far as possible, augmenting, the Estate's capital value. They are responsible through the Government to Parliament for paying into the Exchequer each year the highest possible net revenue from the Estate. Besides that, of course, this dual responsibility has to be reconciled at all times with the responsibilities of a good landlord.
During the reign of George III—I think it was in 1786—an inquiry was authorised into the state of the woods, forests and land revenues of the Crown. This inquiry produced a recommendation seven years later, in 1793, for the appointment of a board of management. Not until 1810, however, were the first "Commissioners of His Majesty's Woods, Forests and Land Revenues" appointed. They were reconstituted under the same name by the Crown Lands Act, 1829. Although the name and the constitution of the Commissioners have undergone subsequent changes, these arrangements have survived, broadly, until today.
1557 I hope that I shall give no offence to the House by saying that study of past HANSARDS shows that some debates on Bills relating to Crown Lands have been handicapped by a certain lack of knowledge about the Crown Estate. Most fortunately, that will not be true today, and for this both the Government and Parliament are greatly indebted to the Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. The members of that Committee said that they encountereda striking lack of knowledge about the Crown Estate.I must say that they candidly admitted that they began by sharing that lack of knowledge themselves. Their Report, which we now have, provides a clear and excellent basis for the Government's recommendations for changes in the arrangements for managing the Crown Estate, and also, I hope, for Parliament's consideration of these recommendations.
The Committee recommended that the changes which were necessary should be effected in three stages. First, the appointment, as Commissioners under the existing constitution, of a chairman-designate and a deputy chairman-designate of the proposed new board of management. These appointments were made last year. I think it met with wide approval when Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve was himself chosen as Chairman-Designate.
Secondly, the Committee recommended that there should be a short Bill passed to establish the new board which it proposed. This is the Bill, and that, indeed, is the main purpose of Clause 1. The aim is to provide a stronger managing body. The Committee, in the course of its work, investigated the organisation of a wide variety of bodies managing large estates, both public and private, and found that a strong board or council or executive committee featured in each one. It recommended that statutory requirements as to the size and composition of the board should be not too precise or detailed, and this advice is followed in the Bill. In accordance with the Committee's suggestion, we are fixing the maximum number of Commissioners at eight.
There are two other important changes made in the Bill, both of them in Clause 2. The first of these—and it is 1558 brought about by subsection (1) of Clause 2 in conjunction with Clause 3 (3)—concerns the future responsibility to Parliament for the Crown Estate. At the time when the Commissioners of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues, as they were called, were first appointed in 1810, one Commissioner was permitted to sit in the House of Commons. In 1851 that arrangement ended, but a general power of direction over the Commissioners was left with the Treasury. In 1906, fifty years ago, the then President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, as he was called, was made a Commissioner ex officio, and then more recently, in 1943, the Secretary of State for Scotland became a Commissioner ex officio as well.
The Eve Committee criticised the present system under which there are Ministerial Commissioners. It recommended that instead a selected Minister should have power to give directions—directions either general or specific—to the proposed new board. It suggested that the Minister chosen ought not to be any Minister with a special interest as Minister in the use or control of land. The choice appeared to it to lie between the Lord Chancellor, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and a non-Departmental Minister.
As the Prime Minister announced on 12th June this year the Lord Privy Seal has been chosen to be the responsible Minister in future. He is a senior Minister; he has no competing responsibilities as to the use of land; the office he holds has historic associations with the Royal Household. On all these grounds, I hope the choice will commend itself to Parliament. I know that the Lord Privy Seal is deeply sorry that his illness prevents him from being here today, and I must frankly disclose to the House that I am his understudy. The House is the loser by his absence.
So far as Crown properties in Scotland are concerned, the Eve Committee referred to the special position of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Under the Bill, responsibility will continue to rest with the Secretary of State for Scotland as Scotland's Minister.
I know that it is with regret that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food relinquishes a responsibility which 1559 he and his predecessors have exercised for just half a century—with regret but without complaint, for he recognises the force of the Committee's argument.
No new power of direction is being created by the Bill. The Treasury's general power of direction over the Commissioners, which I mentioned had been left with it by the Crown Lands Act, 1851, is transferred by the Bill to the Lord Privy Seal and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Treasury will retain its normal power of control over staffing and expenditure.
The second important change made by Clause 2—this is by subsection (3)—concerns the form of the Commissioners' annual report. The form of report required by the Crown Lands Act, 1829, is far too detailed. The Eve Committee had some pleasant and pungent remarks to make about this. It said:The reports contained a mass of now useless information and neither the woods nor the forests nor the land revenues could be seen for the trees. Over-control defeated its object, and publication—of the reports—has been discontinued—this is the Committee's own charming phrase—(without authority, but sensibly). …In future the Commissioners will be able to make their reports in the form most likely to be informative to the Sovereign, to Parliament and the public.
The old history of the Crown Estate is fascinating, but my duty today is simply to explain to the House what this Crown Estate Bill sets out to do. When it has been passed into law, as I trust it will be, and when the proposed board has been appointed and has got to work, the second stage of the changes recommended by the Eve Committee will have been completed.
That will leave the third and last stage to be undertaken, the stage during which the new board will examine and report on all the Crown Lands Acts from 1829 to 1943, so that further legislation may then be introduced to revise and consolidate them and to deal with any existing anomalies. I commend the Bill to the House, as the next step in a necessary and desirable process of overhaul and improvement.
§ 11.20 a.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I am sure the whole House regrets the reason for the absence of the Lord Privy Seal today and would wish to express its best wishes for his early and complete recovery. As between the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, it seems to me to have been a choice between suicides, for the Minister of Agriculture has hitherto been one of the Commissioners of Crown Lands and some, at any rate, of the Treasury's powers are ostensibly being handed over to another Ministry. I never believe in the reality of Treasury suicides, and for that reason I do not take that too seriously.
The Report of the Committee on Crown Lands, and the Bill which was foreshadowed in the Report, have been examined very carefully by some, but not all, of my hon. and right hon. Friends. We have definite suggestions to make. We must make them at this stage because this second stage limits to some extent what can be done in the third and more comprehensive review and Measure which are foreshadowed in the Report. It seems to us that there ought to be respectful attention, but not undue attention, to the position of the Sovereign in these matters. The position is that for nearly 100 years now the Crown Lands at the beginning of every reign have been handed over, as to income, to Parliament. The Sovereign is not concerned in any way, except possibly for a small particular connection with Windsor Park which forms part of them, and it is substantially a question of public revenue under Parliamentary control.
I am really puzzled about what has been happening about the actual management of the Crown Lands. They have been in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland—both of whom are only consulted occasionally—and a civil servant. I say nothing about the individuals concerned in this. I know nothing about that. I deal, as I must, with the Government, who are responsible.
Here is a property which is worth at least £50 million. The gross revenue from it is £2½ million a year and the net revenue about £1 million. Some of it 1561 is urban property, obviously very valuable, which produces more than half the gross rents. It produces roughly £1,800,000. The return from the agricultural property is less than £500,000 and there is another small figure for the suburban and miscellaneous property.
I do not know what to compare it with, because after all, this a very large estate and it must be run not in the same way as even the largest landowner would run his estate. I have found only one standard of comparison, and that is the properties of the Church Commissioners. There is a broad similarity with the kind of things that are expected—the proper conservation of capital and the largest possible income consistent with good management and the like.
I rule out the part of the Church Commissioners' property which consists of stocks and shares, in which they appear to have done quite remarkably well; their Report, containing a foreword from the Archbishop, opens in the middle to show a list of investments that would do credit to quite a profane investment trust. I am not for the moment concerned with that, but I have looked at their lands and other property. They have between £14 million and £15 million worth of landed property—and I am not dealing with mortgages. Their gross rental from that land is over £3 million and their net rental over £2½ million.
It seems to me a very strange criticism of what has been happening in the past that £50 million worth of property in the hands of the Commissioners for Crown Lands yields about £1 million net revenue in the year while the Church Commissioners, more expert at dealing in land, contrive to secure £2½ million net out of £14 million to £15 million worth of what on the whole appears to be somewhat similar property. In those circumstances, one feels a little inclined to be critical, not of people but of the arrangements which from time to time have been made, and one turns to see what is now proposed.
What is proposed, and proposed, I hasten to add by the Report, which the Bill follows closely, is the establishment of a board of gentlemen who appear to me to combine in part the office of trustees and in part the office of super-managers. It is in the latter capacity that the Bill, again following the Report, 1562 expressly provides that if these quasitrustees render professional services they should be paid for them. I view that arrangement with some suspicion, not, of course, of a personal character, but because it seems to me on the face of it improper that that sort of thing should be done, though I agree that the Report expressly recommends it within limits.
Next, they are to manage a diversity of things. This same, one board is to manage urban property in London. It is very valuable property. We all know about the Nash terraces and so on. And it is to manage agricultural and suburban and miscellaneous property, scattered all over the country. Thirdly, it is to manage the foreshore, a rather curious piece of property. Lastly, it is to manage the Scottish properties.
I should have thought that this was a case for some separation, at any rate in management, and I am not referring to the individual estate management which the Report recommends in some cases should be put in the hands of local land agents. I am referring to overall management. I should have thought that there was a strong case, if not for separating the board, at any rate for it to sit in different divisions and some of the Crown Estate Commissioners to be specifically charged with the Scottish property as one case, for instance, and the foreshore as another. That is the first point I have to make.
Next, I turn to the general position. During the last century, the difficulty about the management, in the interest of Parliament and the public, of Crown Lands and the revenue from Crown Lands has been, not the old difficulty that the Sovereign was apt to give it away in medieval times, but a new one, that the Government, unless carefully watched, might be found appropriating the revenue from Crown Lands in aid of deficiencies in the Supply of particular Departments; that they might, in fact, be using the revenue from Crown Lands to do what ought to be paid for out of the Votes of Supply. For that reason, there has been great anxiety to keep the two things very separate.
I do not imagine that anyone in the House will disagree with that. It seems to me perfectly clear that the important matter in Crown Lands, subject to proper preservation of the capital, is that an 1563 adequate income should be obtained—I entirely accept that. All the same, good property can be used, it can be managed to good purpose and at the same time it can be used in a way which is of some public advantage.
I notice that the reason the Minister of Agriculture is one of the Commissioners of Crown Lands is that in 1906 a progressive Liberal Government put him there for a specific purpose. That specific purpose was to assist the Government in carrying out their policy for the creation of smallholdings.
I am not for one moment suggesting that the present machinery of providing smallholdings should be altered. I am not suggesting that the Commissioners of Crown Lands should have anything to do with the allocation of smallholdings, the provision of buildings on them and the rest of the work that is done at present in combination between the county councils, on the one hand, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the other hand. This existing purpose, however, which has been renewed in the Agriculture Act, 1947, is at present insufficiently carried out.
There are, for instance, between 8,000 and 9,000 suitable applicants waiting for smallholdings and the total of smallholdings is only between 18,000 and 19,000. If one turns to particular counties, I know my own county of Northamptonshire, part of which I represent, and am well aware that the list of applicants does not represent all the people who want smallholdings, because many of them have given it up as a bad job and just do not put their names down. The result is that of 85 in that county, six only were provided—
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought the hon. and learned Member started with an exordium to the effect that he would not discuss the advisability of giving the Commissioners of Crown Lands any authority over smallholdings. I am at a loss to understand how what he is now saying is relevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Mitchison
What I proposed to say, Mr. Speaker, was that land is needed very badly indeed for smallholdings, that that is the difficulty which prevents the proper provision of smallholdings and that I hope that arrangements can be made, in 1564 the course of the proper management of the Crown Lands, to make those lands, as and when they fall available, usable for that purpose. To that end, I was merely indicating the greatness of that need. I have said all I want to say and I do not propose to return to it, except that I should like to mention one other corresponding need which is exactly of the same description.
I notice that in Scotland there has been a recent Report about the question of finding land for rearing cattle. It is Cmd. 9759 and is a Report of the Hill Lands (North of Scotland) Commission. It contains a great deal of very useful and valuable information that does not concern us today, but the long and the short of it is that the good objects which it is proposed to effect by this Report cannot be achieved at present because the land cannot be obtained. Some of it is actually land in the hands of the Commissioners of Crown Lands.
Of course, the land is let. I am not suggesting that leases can be broken or anything of that kind. I am merely suggesting that as and when pieces of this large estate in England and in Scotland become available, there is no reason inconsistent with good management why they should not be used, other things being equal, for useful public purposes such as the provision of smallholdings in England and the provision of the land which appears to be required for rearing cattle in Scotland. That is all I am saying.
Therefore, it is not only a question of managing the Crown estates properly, but also of using them consistently with good management for useful purposes. I see no reason why there should not be proper safeguards, if necessary in a later Bill, for ensuring that the revenue is not used to supplement Departmental Votes. We should all agree that that is entirely wrong.
One other question about the Crown Lands is the absurd anachronism of foreshore rights. Most of the foreshore belongs to the Crown; it forms part of what we are discussing today. To take one instance, the fantastic position is that the public have no common law right whatever to use the foreshore for the purpose of bathing or to go about on it for the purpose of bathing. In general, the only people who are entitled as of right to go on it are fishermen, in order 1565 to practise fishing. This occasionally leads to some rather curious results when somebody seeks to enforce that position. It is absurd.
Moreover, there are other points about the foreshore. The House was concerned not so long ago with the question of oil in navigable waters and large deposits of oil washed up on to the shore. One of the questions was as to who should remove it. In certain circumstances, of course, the oil becomes a nuisance and steps can be taken from that point of view, but the general responsibility for the foreshore rests with the Commissioners of Crown Lands as representing the Crown in these matters.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The hon. and learned Member is perhaps putting it too wide. Is it not normally the Board of Trade which has control of the foreshore? The Commissioners of Crown Lands have only a few parts of it, I think, around the county of Durham, the estuaries of the Thames and the Tees, and so on.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The control has varied from time to time. There is some Board of Trade control.
I now proceed to disclose a personal interest. Another thing that comes from the foreshore all along the West Coast of Scotland is seaweed, which is used by Scottish farmers for manure. My personal interest is that in attempting to use it I was told by the Commissioners of Crown Lands that I must pay them half a crown a year for the privilege. That really is not a very modern arrangement, and it is not a very sensible one. My suggestion is that the foreshore should, as regards management, be put in the hands of local authorities, who are the people really concerned. Of course that does not prevent the title remaining in the Commissioners whose appointment we are considering today, but it makes it advisable to separate slightly their functions as regards foreshore from their other functions.
My last point concerns the responsible Minister. Besides the Crown Estate which we are considering today there is considerable Crown property in the country. Some of it is the personal property of the Sovereign, with which we are not concerned, and some of it is in the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy 1566 of Cornwall. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with the assistance of his Council, has responsibilities of management and, in fact, manages a great deal of Crown property. The greater part of that income is paid over to the Sovereign, and the position in that respect is quite different. However, it seems to me rather absurd that if we are to have a non-Departmental Minister, as the Chancellor of the Duchy is in many ways, we should have not one but two, one to manage the property of the Duchy, the revenue of which goes to the Sovereign, and another, the Lord Privy Seal, to manage these estates.
As regards England, I should have thought that there was a better case for the Chancellor of the Duchy than there is for the Lord Privy Seal. I know that the present Chancellor of the Duchy happens to be in another place, but that is an accident of what appointments any Government may make and it does not affect the question of principle. I would not regard Parliamentary responsibility here as so immediate and continual that it was one of those cases where it could be said that the responsible Minister must be in the Commons.
What about Scotland? Here again I see no objection to the title remaining in the hands of the board which we are appointing under this Bill. It seems to me a remarkable arrangement that extensive Scottish property, practically all of it agricultural and sporting, should be managed by a board of Commissioners, probably including a Scot, but sitting in London with the Parliamentary responsibility only resting with the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I feel certain that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is proud of the way in which the Scottish Office manages large areas of land in Scotland, some of it under the Department of Agriculture and some of it forestry land. Therefore, I see no reason why, if the Scottish Office through its Department of Agriculture can manage a great deal of similar property, including the whole of the glen I happen to live in in Scotland, it should not also manage this Crown land far more brilliantly than it seems possible for any English Ministry to deal with the English property. The 1567 reason for that is largely because in practice the Ministry of Agriculture does not manage land here, except temporarily under arrangements which we need not go into now. The position in Scotland seems to be different, becaues there is far greater practice of management there than in this country.
Finally, to sum up what I should like to see. How far we can do it in this Bill is another question, but it involves some alteration in the arrangements proposed here. I should like to see separate management of the urban properties in England, separate management of the other properties in England, in both cases more or less in the form proposed here, the handing over of the foreshore for control and management to local authorities and the management in Scotland to be in the Scottish Office itself.
I put forward those suggestions to the House, because I feel certain not only that the present arrangements have worked exceedingly badly, but also because this is a very big step, and because we must be careful in taking it that we do not do anything which will prevent a proper settlement in the future of the management of this valuable property.
I suggest that we ought not to pay too much attention to the past. We ought not to pay too much attention to what are really only nominal rights in the Crown nowadays, and we ought to see how best all this can be managed, of course consonant with good estate management. I repeat that because it is right to repeat it—how best it can be managed to serve some public purpose and to remove some of the anachronisms I have mentioned in connection with the foreshore.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Of course I welcome this Bill, but I want to make a few comments upon it. I do not agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said about the foreshore. It is true that the subject sometimes has difficulty in using the foreshore for bathing as he would like to do, but he does not encounter that difficulty with the Crown. It is when the Crown has parted with the foreshore, either to a municipality or to a private person—
§ Mr. Bell
—that this difficulty is encountered. Indeed, if we are anxious to exercise the right of access of the public to the foreshore, we could not do better than preserve and encourage the ownership of the foreshore by the Crown.
I also differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman about the Duchy of Lancaster.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to point out to him that it appears to be the law at present that the public have no common right to use the foreshore, or to pass and re-pass thereon for the purpose of bathing in the sea, whether the foreshore is the property of the Crown or of a private owner. I can refer him to a specific case if he wishes.
§ Mr. Speaker
Whatever may be the legal position about the foreshore, I do not see anything in this Bill which authorises us to alter that position in any way.
§ Mr. Mitchison
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I submit that what we are considering is the management of Crown lands, and Crown lands include the foreshore. It seems to me that this is a proper occasion to indicate alterations in management which might be to the public advantage.
§ Mr. Speaker
In so far as the argument is confined to the question of the organisation of the Commissioners, the argument would be relevant, but what I am anxious to avoid, and what I am sure the hon. and learned Member is anxious to avoid, is that we should embark upon a fruitless debate about all the various purposes to which Crown lands could be put. It is a very various estate—I speak as an old Commissioner myself—and we should miss the point of the Bill altogether if we went into that.
§ Mr. Bell
I am indebted to you, Sir, for that Ruling. I think I am right in saying that the jurisdiction of the Commissioners of Crown Lands extends to the foreshore around Scotland. Inasmuch as the hon. and learned Gentleman 1569 has rightly pointed out that the law affecting the foreshore is the same whether the Commissioners of Crown Lands or a private person owns it, it is a matter of administration, and it was to that aspect I was turning. As a matter of practical public convenience it is preferable to have this foreshore under the administration of Commissioners who, whatever their legal rights in practice, allow the public to go there, rather than that some change should be made.
The hon. and learned Member regretted that the Bill did not include some provision about the Duchy of Lancaster. I disagree with him about that, first, on the historical and technical ground that the Duchy of Lancaster is not Crown land at all. It is limited by Charter, I think the Charter of King Henry VII was the latest, to descend to the Kings of England, but apart from the Crown of England itself. It is not held by them iure coronae.
I can only apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to anyone else concerned if I did not make myself perfectly clear. All I said was that it seems to me that the proper responsible Minister in England was the Chancellor of the Duchy. I pointed out that he has other land to administer which is, of course, quite different.
§ Mr. Bell
I had not followed that argument. As I understand it, under the Bill the responsible Minister will be the Lord Privy Seal. I should not have thought the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster a proper Minister to be in charge of the general administration of Crown lands. I certainly understood the argument of the hon. and learned Member to be that the land of the Duchy of Lancaster ought to be included in the Crown Estate defined in this Bill, and I am very glad to hear that he has the same respect for history as I have, and does not desire to make such an iconoclastic change.
§ Mr. Bell
I do not think so; it is the trouble between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself, a rather more modern consideration.
1570 There is, of course, the additional and more practical complication. I think I am correct in saying that the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster are not surrendered revenues, as are those of all the lands we are considering in the Bill, and obviously it would be inconvenient if we tried to treat them in the same way.
My first comment on the Bill itself is a minor one. I do not like the change of title of the Commissioners; partly because the title has been changed far too often already and it is quite a puzzle to trace the control of Crown lands back and find their powers, which are nearly all by reference from one Statute to another. Secondly, I think that the change will lead to more confusion than it will avoid.
The Eve Committee was influenced by the possible confusion between Crown lands under the control of the Commissioners and those other Crown lands held by the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Works or one or another Government Departments. I do not think that that confusion arises in practice, and I think the new title is more likely to be confused with the Crown Private Estates Commissioners than the present title is with those of other Departments.
Of course, when the Commissioners were set up two bodies were established at about the same time—in 1800—the Commissioners of Crown Lands on the one hand and the Crown Private Estates Commissioners on the other. At that time Parliament was anxious to avoid titles which could be easily confused with each other. I can see no practical advantage in changing the title at present, and I see considerable risks of confusion if we do so. Therefore, during the Committee stage I shall be disposed to suggest that the words which make that change be left out.
However, my main reaction to this Bill, and to the Report on which it is based, is to wonder whether an estate with a capital value of £50 million can be successfully administered in this way at all. The original Crown lands, as distinct from those which are the private estate of the Sovereign, are the ancient demesne of the Crown of England, added to through the years by the peculiar processes of escheat, etc. If one looks 1571 through the list in the Appendix to the Report of the Eve Committee one can see that the ancient demesne appears as a very small proportion of the total lands now held and administered by the Commissioners of Crown Lands. Most of what they have can, I think, appropriately be called recent investment on a very large scale in very diverse property in all parts of the country.
I share the view of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that it is most unlikely that that large scattered and diverse estate can be successfully administered by one body of Commissioners sitting in London. The hon. and learned Gentleman was primarily concerned with the lands in Scotland, which are an extreme instance of the inconvenience of this centralised control. But I very much doubt whether there will ever be any appreciable improvement in the return on this large public estate under the present arrangement.
We have been told that the net revenue is about £1 million a year. That is an exceedingly poor return on a capital of £50 million in real property. Admittedly, it includes some units like Windsor Great Park which cannot be expected to yield a high revenue, but it also includes a large amount of shop and house property which represents purely commercial investment in recent times. It is a quite deplorable return, and obviously the estate has not been administered efficiently for a long time past. I doubt whether the changes which we are making under this Bill will result in a proper return to the public on that large sum of money nor, what is equally important, the efficient administration of these agricultural and other properties.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he, or the Commissioners to be appointed under the Bill, should have in mind the consideration that some parts of this estate of a purely commercial character, especially where they are remote from the others, should be sold. They should be translated into money and paid into the public accounts in that form, and the commitment in real property of the Crown Land Commissioners should be substantially reduced until it begins to reassume its original character, which would justify the existence of this separate body.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I will try to confine my remarks to that part of the Bill which is an attempt to implement two paragraphs of the Report of the Committee on Crown Lands, paragraphs 12 and 16. The first paragraph deals with public control and the second with the responsible Minister. The implementation of these two paragraphs is by way of Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. First, may I make a passing reference to the title of the Bill. I should prefer to see the letter "s" added to the word "Estate". The title of "Crown Estate Bill" gives the impression that it is one vast estate similar in character which has to be administered, whereas in fact it is considerably varied and therefore it is a question of managing what in ordinary parlance would be called "estates".
There is no doubt that for some time we have had cause to be unhappy about the management, and some of the comments which have been made today show that it is not merely the particular incidents which received most public attention that have caused some uneasiness. In fact, there are many aspects of this problem which lead one to the conclusion that the control is not correct today. In paragraph 12 of its Report the Committee states:We have been asked by some of those whom we have consulted to recommend that the board should be given complete statutory freedom as trustees from all Treasury control, and an almost complete freedom from Parliamentary and Ministerial control. We appreciate and endorse the need for trustees to be independent. Parliament are however entitled to the whole surplus income during one reign. We do not think that any private person or public corporation entitled to such an important interest would give a blank cheque to any management board, however distinguished in membership. There must therefore be powers to ensure the possibility of control at least over policy and major matters of management. A specified Minister of the Crown should have power to give directions (whether general or specific) to the board, the Treasury should have a power of control over staffing and expenditure, the administrative head of the office should be accounting officer for the board's accounts and should appear before the Public Accounts Committee. …My right hon. Friend made it clear this morning that these two Clauses make changes very much in line with what the Committee recommended; in other words, that there should be a Minister, 1573 although we are changing him—about which I shall have a word to say in a moment—and the Treasury will be responsible for the staffing and management.
In the newspapers this morning we have had an extremely important announcement which gives me personally enormous pleasure, because it means that, apparently, some notice has been taken of a case which I have been trying to put to the Treasury for many years, that there should be some sub-division of the control over appointments and control over spending so far as the Treasury is concerned. I ask my right hon. Friend a specific question arising out of this announcement in the newspapers. When he says that the Treasury will now be, under this Bill, responsible for the staffing and the Commissioners will be responsible for the running of Crown land, will he say whether there are any appointments which he can foresee in the future which will be subject to the Prime Minister's approval before they are made?
At the moment, the situation is that the Treasury is the final official adviser, through its official permanent head, to the Prime Minister as to the making of certain senior appointments. Now, under the concept mentioned in the newspapers this morning, I understand it will be a question of the Prime Minister having an official head of the home Civil Service responsible directly to him, whereas there will be another Permanent Secretary who will be responsible to the Chancellor. I think that it is important that we should know whether the new set-up which is now proposed in the Treasury will mean that not only the Chancellor will come in, in his capacity as Ministerial head of the Department, responsible for staffing in the ordinary way, but whether also the Prime Minister will come in so far as approving appointments to certain of the senior posts for the purpose of managing Crown lands. I do not know whether the details have yet been worked out, but I should be grateful if the Minister would make some reference to this matter.
I think that the question of Ministerial responsibility has always been difficult so long as we have had a machine which is so big that obviously the Minister cannot know every single person working 1574 under him in that Department and cannot possibly know the qualifications of any particular applicant for these posts. He has, therefore, to rely enormously on his officials. We saw, unfortunately, not very long ago where, in this context of Crown lands, that machinery break down or, at least, produce a most unfortunate result.
One of the major purposes that will be served by the Bill will be to ensure that such an eventuality as the Crichel Down case shall never again arise. If that is one of our objects in this Bill, it is important we should be very sure that the machinery for appointment and staffing will be somewhat better than that which it is replacing.
Concerning the other paragraph—the responsible Minister—it has been decided, although no reason is given in paragraph 16, that no Minister with a special interest as Minister in the control of land shall be made a Minister to whom the Commissioners are to be responsible. I must confess that I am a little dubious about this. If it were true to say that all Ministers had a genuine interest in land, especially from an agricultural point of view, I would not worry very much. But we know only too well that, over the last ten years or so, rich agricultural land has been grabbed for other purposes in a very alarming way and one highly damaging to British agriculture. Of all the magnificent things done by the Crown land administration in the past, I should have said that the way in which it has managed the agricultural estates is probably the best. Certainly its pedigree herds are regarded as among the finest in the land, and an example to many. It would be a great pity if, by removing the Minister of Agriculture from this picture altogether, we were, as it were, to weaken the case for the agricultural part of the Crown lands, or, as we must now call it, the Crown Estate.
I am inclined to feel that there is something in the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) and of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) concerning subdivision. Is it really wise that we should lump together under one responsibility both urban and rural property? We know quite well that there is often considerable concern as to whether or not 1575 the Minister of Housing and Local Government is today the right person to decide the use of land. His interest is to build houses and so forth, and, therefore, to some extent, the agricultural people have to fight harder battles to keep agricultural land than they would otherwise have to do.
We do not want that situation to develop in connection with the Crown Estate. I would prefer to have, at least from the agricultural point of view, a Minister who has the agricultural interest at heart. We are very fortunate at the present moment in having a Lord Privy Seal who has the agricultural interest very much at heart, and I hope that that may always be true. We all, however, have our constituency interests, and the time may come when a Lord Privy Seal will represent a part of some great industrial city which wants to expand, and it may perhaps be very tempting to him to put a little pressure on the Commissioners of the Crown Estate to give up some of the agricultural land which they have been farming extremely well. For that reason, I think that there may be a case here. I ask my right hon. Friend to give an assurance that this matter will be looked into again, because it may be desirable to make some sub-division, whether at Ministerial or Commissioners level, for the separation of the two types of estate—the urban and the rural—with a view to ensuring that, so far as possible, the very excellent standard of agricultural management which has been set shall not in any way be worsened by what we do through this Bill.
My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that, as is shown in the Report, in 1906 the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries was made a Commissioner. That happens to be my maternal grandfather, but that is not the reason why I am making this case this morning. It is because I believe that especially since the Second World War, the increasing encroachment on agricultural land has become extremely serious. If we have the right men as Commissioners and if the Minister responsible has his heart in the right place, there will be little need for Parliament to interfere at all.
1576 Reverting to paragraph 12 of the Report, on the whole I am sympathetic towards those who suggested that the board should be given complete statutory freedom as trustees. Although I am anxious to ensure proper Parliamentary control, if an estate, particularly an agricultural estate, is to be properly run, the one thing we cannot do is to make those who do the work feel that they are serving no master, or are serving two or three masters simultaneously.
There is a great but avoidable danger that, if the position is not carefully watched, we shall have men and women working on the estate, particularly on the agricultural part, paid, selected and appointed by the Treasury and with terms of service decided by the Treasury and yet, in the ordinary supervision of their work, having to take orders from someone else. That is a bad system in principle. It may be that there are special considerations which make that absolutely essential, but I should like to hear more from my right hon. Friend in justification of that.
I certainly heartily endorse what my right hon. Friend said about the care with which Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and his committee considered the matter. The House is deeply grateful to them, and the only thing which I regret is that Sir Malcolm did not give a few more reasons for the conclusions he drew, in particular why it was decided that the Minister of Agriculture should no longer have any control over the agricultural side of the estate and why it has been found necessary to some extent to tie the hands of the Commissioners in choosing their employees and paying them and deciding in what conditions of service they operate. The Bill will provide a great improvement on the present state of affairs, and I am sure that we all hope that we shall never again have a Crown Estate brought into the public glare with all the unpleasantness that surrounded the Crichel Down Case.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I should like to ask one or two questions about subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 2, which deal with the powers the Minister will confer on the new Commissioners of Crown Lands. Before doing so, however, I want to make two comments on what 1577 was said by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He pointed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' Report and said that their finances would be a credit to a most profane authority. That is true.
At the back of the Report of the Committee on Crown Lands is a similar table which is as bad as the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' Report is good. The hon. and learned Member knows that the reason for that is that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have power to invest in equities, whereas the Crown Lands Commissioners have not. Is there any chance for the Crown Lands Commissioners to have the same powers as the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of investing their surplus funds in equities, instead of in strict gilt-edged stocks, which is the only way they can get similar returns?
The hon. and learned Member said that in Clause 2 (5) there were powers providing that any person holding the office of Crown Estate Commissioner and who had professional qualifications could receive such fees for his services. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member knows quite well that such a provision is put into almost every trust deed. It is common practice and is never abused. It works very well in ordinary commercial practice, and I see nothing sinister in it. It is a very reasonable and sensible thing to do.
My main point is about Clause 2, sub-sections (1) and (2). Clause 2 (1) says:Section thirty-two of the Crown Lands Act, 1851 (under which the Commissioners of Crown Lands are required to comply with orders, instructions and directions given to them by the Treasury), shall have the same effect … as if the reference in that section to the Treasury were a reference to the Minister.I am very glad to see that in this respect the Lord Privy Seal is taking the place of the Treasury. I regret the Lord Privy Seal's absence today and hope that he will soon recover to take his place in the House. The Bill gives him a small but very important job to do. However, Clause 2 (2) says:The Minister shall consult the Commissioners before giving them any order. …This issue is basic to the whole Bill. Have the Commissioners any right to refuse an order given to them by the Minister? All that the Bill provides is that the Minister shall consult the Com- 1578 missioners before giving them an order. Supposing the Commissioners thought that the order was unwise. Have they any power to refuse to obey?
I put that question because the financial statement in the Report shocked me. The Commissioners control not only land but investments. That has been my job in life, and it is one of the things about which I know a little. On an investment of £2,813,000, there is a loss at the moment of £549,000. If that sort of report were put before a private organisation, its members would be so shocked that there would at least be a demand for a change of trustees. The most important item of the £2,813,000 is no less than £1,146,000 invested in 2½ per cent. Treasury Stock 1975, what we call the irredeemable "Daltons."
The next thing that struck me was that 40 per cent. of the total investment should have been put into one irredeemable stock at par. Nobody but a lunatic would have done such a thing. I cannot believe that the official Government broker would have recommended such an investment. I was so startled by it that I looked up the 1946 Report, which shows that, prior to the issue of the 2½ per cent. Treasuries, the Commissioners had a similar amount invested in 3 per cent. local loans, which were redeemed, and the 2½ per cent. Treasuries were then offered by way of an investment.
At that time the whole City of London knew that this Treasury issue could not possibly hold its price. I cannot believe that any Commissioners who were free to refuse to take orders from the Treasury would have converted those 3 per cent. local loans into the new 2½ per cent. irredeemable Treasuries. On that one holding alone there is a loss of £425,000. This is vitally important, because Clause 2 (2) says that:The Minister shall consult the Commissioners before giving to them any order …Have the Commissioners the power to say to the Minister responsible—now the Lord Privy Seal, but then the Chancellor—"We do not agree with this policy. We do not think that it is wise. We think that this stock will fall in value, and we will invest in redeemable stocks. Nobody will buy irredeemable stocks at 2½ per cent. to be invested for ever."?
1579 The importance of the matter is that if the Commissioners have not the power to say that to the Minister responsible in the case of investments, it may well be that they have the same lack of power if the Minister responsible wishes to interfere in the management of the Estate. I say that because, if we turn to Table 2, which gives a summary of the capital accounts for ten years ending 31st March, 1954, we find that during that period sales of land amounted to £2,560,000 and purchases to £2,649,000. This was a swapping of estates. The greatest period of swaps—if I may so call them—took place in 1951. I should like to know why the figures were so swollen then. In 1951 no less than £799,000 worth of property was sold and £559,000 worth purchased. The following year it was down to about one quarter, and in the year after that it was much less again.
I should like to know whether the Minister at that time had any power to give orders for the change in general policy which resulted in these much greater sales. If not, had the Commissioners, under the powers which we are going to renew under Clause 2, the authority to say, "We do not like this; we think that it is wrong"? I agree that the Commissioners should be responsible to the House, as is said in the White Paper, but where financial and other matters are predominant I should like to know whether the Commissioners will have the right to put their opinions against that of the Minister, whichever Government may be in power, and say that they are not going to carry out the policy he advocates. That is a fundamental question, especially in view of the remarkably bad results shown in the last financial statement.
Paragraph 13 of the White Paper says:We do however respectfully advise that the board should be more, not less, independent than the present Commissioners and that they should be given defined powers and duties as trustees and allowed to work them out with the minimum of direction and control.Can we be assured that, under this very short subsection of Clause 2, that recommendation will hold good? If not—although we have not the relevant figures as we have in the case of investments—it is possible that the policy which the Minister might force upon the Commissioners will have the same disastrous 1580 result as it has had on the investment side.
It may have happened in the case of the conversion from the 3 per cent. local loans into the 2½ per cent. Treasuries that the Chancellor used his influence because, humanly enough, he wanted his 2½ per cent. Treasuries to be a successful issue. But against the par conversion at that time the stock today stands at 52½. If it is said that this situation is due to the present credit squeeze and the high Bank Rate, all I would say is that when the Labour Government went out of power the stock was down to 63, and one-third of the whole capital had been lost. I cannot prove it, but I have no doubt that at the time the Treasury used its influence with the Commissioners to make them convert. If the Treasury used that power then it may use it in other matters now, and it is against the use of this power that I want to raise my voice in protest.
Under the heading of "Management" in Part II of the White Paper, paragraph 8 says:A high standard of administration has been achieved, especially on the agricultural side, despite defects of organisation.I wonder if my right hon. Friend can tell us something about those defects of organisation. How far have they ceased to exist? Have they been put right, or are they about to be put right?
Beyond that, I welcome the Bill, but I hope that the agricultural side of the work of the Commissioners has been much more profitable than the investment side. If it has not, it has been disastrous. I hope that the Commissioners will be given wider powers of investment of their funds and will not be subject to pressure from the Treasury as to the way in which they invest those funds, and especially that they will not be under any pressure by the Treasury to further a policy which may seem wise to the Chancellor but which the Commissioners themselves deem to be most unwise.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
We have had an extremely interesting debate. I should like to say at once that I am shortly to have to deal with another Bill and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is going to 1581 follow me then. I must therefore be particularly discreet in the way in which I deal with his remarks upon this Bill, as he will have the last word later.
What we are really concerned with, as the hon. and learned Member has said, is the running of one of the largest estates in the country. As he said, the property consists of about 384,000 acres, and the annual revenue is about £2½ million gross and over £1 million net. The Report of the Eve Committee said that for a task of that magnitude a team of experts has become a necessity. That is the main object that the Bill is accomplishing. Its purpose is to set up the team of experts.
The view has been taken by some hon. Members, if I understood the argument correctly, that it would be a good thing to divide the functions now, possibly even to divide the estate now. But I think that the House would agree—and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) made this point in his speech—that this is a very ancient Royal domain, which it is the purpose of whoever is administering it to maintain, and, if possible, to augment.
My hon. Friend suggested that it would be a good thing to sell off half of the estate in order to make it more manageable. I do not think that that would really be within the purposes of the Bill, and it would, of course, be a matter for the board itself, when established, to decide how best to manage the estate. Incidentally, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) thought that we should talk about "estates" and not "estate". But I think that estate is the right word here because it denotes a single estate, the Sovereign's Estate, covering the whole of the properties, whether landed or otherwise.
The suggestion was made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that we should divide off the Scottish properties and have them separately administered. If we did that the effect would, of course, be to stabilise the investment in Scotland and to remove a certain amount of the flexibility of the estate, and, to that extent, to remove a certain amount of the discretion of the board and its ability to maintain that estate intact. We feel that it is important to maintain the estate intact, and one of the purposes of setting up this executive board is to enable it to invest to the best 1582 advantage—if necessary selling off estates and purchasing elsewhere—of the estate as a whole.
Some reference has been made to the question of foreshore rights. There is a reference in the Report of the Eve Committee to foreshore rights, and I think that if my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South will turn to Appendix D he will find that the management of the Crown foreshore, having been transferred in 1866 from the Commissioners of Woods to the Board of Trade, was retransferred in 1949 to the Crown from the Ministry of Transport, having become vested in that Ministry.
It would not be appropriate in a Bill of this description to deal with the particular functions of the board. As has been recommended by the Committee, we shall later have the third stage in which the board will consider what its functions should be, and will recommend what they should be so that consideration may be given to writing those functions permanently into a statute. We are concerned at the present time simply with the setting up of the board and the manner in which that should be done. That involves——
§ Mr. Mitchison
Is it not the position that we are setting up a board of trustees without telling the members of that board what their functions or trusts are, and that they will come back afterwards and tell us what they ought to be?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The functions, of course, are certainly not changed, and in this case all we are doing is to reconstitute the Commission in a new form with, as I have already iudicated, the same duties. Later the Commission will consider exactly what those functions should be and will recommend what in its view they should be.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering suggested that it would be a good thing if the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster took over all the Ministerial functions, or, alternatively, if I understood him correctly, that the functions should be divided between two Ministers, the Chancellor of the Duchy and the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Mr. Mitchison
No. I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, and I am much obliged to him for giving way. What I suggested was that the 1583 Chancellor of the Duchy should replace the Lord Privy Seal in respect of the functions attributed to the Lord Privy Seal under the Bill.
§ Mr. Macpherson
As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South pointed out, these functions are entirely separate. The Duchy estates are governed by quite different considerations, and I suggest that to put the two under one and the same Minister would simply lead to confusion. As my right hon. Friend indicated, the Lord Privy Seal has for long been closely associated with the Sovereign. These are the Sovereign's estates, and we think the best solution is that the Lord Privy Seal should be the Minister responsible to Parliament for those lands and properties which are in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Another point that has been very forcibly put is the question of directions, and I should here like to refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) had to say on that subject. My hon. Friend asked whether the Commissioners would have any right to refuse to agree to a direction. It is, of course, laid down in the Bill that before giving a direction the appropriate Minister should consult the board. If at the end of that consultation there is a disagreement—and this is extremely unlikely to arise—quite clearly the view of the Lord Privy Seal or of the Secretary of State for Scotland, whichever of them might be concerned, would have to prevail.
There are, of course, two safeguards. There is a safeguard in the Bill, which is that any directions given must under Clause 2 (4) be recorded in the report submitted to Parliament unless, of course, some national security reason intervenes. Then there is the other safeguard, which is, perhaps, no less important, the safeguard that if the board was radically in disagreement with the Government's policy it could at that time bring the disagreement before public opinion in a striking way by resigning. I should say that this is really a matter of good sense as between, on the one hand, the board carrying out its public functions and, on the other, the need for a public body of this description to be responsible to Parliament.
§ Mr. Osborne
Would the Commissioners have no other means of showing 1584 their disagreement with a direction or order from the Minister other than by resigning? I put the point in this way again, if I may, that we have not the change in agricultural investments in the same detail as we have the money investments. Obviously, the switch made in 1946 was so disastrous that no one would have agreed with it unless forced so to do. Assuming that the same kind of thing occurred in an agricultural switch, would the Commissioners have the power to make known their disagreement other than by resigning?
§ Mr. Macpherson
Her Majesty's Government's present advisers can certainly accept no responsibility for what happened in 1946, but I would repeat to my hon. Friend that I think that that contingency is extremely unlikely to arise. I would say that if there were disagreement it would be extremely unlikely that it would escape public attention in one way or another. In the case of a disagreement it must be right that the opinion of one side or the other must prevail, and it must be right that in such a case the opinion of the Minister seeking to give the direction should prevail. I think that my hon. Friend under estimates the general effect of the change proposed in this Bill. My hon. Friend will see, by reference to paragraph 31 of the Report, that the Committee was fully conscious of two difficulties which attracted particular attention in the case of the Crichel Down business. There was first of allThe isolation of a recently appointed Permanent Commissioner. …and secondly:The risks of appearing to be merely a subordinate government department and an instrument of government policy. …The Committee recommended that there should be greater freedom for the board in its day-to-day working.
Here we have a board, consisting simply of a permanent civil servant operating more or less on his own—"out on a limb" as it is said in the Report—with only two Ministers with whom he may consult from time to time—a board of that description which never, in fact, meets—that is surely a different matter from appointing a board, such as this Bill seeks to appoint, which will consist of highly-skilled people, which will include men skilled in running estates, both 1585 urban and country, and which will include, no doubt, people with skill in investment and the like. Surely, in such a case, one is much less likely to run into the sort of difficulties which my hon. Friend has in mind.
§ Mr. Osborne
Paragraph 13 of the White Paper says:We do however respectfully advise that the board should be more, not less, independent than the present Commissioners. …Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that, under Clause 2 (2)——
§ Mr. Macpherson
I think I know what my hon. Friend has in mind, but I think that the facts here speak for themselves. The mere setting up of such a board, instead of having a Department, as it were, headed by a permanent civil servant, means that the board is bound to have more independence; and the Government have indicated that they have accepted this Report. I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied with that explanation.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked me about Treasury control. In the matter of staff, of course, Treasury control relates to the normal control exercised by the Treasury over the number of civil servants employed, their rates of pay and the annual Estimate presented to Parliament. That is what Treasury control amounts to. It does not extend to the details of the staff conditions and service.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
But does it extend to the agricultural estates—to the people actually working on the farm?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am not an expert in that matter, but I think that the answer is that the Treasury exercises direct control only over those who are appointed at more than a certain salary, but there is a general control on the numbers.
I am not certain whether there are any other points that I have failed to cover, but there is still the Committee stage to come. I should like to conclude by saying that the object of this small but important Bill is to carry into effect the second part of the Eve Committee's 1586 recommendations for the reorganisation of the administration of the Crown Lands, now to be called the Crown Estate. Effect is given to the recommendations by reconstituting the Commissioners, who never formally met, as a board which is to be subject to the directions of the Lord Privy Seal or of the Secretary of State in Scotland, but which is to be consulted before any directions are given. The board is to report to Parliament annually, and the intention is that the board, when constituted, is to recomment what changes are required in the Crown Lands Act with a view to the formulation of its duties in a statute.
That, however, is for the future, and I think that a good deal of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering was devoted to the next Bill rather than to this one. The Eve Committee recommended that this short Measureshould be passed at a very early date",so as to ensure the best possible management of this unique estate, which belongs to the Sovereign but the net revenues of which are surrendered to Parliament during the life of the Sovereign and for six months thereafter.
The Government support the recommendations, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.