HC Deb 06 July 1961 vol 643 cc1788-864

Again considered in Committee.

Mr. Hamilton

I was saying that the Government could meet the two points which have been raised if they would insert some phrase before the word "transactions", in order to make it clear that they are the kind of transactions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said they were, and if, instead of the phrase, nor shall any person they used the phrase, "nor need any person".

The Solicitor-General

If I gave the impression, as I am afraid that I did, that transactions are limited to conveyancing transactions, that was wrong. I gave that as an illustration. It can be any legal transaction, as it should be; because one must equally give the same protection to anybody dealing in any legal capacity, by way of contract as well as conveyance of land, with the Commissioners.

As to the other queries, I am always very willing, if the drafting of a Clause is called in question, to undertake to consider it further. I think that it is all right, but, in view of the observations of hon. Members, I will certainly consider it further with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Willis

In view of that undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Willis

The Clause deals with the continuance of Crown Estate Commissioners and general provisions as to their constitution and functions. I wish to raise a question which will help me to decide whether I shall support the Clause. It is on the arrangements made for dealing with Crown Estates in Scotland.

We put down Amendments, which it would be out of order to discuss now, to divide the Crown Estate Commissioners into two bodies. I can see nothing in the Clause to prevent a division into subcommittees. The Commissioners would be better able to fulfil their functions if they were so divided.

The Eve Committee dismissed Scotland in a most cursory manner. It is obvious that the people who sat on that Committee did not know much about Scotland or Scottish feeling.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Godfrey Nicholson)

The proposal which the hon. Member is making is not in the Clause and it is, therefore, out of order to discuss it on this Motion.

Mr. Willis

I was trying to explain, Sir Godfrey, why I thought the Clause should be rejected. I assume that I am in order in giving my reasons.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is not in order in giving his reasons why the Clause should be rejected if he is basing his argument on something which is not in the Clause. He can give reasons why the Clause should be rejected if there is something in the Clause which he does not like, but he cannot base his arguments on something which is not in the Clause but which he would like to see in it.

Mr. Willis

I am grateful for your guidance, Sir Godfrey, because there is something in the Clause to which I take objection. There is to be a body of Commissioners, but there is no specific reference to how they shall administer Crown Estates in Scotland. That is my objection to what is in the Clause.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. He is trying to argue on something which is not in the Clause but which he would like to see in it, and that is out of order.

Mr. Willis

I always try to keep in order. Subsection (1) says: The Crown Estate Commissioners … shall continue to be a body corporate for all purposes, charged on behalf of the Crown with the function of managing and turning to account land and other property … I think that that is wrong. Is it in order to say that it is a bad subsection? I think that it is wrong for the reasons that I have given. I will try not to wander outside the rules of order. I will confine myself to asking a few questions.

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order, Sir Godfrey. Subsection (1) says: The Crown Estate Commissioners … shall continue to be a body corporate for all purposes … I suppose that my hon. Friend is entitled to say that he objects to there being a body corporate for the purpose of dealing with Scottish affairs.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is sailing near the wind. If he moves too far out he can rely on me to call him to order.

Mr. Willis

I am grateful to you, Sir Godfrey, for your Ruling, and I am also grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I do not want to sail near the wind. I am a great constitutionalist. I like to be in order, and I will therefore content myself with asking a few questions.

How many Scotsmen are there among the Crown Estate Commissioners? How do they administer estates in Scotland? How often do they meet in Scotland? Where are they? Is there a subcommittee which deals specifically with Scotland? Although the Eve Committee dismissed Scotland in a cursory and disrespectful manner, it tended to point out the necessity for a management body for any large estate. That is the burden of paragraph after paragraph of the Eve Report, and that is why it recommended the setting up of the Crown Estate Commissioners.

Almost one-third of the Crown Estates are in Scotland and therefore the Crown Estate Commissioners ought to have a special organisation for dealing with those estates. How is the Scottish end of this business managed? I am always rather frightened that a body located in London and concerned with administering things down here tends to look on Scotland as some sort of remote region which does not require very much consideration. That is why many of the affairs of Scotland tend to be neglected. We do our best to keep them before the House, as hon. Members know. We intend to press our claims. But that tendency exists, and if we have the Secretary of State for Scotland issuing directions to the Commissioners we should like to know at what stage he comes into the picture.

How often does he find it necessary to issue directions? Is it possible for him to issue directions regarding the administration of the Crown Estate in Scotland contrary to the wishes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Under the Clause it is nominally possible for the Secretary of State for Scotland to pursue a line contrary to that which the Chancellor may wish to pursue in England. Does the Secretary of State find it necessary to do that at times? Can he pursue a course which could give us the model farms that we are talking about, if the Chancellor thought that it was not a desirable thing to do? These are all important matters which arise directly out of the provisions of the Clause, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us answers to some of the questions, and tell us something about the administration.

The Secretary of State shrugs his shoulders, but we accept our responsibilities as Members of Parliament and we want to know. I hope that he will give us a clear picture of how this will work in Scotland. I hope that it will be done in a way which is free from southern influence, or a southern tang. We want to attend to our own business, as the Royal Commission on Scottish Government suggested that we should do in matters like this, where it is possible to separate the administration.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). The Secretary of State for Scotland will recall the questions which my hon. Friend has put to him. My hon. Friend asked what proportion of the Crown Estate was in Scotland and he answered his own question by saying that it amounted to over one quarter. Where are they? These are matters that we want to know about. The Committee will note that the Explanatory Memorandum contains a reference to the fact that the greater part of the forest land has been transferred to the Forestry Commission. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is to happen in Scotland in regard to that matter?

The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), in his admirable remarks, pointed out some of the dangers. The Clause repeals the existing Acts, which sought to lay down in detail how the Crown Estate should be managed. Instead, a general duty is laid upon the Commissioners to manage the Crown Estate on behalf of the Crown. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the Second Reading debate, on 28th June—and this was the point made by my two hon. Friends—it makes this possibly desirable measure of freedom subject to a number of limitations and restrictions which are contained in the first five Clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 is too wide in scope, and I am glad that the Solicitor-General made clear what subsection (5) does.

Before assenting to the Clause, there is one very important matter that I should like cleared up. It concerns only one word. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give us a clear indication of what it is about. I refer to the proviso to subsection (6). Provided that an advowson shall not be taken to be comprised… 10.15 p.m.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what is this new legal "animal"? Does it relate to what my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East was referring? When the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate have made up their minds about what it is, will one of them make up his mind to give us a clear indication? It is most important that we should know what it means. I presume that it governs the whole of the Clause, because it is a provision. The meaning of this word affects the general content of the Clause. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us what this means and that he will not do as did a former hon. Member of this House who represented the Gorbals—George Buchanan—who used to say, "Ipso facto, as we say in Scotland …" That will not do. We want to know what is meant by the term "advowson". We wish to know whether it is a guarantee, or what it is, because on the interpretation will depend the support which we give to this Clause.

Mr. W. Hamilton

Subsection (7) of the Clause says: The provisions of the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to the constitution and proceedings of the Commissioners and other matters relating to the Commissioners. In the First Schedule the provision is laid down that: There shall be such number of Commissioners, not exceeding eight, as Her Majesty may from time to time determine. I wish to ask whether the Secretary of State will have any voice in nominating people—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. That would be more competently discussed when we come to the First Schedule.

Mr. Hamilton

Subsection (7) refers to the First Schedule of the Act which refers to the constitution of the Estate Commissioners.

The Temporary Chairman

It often happen; that in a Bill a Clause refers to a Schedule, but the Schedule cannot be discussed until there is a Motion.

Mr. Hamilton

I am not referring to the Schedule. I wish to ask whether it is intended that the Chairman or the Deputy-Chairman shall be a representative from Scotland. I think that it is very important that one or other should be, and I should be glad if we can be told.

Mr. Swingler

Before parting with this Clause, I think that we are entitled to probe the Government's intentions a little further about the nature of the terms of reference being given to the Crown Commissioners, since we did not get a final reply after the previous discussion. We have had some interesting contributions, especially that from the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) but no reply was made from the Treasury Bench. One notices that the Scottish Ministers are always reluctant to make a contribution, but perhaps one of them will deal with the points relating to Scotland which have been raised and which are extremely important.

I wish to ask the Solicitor-General to explain the interpretation of this Clause so far as it affects the conduct which, so to speak, we are imposing on the Crown Commissioners. Is it the intention of the Government, and particularly the Treasury, to say that money-making must be the prime motive of the Commissioners in carrying out their duties? We know that the qualification about being subject to the rules of good management is introduced here, but I am advised that this sort of qualification appears in the articles of very many private profit-making companies. They are also required to adhere to their articles and are subject to the requirements of good management, that is, good management in the pursuit of profit, good management in speculative bidding for the best properties and their use in the most profitable way.

Is the Solicitor-General saying that in respect of the centres of big towns the Crown Commissioners must always prefer the establishment of vice clubs to the establishment of health centres because vice clubs are more profitable? Apparently they are to prefer the establishment of gambling clubs, and we have had examples quoted. Are we being told that the Government desire the Crown Commissioners always to prefer deer stalking to the establishment of model farms? Is that to be the standard of values in the interpretation by the Solicitor-General of what this Clause means?

By this Clause we are converting the Crown Estates entirely into commercialism solely in pursuit of profit although, in fact, the Crown lands are public property. One would have thought it went without saying that because Crown Lands are public property they should be subject to public policy. On the other hand, it is apparently the desire of the Tory Government to profitise the Crown lands and make them subject to the profit motive. The Crown Commissioners are to have a mandate from the House of Commons to organise for the millionaires the pursuit of deer in Scotland and the pursuit of women in London, all in the pursuit of the great god profit.

We are debarring ourselves from using these extremely important pieces of land for the promotion of much needed schemes for the benefit of the people in housing, health education, amenities and so on. My conception of what we ought to be doing in this House of Commons is considering how best these lands which happen to be under our control, the Crown lands, can be used for the benefit of the mass of the people for their health and welfare. Apparently the Solicitor-General tells us that by passing this Clause we are to impose on ourselves a self-denying ordinance that these high motives of public policy shall be disregarded and that the Commissioners shall be told to get on with the job of making money for the Tory Treasury. Is that what we are passing?

Mr. Parkin

It appears that the Secretary of State for Scotland is about to reply to this debate. Although I cannot expect him to deal comprehensively with some of the points we have put to the Solicitor-General, I hope that in his reply he will not be limited to answering the points raised by my hon. Friends who are Scottish Members because, in my view, these are not matters relating exclusively to Scotland.

When the bell tolls for a Scotsman who has to leave his country because the land of his country has not been properly developed, it tolls in my constituency, too. When there is a failure to develop the land of Africa or of the West Indies, shackled and cramped as the people there have been by the private enterprise principle of grabbing for private ownership what should have been public ownership, the results are felt in the industrial centres of this country.

There are no matters exclusively concerned with Scotland. If there is anything which we should be getting into the spirit of this Bill it is the notion —which I should have thought common enough in the world, but which is strikingly absent from the Treasury Bench —the modern conception of one world and responsibility to people who live on the land. We shall have to go on spelling this out to those on the Treasury Bench in Clause after Clause, in Amendment after Amendment, and in Bill after Bill, until we get into their heads what is their only chance of survival in the modern world.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

I think that in the interests of clarity and for the avoidance of confusion between the Scottish and English matters it might be helpful if I cleared up some of the Scottish points now, with my usual admirable clarity and brevity.

As to the composition of the body, I was asked whether the Scots were properly represented, and, as usual, they are. We have one member. The composition of the body is the chairman, deputy-chairman, who is a permanent civil servant, two English members, one Welsh and one Scot, and two other part-time professional members. On all these members I am, of course, consulted, as I am consulted about everything, sometimes to my sorrow.

Mr. Willis rose

Mr. Maclay

I am dealing with these points with clarity and brevity, and I am going on to the next point as to how this body will work.

Mr. Willis rose

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Gentleman must let me complete answering his own questions, and the one that I want to deal with now is about how the body works. The whole point is that the general principles and policy issues that arise for the Commissioners are normally applicable to the whole country.

As to whether there should be a separate Scottish Commission, if there were it would mean having two policy-making bodies, separate from each other, and with all the difficulties of coordination that would be involved.

It has seemed better from the experience of some years to make special arrangements within the Commissioners' organisation as a whole for proper attention to be given to Scottish questions. There is a Commissioners' Scottish Group consisting of the Chairman, deputy chairman and Scottish Commissioner. The Commissioners have a Scottish solicitor as their legal adviser for Scottish matters. They have an office in Edinburgh, and the day-to-day management of the landed estates is entrusted to local factors. The Scottish Commissioner keeps in close touch with, and makes special visits to, the Scottish estates from time to time. There is thus no question of the Scottish estates being run from the South. They are run on Scottish lines in Scotland under the general supervision of the Commissioners' headquarters and of the Scottish Commissioner. Those concerned with running them are available to advise the Board of Commissioners on the Scottish implications of the general policy questions that arise, as well as on any particularly difficult individual problems that may need to be considered by the Board.

These arrangements seem to be working very well. On past occasions when the possibility of having a separate Scottish Commission has been considered, it has not been thought that any such arrangement was necessary. I would point out as confirmation that this method of running it is almost certainly the best way we can devise, that the Royal Commission on Scottish affairs looked at it and it saw no reason for disturbing this position.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Willis

In view of the great power which the right hon. Gentleman has over the Commissioners, may I ask whether he has agreed to the directive given to the Commissioners, contained in the last Report of the Commissioners, to the effect that the main outlet for fresh capital investment in Scotland will he sought in the immediate future in urban property, either by purchasing new property or by improving existing property, not by increasing Crown land for agricultural or other purposes? Has he agreed to that?

Mr. Maclay

I am advised that there is very little urban property. I will think out an answer to that question while I run through the others.

I was asked whether I had independent powers of decision and direction. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), who asked the question, usually studies all the provisions of the Acts with great care, but on this occasion he has slipped, because if he looks at Clause 1 (4) he will find that the position is stated clearly The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State shall act jointly in giving directions under this subsection, except that in matters not relating to Scotland it is the Chancellor who acts and in matters relating to Scotland I act.

Mr. Hannan

The right hon. Gentleman should not look accusingly at me. I did not raise that matter.

Mr. Maclay

Perhaps it was the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton).

Mr. W. Hamilton

It was not me, either.

Mr. Maclay

I apologise. I cannot believe that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East raised it. In any event, whoever did, I have answered it.

The hon. Member for Maryhill—I knew that he was on a good point—was worried about advowson. All I can say is that it is neither barratry nor bottomry but the presentation to a living. If any further explanation is needed, the Solicitor-General will deal with it. I hope that I have answered all the questions asked.

Mr. Mitchison

I raised the point of Scottish representation or the Scottish functioning of the Commission. The Financial Secretary at the time, now Minister of Housing and Local Government, replied, I… am inclined to think that if it were desirable—and I am not prejudging it—to bring about any statutory fragmentation of the Commissioners' operations, it would be better to keep that for the second Bill, when the Commissioners have themselves had time to look round and see how successfully they can work, to use the words of the Eve Report, in the present statutory framework'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 865.] He said that I had been arguing for Scotland but that Scotland had not turned up on the benches behind me to press the Scottish case. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) was there and had intervened in the debate, and the Financial Secretary must have been a little short-sighted. But the point was taken.

We have not heard from the right hon. Gentleman what has been the result of the experience. He mentioned one Scottish member and I take leave as a mere Englishman to doubt whether a conspicuous Highland landlord such as Cameron of Lochiel, who is the Scottish member, is the right person to deal with property of this kind. I know nothing about him personally and I have never met him. It is true that he has not much urban property, but he has a bit. I do not know what there is in Stirling; I think that there are 337 acres in the county of Stirling. The initial possession was partly residential. There are 12 acres in Edinburgh, in addition. There are all sorts of odd things inside Edinburgh —a grouse moor and 16 golf courses. It may be one of those.

In addition, there was the general property question. My hon. Friends from Scotland have indicated it clearly. It is the extent to which property, where there was a choice, should be devoted to agricultural purposes, possibly to furthering the deep interests of agriculture in the form of experimental farms, and alternatively the extent to which it should be used for sporting purposes, as apparently most of it is. It is a very remarkable thing to own practically the whole of Glenlivet and not have a whisky distillery on the property. What has the right hon. Gentleman got to say about that? Has he a whisky distillery in Glenlivet? Does the right hon. Gentleman know if he has one? As for the American millionaire with four or five wives, he is far more likely to have bought the whisky distillery than the deer forest, under the present practice.

Is this Highland laird, who no doubt is a gentleman of great distinction but who is still a little remote from the Lowland parts of Scotland, in any position to deal with this? Ought there not to be somebody rather more technically minded? The Commissioners include, for instance, a leading estate agent who comes from Kettering. He is a person of considerable distinction and great experience in this matter. That is a very different kettle of fish from a distinguished chieftain out of some Highland fastness like Lochiel.

Mr. Maclay

I should like to clear up what I have no doubt are the genuine anxieties of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He mentioned some remarks in the earlier debate. Rather surprisingly—or perhaps not surprisingly, as I know him well—I had taken the trouble to look them up. He himself at that date accepted the principle, or appeared to accept the principle, that it would be wise to see what happened in the early years of working. The hon. and learned Gentleman said: If we are content to leave for the moment the principle of separate representation until there has been a chance of examining the working of the Commission a little longer …" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 867.] We have had the chance of examining that. I was trying to make clear that a very useful way of working has been evolved and it would be a great pity to disturb it.

On the question whether the particular distinguished gentleman who is the Scottish Commissioner has the right type of experience, I have this to say. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman intended to cast no reflection on this gentleman, because he said at once that he did not know him. Lochiel has extremely wide experience. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not realise that he is also Chairman of the Scottish Board of British Railways and has many other interests. He is in very close touch with many things of this kind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that this Commissioner could not be better, either in personal character and quality or in experience.

Mr. R. Harris

It is very difficult to put forward some metaphysical cogitations on the moral responsibilities of the Crown Estate Commissioners when the claim for independence for Scotland is running all through the debate. I hope that hon. Members from Scotland will forgive me if I do not follow them in their arguments. They have my full support for a separate Parliament for Scotland, for a customs union at the Border, for an embassy in London, and for their own representative at the United Nations. If when they have all that they are any better off than they are at the moment, I will eat all the haggis they can put in front of me.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)

It may save the hon. Gentleman from that if he will return to the Clause.

Mr. Harris

You are quite right, Mr. Thomas. I know I have strayed from the point, but it is a Member's duty to follow the speakers who have gone before. I am sure that Scottish Members will be glad to know that they will have my support, but I warn them that when they have all these things they will still find me representing the fire brigade officers.

I come to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), which is very dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). That is the question of the moral responsibilities of the Crown Estate Commissioners. I am very concerned that the Commissioners should have the power to dispose of their property—that is to say, to sell it, let it or manage it—in such a way that they have the public interest at heart. They should be able to put that first, instead of always having to make money out of it, as would a company registered under the Companies Act, whether it be a private company or a public company. The word of the Bill would fit very well into the memorandum and articles of the property company for which I work or of Mr. Cotton's City Centre Properties or others of that kind. The duty is to have regard to good management, which means to manage the property so well that the shareholders will benefit, namely, to make money out of it. That is all written into the Bill.

Can the Solicitor-General import some words into the Bill that will give the Crown Commissioners some discretion to dispose of their property and handle it in such a way that when the public interest is concerned they do not worry about the profit? I am perfectly happy that when the Commissioners sell to private enterprise they should extract the maximum amount of money, but it is the words with due regard to the requirement of good management which I do not like. Could we perhaps add the words "taking one property with another" so that if we lose on one we could make a profit on the other and thus make up the loss?

In the case of the nationalisation Acts, the nationalised boards had to make a profit taking one year with another. Perhaps here we could take one property with another.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is straying again. He is really discussing something that ought to have been put down in the form of an Amendment if he wanted it. We must confine ourselves to what is in the Clause.

Mr. Harris

I do not think that the words in the Clause are entirely sufficient as they stand. I should like to give another example of how they could work out in practice. If the Crown Commissioners had a shop which was for letting and if there were two applicants for the shop, one of whom was a perfectly respectable bookmaker who wanted to open a betting shop and the other a voluntary worker for the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, also respectable, under the terms of the Clause as it stands the Commissioners would have no discretion. They would have to let the shop to the bookmaker because he would be a limited liability company and because his covenant would be better than that of an individual.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Woking-ham)

Would my hon. Friend relate Clause 4 (1, c) to the argument which he has just been putting forward?

Mr. Harris

It is difficult to balance up all the different Clauses. Clause 3 (1) refers to the financial aspects. All that I should like done is for some words to be put in, if that could be done, which gave some discretion to the Commissioners to have regard to the public interest. Maybe the instance which I gave was not a good one because I mentioned someone engaged in religious work. But it does not invalidate the principle that this is public property and that the proceeds from it, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) pointed out, go into the general Exchequer.

Mr. Mitchison

I am not a Privy Councillor.

Mr. Harris

I hope that I am being prophetic. But, as the hon. and learned Member so rightly said, the money goes into the general Exchequer. Were we asking the Crown Commissioners to forgo some income and thereby deprive the Queen of some income, we might be wrong in so doing, but we are not asking that. This is, in effect, public property and we think that the Commissioners should have the handling of it and should be entitled, if they so wish to have regard to the public interest.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden. West)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), because he expressed far more effectively than I could the sentiment that is worrying me about the acceptance of the Clause as part of the Bill. The matter hinges, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), on the question of the interpretation of subsection (3) concerning what is meant by "good management."

The hon. Member for Heston and Isle-worth has done the House a good service by the cogent way in which he has made the point of the moral values which we want to attach to any Bill passed by this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North made it quite clear that man is not an island unto himself, and, even if we cannot follow my hon. Friends up to the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, once we mention land of any kind it immediately raises the question of what effect this Bill is going to have on the general problem.

In this period of our history we face one of the most gigantic rackets in land values that there has ever been. We are wanting to know what kind of contribution—in terms of the problems that are facing the community, such as housing and the provision of space for amenities, and so on—the Bill will have to make.

10.45 p.m.

While it might be far removed from Scotland—which has been the centre of previous discussions—in referring to the Principality, will it have any effect on the leaseholds in Wales and the management of that land? Bearing in mind the fact that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Heston and Isleworth drew a parallel with the nationalised industries, it should be remembered that two or three years ago, when the country faced a terrific problem of unemployment—in the same way as we now face a terrific problem in land values—the public sector was able to initiate a large amount of capital investment. It was possible, by increasing such things as the hospital building programme and road and railway expenditure, to alleviate matters. But the private sector, however, did not have sufficient conscience to use its capital in the same way, to expand in order to meet a national need instead of pursuing private profit.

We are, therefore, studying this Clause to see whether or not it is possible for good management to be interpreted to mean that when land racketeering goes on, the actions and management of the Crown Estate can in some way release land or take the bite away when there is a terrific amount of pressure in times of land shortages.

I have in mind—as have all hon. Members—the tremendous housing problems that exist in our constituencies. In Middlesex—constituencies which many hon. Members here tonight represent—there has been pressure for some time for a new town. I am wondering whether good management could mean a chunk of Windsor Park being given free to Middlesex so that a new town may be established at reasonable rates and thus house many of the people of Willesden.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is exactly the process that will be carried out if the House passes the Bill. I have the privilege of representing the new town in question.

Mr. Pavitt

It is in Clause 4 (c) that we are hoping to see some light, but that does not help me on this question of Clause 1 standing part of the Bill. I am, therefore, wondering whether these provisions will meet the kind of thing I have in mind, and it is for that reason that I am extremely dubious on this question of the Clause standing part.

If good management can be interpreted in a wider sense—to represent the interests of the community and the moral values for which hon. Members try to stand—there would be no argument against the Clause standing part. But if it will mean an extension of the get-rich-quick attitude—a law of the jungle—where even the Crown Estate Commissioners will take part in a kind of universal bingo—this getting the maximum amount of money for selfish motives, then I would not like to see this Clause in the Bill.

The Solicitor-General

I am sorry for stopping the Committee coming to a conclusion on this, but it would not be courteous of me if I did not try to reply to hon. Members who have spoken on the more general points, as opposed to purely Scottish matters. It would, I think, be proper for me to refer to one or two matters concerning subsection (3), on which most of the debate has turned. The speeches, on the whole, have naturally been short, because we discussed this matter fairly fully on an earlier Amendment. I shall, therefore, try to keep my own remarks short.

The question—which was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris)—comes to this; can the Crown Estate have the public interest at heart? The answer is yes. But that does not mean that their function should be confused with that of the Minister of Education, or the Minister of Health, or the Minister of Housing and Local Government, or local authorities, with all their welfare services, or the Minister of National Insurance. Their public interest is to manage the Crown Estate so that, consistent with the requirements of good management, the general body of taxpayers, the general body of citizens who depend for their welfare, their defence and all the other Government services on a steady and increasing flow of revenue to the central Exchequer, are served by the value of the estate and its return being maintained and enhanced. That is their function in the public interest. This does not mean that the Commissioners, in doing that, must act as extortionate landlords. They can have due regard to the requirements of good management.

Therefore, when the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) asks, "Must the Commissioners always prefere the establishment of a vice club to some public service?", I have no hesitation in answering, "No, they must not." On the whole, I should have thought that they would almost inevitably prefer using their land for some public purpose rather than having a vice club on it. No good manager likes to depreciate all the rest of his property by having a vice club, even though he might derive quite a large income from it temporarily. He does not want to have the police coming round, and he does not want the neighbourhood depreciated. The answer is plain.

Mr. Swingler

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot get away with that. The answer is not plain. The Bill says nothing about public interest at all. It says nothing about it being the duty of the Commissioners to have regard for the public interest. Those are the words of the Solicitor-General. What is in the Bill is that the Commissioners shall enhance the value of the land.

If there is a choice between a vice club or gambling club which will enormously enhance the value of the land or a health centre which will enhance the value of the land much less, which will the Commissioners be expected to choose, according to the Clause?

The Solicitor-General

I was not dealing with the words "public interest", which do not appear in the Clause. The words which do appear are with due regard to the requirements of good management. I was challenging the assumption made by the hon. Member—and I do it with great confidence—that the requirements of good management require the sale or leasing of property to a vice club. On the contrary, they do not. The requirements of good management demand that, even though one may derive a high rent temporarily from a vice club, one does not have it in one's estate.

Mr. Mitchison

But the right hon. and learned Gentleman need not go quite so far as that. What about the choice between a club full of Tory politicians drinking champagne and, therefore, paying a very high rent and a club full of worthy missionaries drinking only tea and, being more indigent, being able to pay only a much lower rent? Surely, the missionaries ought to be preferred.

The Solicitor-General

I have answered the question put to me by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I shall refrain from being drawn back into the delectations of the Licensing Bill, from which we have so recently escaped.

Must we always prefer deer stalking to model farms? I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) put it in a striking and picturesque manner, and I am trying to go to the essence of the problem. The answer is, "No, they must not always prefer deer stalking to a model farm." It is precisely on the Glenlivet Estate to which the hon. Member referred that the Commissioners have let land to the Secretary of State for the purpose of a model farm. Although there was no general duty under the previous law, the duty that is now set out in Clause 3 (1) was even more stringent under the previous law.

Suppose the Commissioners have let to a model farm, suppose they have let to a tenant who may have been there for some considerable time, they are not bound by this subsection to turn the tenant out and to let to a millionaire with five wives who wants it as a residence for himself and, no doubt in turn, his various wives, because that is not what good management demands. Good management allows for a reasonable human relationship between the tenant and the landlord. It does not demand in every case the rackrent from the sitting tenant. On the contrary, there is the continuity that any good landlord has in mind.

The Commission has, of course, the general duty to maintain and enhance the value of what the hon. and learned Gentleman was quite right in saying is, in effect, public property. That is what we want done with public property. We want its value enhanced, we want its revenues ancreased—but that is with due regard to the requirements of good management.

When the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) says, quite rightly, that it demands responsibility also to the people who live on the land, that is in addition to the requirement of good management which the Bill demands. That is expressly catered for in Clause 4, where considerable latitude is allowed to the Commissioners in the case of various charitable and welfare services which do inure to the benefit of the people who live on the Crown land, because it is for the general benefit of the land of the Crown Estate. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will accept this Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  2. cc1816-48
  4. cc1849-57
  6. cc1857-61
  8. cc1861-2
  10. c1862
  11. Second Schedule.—(SAVINGS AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS.) 224 words
  12. cc1863-4
  13. Third Schedule.—(REPEALS.) 360 words
  14. c1864