HL Deb 15 June 1954 vol 187 cc1154-6

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, with your permission, I should like to make a statement which has been made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in another place on the Crichel Down Inquiry. These are his words: "Sir Andrew Clark's Report on the Crichel Down Inquiry is published today and is now available in the Vote Office."

—in your Lordships' House, the Printed Paper Office.

"Sir Andrew Clark states in Conclusion 25 of his Report that there was no trace in this case of anything in the nature of bribery, corruption or personal dishonesty. The Inquiry has thus achieved my main purpose, which was to deal with any rumours and suggestions of this kind.

"The Report contains criticisms of the actions and conduct of the Agricultural Land Commission and of a number of individuals. So far as those criticised are persons (and most of them are) for whose conduct I am answerable as a Minister of the Crown, the responsibility rests with me. That responsibility I wholly accept.

"I have naturally given to those who are criticised an opportunity of making to me such observations as they wished on those parts of the Report which referred to them. Having considered the observations and explanations I have received, I must in fairness say that I have formed a less unfavourable view of many of the actions taken by those concerned than appears in the Report. Mistakes and errors of judgment were made which those concerned regret as much as I do; and steps are being taken, so far as possible, to see that these do not happen again. In view of the nature of the errors themselves and of the public way in which they have been exposed, I am satisfied that no further action by me in relation to them is necessary. I consider that the Agricultural Land Commission are fulfilling a useful function.

"In view of the circumstances of this particular case, and in view of Sir Andrew Clark's statement in his report that Commander Marten was fully justified in pressing for an inquiry, the Government have decided to reimburse Commander Marten for reasonable costs incurred in being represented at the Inquiry.

"I will make a statement, on behalf of the Government, on the general policy relating to the disposal of land purchased compulsorily for public purposes as soon as a debate can be arranged.

"The Government are most grateful to Sir Andrew Clark for his valuable services in conducting the Inquiry, without fee."


My Lords, I should merely like to say that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for losing no time in making a full statement about a matter which has aroused a great deal of public interest. I am sure that most of us will wish to reserve our comments until we have had time to consider more carefully the statement and the White Paper which has been published to-day. If we desire a debate in this House—I understand from the noble Lord that there will be a debate in another place —I hope that he will be willing to facilitate a debate at an early opportunity if we try to arrange it through the usual channels.


My Lords, may I ask this question, by way of supplement? I gather that certain of the people criticised have made their observations to the Minister. When we have the papers published, either as a White Paper or in some other form, shall we be enabled to see the replies which those persons have made to the Minister, because it occurs to me that if we do not, we shall not really be able to judge the Minister's action, whether he is right or wrong, in the line he has taken.


My Lords, the publication is not a White Paper; it is merely the Report of Sir Andrew Clark on his Inquiry. It is not proposed to publish the observations on his Report of the persons concerned. As the noble and learned Earl knows, there is to be a debate on the Report in another place, so I imagine that all this will come out. However, I will certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.


My Lords, I wish the noble Lord would do so, because he will appreciate that, if there is a debate, the person criticised may be the Minister; and if anybody is going to criticise the Minister for taking this, that or the other line, it is only right that he should know what representations were made to the Minister which caused him to draw rather less harsh conclusions than those which have appeared in the Report.


My Lords, may I supplement what my noble and learned friend has said? During the war there was a Select Committee on National Estimates which published a large number of Reports about the activities of various Government Departments. Invariably the heads of Departments made observations on the recommendations and on the Reports, and these were made public, so that the public had not only the Report but the Minister's observations on the Report. The noble Lord may regard that as a precedent which might be followed in this case.


My Lords, I will certainly draw my right honourable friend's attention to the noble Lord's remarks.