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Crown Estate Bill

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.10 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her interests so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

This Bill stems originally from the Report of the Committee on Crown Lands in 1955. That Committee reported in Cmd. 9483. In it Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and his colleagues recommended that the Commissioners of Crown Lands should be replaced by a board of trustees with a substantial measure of independence, and that the Crown Lands Acts should be revised and consolidated. The Committee's recommendations were accepted, and, as a first step, the present Crown Estate Commissioners were appointed under the Crown Estate Act, 1956.

But, like their predecessors, they have had to discharge their duty of managing the Crown Estate within the confines of the existing Crown Lands Act, a considerable and rather complex body of Statutes extending from 1829 to 1936. The Commissioners were asked to consider their powers and duties under the Acts. This they have done—a considerable task—and the Bill is the result.

The main purpose of the Bill, as I have said, is to complete the reorganisation of the Crown Estates. The 1956 Act constituted the Crown Estate Commissioners as a board of up to eight members appointed by Her Majesty and reporting annually to Her Majesty and to Parliament and subject to direction by the appropriate Ministers, who at present are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, These arrangements, which are reenacted in the Bill, have worked well, The Commissioners have carried out their responsibilities skilfully and wisely, and I am sure that the House would want me to express appreciation of the services rendered by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and his fellow Commissioners from various walks of life.

The Commissioners have been hampered in the management of the Crown Estate by restrictions on their powers imposed by the existing Crown Lands Acts, and the Government considered it essential that they be given the fullest possible opportunity of maintaining and enhancing the capital and income of the estate. A good example of the current restrictions which hamper the Commissioners is that only in limited cases can they include rent review clauses in leases.

The Bill repeals the existing Acts which sought to lay down in detail how the Crown Estate should be managed. Instead, it gives the Commissioners the general authority to manage the Crown Estate on behalf of the Crown and it frees them from detailed Treasury control over their management. Nevertheless, it makes this possibly desirable measure of freedom subject to a number of limitations, or restrictions, which in effect account for the first five Clauses of the Bill.

In Clause 1, the Commissioners are made subject not only to the directions of the appropriate Minister, but also to a general Statutory duty,
"while maintaining the Crown Estate as an estate in land… to maintain and enhance its value and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management."
This is the first time that the duty of the Crown Estate Commissioners has been put in statutory form. It was one of the recommendations of the Committee on Crown Lands that that should be done.

In Clause 2, the Commissioners are required to report annually to Her Majesty and to Parliament, as at present, to keep proper accounts and to distinguish in those accounts between capital and income, and to submit their accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for audit and laying before Parliament.

They are also required to supply the Treasury with all the information that it requires. In practice they will do this mainly by providing the Treasury annually with a forward programme, including estimates of expenditure and revenue and a statement of their general policy. All this accords with present procedure, and in fact we are giving the present procedure statutory effect.

Clause 3 contains particular provisions on a number of important points of management. In general, the Commissioners are not to dispose of land except for the best consideration that can be reasonably obtained in the circumstances of each case. This is broadly similar to existing requirements, but in its present form it is a little wider than their present powers.

The general rule about obtaining the best consideration is relaxed in certain special cases. The most important of these are in Clause 4, under which grants may be made, in the interests of the Crown Estate, for certain public or charitable purposes, and Clause 5 which defines the Commissioners' special duties in regard to the management of the Windsor Estate to which I shall come in a moment. The Windsor Estate comprises Windsor Park and Forest, but not Windsor Castle.

Clause 5 provides for the continuation of the general policy of preserving the present character of the Windsor Estate as a Royal Park and Forest. Except for the limited powers in subsection (3), to which I shall refer in a moment, the Commissioners will have no power to sell or exchange any land forming part of the Windsor Estate, although under subsection (2) they may grant leases for forestry or agriculture or other purposes that are not prejudicial to their general duty of maintaining the character of the Estate.

Under Clause 5 (3) an express power is given to enable the Crown Estate Commissioners to sell or make an exchange of land in Windsor Forest, but not in Windsor Park; an exchange of land needed in the public interest for development purposes, provided that they have, or can acquire, other adjacent land not less in area which can suitably be added to Windsor Forest instead. The need for taking any such land out of Windsor Forest will have to be certified by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Commissioners will have to be satisfied about the suitability of the alternative arrangements that they were able to make. This Clause arises out of a specific instance. It arises in connection with the extension of the new town of Bracknell which was the subject of a recent public inquiry, and the provision now proposed will enable suitable action to be taken should it be thought to be in the public interest to use part of Windsor Forest for this purpose.

Clause 5 also continues the restrictions on the Crown Estate Commissioners so that they may not dispose of any houses on the Crown Estate that are in use as Grace and Favour residences. The financial terms of any arrangements in regard to such houses will be subject to the approval of the Treasury.

Clause 6 repeats certain existing provisions giving the Commissioners power to make regulations for land of the Crown Estate open to the public.

Clause 7 deals with the powers of the Minister of Works in Regent's Park. As the House will know, most of that park has been under the management of the Minister of Works and his predecessors the Commissioners of Works since 1851. But a small part of it is in the Crown Estate, and the land occupied by the Zoological Society of London is divided between the two. Clause 7 puts all the land occupied by the Zoo under the management of the Minister of Works, and gives him power to grant suitable leases to the Zoological Society on terms to be approved by the Treasury. It is thought that this is a sensible tidying up arrangement of the present position.

The other provisions of the Bill are also designed to tidy up the position with regard to existing Acts and to deal with the consequences of the repeal of the present Crown Lands Acts.

The only other point to which I ought perhaps to draw attention is that the First Schedule continues the arrangements whereby the salaries of the Crown Estate Commissioners and the expenses of their office are defrayed out of monies provided by Parliament and are borne on Votes. None of the provisions in the Bill will impose fresh burdens on Voted monies.

I hope that the House will accept the Bill as a useful Measure which will assist the Crown Estate Commissioners in managing the Crown Estate to the best advantage so far as concerns both the capital and the income, and which will simplify and improve the statutory provisions under which they operate.

10.20 p.m.

I rise as usual not to quarrel with a single word that the Chancellor has uttered. I am here to give him my fullest support. At one stage, however, he omitted to tell us what consultations he had with the Duke of Windsor before disposing of this land, and I must draw the attention of the House to another omission by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have a constituency interest in this matter. Although the Bill consolidates the general legislation regarding the Crown Estate and makes things very much simpler in respect of Crown land, there is another kind of Crown property which is not referred to specifically in the Bill but which is a very important asset and concerns the general development of our economy, namely, the seabed—the Crown property between the high-water mark and the three-mile limit throughout the United Kingdom.

I was quite unaware of the implications of this until some developments took place in my constituency which showed me how important it could be. As the Chancellor knows, some time ago the Government embarked upon a programme to develop the port of Milford Haven as a major oil port. The project had the general support of the Government, and a speech was made in its favour by the Prime Minister. In general, there was universal applause for it. Then it ran into difficulty over the sea bed.

The undertakers were proposing to build piers in the area. The two large oil companies—British Petroleum and Esso—both had to go to the Crown Estate Commissioners to seek permission to put their piers on the sea bed below the high-water mark. I understand that in the past the normal practice has been for the Commissioners to give long-term leases of about 99 years to the proposing undertakers in order to enable them to build their piers.

Rents were arrived at which were considered to be fair. A good example is the installation at Fawley, whose rent is about £1,000 a year for 99 years in respect of the piers going out over the Crown land on the sea bed. It was assumed that the same rates would apply for Milford Haven, until the arrival of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, as the First Crown Estate Commissioner. I noted the applause for Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve given by the Chancellor, but I do not share this fixation with Eve. He caused me a good deal of trouble when this development took place in my constituency. Instead of the £1,000-a-year rental he began by asking £50,000 a year for each pier. This was an extraordinary figure. He then proceeded to ask for even more. He suggested a royalty in respect of every barrel of oil handled, which would have raised the figure to over £100,000 a year in view of the tonnage of oil to be handled. It meant that all developments of this nature suddenly became uneconomic.

It also raised other problems of principle for any country which, like Britain, has to import a large proportion of its raw materials over piers or docksides when they come in from abroad, and which has to send out its exports over the same docks or piers. Once this principle was applied successfully at Milford Haven it could well mean that all the ports in the United Kingdom could be made subject to the same principle, and a new form of taxation could have been established. This could have been a very serious matter for the whole of our industrial economy.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may say that this did not happen so far as the country was concerned and it is a marginal point. In fact, it could have happened. In the case of Milford Haven, I had to make representations to the then Minister of Transport, now the Minister of Defence, and to the then Minister of Power, now the Paymaster-General, and the matter had to go to a very high level before it was finally determined that these rents were far too high to be charged as a practical proposition. Instructions had to be given by the Government to the Crown Estate Commissioners to come to some more satisfactory arrangement.

It was at the same time announced by the Government that a Departmental Committee would be set up to go into the whole question of these sea bed rentals in such cases. I asked one or two Questions of the Home Secretary —in the days when he was the Lord Privy Seal and in that capacity was answerable to the House on this matter —about what was happening. The right hon. Gentleman informed me that it was not the practice of the Government to disclose the workings of Departmental Committees. Whether the Government were going to disclose that or not, nothing transpired. There is absolutely no information as to what is the intention of the Government or the position of any proposed industrial undertaker faced with a similar problem in the future.

The Milford Haven rent was resolved, after hard bargaining, at £6,000 a year. But that is neither here nor there, the main principle remains. It arises from the fact that when the Crown Estate Commissioners are dealing with property on land, they do not possess monopoly value except in relation to limited areas. There is always the general principle of the free market to apply to the valuation as some sort of yardstick, in order to judge what should be the appropriate figure to charge. But when it comes to the valuation of the sea bed, the Crown Estate Commissioners are in a complete monopoly position. The ordinary market values no longer apply. It is impossible to determine the actual value of the sea bed until something is put on it. All that can be done is to say to the would-be developer, "What is it worth to you?" Anyone in the position of a monopoly holder can charge a blackmail rent. This is the seriousness of the position.

I should not complain if this matter, which could be a significant tax on the imports and exports to and from the country, were to be determined as a matter of high Government policy. It might be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say in another Budget that this should be done. Let us say for the sake of argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought it would be a desirable thing. There would be Ministerial responsibility in the taking of that decision and the House would be responsible for endorsing or rejecting it.

Because of this flaw in the existing legislation, it is possible for a relatively junior member of the hierarchy to determine what is a very significant change in our approach to the rates which the Crown Estates Commissioners should charge. At Milford Haven the whole future development of the area and the port was held up and put in jeopardy as the result of a decision taken by someone who would not be answerable to the House. The Minister had no authority for taking any steps except in a very heavy-handed fashion by giving a Cabinet directive to this official.

It is a very serious matter. It stems from two points. The first is that there is nothing in the Bill to determine the method of valuation for the sea bed which should be adopted. I think that there should be. Secondly, there is nothing in the Bill to determine any form of arbitration if the Crown Estate Commissioners should ask what may be an excessive rent. I submit that these two loopholes should be closed and that we should have that assurance from the Government spokesman before we give the Bill a Second Reading.

10.30 p.m.

It is a peculiar but none the less pleasant experience to find myself about 90 per cent. in support of my right hon. and learned Friend and 100 per cent. in support of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). The hon. Member raised this as a constituency matter. I represent one of the few constituencies in the United Kingdom which has no interest in the foreshore or sea bed. But this is a very serious point. Most hon. Members include within their constituencies a part of the foreshore or sea bed. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that this is necessary legislation and that in general it is a good Bill which should be supported, but I should like to support the hon. Member for Pembroke in the point which he properly and lucidly explained, and perhaps to elaborate it.

I can perhaps relieve my hon. Friend's mind and that of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) by dealing with this point. I omitted it from my original speech. The practice is for the district valuer to act in negotiating the consideration for the granting of an easement or a licence, or indeed in connection with a sale. I have had discussions on the matter, and I am fully aware of the validity of the points made. I assure hon. Members that the district valuer will be under instructions not to include any element of monopoly value of the foreshore or sea bed in his valuation. That will meet the point.

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps later he will make a statement about the general principles of valuation as they apply to this, because I have always thought that valuation was not a science but could best be described as an art.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Pembroke or my right hon. and learned Friend is intervening in my speech. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. He knows that I have had correspondence with him on behalf of British Petroleum—which, incidentally, has the Government as one of its shareholders. This might raise the difficult point of the Government being, so to speak, on both sides of the fence.

I am grateful to him for saying that this point has been noted, although I am not at all happy about his explanation. I wonder whether it goes far enough. I think that there should be a more independent form of valuation than that to which he has referred. The experience mentioned by the hon. Member for Pembroke causes apprehension. When a valuation is put forward on one side which throws up a rent of about £50,000 a year and on the other side there is an independent valuation showing a rent of £1,000 a year, the difference is far too marked. Particularly in this case of a Crown Estate, it is important for Parliament to have an independent valuation.

I assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I shall not speak for more than two or three minutes, but I point out that for hundreds of years Parliament has fought against the power of the Crown whereas this Bill puts power into the hands of the Crown which should not be there. I know that that is rather a far-fetched argument, but I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, before the Committee stage, to consider giving a more independent view to the question of valuation.

The hon. Member for Pembroke touched on another point which my right hon. and learned Friend did not mention. There is no right of appeal under Clause 1 (5). The subsection says:
"The validity of transactions entered into by the Commissioners shall not be called in question on any suggestion of their not having acted in accordance with the provisions of this Act."
My right hon. and learned Friend should assure the House that he will look at that again. There should be some provision for arbitration so that, if there is a difference of opinion, independent opinion can be sought. There have been differences of opinion. In this debate the hon. Member for Pembroke and I are referring only to cases relating to oil companies, but cases can arise throughout the whole length of the foreshore.

There should be provision for independent valuation. There should also be some recourse to arbitration if the Crown Commissioners and the independent tenant cannot come to terms. If my right hon. and learned Friend will give me assurances on those points, I shall be very pleased to have made this short intervention.

10.36 p.m.

The House has had a busy day. During the early part of our sitting we dealt with the last stages of a Bill directed at one of the most intractable problems of our home politics, namely housing. Our later discussions were concerned with the international aspects of our future. I cannot but admire the effrontery of the Government, who introduce at this late hour a Bill of such profound constitutional and philosophic importance as this. However, we are all feeling very energetic and anxious to help the Government complete their legislative programme. I quite understand the importance of the Government getting this through. We shall all be able to cooperate, particularly since Bills of this constitutional importance are sent to a Committee of the whole House.

I regret to say that I rise to oppose the Bill. I do so on very profound grounds. I appreciate the intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather to soft-pedal in his speech some of its underlying implications. It looks like an honest little Bill to tidy up the powers of the Commissioners of Crown Lands and sweep away oddments of obsolete legislation. I do not want to see the Commissioners of Crown Lands charged with the duty of administering those lands on the principles which at present apply. They have applied for only a short time in our history.

It would be a mistake in a Bill of this symbolic nature to ask the Commissioners to behave like other landlords. It would be a great mistake to sweep away what remains in our Constitution and Statutes of the mediaeval doctrine of stewardship in relation to land, which has been so steadily eroded during the 19th and early 20th centuries. That is why I want to make my protest now.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the Bill is founded on the Report of the Committee on Crown Lands. Indeed, the Chancellor spoke as though he were ready to accept all the recommendations of the Committee. I will start by referring to some aspects of the Report. The first important thing is to note what the Committee says in its first sentence, when defining Crown estate:
"Crown lands are a large holding of rural and urban property."
Most of the properties are held as an investment. A few are held because they are ancient hereditary possessions of the Sovereign. It would be a mistake, therefore, to suppose that this is a little survival of mediaeval times of the job of administering a few oddments of property. On the contrary, it is quite a living, dynamic proposition that the Crown should own and administer lands.

When one looks at Table 3 in the last Appendix of the Report, it is indeed interesting to observe how much of the present Crown property has, in fact, been purchased. I will not read out all the Table—it runs to two or three pages—but in county after county one sees the dates. The first on which my eye rests is Somerset—three properties; one purchased in 1952, another in 1950, and one in 1944. There is Warwick—, land purchased in 1934. The old lands are quite a minority amongst these properties.

I suppose that on this side we would like to see that extended, and since the Chancellor is here in person I will tell him how much we would like to see it extended by the inclusion of any land that he collects instead of death duties, because in this day and age the habit of taking death duties and spending them as though they were current year's revenue is quite disastrous and immoral —or perhaps unethical is the better word—in the sense that it means that we are doing something with which we reproach other people who own houses—living on the capital instead of maintaining and sustaining it. If the Chancellor felt able to get over that very bad habit of putting his death duty revenue above instead of below the line he would meet some of the difficulties mentioned by the Committee in the Report, or at least one of them.

The Report goes on:
"Government expenditure is voted by Parliament. It would be a breach of Parliamentary control if the government spent the surplus income from the Crown Estate instead of paying it into the Exchequer."
There is reference to the Regent's Park terraces, where, I suppose, someone accused the Government of living cheaply in offices which were, in fact, Crown lands, but I wonder whether this doctrine that we never have hypothecated taxation in this country is really to be sustained for ever.

I wonder whether it would not be a great help in the long run if we could find a way out of that. I know that the Financial Secretary is very devoted to that doctrine—I have heard him expound it—but it does not always apply. Nobody has complained that direct revenue and profits obtained by municipalities have been used directly in relief of rates. There are other opportunities, and it is really one of the nice things about the British constitutional way of life that we do manage to keep alive at the same time a series of evolving systems which gives us a chance to make empirical decisions when we have to make legislative changes. The Committee obviously felt uneasy about this, and I would have hoped that the Chancellor would not rubber-stamp and underwrite that entirely.

The next thing that worries me with the Report is the selection of the responsible Minister. It states:
"We understand that it would be proper for us to suggest some of the considerations which should be borne in mind in selecting the Minister or Ministers to be responsible for the board to Parliament."
Then follows the most extraordinary sentence:
"We feel that the selected Minister ought not to be any Minister with a special interest as Minister in the use or control of land. This recommendation, if accepted, would exclude any Minister of agriculture, works, housing or town and country planning.…"
I have no doubt that the Committee had admirable reasons for making that statement, but it is surely one that we should challenge in this House. It is a most extraordinary doctrine that the Minister responsible for administration of Crown lands should be one who knows nothing about the problems of land from the community's point of view. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is responsible for town and country planning, is specifically excluded. That is the main burden of my complaint about the Bill and my complaint about the attitude to the present system of land owning by hon. Gentlemen opposite as reflected in the Government's legislation —the fact that they consistently exclude from their considerations the rights of the community as a whole and the necessity for the comprehensive planning of the country's economy which must be based on the proper use of the country's land.

We have this odd situation. One does not often start by looking at the last page of a Bill, but on the cover of this Bill we see that the Bill is presented by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer—fair enough—and is supported by Mr. Secretary Butler. I am not quite clear whether he is the one or whether it is the Secretary of State for Scotland who is later referred to in the Bill as the "Secretary of State". But the names of Mr. Henry Brooke and Mr. Christopher Soames appear on the Bill as indicating that the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food signed their own Ministerial death warrant as far as this Bill is concerned. They are saying, in effect, "We agree with the proposition that we ought not to have any say in the administration of Crown lands." I suggest that on an issue of principle that is really a very important matter indeed. Of course, that is why in the very next paragraph the Committee is puzzled, when it is dealing with definitions of duties, by the conflict, as it states:
"The lack of a clear statutory duty has made it more difficult to weigh their duties as trustees against claims of conformity with Government policy. These duties should now be written into statute."
But the Government have only written half of them into Statute. They have specifically excluded the other half. That is why certain important problems have been left unconsidered by the Government. The Committee came to what appeared to be a competent, efficient and technical Report and the Government thought that it would do, but in Appendix A of the Report the Committee gave a list of the organisations which it consulted. The Committee had fifteen meetings only. It said in the Report that it knew nothing about the Crown Estate when it started the job. The following are the people whom the Committee consulted: The Agricultural Land Commission, The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Church Commissioners, the Duchy of Cornwall, the Duchy of Lancaster, the Forestry Commission, the Inland Revenue Valuation Office, the Ministry of Works, the National Trust, the Scottish Office, the Treasury, the Country Landowners' Association, the Scottish Landowners' Federation, and several more bodies. The Committee had no advice on planning or about the general responsibilities to the community of a land owner. That is what, I think, causes the fundamental defects of the Bill as it stands.

I now turn to the Bill. I will skip the Explanatory Memorandum because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already dealt with it. We see how in the Clauses the draftsmen picked up the recommendations of the Committee. We see in Clause 2 that they dealt with the question of the reports and accounts of the Commissioners. I have dealt with the point, but I hope that the Chancellor may have something to say about it in reply.

I was hoping that the Secretary of State for Scotland was going to reply as he is the other Minister involved.

Of course, if that should be the case we shall have a very interesting discussion before the night is out on the history of land ownership in the United Kingdom, because Scottish hon. Members also will have a few things to say about the principle of clan ownership of land now twisted into the methods used by the modern land speculators. Certainly I shall look forward to a reply on those grounds.

The most serious and dangerous point of all is in Clause 3 (1)—the Clause headed "General provisions as to course of management," which states:
"Save as provided by the following provisions of this Act, the Commissioners shall not sell, lease or otherwise dispose of any land of the Crown Estate, or any right or privilege over or in relation to any such land, except for the best consideration in money or money's worth which in their opinion can reasonably be obtained, having regard to all the circumstances of the case."
This is advice that they must have got from other trustees. But the notion of absolute ownership of land in the opinion of trustees is one that has done more harm than a great deal of the activities of the small sharks and speculators who infest our cities and whose predatory hands are laid on houses here, there and everywhere in order to invest.

This doctrine, that one must get the last halfpenny as a trustee, leaves out the silent partner to every contract for the use of land, and that is the community as a whole. That partner was always present in the Middle Ages and in the earlier Statutes that are being repealed. It was a question of temporary stewardship and responsibility to the community, but somehow or other things have got to the stage where the community is left out.

That is what is fundamentally wrong with the Housing Bill which we were discussing earlier today. It is the people who follow these rules and who, in fact, aggravate the social problems which I —and, I grant, many of them—are as anxious as I am to solve.

I have said some things about the Church Commissioners, and I am usually misunderstood. But I will try again now. Here is a clear case of the most eminent, responsible and conscientious people who are given the task of administering an estate of land for the benefit of the trust which appointed them—and that is not the community which lives on that particular land. They have, by the terms of their appointment and status, no obligation whatever to consult or to pay any attention to the needs of the local authority and the community. That is what leads to the sort of thing that broke in the Lintang scandal. It is true, whatever the public read about the Lin-tang scandal, that a couple of chaps were sent off the field for a minor infringement of the rules.

But that was not the main issue. The game goes on. The Church Commissioners, within their own powers, sold an estate for £500,001—and that is in Mr. Neville Faulks' Report on the Jasper group of companies—to some respectable people, one of whom was the Lord Mayor of London at the time. That estate became worth, in current prices, more than double that figure. It was only in the later stages, when someone was over-stretching their resources, that the manoeuver collapsed.

The sale of land in circumstances such as that is a scandal, because it is doing violence to the existing use of the land. It amounts to a change of user, and that is what we have suffered from so much in London; there has been change of user to the detriment of the chances for ordinary people.

In the next subsection it is laid down that the Commissioners ought not to have the opportunity to grant a lease of more than a hundred years. I would have thought that they would have tried to get some new principle into this. I do not suppose I am conceited, but I would present the case in a non-party way, because after all, there have been many people in many political parties—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has belonged to at least two—who have honestly tried to cope with this problem of how the community can avoid the situation where it has got to buy part of the value which it itself has put into the land. It is a problem that has been discussed from John Stuart Mill and Henry George onward.

Towards the end of the war there were commissions on the subject, and advice was given to Parliament. The Labour Party adopted various attitudes. Sometimes they are in favour of the nationalisation of land and sometimes they are not—it depends upon what has been thought to be a reasonable alternative. It is the same problem of solving the unearned income of the value of land. They get tied up in some kind of machinery that does not work.

I would have thought, therefore, that this would be an opportunity to give the Crown Commissioners the right to come in on the use of the land at the point of impact which matters most—and that is the change of use of the land. That would leave out of consideration rewards which are or ought to be offered to people with ingenious ideas, payment for work done, and all that sort of thing. The simple background to the urge to get back into public ownership land which was once publicly owned is surely concentrated on the one point that it is only the existence of the community which has created the increased value, and that it ought not to go to some speculator without the community having a chance to get it back.

I would have thought that hon. Members opposite would not disagree with that and would at least in their exposition on this Bill show that they had thought about it and were aware of it, because I have always found in political discussions that the one thing, if one has a noisy meeting, that will get serious consideration is the challenge: "What is your remedy for what you know to be a weakness in the system—this accumulation of values which the individual has not created?" I am not here talking about values created by one's own productive work or ingenuity, but values socially created.

This question of the increase in land values has reached appalling proportions and threatens to engulf any reasonable proposals for an improvement on the methods of planning. I did read in one newspaper this morning of a situation in Chelsea which gives an interesting challenge. The rector of the parish has a garden of two-and-a-half acres, and he has been offered £450,000 for that garden. It is a pretty heavy responsibility for him and the Church Commissioners to decide whether they ought to sell to the developers or not. One of the characters in this little drama is Earl Cadogan, who, apparently, according to the newspaper, has a say in the matter. His position in regard to the estate as a whole and the community as a whole gives him the job of deciding whether the transaction shall take place.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Earl Cadogan is a Crown Estate Commissioner. If so, I think he is mistaken.

I am sorry if I am so unclear in my desire not to take up too much time. What I am suggesting is that there is no power in the Bill—and no one was consulted about this while the Committee was drawing up its Report—to reintroduce the element of stewardship and duty to the community which is embodied in the ancient feudal duties of Earl Cadogan. We have a situation where the old feudal landowner still has more social responsibilities than the rector or the Church Commissioners —because, owing to the terms of their trust, they have to do otherwise—or than the Crown Commissioners would have under the powers in this Bill. I think there ought to be some such representative of the community in these matters.

In case the Solicitor-General thinks that I am getting a dig in at the Church Commissioners or Earl Cadogan, perhaps I might tell the story of the Acton Labour Party headquarters. Shortly after the end of the war, the Acton Labour Party scraped the barrel, passed the hat round and raised £1,500 with Which it bought a plot of land.

I am advised that Acton Labour Party's headquarters also is not part of the Crown Estate.

I appreciate what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. The House will appreciate that I have only just come into the Chair. I have heard the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) for a minute or two. I am sure that he will try to keep within the bounds of order on the Second Reading of this Bill.

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it should not be difficult to keep within the rules of order on the Second Reading of a Bill which is concerned with nothing less than the way in which the Crown itself should discharge its responsibilities as an owner of land. That opens up a very wide field indeed. It was not my intention to attempt to cover the whole of that field.

What I am talking about at the moment is Clause 3 (1) of the Bill, which proposes to impose upon the Crown Commissioners a narrow trusteeship altogether out of tune with hundreds of years of tradition in this country, altogether out of tune with their previous duties and altogether out of tune with the present requirements of the community.

I had given two examples of the way in which the honourable discharge of the duties of a trustee would result in damage to the interests of the community as a whole because there was no element of community planning in the transfer of the use of the land, and, lest I should be suspected of prejudice, I was about to balance that by quoting a third case where trustees were involved in the sale of land—trustees on exactly the same terms as the Bill will impose upon the Crown Commissioners. It will not take long, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and it is, I submit, relevant.

The trustees of the £1,200 worth of property had an offer to sell for £12,000. They were greatly interested and were disposed to that sell. They were beginning to take steps to sell when a solicitor advised them that they were trustees for a certain purpose and that it was their duty to get the last halfpenny for the purpose. He told them, "If you sell for £12,000 without the most careful investigation you might be sued for dereliction of duty. You had better put it up to tender."

A little anxious, that is what they did, and they got £42,000 for the property. Whether there are more noughts or less at the end, there is the same problem everywhere in the country in land prices. This is not the moment to invest the Crown itself with the characteristics of the ordinary trustee of land. That is why I submit that the Bill should have been presented in a very different spirit, and should have included some recognition of the right of another Minister to be consulted and of the community itself to be considered. There should also be provision for re-entry of the Crown rights at the point of change of use of the land, so that it would be possible to revise the terms.

The Solicitor-General will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think that the word "freehold" means what many laymen think it means, that one owns the land absolutely and may do with it exactly what one likes. I think it merely means that one does not pay a rent for it and that one can use it for a certain purpose for which it was granted.

I do not think that the elements of stewardship and duty have been removed from the Statute Book yet. Since there are not less than seven pages—I hope I shall not be provoked into dealing with all of them—going into great detail on the repeal of enactments described as obsolete; this is a bad moment to try to remove what has been a stewardship in the use of land. There should be the right to re-enter on the question of the use of the land when there is a change of ownership. That would have been better than a vaguely uneasy feeling that this should be granted for 100 years or so.

Passing quickly through the Bill and coming to Clause 4, we find there there is a concession to the notion of charity, but there is no notion of responsibility to the community which is not in need. Clause 4 gives the Commissioners power to make concessions for public or charitable purposes or to dispose of land
"…without consideration or for such consideration as they think fit…".
That proviso would have been extremely useful to Ananias and Sapphira some years ago, but it is too late for that, although one sees the point. But the notion of charity to the community and the notion of responsibility to the welfare state, in the modern view, is not merely concerned with those who are desperate and without means of support.

There is a list of the provisions of this kind. The rubric of Clause 5 is
"Special provisions as to particular properties".
I take it that these are the provisions mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman for "Grace and Favour" residences. I am glad to see it in. I suppose that the Government have put it in merely out of respect for the Royal Prerogative, and I am sorry about that because nobody supposes that the descendants of those frugal-minded people, Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, are unable to provide for some of their distant relatives. Nobody supposes that it is necessary for Parliament to make provision of this kind. If provision of this kind is made, it is because we like it that way. It is because the country as a whole likes the trappings and traditions of the Monarchy as symbolic—symbolic of what? It must be symbolic of something.

Gossip columns often mention the death of some very old, distant relative of a czar or emperor, with a very complicated noble name from one of these Grace and Favour residences. It would be very easy to make fun of that as out-dated. The people who live there were sent there because in their day and generation they had done in the public service quietly what they had been asked to do. They may not have been that hard up, but they were not in the strictly money-making class. I am very glad that in the provisions of the Bill they are to be left alone.

But I wish that this were really symbolic and not just a survival from the day when the Crown's duty was to provide for the needy. These old dears in the Grace and Favour residences are there, as I have said, because they and their husbands and relatives did what was asked of them in their day and generation. There are thousands of my constituents in Paddington who have done no more and no less than that, and I wish that we were able to revive the system of owning land in such a way that they would not be harried out of their dwellings in their old age. I would like to see that symbolic survival re-recognised as an obligation of the community as a whole.

These are important matters of principle, and I hope that some of them will find their way into Amendment form in Committee so that the Government's views can be tested. However, I am tempted by the Third Schedule which repeals spent or obsolete enactments. There are many things in those Acts which I do not want swept away. The Government want to sweep them away and to change this ancient constitution into one of pure moneymaking, and I do not like that.

The Government have already swept away one Act by the 1956 Act and are reintroducing it in the Bill. I wish that some of the things which they propose to sweep away could be re-enacted. Certainly Ordinatio Foreste in the 34th year of the reign of Edward I bears rereading before it goes into the dustbin. They put the Government's point of view in the Preamble in those days. It is very interesting to read some of the feelings that motivated his late Majesty:
"While we behold the imperfection of human weakness, and weight with attentive consideration the burthens far and wide diffused that lie upon our shoulders, we are indeed inwardly tormented with divers compunctions, tossed about by the waves of divers thoughts, and are frequently troubled, passing sleepless nights…."
How many sleepless nights has the Chancellor spent while considering the Bill? Who passes the sleepless nights now? A lot of people, in all parties, when they are trying to tackle this question of land ownership.

It is good stuff. It goes on:
"hesitating in our inmost soul about what ought to be done, what to be held, or what ought to be persecuted…. Truly among all the things which rest upon our care and anxiety, about this chiefly is our mind busied without intermission, that we may prepare the pleasantness of ease and quiet for our subjects dwelling in our realm, in whose quiet we have rest, and in their tranquillity we are inwardly cherished with the odours of satisfaction amidst the flowers of hoped for peace."
Why do not the Government say that that should be the job of the Commissioners, as it used to be? There is no reference to their duties to the Crown's subjects. But here we are, in 1306, with a better recognition of their duties towards human beings than we have today. Philosophically, mediaeval Christendom was miles ahead of the lot that rules our lives today.

Edward I was not just an airy-fairy idealist. He went on to say:
"We have indeed learned, from the information of our faithful servants and the frequent cries of the oppressed, whereby we are disturbed with excessive commotion of mind, that the people of the said realm are, by the officers of our forests, miserably oppressed, impoverished, and troubled with many wrongs, being every where molested."
That is a bit which the Solicitor-General does not intend to repeal. Since he can reintroduce the provisions of the 1956 Act I suggest that he should put this back into the Preamble of the Bill. It is jolly good stuff. Edward goes into details about the way in which some of these chaps have been surcharging the forests. Chapter 4 is what he does not intend to repeal. It concerns the punishment of foresters surcharging the forests, and Edward says that they should be dealt with at the swanimote. It is a great pity that the swanimote is not here today to deal with them. But the Bill advocates the direct opposite; it says that the Commissioners must molest the people and surcharge them and get the last halfpenny from the land.

The next bit comes under Edward II. Unfortunately we repealed that in 1956. It provided that the rector should not cut down trees in the churchyard. That might have helped the Chelsea situation. It goes on to say:
"The King shall have the custody of the lands of natural fools, taking the profits of them without waste or destruction, and shall find them their necessaries, of whose fee soever the lands be holden; and after the death of such idiots he shall render it to the right heirs."
That is not a bad idea. I submit that the natural fools in this community of ours are those—and I say this in all solemnity—who cannot see that upon this issue of whether we solve the problem of the landowner and the moneylender—the two characters who do no productive work, but depend upon collecting for themselves a value which the community has created—depends whether we can get the next stage of the social revolution by consent.

Let us not imagine that people who come to this country to admire out ancient institutions will be impressed if they see a steady failing to cope with this problem of land ownership, which results in a steady augmenting of the burden of rent and interest upon the poorest sections of the community. This is an issue which stretches further than the housing problem of this country. It reaches out into international affairs. That is the problem and challenge of co-existence. Co-existence and world peace do not depend upon some frozen status quo. It depends on a competition between different parts of the world to see which part can realise human dignity and human quality in the best way.

After all these years of experience of an evolving democracy, with an empiricism in our attitude to those problems which means that we have many devices and methods in operation in parallel, surely we should be able to contrive a device to solve this problem. That is why I regard it as not only lazy-minded and reactionary but positively doing a disservice to the cause of democracy if the Government at this late hour of the night try to pass as a Bill of little importance this Bill which tries to crystallise the views of the old 19th, century owners of land and to destroy all the traditions of stewardship and responsibility to the community which can still be found in our ancient statutes and traditions. That is why I oppose the Bill.

11.22 p.m.

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) into the polemics of the evils of land legislation, but on another occasion I should like to hear his views on the catastrophic fall in the value of land in countries such as Kenya.

I want briefly to follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) and reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough). There is no doubt, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor said, that the Bill gives the Commissioners an enhanced and stronger duty to increase the value of the Crown Estate, particularly in Clause 1 (3), which mentions not only requiring the highest rents but also increasing the capital value. It goes far beyond the Act of 1927 in this respect, and in my submission, as regards the foreshore, and the foreshore only, it is a totally wrong conception.

My right hon. and learned Friend intervened to say that the district valuer would be asked in all cases to settle a value either for a purchase price or for rent for the amount of foreshore which might have to be given or taken by a development. But in the case of Milford Haven Harbour I understand that no district valuer was brought in and that the negotiations were carried out directly between the Commissioners and the oil company concerned. As the hon. Member for Pembroke said, agreement was not reached, and it has still not been reached.

If the district valuer is to have instructions of this sort, surely it ought to be written into the Bill. I am surprised that the Government have not mentioned this process of the valuation of the foreshore in the Bill. I suppose that the reason they have not done so is that it is impossible to give a yardstick for what a piece of foreshore is worth. The use to which it can be put, its position and hundreds of other factors enter into it. It has no value on the market because the foreshore is held entirely by a virtual monopoly; it is held by the Crown. The effect of Clause 1 (3) will be to force the Commissioners to extract from anybody who wishes to use or develop or rent a piece of the foreshore the maximum which they can get, the greatest amount which the traffic will yield, so to speak. That is a totally unfair conception of how one should charge for land. A field is not let for the maximum which could in any circumstances be obtained. If it is let to a farmer, the rent will be only £2 or £3 an acre. If it is let to a factory owner, the rent may be thousands of pounds an acre.

This does not affect oil companies only. Shipowners, owners of dry docks and other docking installations, anybody who has to have a harbour or installation for the receipt of ships and goods from the sea, may be affected. I have been affected in the case of a deep jetty in a shipyard. I helped to construct it. The land which had to be taken from the Commissioners was charged for, but the land which was reclaimed for the foreshore was of no value and therefore no money was paid in return. This is ridiculous.

What I want to see in the Bill is a basis of valuation for foreshore. It may be said that the price of the foreshore should be related to the price of the nearest adjacent dry land. Perhaps it should be 30 per cent., 50 per cent. or 100 per cent, of the value of that land. Some yardstick should be stated as to what a fair valuation of the foreshore is. There should be some procedure whereby an independent body can consider this question. The district valuer is sometimes not as independent as he might be. I hope that the Government will table an Amendment not only to provide some yardstick of valuation, but also to provide a procedure outside the Government machinery to enable the foreshore to be dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner. The foreshore has over many centuries been available to all to use for their pleasures. It would be a disaster if this right should in any way be infringed. It would be a great mistake if industrial undertakings because of excessive charges were prevented in any way from choosing the most efficacious means of carrying out their business.

11.27 p.m.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), I apologise for detaining the House at this late hour. I hope that my hon. Friend will acquit me of discourtesy if I do not follow him in the point he mentioned, which was first raised by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly).

My constituency is probably the most affected initially by one of the provisions of the Bill, which is why I want to detain the House for a few minutes. Since we have no sea water anywhere in my constituency, I am unable to comment in any intelligible way upon the point made by my hon. Friend. I am particularly interested in the important power contained in Clause 5 (3). I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for bringing the Bill forward. This is of vital importance to what I regard as one of the most interesting social experiments in this country at present, namely the overspill new town.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) is no longer in the Chamber. I very much regret the attitude he adopted. I am pleased to welcome many of his constituents as my own. In the fair countryside of Berkshire we turn them from the way he would like to have them vote into the way more acceptable to me. The Minister of Housing and Local Govern-melt recently held an inquiry. He has decided that the new town of Bracknell shall be increased in size. Immediately adjoining the new town are Crown lands. I have been involved for many months in lengthy arguments on the legal aspects. The simple fact is that the Commissioners, whose bona fides I do not in any way question, have up to the moment said that the legal position is that their land is inalienable. However well disposed they are, they cannot make it available for public purposes such as the extension of the new town. This Bill puts that right and is, therefore, most anxiously awaited by all shades of opinion. In this matter, I am supported on a wholly non-party basis by those who are anxious to see the increase and improvement in the new town, and we shall be watching with great anxiety the decision of the House tonight.

Quite frankly, although the arguments are complex and interesting—and I, perhaps, by training, have the advantage of being able to understand some of them—I am by no means satisfied that the legal position hitherto taken up by the Commissioners has been right, and I have some sympathy with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Pembroke in his dealings with the Commissioners. I think that they have been very hard landlords. I say that without any criticism of their very distinguished chairman. I believe that both the Church Estates and the Crown Estates are singularly fortunate that a man of his distinction and drive is at their head, but I do wish that up to now he had found it possible to advise his colleagues in a rather more lenient way in my area.

I want to serve a friendly notice on my own Front Bench—and let it be said that I do not for a moment expect my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to deal with this point at all in his reply, because it is comparative detail—that in Committee I shall seek at least to question one of the provisions in subsection (3) of Clause 5. There, as the House will see, the Crown Commissioners not only have to be satisfied
"… by a certificate of the Minister of Housing and Local Government that land in Windsor Forest which forms part of the Windsor Estate is in the public interest required for development …"
but must also, contrary to any other landlord in the country, be satisfied that the land so acquired can be suitably replaced. Why should this be so? Why should we single out this one estate owner, al present the one estate owner in the country who is able, as it were, to cock a snook at the Government of the day and say the land cannot be compulsorily purchased? We still keep the Commissioners in the privileged position, which no other estate owner can have, to require that the land taken from them shall be suitably replaced in kind.

I repeat that I have no intention to try to detain the House at this late hour on what is a comparatively detailed point, but only want, in a friendly way, to serve notice that I, at any rate, have my eye on it, and shall seek to go into it in very much greater detail at the appropriate stage. For the reasons I gave when the hon. Member for Paddington, North had, regrettably, to be out of the Chamber, I earnestly commend the Bill to the House, and very much hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

11.34 p.m.

We do not propose to divide against this Bill—and not only for the reason that occurs to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General. We regard it as a Bill that is unimaginative and one that could carry a great deal more than it does. As far as it goes, it is largely a re-enactment of the even larger volume of somewhat aged legislation, traces of which one finds here and there. For instance, the power to make contribution

"… for purposes of any hospital, infirmary or cemetery, or for other purposes tending to the welfare of persons residing or employed on any such land"
dates just a little bit. The distinction between a hospital and an infirmary is not as clear as it used to be, and the contribution to welfare made by a cemetery is a little more in doubt than it was in those days. But a great deal of it is that. As regards the rest of it, it provides machinery for carrying out the Report of the Eve Committee and supplements, of course, the 1956 Act. When that Act was in Committee as a Bill I remember very well moving an Amendment of meet the point which, with a picturesque wealth of detail, my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) has developed tonight.

The point about the present Bill is that the function of the Commissioners is simply the managing and turning to account land and other property rights and interests, and it contains, as the Chancellor explained for the first time, a statement of their general duty which is purely one to maintain and enhance the value of what they hold and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management.

This is public land, and since 1760—that is 200 years ago—it has regularly, at the commencement of each reign, been handed over to the public by the sovereign. What happens, of course, to its revenue is that the net surplus every year is handed to the Exchequer. This is nationalised land in the fullest sense of the word. It has become so by an historical process, but that is what it is now.

We on this side of the House are not content, and we were not content when the first Bill was introduced, to see no more than that as a definition of the duties of those who have to deal with land belonging to the public. We do not expect any more from this Government. We do not expect any more as a sequel to the 1956 Act, which was similarly insufficient. But surely nowadays we might recognise even in legislation of this kind that the responsibilities of a land owner, and a very considerable land owner, go a great deal beyond the mere question of looking after the profits and the enhancement of the capital which the land represents.

The amount involved is very considerable. The receipts in the last published year were very nearly £3 million from rents, and over £2 million of that came from property in London. It is the policy of the Commissioners to increase the property in London and that property includes, for instance, three housing estates. One of them, curiously enough, was part of a larger area acquired from the Marquess of Salisbury for the erection of a penitentiary but which was not required for that purpose. I do not know who was supposed to go into the penitentiary or on what grounds it was found that it was not required—a very interesting matter of history. Be that as it may, the three housing estates are still there and the responsibility which a housing estate certainly involves, and, of course, the usual London difficulty of having to choose between development by way of offices and development by way of houses. All that is removed from the responsibility of the Commissioners. They are simply charged in the most general terms with the duties of what one would call the conventional good landlord.

We do not think that that is enough. I agree, if the point is raised, that the difficulty is to know how to enforce a responsibility of that kind nowadays. It is sought to be done by giving Ministers powers of direction. Of course, it is not a very satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. The Ministers in question have varied from the Lord Privy Seal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Secretary of State for Scotland is always included, though one would not think so because no Scottish Minister has been present today.

What is wanted in a matter of this sort, in the handling of public land—and I think also in attending to other matters which it would be out of order for me to go into today—is some sort of land commission to deal with the land of the country. I suggested, when the 1956 Act was going through the House, that the Commissioners should, at any rate, have subcommittees or be divided in some way according to the geographical areas covered by the property. It was not a very good arrangement to have Commissioners dealing with urban land and with rural land, and it is not a good idea, having regard to the character of the properties involved, when one looks at them, to have the same Commissioners to deal with both English and Scottish properties.

I was told at that time by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was then the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that this was a matter that would be examined. But I notice in the Commissioners' Report that a good deal of their work appears to be divided into sub-commissions of some kind. We can go into this subject at length in Committee and I shall say no more about it now.

Concerning the powers of investment of the Commissioners, they are only given what one might call savings bank powers in this Bill. It was a recommendation of the Eve Committee that they should be given the powers of trustees, but that has not been carried out. We shall have to go into the reasons why the Government have taken the retrograde step they have in disregarding that recommendation.

This is a point that has been raised in other connections with regard to people concerned with the National Debt Commissioners in another Bill now before the House. The National Debt Commissioners have greater power to facilitate the lending of public money in undated securities than any other body of men. They have not met for 40 or 50 years and, therefore, one cannot hold them responsible. That is just as well, for they are a distinguished body of persons and all their work is done by the Treasury—and the Treasury seems to be the worst possible judge of its own investments. That Department might take a lesson from the Church Commissioners, who do it much better.

In the matter of foreshores, I must declare an interest. I pay these Commissioners 2s. 6d. a year for the privilege of removing seaweed from the foreshore and putting it on the land. If the Minister appears to be looking at me in a rather puzzled way about this, I can assure him that if he goes to the West Coast he will find that farmers are doing this regularly and it is excellent for the purpose. I shall be glad to show the right hon. and learned Gentleman how it is done. It is a small and, perhaps, trivial case, but the ownership of the foreshore is a most absurd thing for the Crown Land Commissioners to have and to cling to nowadays.

I can illustrate this by another instance. We are constantly having trouble on the foreshore with oil refuse from ships. Who is responsible for that? What are the Land Commissioners doing about it? The last time I raised this matter I caused a shock of horror to appear on the face of the Law Officer, and the matter passed. It is not right that the Crown Land Commissioners continue with this absolute power over the foreshore. I am not think only of my own seaweed, but of a lot of other things.

If one looks at the position of the public in this connection, the situation is even less clear. One hon. Member said today that the public have the right to go on to the foreshore and amuse themselves there. They certainly have not got that right in England—and their right is doubtful in Scotland. The only people who actually have that right are the fishermen going about their business. The law about this is absurd. Surely the right people to deal with foreshore questions are the local authorities. They ought to deal with it. But the amount involved is quite substantial and wants careful consideration.

On the question of payment, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North and the question of arbitration, I dissent from the view that the district valuer is a prejudiced person who stands for one side more than the other. I think he should be relied on to give a fair valuation, as he has to do between a local authority and someone who is buying and selling. But there should be some such provision in the Bill itself. I noticed that the Chancellor did not tell us that the same execessive payment was made on the advice of the district valuer. It seems in the case in question to have been brought in afterwards. There is a case there, obviously, for some possibility of valuation of that kind when dealing with what is at present a monopoly.

This Bill is a comparatively simple effort, in spite of the length of the Clauses in it. It re-enacts legislation. It misses an opportunity, of course, but it is the sort of opportunity that I would never expect this Government to go anywhere near taking, and for that reason we shall not oppose it but shall have comments to make in Committee.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) invited me to engage in a general disquisition on land use and to follow him into the delectations of John Stuart Mill and Henry George. I do not think he really expected me to do that, and I do not propose to do it. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) went further and invited me to deal with Scottish land law. Like jesting Pilate, he has not waited for an answer, and even if he had he would not have got one because I am incapable of doing so.

I propose to deal with the matters on which most of the speeches have turned, and that is the general duty of the Commissioners, and, in particular, its repercussion on the foreshore, and the grace and favour residences, which is a separate point.

First of all, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, we are concerned here with the property of the Sovereign which is surrendered at the beginning of each reign, and the revenue becomes then public revenue. It is the revenue which is used to go some way towards maintaining our social services and all the other welfare, defence, and other payments of the Crown. It is for that reason that the Commissioners are charged to try to run the estate profitably. But in addition to that, they are expressly charged to have due regard to the requirements of good management. In other words, they have got to act as a good and responsible landlord, considering also their duty to their tenants. That is the general duty laid down in Clause 1 (3). But in Clause 3 (1) they are given general provisions as to their course of management, and that starts:
"Save as provided by the following provisions of this Act, …"
Turning to the following provision in Clause 4, one sees at once that the case put by the hon. Member for Paddington, North that the Commissioners are not permitted to have regard to public interest is completely belied by the terms of the Bill. They are expressly charged in that sense. It is not only those who are in need. Under the Clause the commissioners can have regard to the purposes of any public or local authority, construction of roads, docks and so on, and providing, enlarging or improving churches and places of religious worship, schools, libraries, communal facilities for recreation and so on; in other words, a whole host of public purposes.

But the main duty, quite clearly, is to sell or lease or otherwise dispose of the estate for the best consideration that they can reasonably get. But in that respect they have to have regard to all the circumstances of the case. That brings me directly on to their method of dealing with the foreshore.

All the matters to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers follow these words:

"For the development, improvement, or general benefit of any land of the Crown Estate".
They are simply means of carrying out the general duty which is stated in Clause 1.

That is precisely the concept of stewardship which the hon. Gentleman opposite invoked. As I say, over and above that they can have regard to all the circumstances of the case. That is very well illustrated by the way that the district valuer is charged to consider the foreshore and sea bed.

The circumstances which the district valuer is charged to consider are these. First of all, quite obviously, there are the normal forces of supply and demand—how much demand there is for an easement across, say, the foreshore. But quite apart from the question of what it will fetch in the market, they are under instruction to have regard to the purpose for which the use is required, and, therefore, the district valuers will take into account whether the easement is required for a commercial purpose or a public purpose—for example, the running of a sewer across the foreshore out to sea, and that is one of the circumstances of the case which would be covered by the terms of Clause 3, and it would mean that a rack rent would not be demanded.

In addition, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, the district valuer is expressly charged with discounting the monopoly value of the foreshore or sea bed. I hope that that really meets the point put so clearly by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) and developed by my hon. Friends the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) and the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley).

No. The words in the Bill are

"having regard to all the circumstances of the case."
I am now telling the House how the Commissioners consider that they should interpret those words with reference to the foreshore and sea bed. It is an administrative practice of theirs, and will be, that the monopoly value of the foreshore and sea bed is discounted; in other words, they will not be able to exact a monopoly price for their easement even in the case of a commercial user.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us where in the Bill this reference to the district valuer appears? I have not seen it.

There is no reference in the Bill to a district valuer. That is, in fact, the way the price is arrived at in the event of a dispute. It is referred to the district valuer. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that the district valuer does his very best to produce a fair valuation in these circumstances. In addition to that, the Commissioners will have their own valuers, and so do, presumably, the potential users.

I am still not quite clear about this. In the Milford case it was the chief Crown Estate Commissioner who conducted the negotiations. Does this mean that the Government are laying it down that the district valuer will, in future, act for the Crown Estate Commissioners?

Yes. I am dealing with the practice as it is proposed to develop it and as I also understand that it is already in use.

If the hon. Member will allow me to deal with this, he will find that I can answer his question and much time will be saved. I was going on to deal specifically with the Milford case.

The Commissioners never formally asked for more than £10,000 a year. It is true that at one stage a figure of £60,000 —not £100,000—a year was worked out on the basis of royalties on the tonnage of oil handled, but that basis was not adopted. After discussion with the oil companies, agreements were made for a provisional rent of £6,000 a year and for the final amount to be determined at not less than £1,000 a year and not more than £10,000 a year, and that if there was no agreement on that final amount the matter would be referred to arbitration in the light of the basis of valuation I have just indicated.

Is it contended that this demand for £60,000 was made in accordance with the practice which the Solicitor-General has stated? Or is it agreed that that was not in accordance with that practice? If it was not, was it in accordance with the language of this Bill?

I do not think it is right to say that a figure of £60,000 was demanded. It was mentioned but it was not a formal demand. It was not in the light of the practice which I have just indicated—which I think was worked out as a result of the strenuous protests of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). The practice I have indicated is in accordance with the terms of the Bill.

I am thoroughly muddled about this. As I understood my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the district valuer would first of all intervene and he would decide what was the proper amount to pay. Now I gather from my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that the rent is first decided upon by the Crown Commissioners and then the district values comes in as a kind of valuer. Is there further arbitration after that?

I had passed from the general practice to give the House the facts as they related to the Milford case, but the general practice is that first of all the Crown will negotiate on the general basis that I have indicated, and no question of the district valuer comes in at all at that stage, because it is possible at that stage to reach agreement with the potential user of the foreshore. But in the absence of agreement, the matter is referred to the district valuer and he takes into account the matters I have referred to.

The first thing he does is to disregard -entirely the monopoly value. He treats that particular stretch of foreshore as if it were next to one under quite independent ownership and across which an easement could equally well be given. Having discounted that, he goes further and looks at the nature of the use to which this piece of foreshore will be put. Is it a public purpose or is it a commercial purpose? If it is a public purpose, that involves a further discounting of the rack figure. If I have not made that clear, we can take it up in Committee.

That brings me to the second aspect of the duty of the Commissioners. The hon. Member for Paddington, North said that all this was a negation of planning and that he would like to see the Commissioners intervening in some cases as a planning body at a moment of change of user. The Crown is not subject to planning control, but the developers who take building leases on the Crown Estate are.

The Commissioners seek to co-operate with the planning authorities and expect to conform to provisions contained in development plans. For example, they recently raised objection to the County of London development plan so that their views would be taken into account by the planning authority in shaping the plan, so that they could conform with a good heart to the plan when it was finally established. The aim is to avoid any possible conflict over conforming with the planning authority's views both now and in the future. The Crown Commissioners have a very good record in this respect. One has only to think of the way in which they have handled the Regent's Park terraces.

The other points were matters of details which the House might allow us to take in Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that this was an unimaginative Bill. Having no other real criticism, he was bound to say that. Nevertheless, it is a Bill which effects an improvement in the law, a reform in administration, a modernisation of the whole code, and a consolidation of pre-existing law. We need feel no shame about putting it forward to the House.

If the Bill is the important Measure which the right hon. and learned Gentleman claims it to be, can he say why the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is mentioned in Clause 1 (4) as one of the two Ministers who may give directions to the Commissioners about the exercise of their duties, has not seen fit to be present during the debate? I have fairly good hearing and I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer inform the Solicitor-General that there was now only one Scottish back bencher on this side of the House.

There is. The Secretary of State for Scotland is assisted by three Under-Secretaries and is sometimes represented in the House by the learned Lord Advocate, so that we have five Scottish Ministers. We have not had the benefit of the presence of any of them in the course of the discussion, although there is a great deal of Crown land in Scotland. Scotland happens to form one-third of the land area of Great Britain, and we cannot be sure that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the functions of the district valuer in determining the rent to be charged will apply equally in Scotland. Can he say that?

Can the Solicitor-General assure us on that? Is he certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give precisely the same kind of directions to the Commissioners as will the Chancellor? Subsection (4) makes it clear that in respect of land in Scotland the Secretary of State can give directions quite independently of the Chancellor. Can the Minister say why the Secretary of State for Scotland has seen fit not to be present, and has not taken the trouble to be represented by one of his junior Ministers?

I can assure the hon. Member that the same basis of valuation will be used in handling the Scottish foreshore as in the case of the English foreshore.

As for the hon. Member's other point, I can only say that I was not asked any point about Scottish law. It is true that if I had been asked I could not have answered—but luckily I was not asked.

Is the Minister aware that the law about the foreshore is not the same in Scotland as it is in England? The Scots recognise the right of walking on the foreshore, which is unknown in English law.

If the hon. and learned Member will read what I said he will see that I said that the same basis of valuation will be adopted.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

Committee this day.