Extension of Powers to Lease Duchy Land

Part of Duchy of Lancaster Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 21st January 1988.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:45 pm, 21st January 1988

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in Page 1, line 8, after 'Duchy', insert 'within Greater London and the District of Harrogate'. The amendment seeks to restrict the deregulation of the Duchy of Lancaster, if I may describe it thus, to the Duchy's property in those areas on which the justification given by the Chancellor of the Duchy is based. Throughout the whole piece he has made it clear that the problem of partnership developers wanting longer leases than 99 years is apparent in the urban areas where the value of the land is extremely high.

The Chancellor has made no suggestion—indeed, no one in his right mind would make such a suggestion—that anyone has said that they will not take an agricultural lease because it runs for less than 150 years or that people refuse to buy a lease for less than 150 years for shooting on the north Yorkshire moors because they cannot raise the money on the market.

The justification for lifting the restrictions is based upon the alleged need to develop further the estate owned by the Duchy around the Savoy in the Strand, and possibly in Harrogate, which I understand is the Duchy's next most substantial land holding in an urban area.

We must get this matter into perspective. So far as I can discover, there are 2·5 acres on the Savoy estate, including the Savoy chapel and the surrounding garden. It is understood that no revenue is derived from them. Presumably the Prime Minister did not pay anything when her son got married at that chapel. One would have thought that that marriage would have occasioned some revenue, but apparently not.

On the assumption that the Duchy does not intend to redevelop the Savoy chapel and its garden, there are probably less than two acres of land on the Savoy estate available for development. Therefore, the whole justification for lifting the statutory restraints on the conduct of the Duchy are based on the possible needs of two acres in central London as against an estate of 36,000 acres of agricultural land. There are 2,800 acres in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, 13,000 acres in Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire, 10,900 acres in Lancashire and 9,300 acres in Yorkshire. On top of that there are 15,000 acres of moorland in north Yorkshire and south Wales, most of which is subject to common rights, and some other smaller sections of developed property in Leeds, Leicester, Bradford, Lewes and parts of London other than the Savoy estate.

I believe that it is preposterous for the Chancellor to say that he must lift all the restrictions on all the thousands of acres of land on the basis of a justification that springs from problems arising on less than two acres of land down the other end of the Strand. Such a justification is an absolutely preposterous absurdity.

The Chancellor has mentioned absolutely no need, let alone backed it up with argument, for the lifting of the restrictions to apply to the rest of the Duchy's estate anywhere in the country. The problems are specific to the limited urban sites. The proposal in the amendment would limit the lifting of the current restrictions to areas within greater London and the district of Harrogate. That is wholly proper and reasonable. I am happy to concede that if it is reasonable for the Duchy of Cornwall and the Crown Estate to have restrictions lifted in respect of their urban property, it is all right for the Duchy of Lancaster to have restrictions lifted in respect of its urban property. But it is to stand the whole thing on its head to change the law affecting such a large area of land simply because of' the problems of one small area.

The Chancellor of the Duchy and I read the history of the estate completely differently. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer, and one might have thought that he would believe that the law affected people's behaviour. Apparently he does not. He seems to think that the existence of a body of law over a considerable period has had no effect whatever on the conduct of the Duchy of Lancaster. As a junior Minister, and now as a senior Minister, he has brought Bill after Bill to the House on the basis that if one changes the law, one changes the way in which people do things. Yet he now says, "You can change the law and it will not make a ha'p'orth of difference."

I cannot believe that. Perhaps that is because I am not a lawyer and hold the law in more respect than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is so familiar with it. However, his proposition that changing the law does not change the way in which organisations act is preposterous. It is just as preposterous to suggest that we should change the law covering 50,000 acres of land because of the problems that occur on less than two acres. I hope that he will come up with a better justification than hitherto for the sweeping deregulatory changes that he proposes.