‘(1) In Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, paragraphs 2(3) and 3(3)(a) are omitted.
(2) The Crown Estate is to be treated as a cross-border public authority for the purposes of sections 88 to 90 of the 1998 Act.
(3) In section 1(4) of the Crown Estate Act 1961, for “Secretary of State” wherever it appears, substitute “Scottish Ministers”.’.—(Mr MacNeil.)
Brought up, and read the First time .
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
In discussing new clause 10, which stands in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, I wish to present just a few simple questions to the Committee.
What accountability do Crown Estate commissioners have to Scotland? The head office of the commissioners is here in London, the revenues for the Crown Estate are paid here in London, and the commissioners are not obligated to report to the Scots Parliament, which is the most democratic forum representing Scotland—instead, they sparingly report to this Parliament. The Crown Estate commissioners in Scotland operate under Scots law, because areas over which they take so much control, such as the foreshore and sea bed, are governed by Scots law. My argument is that the administration of the Crown Estate in Scotland should be constituted and controlled within Scots law and the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland accounts for 6% of the Crown Estate’s moneys. Two years ago, that was £17 million, and last year it was £13 million. People to whom I have spoken consider the way in which the Crown Estate commissioners operate in Scotland to be parasitic. Other than demanding money, the commissioners are felt not to conduct themselves with much positive impact. In fact, they are found to be quite menacing. Year after year around the nation’s coast, they leech their danegeld from harbours, ports, moorings industries and some of the most fragile parts of the Scottish economy. In Stornoway alone, they take £17,000 from the port authority, whose tie I am wearing tonight. It is a galling circumstance in an island community to lose a greater part of a person’s wage to the commissioners, when they plough no profits into the harbour or investment, unlike the port authority. The port authority is dealing with a landlord—or a landlord agent—with no obligations at all. In addition, last year, for no visible return, £2.3 million vanished from the salmon farm industry in Scotland, which must compete with the sharp and capable Norwegians, among others.
The commissioners sold portions of their urban portfolio from Edinburgh’s lucrative Princes street for an £8 million loss to fund shopping centres and warehouses in England. We have been told time and again by successive UK Governments that Scotland is not getting short-changed from the Crown Estate. The commissioners say that they are the best managers of the land, but from what I have seen and from what people have told me, with respect, I must disagree.
The Crown Estate commission is a large management organisation, the sole purpose of which, according to the Crown Estate Act 1961, is to “maintain and enhance” the value of the Crown Estate
“and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council in the Outer Hebrides, recently produced a paper on renewable energy that in fact turned out in large part to be about the limitations to development and the problems that the Crown Estate commissioners pose. It states:
“The current Crown Estate lease model is outdated, unfair and discriminatory and this inequality will be compounded as the industry grows…It is critical to the sustainability of the”
“that significant lease income from the growing marine energy industry is retained in the”
Outer Hebrides. The people of the Outer Hebrides
“view their seas as they do their land…as a resource for the local community. Where possible, lease income from marine projects should follow the onshore wind model and remain in the”
“The islands of Scotland should” be permitted to
“play a more active part in management of their coastal waters and should take a corresponding benefit from the resources present in these waters.”
The opinion of the Comhairle is that the advent of devolution has had a detrimental impact on the Crown Estate, which has unfortunately moved
“further away from Scottish sea-based communities and lessened” its
“accountability in Scotland. Crown Estate administration and revenues of Scottish territorial waters should operate as part of the Scottish Government” in partnership with the appropriate local authority. The Comhairle states:
“Management of the local foreshore should transfer to the” appropriate
“Local Authority…The Crown Estate lease process is rigid and inflexible, incapable of responding to fast moving developments in the marine energy sector…a more responsive process” is required to
“accommodate speculative marine deployments outwith the terms of current or proposed lease bidding rounds.”
That is fairly damning.
I understand that the Crown Estate commissioners offer annual reports to the Houses of Parliament under a compulsory legislative duty and do so to the Scots Parliament out of courtesy. Although this Parliament can hold the Crown Estate to account via the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland—in my opinion, it is not much of an account—the Scots Parliament holds no such right.
Let us look back at the genesis of all this. Robin Callander’s book, “How Scotland is Owned”, outlines the situation along these lines: although Scotland lost its independence in 1707—temporarily, I hope—it continues to be a sovereign nation and a stateless nation. In Scotland, sovereignty rests with the people, not in the persona of the monarch, as is the case in England. That is why we have had the King or Queen of Scots as opposed to the King or Queen of England. The Crown identity in Scotland is as a representative of the sovereignty of the people, hence the traditional phrase “the community of the realm”. That difference was again seen in the 1680s with the 1688 Bill of Rights in England, but the 1689 Claim of Right in Scotland.
As illustrated by the Comhairle’s statement, many Scotsmen and women of either an historical bent or, as in my case, Hebridean conditioning view the seas as a continuation of the land. It is perverse that the most democratic forum representing the sovereign Scottish people—the Scottish Parliament—does not have control over the estates of the people’s representative. In many cases, the Crown’s rights date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and some of these are distinctively Scottish Crown rights with no legal equivalent in the rest of the UK. The Forestry Commission in Scotland used to act on similar lines to the Crown Estate, but its powers have now been devolved to allow it to function as an instrument of Scottish Government policy, which is what we need the Crown Estate to do at the level of local authorities.
The Crown Estate commission is a property management company that aims not at the public good but unfortunately at the maximum extraction of revenue, as I have seen and previously mentioned. The commission merely administers property rights and interests that comprise the Crown Estate; it does not own the estate. In many cases, it deals with Scottish public land with Crown property rights, which is certainly feudal behaviour. A report by the Crown Estate working group in 2006 stated that there is a stark contrast between
“the ways in which the public interest in the Crown’s ownership of the seabed and public foreshore could be managed to complement Scottish Executive’s policies designed to support rural, coastal and island communities and the public interest more generally.”
That group was composed of The Highland council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Orkney Islands council, Shetland Islands council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Argyll and Bute council, Moray council and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
The group concluded—this is a lengthy but worthwhile quote—that the
“administration and revenues of some of the property rights of the Crown in Scotland are already devolved to the Scottish Executive. Others which are still managed by the CEC as part of the Crown Estate in Scotland could follow, for example, through the planned UK Marine Bill. In considering the case for a review, some of the lesser property rights of the Crown in Scotland might be seen as historical anachronisms where reform will bring only modest benefits. However, reforming the management of Scotland’s seabed and public foreshore offers an opportunity to secure benefits on what might be considered an historic scale to Scotland’s coastal and island communities and the nation as a whole. The reform of these property rights of the Crown in Scotland could be as symbolic for Scotland as the Scottish Parliament’s abolition of other property rights of the Crown in Scotland with feudal reform. The potential benefits for Scotland in this case, however, would be much more tangible and substantial.”
We have a serious problem when one of the largest land managers in Scotland is not accountable to the people of Scotland. The Crown Estate commissioners have a major impact on salmon farming, shellfish farming and aquaculture, they derive income from harbours and moorings and they own the entire foreshore around Scotland, yet they have absolutely no legislative duty to speak to the Scottish Parliament. A group with that much power should be accountable to the local communities of Scotland, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer at No. 11 Downing street, which is many miles away.
Our new clause calls on the Crown Estate commissioners to do what they should be doing anyway. We are seeking that the Crown Estate revenues be devolved to Scotland and that the management of the estate come under the power of the Scots Government. We want the Crown estate to become another Scottish success story, like the NHS and the police, and we want to amend the 1961 Act with new clause 10. We hope to remove the restrictions in the Scotland Act 1998 that prevent the Scottish Government—and by extension the nation, the businesses and the communities, including the islands and coastal communities, of Scotland—from running and directly benefiting from the organisation. It is at best odd that this particular function of the Crown was not devolved immediately, given that Scotland has more than 60% of the UK’s coastline. The Government’s plan for a Crown Estate commissioner do not go far enough, because this person will be accountable to the Treasury, not Scotland—more like a colonial administrator perhaps. The Crown Estate commissioners should operate as a body under Scots law, which is best accomplished by devolving their powers to the Scots Parliament and further to local authorities.
Before the Committee commences its usual assault on the ability of Scots to govern more than Westminster wants, I want to draw attention to five Liberal Democrat MPs who supported a private Member’s Bill on the subject in 2006, including the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Kennedy—I am sure that they will not have changed their views in the meantime and that government has not softened their strongly held beliefs. In support of the private Member’s Bill, Mr Carmichael said:
“The notion that somebody other than the local community should own the seabed, particularly around our islands, and make money out of it for the Treasury, is quite offensive… The Crown Estate derives significant income from owning something the communities have an absolute need for in terms of piers and harbours, cables, fish farms and now the prospect of offshore windfarms. These are things we can’t do without.”
In November 2010, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney said:
“The Scotland Bill provides an opportunity to help coast communities and our aquaculture and marine renewable energy industries. The UK Government should review the Crown Estate’s role in Scotland and look at using the Bill to devolve powers and controls over the seabed.”
Even a senior Liberal Democrat Whip spoke up when he called on the Secretary of State for Scotland to direct the Crown Estate commissioners to relinquish their control of the Scottish seabed to local communities in Scotland. I hope that those words will be followed up with action tonight.
As the land reformer Andy Wightman has said:
“We thus now have a position where the Scottish Government supports the return of the administration and revenues of the Crown Estate to Scotland. It is joined by many others including the former Labour Minister of State at the Scotland Office, Brian Wilson, Highland Council, Professor James Hunter CBE, Orkney Islands Council, Lesley Riddoch”— the broadcaster—
“the Scottish Islands Federation, Local People Leading…and Reform Scotland”.
In 2010, The Highland Council said of this clause:
“The Highland Council is firmly of the view that Clause 18 of the Scotland Bill does not go far enough. The Council believes that the only way to ensure improved accountability and that direct benefits are delivered to Scottish communities is through fully devolving the management, administration and revenues of the Crown Estate in Scotland to Scottish Ministers in the first instance. Given the new management, regulation and planning roles of Marine Scotland, the case for full devolution is even stronger.”
Crown Estate lands in Scotland are best managed by the Scots Government. Holyrood’s sole purpose is to look out for the best interests of Scotland. By definition, the UK Parliament must have a different perspective. So far, that has meant cutting coastguards and the armed forces in Scotland and increasing fuel taxes. A Crown Estate that is only accountable to this place is bound to act by that same logic. If the Government truly intend to make the Bill the greatest act of devolution for 300 years, the Scots Government, of whichever party, should entirely run the Crown Estate lands in Scotland. Anything else is utterly unacceptable.
A lot of what Mr MacNeil has said about the Crown Estate is correct. It should be working much more closely with local communities, and coastal communities should be benefitting from the money that the Crown Estate gets from leasing the sea bed and foreshore. My problem with new clause 10 is that it does not tackle section 1(3) of the Crown Estate Act 1961, which reads:
“It shall be the general duty of the Commissioners, while maintaining the Crown Estate as an estate in land (with such proportion of cash or investments as seems to them to be required for the discharge of their functions), to maintain and enhance its value and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management.”
Problematic in that section are the phrases “to maintain and enhance” its value and the “return obtained from it”. The problem with the new clause is that it does not tackle that section at all. It simply takes the power of direction from the Secretary of State and gives it to a Scottish Minister. It means that the Crown Estate will still have a duty to be a profit-making organisation.
What did the hon. Gentleman want a few years ago?
I wanted what I still want—the devolution of power to local communities, so that the benefits go to those communities. As I have said, however, new clause 10 does not deliver that, because it does not amend the section from the Crown Estate Act 1961. The Secretary of State has powers of direction, which the new clause would transfer to a Scottish Minister rather than to local communities.
Another problem is the legal advice received by the Government about the operation of section 1(3). When the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on
“the power of direction remains a kind of power of last resort if there are some very serious problems with the Crown Estate. The power of direction is not an invitation to the Secretary of State to micro-manage how the Crown Estate operates.”
By simply transferring that power of last resort to Scottish Ministers, the new clause is not going to achieve anything for local communities in Scotland. We need much more radical reform of how the Crown Estate operates than that.
A lot of evidence was given to the Calman commission to the effect that the Crown Estate was giving too great a priority to maximising income. That is certainly correct, because the Crown Estate Act 1961 puts that duty on the Crown Estate commissioners. We need a review of the 1961 Act and an amendment to section 1(3). The Scottish Affairs Committee has decided to investigate the operation of the Crown Estate in Scotland, and I hope that out of that will come proposals for reform to allow powers genuinely to be transferred to local communities, so that they also benefit from the lease of the sea bed and the foreshore. As the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar has pointed out, marine renewable projects are likely to go ahead in Scottish waters in the next few years, and I want the income from that to go to the local communities.
On the income from the Crown Estate, as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar has said, only 6% of its UK-wide income is generated in Scotland, which would mean Scotland being given only 6% of the Crown Estate’s income. That does not seem to be a particularly good deal in comparison with Scotland’s current share of UK public spending. The important point is that the income, instead of just disappearing into the coffers of the Scottish Government and instead of going into the coffers of the Treasury, should actually go to local communities.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I am sure that many other people will be listening to—and especially looking at—it. For the purpose of clarity, will he outline how he has changed his viewpoint over the past few years on this issue? I hope getting into government is not the reason.
My viewpoint has not changed. I still want to see the benefits from any developments going to local communities, and I want local communities to be much more involved in the planning stages, so that they can affect any decisions about developments on the sea bed close to their island or coastal community. The point that I am making is that the new clause does not remove the duty on the Crown Estate commissioners to generate revenue for the Treasury. The provision is defective in that regard.
To sum up the hon. Gentleman’s views, then, London is best and control from London is best.
I have already said umpteen times that I want power devolved to local communities, which the hon. Gentleman’s new clause simply would not achieve. I would have thought that in Argyll and Bute, as much as in the Western Isles, Edinburgh is not seen as part of the local community. The money would simply be transferred from the Treasury to Edinburgh. It is not going to help those local communities, and it will not even help the Scottish budget, which would benefit from only 6% of the income, which is less than Scotland’s current share of UK public expenditure, as I have pointed out.
The ownership of the sea bed and the Crown Estate’s management of it impacts on many remote communities, which often have fragile economies and their own local culture. One fundamental policy of the Government is the principle of localism, and I would like to see the Government implement that principle with regard to the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate must become much more democratically accountable to the communities where it operates, and it must work much more closely with local communities in the planning stages of any developments, which must benefit those local communities —for example, by making improvements to harbours and other local infrastructure or using the profits from the rent of the sea bed to set up funds for the benefit of the local community.
I am sorry that I cannot support the new clause. As I have said, it is defective, because it does not touch section 1(3) of the Crown Estate Act 1961. Given the importance accorded by the Government to the localism agenda, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us later that the Government have plans for the Crown Estate in that regard.
Mr Reid has carefully explained some of the technical problems with the new clause. What it proposes was not a recommendation made by the Holyrood Committee in its report last week. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute made an important point when he said that devolution is not simply a one-way process from the UK Government to the Scottish Government, but is also about transfers of power from central Government—whether based in London or Edinburgh—to bring about more localised control. It is about not only having powers, but how those powers are going to be used and made accountable to local communities.
It is interesting to note that Mr MacNeil has raised the issue of the Forestry Commission. It was his party’s Administration in Holyrood, of course, who were the first to propose privatisation of Forestry Commission land. Thankfully, there was a successful public campaign in Scotland—just as we recently saw in England—which forced the Scottish Government to reverse their policy. I note from recent reports, however, that they are continuing to sell off much more forestry land than they are purchasing from the Forestry Commission. That brings us back to the question of how powers are used. The Opposition will not support the new clause, but we hope to come back to this matter with our own amendments on Report.
I am sorry not to be able to support the new clause moved by Mr MacNeil, who is in many ways a walking advertisement for the Union. It would be a great loss to this Parliament if he were not here and were prevented from coming here by a division between our two great countries. I am deeply concerned about his new clause. It is partly creeping republicanism, partly an attack on property and partly a subsidy to Scotland from the poor, hard-done-by English taxpayer, who has had enough of this and wants a little bit of money to creep back south of the border from time to time.
Let me start with that sad day in March 1603, when our beloved sovereign of blessed memory, Elizabeth, died. When she died, James VI was hailed as James I of England, and we saw a mystical union of the Crowns: a mystical union that has remained true through not only world wars but civil wars, and has brought our people together. We have come together as peoples in the Crown, and as a result of a further development in the Act of Union 1707, we have come together as a Crown in Parliament. Anything that attacks the Crown, that undermines the Crown, is something about which we, representing one part of the Crown in Parliament—one part of the great system of government that we have—should always be careful.
The hon. Gentleman’s history lesson is very interesting, but I am not sure why he sees the new clause as an attack on the Crown. The Crown Estate’s money does not go to the Crown; it goes to the Treasury. It was signed over to the Treasury many years ago in exchange for the civil list. The new clause attacks not the Crown but the way in which the money is used, and is intended to secure a better deal for our coastal communities.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for an extremely helpful intervention. It missed a key point. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman may wish his hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar to withdraw his new clause.
The Crown Estate’s income was not given away in perpetuity in exchange for the civil list; it is given reign by reign. That started in the time of George III, who was a bit hard up at the time. He needed the money. Parliament had, and of course still has, tax-raising powers. In exchange for the Crown Estate’s income, George III accepted the civil list. That continued during the reigns of George IV, William IV, Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V, the brief reign of Edward VIII and the reign of George VI, and it continues during the reign of our present most glorious sovereign. However, it is not a permanent settlement.
Any step that undermines or changes the Crown Estate should be taken with the greatest caution. I hope that the day never comes, but if we were to have another sovereign, that sovereign would be entitled to claim the Crown Estate for himself. If we had introduced measures that took it away, we would have broken the bargain that was made in the reign of George III and has been renewed in subsequent reigns. We should be extremely wary of interfering with a system that has worked so well.
I also want to deal with the attack on property rights, which are the fundamental basis of a free society and the rule of law. I know that some hon. Members like me to dwell on history occasionally. We know that rights of property have been established in this country since 1189—
This country, England, which is where we are now. Those rights of property, established in this country, England, were passed to Scotland by virtue of the Act of Union. It is well established that the combination of Parliaments that resulted in the inheritor Parliament—this Parliament—merged the benefits of the two earlier Parliaments. The rights of property that we enjoy are the foundation of our free society.
I declare an interest as a member of the Law Society of Scotland. Scotland has always had a very distinct property law system. It was the first in the world to involve a public register, and it remains distinct to this day.
I entirely accept that Scotland has its distinct characteristics. They are, in many ways, extraordinarily admirable and worthy, and they have the full support of those who support the Union. We do not want an homogenised United Kingdom. I have never been a great believer in homogenisation, whether it be of cultures, nations or, for that matter, milk. However, it is important to recognise the rights of property. The new clause seeks to confiscate the revenue that would come to the Crown Estate and take it for local communities—whoever they may be.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and he made clear that his intention was to undermine the rights of property. That is why the new clause is so dangerous. The money that comes from any wind farms that may be established offshore in Scotland belongs to the Crown Estate, and the Crown Estate’s income is used for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom. To pinch it and say “We will have it for Na h-Eileanan an Iar”—or for some similar part of the country, or for communities within Na h-Eileanan an Iar—would, in my view, be wholly inappropriate, and would constitute a fundamental attack on the property rights of the Crown Estate.
Once one attacks the property rights of the Crown Estate, whose property rights will one not attack? If one attacks the property rights of the highest in the land, what protection will there be for anyone else? What protection will there be for the person in his humble cottage? If one attacks the Crown, the person in his humble cottage will feel the threat. He will feel the hot breath of rapacious socialism bearing down upon him. He will feel not the least bit safe on the land that he owns.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extraordinary speech. I have received an e-mail from a colleague who has been watching it and who describes it as “epic”. It certainly is, in an 1842 kind of way.
However, I have a question for the hon. Gentleman. He talks of “rapacious socialism” and of the seizing of land. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which came into being after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, allows those on estates to buy the land on which they live. Would he wish it to be repealed to protect what he views as the property rights that he is defending?
Had I been a Member of Parliament at the time, I would have opposed leasehold reform. I thought that it was an outrageous attack on property rights, and I would have taken the same view had I been a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I think that property rights are of overwhelming importance, and that the new clause is genuinely dangerous in seeking to undermine them.
As I was saying, my three reasons for opposing the new clause are the attack on property rights, the attack on the Crown—that mystical union of Crowns that we have had since 1603—and the loss of revenue for the English. I feel that I must stand up for the people of North East Somerset. They do not benefit from as much spending per capita on the health service, the police or education as those north of the border. I accept that, because I believe in the Union and I think it a price worth paying, but the price must be fair. The revenues that are ultimately the revenues of the state must come centrally, and must be shared out proportionately. When the Scots start asking “Why do we not have Crown Estate revenue for the territory and the sea around Scotland?”, I may respond by asking why people living in London do not say “We will have the revenues from the Crown Estate in London, and we will not allow any subsidy to be given to Scotland.” That, I think, would make the Scots rather upset. A good deal more money comes from places such as Pall Mall, which is owned by the Crown, than from the seashore.
I had not taken the hon. Gentleman to be a fan of Scottish independence. I will clearly have to review that, given his latest utterances.
I said earlier that I was against Scottish independence, because if we had it we would not benefit from such helpful and informative interventions as the one that we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has miscalculated.
I think that those of us who support the Union are also being principled. These tax revenues—these forms that generate income for the state—must be preserved in their entirety. Once we start cutting them up bit by bit, we end up making calculations and saying “Actually, Scotland is receiving rather too little from the Crown Estate rather than too much.” I do not think that that argument works. I think that the Crown Estate must be viewed as a whole, as an indivisible part of an indivisible Crown. That is what I want to see: the traditional constitutional position which this country has enjoyed and which has made it such a great nation. Let us have no more attacks on private property or the indivisibility of the Crown, and let us have a reasonable settlement in taxation between the people of England and the people of Scotland, not to mention those of Northern Ireland and Wales, who also deserve their fair share of the total pie of economic wealth.
I welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg, because I am afraid that our debates on matters Scottish tend to become somewhat homogenous, and it is good to have a different perspective on our deliberations. It was also good to hear again about the threat of the hot breath of rapacious socialism and the harm that it can do in Scotland, because we need to hear that. As we near the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections, I will urge my colleagues to do their best to repel that threat.
My hon. Friend’s contribution was in marked contrast to that of Mr MacNeil, who again sped through his speech, which was simply a recounting of the usual dogma. Instead of making a coherent case, he simply said that the Crown Estate should be devolved to Scotland because everything should be devolved to Scotland.
Those of us who have been present in the Chamber throughout the deliberations on this Bill noted yet again the strong divergence between what we have come to know as London SNP and Edinburgh SNP. Although the hon. Gentleman launched an attack on the Crown Estate, none other than Jim Mather, SNP Energy Minister in Scotland, has said that the Scottish Government
“greatly value the strong working relationship with the Crown estate commissioners as it helps us all to ensure that Scotland leads the UK in giving wave and tidal energy developers opportunities to harness the power of our seas.”
The characterisation of the Crown Estate by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar was therefore misleading. Although I take on board the points that Mr Reid made about the operation of the Crown Estate, and acknowledge that he is a doughty campaigner for change to the estate, I am afraid that I do not recognise the characterisation of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. As he knows, the Secretary of State has sought to engage with the Crown Estate, and the estate has moved forward in a number of positive ways, such as through the production of its annual report, and the meetings it has with Scottish Ministers, MSPs, Scottish local authorities and many interest groups.
However, although there are positive aspects to the development of the Crown Estate, the Government recognise that a number of issues have been raised during the progress of the Scotland Bill and following the Calman deliberations, which is why we look in particular to the Scottish Parliament LCM Committee report, which stated that it had identified a number of radical options for the future development of the Crown Estate but that time was needed to consider them. We agree with the Committee when it says that it noted with some interest that the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons will review the work of the Crown Estate commissioners in Scotland, and that that was an important development. The Secretary of State for Scotland’s positive attitude to this initiative was also noted. That sums up the Government’s position. We greatly welcome the inquiry that the Scottish Affairs Committee has said that it will carry out into the operation of the Crown Estate in Scotland. That will present an opportunity for the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and others who have strong views about the Crown Estate to set them out, and the Government will look closely at the outcome of that inquiry.
What we will not do is respond favourably to dogma and to a view that the Crown Estate should simply be devolved for the sake of doing so. Although I have no hope that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar will do so, I ask him to withdraw the motion for his new clause.
I noted that Mr Reid said that coastal communities should benefit, but I was told earlier by a Liberal Democrat that they would look to mess about with a pretended technicality. Unfortunately, that is the usual stance of the Liberal Democrats: on the one hand it is not enough, yet on the other hand it is too much, and the upshot is that they want to leave it all with London. They will be judged in Scotland, so at least we will probably all be saved from having to listen to their pious words for years to come. In short, their position is that London is best, helping local communities is not on their agenda, and they will be voting for the status quo. Highlanders will know what to do at the May elections: sweep the Liberal Democrats away at the ballot box. Both the hon. Gentleman and Labour talk about local communities, but do nothing about that.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom I have great respect for and like personally, pronounces Na h-Eileanan an Iar very well. He did so not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but five times. All I can say is he must have had a very good teacher. I should tell him, however, that Crown rights in Scotland long predate George III.
I accept any accolades coming my way.
I should also point out to the hon. Gentleman that this new clause contains no republican agenda whatever. In fact, ideas of republicanism were not anywhere near the front, let alone the back, of my mind when I was framing it and making my speech. The new clause addresses the difficulties facing local communities; it is not an attack on property rights in Scotland, and the issue addressed here extends further than the Union of the Crowns, as I have said. Those property rights could be abolished by the Scottish Parliament. It has the powers to do that, although it would be what has been described as the nuclear option. These property rights are controlled by the Scottish Parliament, and they could be gone.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Scottish Parliament already has those powers. He has not responded to what I said earlier about section 1(3) of the Crown Estate Act 1961, however. The hon. Gentleman says his new clause will do great things for highland communities, but how is transferring the 6% of the profits of the Crown Estate from London to Edinburgh going to benefit local communities?
The hon. Gentleman has been living in Scotland long enough to know that Ministers in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament are far more susceptible to pressure from communities in Scotland than the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at No. 11 Downing street.
The hon. Member for North East Somerset will not be surprised to learn that I am no great fan of the 1707 Union, but I am quite relaxed about the 1603 Union and the maintenance of Her Majesty as the Queen. Steve Rotheram put it to me that Scotland does indeed have a king and his name is Kenny, but that is a little beside the point. I am happy to maintain the Crown, as Canada, Australia and New Zealand do. My point is about the movement of powers from Westminster to the most democratic forum representing Scotland, which is the Scottish Parliament—that is the right way to proceed.
I should have known that someone from the economic powerhouse that is Northern Ireland was sitting behind me—I say that with irony.
Unfortunately, the Minister indulges in the usual slurs and dogma, and he is wrong in some of his assertions. He said nothing about helping communities; he tried to pin all this on some sort of political agenda in the Scottish National party. The new clause is not about that; it is about the powers people need to affect the day-to-day occurrences in their communities and around their islands. Tonight, people will see past the words of certain politicians.
No. I do not know when we last had a vote on this, but tonight’s vote will enable people to make many judgments for years to come. We will judge this for years to come.