Amendment 258

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:00, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I will start by addressing Amendment 258 and then move on to Amendment 504GJI, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Amendment 258 would remove land in the Duchy of Cornwall from the definition of “Crown land”, as part of planning law. The noble Lord asked what the definition of “Crown land” was, and I apologise for not answering him in the previous debate. It is set out in Section 293 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as my noble friend Lord Lansley rightly indicated in the last debate. It is, broadly, land in which there is a Crown or a Duchy interest—I shall expand on that in a second. I appreciate that the noble Lord tabled a number of Private Member’s Bills concerning the treatment of the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall, and I admire his tenacity in this regard.

For the benefit of the Committee, I will set out some factual and historical background. For a long time, the Crown was not subject to planning control, but, in 2006, provisions within the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 made it subject to planning permission, subject to special modifications. These recognise not only the unique nature of operational Crown land—prisons and military bases, for example—but the uniqueness and importance of the royal estates.

It is important first to understand the complex status of the Duchy of Cornwall. The title “Duke of Cornwall” and the inheritance of the Duchy were created in 1337 by a charter that carries the authority of an Act of Parliament. By virtue of that charter, the Duchy vests in the eldest son of the sovereign, also being heir apparent. Where there is no son and heir, the estate reverts to the Crown. Craies on Legislation notes:

“That is why … the Crown’s prerogative attaches to the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall, for the reason that they never entirely cease to be Crown lands”.

In short, there is always the possibility of the Duchy reverting to the sovereign, as his or her property. For this reason, the Duchy never entirely ceases to be Crown lands. For example, in recent times, King George VI had no son, so, on his accession, there was no Duke of Cornwall and the Duchy remained with King George VI.

Removing the Duchy of Cornwall from the definition of “Crown land” within Section 293 of the Town and Country Planning Act risks disrupting this well-established constitutional arrangement. This could open widespread implications for not just planning but how the Duchy is treated in law more widely. I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, but I am not sure that it is appropriate to open up this debate as part of the Bill. From his previous experience, he will appreciate that it would not be right for a single individual or party to seek to change the law on the way the Duchy of Cornwall is treated. If that is done at all, it has to be done with cross-party support. In addition, a Bill affecting the Duchy requires the King’s consent and sometimes also the Prince’s consent. For the reasons I set out, the Government have no intention to change the definitions of “Crown land” at this time, especially where this concerns changes that could affect His Majesty’s hereditary rights.

Amendment 504GJI addresses the impact that recommendations in the Law Commission’s 2020 report on enfranchisement would have on the Government’s levelling-up and regeneration objectives, including for leaseholders on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The Government are committed to making it easier and cheaper for leaseholders to purchase their freeholds and extend their leases, and we are grateful to the Law Commission for its detailed report on enfranchisement reform. This report addressed a range of matters relating to the qualifying criteria for enfranchisement and lease extensions, including the applicability of these to leaseholders of the Crown, the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. In January 2022, the Government consulted on Law Commission proposals that would improve access to enfranchisement and the right to manage. I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that this is a long-term and complex reform programme with many interdependencies, and it will take time to get the detail right. Once it is enacted, the effect will be felt for generations, so we are determined that this work consider all the implications with care.

We are considering the Law Commission’s recommendations, including those relating to the qualifying criteria for enfranchisement and lease extensions, as well as the applicability of these to the leaseholders of the Duchy of Cornwall, alongside responses to our consultation. The Secretary of State has set out his intention in Parliament to bring the outdated and feudal leasehold system to an end. We are due to bring forward further leasehold reforms later in this Parliament. Details will be published in due course. There will be an impact assessment to accompany any future legislation on leasehold.

Given the extent of government action on leasehold reform set out elsewhere in policy and our intention to legislate in this area, and the detail I have already mentioned on the reasons not to change the definition of Crown land at this time, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment 258.