Yesterday Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore published the Scotland Bill. What does it say about the future of Scotland’s public crown lands? First of all, it is worth remembering that the Calman Commission was nobbled by the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) and made the weakest of recommendations about the future of the Crown Estate. Unfortunately, the Scotland Bill perpetuates this and adds more confusion and nonsense.
In the Command Paper, on page 63, the section on the Crown Estate opens with this sentence.
“The Crown Estate manages The Queen’s hereditary UK property assets which She holds as Monarch, including certain properties in Scotland.”
Even putting aside the iffy grammar and bearing in mind that this is a Command Paper presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Scotland by Command of Her Majesty, this is a mighty weird sentence. Suggestion. Hand that sentence to a class of constitutional law students and ask them to write an essay on it. Here’s what the bright ones would worry away at.
First note that “The Crown Estate” is merely a bundle of property rights (the capital “T” is only there because the word is at the beginning of a sentence). A bundle of property rights cannot manage anything. What the Scotland Office has done here is to perpetuate the CEC’s misguided marketing ploy to rebrand itself as “The Crown Estate”
Next note the deferential capital letters – “She”. What is that all about? It’s a bit rude frankly. I might be wrong but I have never seen a capitalised “She” in any official HM Government papers before.
But it is the substance of this sentence that is worrying because it is untrue.
The Crown Estate Commission DOES NOT manage The Queen’s hereditary UK property assets.
1. The Crown Estate comprises property rights and interests which are different in each Kingdom, predate the formation of the UK, and are legally separate.
2. These Scottish assets (and English ones too) are NOT the Queen’s hereditary assets as Monarch or in any other capacity. They belong to the Crown which is a constitutional entity represented by the Monarch. This is not just semantics. It means that Crown land is thus a form of public land.
Finally, what is this afterthought about “certain properties in Scotland” as if they are part and parcel of a bundle of “UK property assets”?
Sadly, the rest of the paragraph reflects verbatim what the Calman Commission was told by the Crown Estate Commission and is little more than PR spin.
I am a simple person who thinks a bit, finds out some things and writes about them. I work from the corner of my sitting room and have to earn my own living. The Secretary of State is a Minister of The Crown in HM Government in Whitehall with some of the finest brains in the country working for him. Who wrote this rubbish?
By comparison, the Scottish Government’s consultation, launched yesterday, is accurate in all of its references to these matters. Alex Salmond may be struggling a bit in trying to wrest control of the CEC away from London but at least he seems to know what he’s talking about.
Now, let’s look at what the Scotland Bill proposes. Are any powers to be repatriated or any revenues returned?
Instead, we are going to get a “Scottish Commissioner” to be appointed to the Crown Estate Commission. Fantastic….can’t wait. What a difference this is going to make. Particularly, as clause 18(2) states that this person must “be a person who knows about conditions in Scotland as they relate to to functions of the Commissioners” Sounds very colonial to me. Is this Scotland’s person in the Commission or the Commission’s person in Scotland?
As if this patronising concession to devolution were not enough, read on on to clause 18(3) but only after making sure your mouth is empty. This “person who knows about conditions in Scotland” it to be appointed on the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I never use expletives in my blog but am sorely tempted to here. George Osborne or his successor will advise Her Majesty as to who he thinks “knows conditions in Scotland” and would make a good “Scotish Crown Estate Commissioner”. But hey, it’s OK because before making this recommendation he “shall consult Scottish Ministers”. Yipee!!!
So let’s recap. We have Scotland’s crown property rights which are public land over which the Scottish Parliament has full legislative powers but the administration of these rights is reserved to Westminster. These crown lands may be the Saudi Arabia of renewables. There may be Â£ billions flowing from them in years to come and yet the Scotland Office is proposing we stick with the CEC in London and get a Scottish Commissioner appointed on the recommendation of George Osborne.
If Scotland is to have its own Commissioner, I suggest that person be the First Minister. Up until 1956, the Secretary of State for Scotland was one of the Commissioners of Crown Lands responsible for Scotland’s Crown lands. And remember, this “Scottish Commissioner” will actually have more power than the First Minister over Scottish public land. Is that really what devolution is meant to deliver?
Are we mugs? Still, as surprises go, I guess it rivals clause 14 in the Scotland Bill which proposes that Antarctica be a reserved matter. Seriously – go and read it (and my friend, Lallans Peat Worrier has an explanation why).
We have no need of the Crown Estate Commission in Scotland. They are a waste of space. They get in the way. They are an additional hurdle for business to have to deal with. They should be excised from any role in the administration of Scotland’s crown lands. The Crown Office (part of the Scottish Government) does a capable job of managing an important part of the crown rights in Scotland. There’s no good reason why the rest should still be managed by a London property company.
The solution is a simple and as short as a tweet. An amendment should be tabled in Holyrood and Westminster that Â “In the Crown Estate Act 1961 insert Section 1(8) â€œThis Act does not apply to Scotlandâ€