The future of the Crown Estate was a topic of discussion in the Scotland Bill Committee of the Scottish Parliament on 3 February 2010. Giving evidence were Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, Roger Bright, Chief Executive of the Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC) and Tom Mallows, Consents and External relations Manager of the CEC.
As I write this (Satudray 5 February), the Official Report is not yet published but since further evidence is to be taken on Tuesday 8 Feb (including from myself), I thought it would be useful to let people hear what was said. (UPDATE 10 Feb – Official Report now available)
There is a welcome recognition that the Secretary of State is willing to listen to the arguments for going further with reform of the Crown Estate than as currently set out in the Scotland Bill. There is also an interesting intervention by Wendy Alexander, the Convenor of the Committee, which shows that she has a good grasp of some of the issues.
But it is the closing remarks of Roger Bright that are most interesting because he claims that the CEC is the owner of the Crown Estate.
Â â€œItâ€™s perhaps worth bearing in mind that there is a clear distinction between ownership of the seabed and the regulation of it and the regulation of the seabed lies very clearly with the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland.
So we donâ€™t have a regulatory role …. weâ€™re just the landowner here but nevertheless in that capacity we seek to work very closely with the Scottish Government so we understand their policy objectives and try and work out how we can best work with them.”Â
This is incorrect. The CEC is not the owner of the Crown Estate.
The CEC own nothing apart from some paper clips and office furniture. In relation to the Crown Estate, they merely administer the property rights and interests that comprise the Crown Estate. This is not a pedantic point. It is fundamental to the emerging debate since what is at issue is whether the CEC is the body best placed to administer what is Scottish public land when such a function could easily be discharged by a range of bodies in Scotland, some of whom already administer other Crown property rights.