§ 69. Mr. Crouch
asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will now make a statement on the Crichel Down inquiry and issue a White Paper.
§ At the end of Questions—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Sir Andrew Clark's Report on the Crichel Down Inquiry is published today and is now available in the Vote Office.
Sir Andrew Clark states in Conclusion 25 of his Report thatthere was no trace in this case of anything in the nature of bribery, corruption or personal dishonesty.The Inquiry has thus achieved my main purpose, which was to deal with any rumours and suggestions of this kind.
The Report contains criticisms of the actions and conduct of the Agricultural Land Commission and of a number of individuals. So far as those criticised are persons—and most of them are—for whose conduct I am answerable as a Minister of the Crown, the responsibility rests with me. That responsibility I wholly accept.
I have naturally given to those who are criticised an opportunity of making to me such observations as they wished on those parts of the Report which referred to them. Having considered the observations and explanations I have received, I must in fairness say that I have formed a less unfavourable view of many of the actions taken by those concerned than appears in the Report.
Mistakes and errors of judgment were made which those concerned regret as much as I do; and steps are being taken, so far as possible to see that these do not happen again. In view of the nature of the errors themselves and of the public way in which they have been exposed, I am satisfied that no further action by me in relation to them is necessary. I consider that the Agricultural Land Commission are fulfilling a useful function.
In view of the circumstances of this particular case, and in view of Sir Andrew Clark's statement in his Report that Commander Marten was fully justified in pressing for an inquiry, the Government 1746 have decided to reimburse Commander Marten for reasonable costs incurred in being represented at the Inquiry.
I will make a statement, on behalf of the Government, on the general policy relating to the disposal of land purchased compulsorily for public purposes as soon as a debate can be arranged.
The Government are most grateful to Sir Andrew Clark for his valuable services in conducting the Inquiry, without fee.
Mr. T. Williams
In view of the fact that Commander Marten had neither a legal nor a moral right to dictate to the right hon. Gentleman as to what he should do with land purchased by the Government for Government purposes, why should we now be called upon to bear the cost of an inquiry which need not have taken place?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to wait and read the Report in detail. I will certainly deal with that point during the course of the debate, when we hold it in the House.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that the cost will not be too great. Further, in view of the last paragraph of his statement, and in view of some very offensive observations made against members of the Civil Service and members of the Land Commission, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that Sir Andrew Clark has been very dear even at the price which he was paid?
§ Mr. Crouch
Did I hear my right hon. Friend aright that no steps are being taken against these civil servants who were so foolish during the transfer of this land from one Department to another? Is he going to let them hold their appointments—men who wrote letters which in the Inquiry were proved to be incorrect and untrue? What is to happen about the ownership of the land? Does the Minister intend to proceed with the expenditure of £35,000 of public money on equipment? Finally, may we expect a debate on this issue next week?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Answering the first part of my hon. Friend's question. I think 1747 these are matters more suitable for discussion during the debate. Although it was excluded from the scope of the Inquiry, I am sure the House would naturally wish to know what is the position about the future of the land. The present position at Crichel Down is that the Commissioners of Crown Lands have entered into a binding agreement with a tenant who is in occupation and has the right to continue to farm the land and have the necessary buildings provided. Unless, therefore, the tenancy agreement is surrendered, it is impracticable to sell the land back to the successors of the three former owners. The Government have therefore decided that the land cannot be sold back to them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Robbery.] The question of a debate is one for my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Mr. Grimond
Surely the Minister would agree that the least which can be done for Commander Marten is to pay his expenses? Is the Minister satisfied that that will reimburse him or any other owners of land who have been dispossessed? When he talks of mistakes, is it not the case that this Inquiry showed a deliberate course of action by his Department over a number of years? Is he satisfied that no further steps are needed to prevent it from happening again?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I think we must await the debate to get all these questions brought out in speeches. It is not a suitable matter to be dealt with by question and answer.