On Thursday this week, the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee will take evidence on the Smith Commission proposals to devolve responsibility for the administration and management of the property, rights and interests that comprise the Crown Estate in Scotland (paras 32-25 of the Smith Commission report). (1) With the property rights of the Crown already devolved under the Scotland Act 1998 and with other Crown property rights already administered by the Crown Office in Edinburgh, this should complete the full devolution of the Crown’s property, rights and interests in Scotland. (2)
Unfortunately, the Command Paper (Scotland in the UK: an enduring settlement) published in January, recommends a complex “transfer scheme” whereby the functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC) will be devolved. It also recommends that the CEC be able to continue to acquire property in Scotland – a proposal that is a recipe for confusion and chaos.
All that is required to implement the Smith Commission proposals is a series of simple legislative amendments to the Scotland Acts of 1998 and 2012 and the Crown Estate Act 1961 – all to the effect that the CEC no longer operate in Scotland, that the Scottish Parliament has full legislative competence over Crown land in Scotland and that statutory responsibility for exercising the function of the CEC is henceforth vested in Scottish Ministers. A discussion and debate can then take place in Scotland as to how to implement a programme of decentralisation – a recommendation endorsed by all the political parties represented on the Smith Commission as reflected in paragraph 33 of its final report.
I have outlined my full views in written evidence if you are interested in further detail. Meanwhile, I look forward to giving evidence to the Committee on Thursday.
(2) The Crown’s property rights are devolved under Section 3(1) of Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. The Crown’s property rights that are already administered in Scotland are those under the control of the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer whose revenues have been paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund since devolution in 1999.