Due to changes made to the official Scottish Parliament website at the start of 2011, our parser that used to fetch their web pages and convert them into more structured information has stopped working. We’re afraid we cannot give a timescale as to when we will be able to cover the Scottish Parliament again. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Section 70 — Application by crofting community body for consent to buy croft land etc
Land Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
Bill Aitken (Conservative)
The purpose of amendment 6 is to prevent an application from being made to acquire the same land within five years of the previous
I move amendment 6.
Allan Wilson (Labour)
Amendment 6 proposes what would be a harsh penalty for a minor mistake or omission that might require an application to be withdrawn and replaced with a revised application. If amendment 6 were accepted, a crofting community body that withdrew an application would have to wait five years and conduct a new ballot before it could reapply. That would be unacceptable.
Amendment 8 would require ministers to compare the plans of the existing owner with those of the prospective community purchaser. It would guarantee an effective land manager protection from crofting community purchase. Of course, good land management practices are not the sole measure of a good landowner. Achieving sustainable development is not the sole objective of the crofting community right to buy. The legislation is primarily about community development and empowerment and ensuring that land resources are developed and used to benefit and sustain the local crofting community. Therefore, amendment 8 would be equally unacceptable.
Amendment 9 is cynically designed to make it almost impossible for ministers to agree to a crofting community right to buy application. It would require ministers to look up to 10 years into the future. They would then have to satisfy themselves absolutely that the applicant body would not require public funds within that period.
We are not interested in throwing good money after bad. Financial viability and probity are matters of concern and will be assessed when ministers consider applications. If it is apparent that a crofting community's right to buy application is ill thought out and will not result in a viable community business, it will not be in the public interest to approve such an application.
I am pleased to note Mr Aitken's new-found—and, presumably, short-lived—concern to meet the wishes of the Scottish Crofting Foundation. However, I am bound to question whether he would have been as keen to support its proposals if they had been likely to facilitate the right to buy. A requirement to achieve 75 per cent support for the right to buy is an unnecessary hurdle, which is presumably why he supports it.
Since Mr Aitken proposed amendment 27, he
Bill Aitken's concerns are misplaced. Once the legislation is enacted, the risk for a landowner in connection with the crofting community right to buy will be properly assessed. When that happens, it will be obvious that there is no cause for concern, and the scare that Bill Aitken is trying to monger will be seen not to exist. Amendment 27 is unnecessary Executive amendment 159 is a technical amendment.
I invite members to reject amendments 6, 8, 9, 13 and 27 and to accept amendment 159.
Duncan Hamilton (Scottish National Party)
The SNP supports entirely the Executive's position on amendment 6 because it would have the effect of debarring any further application for five years if an application were withdrawn. That seems unnecessarily restrictive, which is presumably precisely why it has been proposed.
I have always had a high estimation of Mr Aitken and Mr McGrigor, particularly with regard to their education. However, incorporating amendment 8 into the bill would leave us with an odd sentence of which I am sure Mr Aitken would not be proud. It would read that ministers would not consent to an application unless they were satisfied "that the exercise by the crofting community body of the right to buy under this Part of the Act will improve the achievement of sustainable development". I am not sure that Mr Aitken would want to support such an ugly sentence. Perhaps he means "will improve the chances of the achievement". The amendment may not make a great deal of sense.
More important, if amendment 8 is agreed to, it will change the meaning of the paragraph and narrow the definition to the extent that any purchase would have to be proven to be a cause of improvement in sustainable development, as opposed to being compatible with it. The idea is to establish a higher barrier for crofting community bodies to overcome. For that reason, the Scottish National Party will oppose it.
Amendment 9 is also a strange amendment. It seeks to debar the community from accessing any additional public funds for 10 years. The idea that a crofting community would not be able to receive a preferential loan from the Government,
On amendment 13, the minister has dealt adequately with the suggestion that we should move to a 75 per cent majority. The simple majority drives most aspects of our lives. That is more realistic. To go down the arbitrary route of a 75 per cent majority is simply not helpful. We had that debate at stage 2—I am sure that Mr Aitken remembers it. At that point, the decision was taken to promote the 50 per cent rule.
On amendment 27, which is also in Mr Aitken's name, I share the Executive's concerns that it may not be possible to do what the amendment seeks to do, which is to separate out the impact on the valuation of each part of the bill's reforms. If Mr Aitken thinks that amendment 27 somehow relates to the European convention on human rights, I suggest that that is not the case. I draw his attention to some of the signatory countries to the ECHR, particularly the Scandinavian countries. In those countries, it is perfectly possible to put restrictions on the way in which land is owned, despite the fact that they are signatories to the ECHR. Therefore the ECHR argument is bogus.
I was disappointed that the minister was so reticent on Executive amendment 159. He simply said that it was a technical amendment. Its effect is to remove the description of the seller as "knowledgeable and prudent" for the purpose of valuation. I cannot understand the advantage of removing that description. Presumably, the seller otherwise just has to be willing. If we are to have a proper valuation, would it not be sensible to keep that phrase in so that the valuation can be based on the view of a knowledgeable and prudent seller.
If the minister has something more substantial to say, I would be delighted to give him the opportunity to say it. Unless he does so and gives further clarification, I suspect that the SNP will have to vote against amendment 159.
Bill Aitken (Conservative)
On amendment 8, although I concede Mr Hamilton's point that the wording might be a trifle inelegant, it still fits the bill, because it ensures that crofting community bodies demonstrate that, if they are to acquire land, the sustainable development of the land will improve. Under the existing wording, they are required only to demonstrate that the acquisition is compatible
On amendment 9, the minister and Mr Hamilton seem to fail to realise that many salmon fisheries operate at a loss. Given that premise, it is surely not too much to ask that a third criterion be introduced for ministers to take into account when they consider an application from a crofting community body. Such bodies are expected to seek and be given public money—mainly from the lottery, although I have no doubt that direct taxation will eventually contribute—to buy the land that they acquire under parts 2 and 3 of the bill. Amendment 9 would ensure that no further calls are made on public funds.
On amendment 13, Mr Hamilton advances the argument that life is basically governed by a simple majority, and he suggests that we should adopt a similar rule. Significantly, the Liberal party has not contributed to the debate on this group. In that party's case, a majority would presumably be achieved by single transferable vote.
The thinking behind amendment 27 is that there is uncertainly behind the existing wording. Because salmon fishings are classified as "eligible croft land", the method of valuation for croft land, rather than that for salmon fishings, might be used instead. That would simply not be appropriate.
The answer to written question S1W-28095 goes some way towards answering the point. It states:
"Section 85 does not constrain the valuer to any particular methodology".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 26 August 2002; p 1405.]
Amendment 27 ensures that the proper, appropriate method of valuation will apply.
Division number 40
For: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Harding, Mr Keith, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, Mundell, David, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Young, John
Against: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Gray, Iain, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McAllion, Mr John, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McLeish, Henry, McLeod, Fiona, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Paterson, Mr Gil, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thomson, Elaine, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Wilson, Andrew