Restrictions on Disposal

Part of Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 18th March 1997.

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Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray 4:41 pm, 18th March 1997

I will be brief. I spoke on this subject in the Scottish Grand Committee in Montrose, but I did not serve on the Standing Committee, because of other commitments.

The Benches are hardly packed; some might ask where the passion is. I assure hon. Members that nothing arouses greater passions in the highlands and islands of Scotland than land use and ownership. Many hon. Members could recite words from folk songs and poems about the people who were condemned by the black-faced ram and the factor's fire-raiser. After the highland clearances, there had to be radical reforms to enable people to come back to the highlands and islands. Those are the historical roots of the issue.

I welcome the Bill generally, but, like the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), I think that it is permissive, and that we have to look beyond that. From examining the legislation and reading the comments made both in Committee and elsewhere, it seems that many legal niceties will emerge. It will be like the planning permission arguments that hon. Members often experience, where some people want one attitude to be taken, but others feel that it is wrong. It is a minefield.

When I wrote to the Minister of State, he replied that he did not think that it was a lost opportunity. I think it is, because we could have addressed the argument about the feudal system in the highlands and islands. As has been said, the former councils of Moray and of Ross and Cromarty did much work in trying to resolve some of the difficulties, and a concession was eventually made. Beyond that, the issue of feudal superiority will still apply to many people.

Whoever is in power after the general election, we should take account of what was said at the Highlands and Islands Convention in Stornoway. Neither Front-Bench spokesman was present at the convention, but several hon. Members who are here were. Dr. Jim Hunter, who is much respected, has offered to put together a paper on land use and ownership that should be considered in future legislation. It is not enough to deal with the matter piece by piece; we need a radical approach to crofting, land use and land ownership in Scotland.

The land register that was set up has not reached its conclusion. It was supposed to have done that by this year. It will be another 10 years before we have a full land register in Scotland. In what will probably be my last speech in this Parliament, I have to say that the land issue must be addressed much more seriously by all the political parties. I am proud that my party established a land commission under Professor MacInnes of Aberdeen university, who acted in a neutral capacity and took much evidence from around the country. That is a helpful contribution to the debate. Without land, we can do nothing. We need land and people to build a more secure society; the two go together.