Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:03 pm on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 4:03 pm, 16th June 1999

That is interesting.

I would have liked to see a few of our proposals being announced this morning but, regrettably, they were not. There can be no objection to the principles in the two proposed bills. There will be a widespread, but not universal, welcome to an end to feudal tenure. We must all agree that that is long overdue. I recall that, during an adjournment debate in what we are now calling another place, Alex Salmond led us through what can only be described as a dismal catalogue of outrages perpetrated by the so-called raider of the lost titles.

I look forward to seeing the draft bill, just as I look forward to seeing the other draft bill-the land reform bill as opposed to the bill for the abolition of feudal tenure. It might be a slight overstatement to say, as the First Minister did this morning, that there is enthusiasm for the land reform policy group's proposals. It would be fairer to say that there is resignation to the fact that, although there will be some movement, the more wide-ranging reforms are not going to take place.

I am concerned that we are not approaching land reform in the way that might once have been expected. Land reform is not just a legal reform; it is also a social reform. I appreciate that issues of social reform and social justice often tend to be seen as purely urban matters, but they are not; they have a strong rural element.

The proposed measures are certainly useful. No doubt a community right to buy is important. I absolutely support that, as I have supported the communities in Eigg and in Assynt, but-and this is a big but-how often will communities actually want to exercise that right? When thinking about land reform, I like to set my own test, which I call the Blackford test. It may be a little parochial, as the Blackford estate is in my constituency, but it is one of the largest estates in Scotland and perhaps one of the worst perpetrators of some of the unfortunate practices that are possible under the present system of land ownership.

When I hear proposals for land reform, I always think of the Blackford estate and ask myself what those proposals would do to change the situation there. It is only 30 to 45 minutes up the road; we do not have to go right up north to the western Highlands to see some pretty atrocious examples of land management. Will the proposed legislation do anything to help? It might have prevented the period of speculation as to where and with whom the ownership of Blackford was based. Beyond that, I do not see how the legislation would make any difference. People in the community in Blackford and the surrounding area do not want to own the estate. The ability to buy the estate is neither here nor there as far as they are concerned. They have spent years watching perfectly habitable farmhouses being allowed to fall into dereliction. They are totally frustrated by that, and all they want is some input and some say in what is happening on the estate. Although I welcome what is proposed, none of it will make the slightest difference to that estate.

Land reform is about more than the issues that are being addressed. The Executive may intend to tackle other aspects later in the legislative programme or in the years to come. If that is the intention, I hope to hear a word or two about it in the closing speech, which I understand will be delivered by Mr Wallace.

When he replies, I would like Mr Wallace to clarify a minor point about the section of the proposal that relates to national parks where there is a reference to legislating for access. Is it the Executive's intention that the access legislation will be a stand-alone bill, or will it be subsumed by the legislation on national parks? That is an important clarification. Until now, we have always assumed that access legislation will be dealt with quite separately.

In my role as shadow justice minister, I welcome the announcement of the incapable adults bill. Shorn of its most controversial clauses, it will be regarded as a long-overdue reform that is likely to gain widespread support from members. Perhaps it will even gain unanimous support-that would be a first. In the entire policy area, embracing justice, equality and land reform, there are some huge gaps and I would like them to be addressed.

It is unfortunate that, as well as omitting more extensive land reform legislation, the Executive has missed the opportunity to introduce a Scottish freedom of information bill. I know that there is to be a statement on it next week, which I anticipate with interest, but how much more of a signal could we have sent out to Scotland if, as one of our first major pieces of legislation, we had done a freedom of information bill? That would have shown that this Parliament really is going to be different-particularly if the bill was more generous than its Westminster equivalent. It would have been a big legislative set piece that would have made people sit up and notice. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

There are other missed areas and opportunities. There is no mainstream justice legislation. There are two areas where, I feel certain, there would have been cross-party support and therefore a speedy passage through Parliament. That must be taken into account: not all these bills will take the same amount of time to go through Parliament. Some smaller bills that would have been given speedy approval could have been introduced, so their absence is all the more puzzling. Why are there no proposals for changing both civil and criminal law to enable domestic violence to be dealt with in a speedier, more effective and more sensitive way? Why are we not addressing the problem of Scots-born but overseas-raised individuals who are convicted of serious crimes and then dumped back on Scotland without warning? There have been back-bench calls from all parties on those matters. I see the First Minister screwing his face up, but some of his own Westminster back benchers have called for action on that latter point.