Section 31 — Community bodies

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:00 am on 23rd January 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 11:00 am, 23rd January 2003

Amendment 133 is grouped with amendments 199, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 201, 154, 155, 156, 157 and 158.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The main thrust of the Executive amendments in the group is, with one or two additions, to ensure that the bill will no longer preclude a community body from achieving charitable status. The matter was, properly, rehearsed at stage 2 and we agreed to introduce amendments.

Amendments 133, 134 and 136, for part 2, and amendments 154, 155 and 157, for part 3, modify the definition of a community body to provide that it will be such a body only if ministers have confirmed that its main purpose is consistent with

"furthering the achievement of sustainable development."

That is the same form of words as was introduced at stage 2. It emphasises the fact that the community body should focus its activities on the long-term benefits that acquiring the land will bring.

Executive amendments 134 and 155 respectively remove the current requirement in the bill and will permit the memorandum and articles of association to specify purposes that are consistent with the current definitions used by the Inland Revenue charities division, which determines whether a community body can become a charity.

Executive amendments 135 and 136, together with amendments 138 and 158, will ensure that any surplus assets following the winding-up of a community body or crofting community body with charitable status will pass to a charity, if no similar community body or crofting community body with charitable status is available. That will allow the community body's company memorandum and articles of association to be compatible with the requirements of the Inland Revenue charities division.

Amendment 137 will remove from section 31(4A) the reference to the Registrar General for Scotland as the sole determining body for postcode units. That will provide more flexibility should the responsibility be transferred from the General Register Office for Scotland in the future.

That flexibility is entirely consistent with that provided for the keeper of the register of community interests in land in section 33(9).

I turn to Roseanna Cunningham's amendments 199 and 201. When the matter was discussed in the Justice 2 Committee at stage 2, there was some support for an alternative means of setting up community bodies and an amendment to that effect was lodged. The issue was discussed at some length, but the amendment was not moved.

Amendments 199 and 201 would restrict that alternative to community councils, which already exist and are democratically accountable. However, there are still good reasons why it is better to set up community bodies as companies limited by guarantee, as section 31 sets out. The memorandum and articles of association of the company must comply with the requirements of section 31, which include having a minimum number of members and a main purpose that is compatible with sustainable development. Those requirements would be lost if community councils were able to act as community bodies.

Furthermore, under amendment 201, there would be no requirement for community bodies to demonstrate that a significant number of their members have a substantial connection with the land, that the land is sufficiently near to land with which the members have a connection, or that the land's acquisition is compatible with furthering sustainable development. All those safeguards would be removed. I ask members to resist amendments 199 and 201.

I move amendment 133.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

We welcome the Executive amendments in group 20. When the Justice 2 Committee visited Stornoway and Lewis, it emerged that the Gigha buyout was greatly facilitated financially because the buyout company had charitable status. That status immediately saved the company many hundreds of thousands of pounds in taxation at the point of purchase. Given that the purpose of the companies that will be created under the bill is to support sustainable development in their communities, the advantage of having charitable status is immediately obvious. It is welcome that the minister and the Executive listened to the discussions in the committee on the issue.

I turn to amendments 199 and 201. The minister will no doubt recall that the Justice 2 Committee had a number of discussions about the nature of community bodies. A number of fairly onerous conditions are placed on limited companies and it seemed to many committee members that the condition that the body must be a limited company during the period of registration of an interest, prior to the acquisition of land, is particularly onerous. At that stage in the buyout process, there is little liability against which the members of the community body require to be protected through its being a limited company.

Amendments 199 and 201 would provide an alternative, in that community councils could be community bodies. The reason why community councils would be a good alternative at that stage in the process is that they already operate within the legislative framework and so exist in law—we would not have to define something new. Furthermore, community councils are supervised—the membership is known and the numbers that are required and the areas from which the members are drawn are established. We lodged amendments 199 and 201 to provide greater flexibility, particularly during the period of registration. Given the restrictive nature of land owning in Scotland, registration will often not lead to a purchase, but the amendments would make the process much easier for communities.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

We are attracted by the Executive's amendments and we see the sense in them. The requirements of charitable status will ensure that the appropriate checks and balances are in force and that the appropriate audit requirements are in place, as would be required by the charities division. It is also true, as Stewart Stevenson said, that charitable status is a tax-efficient way for a community body to deal with matters.

We are not convinced by amendments 199 and 201. We feel that what they propose would not be a suitable way in which to operate. Amendment 213 also strikes us as interfering unnecessarily in the right of an individual, and we will oppose that amendment.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I support the Executive's amendments and speak against Roseanna Cunningham's amendment 199. I disagree with her view that community councils should be allowed to register. I have experience of the Gigha buyout, and it is clear to me that taking on and owning land is not something that any community body will do lightly. It is a huge responsibility, and it requires those who wish to do so to demonstrate that they are clearly focused on the objective of buying the property. It requires them to be properly representative of the community and to demonstrate that they are willing to take on that responsibility. In view of all those objectives, community councils would not fit the bill. I therefore encourage the minister to resist amendments 199 and 201.

Amendment 133 agreed to.

Amendment 199 moved—[Roseanna Cunningham].

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 199 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 28

For: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew, Young, John
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Craigie, Cathie, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Tosh, Mr Murray

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 41, Against 65, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 199 disagreed to.

Amendments 134 to 138 moved—[Ross Finnie]—and agreed to.