After section 56

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:15 pm on 23rd January 2003.

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Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Amendment 214 is a substantial amendment. In fairness to members who are operating with the papers they had previously, amendment 214 was substituted for amendment 205 and there are some fundamental differences between it and the amendment that appears in the first marshalled list for stage 3. A new marshalled list that was distributed this morning takes account of that.

The effect of amendment 214 is to introduce a compulsory purchase power to the bill. If community bodies have an interest in land registered for at least five years and the right to buy has not arisen, they might hold a referendum under the terms of the bill and if successful, they might apply to the local authority to purchase the land in which it has registered an interest compulsorily on their behalf. That is what we want to happen.

The local authority has discretion in deciding whether the compulsory purchase is appropriate. The conditions that apply are that there must be no prospect of the land coming up for sale in the next 10 years. The compulsory purchase may not be against the public interest and the community body—prior to the compulsory purchase—must show that it is able to pay for the land and the transaction costs.

The basic scheme is that, where a community body has registered an interest in land, the right to buy has not been triggered for five years and there is no prospect of the right to buy being triggered in the next 10 years, the community body may hold a ballot under the terms of the bill. If the people of the community vote in favour of purchasing the land, the community body may apply to the council for a compulsory purchase. For that to happen, the council must consider that it is appropriate to carry out the compulsory purchase, that the purchase is not against the public interest, that the community body is able to pay for the land and the transaction expenses and that it will use the land in a way that is compatible with sustainable development. Finally, amendment 206 provides for an appeal process for landowners, community bodies and members of the community.

Amendment 214 is supported by Highland Council and a similar amendment was lodged by Alasdair Morrison at stage 2. However, there are some differences between amendment 214 and Alasdair Morrison's stage 2 amendment. There is no reference to the non-existent Local Government in Scotland Act 2002. Community bodies must wait five years before seeking a compulsory purchase from a local authority. A new public interest test will be introduced to allow the purchase to go ahead and communities will be required to pay for the land—it would not be transferred free of charge by the local authority.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is still rather timid. In Scotland, a quarter of the land is owned by 66 landowners, a third by 120 owners, half by 343 owners and two thirds by only 1,252 owners. There are local land monopolies that can strangle the development of communities for decades and that has been seen in Eigg, Mar Lodge, Assynt and elsewhere. The bill provides that it is only if the community has continually indicated its willingness to buy, set up a company, registered its interest and re-registered every five years, that it may, at such time that the owner becomes willing to sell, purchase the land at the market value.

Amendment 214 reverses the timidity of the bill. It gives community bodies leverage on owners who hoard land. It cuts through the difficulty that a landowner might wish to hold on to land simply for the capital receipt, but not wish to invest in the land or the community. It cuts out all the technicalities relating to transfer of land by transfer of shares in a landowning company—which we have discussed—and avoidance by transfer to trust or transfer of pro indiviso shares. Its principle is simple and it fits in with the principle of redistributing land and redressing the balance of power in the countryside to the people who live there. That was the point of the bill in the first place.

Amendment 214 is considerably more moderate than the crofting community right-to-buy amendments that we will vote on later. Alasdair Morrison lodged a similar amendment at stage 2 that sought to provide the local authority with compulsory purchase powers to buy land for the well-being of the community and pass it to a community body free of charge. At stage 2, he stated:

"The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 gives local authorities powers to acquire compulsorily any land in their area that is suitable for, or required to secure, development or improvement, or required for the purposes of the proper planning of the area. However, those powers relate to the planning function of the local authority."—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 5 November 2002; c 2053.]

Alasdair Morrison's amendment was criticised on a number of grounds. Allan Wilson pointed out some technical flaws, including a reference to an act that does not exist, and he questioned the use of public money by local authorities.

Stewart Stevenson supported that amendment but pointed out that there was a lack of clarity over whether the community body to which the land was to be transferred was the same as the community body that made the application for a compulsory purchase. Duncan Hamilton said that he believed that the amendment would shift the balance of rights unfairly in favour of the community body and against the landowner.

Amendment 214 seeks to deal with those criticisms. The technical flaws that were pointed out by Allan Wilson and Stewart Stevenson have been removed. The lack of balance has been addressed by requiring the community body to have its interest in the land registered for five years before it can ballot the community on purchase of the land.

Under the amendment, the local authority, which has been elected to represent a wider area than the community body, will have discretion as to whether to go ahead with any compulsory purchase. It would not be able to act against the public interest if there was a prospect of the land coming up for sale. That addresses the issue of balancing the rights of the community and the landowner. The issue of the use of public funds has been addressed by requiring the community to pay for the purchase and any transaction costs.

The deputy minister gave a commitment to examine the principle of compulsory purchase to release land for rural communities. In a letter that he wrote to the Justice 2 Committee on 14 January he stated:

"The Executive have maintained a clear policy line that the community right to buy in Part 2 of the Bill depends on there being a willing seller. This has remained consistent since the publication of the White Paper ... I believe therefore that there is no basis for any divergence from this towards a specific compulsory purchase power. Also, the purpose of the community right to buy is to provide opportunities for communities to buy land when it comes to be sold, and not to enable other bodies to compulsorily purchase land and pass it on to the community body if they so wish."

He also stated that he saw no reason to change what was already in the bill.

I am disappointed, because I suspect that that is what the minister will say again today. That suggests that, although we are passing a land reform bill, we are not doing so with any great ambition. When the Scottish Parliament set out to work on land reform, I had hoped that our ambition to change fundamentally the pattern of land ownership in Scotland would be realised.

I do not believe that the bill will realise that fundamental change. It might make a start, which is why we are supporting it. Opening up local authorities' compulsory purchase powers would take another step on from the start made by the bill.

Amendment 206, also in my name, is consequential to amendment 214. It provides for an appeals process to allow the landowner, a member of the community or the community body to appeal to the sheriff against a decision by the local authority to carry out a compulsory purchase. I do not need to speak any further on that.

I move amendment 214.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

As Roseanna Cunningham said, amendment 214 is a far-reaching amendment. The fundamental differences to which she referred at the beginning of her speech make the amendment no more acceptable to us.

It is important to underline the fact that our principal objection to part 2 of the bill is not to the transfer of land ownership—far from it. We fully agree that it would, in many respects, be advantageous for land ownership to be transferred. However, we have no truck with compulsory purchase arrangements that attempt to interfere artificially with the market price of land. In essence, Roseanna Cunningham is attempting to apply the provisions under part 3 to the whole of Scotland—I accept that more hoops would have to be jumped through to achieve that. I see that Mr Stevenson looks characteristically uncomfortable.

Compulsory purchase may have a role from time to time. Many of us who have served on local authorities have been involved in compulsory purchases in the past. However, where it is necessary, compulsory purchase should be entirely in the wider and greater public interest. I find it surprising that someone with the left-leaning credentials of the SNP should advance a proposition whereby compulsory purchases could take place in the interest of making money for a restricted number of people. We should not enter into compulsory purchase arrangements to benefit the profit of individuals or groups of individuals.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Can Bill Aitken remind us whether it is the case that, when the Tories were last in power in Westminster, compulsory purchase was used to buy some of the land at Greenwich on which the Millennium Dome was subsequently built? If so, was that a prudent use of public funds?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Of course, Mr Ewing is factually correct. At that stage, the compulsory purchase of that land was a prudent use of public funds and in the wider public interest. What happened thereafter was a matter for Mr Blair and his new Labour acolytes whose running of the Millennium Dome turned the whole project into such an unprofitable fiasco that it brought that particular compulsory purchase into disrepute.

Amendment 214 is yet again a sign of the intemperate collectivism that seems to prevail in SNP thinking. Its effects would be fairly dramatic and would have devastating consequences for rural Scotland's economy. Indeed, when we come to debate the amendments in group 30, I shall outline the potential damage that part 3 of the bill could cause. Amendment 214 would simply extend the area of damage. I wonder whether the SNP really wants to extend the Highland clearances to the rest of rural Scotland, because that appears to be its aim.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Compulsory purchase has traditionally been defined as being in the public interest. I agree with Bill Aitken that amendment 214 would have a detrimental effect on rural Scotland's economy.

The bill contains many different tests in relation to the purchase of land, one of which is that the right to buy may be exercised if it is "in the public interest" to do so. Amendment 214 turns that provision in the opposite direction. It says:

"The authority may grant an application under subsection (1) above only if it considers that ... it is appropriate, and not contrary to the public interest, to do so".

I formally submit that such a provision would be a disaster for the economy of rural Scotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

As Roseanna Cunningham has pointed out, I undertook at stage 2 to consider whether the additional powers outlined in amendment 214 were suitable for inclusion in the bill and other proposed legislation. I did so and in my letter of 14 January to the convener of the Justice 2 Committee, Pauline McNeill, I confirmed that there was no basis for divergence from requiring a willing seller towards including a specific compulsory purchase power in the bill. Moreover, I did not believe that there was a need for any such additional powers in legislation.

As a result, I remain of the view that amendments 214 and 206 are unnecessary and fundamentally flawed, particularly amendment 214.

In developing the legislation, we have retained a clear policy line on the general approach to the community right-to-buy process in part 2 of the bill: if a transaction is akin to a sale it should be covered by the legislation. However, that requires a willing seller, which there clearly is not in this case.

Amendment 214 is unnecessary because, in some of the instances referred to in the amendment, compulsory purchase powers are available to local authorities. The examples that are provided have been cited. The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 provides compulsory purchase powers to local authorities to acquire land for development, redevelopment or improvement. In addition—this is important—the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides local authorities with wide-ranging powers of compulsory acquisition. Those statutes are therefore the more appropriate places in which to consider compulsory purchase powers.

It is also important that those powers will be further strengthened by the Local Government in Scotland Bill. Peter Peacock's response to parliamentary question S1W-32710 on 6 January, indicated that the power to advance well-being, in section 21 of that bill, will be

"an important enabling tool for local authorities to do anything they consider is likely to promote or improve the well-being of their communities. A local authority may use the power to advance well-being in conjunction with section 71 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 as an additional means to consider compulsory purchase of land."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 6 January 2003; p 2672.]

In those circumstances, the Executive does not consider that any additional compulsory powers are necessary.

Amendment 214 remains flawed in a number of ways. First, subsection (1)(b) of the proposed new section requires that

"a ballot has been held under section 47".

However, if a ballot had taken place under section 47, the seller would already have intimated to ministers under section 44 that the land subject to the community body's registered interest was to be sold. In that case, there would be no need for the additional compulsory purchase power. Using the power could do no more than unnecessarily inflate the cost of the land, thereby increasing the financial burden on the community body.

In addition, compulsory purchase powers are normally used only when negotiation to buy land by agreement has failed and when the acquiring authority—in this case the local authority—can demonstrate that the public benefit that arises from the acquisition is greater than the loss to the individual who will be deprived of their property. Mike Rumbles made that point.

Secondly, subsection (2)(c) of the proposed section requires that

"there is no reasonable likelihood of the community body being able to exercise the right to buy under Part 2 of this Act within the next ten years".

That is contrary to subsection (1)(b), because the community right-to-buy process, as drafted, already provides that the ballot should follow intimation that the owner wishes to dispose of the registered land. There can therefore be no occasion under section 47 when a ballot has taken place and there is no reasonable likelihood of the community body being able to exercise its right to buy within the stipulated period.

Further, amendment 214 would completely change the main principle of part 2, which provides for a community body to buy land when it comes to be sold by a willing seller. That principle has already been agreed at stage 1 of the bill and to implement such a change would be outwith the main ethos of the community right to buy; it would extend far beyond the principles of part 2 as agreed at stage 1.

For those reasons, I believe that amendment 214 should be resisted. Amendment 206 is consequential to amendment 214 and is therefore unnecessary if amendment 214 fails.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 12:30 pm, 23rd January 2003

Amendment 214 made the cut. That suggests to me that, notwithstanding the minister's final comments, it is in keeping with the general principles of the bill that the amendment be discussed and, I hope, voted into the bill.

I am hardly surprised by the Tory opposition to amendment 214. However, even for the Tories it is a little odd. There are 1,252 owners of two thirds of the land in Scotland; the current system is of benefit to very few people. What we are trying to do is to make the situation of benefit to a great many people. The bill does not go far enough in achieving that aim. All along, we have been consistent in supporting the bill as far as it goes, which is not very far.

I have worked in local government, not as a councillor, but as a legal officer in a legal and administrative department. I have progressed compulsory purchase orders, so I know that the system is complicated, time-consuming and easily got wrong. However much I might wish compulsory purchase—even in the terms of amendment 214—to become much more widely used in achieving the aim of changing land ownership patterns, it is highly unlikely that there will be constant, rolling compulsory purchase.

Despite the comments that have been made, I have talked about a public interest test. I make it clear that an interest would have to be registered for five years before the power was triggered. That would be followed by a ballot and a public interest test, plus confirmation of the ability to pay. There is also provision for an appeals procedure. That does not seem to me to be the kind of exaggerated system that members have described.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Roseanna Cunningham almost misleads members about my point, which was that compulsory purchase should be in the public interest whereas, under amendment 214, the purchase would simply have to be

"not contrary to the public interest", which is different.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

That is a semantic difference. If the argument is that amendment 214 would be an extension of compulsory purchase powers, what is the problem? To achieve the bill's aim, which is a change in the pattern of land ownership in Scotland, I am prepared to take a radical step and change the compulsory purchase power. The public interest test should be applied as is suggested in the amendment. If that is different from what is done at present with compulsory purchase, so be it. I would rather that we change the provisions of compulsory purchase to achieve the real ends of the bill than do what we may have done today and yesterday, which is spend a great deal of time, effort, energy and words to achieve not terribly much. I want a real change in the pattern of land ownership in Scotland and amendment 214 would help to achieve that.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

The minister wants to intervene just as I am on my last word.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Many members share Roseanna Cunningham's desire for land ownership to be broadened and extended. However, does she not accept Ross Finnie's point that the power to advance well-being, which the Parliament recently approved in the Local Government in Scotland Bill, is the enabling tool that she seeks to allow local authorities to extend ownership in concert with local communities?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

It is interesting that the minister seems to confirm that local authorities can already use the compulsory purchase power to achieve the bill's aim of effecting a change in the pattern of land ownership in Scotland. If that is the case, every local authority in Scotland should be challenged to achieve that end. Unfortunately, that has not happened and, as a result, we have the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. If local authorities already have the power, why was the bill introduced in the first place?

We know that local authorities do not really have that power. The SNP wants them to have it because we want to effect a real change in the pattern of land ownership. However, at present, the bill will not achieve that. The SNP is committed to extending the powers in the bill and amendment 214 is an attempt to do that. We will return to the issue in Parliament again and again until we see a real change in land ownership in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 214 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 35

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

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 31, Against 81, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 214 disagreed to.