For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
It has been a long day legislating, but it has been a good day for Scotland. The decisions that we have taken today on the amendments, and the decision that we will hopefully take shortly, are part of the process of modernising our society and country. It has been a very good day for the land reform agenda.
Parliament will know that the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Aileen McLeod, was in the chamber this morning during stage 3 and had hoped to be here to deliver the opening speech in this final debate on the bill. I am sure that all members noticed her suffering when she spoke. She is deeply disappointed that she cannot be here, but she is unwell. I pay tribute to the minister’s skill, determination and perseverance. I am sure that all those who have worked with her on the legislation will acknowledge her commitment and willingness to listen and to act, where possible, on what people say. The radical and ambitious bill before us is in no small measure down to her dedication, hard work and leadership. [Applause.]
I know that Dr McLeod is always happy to visit communities as part of her ministerial visits and that, when she does, she encourages people to think about what they might want from local land and amenities and what opportunities might be available to them. This morning, she was delighted to announce the new £10 million Scottish land fund, which will open for applications on 1 April. That tripling of funding will create opportunities for more communities to realise their dreams and aspirations. Communities across Scotland have been supported by the fund, which, in the past three years, has awarded more than £9 million to 52 communities across the nation—from Drummore at the bottom of the Mull of Galloway to, most recently, Gallan Head in the Outer Hebrides.
We realise that that financial support is important, but it is not the only help that local groups need to help them to realise their dreams of community ownership. The Government has set an ambitious target of 1 million acres in community ownership by 2020 and set up a short-life working group in 2015 to design a strategy to deliver the target. The group delivered its report in December last year, and ministers met members recently to hear about the recommendations and priorities that must be progressed in order for the target and the ambition to be realised. We will work with the group and others to deliver the support required for communities across Scotland. The provision of funds to assist community ownership sits alongside the radical Land Reform (Scotland) Bill that we are debating today.
The debate on reforming Scotland’s land is rooted in the very DNA of Scottish politics and our country’s national debate and, indeed, in the very DNA of my party, the Scottish National Party. I know, welcome and respect the fact that it is also very close to the heart of a number of other parties and parliamentarians across this Parliament. It is a vital part of this Government’s aspirations for a fairer, more equal and socially just Scotland and the bill that we are debating today represents a major step forward.
Land reform is an issue that is in the very soul of Scotland and, indeed, has been closely connected politically with the movement for home rule down the centuries. It has been said many times that devolution is a process not an event, and one of the most important aspects of the bill is that that is now true for land reform in Scotland.
The establishment of the Scottish land commission means that land reform will remain on the agenda—it is not going away. The bill’s provisions will be built on and the Parliament will continue to take action on this important agenda for our people, society and communities. The establishment of the commission will help to achieve one of the objectives that we set when we introduced the bill—to end the stop-start nature of land reform in this country. I hope that that will be warmly welcomed by all.
As part of the process, the bill will also establish the role and office of the tenant farming commissioner. The role demonstrates the importance and value of our proposals to tenant farmers, as well as to other groups. Once he or she is in post, the tenant farming commissioner will have a range of functions such as preparing codes of practice and guidance to tenants and landlords of agricultural holdings, which will provide benefit across the sector.
Of course, supporting our tenant farming sector is crucial and a major feature of the bill has been how we open up opportunities for new entrants, how we give those who want to retire dignified routes of exit and how we ensure that more land is available to let in Scotland so that we have people putting food on our tables and caring for our environment.
On the overall purpose of the bill, when it was introduced in June last year, we said that we wanted to change the relationship between the people of Scotland and the land that we live, work and depend on to make sure that our land delivers for our people for generations to come. Nine months on, the subject of land reform continues to provoke a high level of interest outside this Parliament as well as in the chamber and our committee rooms.
Land reform is not an academic issue. It is real and it can have a huge impact on the lives of the people of Scotland and on communities. It is about putting fairness, equality and social justice at the heart of how land is owned, managed and used. It is about giving an opportunity to community groups to come together to discuss what they want to see for the land in their local areas and to work together to deliver on that local vision.
It is about strengthening the hand of tenant farmers over the land that they have farmed for generations, and it is about shining the bright light of transparency into land deals and into who owns land and who manages land—too often, those matters been shrouded in too much secrecy.
It is about ensuring that the people of Scotland have access to the land that they need to promote business and economic growth and to provide access to good-quality and affordable food, energy and housing. It is about ensuring that there is proper and constructive dialogue between all those who have an interest in land, whether they be landowners and landlords, community groups or tenant farmers.
The Government has worked hard to give opportunities to people and communities, to encourage and support responsible and diverse land ownership and to ensure that communities have a say in how land in their area is used. I want to see that work continue and I believe that the bill will help to encourage and embed the desire for local involvement in local land. I want land reform to be seen and accepted as an issue for people across Scotland—not just in particular areas of the country, but right across the land.
The provisions in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill and in other recent legislation such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 will provide benefits for urban and rural Scotland; for north, south, east and west; for mainland and lowland; and so on. For example, on the day that the bill was introduced last year, ministers visited Carluke. The Carluke Development Trust is an example of an ambitious local community that is trying to buy the town’s old historic mill and the land around it to turn it into a community and tourist resource. Last month, ministers had the pleasure of visiting South Uist to see the hugely impressive Lochboisdale harbour development, which forms a centrepiece of the local estate.
The Government has made significant changes to the bill because we have listened and worked with others in the Parliament and beyond and because we wanted to strengthen the bill, make it more radical and deliver more. At stage 2, and at stage 3 earlier today, Parliament has agreed a range of amendments to strengthen the bill. Many of the amendments have been controversial; many of the issues around the whole land reform debate in Scotland over many years have been controversial. That is because this is a debate about power, influence and ownership and about how the land, which is our biggest natural resource, is managed, exploited and used to further the cause of our people and our quality of life and to build a sustainable economy in this country at the same time.
In introducing amendments we have sought, through consideration and consultation, to provide a balance between the various and sometimes competing interests across the range of those who are involved with land in Scotland. As someone said during the debate, good landowners and good landlords have nothing to fear but there are issues out there in Scotland that need to be addressed and which have needed to be addressed for many, many years. Parliaments have passed legislation before but quite clearly, in 2016—even after more than 100 years of improving legislation in this country—there is still a lot to do.
The creation of a land rights and responsibilities statement and the establishment of a dedicated and permanent Scottish land commission underline our commitment as a Government to land reform. The bill is bold, wide ranging and ambitious. I pay tribute again to Aileen McLeod, who has put her heart and soul into the bill.
I thank those who have helped us to get to this stage over many months and years, not least the scores of officials within the Scottish Government—including many lawyers, given the topic of legislation—who have done so much behind the scenes to work with stakeholders and members across all political parties.
I say a special thank you to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee under its convener, Rob Gibson, who retires at the upcoming election. He has been an outstanding convener and has served Parliament, his constituents and Scotland well in his time in that role. [Applause.] The committee considered the bill and related issues with customary diligence, and members brought their considerable experience in this area to bear.
Large numbers of individuals and organisations from outside the Parliament have taken a keen interest in the bill, and many of them have made suggestions as to how we might improve it; we are grateful to them for that. The message has been that, with the bill, we have an opportunity to make a difference and that we should be radical, and I believe that we have been radical. With the changes that we have made, we have grasped that opportunity.
The bill is not the end point of Scotland’s land reform journey, but it is a vital part of a wider programme of reform across urban and rural Scotland. We cannot roll back hundreds of years of history overnight, nor can we change history, but we are introducing a range of important measures that will allow us to continue on the journey to a more equal and fairer society.
Our provisions on transparency, on placing human rights at the heart of land reform, on introducing a land rights and responsibilities statement and on establishing the Scottish land commission are radical and urgently needed, and they will bring about change. I believe that, as a result of the bill—if we pass it today—Scotland will be a better place and our society will be a better society.
That the Parliament agrees that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill be passed.
Today marks an important new chapter in Scotland’s land reform story. Scottish Labour has worked hard and, I hope, in a co-operative manner to secure stronger, more effective legislation. I am very proud of the changes that we have made and, for us, the issues on which we have not secured progress become unfinished business for the next session of Parliament.
I was proud when we passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and it is clear that the appetite for land reform has stretched across the whole country. We have inspiring examples of community ownership in some of our most fragile rural areas, but there are key lessons that need to be learned. There is a need for consistent political and financial support from the Scottish Government to enable communities to use the legislation that the Parliament passes and, crucially, we need guidance that is fit for purpose.
From the start, Scottish Labour has supported the ambitions behind the bill. Our main issue was whether the rhetoric was matched by the words in the bill. Enshrining in legislation the principle of community land purchases to deliver sustainable development represents progress, but far too many of the details will be left to members in the next session of Parliament to deal with. The cabinet secretary referred to the comments of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee; one of its most trenchant comments was that too much has been left to secondary legislation that will be dealt with in the next session, and we need to reflect on that point.
I am disappointed that key amendments that Scottish Labour lodged have not been agreed to. It will take a significant amount of time for the new register to be completed. The proposals on financial transparency and the important question of those with significant control have yet to be addressed, and I hope that the Parliament will come back to look at those issues in the future.
The new land commission and the tenant farming commissioner will be important new players in giving support for and a new impetus to land reform in urban and rural areas, but we will need coherent Government policy on the land rights and responsibilities statement, the land use strategy, our climate change strategy and the national planning framework, all of which need to work in tandem. The land reform process needs to add to and be informed by them.
We in Scottish Labour were particularly keen to add our weight to the strengthening of our tenanted farming sector to deliver greater security and fairness. I hope that the new tenant farming commissioner will help to promote best practice, to resolve and avoid conflicts, and to support more constructive relationships right across the sector. As the cabinet secretary suggested, good land owners and land managers have nothing to fear from the bill’s provisions. We want the best practice that exists in some parts of the country to be spread across the whole country.
We would have liked the bill to have made more progress on rural housing, particularly for farm workers and tenants, and we will continue to press for more action on the matter. Frankly, I cannot accept that housing standards that would be unacceptable in urban areas are acceptable in some of our rural areas; indeed, on the consultation visits that we made during stage 1, we found conditions that are genuinely unacceptable in the 21st century.
The challenge now moves from debating the principle behind these powers to looking for new opportunities across Scotland. As a member of the Scottish Co-operative Party, I have been very keen to highlight the benefits of community and co-operative structures as ways of securing democratic participation and community benefit. The points that Johann Lamont made at stage 2 and today are important, but we will need stronger action from the Scottish land commission and co-operative development Scotland if we are to deliver on what is an exciting agenda. Tremendous strides have been made in some of our most fragile rural communities on community energy schemes, and we now need a raft of new community businesses that will take the new opportunities for developing sustainable and environmentally responsible tourism opportunities, new opportunities for land management and food growing and, crucially, new jobs in our communities. I hope that all of us in urban and rural areas can agree on that.
I have been very keen to raise the issue of allotments, given that community gardens and allotments need to be part of our land reform story and our approach to food security. We need them in order to maximise access to affordable local food and the health benefits that come from that. I will return to the issue because, although I was reassured by some of the minister’s comments, we still need to bottom out some sharp questions about local authority powers.
I believe that there is much to celebrate today, even though we will need to do a lot more work in the next session of the Scottish Parliament to deliver on our aspirations for land reform. However, I want to comment on the process with regard to the bill’s passage through Parliament. I do not think that it has been good enough. The process matters to the quality of the legislation that we will pass, and I feel that it was extremely rushed at the end and that it was not as transparent as it might have been. If the Government had responded to our committee’s report, the work of the land reform review group, which reported in July 2014, and the work of the agricultural holdings legislation review group, certain issues in the bill that were brought to us pretty late on in the day could have been raised much earlier. Those issues are not, as the Scottish Government has portrayed them, new ones; they have been on the table for a long time. It would be more accurate to say that the Scottish Government decided not to pursue them in the bill until it was put under pressure by a range of organisations.
The point is that the next Parliament needs to look at some of the issues in the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s legacy paper. As the committee’s newest member, I was struck by the committee’s sheer work rate, the complexity and challenging nature of the issues that it was dealing with and the extent to which we were dealing with hotly disputed matters. The parliamentary authorities need to give some thought to how committees work; indeed, I know that the Presiding Officer, who has just joined us in the chamber, has been raising some pertinent questions with regard to committees. One particular question that will need to be dealt with is how we review the effectiveness of land reform. We could have done more on that in this session as we moved towards the bill, and some issues need to be looked at in much more depth.
I thank the clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and the parliamentary team who supported the committee for their fantastic work. They gave the committee huge support across the range of its work and, without their support on this bill, we would not have got to the stage that we have reached today. We had a radical consultation process that went right across the country, and I hope that we were able to seize that opportunity to speak to those with an interest in our discussions, no matter whether they were enthusiastic about what we were going to come up with or dreaded it.
The bill is complex and controversial, and the fact that we had to pull two pieces of legislation into one bill made the challenge facing us more complex and tougher. The Salvesen v Riddell decision hung over us all and concentrated our minds, and I hope that in his summing up the cabinet secretary will tell us whether he has managed to find space in his diary to meet my colleague Claudia Beamish and eight tenants who are very keen to speak to the Scottish Government.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, it has been a privilege to work with those who gave evidence and the other members of the committee. We have done our best to make the bill fit for purpose. I also thank the minister, Aileen McLeod, for being prepared to talk to us, as committee members, on the other side of the fence and sometimes being prepared to negotiate with us. Sometimes, although it was late in the day, I felt that she was attempting to get us to a different place on some significant issues.
Although there were lots of disagreements in the process, we found a way forward on many issues, and that was really because of the work that the stakeholders did. I particularly thank Peter Peacock from Community Land Scotland, Global Witness and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. I thank the farmers and their representative organisations, NFU Scotland and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, and also the raft of players who have been in touch with us, from Scottish Land & Estates on land management and ownership issues to Scottish Environment LINK.
We have had huge disagreements. The challenge for the next Parliament will be to continue the level of scrutiny that we have had on the bill and to try to ensure that the legislation, as it is implemented, is fit for purpose. A lot of aspirations are hanging on it.
I thank the campaigners from across the interested parties who have written to us and contacted us on social media. We will be able to read Twitter later, but there has been a running commentary today. Those people have helped to make the bill stronger.
We have debated a lot of difficult issues and I hope that we have got to a better place. In the end, what we all want is stronger, fairer and more resilient communities and social, economic and environmental justice for our urban and rural communities. That has been the aspiration behind the legislation. Now, we have to make it work. The next set of MSPs will have their work cut out, because the work has only started. They will have to do the detailed work in the next session.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I start by drawing members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
I thank the clerks to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for the quite extraordinary work that they have done over the past five years. They have been a phenomenal team. I entirely empathise with Sarah Boyack’s closing remarks, because the committee has had an enormous workload and, without the clerking team that we had, it would have been considerably more onerous. I am delighted to have this opportunity to put that on the record.
This is the last speech that I will make in the chamber, and I only wish that it could have been on a more consensual subject. I do not like finishing on a negative note, but I am going to have to do that, because I am sorry to say that we will not be able to support the bill at decision time. As members are aware, we did not support the bill at stage 1, and I am afraid that nothing has happened during stages 2 or 3 to change our minds. In fact, I believe that it has become a bill that simply cannot achieve at least one of its policy aims—a fact that I think the cabinet secretary now concedes.
I have always believed that we should have had two bills: one on the various aspects of land reform and one on agricultural holdings. I say that for two reasons. The first is that we could have undertaken our duties of scrutiny much more thoroughly if that had been the case, and the second is that, although there is much in the non-agricultural holdings parts of the bill with which we have no major disagreements, we cannot and will not agree to the further demise of the tenanted sector of agriculture that I have no doubt will come about as a result of some of the provisions in the bill.
Before I come to that aspect, I will comment briefly on just two aspects of parts 1 to 9 of the bill with which we have some disagreement. My colleague and fellow retiree Jamie McGrigor will expand on them in closing. The first is the community right to buy even from an unwilling seller. It is the latter aspect that gives us some cause for concern, because it is breaking very new ground in respect of community rights. We understand and recognise the right to buy derelict and abandoned land as defined in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, but the bill takes us towards a right to buy land that is neither derelict nor abandoned and which the owner may well wish to retain. That right does not fit comfortably with my vision of a free society.
My second area of concern is the Government’s decision to reintroduce sporting rates on commercial shootings and deer forests. I have not been able to find one valid reason for that proposal, other than that the Government is introducing the tax simply because it can. It is, in my view, a vindictive move, brought in, according to the minister, out of fairness, although I have never yet discovered to whom it is meant to be fair—certainly not to the commercial shooting businesses in Scotland, which bring millions to our local economies and which will now be put at a serious competitive disadvantage compared with similar businesses in other parts of the United Kingdom. The losers will not be the landowners or managers of those businesses. It will be the hotels, the shops, the restaurants and the employees of those businesses, all of which are partially dependent on the shooting businesses, that will lose out. The measure will hurt the wee man, who is surely the unintended victim of much of the legislation.
Will the member reflect on the fact that what he says about a competitive disadvantage would be true only if shooting were price sensitive? There is no evidence to show that that is the case. Indeed, the unique selling point of Scottish sporting estates means that it is the advantages of those estates that count rather than the price sensitivity.
I hear what the member says, but if he had listened to my contribution when we were discussing amendments, he would have heard me quoting the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, which said that more than 80 per cent of shooting businesses operate at a loss. I call that price sensitive.
I believe that the bill will hurt the wee man, and that is certainly the case with part 10 of the bill, on agricultural holdings, because the losers in what the Government is now proposing, through its relinquishing and assignation measures, will be the very people who were supposed to be the winners—the new entrants, the young farmers and those who are trying to progress on the farming ladder.
The main policy aim of the bill was to create an environment within which those with land to let are encouraged to let it, but I believe that the impact of assignation for value—as was recognised by the agricultural holdings legislation review group, which was chaired by the cabinet secretary himself—will be stagnation in the sector, the mothballing of a sterile and inflexible letting vehicle and a massive reluctance among those with land to let to do so on any kind of long-term, or even short-term, basis.
The tenanted sector, as we know it, will start its terminal decline at decision time this evening. There will be those who welcome that decline, but I am not among them.
No, but my belief is that, had we worked towards the conversion model that all stakeholders were working towards and making progress with before the new idea of assignation came in, we would have been able to reinvigorate the tenanted sector. That has always been my aim. Nobody has been more consistent over the years in calling for that reinvigoration than I have been.
In dissenting from that entire part of the bill at stage 1, I highlighted the real progress that was being made by all stakeholders working on the conversion model, but I said that it needed more time—time that I believe could and should have been provided in the next session of Parliament, with the ultimate prize of a consensual outcome and restoration of trust between landlord and tenant.
Instead, we are ploughing ahead with a crude assignation model, a new rent review system that no one yet knows how to work, or even whether it will work, and the distinct likelihood that short limited duration tenancies and the limited duration tenancies that will be coming to an end over the next few years will just not be renewed. That does not point the way to a vibrant or reinvigorated sector. It points to one that is moribund, ineffective and dying in the water, and I can say with certainty that I will take no pleasure in watching its death throes in my retirement.
I have said many times over the past 17 years that I hope that I am wrong in my predictions, so I will finish my 17 years by repeating that hope. I hope that I am wrong in my predictions, but I am afraid that I do not say so with any conviction, and for that I am truly sorry.
If I may be indulged for a further 30 seconds, Presiding Officer, I would like to say that I am not sorry for having spent the past 17 years of my life as a member of this Parliament. I want to thank all of my staff who, over the years, have made my role so much easier in so many ways, and I want to thank the Parliament staff—all of them, but particularly those who supported and guided me through my four years in the role of Presiding Officer. That was a privilege and an honour that came close to that of serving the people first of the South of Scotland, then of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, and latterly of Galloway and West Dumfries. That privilege is one that will stay with me for as long as I am able to remember anything, so to parody the words of the former First Minister this morning, this is goodbye from me—not for now, for good.
On behalf of the Parliament, I thank Alex Fergusson for his contribution as an MSP, as a committee convener and, of course, as Presiding Officer between 2007 and 2011.
In 2007, you put yourself at the disposal of this Parliament. You served us well, with good humour, grace and distinction. I wish you well in whatever you do in the future.
We move to the open debate.
In tribute to Alex Fergusson, I have always championed his right to say what he believes to be correct, even if we disagree—very often fundamentally—about his proposals. It is in that spirit that I will comment on the way in which the RACCE Committee has worked, and I hope that everybody who took part in the committee recognises that they got a fair hearing. I wish Alex Fergusson well.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill has been the subject of widespread consultation. Its intent is radical, its purpose is practical and its basis is competent in law. I want to remind members of the collaborative process by which the bulk of the bill was evolved. Many parts were agreed by all parties in the RACCE Committee but, as we have seen, some were not. However, the formation of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 set a precedent, as it was achieved by civil society, MSPs of several parties, and ministers working together. In the main, the committee tried to do exactly the same, and that approach is a good precedent for Parliament.
Already, members have thanked many of those who took part in the process for working through the many parts of the bill to reach a very workable and incisive whole. They include Community Land Scotland, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Global Witness, individual human rights lawyers, MSPs, ministerial teams, heroically led by Dr Aileen McLeod, and the cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead. I would like to pay particular thanks to Chris Nicholson, the chair of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, who joins us in the chamber, although he is likely to have to head off in a hurry to Dumfries, where his wife will deliver a new member of the family. All the best to him as we, too, try to deliver a lusty child.
The results are a strengthened and more practical bill. Good intentions have been made into workable, practical law. Make no mistake—a proportionate set of objectives and clear aims, applied with proportionate measures, takes us forward to a fairer and more equal land.
I was surprised that Labour members were prepared to jeopardise the whole bill by backing Patrick Harvie’s speculative amendments on European Union registration. I repeat that we need to hold landholders to account and, after the map-based land register is complete, we will need to be able to consider taxing them as well.
The RACCE Committee has worked well. Many of the sections were agreed across the parties, and very few required a vote. That shows that the committees of this Parliament can work as designed, bearing in mind that all Governments—be they coalitions or majority Governments—make sure that their views prevail in key committees. Labour and the Liberal Democrats did that in their coalition, as did the Scottish National Party Government. However, that does not negate a collaborative approach.
This bill gives voice to the public interest. Around 80 per cent of MSPs support its measures. It signals a shift of power towards more responsible and diverse land ownership. It increases transparency to a great extent and helps communities to have more say in the land that they live on. It toughens deer management rules and extracts shooting rates from estates to boost the land fund. It addresses fairness, equalities and social justice and helps to underpin a thriving, tenanted farming sector.
The cornerstone of the bill is placing land reform on a permanent footing in Scotland with the appointment of the land commission. That makes history, as does the statement of land rights and responsibilities, which the Parliament will have to debate and agree. That puts land reform front and centre as the radical underpinning of a progressive Scottish nation. After so many centuries of ownership and control in the hands of the few, the breakthrough to a fairer Scotland comes with the application of international standards of human rights, which other colleagues will probably deal with in some detail.
I thank all those who helped us to get here: my staff at the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, the Scottish Parliament information centre and the bill teams. I hope that people across Scotland will take forward our work with practical schemes to show how, rather than being the monopoly of large proprietors who have dominated the rural and urban Scotland of the past, land developments can be in the hands of many more people.
I will get a chance on Tuesday next week to have a small debate about my constituency, and I will be touching then on many of the issues of this debate. Local control is among the top priorities.
If, in 10 years’ time, Scottish Land & Estates has attracted 15,000 members instead of 1,500, comprising individual small farms, community owners and a host of somewhat smaller, leaner large landholdings, that will be both a measure of the success of the bill’s intent and a radical departure from the iniquitous tag as the nation with the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill gets to the roots of how better to own, tenant and use sustainably the resources of Scotland beneath our feet. The Parliament has now taken radical action. People can go forward in confidence, backed by competent measures of Scots law, to utilise our precious land.
I fully support the bill.
I am very happy to be involved in this debate, which is very dear to my heart. I would go so far as to say that, alongside seeing what poverty and disadvantage did to people in the city in which I was brought up, the question of the land and the way in which inequality in Scotland is expressed through a lack of control over it is something that very much shaped my own thinking as I grew up.
I commend Alex Fergusson for his speech, and I wish him all the best. I have always found him to be extremely valuing, thoughtful and kind, and committed to this place, being part of the group of 99. As Duncan McNeil referred to this morning, we felt as if we were under siege, and Alex Fergusson played a critical role in sustaining this institution in the early days. As we have seen in the debate, he has always been willing to say what he believes, even when sometimes it is not part of the consensus. Perhaps we ought to be a little more relaxed, in the chamber and elsewhere, in recognising that there is a diversity of views in Scotland about a whole range of issues. It is important that we hear those views in a valuing way. I wish him all the best for the future.
Rob Gibson and I could probably have any number of arguments, but no one can doubt his commitment to and passion for the whole question and importance of the land and liberating it in the interests of the people of Scotland. I wish him well, too.
I recognise that my role in the consideration of the bill has been far more limited than that of most of the other people who are in the chamber. I know that people engaged in a lot of detail at stage 1 and stage 2. I congratulate everyone on the position that we have now reached.
It is a matter of regret that the minister, Aileen McLeod, has not been able to be part of the debate right to its conclusion, and I wish her a speedy recovery. As a deputy minister myself—it seems like forever ago now—I know that taking a bill through as the minister in charge is, as Rob Gibson said, almost akin to having a baby, although there is not quite so much noise at the very end. I remember the joy of getting to the point when the bill is delivered, and it is a shame that she has not been here to get this bill to that point. Everyone recognises that she has been particularly willing to listen to people on all sides of the Parliament and to try and build consensus where she could.
On a day like today, we can get bogged down in the minutiae of the debate and somehow lose sight of the essence and the heart of what the debate is about. For me, the bill is a recognition of the importance of the land, its ownership and the ability of people in our communities to shape their future, in particular through community ownership. We can draw on evidence that community ownership has already been successful and has transformed many of our communities across Scotland. We want to build on that. Time will tell whether the bill is a further step along the road to realising the aspiration of many—in all parties and in none—that we have genuine land reform in Scotland.
I have reservations about the consequences of some of the decisions that have been made today. I am disappointed that my amendment was not supported. Community benefit societies and co-operatives can and should be significant in creating sustainable communities and diversifying land ownership. We should be clear that not all types of land ownership are the same. There is a particular issue around community ownership that allows communities to focus on what they can do and what they understand needs to be done to regenerate and sustain themselves.
We need to look at the role of the Scottish land commission and of Community Development Scotland in actively arguing in the mainstream for the co-operative model. I have asked the Scottish Government to ensure that it mainstreams thinking on co-operatives into its economic and social strategies.
I am disappointed that the Scottish Government voted down amendments that would have addressed the critical question of transparency in land ownership. The fundamental point is that we cannot manage, tackle or confront what we do not know.
There are lots of active landowners, but there are, sadly, all too many who are indifferent to the needs of communities. How can we engage with them if we are not able to identify them? That is a debate that the Parliament will need to return to.
Today’s debate has been rather understated and civilised. Alex Fergusson has opposed the bill in his usual civilised and mannerly way. There was an unfortunate start to the debate, in which particularly alarmist and provocative language around the right to buy—“land grab”, for example—was used. In my view, that is disrespectful to the reasonable expectations of communities that they should have the ability to shape their own future and tackle benign neglect or active indifference.
For me, this is a simple issue of justice and of tackling a historic injustice that saw people cleared off their land and denied any control. Critically, it is also about now and the future. It is about economic optimism as well as social justice. That is not sentimentality. Of course, it is an emotional debate, but it is also a hard-headed, critical assessment of how we sustain communities across Scotland.
The land question is central. It is an issue on which there is commitment across and beyond parties. I am proud of the role of my own party, but I do not pretend that we should have a party-political debate about who cares most.
This is an important day and another step. I have identified the challenges that remain for the Scottish Government over co-operation and transparency. Let us remember, too, that the bill is not just about the remote and rural parts of Scotland. The bill should unlock potential in urban areas, and I charge the Scottish Government to focus on making sure that people in urban communities realise that the bill is for them too.
The challenge now is to move beyond the Parliamentary debate, the soundbites and the claims about party roles in the consideration of the bill to ensure that there is a real legacy from the debate, with settled, sustained communities that release, rather than resist, the potential of our people. I hope that the bill is that step that we all aspire to.
I recognise that the hard work in making a difference in our communities is for the next session of Parliament and whoever is part of that. The bill is a very important staging post and I thank everyone involved in getting us to that place.
Thank you very much for your kind remarks, Presiding Officer.
I believe that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is the single most important bill with which I have been involved in my nine years as an MSP. I am extremely proud, with most of my colleagues—in fact, with all my colleagues, although there were some disagreements—on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, to have helped it along.
Many others have contributed to the important debate on land reform, but Community Land Scotland, Global Witness and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association deserve special mention for their work on this vital issue. I commend the minister and the cabinet secretary for their leadership and their willingness to listen, and I thank all the parliamentary staff for their help during the bill process.
However, we should be under no illusion that the bill, which is soon to become an act, would ever have seen the light of day if we did not have the Scottish Parliament. The Westminster establishment in the House of Lords would have killed the bill stone dead long ago. Fortunately, their proxies—the Tories sitting opposite me—do not have the same influence in this Parliament, but let that be a lesson to those who do not want any more powers for this place. Every power that they leave in London, they leave at the mercy of the Westminster elite, so on their own heads be it.
I do not really understand the relevance of the member’s comment to what I was saying.
While we are talking about the Tories, I must correct the record following Alex Fergusson’s misleading and selective quoting of my words in his speech this morning in relation to the European Court of Human Rights. I am disappointed in him for making what I felt was a cheap point.
I actually said:
“That is a wider issue that will not be dealt with here today. The fact that the ECHR is written into the 1998 act needs to be looked at. That provision needs to be removed so that we have the same freedom in proposing legislation as any other legislature has. Legislation could still be challenged under the ECHR—as, say, UK legislation would be—in the European Court of Human Rights.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 3 February 2016; c 56.]
I stand by that statement. The ECHR unfairly ties our hands, and the decisions in relation to compliance are untested and have not been subject to the full court process. That stifles debate in this place and unfairly restricts what we can do, and the same does not apply to Westminster.
I am sorry, but I need to make progress. I have a few other points that I need to get in.
The transformative effects of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill should not be underestimated. Once the bill is passed, it will mean the registration of all land in Scotland within the next 10 years or so, and—importantly—it will require transparency in who owns the land, which is integral to the whole land reform process.
The new land commission will have six commissioners, including the tenant farming commissioner. Importantly, there is a duty for the commission to take every reasonable step to ensure that a Gaelic speaker—or Gaelic speakers, as the bill now specifies—will be included; it will understand the Highlands and Islands and the land issue a lot better for that.
The commissioners will continue the job permanently of looking to fill our land’s potential. That is long overdue, and will bring Scotland into line with other modern nations in Europe, where more equitable patterns of land ownership have already been delivered in recent centuries.
Fundamentally, land is God given: a finite gift that must be used for the benefit of all, for the common good and in the public interest. Psalm 24:1 says:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”.
Our land is a gift from God, and that gift should be treated with respect. We should all treat one another with respect, and consider the propriety of the language that we use when we are talking about Scotland’s land and its use.
One recent example comes from a concerned constituent of mine, who exercises the right to roam on Balavil estate. My constituent highlighted to me the heavy-handed use of language on the signage that has recently appeared on a gate to the estate in relation to dogs being kept on leads at all times.
I have a photograph of the notice on the gate. Anyone who knows the outdoor access code will know that they have to keep dogs “under proper control”, but it is quite another thing to stipulate that dogs must be kept on the lead at all times, followed by the threat of a ban from the estate for non-compliance. Signs threatening to ban folk from estates if dogs are not kept on a lead at all times are not helpful in developing relationships between those who own estates and those who frequent them.
That illustrates perfectly just why we need legislation and why voluntary compliance by vested interests does not work—greed and selfishness always get in the way. The owners of Balavil estate have given us all the evidence that we need to prove that that is the case. I am pleased that land issues will now be kept under constant review and that the two strong foundational pillars of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, as it will be, which are the land commission and the full and transparent registration of land ownership, will enable us to ensure that land reform is forevermore to the fore in Scotland’s political debate.
This is my last parliamentary debate as an MSP and I could not have asked for a better subject to finish on. It has been a great privilege to represent the people of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in the Scottish Parliament for the past nine years or so. I wish well all those who are returned after 5 May and I give my commiserations to those who will not be returned. My proudest moment was in 2007, when I challenged the returning officer in Inverness, had the result overturned and became the very last MSP to be elected, giving the SNP its majority of one—little old me! I hope that I have made a difference and I hope that I can continue to do so in the next chapter of my life, which starts next week.
Liberal Democrats have long been advocates of land reform in Scotland, so it may be fitting to recognise the work of Ross Finnie, the Lib Dem minister who led on land reform and who, 13 years ago, before my involvement in the Parliament, introduced the first piece of land reform legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which was supported by all the Parliament. Of course, we could go further back many moons ago to the great land reform advocate Lloyd George in Wales. The 2003 act strengthened the right of responsible access to land, introduced a right for community bodies to register an interest in land and a first refusal to acquire it if and when it is sold, and introduced a right for crofting communities to acquire land under crofting tenure at any time. It was leading legislation at the time and a ground-breaking move in land reform.
Nine months ago, I landed for the first time on the shores of Orkney, for the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s first evidence-taking session on land reform. We ended up visiting Fife, Dumfries and the bonnie Borders, to name but a few, and took evidence from land users, landowners, communities and legal experts the length and breadth of the country. I found the visit to the Scottish Land Court in Edinburgh of advantage. I appreciate the big piece of work that is done by the small team there.
From that process came plenty of evidence to highlight that—surprise, surprise—land reform is a complex matter. Today has highlighted that again. Perhaps the bill should not have been just one bill. Because it encompasses so much, perhaps it should have been broken into two elements or more. A feeling that the bill was rushed was highlighted throughout the process. The committee began by consulting broadly in June and, just nine months on, we have the finished article. Evidence of that is clear. There were 88 amendments today from members of the governing party of which 76—I think; I may have miscounted—were from the two ministers. Whole sections were removed and replaced with different text. Obviously, there is a concern that unintended consequences might arise because of what we have missed and what we could have amended for the better.
The member should realise that, when the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed in 2003, there were more than 230 amendments to it, and I am sure that a similar number of amendments were made when the Parliament dealt with tenant farming issues. Perhaps we are learning a bit, because we have been able to slim down the number of amendments and make them more useful.
I appreciate that intervention from Rob Gibson, and I think that he would also appreciate that, whoever is in Government, it is always best to get the amendments and the bill right at the beginning. We had a 139-page amended bill today, with 43 pages of amendments. Legislate in haste; repent at leisure. Who knows whether we could have made it a more ambitious piece of legislation if we had not left it until the dying days of the parliamentary session?
The Government came late in this parliamentary session to land reform, but I appreciate where we are now and look forward to the bill progressing and to land reform being scrutinised in the future.
Time will not allow me to tackle all the issues that have arisen from the bill and that will arise from the bill. My views are on the record of many a Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee meeting. There were four committee meetings at stage 2 of the bill, of which I believe one sat for a record length of time. I shall note a few issues, however.
Waygo has long been a concern and I believe that we have a more fit-for-purpose waygo system in this bill, which I believe and hope will put the negotiation position of the tenant back to a better situation for them. Before this bill I was vocally concerned about the lack of trust that there is in the letting of land, and about how I believe that has led to land not being let through fear of losing ownership of the land.
I know that more farms are being farmed in hand daily and I fear that the bill may not address that issue properly. We need a clarion call from this Parliament and the next Parliament that Scotland is open for business and that it is safe to let land.
We all talk about getting young or new entrants into the use of land, whether for farming or other uses. I believe that sabre rattling by some MSPs has perhaps done nothing more than accentuate that problem, albeit it may have helped their profiles in their local media. However, that is hardly what we are here for.
At stages 2 and 3 of this bill I have been at pains to ensure that the tenant farming commissioner should be someone with practical experience, who knows the ground and the many ways of working land, so that they can best judge this land reform bill in its progress. At the same time I sought assurances that there would be a fixed term for the commissioner.
We heard from the minister that the fixed term would be a maximum of eight years. I appreciate the Government informing me of that at stage 3. It is unfortunate that we did not get that reassurance at stage 2, but I appreciate where we are today. I think that that is the correct way forward and I shall, of course, continue to monitor the suitability of the tenant farming commissioner as to their role in land reform as we move forward.
I have been on the RACCE Committee for five years and I must congratulate my fellow MSPs. We have all got on fairly well. Of course we did not always agree, but that is what debates are about. We mainly came to consensus. Three of the members of that committee are standing down and we have heard from them today. I would like to pay a special tribute to Alex Fergusson, Rob Gibson, and even Dave Thompson, thank them for some interesting times on the RACCE Committee and wish them well in whatever they do in the future.
The bill has raised many issues: deer management, agricultural tenancies, a welcome extension of land reform to the urban setting and the establishment of a tenant farming commission. I look forward to supporting the bill at decision time, and hope that its rushed nature does not lead to any unintended consequences. I look forward to land reform in the next session of Parliament and see a positive future for our agriculture, tenants and land businesses.
I am not sure about the analogies to giving birth, but today feels a little like waving a child off into the big bad world. You have invested considerable time and effort to make sure that they are as prepared as they can be for what lies ahead, and their departure will leave a little gap in your life, although a part of you is looking forward to the peace and quiet that is coming.
At the risk of overdramatising things, after nearly nine months of living and breathing land reform, that is a wee bit how today feels, although as with that offspring flying the nest, those of us who hope to return here post the election know that it is only a temporary parting. The next session of Parliament will bring with it scrutiny of the related secondary legislation and, almost certainly, further exploration of land reform.
During stage 2, I articulated my concern about how secondary legislation would be scrutinised effectively. I highlighted the fact that a number of RACCE Committee members who would have taken the bill through from the first evidence-gathering trip to Orkney to today and would have listened to the arguments for and against provisions and amendments would not be around to oversee consideration of the secondary legislation. Some of us might want to be around but, by virtue of the electoral process, will not get the chance to be.
It is certain, as we have heard, that the vast experience of three MSPs will not be at the disposal of the successor committee, as a week from now they will be stepping down as parliamentarians. I want to take a moment to pay tribute to those committee colleagues: Dave Thompson, Rob Gibson and Alex Fergusson. It has been a privilege to serve on the committee. We—the wider committee—have not always agreed on everything, but committee business has always been conducted in a respectful and dignified manner and more often than not we have come to an accord on the subjects before us. That has been down to a genuine commitment on the part of members of all parties to do the very best job possible.
No one has exemplified that approach more than Alex Fergusson. As a former Presiding Officer and a farmer, not to mention a long-serving MSP, Alex brought a wide range of experience to the committee. More than that, he has always sought to engage constructively. He and I disagree on a number of points regarding the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, but I respect entirely his view and wish him well in his life beyond this place—likewise my SNP colleagues Dave Thompson and Rob Gibson. Rob, Jim Hume, Alex Fergusson and I are the only survivors of the original RACCE Committee line-up from 2011, and for the past two and a bit years I have served under Rob as deputy convener. On a personal level I have found his vast experience and generosity to be enormously helpful as I have developed my knowledge and understanding of rural affairs, climate change and the environment. His inclusive convening style has unquestionably been at the heart of the ethos of the committee. Although Dave Thompson was a more recent arrival on the committee, he too has contributed considerably to its work, particularly in the areas of crofting, aquaculture and fishing.
At the risk of sounding like a participant on one of those dreadful TV talent shows, I say that these past nine months really have been a journey: a journey for the bill and for those of us charged with leading its scrutiny. We travelled the length and breadth of Scotland, from Orkney to Dumfries and from Fife to Skye, seeking views. I am in no doubt that the bill on which we will vote tonight is much the better for those endeavours.
I have some abiding memories, one of which is of an evidence session on human rights. We had gone through a period when all that we were hearing was what should or could not be done with the bill. Then we heard from Eleanor Deeming, Kirsteen Shields and Megan MacInnes, who combined to tell the committee what could be delivered. It was a pivotal moment in the progress of the bill and one of the most positive contributions that the committee heard in the past five years.
My most abiding memory is of meeting a group of tenant farmers in the Borders: a group who would not be photographed with the committee for fear of possible consequences. For the same reason we even had to find a non-identifiable part of the farm where we met to get a picture of members for the committee website. We were told a story that day that highlighted the lengths that some landlords or their factors will go to in order to reclaim secure tenancies. It was the story of a dying farmer who wanted to see his son sign for the tenancy before he passed away. The estate agreed, the factor duly turned up at his bedside and the son was about to sign on the dotted line when the farmer’s wife intervened and insisted that the family solicitor check over the paperwork first. It was a good job that she did, as the documentation presented to the son would in effect have seen him signing away that 1991 tenancy. It may well be the case that the overwhelming majority of landlords would never dream of behaving in such a way, but as long as that sort of conduct exists we know that we have some way to go in affording tenants appropriate protections.
The bill as amended has made progress in that direction, but I cannot help but take the view, which I know that colleagues share, that until the right-to-buy issue is addressed—albeit in a way that is restricted, perhaps, as Mike Russell has suggested, to secure tenancies of 50 years or two generations standing—the agricultural sector will never truly be at peace.
Today is just one step—albeit a significant one—on the land reform journey. I am certain that we will return to the issue in the next parliamentary session, and I hope to be back here to play a part in that and in ensuring that the secondary legislation around the act is all that it requires to be, particularly in the area of transparency of land ownership.
I thank the Scottish Parliament information centre and, in particular, the RACCE Committee clerks for their enormous contribution to not just the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill but the wider work of the committee over the past five years. This institution is fortunate to be able to call upon the talents and dedication of such individuals.
I also want to pay tribute to the stakeholders who engaged so positively in making the bill all that it could be. The amendments that I lodged were collaborative efforts with Community Land Scotland, Global Witness and Scottish Environment LINK—I am happy to acknowledge that. This is not the Scottish Government’s bill or indeed this Parliament’s bill. It has been made what it is by the contribution of wider Scotland.
It is concerning to learn that so many of the members who spoke in this afternoon’s debate are standing down. One wonders who will be left to do the hard work that we have been told still requires to be done in the context of the bill.
I pay tribute to the contribution of my colleagues from the Highlands and Islands: Jamie McGrigor, Rob Gibson and Dave Thompson. I also pay tribute to Alex Fergusson, who has served this Parliament well, not just as a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee but as Presiding Officer. I will miss his warmth and humour, albeit that I cannot agree with him on this bill, which I will be pleased to see passed tonight.
The bill is another step along the long road to land reform. It has taken a long time to get this far, but I hope that the Scottish land commission, which the bill establishes, will give the matter priority. Land reform is not an end in itself; it is for a purpose—although there is something very wrong when so few people own so much of Scotland. Land reform is about local empowerment, not for power itself but to give people the means to build their own economies and deliver jobs and futures for their communities.
Land and access to it are economic drivers. We need only look at the difference that community ownership has made in the areas where it has happened: economies are growing, housing is being provided, there are more jobs and people are returning. The people in charge are using those levers to grow their communities and give them confidence. No one says that that is easy. A huge amount of hard work has been required for the people who, in the words of Allan MacRae, “won the land”. Each community has needed to develop leadership skills and raise finance. There is a huge responsibility for the people who lead on bids to take land into community ownership.
Those who are opposed to the principle of land reform will point to areas where mistakes have been made and where communities have disagreed about the way forward. I ask them to look at the alternative; I wonder whether those communities would have survived if they had not had community ownership. Debate and disagreement are to be expected, but board members are democratically elected, so if someone does not like the direction of travel they can change it. That option is not available to people who do not even know who owns their estate.
I welcome the setting up of the Scottish land commission, which I hope will provide an impetus for continuing land reform and community empowerment. I hope that the commission will consider not only rural Scotland but urban Scotland. Many of the same problems to do with top-down power are experienced in our most deprived areas, and giving people in such areas access to their land and the power to decide what they need locally will have the same impact that community ownership has had in rural areas.
Our most deprived areas lack empowerment, and that manifests itself in a number of ways, not least in poorer health and shorter life expectancy. For that reason, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the right people are involved in the commission. The land reform review group did not work initially, and it was only when Jim Hunter expressed his frustration and left that the Scottish Government took the issue seriously. We need people who will see the potential and take action. There is a wealth of experience out there that we need to harness, giving people the wherewithal to make lasting changes.
It is disappointing that we are consulting again on registering beneficial ownership. There have been a number of missed opportunities in that regard, including this bill and our work to set up the Scottish land register. I acknowledge that the bill provides that the Scottish Government must legislate for a register. We need to get that right. I have had cases of communities being prevented from proceeding with developments because they cannot get the permission that they need from the landowner and they do not know who owns the land or how they can be contacted.
Our land ownership pattern is unbalanced and it lacks transparency, which raises the question of why there should be such secrecy. What is not a secret is that many estates are bought as a tax avoidance measure and not for the good of the community. Too many lives depend on the running of estates for them to be owned by people or organisations that have no interest in their communities and their wellbeing.
I also hope that the commission will look at repopulation. The purpose of land reform is to build our local communities and to do that we need people. For too long many parts of the Highlands and Islands have been left without people. Many areas have never been repopulated after they were decimated by the clearances, and that simply is not right. We need to take steps to repopulate the Highlands and Islands. It is in the public interest, and therefore it can happen.
It is also something that we need to charge our enterprise companies with. We have an ageing population, and our young people need opportunities to allow them to stay.
Land reform has to be the driver for repopulation. In the areas where it has happened, it has been a driver for economic growth and for opportunity. That is the purpose of land reform, and it is in the public interest. I am proud to have sat in a Parliament that recognised the importance of land reform. The Parliament led the way in our first session, and now we are making progress again. Let us continue to build on that progress to create vibrant and sustainable communities.
I am very conscious this evening, after a very long day of debate, that we are now reflecting upon where we stand not just now but for the future.
We stand in two historical streams. One is the stream of those who recognise the scars on the Scottish psyche that were caused by the very unnatural pattern of land ownership in Scotland and by the great injustices that went with that. Next month is the 200th anniversary of the trial of Patrick Sellar. I had an email from a landowner some time ago who—please forgive the language, Presiding Officer, but it is a quote—said that
“oafs like me dredge up crap from hundreds of years ago in this debate”.
We cannot understand the importance of this debate without understanding that stream—the stream of injustice, which Johann Lamont also referred to. Before her, the great Bob Grieve also talked about resolving the problems of Glasgow and of the Highlands and Islands.
The other stream that we stand in is the stream of those who have attempted to do something about those injustices, from the 19th century onwards. There were those in the Land League, through the early years of the 20th century, and there was the work of people such as Tom Johnston. In the 21st century, there has been the work of the first Labour-Liberal Scottish Executive, and I pay tribute to Donald Dewar’s passion for the issue. There is also the work of academics and activists such as James Hunter and Andy Wightman.
I regret that I did not get the opportunity to take land reform forward in government as environment minister. When Joe FitzPatrick rang me shortly after I left Government and asked me which committee I wished to serve on, I said, without hesitation, that I wished to be on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee—because of this issue. I wished to play a role in the next stage of land reform in Scotland. That was partly because of a huge constituency interest, but also because of a huge environmental interest and a historical interest.
It was also because land reform presents a particular problem to this Parliament: the problem of implementing a vision of a just, fair and equitable Scotland in terms of land ownership, but doing so without the full powers of a normal Parliament. As we have seen today, the powers to deal with money laundering or company law would have helped us with some of the issues that we needed to address.
There is also the challenge of dealing with the legacy of inaction over a long period of time. We cannot divorce the issues that we were addressing today, such as deer management, from the legacy of inaction that has led us here.
I give way to Fergus Ewing.
My apologies, Presiding Officer.
Since Mr Russell has raised the issue of deer management, I will say that recently I had the pleasure of addressing the annual general meeting of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. The gamekeepers raised their concerns about the slaughter of deer by the John Muir Trust at Knoydart, where the trust had left the carcases of the deer on the hill, and the failure of the trust to collaborate with the neighbouring estates. Does Mr Russell agree that that practice is entirely unacceptable, and that the real question is how it can be avoided in the future?
That is a very good question. It can be avoided in the future, and I regard leaving carcases in that way and any such practice as unacceptable. The way to resolve the issue is to ensure that Scottish Natural Heritage does what it is meant to do by statute: act in those circumstances, and not stand back as it has done. That is also an argument for much stronger statutory deer management.
I want to pay tribute to a number of people. I certainly pay tribute to the ministers. Aileen McLeod and Richard Lochhead have both been friends of mine over a period of time, and I hope that they still are friends of mine after the experience of the past nine months. That has sometimes been slightly fraught, but I pay tribute to both of them for their determination to get the bill into the form that it needed to be in.
I pay tribute to the clerks, the interest groups, the civil servants and those have campaigned on the issue—to those who are in organised campaign groups, those who have spoken very loudly and led on the matter, and people in the press. In particular, I pay tribute to The National, which has taken the issue as one of enormous importance and driven it forward.
I pay tribute to those who have changed my thinking on the matter. I have not always felt as passionately about change in rural Scotland as I do now. A lot of that has been formed by the experience of being the member for Argyll and Bute and spending long evenings talking to people about the issues. Those long evenings have often been with the Rozga family at Kilmeny on Islay. They, Catriona Bell and a whole group of people on Islay developed my thinking about how change must come. There is still change to come.
I also pay tribute to the members of the committee. I have lived, eaten, breathed and occasionally slept land reform over the past nine-month period. I have done that with a group of people who have usually been excellent company. I will pick out three in particular.
I have sat next to Alex Fergusson every Wednesday for the past year and a half, and we have found ourselves from time to time in complete agreement and from time to time in complete opposition. However, he has been very good company. He will be missed in the Parliament not just because he is good company but because he is wise and because of the manner in which he argues with people is one that we should all endeavour to emulate.
The convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Rob Gibson, has been a friend of mine for more than 30 years. I have always been fond of his company and I have enormous respect for him. That has grown in the past 18 months. He has been an exceptional convener of the committee and has steered the bill and other matters through with great ability, including the ability to draw people in and get the best from them. I am immensely grateful for the time that I have spent with him, and I shall not forget it.
Land reform is a work in progress. In every country, it has been approached differently. Scotland has particular difficulties. We now have to take the issue forward. We can certainly do that by consensus, but we also take it forward with a democratic mandate. I am sure that the parties that are seeking the renewal of their democratic mandate in the election will put arguments to the people of Scotland, but the people of Scotland want change. There is no doubt about that. That is not universal across the country, and the desire can change from place to place, but change is demanded. We have delivered substantial, good change today, but more is to come, particularly in the area of the right to buy.
We have made big steps forward in the bill, and everybody who has been involved should be pleased with that, but we are also redefining the nature of our relationship to land in Scotland. That has been a long time coming, and that is perhaps what we lost through two centuries of mismanagement and very often unforgettable and unforgivable cruelty to people who had to leave this country.
In finishing, let me draw attention to a historical coincidence. The tenant of Patrick Sellar’s farm is in the public gallery. A line connects us to the events of April 1816, when Patrick Sellar went on trial for practices that are now infamous. That led to an awful amount of suffering in Scotland. We are in the process of undoing some of those things and righting some of those wrongs. We are modernising our relationship to the land, and what a wonderful task that is.
I, too, thank the many people who have been involved in the good work to get us to this point.
The policy memorandum says:
“Land, both rural and urban, is one of Scotland’s most fundamental and finite assets”.
As Johann Lamont and other members have said, it is important that we do not simply view the issue as one that relates to misty glens. Whether a person is the subject of ill treatment by an absentee landowner, a laird or a multinational corporation that has polluted the ground, the issue is relevant to them.
The policy memorandum goes on to say that land is
“linked to ideas of well-being, social justice, opportunity and identity and is key to ... success and development of its people and communities alike.”
Although we may have different views on the meaning of “well-being”, I do not think that anyone could argue with that statement.
The policy memorandum also says:
“Scotland as a modern nation needs the ability to frame the governance of its land for the 21st century”.
Not many modern nations have 50 per cent of their rural land in the hands of such a small number of owners. Nonetheless, I would argue that we have the ability to make progress. The questions on which we will be judged are whether the legislation progresses land reform and whether it is the next step in this Government’s programme of ambitious land reform.
Land rights and responsibilities are often tagged. The Scottish Government is also a landowner. I must say that its stewardship of a farm in Knocknagael in Southside, Inverness and of the disease surveillance centre in Inverness are not the best examples of the kind of land ownership that I would hope for.
People have alluded to the principles regarding human rights. I was not privy to the evidence taking in that session, but I cite the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s comments:
“the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights places a duty on ministers to use the maximum available resources to ensure the progressive realisation of rights such as the right to housing, food and employment ... viewed through this broader human rights lens, land should be seen as a national asset with key questions arising of how to strike the most appropriate balance between the legitimate rights of landowners and the wider public interest.”
That is a topic that is challenged and on which there are different opinions in here.
SPICe said that our land pattern
“reflects historical forces and events of the second half of the nineteenth century”.
I am keen that, in all our legislation, we tackle elites and the growing inequality that exists in our country, whether that be in wealth, health or whatever. To do that, we must understand the power of landowners and the connection with housing—the tied housing and the poor housing standards that have been alluded to, and the blacklisting that took place across estates in the Highlands.
I travelled a smoky journey south on Monday as moor burning was taking place for grouse shooting. There were bulldozed tracks—straight lines—into the hills. I do not know whether my colleagues are equally exercised about the mass slaughter of hares that took place there the other day.
I come from deepest rural Inverness-shire, where people wrestle with any concept that anyone can own a deer or a salmon. I spoke at a rural conference recently where I heard a landowner commend the millions of pounds that the grouse moors have brought into the Angus glens then berate the very notion that any contribution to the public purse should come from that. I am delighted to see the changes on shootings that the bill will introduce.
The crofters have been mentioned. There is a lot of legislation in that area. We can go back to 1882 and the battle of the Braes, Màiri Mhòr and the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886. Under the Land Settlement (Scotland) Act 1919 returning soldiers who had contributed to the country felt largely abandoned and abused. I know that a number of tenant farmers have been subject to abusive treatment. Therefore, I am delighted that a Scottish land commission will be established.
I am also delighted for another category of people: the small landholders. My colleague Alison Johnstone secured agreement for an amendment that calls for a review. I am delighted and very grateful that the Government accepted that amendment.
Scotland and, indeed, the planet face challenges in how we house and feed our communities. Population is a factor in that. I warmed to what my colleague Rhoda Grant said about repopulation. We need that. On how matters would improve, Màiri Mhòr said in her poem:
“And the cold ruined houses will be built up by our kin.”
It is not just derelict land that will see buildings demolished. The Highlands are covered in townships where people have been abandoned, very much for the reasons to which Mr Russell alluded.
We are at the end of a long line, whether that be through the levellers of England, the battle of the Braes or the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 and all the people who have contributed to bringing us here. Professor Jim Hunter is worthy of comment—his counsel is always wise—as is Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman, who I hope will grace this chamber in a few months’ time.
On Patrick Harvie’s amendments about the registration of non-EU entities and British overseas territory entities, which did not enjoy support, Andy Wightman reported on Twitter:
“Corporate lawyers will be dancing in the streets of Georgetown, Grand Cayman tonight.”
That is the case. That will remain the case unless we stop the dance. Future legislation needs to be done on that.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I refer members to my agricultural interests in the register of members’ interests.
Before I turn to the subject of this debate, since this will be my last speech in the Parliament after almost 17 years, I hope that the Presiding Officer will allow me to thank her and her staff and all the many others in this Parliament, from SPICe to the security staff, the official report, the facilities management helpdesk, the information technology team, the posties—especially Robert—the cleaning and catering staff and all my own staff members, especially Douglas Pattullo, and the Conservative press and research unit for the excellent support and help that they have given me over all these years.
I thank my wife Emma and my six wonderful children—Sibylla, Sarah, Alexander, Violet, Rosanna and Daisy, four of whom were born during my stay in this Parliament—for their patience and forbearance, sometimes of my bad moods, during the time that I have been an MSP. They have been my rock and I will always be very grateful for their love and support.
I feel sad to be leaving the Parliament after 17 years but excited at possible new avenues. As Jim Paice said to me the other day, “It’s better to go when they’re asking why you’re going rather than when you’re going.” [Laughter.]
I wish all the new MSPs who are elected on 5 May every success in representing the fine people of Scotland—particularly the Highlands and Islands. Many of the people in the Highlands and Islands live difficult lives on the edge, in places of incredible beauty but sometimes great hardship because they are difficult places in which to make a living.
I remain concerned about some of the rhetoric that has come from the Scottish Government’s supporters during the process of the land reform bill, many of whom I am sorry to say seem in need of a reality check. The Scottish Conservatives have always argued that community ownership can and does play a positive part in land management; indeed, previous Conservative Governments have introduced good legislation in the area. The well-known Highland author Jim Hunter, whom Mike Russell mentioned earlier, said to me publicly that the Conservative Party record on land reform was better than that of any other party in the United Kingdom but the fact remains that the vast majority of private landowners contribute significantly to the Scottish economy and there are many examples of good practice and significant investments being made that are helping to sustain jobs, provide affordable homes and boost economic growth in often fragile and remote rural communities.
Anyone who works in the countryside knows that the costs of maintaining land and estates in good order are significant; drainage, fencing, upkeep of buildings and cross-compliance issues are all practical costs. In many cases, those costs would fall on the public purse if ownership was transferred from individuals, which must surely be considered when decisions about sustainable developments are being made.
The Scottish Government needs to work with private landowners in just the same way as it would work with private industry anywhere else and recognise the huge contribution that they make to Scotland’s economy. It is also vital that landowners and tenants get on—what we want is a reform that causes that to happen on all sides. A better environment for doing agricultural business is surely what we should be looking for.
One of our other key concerns throughout this process has been to avoid doing things that would damage the tenanted farming sector and reduce the amount of land that landowners are willing to let out to the tenanted sector. I share the genuine concern of landowners, the NFUS and many tenant farmers that the Scottish Government’s decision to force through changes in relation to the relinquishment and assignation of 1991 act tenancies will simply decrease confidence in the sector and reduce the number of tenanted farms that are made available.
My colleague Alex Fergusson was completely right to argue that the relevant section of the bill should be removed entirely and that such matters should be deferred to the next session of Parliament to be dealt with in a separate bill, because getting the decisions on agricultural tenancies right is too important to be rushed through in this way. More time and a serious, detailed debate are needed if a working environment is to be produced in which both sides are happy to do business with each other. That is how the land that produces the food will be improved, which is the vital thing about the whole agricultural industry.
Although there might be different ideological views around the chamber, uppermost in all members’ minds should be the need to make good, workable legislation that is understood, and not just for the benefit of lawyers. Increasingly over the past session, there has been a move to reduce the amount of detail in bills and to put more onus on secondary legislation and regulations. That tendency is never plainer to see than in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. In that regard, I welcome the recent comments of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee about the bill’s provisions and note the concerns from across the chamber about the delay in the Scottish Government’s response to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s stage 1 report.
The process has been driven not by evidence but by politics, and the defeat of the minister’s land reform motion at the SNP conference has had more impact on the content of the bill than the years of debate, discussion and evidence taking that have taken place. Surely that is a poor indictment of how the SNP makes law for Scotland. It would be a poor indictment for any Government to follow those principles, for they are wrong and they ignore the advice that is being given by the industry, which must be a bad thing.
On the reintroduction of rates for shooting and deer forests, I think that the Scottish Government is pushing ahead with a move that can only hurt an important section of the rural economy, and one that is of particular significance to my region of the Highlands and Islands. The stage 1 report said that the case for that change had simply not been made and warned about the impact on deer management as a result of the loss of game managers, gamekeepers and stalking jobs. Those jobs matter. It is deeply unfortunate that the Scottish Government has ignored the committee’s report and is ploughing ahead with a move that I am sure it may well regret in future years as the consequences of its actions and their effect on rural businesses become clear.
There are some elements of the bill that we support, but because of our very serious concerns about key parts of it, especially those on agricultural tenancy reform and the reintroduction of rates for shooting and deer forests, we cannot support the bill and will vote against it tonight.
Before I depart the stage, if you will allow me, Presiding Officer, I would like to pay tribute to Alex Fergusson, who has borne the brunt of our opposition to the bill, and all the work that that has involved, on his extremely broad shoulders. Time will tell on who was right and who was wrong, but he has done his job magnificently, and I hope that he will buy me a drink later on. [Laughter.]
I have enjoyed my bouts with too many members to name: Mr Lochhead, Mr Wheelhouse, Mr Gibson, Mr Thompson, Mr Allan and Mr Russell are just some of them; I cannot name them all.
So, farewell Scottish Parliament and godspeed. [Applause.]
On behalf of the Parliament, I thank Jamie McGrigor for his great contribution to the Parliament since 1999. It is fair to say—and his speech reflected this fact—that he is one of our Parliament’s great characters, and I am sorry that those in the next session of Parliament will not have the pleasure of his company, which we have had and have enjoyed so much. The Parliament will be much the poorer without Jamie McGrigor.
I wish you all the very best for the future as you go down the new avenues that you mentioned.
Scottish Labour is strongly committed to the land reform process and has contributed to it throughout the life of the Scottish Parliament. We are determined to ensure that Scotland has a thriving and sustainable rural economy, opportunities for communities to regenerate, a fair distribution of land ownership, with real transparency, and a vibrant tenanted sector. The passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is a very significant step on our journey towards a fairer Scotland where all our people can contribute and prosper and where those in need of support can, wherever possible, be nurtured in their own communities.
I pay tribute to the cabinet secretary for part 10 of the bill and particularly to the minister, Aileen McLeod, for working in such an inclusive way and her commitment to land reform not only in the south but throughout Scotland. She is not here this evening, but this bill is her bill.
I pay tribute to Alex Fergusson for his distinguished contribution and for kindly supporting me, especially when I was a new MSP, and to the convener of the RACCE Committee, who throughout his term has impeccably enabled members of all parties to make their points. I thank Mr Gibson very much; as he has said, the bill will give voice to the public interest. I also pay tribute to Dave Thompson. I got to know him from sitting next to him at the committee, and his passion for land reform has shone through. Finally, I pay tribute to Jamie McGrigor and his inimitable style. We wish all of you well. [Applause.]
The passage of the bill has, from many perspectives, presented us with challenges, not least the time pressure that we have come under as a result of its coming so close to the end of the session. Land reform and agricultural holdings, not to mention crofting law, are complex issues, and sometimes the tensions that arise are difficult to face, let alone resolve. Nevertheless, I am clear that the bill, along with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and relevant previous legislation, strike the right balance to allow us in both urban and rural Scotland to proceed on this journey. We must recognise the land reform review group’s contribution and the way that it focused minds on the way forward, and the Scottish land commission will be there to monitor progress and point to the future.
Graeme Dey has already highlighted the range of input that has enriched this bill. The hundreds of submissions that the Scottish Government and the RACCE Committee received, the visits across Scotland that the committee made over many months and the evidence-taking sessions that we had prove that the issue matters to Scotland—and, at this point, I must thank our wonderful clerks and SPICe.
Some have argued in the past that land reform is only a Highlands issue and that there is no interest in it in other parts of Scotland. I believe that from the crofting counties to the Mull of Galloway that myth has finally been exposed. Community empowerment matters everywhere in Scotland. Land ownership is one of a number of significant factors in that respect; indeed, as Johann Lamont stressed, co-operative models can play a strong role here.
Some will argue that what matters is not land ownership but land use. Land use might be key, and it is good that, as Graeme Dey has made clear, the land use strategy has been recognised in relation to the bill. In the end, however, a landowner, however good they might be, can simply say no—and there lies the crux. In our view, the bill should be seen as a backstop. I hope that landowners will consider favourably approaches from local communities for land to use for community woodlands, gardens, allotments and other such requirements and that such negotiations can proceed amicably. As Rhoda Grant has stressed, the bill is also for urban Scotland, and deprivation will be addressed through it.
Although good landowners have nothing to fear—and that is not a cliché, I believe, but a truth—it is important that the parts of the bill that address failures in land ownership are robust. The bill addresses other connected issues, and the many formal groups that have fed into those provisions deserve our recognition and thanks.
On tenancy issues, part 10 will contribute to a fairer balance between the rights of landowners and those of tenant farmers. As has been highlighted many times, although the right to property matters, it must be balanced with other relevant covenants on economic and social rights, not only in the context of tenancies but in the context of the whole bill.
It must be acknowledged that the process has felt hurried, but we should take comfort from the comment in the stage 3 briefing from the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association that reminds the Parliament that
“Part 10 is the culmination of 2 years of thorough research and scrutiny of the problems of the tenanted sector by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group and the RACCE Committee.”
The STFA briefing also states:
“Part 10 of the Land Reform Bill contains the most significant changes to agricultural holdings legislation since 1948”.
I will focus on but one of those significant developments: rent reviews. It will be essential for the next RACCE Committee to keep a watchful eye on the progress with modelling for productive capacity. The role of the tenant farming commissioner will be key to ensuring that that and other new arrangements between tenants and landlords are effective. The ministerial commitment on housing will also be important, as rural homes and indeed agricultural tenancy homes must be fit for the 21st century.
Wider rural issues such as the lack of choice of housing and rural fuel poverty were also raised with the RACCE Committee many times, and those complex issues must be high on the agenda of rural issues in the next session of Parliament. Looking to the future, it is also clear to me and many other members that some form of qualified or limited right to buy must be consulted on in the next session. The issue will not go away.
It is in the interests of both Highland and Lowland Scotland that we develop robust strategies for deer management. There is good practice, but progress has been alarmingly slow in too many parts of Scotland. The Scottish Wildlife Trust highlights in its briefing for this debate serious concerns about the suppression of native woodland expansion, failing protected sites, eroded peatlands emitting instead of storing carbon and increased downstream flood risks—the list goes on.
The bill will focus minds in the lead-up to the review of deer management later this year. Many have fought hard to get issues into the bill or lodged amendments to try to ensure that there will be robust scrutiny and review of secondary legislation in the next session. That is essential. Together, we must take forward further support for our communities, both urban and rural, and for tenants, whether we are in the Scottish Parliament or beyond this building. We must work with the whole of Scotland to ensure that we have a fairer future for all our communities.
As many members throughout the chamber have done, I begin by thanking everyone who has actively engaged in consideration of the bill, including the community groups, the interest groups, the stakeholders and members. I also take the opportunity to thank every single person who responded to the consultations, came to public engagement events, gave evidence to committees or otherwise took time to make their views on this important issue heard.
I also thank all the members of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, who went to extreme lengths to travel the length and breadth of Scotland and speak to many different communities, sometimes behind closed doors, about the serious, difficult and often controversial issues that are raised in land reform debates. They fulfilled their responsibilities with distinction and did an amazing job. Likewise, I thank the Finance Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their efforts in robustly scrutinising the bill during the parliamentary process.
I add my thanks to the land reform review group, which also travelled the length and breadth of Scotland taking evidence on the issue and came up with over 60 recommendations, many of which are included in the bill that I hope we will pass this evening.
The agricultural holdings review group—which I chaired, enabling me to work with many fine individuals—also travelled the length and breadth of Scotland and spoke to many people. Again, sometimes those discussions took place behind closed doors, given the nature of the issues that were being discussed. The group issued a fine report and many of its recommendations are reflected in the legislation that I hope we will pass this evening.
I want to thank all my officials, particularly the bill team, for their hard work and effort during the whole process. They have gone out of their way to speak to members individually, across all parties, and have worked closely with the committee and with stakeholders throughout the process.
Today has been an emotional day for the Scottish Parliament: I have seen with my own eyes the emotions that have arisen for various reasons throughout the day. Land reform sparks powerful feelings and we have heard powerful, emotional valedictory speeches given by MSPs of all parties as they reach the end of their time in this Parliament.
I pay tribute to Alex Fergusson, with whom I served on the first Rural Affairs Committee back in 1999. He has not changed a bit since then, if I may say so, and he looks as youthful as ever. It is amazing to think that that was nearly 17 years ago. I have always found Alex Fergusson a great man to work with on a personal level and he has served his constituents and this Parliament, particularly on the rural agenda, with much distinction and has brought wisdom to many of our debates on rural issues. In particular, I pay tribute to him for his work during his time as Presiding Officer and I wish him all the best for the next chapter in his life.
Likewise, Jamie McGrigor is someone with whom I have often served on committees in this Parliament, and we have crossed swords on many rural issues, particularly on the important issue of the future of Scotland’s prawn stocks, on which Jamie McGrigor is more of an expert than I am. He has also served his constituents in the Highlands and Islands with distinction and has brought many good points to debates on rural issues.
Dave Thompson is another member for whom land reform is close to his heart. He has played a great role on the RACCE committee and has served his constituents well. I offer my personal thanks for the role that he played in delivering the first SNP minority Government in 2007. In many ways, if it was not for Dave Thompson, we might not be here discussing land reform today, so we should be thankful for that.
It has been more than 16 years since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened. For more than 300 years before that, our land laws—like all our laws in Scotland—were governed by Westminster. It is a great pity that the Conservative party in Scotland is still stuck in the 18th century and that its members have said that they will vote against progressive land reform legislation in this Parliament. The Conservatives remain out of touch with the people of Scotland. Their policies are outdated and the people of Scotland will not forget that today the Conservatives will vote against land reform legislation.
Will the minister acknowledge that it has been the people sitting behind him in the chamber who have talked about the 18th century, and that the injustice of the 21st century is that, while Scotland’s modern Parliament talks about the historical injustices of land reform, his party has failed to acknowledge during the entire debate that, although he is correct that much of Scotland is owned by a small number of people, the vast majority of Scotland’s landowners are small landowners who have had no justice from this debate?
Now that he is in the chamber, I want to pay tribute on a personal level to Alex Salmond. It was a real privilege to be in the chamber today for his valedictory speech. Alex Salmond has led Scotland and this Parliament. He has inspired Scotland. Indeed, he inspired a young Richard Lochhead in the 1980s to get more involved in the SNP, and then he gave me the opportunity to serve in cabinet in 2007, so that I could make some small contribution to the land reform agenda that we are discussing today, as well as many other issues.
Alex Salmond deserves a lot of credit for the fact that we now have a Scottish Parliament and that we are able to address issues such as land reform. As he said, Scotland and the Parliament are on a journey, and it is the same for our land reform agenda. Now that we have a Parliament, we can scrutinise land law in this country.
The current outmoded situation was evident in a recent meeting of the committee, at which it had to discuss an act of Parliament from 1695, 12 years before the Scottish Parliament was adjourned in 1707. For hundreds of years, there was no Scottish Parliament to provide the necessary scrutiny and updating of Scotland’s land laws. Now, once again, we have a Parliament, so that scrutiny is in place. That is why we are able to take action on land reform, which includes moves to repeal some of the outdated legislation.
Of course, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that Scotland’s land must be an asset that benefits the many and not the few. Since 1999, land reform has been central to achieving our desired outcomes of fairness, equality and social justice for the people of Scotland. Since 2007, the SNP Government has taken much action including the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Act 2012, the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and further legislation to modernise agricultural holdings and many other issues.
It is now 2016 and there is strong progress on land reform, but significant action is still required on issues such as the concentration of ownership; the lack of transparency of land ownership; the falling numbers of agricultural tenancies; and the lack of access to agricultural land for new entrants and those who want to farm.
I have taken one intervention, and I want to proceed.
We bring forward this bill to tackle those issues, and that is why there are key provisions to publish a statement of land rights and responsibilities; to establish a Scottish land commission; to establish a public register of persons with a controlling interest in landowners; to establish a right for communities to buy land for further sustainable development; to initiate the entry in the valuation roll of shootings and deer-stalking businesses; and to address significant agricultural holdings legislation to improve relationships, redress some of the imbalances, facilitate retirement for tenant farmers, and create opportunities for those who want to farm.
It is a great pity that, once again, the Conservatives are voting against a land reform agenda, particularly on the basis of part 10 of the bill, which is about helping new people to enter agriculture. I say, to Alex Fergusson and his colleagues in particular, that the number of 1991 act tenancies—secure tenancies for tenants—has fallen by 24 per cent since 2008 and the area of land that is let has fallen to 44 per cent since 1982. Those statistics are not a reason for avoiding radical action; they are a reason for taking radical action, and that is why we are doing that in this bill.
As the STFA said in their news release, they are
“confident that assignation of 1991 tenancies would be of long-term benefit to Scottish agriculture by maintaining numbers of secure tenancies and providing access to them for new farmers. Landed interests can threaten to withhold land, but very little land has been let out on the open market for over a decade.”
That is why we are taking action.
As I draw to a conclusion, I would like to put on record my thanks to my colleague, Scotland’s Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod. As we discussed previously, Aileen is under the weather and cannot be with us this afternoon and, importantly, she cannot be here for the vote this evening. However, she is here in spirit and has put her heart and soul into the bill and into the cause of land reform. She met stakeholders from all sides, she has taken on board the views of parliamentary colleagues and party members alike, and she has worked hard to deliver a truly radical step forward in Scotland’s land reform story. I say this to Aileen, if she is watching proceedings, and I strongly suspect that she is: all of our thanks go to you for your hard work on this historic bill.
I also thank my colleague Paul Wheelhouse for stepping into the breach today.
“Who possesses this landscape? -
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?
False questions, for this landscape is
Masterless and intractable in any terms that are human.”
Those words are carved into the walls of the Scottish Parliament; they are part of this Parliament. Anyone who walks along the Canongate can read them and reflect on them. In that poem, McCaig beautifully describes the Assynt landscape, and the damage and depopulation resulting from absentee and disinterested landlords. Today’s bill is another step away from those days of destruction and neglect.
The Government will continue to do everything possible to support Scotland’s land reform programme. The Parliament will continue to hold us to account to ensure that the bill is as effective as we all want it to be.
Like all legislation, however, the bill can only ever provide the tools and mechanisms for democratic accountability. Ultimately, the bill is about empowering communities and individuals to take control and giving them new opportunities to shape their future and their lives.
Every time we debate land reform in the Parliament there is a sense of history. We can all be confident today that the Parliament is making history and building a better Scotland. I urge all members to support the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill this evening.