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19 June 2018

S5M-12846 Scottish Crown Estate Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-12846, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

15:39
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16:20

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I draw members’ attention to my registered small agricultural holding.

I will respond first to something that Tavish Scott said. I cannot find where it says in the bill—although I know that it is there—that it is possible to sell assets, provided the proceeds are used to purchase another heritable asset. That may not be a complete answer to Tavish Scott’s point.

I respond to the suggestion that this is a technical bill by making a few technical points that go beyond the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s consideration of the bill. A particular point relates to section 6(2)(a), which requires that a body that takes over the management of an asset has to have

“no fewer than 20 members”.

I invite the Government to have a wee think about that and build in some flexibility. I am thinking in particular of the recent buyout at Ulva, where, because of the way in which the community was defined, consent was required by a large number of people who were not on Ulva. There might be similar circumstances in future.

I want to make a few points about finance. Managers of assets that have been devolved to local communities are allowed to have other interests, although they have to keep the accounts for the Crown Estate asset separate from the accounts for any other assets. That is a perfectly proper provision. However, the aggregation of a Crown Estate asset with one that is not from the Crown estate may add to the value of the two assets. There is an unresolved question in the bill as it is currently drafted about how the income and liability should be divided.

Speaking of which, I refer to section 3(4)(a), which relates to a transferee ceasing to exist. It says:

“the function, and any rights or liabilities, transferred to the transferee ... are to transfer to another person”.

There is a wee bit of an awkward construct there in relation to liabilities if a community organisation becomes insolvent. Such an organisation is likely to be registered under the companies acts and therefore there will be provision for insolvency. It would be very unusual for the liabilities not to be extinguished at the point of insolvency; instead, we are legislating that they be transferred to someone else. In some very unlikely circumstances, a degree of irresponsibility could arise, where liabilities never rest on the shoulders of those who should be responsible for them. I invite ministers to have a wee think about that.

Section 14 limits the granting of a lease to 150 years. The period is a slightly odd choice; the period in the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012 is 175 years. Mr Wightman in particular will remember that because, as minister, I worked with him on that subject. I heard Edward Mountain refer to long leases of the sea bed. If a lease was more than 175 years, the 2012 act converted it to ownership. I post that as an interesting little aside, because I do not know whether there are any cases in which that has happened.

Primarily, I want devolution in relation to Crown Estate assets to work to the maximum possible degree. I am less interested in local authorities taking responsibility, although clearly there are areas in which that is appropriate. The success of what we are doing here will depend on our getting good, effective devolution down to quite small communities for which it may make a substantial difference.

The bill is relatively silent on the issue of community and there is some advantage in that. The Ulva buyout illustrates that as, although we were able to make the land reform provision for community buyouts work, it worked in a very odd way, because only a tiny minority of those who had to give permission were on Ulva. It is worth looking at that.

Paragraph 342 of the report draws attention to the absence of an

“up-to-date assessment of the condition of Crown Estate assets in Scotland”.

I welcome the fact that that is being remedied, because lack of knowledge of one’s assets is the road to economic and financial perdition.

I wish the bill every success.

16:25

Stewart Stevenson
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