28 June 2012

S4M-03408 Long Leases (Scotland) Bill [Close]

Stewart Stevenson:
I welcome the positive contribution to the debate from members across the chamber and the indication that this highly technical bill, which has raised a significant number of issues, will be supported, unless people change their minds when we come to decision time.

I will say a little about the common good. I have been passed the Common Good Act 1491, which is a modest little act that contains two sentences. We have been having a little debate, and we believe that it was passed under James IV, but we will be certain if somebody can enlighten us. I will translate the act from Scots into English. It simply says:

“Item, it is stated and ordained that the common good of all our sovereign lord’s burghs within the realm be observed and kept to the common good of the town and to be spent in common and necessary things of the burgh by the advice of the council of the town for time and decades of crafts where they are”

in other words, for ever. That is it. That is what the approach is founded on. When such modest, little acts—it was the 19th act in 1491—are translated into the modern era, they leave certain interesting and important questions unanswered or uncertain. In talking about the common good, we must recognise that.

The consultation that is open, which includes questions on the common good, is an opportunity to start to understand the status quo and to work out what the new status of the common good might be in the future. Perhaps it is time to move away from the complexities of the past and state some simplicities that are fit for purpose for the future. However, that is for another day and, I suspect, another minister. I am taking the bill forward because the leases that are affected by it are largely rural leases, but it is perfectly fair to say that a range of ministers could have stood here to speak about this particular issue.

Alex Fergusson apologised for repetition. Obviously, he has forgotten one of the important rules of politics: a debate is not over when everything has been said; it is over only when everybody has said it. Perhaps this debate clearly illustrates that point.

Annabelle Ewing highlighted her experience as a conveyancing lawyer, and I listened carefully to what she had to say.

I am grateful to Margaret McDougall for the albeit transient promotion in the interstices of this debate. She effectively described some of the difficulties that she has experienced in local government in finding out whether something is a common good property. The reality is that a document in somebody’s file somewhere—not necessarily in the files of the council concerned, of course—that says that something is common good property may be all but impossible to find unless it is known that it exists in the first place. There are genuine and significant concerns.

Jim Hume in a sense recognised that consensus probably has been achieved. The Government has responded to the issues as they have arisen and I hope that, as he looks at Labour’s review of its position, he remembers a response given by someone else:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

I suppose that that is a question that we might address to Mr Hume. Grown-up politics involves recognising that there is a debate, that the debate moves on, and that we take positions as it moves on, as we in the Government have done.

We will continue to work on the common good with local authorities. Local authorities were open and honest with the committees, gave it their best shot, and showed a depth of knowledge and understanding. Paragraph 55 of the Justice Committee’s stage 1 report says:

“This Bill is not about common good. It is about ultra-long leases.”

The conclusion in paragraph 61 of that report is:

“The desirability for certainty from this legislation and the provisions for compensation provided in the Bill have led the Committee to conclude that it is not persuaded, at this time, that there is a compelling case for exempting leases of common good property from this Bill.”

Paragraph 127 of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee stage 1 report says:

“The Committee is not persuaded by the arguments made thus far to exempt ultra-long leases on common good land, however, neither is the case against this exemption a clear and compelling one.”

There are a number of reasons against the exemption, as I said earlier. The bill does not take account of who the landlord and tenant are and is blind to that. Decisions on development should now be for the planning system. Alex Fergusson referred to enlightened feudal landlords who helped to build the attractive facades that we have in some of our cities. Of course, it is fair to say that not all feudal landlords were enlightened. That is why the feudal system has been addressed over recent decades.

We need to protect common good land and we will not forget about that. Indeed, our consultation document on the proposed community empowerment and renewal bill has two specific questions—25 and 26—on the issue. I draw members’ attention to the fact that that consultation does not close until 29 August, so if they are short of things to do over the summer recess they can read the consultation document and respond. I do not think that anyone should stand in this chamber or any in other forum and suggest that they have all the answers on common good—that would be specious. It is a genuine question that we should all turn our minds to. Those of us who have been involved in the debate are probably relatively well placed to understand some of the complexities and uncertainties and perhaps make a contribution to the consultation.

I confirm again that I will write to local authorities saying that any compensatory and additional payments should go to the common good fund if common good land is affected, while recognising that the amounts will be very small. We have prepared the letter and, assuming royal assent for the bill, it will go out shortly thereafter.

Land registration came up again in the debate. Our commitment to land registration is shown by the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill that we have just put through the Parliament. Again, that bill arose as the result of a Scottish Law Commission report. That highlights the value of having some of the best of the legal brains out there engaged in the issues of reforming Scotland’s law and identifying what needs to be done. Mr Ewing said on 31 May during stage 3 consideration of the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill that it

“provides the legal framework that will allow the land register to be completed.”—[Official Report, 31 May; c 9596.]

We will ensure that officials continue to work with Registers of Scotland on that.

We need to ensure that information on the provisions of the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill reaches landlords, tenants and their legal representatives. As ultra-long leases are concentrated in particular areas of the country, we can target the information at those areas. We will ensure that we have articles in relevant publications and will provide information on the Scottish Government website and the Registers of Scotland website.

Our intention is that the appointed day for the bill’s provisions will be in 2015, which should give sufficient time for parties to prepare. We will need some secondary legislation, particularly in relation to forms, and we will consult on those, in line with our best practice.

I am grateful to colleagues across the chamber for their work on the bill. It is a technical bill, but no one could accuse the process of having been dull. Indeed, there have been sparks of humour from many of those who have contributed to the debate.

The bill team had to advise a minister who usually works outside the justice area, but they were superb in their support and in ensuring that the minister was properly engaged and had a proper understanding of the complexities and the legal aspects. I have thoroughly enjoyed having their support.

The bill is an overdue bit of land reform that will reduce costs and complexities, and we have had an excellent debate on it. The common good debate that we have had will warm up the debate that will follow on the consultation that is currently on the table, as I said. I hope that members who have just joined us in the chamber will consider responding to the consultation on common good.

I commend the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill to members and I urge them to support it at decision time and to ensure that their constituents, when they meet them, are aware of the contents of the bill and the opportunities that come with it. We can all play a part in finally ending the feudal system in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP