21 November 2018

S5M-14822 Scottish Crown Estate Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14822, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

... ... ...

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

The cabinet secretary has said that this is the first time that we have legislated on the Crown Estate. I am sure that that is true, but it is certainly not the first time that we have debated the issue. As Tavish Scott has just reminded us, he had a members’ business debate on the matter on 1 November 2007, as had David Stewart on 18 April 2012. There will be other instances—I have the 2012 debate on file, simply because I happened to be the minister who responded to it. This is therefore not a subject that we have not debated or discussed before on the floor of the chamber or in the corridors of Parliament.

Andy Wightman took us back to the 900s in his speech. I had not realised that the matter went quite that far back; I found the Auditor of the Exchequer in Scotland, which was established as a court in the 1500s to look after what is now the Crown estate. There is a very long history to this.

With regard to the bill, which we are likely to pass soon, one section that has not attracted any significant amendment—it was amended a little bit at stage 2—is section 11, which sets out the duty to obtain market value. It picks up existing provisions in saying:

“The manager of a Scottish Crown Estate asset must not make any of the following transactions ... for consideration of less than market value”

but goes on to qualify that by making it clear that a manager can consider less than market value if they are

“satisfied that the relevant transaction is likely to contribute to the promotion or the improvement in Scotland of ... economic development, ... regeneration, ... social wellbeing, ... environmental wellbeing, ... sustainable development.”

Frankly, that is a breakthrough provision, because it recognises that these assets, which we are managing or allowing others to manage, should be managed for the common good, not simply to deliver an economic asset that flows into the structures of government at its various levels. I am particularly pleased with that section of the bill, although I would also highlight the duty in section 7 to maintain and enhance value.

The Crown Estate has a long history. I have been here a fair while—although not as long as everybody; John Scott, who is sitting looking around the chamber, was here before me, as was Tavish Scott—but I do not think that we can really say that in the Parliament’s earlier days the Crown Estate engaged with the members of this place to very useful purpose. In a long-standing constituency case, I had to persuade it to do something about a harbour at Crovie. It took something like five or six years before we finally concluded that that matter was actually its responsibility—and a good deal longer before it actually did anything about it.

If anything, the Crown Estate was passively malign or passively neglectful. It was slightly better than other people—

John Scott
: I object to the member’s use of the word “malign”. I objected to Mr Wightman’s use of the word, too, when he described the Crown estate managers hitherto, who were doing their jobs as they best saw fit and within the confines of the law. I know many of these people directly—I declare that interest—and they are men and women of honour. I particularly object to the use of the word “malign” in that regard and in respect of those individuals.

I am sorry to be awkward about it again, but I have already raised the point with Mr Wightman and I am annoyed that I need to raise it again.

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Scott is perfectly entitled to make the point. However, I was pointing at the organisation, rather than the individuals, with whom I have always had the best of relationships; I have felt, as Mr Scott does, that as individuals they were doing their best. The framework that constrained them did not allow them to do anything other, in many instances, than to act in a way that one could describe as malign. However, let us not fall out about a single word—it is simply not worth the hassle.

There were private landowners around Scotland who were much worse. We used to go on holiday to Sutherland and the Vesteys, who were domiciled in Argentina, never paid a penny in tax in decades and were much more adverse in the way that they dealt with things.

I realise that I must conclude. The bill is part of returning power to our communities. In David Stewart’s debate in April 2012, we all talked about Peter Peacock and Community Land Scotland, and of transfers that were made. This is part of a process of restoring to the people of Scotland some of the assets that are rightly theirs and the control over them. We have not completed the journey, but the bill is a useful and helpful start.


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