16.05.12: Long Leases (Scotland) Bill
An attempt to exempt common good land from a bill to reform property law was voted down by MSPs.
The Long Leases (Scotland) Bill was being discussed by the Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee as part of Stage 2 proceedings.
The Bill is the latest part of government reforms to centuries-old property law and would allow properties on very long leases to be converted into ownership.
Tenants could opt out if they wish and landlords would be compensated for the loss of their rights.
Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume proposed an amendment to the Bill that would see common good land made exempt from the law.
Hume said: “At the start of the bill process, it was suggested that four common good property leases would be affected by the Bill. That figure has now been revised to nine, which, although a small number, is already more than double the original figure. There are concerns that more leases may well be affected, as there is no audit of common good land throughout Scotland.
“I recognise that identifying common good land is complex—there is no question about that—but I do not view that as a reason not to protect common good assets. “Keeping common good land for the public interest is a matter of principle. We know that nine leases will be affected, which is more than double the original figure of four. There are concerns that 10, 11 or 12 leases might be affected.
“The news that the Scottish Government and local authorities will work together to identify better ways of gathering, verifying, recording and maintaining information on common good assets is welcome.
However, we need to look again at the case for exempting common good land and assets in order to protect the public interest in that land.
“The minister has previously said that there could be issues over legal costs and so on for local authorities.
I suggest that local authorities would take legal action only if that were in the public interest and for the public good. However, if common good land is not exempted, there is no course for any local authority to pursue in order to protect the land.” But Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The Bill is about clarifying ownership and responsibility. Compensatory payments are available under the Bill, although they are not particularly big.
“The fundamental rationale of the Bill is that ultralong leases such as the Duke of Buccleuch’s 999-year leases, are in essence equivalent to ownership. That applies regardless of who the tenant and landlord are.
“It is worth pointing out that the beneficiaries of the Bill include local authorities, which are tenants whose tenancy will convert to ownership.” The amendment was defeated by three votes to five.
18.05.12: North Sea oil decommissioning
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon asked what was being done to ensure businesses in Scotland were receiving a share of North Sea oil decommissioning work.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing answered: “During 2008 and early 2009, Scottish Enterprise formed a steering group which led to a year-long industry consultation to develop an understanding of the key focus areas of weakness and bottlenecks which currently inhibit UK supply chain capability development.
“One of the outputs from this was the requirement for an industry forum to unify the disparate clusters of bodies and initiatives in the North Sea decommissioning market, and bring clarity and commonality to this emerging industry.
“This led to the creation of Decom North Sea (DNS), which for the first two years of operation was funded by Scottish Enterprise, Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC, UK) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE). Decom North Sea is now the primary body leading the way to form [a] critical mass of decommissioning expertise and to help address the issues that impede investment and innovation in the sector.
“Scottish Enterprise continues to support DNS through membership and retain an observer status on the board with input on strategic direction.
“Scottish Enterprise also supports, through direct account management, a number of companies active in the decommissioning sector. In addition, it works directly with ports within its regional boundaries to support development of infrastructure where appropriate, as do Scottish Development International and Highlands and Islands Enterprise which have regional priority for Lerwick.
“There is currently a project which the Scottish Government and Highlands & Islands Enterprise are keen to support. The Dales Voe deep-water decommissioning base project, proposed by Lerwick Port Authority in partnership with AF Decom, a Norwegian decommission company, will create a deepwater quay and offshore oil and gas decommissioning yard in Shetland with the capability to compete with Norway.
“If successful this project will create employment in Shetland, help to maintain economic activity for the oil & gas supply chain in the region, and retain skills and opportunities in the port of Lerwick.”
17.05.12: New farming entrants
North-east Scotland Conservative MSP Nanette Milne asked the Government what progress there had been in its attempts to increase the number of new farming entrants.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The Government has always put a high priority on encouraging new entrants to farming.
“We were the first administration to introduce dedicated new entrant support which, so far, has delivered £1.1 million of support to 65 new entrants.
Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment announced a new advice package for new entrants that is now being developed by the Scottish Agricultural College. In addition, the Cabinet Secretary intends to make an announcement soon on plans to hold a new entrant summit and to set up a new entrant panel to determine what can be done under the future Common Agricultural Policy to encourage new entrants.”
Milne then asked: “From my regular meetings with farming representatives, I know that they are very concerned at what is becoming an ageing industry and at the limited opportunities for newer young entrants into it. In the previous parliamentary session, ministers promised to introduce a £10 million year-on-year new entrant scheme; however, in reality, the Scottish National Party delivered only a £10 million programme over the course of the whole session of Parliament, which provided limited new opportunities for entrants.” Stevenson replied: “I am unhappy to share Nanette Milne’s concern and to agree that the increasing age of farmers is an issue for the industry. From 2000 to 2007, the number of farmers aged under 45 fell and the number aged over 65 rose from 22 per cent to 27 per cent. A fundamental challenge that is in front of us is Common Agricultural Policy reform, and the current proposals would inhibit our ability to support new entrants. It is very important that Scotland gets the support to address the issue of new entrants that it requires from the United Kingdom Government which, for the time being, has the lead in negotiating on the matter.”