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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, December 7, 2017


New Petitions

Cat Population (Management) (PE1674)

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is on new petition PE1674, on managing the cat population in Scotland, which was lodged by Ellie Stirling. The petition calls for a review of the code of practice under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 to control the domestic cat population and protect the Scottish wildcat.

We will take evidence on the petition from Ellie Stirling, whom I welcome to the committee. Committee members have a copy of the petition and of the written submission that you provided to support the petition. You have the opportunity to make a brief opening statement of up to five minutes. After that, committee members will ask a few questions to inform our consideration of the petition.

Ellie Stirling

It is a privilege to have this opportunity and I really appreciate it. The committee’s consideration of my petition represents a change of tack from the previous discussion except that, as I worked all my paid working life as a clinical psychologist in the mental health service in England and Scotland, it was interesting to hear it. Having said that, I think that that experience is relevant to my petition. I am not paid to do the work that I do now, but I work virtually full time—as some people do when they retire—in environmental work. For some reason, I seem to be attached to cats and, just as I worked with vulnerable people in vulnerable circumstances, I have tended to try to help cats that live in vulnerable circumstances.

In the 20 years since I moved back to Scotland, I have been doing trap, neuter, return. As some members might know, that is an approach that is used universally and which has been used by the Scottish wildcat action project to limit the number of cats of the domestic species that crossbreed with the wildcat. I suppose that I should not have been surprised, but I have found that it is a war zone out there: there are animals living in circumstances that you would not dream of for your own pet. Some members might not have pets, but those who do know that people who keep pets—dogs, cats, rabbits or whatever—tend to see them as vulnerable and important members of the family. They are vulnerable in the sense that we have the responsibility to keep them safe and meet their needs, as we do for our children. However, that is not happening for the cats out there. A lot of people think that feral cats are a different species from our domestic cats at home, but they are not. They are exactly the same cats, but they are uncared for.

I had been doing that work for perhaps 10 years before I noticed that the areas where I had neutered all the cats started to fill up with cats again, which turned out to be cats that came from the pet cat population. A bit late in the day, I did some research and found some studies, which you have references to in your papers. The studies told me that a minority of pet cat owners still do not neuter their cats, although pet organisations have made great headway, to the extent that 90 per cent of owners now do so. However, 10 per cent of owners—13 per cent in Scotland—do not. You would think that that is fine and that we can just keep nudging the owners and we will get there, but it is not happening.

I looked at more figures, which showed that the number of homes available for cats stalled in 2013. That number is not getting any higher; if anything, it is going down. Enough new animals are being produced—because of the 10 per cent of cat owners who do not have their cats neutered—to increase the pet cat population by a factor of more than two every four years. It is simple arithmetic. Where are the cats going? They are overspilling, as there are not enough homes for them. We can talk about the figures later, if members want, but the cats are overspilling into back streets and the countryside.

By that time, I had shovelled alongside the Scottish wildcat action project and was helping it with TNR techniques. I discovered the crucial importance of controlling our domestic, stray and feral cat populations to saving the wildcat in Scotland. The research that I did—only this year, to my shame—has brought me to this point today. It seems that we are at a tipping point and a decision point. If we go on in the way that we are, producing cats that join the enormous and growing feral and stray population, neither the existing wildcats nor future reintroduced wildcats will have a chance. There is also the issue of the horrendous welfare implications for the cats.

Alternatively, we could look at the new measures of neutering and identification chipping—I understand that they would have to be looked at carefully—which would seem to be a basic necessity for good cat care and health. Veterinary professionals support neutering and ID chipping as basic essentials of good cat healthcare, as do all the cat and pet welfare organisations, which neuter and ID chip their own cats.

To sum up, what has brought me here is the fact that we are in a unique position. We have the wildcat to think about and it is a big responsibility. There are fewer of them than there are tigers, and poorer countries than ours are doing a lot more on conservation to help tigers. We need to help the Scottish wildcat action project with its legacy. It can start by back-breeding the wildcats that are left, but we have to do the rest by creating a habitat that is safe for them to thrive in in the future.

In my view, and in the view of most other people who have signed the petition, we also have a responsibility to keep our domestic cats safe and not let this carnage and waste of lives happen. I would not like to see Scotland on the wrong side of history, so I have brought the petition to you so that I can share my thinking and have you ask me questions.

Thank you. I invite ask Angus MacDonald to open the questioning.

Angus MacDonald

In your submission, you say that you have written to the Scottish Government, the cabinet secretary, the cross-party group on animal welfare and your regional MSPs, as well as discussing the issue with your constituency MSP, Graeme Dey. What feedback have you received as a result of all those approaches?

Ellie Stirling

I have written three times to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and received responses from the animal welfare section, but not from the conservation section. I wondered about that.

I have had support from my MSPs in that my constituency and regional MSPs have written to the cabinet secretary for me. They got a very standard response: the Government’s position is that cats are not really an issue—they go about their business, look after themselves and do not cause humans any difficulties. I beg to differ. The evidence suggests that they cause some nuisance to some people and distress to others who care about animals. They also have an impact on internationally important conservation.

Given the letters that I have had back, I would like to see an update of the Government’s information and awareness of the issues that I am raising. That might lead to some different thinking.

I met the convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare some months ago and I was positively listened to. I have written to all MSPs now and those who have taken the trouble to write back to me have recognised the importance of the twin issues of animal welfare and conservation that I have raised. Their main concerns have been about the apparently compulsory nature of the steps that would need to be taken.

Angus MacDonald

The figures in your submission are quite staggering. With 400,000 feral cats, and with 286,000 kittens being born every year, we can see the reason for the overspill that you talked about in your opening remarks.

Michelle Ballantyne

I have to say that I am a bit shocked. I did not know all this information about cats so the petition made for interesting reading.

You said that ownership and degree of control are ill defined and open to interpretation in the code of practice and the Scottish Natural Heritage guidance notes on native range. I also noted your comment that owned domestic cats that roam freely are considered to be “under human control”—something that my husband might disagree with—if they are “expected to return” to their owners. Can you expand on that point? Do you have an example of a better definition to provide in the notes?

Ellie Stirling

When I did the research earlier this year, I was also quite stunned to find that definition. Because cats, dogs and farmed animals are all classified as non-native species, that general term “under human control” is applied to them all. Farm stock, horses and other sorts of kept animals can be fenced in as a simple way of keeping them under human control.

If you kept a horse and a tree fell down and broke the fencing and the horse escaped, under the legislation and the code of practice, you might be open to criminal prosecution for not maintaining your fencing or not checking it. Because it is a strict liability offence, the responsibility would be on you to demonstrate that you had checked the fence the day before and it was perfectly all right, but there was a storm overnight.

With dogs, there is human control involving leads, training and what have you; with cats, as Michelle Ballantyne alluded to, it is different. Everyone who has read my petition has said to me—front-line, war-weary cat rescue volunteers all say this, too—that cats are not under human control in the way that dogs are. You cannot just call them and expect that they will come back. Only a few cats are under human control in that way. Cat behaviour varies along a continuum.

There are welfare issues, whereby cats cannot legally be contained in the way that a horse can be contained. Cats cannot be fenced or shut in—if they were, that would rightly be a welfare issue. For me, for veterinary professionals and for conservationists, as well as for cat owners—or 90 per cent of them, at least—the middle-of-the-road solution is neutering, because if a cat is neutered, it will be free of hormonally driven behaviour, such as wandering, roaming and territorial fighting, which leads to the transmission of disease. For female cats, neutering will free them from producing two to three litters a year of five kittens each, which is a ticket to early death as well as to not coming back, because cats move out and colonise new areas when they produce young.

I have suggested a simple change to the definition of “under human control” in the code of practice. Instead of saying that animals that are under human control are “expected to return”, which is a subjective judgment, the definition should be objective and pragmatic and should relate to something that can be observed, touched, felt or measured. It would be sensible for the definition of a cat that is “under human control” to be a cat that is neutered. If a cat is neutered, that will satisfy the vast majority of cat lovers, every vet professional and every member of the public who does not like cats—people who do not like cats do not want to have 60 living next door to them. It seems to be a middle-of-the-road requirement to have a cat neutered. That way, it would be regarded as being under human control.

How would breeders and showers be dealt with under that arrangement? Would they have to be specially licensed?

Ellie Stirling

I have not worked in those areas of licensing, but there would be nothing to stop a person being a breeder of cats. There is no compulsion to not breed. Someone who wanted to be a breeder of cats would apply for a licence that would exempt them from the non-native species legislation. People’s freedoms would not be curtailed.

The issue would then be down to whoever set the licensing conditions. That happens every day in the context of conservation. Licences are issued for interference with protected wild species, but the conditions have to be followed by the developers. I envisage the situation being the same for breeders. As I understand it, someone who wants to be a licensed breeder of cats in France must undergo a set piece of training, perhaps in a local college. There would be scope for younger people who wanted to work with animals to work at a breeding establishment, learn the tools of the trade and learn about cat welfare and the importance of vaccination. I have not mentioned vaccination yet, but it is hugely important from an epidemiological point of view.

Brian Whittle

In the petition, you say that you believe that a new approach is required because 10 per cent of cat owners do not have their cats neutered, despite appeals such as the snip and chip appeal. Are there other ways in which the benefits of neutering could be promoted by veterinarians and animal welfare charities?

Ellie Stirling

Thank you for the question. The approach that you have outlined—which could be summed up as the voluntary approach—is what I have relied on until recently. I and all my colleagues in front-line cat rescue have leant towards such an approach, which involves good advice and good veterinary intervention being taken on board by everyone who feels that they are a responsible cat owner. The trouble is that that voluntary approach seems to have gone as far as it can go.


The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals and eight other pet organisations are members of the UK-wide cat population control group, which produces a report each year that is a snapshot of cat ownership. Until the past two or three years, the group has been reporting a nudging up in the rate at which cat owners are getting their cats neutered, but that has now stalled. In 2016, we reached a 93 per cent neutered rate UK wide; it is back down to 90 per cent this year. The results are from a YouGov opinion poll, and those of you who are scientifically minded know that opinion polls measure public opinion; they do not go out and count cats. There is a huge difference. The people who sit at home, put their name on a panel and say that they are happy to be consulted by YouGov and answer its questions are connected up to the world. The people I meet are not connected up in that way, so the number of unneutered cats is probably hugely underestimated.

It is worrying that the voluntary approach has gone as far as it can go. The front-line cat rescue workers I meet confirm that. The people who do not have their cats neutered are perhaps socially marginalised and live without social resources such as email, or networks in which friends and family would encourage them to have their cats neutered. They may have lots of other social problems. I do not want to blame those people, but if we do not bring them on board, vets tell us that we risk a huge explosion—that is not my word—of the cat population, which brings with it the potential for an increase in unvaccinated cats. Most cats are unvaccinated, even the neutered ones, and feline diseases run rife when there is overpopulation. We are putting the neutered pet cats at risk—yours and mine at home are at risk because of the actions of the few people who do not yet neuter.

I thought hard about this and I thought about the people who smoked in public places until we reached the point where we said that it affects the health of us all, because we all breathe the smoke. A similar argument applies to people who are not neutering their cats. It is not just their cats that are suffering—and they are suffering; if you want to ask me later about any of the conditions, I will happily tell you—it increases the risks for the other 90 per cent of cats as a result of disease transmission. There are still territorial fights, and cats that are wandering.

Is there the possibility of compulsory registration, not just of pet cats but of pet animals?

Ellie Stirling

I would suggest something similar to dog microchipping. All dogs now have to be microchipped and the microchip is registered on a managed database. If you are a breeder and your dog produces offspring, you are responsible for having those offspring microchipped. If we had the same system for cats, we would suggest that the offspring be neutered, as well as the cat. If your cat is producing offspring and you are not registered as breeder, you would presumably be quickly encouraged to register as a breeder and therefore you would be responsible for the neutering and microchipping of the offspring. That is the case for other pets. I know about the set-up for horses, although not in such detail. There are passport systems for horses that track the health of the horse. With cats, neutering and vaccinating are basic necessities for not just the health of the individual but the health of the population. That is the issue.

Rona Mackay

I should declare an interest. I am a member of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on animal welfare.

I follow on the questioning from my colleague, Brian Whittle. In response to a written parliamentary question on the neutering, microchipping and registration of cats, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform said:

“We do not ... consider these actions should be compulsory for cats.”—[Written Answers, 27 July 2017; S5W-10322]

What is your response to that?

Ellie Stirling

People in Government, quite genuinely, have not had time to process the statistics. I was shocked by the statistics and you have said that you were too. I have written a lot down; people do not always have time to read things in such depth. If someone read the evidence in depth, they would see the problem. You obviously have figures from me because you have asked the question. Whether there are under half a million or nearly a million unneutered cats in Scotland, the population is more than doubling every four years. That will take us to more than two million cats in four years’ time. That has been happening for all of this time, and the number of homes for cats is not going up—if anything, it is going down. There are new issues, such as that one, to take on board.

I gave you the figures but I have not shown you the graph of the figures. I will leave the graph with you if you care to accept it. You probably cannot see my piece of paper, but the orange bars show the additional cats, year on year, on top of the current cat population, which is represented by the blue bars. That is a conservative estimate and does not take into account that the cats’ offspring begin to have kittens the following year—if your cat has five kittens and two or three of them are female, they could each produce five kittens twice a year. I have not counted that in my figures; it that factor were included, the increase would be exponential.

The other thing to bear in mind is that a fair proportion of cat owners—maybe more than half of the 90 per cent of those who say that they neuter their cats—have already let their cats have litters before they neuter them. I have not counted those kittens either. The graph shows an exponential increase, but the increase is even greater than that. I hope that the Government has time to take on board those facts and statistics.

I also hope that the Government has time to consider updating its model of cat behaviour. I do not know whether that is covered in the animal welfare section or the conservation and wildlife section, but the model of cat behaviour needs to incorporate the understanding that they are a widely roaming species—probably as widely roaming as the wildcat—if they are not neutered. They are not under human control if they are unneutered; they cannot be expected to come back. The wildcat may be in the north of Scotland now, if there are any left, but domestic cats that become feral there can be neutered, so that number can be stabilised. However, domestic cats are roaming, being moved around in cars and being taken in by people. They will recolonise areas, as I have witnessed in the past 20 years.

If we think that neutering is so important to cat welfare, why do we neuter some cats but not all owned cats? It is important to their welfare, so why do we not neuter all cats? In doing so, we can also protect the Scottish wildcat.

Rona Mackay

Briefly, I ask for clarification on a second point. In the second part of your submission, you include a proposal from Anna Meredith from Scottish Wildcat Action. In answer to another parliamentary question, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform suggested that the proposal had

“not been submitted to the Scottish Government”—[Written Answers, 30 August 2017; S5W-10622.]

and thus no response was given. What is your understanding of whether, or how, the proposal was submitted to the Scottish Government? Do you know any background on that?

Ellie Stirling

I should say that I made a typing error in my submission. Professor Anna Meredith is the professor of zoological and conservation medicine at the University of Edinburgh. She was invited to convene the cat population control group for Scottish Wildcat Action and put together a paper. That paper, which is fully referenced and totally up to date, was put to the Scottish Government in 2016. However, it was not about animal welfare, but about conservation and wildlife. The paper is with the Scottish Government, so I cannot explain what you have said, unless it is as simple as there being different sections of Government and one part of it not knowing what information the other part has got. The paper contains the research—authenticated and referenced—that I have presented to you in the best way that I could.

Thank you—that clears up that matter.

Angus MacDonald

You have listed five things—they are in the petition, so I will not list them—that you would like to see happen through any review of the code of practice. How would they be administered and enforced? Have you considered the cost of enforcement?

Ellie Stirling

I am not sure that I follow you.

Angus MacDonald

I am talking about the five items that relate to the code of practice—the native range guidance associated with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. Would you like me to list the five things?

Ellie Stirling

Yes, please.

Number 1 is that a neutered cat should be defined as being under human control and exempt from NNS legislation. Are you with me now?

Ellie Stirling

Thank you. I have got it now—that is at the bottom of the second page of my petition. What would you like me to explain?

Will you explain how you would like to see the five asks happen through any review of the code of practice?

Ellie Stirling

You want to know about the practicalities of how all that would be done.

Yes, and whether you have considered the cost of enforcement.

Ellie Stirling

Right. We have possibly already covered number 1. There could be a simple redefinition in the code of practice so that an owned cat is defined not as being under human control but as being expected to return to its owners. In addition, cats should, preferably, be neutered and ID chipped. That would require not a change in law but an amendment to the code of practice. That way, we could not be accused of trying to criminalise people, because we just want to redefine the code of practice.

The second proposal is that all owned cats be neutered, microchipped and registered, with the cost to be borne by the owner. The majority of people bear the responsibility of that cost already. In the past two to three years, cat welfare organisations and generic pet welfare organisations have told me that neutering is such an important priority for them that they provide neutering for free, so that service is available if people need it for their pets. People do not have to go through a demeaning income assessment test and they are not asked questions. If they need it, they can get the cat neutered. People can make a £5 donation to some of the schemes if they want to, but they do not have to.

Cost is mostly not an issue. There might be an issue were there to be an immediate surge in the demand on veterinary professionals to provide neutering—that situation would need to be thought about, because that would lead to a surge in the amount of financial resources being used by the charities providing the service. However, all the charities that I know require neutering and do not sign over cats or kittens until they are neutered. Therefore, people can access free neutering for their cats. I cannot imagine that a huge flood of people would come forward in one go, especially if the process were staged over the next one or two years.

At one stage, I did some costings, but I have not brought them with me. If everybody went at once, there would be a cost implication.

I turn to the licensed exemption scheme. In the case of microchipped dogs, people are classed as breeders if their dog has offspring and they register with the Kennel Club. It would be really helpful if thought could be given to what body could do that in relation to cats. It should not be local authorities, which is the approach that is being considered in England. They do not have the resources. In England, the discussion on cat population control seems to have led to local authorities being asked to suss out the repeat sellers of kittens and ensure that they become registered as breeders. I do not think that Scottish local authorities would be terribly comfortable about being asked to take on that role, even if they have the resources, because they would be almost being asked to take on a policing role in relation to the system.

The approach should not be seen as policing bad behaviour; it should be seen as trying to get everybody on the side of good behaviour—that is the psychologist in me talking. It is really important in Scotland because we have the wildcat to think about, and also because we care about our cats—full stop.


Angus MacDonald

Of course, it is not just Scotland that has the wildcat. Are you aware of any other countries in northern Europe that have a similar problem? Have any countries in northern Europe already implemented what you are asking for?

Ellie Stirling

In terms of mandatory neutering?


Ellie Stirling

You mentioned northern Europe; certainly in some of the states in America, mandatory neutering has been introduced. It has also been introduced in Australia, and there are restrictions on keeping pets altogether in some areas of Australia because of the decimation and complete loss of native wildlife.

In northern Europe, there are various policies in different countries. There are certainly places in Europe where no culling of feral and homeless cats has been introduced and a trap, neuter, return policy has been adopted. Italy, for example, has a no cull policy and a very pro trap, neuter, return policy. There is a study somewhere in one of the papers that shows that such a policy works only if you work at it positively and turn off the tap at the other end by stopping people breeding more kittens. I could not tell you whether the law in Italy requires people to be registered as breeders and otherwise prevents people from keeping unneutered cats. However, they have found that their approach works and it is the humane approach to cat control.

Thank you very much for that evidence. It has been useful and interesting. Do members have a view on what action we might want to take on the petition?

It would be useful to seek the views of organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to get their perspective.

We will contact animal welfare organisations—Cats Protection, among others. I am interested in the conservation side, so we should perhaps contact the conservation bodies as well. Any other suggestions?

We should also contact veterinary bodies.

Michelle Ballantyne

We should write to the Scottish Government again specifically around the confusion about whether the report was read. We might want to write to people who are involved in a number of the policy areas and see what their commentary is.

If we write to the minister, it becomes an obligation to draw the different aspects together rather than having them compartmentalised in the way that they have been.

Angus MacDonald

I hate to be pedantic, convener, and I do not like to contradict my colleague Brian Whittle, but can we make it the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rather than the RSPCA that we contact?

You are quite right.

I will say, first, that you do like to contradict him and, secondly, that you are quite right in this regard.

Ellie Stirling

If I may be allowed to speak, it is an important difference. There has been some good publicity supporting the proposal—the Sunday Herald’s environment correspondent did a special report some time back; he did some good investigative journalism and spoke to the SSPCA. However, you could speak to the RSPCA as well, because it is on the cat population control group and it has done a lot of work at the UK level. Also, in 2014, the RSPCA produced the first report that caught my attention, which said that we have a catastrophe looming because of the increasing cat population and the levelling off in the number of available homes, which is a recipe for disaster. However, nobody has looked at the continuing trends since.

The cat population control group has various organisations on it apart from the RSPCA, including the PDSA, so you might want to contact the PDSA as well.

The Convener

If there are further suggestions, we will take them on board, but the key thing is that we are trying to draw together the expertise in both animal welfare and conservation from the different bodies that were identified. Also, we need to emphasise to the minister that it is not just about one thing or the other; it is about the connection between the two.

It would be good to write to the PDSA, because it picks up some of the issues from charitable point of view. It will probably have a view on how the issue of a surge would be coped with.

Ellie Stirling

It would also make sense to write to the PDSA because it commissions the annual YouGov reports, so it has the data at its fingertips.

The Convener

The clerks can ensure that we get a wide range of views, and we can make sure that the information that you were displaying during your answers is circulated to members. Again, thank you for your attendance—that was a useful session.

10:50 Meeting suspended.  

10:53 On resuming—  

Prescription (Scottish Law Commission Report) (PE1672)

The Convener

PE1672, by Hugh Paterson, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to consider remedial action in terms of the law relating to prescription and limitation. Members have a copy of the petition and a Scottish Parliament information centre briefing.

The background information on the petition outlines that the petition relates to prescription and principally to negative prescription, which extinguishes legal rights after the passage of time. The petition expresses concern about how the current law of negative prescription applies to some claims for damages where the purchase of a property has gone wrong and the purchaser has not received good legal title to all or part of it.

The relevant legislation on prescription is the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973. Aspects of the law of negative prescription under the act have recently been reviewed by the Scottish Law Commission and a report was published in July of this year recommending various reforms to the Scottish ministers. The Scottish Government is taking forward those recommendations through a commitment to a bill on prescription as set out in this year’s programme for government.

Members may wish to note that the petitioner responded to the Scottish Law Commission’s discussion paper, which informed the recommendations in the final report. Although the commission considered the issue that the petitioner raised, a decision was made not to recommend changing the law in that area.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Michelle Ballantyne

This is an interesting petition. The legal terminology is quite complicated, but there are good reasons why the provisions are in place. I have some sympathy with the petitioner, but I also have some sympathy with the position of the commission.

When I was going through the papers, it occurred to me that there could be a simple solution that does not require a change in the law. One of the problems with the changes that are occurring with land registration is that, when someone buys a property and it is registered, they do not receive notification of that registration—when someone has a mortgage, the title deed goes to the mortgage holder. The simple solution might be to ensure that, at the time of registration, the purchaser receives a letter specifying what has gone into the land register, which would let them know immediately whether the title has been adequately registered. That would enable the purchaser to challenge it at that time rather than find out that the registration was not complete only when they come to sell the property 25 or 30 years down the line.

We could ask the Government to consider that concept, which would not require any change to negative prescription but which would prevent the possible failure of registration.

The Scottish Government has highlighted that, instead of someone undertaking a court claim for damages, a complaint could be made against a solicitor.

Michelle Ballantyne

Solicitors might not even be there at that point. I have recently been dealing with a few problems with transfer of properties, and I know that it is extremely difficult and costly to take an action against a solicitor, especially 25 years down the line. If someone has purchased a property and done all the right things, including paying a solicitor to do the job, it is unfair if, 25 years down the line, they have to fight something that happened all that time ago. We need a much simpler solution.

Brian Whittle

This is an interesting petition, as Michelle Ballantyne said. I agree with her that we should look for a solution that does not require a massive change to the law. We should write to the Scottish Government, but I would also quite like to know what the view of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is, because there is obviously an issue with taking court action 20 or 50 years down the line.

The Convener

I wonder whether the Scottish Government might be the sensible place to go first. The Scottish Law Commission’s job is to consider the issues and give advice, and the Scottish Government has decided to heed the advice that it should not act in accordance with the suggestions of the petition. It might be useful to get a sense of the thinking behind that decision. Presumably, people have spent some time thinking about the issue and trying to get the balance right. It would be useful to get a sense from the Scottish Government of why it has taken that view.

Michelle Ballantyne

There are good reasons for negative prescription. We cannot have an open-ended situation in which people can always go back and revisit things; we need an end point, and 20 years is a pretty long end point, by anyone’s standards. The issue is about ensuring that obvious things do not go missing, which is why, as I say, I have sympathy with both sides. There is a need for negative prescription so that we have a close date.

The Convener

Do we agree to write to the Scottish Government so that we can get a sense of what its thinking was on the final conclusions and, in that letter, to highlight the suggestion that Michelle Ballantyne has made? The issue is not one that people come across every day so, at one level, it is quite technical. However, for the people who are caught up in it, it is far from technical. It is an interesting issue for us to ask the Scottish Government for its views on. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.