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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 13 June 2018

Agenda: Scottish Information Commissioner: Intervention Report, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health, Sustainable Growth Commission, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Energy Drinks (Under-16s)


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of four Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Joe FitzPatrick to move, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, motions S5M-12742 to S5M-12745, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2018 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Fiscal Commission (Modification of Functions) Regulations 2018 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the ILF Scotland (Miscellaneous Listings) Order 2018 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Community Care (Personal Care and Nursing Care) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 2018 [draft] be approved.—[Joe FitzPatrick]

The Presiding Officer

The next item of business is consideration of a Parliamentary Bureau motion. I ask Joe FitzPatrick to move motion S5M-12741, on the draft Community Right to Buy (Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land) (Eligible Land, Regulators and Restrictions on Transfers and Dealing) (Scotland) Regulations 2018.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Community Right to Buy (Abandoned, Neglected or Detrimental Land) (Eligible Land, Regulators and Restrictions on Transfers and Dealing) (Scotland) Regulations 2018 [draft] be approved.—[Joe FitzPatrick]

The Presiding Officer

I ask any member who wishes to speak against the motion to press their request-to-speak button now, and I call Claudia Beamish.

17:03  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Regulations 3 to 5 of the draft regulations set out matters to which ministers must have regard in relation to the physical condition, designation or classification and use or management of the land. However, it is regulation 6 that Scottish Labour has concerns about. Alex Rowley and I raised those concerns in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

Regulation 6 sets out the matters to which ministers must have regard in relation to harm to environmental wellbeing, which include whether the use of the land has caused a statutory nuisance or whether the land has been subject to a closure order or an antisocial behaviour notice. Regulation 6 considers—and this is the rub for us—whether harm is being caused to environmental wellbeing. Regulation 6, as drafted, is the key to our opposition to the regulations.

Having listened to the cabinet secretary with care when the matter came before us in committee, and having been involved in the taking of evidence on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill in the previous session of Parliament, I still have concerns. At stage 3 of that bill, Dr Aileen McLeod made a commitment, saying:

“I reassure members that the definition of environmental wellbeing has a wide meaning and encompasses some social considerations.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2015; c 118.]

It would have been helpful if the cabinet secretary could have clarified in committee the definition in law of “harm to environmental wellbeing”, which I understand made the Scottish Government decide to back away from the wide meaning in the draft regulations that were under discussion, which have now been withdrawn. They mentioned

“the amenity and prospects of the relevant community”,

“the preservation of the relevant community or its development”

and

“the social development of the relevant community”.

Those are important issues for the future of our communities in Scotland. I absolutely take the point that effective regulation is important, but so is regulation that reflects commitments that were made by a minister at stage 3 of a bill. That is why I have concerns that those three aspects now rest only on possibilities.

The cabinet secretary indicated to our committee that her officials are looking at the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 in relation to sustainable development. These are complex issues and I am concerned that, if the investigations do not come up with an answer that protects communities that are in such circumstances, the regulations will not be the effective legislation that Dr McLeod and those of us who were involved in the legislative process, including several stakeholders, expected. That would be to the detriment of community empowerment and it would risk curtailing the opportunities for communities—both rural and urban—to own more land for their future sustainable development.

We need to get the regulation right, and a broader definition of environmental harm is needed. Therefore, with regret, and although I understand that we risk delaying the regulations, Labour members will vote against them tonight.

The Presiding Officer

Cabinet secretary, do you wish to respond?

17:07  

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

Yes. Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The regulations introduce important new right-to-buy powers that will provide far-reaching options for communities. Communities will have the right to buy land that is wholly or mainly abandoned or neglected, or the management or use of which is causing harm to the environmental wellbeing of the relevant community. Those are powerful options that are not currently available to communities.

Before the draft regulations were laid, we had to remove some matters from ministerial consideration in determining whether the use or management of land results in or causes harm directly or indirectly to the environmental wellbeing of a relevant community. Those elements were not considered to be related closely enough to the concept of environmental wellbeing.

Environmental wellbeing remains an important component of the regulations and it includes some social considerations where they lead to harm to a community’s environmental wellbeing. However, environmental wellbeing has a particular meaning and we cannot stretch that meaning to breaking point. Some stakeholders—particularly Community Land Scotland—were keen that such issues could be taken into account in determining whether land is eligible. However, rather than trying to fit such concepts into the definition of environmental wellbeing, it is better to explore other options for how we might achieve that. I have asked my officials to look at ways in which that can be done effectively, and that will be done during the next year.

Additionally, we will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the regulations that we are discussing, and a report on their effectiveness will be submitted to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee by June 2019.

I met Community Land Scotland recently to discuss the regulations. Although it considers the definition of “harm to environmental wellbeing” to be narrowly drawn, it has given its qualified support to the regulations being agreed to in their current form, given the commitments that I have made to explore other ways in which we can allow issues such as social amenity and social wellbeing to be taken into account.

Those issues will also be relevant in the context of part 5 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, which provides a right to buy for sustainable development, and they will be taken into account in developing those regulations.

It is important to emphasise that, as drafted, the regulations will bring into force valuable new rights to buy. They will provide communities with a powerful new tool to take ownership of land that is wholly or mainly abandoned or neglected or where the management or use of land is causing harm to the community’s environmental wellbeing. If the regulations are not agreed to today, communities will lose that opportunity, so I ask Parliament to support them.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Ms Cunningham for responding on behalf of the Government.