Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 21 November 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Scottish Crown Estate Bill: Stage 3, Scottish Crown Estate Bill, Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill, Offensive Weapons Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness


Contents


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. I invite members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak button now.

16:58  

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

Today is an historic occasion, as this is the first time that the Parliament has ever legislated on the management of the Scottish Crown estate. It is, therefore, a landmark bill, which continues the process of the devolution of the Scottish Crown estate that started with the Smith commission and the Scotland Act 2016.

Until now, the management of the Crown estate has been governed by the Crown Estate Act 1961, which is a reflection of its time, predating the discovery of the North Sea oil fields and the development of aquaculture and, of course, offshore renewables. Administrative arrangements need to change with the times, however, and arrangements for the management of the Scottish Crown estate should reflect devolution. The bill enables local authorities, communities and harbour authorities to take on the management of Scottish Crown estate assets and to manage them in a way that benefits local communities within an overall national governance framework.

Our ambition is for the Scottish Crown estate to make a difference for the people of Scotland at both the local and the national level. The work of the Parliament today and during the course of the bill will help to deliver that ambition, ensuring that the management of the Scottish Crown estate has the statutory basis to contribute to the economic development, regeneration and social and environmental wellbeing of Scotland and, of course, to sustainable development in Scotland.

The net revenue from Crown estate assets will be paid into the Scottish consolidated fund, and the net revenue from areas out to 12 nautical miles will be distributed to coastal local authorities. It is, therefore, important that, overall, the estate is run in a way that protects and enhances the public finances rather than being a drain on them. It is also important to recognise that there are parts of the estate that cannot be expected to make money and other parts where a less commercial approach may be best to secure wider benefits.

The bill enshrines the accountability of the Crown Estate Scotland to the Parliament; modernises the statutory framework for management and assets; and creates new processes for further devolution of the Scottish Crown estate. For the first time, there will be a statutory requirement to prepare a national strategy for the Scottish Crown estate and a duty to act in the way that is best calculated to further the achievement of sustainable development in Scotland. By including new duties on sustainable development as well as wider socioeconomic and environmental factors, the bill requires managers of the Scottish Crown estate to contribute to multiple outcomes. Management of the Scottish Crown estate includes the management of sea-bed rights and a diverse portfolio that encompasses vibrant sectors that deliver economic and environmental benefits—such as the offshore renewables sector.

From my engagement with Crown Estate Scotland staff at Bell’s Brae, I am aware of their high standard of professionalism and their commitment to maintain and improve the value of the Scottish Crown estate. I have seen the great work that is being done in areas such as the environment, renewable energy, tourism, recreation and support for community development projects.

It will not have escaped colleagues’ notice that the issue of kelp harvesting has arisen during the progress of the bill and at points has appeared to almost overwhelm its original purposes. That has surfaced a range of issues concerning the regulation of current and proposed harvesting activity in the sector. The issues are complex, many and varied and require the gathering of further evidence to conclude how we should proceed in future. I remain of the view that the Scottish Crown Estate Bill is not the optimal place to control seaweed harvesting. However, the amendments that we have agreed to today provide a good foundation for better regulation of that activity in advance of further work to better understand the issues.

My announcement today of a review of the regulatory regime for all kelp harvesting activity in Scotland recognises that there is current interest in new types of seaweed harvesting in Scottish waters and that there may be more interest in future. I hope that all those who want to be part of that burgeoning industry will continue to engage with the Government and relevant authorities. I can advise that we will write to Marine Biopolymers Ltd today in respect of that aspect.

I express my special thanks and gratitude to the Crown estate stakeholder advisory group and members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for their contributions, and to my officials for their engagement and work on all aspects of preparation of the bill. I also thank Crown Estate Scotland staff for their contribution to the process, and particularly for the advice and support given to my officials on aspects of the technical drafting of the bill.

I commend all the Crown Estate Scotland staff for their dedication in continuing the good management of the assets and for progressing opportunities for pilots of local management while the bill has progressed through Parliament. I am conscious of the uncertainty that a political process can bring to people’s day-to-day activities in their workplace. With the enactment of the bill, we can move beyond that uncertainty towards a clear future that is full of opportunity for the estate. I very much welcome the fact that the bill has been improved and strengthened as a result of the parliamentary process.

This is the start of a new era in the management of the Scottish Crown estate in which the assets are managed for the benefit of the people and communities of Scotland while protecting their value.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Crown Estate Bill be passed.

17:03  

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I declare an interest as a farmer, and I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests for other interests.

I welcome the passage of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, which follows on from a Smith commission recommendation and the Scotland Act 2016, which devolved the management of the Scottish Crown estate to the Scottish Parliament. The Crown estate in Scotland, which was originally part of the United Kingdom-wide Crown estate, has a wide range of assets, including rural estates and rights to naturally occurring gold and silver across Scotland, as well as moorings, ports and harbours, the sea bed out to 12 nautical miles and, interestingly, carbon dioxide storage out to 200 nautical miles. Therefore, we have had to consider how many different assets will be managed by the Scottish Government in future, and I hope that the bill will deliver properly on the different focus that the Government has set for managing those assets.

Previously, the sole purpose of the Crown estate was to deliver funding to the Scottish or UK treasury. The bill seeks to further devolve, where appropriate, responsibility for the management of the assets away from the Scottish Government to Crown estate managers and other bodies, such as local authorities harbour boards and community groups.

In addition, Crown estate managers, as well as seeking to enhance the value of the assets and to monitor and enhance the income from them, will be required to do so in a way that is best calculated to further the achievement of sustainable development in Scotland, and to contribute to promoting the improvement of economic development and regeneration, social wellbeing and environmental wellbeing. To me, that feels as though it will be a tall order for Crown estate managers. Having to enhance the income from the various assets, in addition to all the other new duties that will be placed on managers, will certainly, in my view, prove problematic and will likely deliver a much-reduced income stream to the Scottish Government; but we shall see.

I turn to another area of significant debate in the bill. Although I abstained on Mark Ruskell’s amendment 21A on protecting kelp beds on environmental grounds, I very much regret the way in which the prohibition of the harvesting of Laminaria hyperborea will be passed into law; indeed, it provokes real questions about the stage 2 process for considering amendments in any future bill. It now appears that significant announcements on, and alterations to, a bill can be considered and acted on by committees, Government and Parliament, without any formal evidence being heard by a bill committee. Stewart Stevenson highlighted that point.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

The rules of Parliament allow for the introducer of a bill to move a motion without notice to return a bill to stage 2 for further consideration. There is nothing standing in the way of further consideration of those matters, apart from the decision of the Government on whether to utilise that power. Does the member agree?

John Scott

Yes; indeed, I raised the process with the appropriate bodies at the time. A bill would need to return to stage 1 in order for a committee to gather further evidence. That is what happened, perhaps 12 years ago—when Bill Aitken was the committee convener—when a justice bill on stalking had to go back to stage 1 after one of my constituents suggested an amendment. I am certain that the cabinet secretary will remember that happening, and possibly even Stewart Stevenson, too—we reverted to stage 1, took the information and then went back to stage 2. Thereafter, amendments were lodged and the stalking legislation, which is so worth while, came into being.

However, when I looked into the matter, I was told that, because the Scottish Crown Estate Bill had completed the stage 2 process and had left the committee, so to speak, the process that Andy Wightman and I have described could not be activated. I thank Andy Wightman for his intervention—he is absolutely correct—but I was made aware that that process was not appropriate in this case.

I have lost my place in my speech. Real questions are provoked about the stage 2 process of considering amendments—yes I have said that already.

More awkward still, in this case, the developmental scientific work, which would have built on the age-old industry of kelp harvesting, had been supported by Government agencies, including Marine Scotland, and distinguished universities over the past eight years, with every regulatory hoop being jumped through and every piece of Government advice being acted on. Nevertheless, the significant regulatory process, which Marine Biopolymers Ltd adhered to throughout, will perhaps now not be completed, although perhaps one should take succour from what the cabinet secretary has said today.

In addition, other science-based businesses might now be deterred from investing in Scotland, knowing that a regulatory developmental process for product development that is supported by Government agencies can be overturned, almost whimsically, by Parliament.

It is difficult enough for our development agencies to persuade would-be investors to invest in Scotland and, today, it just became a lot more difficult. However, I welcomed Johann Lamont’s supportive speech and the reality check that it provided. In particular, I share her interest in, and have long worked towards, bringing jobs and support to our remote and fragile coastal communities. The proposal would have brought—and still might bring—40 jobs to Mallaig.

I also welcomed Stewart Stevenson’s speech and agree with him that there has been a failure of process thus far, in which Marine Biopolymers Ltd has been collateral damage. However, I take succour from the cabinet secretary’s announcement of a root-and-branch review. I hope that the door might not be completely closed on the work of MBL. I note that, as part of the transformational change that the cabinet secretary hopes to bring about, she will look to pilot schemes to take forward scientifically based developmental projects. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary will today write to MBL, perhaps in that regard but, if not, at least positively, I hope.

There are many good things about the bill. The continuing management of the four rural estates by Crown Estate Scotland has been welcomed by NFU Scotland and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, as well as by tenants.

I am pleased to have been part of the work on the bill and I hope that it turns out as we all hope it will.

17:11  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

The Crown estate assets cover a diverse range of land, foreshore, sea bed, rights and property, as the cabinet secretary said. Scottish Labour welcomes the successful devolution of the management of responsibilities and revenues to Scotland, as called for by the Smith commission.

The Crown estate is said to date back as far as 1066—Andy Wightman might correct me on that—and many of the assets are steeped in Scottish cultural significance and history. Today’s meaningful legislation, which transfers the management and revenue of the assets to the hands of managers around Scotland, is positive and empowering.

I thank the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for its recent letter in support of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, which maximises local authority empowerment. It is a move in the direction of democratic empowerment and greater transparency. I look forward to the opportunities for community empowerment during the process of double devolution.

I am reassured that local authorities will be able to act as gatekeepers for consideration of community group management proposals. Decentralising management will enable communities and local authorities to realise their ambitions for the assets and enjoy the social and economic—as well as environmental—benefits that they can deliver. Greater consideration of local needs and the accrual of revenue to flow back into the community will go a long way to empower, and improve the resilience of, our rural and coastal communities.

With other members, I have long fought for sustainable development to underpin everything that this Parliament achieves. I am pleased that that ambition has been emphasised in section 7, as amended by the cabinet secretary’s amendment 17, which determines the principles by which managers must act. John Scott and I will have to agree to differ on that.

At stage 2, we discussed how best to achieve that, and I thank the cabinet secretary for working with Mark Ruskell and me to come to this very good solution. The manner by which many Crown estate assets are managed could have enormous repercussions for our natural world, so setting out sustainability so distinctly at the core of managers’ decision making is welcome.

The issue of kelp has been the most—perhaps the only—contentious part of the bill. I welcome the fact that amendment 21 was agreed to, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to a complete review of the regulatory regime for kelp harvesting activity. I recognise that there are a number of categories and intricacies, and I hope that the review will act as a pathway to a robust framework for all kelp activities that is rooted in sustainability. I assure John Scott that there is nothing whimsical about Scottish Labour’s support for Mark Ruskell’s amendment 21A. I am delighted that it was agreed to. It is right that this is part of the framework within which the review is set.

Kelp forests are priority marine features, which have an enormous importance in our marine ecosystem, and any practice that prohibits regrowth or reproduction—whether it is fishing, farming or harvesting—is now out of the question. The Parliament has agreed time and again that sustainability is an absolute. To reassure Johann Lamont, who is no longer here, I say that it makes business sense but it also makes sense for the sake of our environment and our climate change ambition. At a time when our seas are under pressure from climate change, which is at the forefront of our minds with the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill going forward, any new industry must be guaranteed in its sustainability.

We are still at a frustratingly early stage of considering the benefits of blue carbon sequestration, but we know enough to understand that it will be important to have a helping hand in tackling climate change and that that should be enforced, not diminished.

We know that coastal erosion and sea-level rises will be an increasingly greater threat to communities and infrastructure by the sea, and that kelp is a natural barrier to the effects of storm damage. We also know that kelp forests provide an important feeding ground for some of our most endangered, rare seabirds, which are disappearing at a devastating rate.

We know that our fishing industry, and other industries such as marine tourism, rely on kelp forests to play host to juvenile fish and to replenish the stocks and keep the industry sustainable.

More so than land conservation issues, marine protection can often fall foul of an attitude of out of sight, out of mind. Healthy ecosystems affect us all but especially coastal communities, who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Those risks may be harder to grasp than the positive idea of a new multimillion pound industry, but they are vitally important as a setting for the future.

Labour supports the bill and what it sets out to do. It is an appropriate delivery of the Smith commission recommendation and it provides a framework for more progressive management of the Crown estate assets for the future of us all in Scotland.

17:17  

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I agree with the cabinet secretary that this is a historic occasion. However, Scotland’s Crown estate goes back further than 1066—it has its origins in the ninth century, when Scotland was a unified kingdom. The western isles were not added until 1266, and the northern isles, with their distinctive traditions in these matters, were added in 1472.

It has been a long road to the bill. I remember a late-night taxi ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh some years ago in the company of Henry McLeish, the minister who was in charge of steering the Scotland Act 1998 on to the statute book. He told me of the frustrations of trying to secure devolution of the Crown estate, which was a task that he had to abandon at that time.

It is worth remembering why, in 1999, the Parliament should have gained full control over the property rights, revenues and management of the Crown. Those historic property rights—the foreshore, gold and silver, and the sea bed—are all defined by Scots law. Other Crown property rights that are not part of the Crown estate—including bona vacantia, ultima haeres and treasure trove—are also defined by Scots law and are to this day administered by the Crown Office in Edinburgh, where the Lord Advocate also upholds the common-law rights under the guardianship of the Crown over the foreshore.

In 1833, management of the assets that later comprised the Crown estate were transferred to London from Edinburgh. Importantly and significantly, they did not form part of the civil list that had been established in 1760 through the surrender of the English Crown revenues.

Thus, these historic rights remain constitutionally, legally and politically distinctive, as they are the rights of the Scottish Crown defined by Scots law that should have formed part of the Scotland Act 1998.

Some years later, it became clear that the Crown Estate Commissioners, whose lack of transparency and malign influence as a body corporate has blighted much of rural and marine Scotland, had secured the support of the palace and the Treasury to block any reform. Therefore, although the property rights were devolved in 1999, the revenues were not.

I want to put on record my thanks to Scotland’s local authorities, whose 2006 Crown estate review group report did so much to prompt this debate, as did the inquiry of the House of Commons Treasury Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee.

In 2014, the Smith commission eventually recommended that management and revenues be devolved and that management should be further devolved to Scotland's local authorities. Despite UK Government guarantees that the Smith commission recommendation would be implemented in full, legislative competence for the revenues of the Crown estate has not been devolved.

The Scottish Crown Estate Bill is not the bill that the Greens would have wished to see. It is predicated on a flawed devolution settlement and is based on the assumption that the Crown estate is some kind of coherent suite of assets that, by law, must be maintained as an estate in land on behalf of the Crown.

The Crown estate is a feudal relic. It is an ad hoc assembly of rights that includes everything from gold and silver to a lock-up garage in the new town of Edinburgh and the island of Rockall. As a Parliament, our goal should be to sweep away such an anachronism and not to perpetuate it within a framework of complicated management and delegation powers. The Crown estate is also a colonial relic. Rockall was the last act of colonialism by the UK, which proceeded on the basis of a royal warrant that was modelled on that used by Captain Cook to steal Australia.

Amendments to that effect that I lodged at stages 2 and 3 were ruled out of scope. They included amendments on the repeal of the Royal Mines Act 1424—the oldest Scottish statute that is still in force—which reserved naturally occurring gold and silver to the Crown and is the origin of its rights. It is perfectly within the competence of the Parliament to repeal that act.

This debate should remind us that there is unfinished business. As I hinted during our consideration of the stage 3 amendments, we need to legislate to modernise the law of the foreshore and the sea bed. A report on the issue that the Scottish Law Commission published in 2003 sits on the shelf gathering dust. Had the draft bill that that report contained been enacted, we would by now have a sea, shore and inland waters (Scotland) act, which would have enshrined a statutory right to, among other things, make sandcastles, beachcomb, sunbathe and have picnics on the shore and foreshore. It would have given crofters the statutory right to gather kelp from the foreshore where that was in their crofting lease and would have put the ownership of the sea bed and foreshore on a statutory footing. All of that can yet happen.

Meanwhile, we will vote for the modest reforms that are outlined in the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

17:21  

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary and the Government for introducing the bill. Andy Wightman mentioned what the late John Smith used to call “unfinished business”. I am with Andy Wightman on this—I am at the radical end of my lot on such issues. I would have abolished the Crown estate outright, but we did not get that chance. Reform is reform, and some reform is better than no reform.

I dug out the Official Report of a members’ business debate from 2007—I am grateful to Stewart Stevenson for reminding me of this—in which Alasdair Allan, Liam McArthur, Jamie McGrigor and Rob Gibson were among those members who spoke, and which Stewart Stevenson, as the then Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, wound up on behalf of the Government. In that debate, I suggested that we might need to rock the boat. In his wind-up, Mr Stevenson said:

“I say to Mr Scott that, if necessary, we will rock the boat.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2007; c 3063.]

I suppose that we have not rocked it far enough, but we have done some rocking. I will stop the analogy there, before it gets lost in itself, or sunk.

I have two basic points to make. The Smith commission process allowed us to look, on a cross-party basis, at areas that we knew needed to be addressed. We could have gone a lot further on the Crown estate and, for some of us, it would have been very splendid to have done that. However, we made a proposal, on a cross-party basis, that the Government has begun to give effect to.

There is more to be done when it comes to net proceeds. I will be interested to see what the definition of “net” as opposed to “gross” proceeds is. There will undoubtedly continue to be discussions on how the revenues will be delivered.

At home in Shetland, the process is under way of establishing a marine pilot scheme involving Shetland Islands Council and the Crown Estate Scotland body on the future of Sullum Voe, which is an area that has not been available for a wide range of marine uses because of the presence of the oil and gas industry since the Sullum Voe terminal opened back in the late 1970s. That is potentially a very exciting development for salmon farming, mussel farming, inshore fisheries and various other areas. That is positive, and we will look to see what outcomes come from that.

I am grateful for the measures on trust ports, in which I have a direct interest as a former chairman of what was then Lerwick Harbour Trust. Fundamentally, the trust port model is the best financial model that I can think of in the public system today, in that a trust port must be run on a commercial basis but all the money that is made must be reinvested in its facilities. I commend that financial model to Governments of any persuasion across a number of areas, because it allows a proper commercial focus to be maintained on what needs to happen to serve the customer—in the case of a port, the people who use quays and need services—while retaining the profits in the organisation to invest for the future. That seems powerful and appropriate.

I just want to make one remark about the debate that we had on kelp farming. It strikes me that regulation sits underneath legislation in order to allow for an appropriate assessment of any process, whether—and Johann Lamont made this point earlier—it is defined as industrial or not. I do not think that we got that issue right today. As John Scott rightly said, it is not really appropriate to start hauling things back to committee at stage 3. What should have happened with such a serious issue is that it should have been properly assessed much earlier and taken forward on that basis. I hope that Parliament will reflect on that for the future, because what happened today was not our finest moment as far as passing primary legislation is concerned.

When she retired last Friday after 44 years with Lerwick Port Authority, Sandra Laurenson, whom I mentioned earlier, gave some advice to those who will serve in future. She said:

“It is about attracting the different”

customers

“to come and locate themselves in our port, because the port is nothing without the customer.”

Now and again, we in politics should remember such useful comments when passing this kind of primary legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. I can give speakers five minutes each.

17:26  

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

Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson

I will, if the Presiding Officer allows me time.

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.

17:31  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Before I begin, I draw members’ attention to my register of interests, in particular with regard to farming.

Today’s stage 3 debate on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill is another important step in realising the recommendations of the Smith commission. I have listened to the comments about the Crown estate and I have listened to some of the tenants on the Crown estate, especially agricultural tenants, who seem to be perfectly happy with the way that things were run in the past; they look forward to that continuing.

I am pleased that, at every stage of the bill’s passage through the Parliament, much of the debate has focused on enabling more local control of assets by local authorities—in other words, devolution. I am a strong supporter of more local control and I am pleased that there are provisions in the bill that will enable the management of some Crown estate assets to be passed beyond local authorities. However, I am cautious about too much double devolution, which allows the management of what, I believe, are national assets to such a local level that the national benefits of the assets could be lost. For example, those who live in land-locked local authority areas, such as East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire, could—but should not—lose out on the benefits of having a say in the management of Crown estate assets such as the sea bed, just because they do not have a coastline. After all, the sea bed is an asset that benefits all users, not just the islands and coastal authorities. Therefore, we must remember that the Crown estate assets are national assets and, as such, the Scottish Government has a duty to ensure that the assets benefit Scotland as a whole.

The balanced approach that has been taken with the bill, which, with one hand, means more local control and, with the other hand, ensures that Scotland’s national assets are managed in the national interest, should be welcomed. I have concerns on the potential selling off of assets. The last thing that we need to see is a complete break-up of the Crown estate land in Scotland. If assets are disposed of, the Government should consult on and agree with the Parliament how that should be done. It has singularly failed to do that with our forests, in respect of which it has allowed much of the land to be sold off and not replaced, although that was a requisite of Parliament’s consent to the sale of the forests.

The Scottish Conservatives will therefore be watching the Scottish Government very carefully and expect the Government to publish its strategic plan, which should include robust guidance to ensure that the Crown estate does not become too fragmented.

Turning to farming, I would strongly advise the Government to consider how best to manage the assets. They must not be fragmented and new tenants and young farmers must be encouraged into Scottish agriculture. There are many young farmers across Scotland who are desperate for tenancies. The Scottish Government should not let them down by selling off farming assets, but should create more opportunities. The Scottish Government needs to learn the lessons of the sale of Auchenhalrig farm, which removed rather than created new opportunities for young farmers.

I will vote in favour of the motion on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, as it turns another recommendation of the Smith commission into reality. However, I conclude with a note of caution: with the passing of the bill, the Scottish Government is getting control of some very important assets and I urge the Government always to think twice about selling them.

17:35  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I took over the convenership of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee after its stage 1 deliberations on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill and was plunged straight in, as stage 2 consideration was on the agenda. As we all know, the devolution of the management and funds of the Crown Estate is one positive result of the Smith commission that will provide scope in particular for coastal rural communities to have more say over benefits from the land in terms of economic development, regeneration, social wellbeing, environmental wellbeing and sustainable development.

I commend the committee and the bill team in particular for the way in which the stage 1 evidence process was managed. Thorough evidence sessions were held with a wide variety of stakeholders and their evidence helped to make the bill stronger. Feedback from the stakeholder advisory group was extremely positive on how the committee and the bill team had operated, and I echo the cabinet secretary’s remarks on that. I thank Graeme Dey, the convener at the time, for steering that course, with the assistance of the committee clerks.

I want to say something about the issue that dominated the process on the day that the committee considered the bill at stage 2: the harvesting of kelp. I tried to intervene many times during the debate on the amendment on kelp, but no member accepted my interventions. I will use my time now to make the points that I would have made during that debate, because the issue caused me considerable discomfort as a new convener as well as a member of the Scottish Parliament.

I think that a lot of people do not realise that committee members were being asked to vote on an issue that had not come up in the evidence sessions in the committee’s stage 1 deliberations on the bill, which is, in essence, purely about the management of the Crown estate. It never looks good for anyone in our responsible position to make a judgment based on no evidence or, at best, anecdotal evidence. That was the basis on which I abstained in the vote on the amendment on kelp at stage 2.

The stage 1 report was thorough, but when I searched it I found no use of the word “kelp”. Marine horticulture issues are not simple; no natural environment issues are simple—as I am finding out by stealth—and I had and still have many questions that I would like answered around the kelp issue. Getting hundreds of Twitter messages or 38 Degrees emails on the issue demonstrates public engagement and passion, but that is no substitute for evidence gathering from scientists and stakeholders who know the subject intimately. I had questions on the methods of harvesting and on health and safety. Like Johann Lamont, I had a considerable number of important questions about the coastal rural economy. I thought that her speech was excellent in bringing that aspect to the debate.

We should all be very careful about voting on anything on which we have not heard on-the-record evidence. Unintended consequences can be identified only through scrupulous evidence taking, which is what the public expect from us. Stewart Stevenson was right in what he said and I offer him a colloquial term that reflects his description of the process and which the Presiding Officer would probably let him away with: heilster-gowdie.

I would be very uncomfortable about voting on a subject into which I have not had the opportunity to do a detailed inquiry, despite my efforts to do post-stage 2 investigations of my own. I am therefore pleased and relieved that the Government has committed to doing its own wide-ranging consultation on the issue. Perhaps we can then look at a system that protects species and habitats but does not cut off rural Scotland from the current and future economic, health and social opportunities of sourcing food, medicines, biopolymers and chemicals that are open to other northern countries, such as Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Kelp can be the source of cattle feed that can reduce methane emissions, and we all want something that does that; it can be the source of biopolymers that can replace the plastic packaging that currently blights our environment; and it can be the source of pharmaceuticals that could provide cures or relief for multiple ailments and diseases. We need to take a rounded, evidence-based approach to the matter outside a bill that was not designed to carry that level of detail on an area that goes well beyond the Crown estate.

I did not come to this Parliament to abstain. I cannot stand abstaining. It is not in my nature. I came here to listen, question, deliberate and decide. The commitment on the Government consultation allows me to come off the uncomfortable position of the fence in the knowledge that we will move forward with all the evidence at our fingertips. That is hugely important as it means that the right decisions can be made with no negative unintended consequences for the marine environment, but also for the people who depend on that environment for their wellbeing and livelihoods and their communities’ very existence. For me, that is what the devolution of the management of the Crown estate is about.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will not ask whether that was an unparliamentary phrase. I am sure that I will find out at some point.

We move to the closing speeches. I call Mark Ruskell to close for the Greens. You have three minutes.

17:40  

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

We have reached a good point with the bill. We have not rocked the boat to the point of sinking, as, perhaps, Tavish Scott and Andy Wightman would like us to do. It goes some way towards delivering on the Smith commission recommendations—not the whole way, but the spirit of the Smith commission is there, and l look forward to further devolution, to democratically elected councils, of the rewards and responsibilities of Crown estate management.

We have had some debate on sustainable development and the important duty that will now be in the act, but too many members, including Mr Scott, see the matter as a trade-off between the economy and social and environmental objectives. To do that is to misunderstand what sustainable development is about: it is about locking in win-wins for future generations. Perhaps we, in this Parliament, need something like the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in order to ensure that sustainable development thinking runs through every piece of legislation that we pass.

It is important that, as we develop the economic opportunities that grow from use of our sea bed, sustainability is at their heart. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes that were made in the growth of the salmon farming industry, which have been made during the life of the Parliament. Committees failed to scrutinise the matter and we kept making the mistakes over and over again, thereby compounding the environmental impact, without taking the action that was needed.

New sectors such as industrial kelp harvesting need to be fully understood and planned for. That is why the approach that the cabinet secretary is taking, through a review of the sector, is important. It will help to set the vision that will ultimately deliver the certainty that businesses need in order that they can choose the right pathway to commercial success, but that will be done with a backstop that is now in the bill—the backstop of sustainability.

Recently I met, with Gillian Martin, a group of Faroese kelp farmers. They represent a rapidly expanding industry that is scalable, unlike mechanical harvesting of kelp. Farmed kelp can produce 10 times the levels of useable sugars and proteins per hectare that farmed soya produces. That should give us a sense of the economic opportunity, but only if we learn the lessons of the past and set the sustainability bar high for the industry.

I pay tribute to the communities whose voices have been heard loud and clear on the issue, and to the Scottish Parliament information centre, which was commissioned by the committee to produce briefings and materials on the issue for members.

From primary schools to professors, from divers to David Attenborough, from the shellfish sector to the whitefish sector, concerns were expressed. We have remarkable people: scientists who have galvanised their arguments intelligently and articulately, and we thank them for that. The Government will now need to have many more discussions with a wide range of interests. I look forward to the outcome of the review.

17:43  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I speak today as a former member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, and I record how much I enjoyed working with members of that committee on the bill and other topics, and how much I appreciate the work of the clerks, the advice that the researchers gave us and, which is important, the input of the people who gave up their time to provide evidence to the committee as we took the bill through stages 1 and 2.

The cabinet secretary rightly said that this is an historic occasion of further devolution of powers to Scotland. I have always believed that, where there is a clear case for further powers to be devolved to this Parliament in Scotland’s interests, we should all support that happening. Andy Wightman said that the reforms are “modest”, and Tavish Scott agreed with that, but they are a good start. Let us see where we go as we understand more about the opportunities that will come about through devolution of the Crown estate.

I also want to pick up on Tavish Scott’s point about the retirement of the chief executive of Lerwick Port Authority, Sandra Laurenson. As Tavish Scott knows, I spent many a year up in Lerwick and Bressay and I know of the good work that Sandra has done over all those years. I join him in congratulating her on being the first port authority master in the country and in wishing her success with whatever she goes on to do next.

When we speak about assets of the Crown estate, it is important to remember the diversity and location of the assets, which range from instantly recognisable buildings and landmarks to farmland, coastline and wilderness environments. Clearly, good management is essential for effective management of all of those parts of the Crown estate, but it is important that their value is seen not only in the context of commercial gain. I am therefore pleased that the bill sets out to achieve that. It does so by stating not only that the powers and duties of managers should

“maintain and seek to enhance”,

not just the asset’s commercial value and the income that arises from it but, crucially, that

“the manager may do so in a way that contributes to the promotion or the improvement”

of economic development, regeneration, social wellbeing, environmental wellbeing and—which is important—sustainable development.

I want to speak about a couple of those assets, the first being tenant farmers. Edward Mountain said that tenant farmers are quite happy and that we should not look to change anything. In the evidence that we took from tenant farmers it was clear that the physical farm buildings and houses range in quality, and that there is a need to empower farmers more. They were clear that they do not expect the local authority to start running their farms, but I hope that we will be able to consider how tenant farmers can have a stronger voice and be better able to make representations in order that they can improve the properties that they occupy. However, I also take on board the point that Edward Mountain made about encouraging more young farmers. I agree entirely about that.

I voted for the amendment on kelp at stage 2 because, for me, the issue is straightforward. We said that kelp harvesting needs to be sustainable: why would one not want it to be sustainable? I have done much more reading and understood a lot more about kelp harvesting since stage 2, and I have no regrets about voting for the amendment. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement today of a further review of kelp harvesting opportunities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must conclude.

Alex Rowley

I close by saying that we have done a great deal of work and that I welcome the bill as it will be passed today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call Finlay Carson, we will have a brief pause while we ring the division bell.

17:49  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I appreciate that, Presiding Officer.

I am pleased to speak in tonight’s debate as the Scottish Crown Estate Bill nears its final stages, having spoken at the stage 1 debate and as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which heard extensive evidence on the bill.

The Scottish Conservatives have always supported the Scottish Crown Estate Bill in principle, and we believe that many of the changes that have been made throughout the legislative process have strengthened the bill and made it better.

Following on from the Smith commission recommendations and the Scotland Act 2016, which devolved management of the Crown estate to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Crown Estate Bill sets the framework for long-term management of the Crown Estate in Scotland. The bill identifies who can become a manager of a Crown estate asset, how its management can be devolved and what the remit of new managers could be.

I agree that local authorities, including the islands councils, might be well placed to take on management of assets, and I recognise that further devolution to local authorities is a significant recommendation of the Smith commission. However, given the right support, smaller community groups might be more appropriate bodies that could more successfully take on management of the assets. I do not believe that there should be an assumption that local authorities are, by default, the most suitable organisations, so I am pleased that that will not be the case, when the bill is passed tonight.

I believe in community empowerment, but the idea that Dumfries and Galloway Council in my region would by default suddenly become responsible for management of local Crown estate assets is not exactly one that fills me with confidence. As I stressed at stage 1, that is meant with the greatest respect to Dumfries and Galloway Council, but I have not heard any great wish that it take on the assets at the Applegarth estate. Indeed, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, although it welcomes devolution of assets, is firmly of the view that those four rural assets could be successfully managed by the Scottish Government directly or through a body that is set up for that purpose. That recommendation was made at the ECCLR Committee and received cross-party support.

It is important to strike the right balance, in future management of the Crown estate, between local and national levels. We should recognise that a national body might be best suited to achieving desirable outcomes. Therefore, in some instances, it is right that national management structures will remain in place, but it is important to know which ones the Government recognises can potentially be managed at local level and which cannot.

For example, it is only right and sensible that a national body, with a Scotland-wide overview, be responsible for management of offshore renewables, energy-related assets and cables and pipelines. Recognition should be given to the national significance of the sea bed, which—rightly—should be managed nationally. The bill will ensure that the sea bed cannot be sold.

I shared the committee view that there should be provision in the bill to retain provision, in some instances, for devolution to occur where a local authority can demonstrate appropriate expertise, and that is considered to be beneficial from socioeconomic, environmental or sustainable development perspectives.

On the future sustainability of the Crown estate, I believe that it is important to establish and maintain a list of Crown Estate Scotland assets and associated liabilities, and for that requirement to have been included in the bill to underpin continuation of access to cross-subsidisation. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary has given us the assurance that, although John Scott’s amendment was withdrawn, that will still be the case.

Kelp—oh, boy! If we did not know about kelp before, we certainly know about it now, as do millions of people across Scotland. I sincerely welcome the provision on kelp harvesting, but I have many concerns. They are not exclusively about the environmental pros and cons of commercial harvesting of our natural kelp forest; they are more about the appropriateness of the late introduction of the topic.

Mr Andy Wightman correctly made points of order and lodged amendments. I have no issue with that, but we should probably ask ourselves whether that was the best way to deal with the issue and whether the matter was appropriate in a bill on the Crown estate.

I welcomed Mark Ruskell’s amendment at stage 2, but as a probing amendment only, to highlight the serious concerns about commercial kelp harvesting and the potential for environmental damage. His amendment would not provide the protection that environmental campaigners might expect. All kelp is equal, but some kelp is more important than other kelp. The Crown estate kelp might have been protected through the bill, but what about the thousands of square miles of kelp that will not? I like to think that Parliament takes decisions on our environment that are based on strong peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

That in no way undermines or undervalues the information and evidence that environmental and community groups and the kelp harvesting industry provided through meetings, email and social media, but there was simply no time to hold a satisfactory consultation and—this would have been my preference—to look at the evidence in committee for full scrutiny under the close watch of the public. What happened is not how I would like hugely important issues such as kelp harvesting to be dealt with.

As my colleague Angus MacDonald said in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, the bill is an enabling bill—it is not for banning anything. However, I enthusiastically welcomed the announcement that a review will be undertaken that could lead to additional commercial opportunities while ensuring that our wild kelp forests are protected. The cabinet secretary suggested that the licensing regime is robust, but I argue that the reason why we are talking about kelp is that it is not. I hope to play my part in the licensing review as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

I thank my colleagues across the chamber, the committee clerks, the witnesses and contributors who got us to this stage in the bill’s progress, and I look forward to its being passed this evening.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call the cabinet secretary, we shall have another short pause for the division bell to ring.

I call the cabinet secretary to wind up the debate. I ask members who are engaged in conversation to show a bit of respect to the cabinet secretary—they might learn things about kelp that they did not know.

17:56  

Roseanna Cunningham

I am grateful to members across the chamber—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, cabinet secretary. Some people were not listening to me, but I meant what I said.

Roseanna Cunningham

I am grateful to members across the chamber for their mainly helpful and constructive contributions to the debate. I want to characterise some of them briefly without getting drawn into the detail. John Scott gave us a good lesson on process; Claudia Beamish gave us a lesson on sustainable development; Andy Wightman, as ever, give us a lesson on history; and Tavish Scott, also as ever, gave us a lesson on Shetland. Each of those contributions exemplifies a lot of the speeches that we heard. I thank the members who have spoken and all the members who have made contributions as the bill has progressed through Parliament.

I said at the beginning of the debate that this is a historic day, as we have been debating the first ever bill in the Parliament on the management of the Scottish Crown estate. The parliamentary process has made improvements to the bill. The Government has listened and has accepted a number of the recommendations that were made in the stage 1 report. Discussions have been on-going—right up to the last second—on possible improvements to the bill, and I have sought to maintain a consensual approach while also retaining focus on the actual purpose of the bill, which is to create appropriate processes to change who can manage a Scottish Crown estate asset and to reform the governance and management framework while maintaining the revenue and capital value of the estate. Of course, in the past few weeks, it looked as though the purpose of the bill might be lost in the other debate.

In my view, the stage 3 amendments to section 7(2) are an excellent example of that consensual approach, as they strengthen the duties to take account of wider issues such as sustainable development, and ensure that that is done in a proportionate way.

Up until now, the management of the Crown estate has been governed by the Crown Estate Act 1961, which was expressed in terms of English property law and reflected the dominance of urban commercial property in the revenue of the UK-wide Crown estate. Of course, the balance of the Scottish Crown estate is quite different, and, since 1961, new industries such as oil, gas extraction, offshore renewables and aquaculture have developed, all of which have had an impact and will lead to significant revenue growth in the future.

We also have a vision, shared across this chamber, that in the management of the Scottish Crown estate we should strive to add value to the wellbeing of citizens throughout Scotland’s communities, embracing social benefits and sustainable development as well as financial gain. Part of that vision is our pledge to create a framework for further devolving management to the communities of Scotland, creating an opportunity to truly place the accountability of the Scottish Crown estate in the hands of people across the country. I make no apology for putting that emphasis on communities. Among the various organisations that have stepped forward at this point to show interest in management there are three councils—Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Western Isles Council—but we also have Portgordon Community Harbour Group, the Findhorn Village Conservation Company, Galston Estate Trust, St Abb’s and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve, the Tay and Earn Trust and the Lochgoilhead Mooring Association and Lochgoilhead Jetty Trust. That shows that there is an appetite out there among communities, and it is important to reflect that.

At times, kelp harvesting has seemed to overwhelm the purpose of the bill. I am not going to get dragged back into it at this point in the debate. We are where we are. We might feel that this has not been the most appropriate process to follow. Nevertheless, that is a debate that it might be best to have elsewhere than in the context of this stage 3 debate.

The bill has been improved and strengthened as a result of the parliamentary process. I am grateful to members of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and other members in the chamber for their contributions. We have a bill that will help to ensure the long-term management and sustainability of these important assets and, for the first time, there are new powers in legislation to change the manager of a Scottish Crown estate asset.

I am pleased to have created a historical first by bringing the first bill on the Scottish Crown estate before this Parliament. We have seized the opportunity to develop a new, modern, statutory framework that will support the realisation of our shared national ambition for some of Scotland’s most important assets.

Presiding Officer, I am proud to have moved the motion.