28. January 2011 · Comments Off on Scotland Bill and the Crown Estate III · Categories: Crown Estate, Land Rights, Legal affairs, Politics

 The Scotland Bill received its 2nd reading in the House of Commons yesterday (27 Jan 2011). The following extracts are the totality of references to the future of the Crown Estate in Scotland.

The ten Minute rule bill referred to was promoted in 2006 by Alistair Carmichael, Alan Reid, John Thurso, Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy. A report in the Herald can be found here. It looks like the Liberal Democrats in the Highlands and Islands have lost their enthusiasm and that reform of the role of the Crown Estate Commissioners is, once again, being kicked into the very long grass by vested interests in Westminster.

Extracts from Hansard 27 January 2011

27 Jan 2011 : Column 471

indeed, years-but as yet we have seen nothing. That is something that the House will note and that will perhaps reduce the bluster on the part of some.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): To supplement the extensive list that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) read out, may I add the power of the Crown Estate being returned to the Scottish Parliament? Indeed, four or five years ago five Liberal highlands MPs supported that very proposal in a ten-minute rule Bill. Is that still the position of the Liberal party? If so, will the Liberals try to use the Scotland Bill to ensure that the Crown Estate is returned to Scotland?
Michael Moore: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to get slightly ahead of myself. He will see the proposals that we have set out in the Bill, taking account of the evidence that was supplied to the Calman commission.
Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that those Scottish National party Members who are getting animated on this issue could easily have made a submission to the Calman commission if they so wished? Instead, they stood for self-interest, rather than Scotland’s interest.
Michael Moore: If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman makes the point very neatly. Like him, I await the SNP’s detailed proposals on either fiscal autonomy or the Crown Estate, so that they might be debated. I believe that what we have in the Bill is the right balance, which will give Scotland the powers and accountability that it should have.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): On taxation generally, is not the lesson that we have learned, from the original Scotland Act 1998, through many Standing Orders over two Parliaments, that we are involved in an iterative process? What can be devolved should be devolved, but at a gentle pace, so that we can assimilate what has happened. In that regard, the agreement that the three parties have come to is the correct way to proceed at this time, but does not preclude further devolution when appropriate at a later stage.
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Michael Moore: I had nearly got back to the point I was at, but I shall give way.
John Robertson: On that point, I listened to the Secretary of State on the “Today” programme this morning, when he spoke eloquently about who would foot the bill if borrowing went-shall we say?-awry. What is to prevent a Government in Scotland from borrowing £500 million just before they lost power, to ensure that the incoming Government were saddled with a bill they could not pay?
Michael Moore: I would hate to destroy the cross-party consensus by making any inappropriate reference to a £155,000 million deficit, so I will move swiftly on. On the technical point the hon. Gentleman raises, if he looks again at the Command Paper, he will see that there are provisions to ensure that no Government will be able simply to borrow in order to stack up a capital reserve to spend in the future or to land a subsequent Administration in debt.
Mr MacNeil: On a point of clarification, would the right hon. Gentleman like to see power over the Crown Estate devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
Michael Moore: Those provisions are not in the Bill. That case has not been put forward in detail either by the Government of Scotland, of whom his colleagues are members, or by others. If such proposals were to come forward some time in the future, there could be a public debate, but as far as the Scotland Bill is concerned, it is consistent with the Calman commission and will make sure, formally, that we have a Scottish commissioner. That will ensure that Scottish interests on the Crown Estate are well represented in future.
As Secretary of State for Scotland, I am fully aware of my role in ensuring that we keep the Crown Estate focused on its interests across the whole of the United Kingdom. I have had two formal meetings so far and another is planned. That is probably as good a record as most recent Secretaries of State. I assure the hon. Gentleman and others who are concerned about the Crown Estate that we will continue to work to make it more accountable, more transparent and more focused on Scotland’s and the rest of the UK’s interests.

17. January 2011 · Comments Off on Scotland Bill and the Crown Estate II · Categories: Crown Estate, Land Rights, Politics

Following previous posts (click on “Crown Estate” in category list on the right) pointing to the scrutiny of the Scotland Bill by the Scotland Bill Committee of the Scottish Parliament, it is time to get ready for the process at Westminster.

The Scotland Bill is Westminster legislation and will be scrutinised, debated and passed in London. The Scottish Parliament is merely deciding what its view shall be on the Bill.

The next stage in the campaign to repatriate the administration and revenues of Scotland’s Crown rights is to submit written evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in Wesminster who are holding an inquiry into the Scotland Bill. Deadline for written submissions is 31 January.

Second Reading of the Scotland Bill is on 27 January in Westminster. See Scotland Bill page here where you can sign up for updates. The Bill will then go before Committee – a committee of the whole hosue since it is a constitutional bill – and there should be a further opportunity to submit evidence.

Anyone wanting to keep up to date with this campaign should email me at mail@andywightman.com and I will add you to the circulation list.

My evidence to Scotland Bill Committee of Scotland Parliament is here.

17. January 2011 · Comments Off on Long Leases (Scotland) Bill II · Categories: Common Good, Edinburgh, Land Rights, Legal affairs, Long Leases Bill

I will be in Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday 18 January) giving evidence to the Justice Committee on the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill. I will be seeking to exempt common good land from the provisions of the bill which allows for all land held on a lease of over 175 years and with over 100 years left to run to be converted automatically to full ownership.

The case which inspires my interest in this is that of the Waverley Market, referred to in a previous post. I remain of the view that this land forms part of the Common Good of the City of Edinburgh but, in their evidence (available here at LL5), the Council continue to refute this. What is interesting about the Council’s evidence is that it contines to avoid specifying the precise legal grounds, either statutory or derived from case law, upon which its position rests. Attempts are underway to find out what these grounds are but until they become clear, I have good authority for my assertion that the site is common good.

The Council’s argument (which is laid out plainly in their evidence) is that because it was a fruit and vegetable market, hence it was common good. Accordingly, in 1938, when it ceased to be a market, it ceased to be common good.

My argument is that the market has nothing to do with this. The site became part of the common good as a consequence of being acquired by the Common Good Fund as part of the land assembly for the New Town in the late 19th century. Furthermore, markets were speficially removed from the common good by Section 145 of the Edinburgh Corporation Act 1967 (by which time Waverley Market was no longer a market). This highlights my argument that common good status can only be removed by statute, by court order, or by selling the property outright to a third party.

Incidentally, what really happened in the 1930s was that the Edinburgh Corporation Act of 1933 provided that all market rights (which were held by citizens and gave them legal rights to take their produce to market) would be abolished if and when the market was closed. It was then closed and moved in 1938 which is the point at which the Council claims that the common good status disappeared. In fact, all that happened was that it ceased to be a market and was still common good (and is referred to as common good in a later Act of 1950).

Despite the specific disagreement over the Waverley Market, I welcome the fact that the City of Edinburgh Council support the exemption of common good land from the provisions of the Long Leases Bill. They also argue for an exemption for where the grassum (an initial payment on a long lease) divided by the term of the lease is over £100. This matches the existing exemption for all commercial leases with an annual rent of over £100. This suggests that such a situation applies to the Waverley Market but I do not know since I have not seen the lease for a long time.