HC Deb 26 April 1990 vol 171 cc573-87

'(1) Where it appears to Highlands and Islands Enterprise that land within its area of operation (as defined by section 19 of this Act) is being neglected, or not used, or used in a manner inimicahle. in that opinion of the body, to the furtherance of the economic and social well-being and development of the Highlands and Islands, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall have power, with regard to the said land, to direct the owner, or, as the ease may be, occupier, as to its future use.

(2)(a) Directions, made under subsection (1) above, may follow proposals

  1. (i) by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, or
  2. (ii) made to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise by interested parties, including (without prejudice to this generality) local authority councils, branches of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Scottish Crofters' Union, and residents of the area in question.

(b) Highlands and Islands Enterprise may accept, reject, or, in consultation with the proposcrs, amend proposals made under subparagraph (2)(a)(ii) above.

(3) In making directions under subsection (1) above, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall have particular regard to

  1. (a) the prospects of real gains in local incomes,
  2. (b) increasing local employment opportunities,
  3. (c) the general economic, social and cultural conditions of the area,
  4. (d0 the need to protect the environment and the natural beauty of the area, in accordance with section 4(4) of this Act.

(4)(a) Before making any directions under subsection (1) above, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall state its reasons for those directions, setting out why it considers that, in the particular case, such directions would lead to changes in land use which would promote the development of the area, and

(b) shall make those reasons publicly available.'.—[Mrs. Ray Michie.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5—Misused Land— 'Where it appears to Highlands and Islands Enterprise that land is misused, or used in a way which does not assist the economic and social development of its area and that action should be taken to bring the land (in this Act referred to as "misused land") into use, the body in question:

  1. (a) in accordance with arrangements approved by the Secretary of State, may request the owner of misused land to carry out on the land such works as appear to the body necessary to bring the land into use and may give such financial assistance to those works as the body deems expedient; and
  2. (b) if the request is not complied with, within a reasonable time, may acquire the misused land compulsorily.'.

Mrs. Michie

I welcome the opportunity to move new clause I on land use because there was little time to discuss the issue in Committee. The new clause is designed to strengthen the powers of Highlands and Islands Enterprise over land use. However, it is necessary to consider it in the context of the Minister's answers to my amendments on compulsory purchase and ownership of land in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. New clause 5 also refers to compulsory purchase.

The Minister painted a confusing picture. He said: The power, although rarely used, is necessary for the development function. The power of compulsory purchase is especially useful in dealing with land whose ownership is unknown or where the whereabouts of the owner are unknown."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 15 February 1990; c. 332.] Yet I seem to recall that later in the debate the Minister sought to dub me a xenophobic socialist because I objected to the sale of Scottish land to the very people to whom he referred. At least I was able to establish without a shadow of doubt that the Minister and the Tory party do not really care if large parts of Scotland are sold off into the shadowy ownership of persons or companies registered in odd places around the world. The people of the highlands and islands were interested to hear his views. Even if he does not care, they care deeply about the land on which they live and what happens to it.

The Minister came to my constituency and did me the courtesy of letting me know that he was coming. While he was there he attacked my views on the ownership of land. but he did me a service because he gave the issue considerable publicity and my constituents are now well aware of his views. Perhaps I may be able to stimulate the Minister's interest with the new clause, as he said in Committee that the use to which land was put was important.

9.15 pm

Over the years, there has been a realisation that people's policies and endeavours in relation to areas of land can vary widely. What an owner may see as the right development for his or her own best interests may be viewed as unacceptable by those concerned with the future and productivity of the land—in other words, local people. Too often, land is purchased as a speculative activity, pushing up the cost out of all proportion to the real value and so shutting out the less affluent people—mainly Scots—who want to live and work on it.

Some estates are well run, but others are not. Some are changed for sporting or residential purposes, whereas others are just neglected, and land improvement or use becomes an unimportant aim. Inappropriate ownership can lead to the loss of rural jobs and thus to the loss of population and the running down of the area. I have seen an estate on which there was a tenant farmer, but where, when the tenant farmer ceased his tenancy, the farm was destocked and the shepherds and herdsmen had to leave. That meant that their families had to leave, so schools and local shops were closed. There was a serious knock-on effect.

The Minister said that the compulsory purchase powers in the Highlands and Islands Development Board Act 1965 were rarely used. He was right, but the real question is why. Over the years, the board has had a land use policy, but has never been able to implement it. No matter how conscious it has been of the misuse or underuse of land, it has been restricted by weak powers of compulsory purchase which were no better than those of a district council and were more suited to the aims of providing schools and roads than to providing a real economic injection and a complete overhaul of land use.

I am not convinced that the powers in the Bill are any better. I hope that the new clause will go a considerable way to rectify the problem. The new clause seeks to give Highlands and Islands Enterprise the power to direct the owner or occupier on the future use of the land to further the economic and social well-being of the highlands and islands. Proposals on land use could be brought forward not only by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but by other interested and committed parties such as the Scottish Crofters Union, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the residents of the area in question.

I recall that the Minister sought to ridicule my suggestion that, where appropriate, land could be handed over to crofters and young farmers for agriculture and rural development. At the time, I drew his attention to the fact that his noble Friend Lord Sanderson had agreed to look at the land owned by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and at the possibility of transferring the Secretary of State's crofting estates into community trust ownership.

Mr. Lang

Before we lose sight of this point, does the hon. Lady accept that there is a difference between considering the possibility of transferring money owned by a Government Department to something such as a crofters' union and taking land from private ownership for distribution to individuals?

Mrs. Michie

My amendment seeks to direct owners of land about how they should use the land if they are misusing it.

Returning to the point about compulsory purchase powers, I am seeking to point out that those powers were part of the Highlands and Islands Development Act, (Scotland) but could never be used. I will try to explain to the House later why it was thought necessary to use them.

Perhaps the Minister is now aware that the Secretary of State has produced a consultation document on this very subject. One of the most interesting parts of that document is where it poses the question whether the approach proposed by the Secretary of State should also be considered by other crofting landlords. I welcome the document, because it suggests that Lord Sanderson is addressing the issue, although his motives may not be entirely altruistic and may have more to do with administrative costs than with anything else. I am glad that the Scottish Crofters Union has employed consultants to advise it on the way in which it should consider the matter.

Mr. Wilson

To avoid having to go over the same ground again later, may I take it that both the hon. Lady and the Minister are aware of the meetings of crofters in the areas most immediately involved—in Skye and Raasay—at which there was distinct scepticism about that proposition? I hope that, in response to the hon. Lady, the Minister will give us the assurance that if the Secretary of State's tenants in those areas do not want to be transferred into another form of ownership, their views—like those of islanders in other places—will be paramount.

Mrs. Michie

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I hope that the Minister will give us that undertaking, because Lord Sanderson must know the views on this by the end of June.

Today there is a great demand for crofts and a growing number of young people want to be involved in crofting. With the changes in the common agricultural policy, there is increasing emphasis on diversification in agriculture and encouragement to do a variety of other things. That is what crofters have always done. I hope, therefore, that Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies will be responsive to crofting needs and to the future possibilities. Despite the low agricultural income, there arc many more houses containing families in our crofting areas than, sadly, is the case in many farming areas. If we want to keep the countryside populated and, indeed, to repopulate it, and if we want to care for the environment and to see the best kind of use made of our land, crofting is a realistic answer.

In a recent lecture at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Dr. Jim Hunter said: In Grampian, the Lothians and elsewhere, the creation of new croft-type holdings is being seriously investigated in order to foster rural repopulation by enabling more families to establish themselves on the land in much the same way as has long been possible in our crofting areas. I said that I would try to explain why I was worried about the compulsory purchase powers.

The debates on the 1965 Act in Hansard are full of references from this House and the other place to an assumption that the compulsory powers drafted for the Bill would have teeth which would, where necessary, be used. The then Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross, said: Surely, one of the first powers which must be given is a power related to the proper use of the land itself. To my mind, this is basic to any improvements in the Highlands. Anyone who denies the Board powers over land is suggesting that the Board should not function effectively at all."—[Official Report, 16 March 1965; Vol. 708, c. 1082.] It is clear that the powers of compulsory acquisition were intended to refer to rural land use but with the passage of time there was a general disillusionment as it became evident that the powers conferred were ineffective.

The new clause is in no way extreme and I have sought to make it compatible with the general thrust of the Bill in terms of local incomes and employment opportunities and the general economic, social and cultural condition of the area, with particular emphasis on the cultural. If, on the one hand, there is support for the Gaelic language, music, traditions and people and, on the other hand, the ownership of land is in the hands of a few, which militates against local people making a livelihood and surviving, the policy of support for those people becomes a waste of time.

I have also included in the new clause the need to protect the environment and the natural beauty of the area, as already spelt out in the Bill. Furthermore, under subsection (4), Highlands and Islands Enterprise would not be able to make any directions without stating its reasons for considering that such directions would lead to changes in land use which would promote the development of the area. It also makes it incumbent on Highlands and Islands Enterprise to make those reasons publicly available to everyone.

So crucial is the question of land ownership and use that it is essential that Highlands and Islands Enterprise should come up with an indicative strategy for the whole area. That should include forestry planting, fish farming, tourism and agriculture, so that potential investors will have a much better idea which areas are suitable for particular types of development and which are not.

It may be difficult for the Minister to understand what I am saying, but I am trying to explain that there is a deep and abiding affinity between the people in the highlands and islands and the land on which they and their ancestors have worked and lived over the years. I believe in a property-owning democracy, but there is something fundamentally wrong with the way in which vast tracts of land are trapped in the hands of a few and are not accessible to the local community. There should be a far greater opportunity for many more people to have a share in the working of the land. It is my firm belief that the land belongs not to the Government, not to speculators, not to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but to the people, and I put that to the Minister in all seriousness.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

One may not appreciate it when listening to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), but both her new clause and the Opposition's new clause 5 contain astonishingly draconian measures that attempt to fulfil their ideals. Despite the hon. Lady's Liberal background, her ideas of compulsory purchase and bureaucracy fill me with horror. It is right that we should call her to order about what she is trying to do to the highlands and islands through her new clause and should call the Opposition to order for what they are trying to do through their new clause.

9.30 pm
Mrs. Ray Michie

There is nothing in my new clause about compulsory purchase.

Sir Hector Monro

I shall come to the details of the new clause in a moment.

I was on the Committee that considered what was then the Highlands and Islands Development (Scotland) Bill in 1965. One of our chief concerns was compulsory purchase, which the Bill enacted. The hon. Lady is wrong to say that those powers were not sufficient. Under the Act, the Highlands and Islands development board could compulsorily purchase land if it so wished. However, over a long period of constructive and efficient operation, the board never thought it fit to use those powers in the way suggested by the hon. Lady, by buying large estates and splitting them up. It used the powers to buy small developments and for other requirements, as the local authority does today.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I, too, served on that Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the late Michael Noble, speaking on behalf of the Conservative Opposition, described the Bill as a "Marxist proposition". Is not the hon. Gentleman falling into that trap in his response to my hon. Friend?

Sir Hector Monro

I have not really started to deal 'An th the hon. Lady. I have said that the Act gave the Highlands and Islands development board full powers of compulsory purchase and, of its own volition, the board did not use those powers to purchase estates in the way implied in the new clause. I have the highest regard for the board and I have had pleasure in watching its operation since 1966. It never felt it necessary compulsorily to purchase estates and split them up or to run estates itself. It was far too wise to do so, and could see that it was unnecessary.

The hon. Lady did not speak about the cost of these proposals. Many of the highland estates are well run. Whoever monitors them, whether it is an agricultural adviser, planning official or somebody interested in nature conservation or habitat, to check on whether they are run effectively, or have been neglected or are run to the economic or social well-being of the district, it will cost a great deal of money. How much additional finance would Highlands and Islands Enterprise require if it were to fulfil all these obligations?

Furthermore, what the hon. Lady or the members of some committee may think is neglect may not be so at all. Running an estate is a complicated operation, bearing in mind the winter keep and grazing, whether it is for cattle, sheep or deer. What may look like neglect in the summer may be provision for winter keep. It would be very hard for anyone not particularly involved in agriculture to come to a firm judgment about the well-being of an estate.

I have travelled a great deal in the highlands, and I firmly believe that the large highland estates are well run. Obviously, the better that they are run, the more local employment will be created. We should do all that we can to encourage and promote the rural economy in Scotland: I agree with the hon. Lady on that. It is obvious that, if the population in a rural area declines, the village school will close, the parish church will begin to fall down, the village hall will get into financial difficulties and the community will fall apart. Population is of the greatest importance in any rural area, but particularly in the highlands.

Sometimes I think that, rather than criticising the running of highland estates as the hon. Lady has done., we should direct our attention towards the planning authorities throughout Scotland. Sometimes they are astonishingly restrictive about the developments that they will allow in rural areas, such as individual houses which, if they are built with sound materials and are of a good design, can add to the scenic beauty of an area. If we do not allow houses to be built and we do not allow small rural craft developments or diversification for farms who are facing difficulties these days, the population in rural areas will decline.

Rather than criticise those who run estates, we should consider the people who prevent development and prevent people from moving to the countryside—people, among others, with young children who can make the rural community viable and enjoyable.

Mr. Wilson

Since the hon. Gentleman rightly supports the idea of people living in the countryside, and since there is an enormous contrast between the numbers who live in areas which are under crofting tenure and those in areas which are not, would he support an extension of crofting to the rest of the highlands, as I certainly would?

Sir Hector Monro

I do not want to get too deeply involved in the subject of crofting tenure, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is a particularly complex issue. Of course I welcome crofters having a share of the prosperity in the highlands and I welcome diversification for farming land. I also welcome any opportunities for assistance to crofters. The Government have done a great deal to help them, and I am sure that they are working on more plans to help them in the future, because crofters are an important part of the highland community.

However, before buying farm land to split into crofts, we must consider carefully. That happened on the Solway shore after the great war in 1919. The Mansfield estates were bought and split into small farms, but, almost without exception, they had to be almagamated into larger farms by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to make them viable. We should not confine our consideration to small farms, but should consider also what else is genuinely viable in agricultural terms.

Crafts and tourism may provide added opportunities for crofters, but I would be worried to think that it was a general view that many people could make a living out of crofting, as the size of a croft makes it difficult. Larger farms now have great difficulty in paying their way.

Mrs. Ray Michie

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that few small crofts are agriculturally viable. I have been trying to tell him that the crofter has always had to have some other occupation in order to survive, but the fact that he works on the land makes all the difference to land use.

Sir Hector Monro

I think that the hon. Lady has just repeated what I said. We share a belief in the importance of the crofter and the croft, and we accept that crofts are unlikely to be viable, given their average size. Crofters need a craft, tourism or some other occupation if they are to make the croft economically viable and support a family.

The sporting side of many large estates is valuable in terms of employment. We must not criticise sport as such, as there are many more employees on estates if there are gillies for fishing, gamekeepers and stalkers who know a lot about the countryside and put everything they can back into the countryside to make it a beautiful place. One should not criticise sporting estates, because if one removed the sporting aspect and tried to run just a few herds of sheep or a few cattle, the number of employees would drop dramatically, causing exactly the reverse of what the hon. Lady and I wish to do to keep people in the countryside.

I oppose new clause 5 because it is a return to compulsory purchase of land in private ownership. That would be totally wrong; it would be bureaucratic and would not produce results. While the hon. Lady and I appreciate what is needed in the highlands, she is going about it in the wrong way. We want to encourage people there to develop in the right way without holding over their heads in legislation draconian measures that can be taken by people who may not know a great deal about running estates, farms or crofts.

On those grounds alone, while I appreciate what is in the hon. Lady's heart, her new clause will not produce an answer for Scotland. We have to achieve much more of a balance and a compromise and find the right way forward to help people, but new clause 1 would hold the sword of Damocles over their heads—if they do not do what the Highlands and Islands Enterprise board thinks they should be doing, severe measures will be taken against them. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that the House should not accept new clause 1.

Mr. Wilson

The picture of the highlands and islands covered by well-run estates would not be immediately recognised by most of us who spend a fair proportion of our lives there. The speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) was interesting in one respect, when he mentioned the holdings that were created on the Solway after the first world war. That was a time of great land agitation in the highlands and islands and in other parts of Scotland, which resulted in Governments being to forced to take over land, estates and farms and break them up into holdings.

I wish to take the debate back to the highlands and islands. Whatever has happened in the Solway, the takeovers in the highlands and islands have been a great success for the past 80 years. The creation of holdings in many areas created communities which survive to the present day.

The point about crofting and the expansion of that social system, which we should like to emerge from this and other legislation, is not that it provides full-time agricultural employment, which, by and large, it does not, but that it acts as the social cement which keeps communities together. If people have access to a bit of land where they can build a house, they can gain part of their livelihood from the land and they can supplement it with some other employment. That is the triumph of the crofting system, and it is unique in Scottish terms.

The hon. Member for Dumfries had a go at the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) on the ground that her new clause was seeking a draconian imposition. I always think of the hon. Lady—and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston)—as Liberals, and give their party no other fancy title. I recognise that the Liberal party has a great historic record on this issue.

It would be interesting to debate whether the reason why the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber are Members is not so much what they have done in the 1980s as what the Liberal party did in the 1880s. It is still regarded in the highlands and islands as the party of land reform which took on the Tory interests. Under the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Acts of 1885 and 1886, it gave absolute security of tenure to people in many parts of the highlands and islands. The tragedy was that those acts did nut apply to all the highlands and islands and areas beyond. The double tragedy was that, apart from the land raids to which the hon. Member for Dumfries obliquely referred, although not in that name, the system was never extended.

9.45 pm

The reason why the extension of the system is so desirable is evidenced in every part of the highlands and islands. Where crofting tenure applies and has applied for decades, there are living communities—shops, schools and churches—and, above all, people. Where it does not apply, there is emptiness, barrenness and land that is unworked and neglected and often consists of private kingdoms presided over by grandees.

At least tonight we are discussing people and social and economic issues in the highlands and islands; yesterday, the other place discussed capercaillies. It was rich for members of the other place to discuss why the capercaillie is a disappearing species when many of them contributed to blasting them out of existence.

Sir Hector Monro

The hon. Gentleman must not exaggerate and talk more rubbish than normal. The noble Lord Sanderson said that habitat has led to the reduction in capercaillie.

Mr. Wilson

I cannot square the circle that, by shooting birds, one does not reduce their numbers. Many of the highlands estates are public disgraces and have been condemned as such by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The sky above those estates is almost empty because of the policies pursued by them. But the capercaillie is only threatened; compared with the Conservative party in the highlands and islands, it is alive and well.

From time to time, we have debates—in my view it is a fairly sterile argument—about the Tory mandate in Scotland. We should be in no doubt that, whatever mandate the Tories have in the rest of Scotland, they have even less in the highlands and islands. One of the great triumphs of Scottish politics in my lifetime is that they have been completely erased from the map of Highlands and Islands. From Muckle Flugga to Macrihanish they do not return a single Tory Member.

As a native of the county that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute represents, I am particularly pleased to see the transition there, which doubtless will not be reversed as a result of the Minister's excursions into that territory. The Government's action in the highlands and islands and their meddling with the Highlands and Islands development board do not, therefore, stem from any electoral mandate from the people of the area.

It is also worth remembering when Tories talk about the Highlands and Islands development board that they fought its creation tooth and nail. I noticed from looking through Hansard that the Liberal party advocated the creation of a highlands board for many years before it was created. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber was a Member when the Bill was passed. He will recall that the Tories opposed it and described it, in the words of the late Michael Noble, as a Marxist enterprise. They argued against it, especially because of the powers that they perceived it was being given over land. Its creation was the burning issue of Scottish politics in the 1960s. People overwhelmingly welcomed the fact that here at last was the challenge to the power of landlordism in the highlands and islands—the creation of the Highlands and Islands development board.

It is worth placing on record the words of Willie Ross in that debate almost exactly 25 years ago: If there is bitterness in my voice, I can assure the House that there is bitterness in Scotland, too, when we recollect the history of these areas. We have to put this aside, however, to do what we are all now determined must be done to redress history. We have 9 million acres, where 275,000 people live, and we are short of land. Surely, one of the first powers which must be given is a power related to the proper use of the land itself. In my mind, this is basic to any improvement in the Highlands. Anyone who denies the Board powers over land is suggesting that the Board should not function effectively at all. Let us appreciate what we are up against. With the exception of the Conservative Members, everyone cheered. Willie Ross was more specific: Clause 4 empowers the Board to acquire land—by compulsion if necessary—and to manage it … land is the basic natural resource of the Highlands and any plan for economic and social development would be meaningless if proper use of the land were not a part of it."—[Official Report, 16 March 1965; Vol. 708, c. 1082–89.] That was true then and it is true today.

Sir Hector Monro

If Lord Ross said all that and hat provision was made in the legislation, why did the board, in its careful judgment, never use it?

Mr. Wilson

If the hon. Gentleman can bear the suspense and follow the chronology, I shall explain all to him.

Willie Ross was right and the Scottish people, particularly those from the highlands and islands, welcomed every word. It is indeed eccentric for any development organisation to be set up to address the problems of underdevelopment and depopulation, whether in the highlands and islands or anywhere else in the world, without first dealing with the distribution of land ownership. Whether it is in the great highland wildernesses or a Third-world dictatorship, the ownership and use of land predetermine other social conditions.

But as the hon. Member for Dumfries pointed out, the years went by and the powers were not used. It was gradually discovered that this was because the powers believed to have been in the Act were not in it. Section 4, which created the HIDB, did not give it the wide-ranging powers that it was widely believed to have given. Reading the debates with the power of hindsight, I realise that the man who realised that those powers had not been given was Michael Noble, the landowning shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He realised that, for all the talk about the powers that were given, they had not been given.

This finally came to a head in the early 1970s on the issue of the island of Raasay, a matter with which the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber is more than familiar. On the island of Raasay there was the ultimate in obstructive highland landowners—Dr. John W. Green of Cooden in Sussex, an eccentric by any standard, who had acquired his properties from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland in a sale which I believe to this day would have some difficulty in standing legal scrutiny. For reasons that were perverse, to say the least, he decided to use that power of ownership specifically to obstruct any possibility of development on Raasay. The population of Raasay plummeted, Dr. Green sat in Cooden in Sussex and nothing could happen on Raasay because of the malign power that he exerted—one of the model highland landowners with whom the hon. Member for Dumfries recently dealt.

The HIDB wanted to use powers, but powers that it did not have. That was the point at which it became apparent to people that the powers that had been given to it under the legislation were no less and no more than those that reside with any local authority. In other words, as the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said, if it wanted to buy a pocket handkerchief of land on which to build a school or community centre, it could do that. If it wanted to take over a swathe of land and contribute to its social and economic development, it could not; it did not have the powers to do so. I wish that I had been around at the time to investigate the reasons why that illusion was created in the public and political mind. Why were the people of Scotland told that the powers were being given to the HIDB—when someone at St. Andrew's house clearly knew that it was being given no such powers? It has never since had those powers.

Sir Russell Johnston

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the chronology, may I support him in his views? He is absolutely right in saying that we all believed that the HIDB had the powers that he described, until well into the Green saga. Only latterly was it realised that it did not.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his confirmation, which has destroyed the only argument advanced by Conservative Members—that the powers existed and were never used. In fact, the whole thing was a misunderstanding, an error of perception.

A few more years went by until, under a Labour Government, admittedly belatedly, the HIDB attempted to do something about the matter. Under the chairmanship of Sir Kenneth Alexander, it formulated proposals that would have allowed it to acquire powers similar to those that it had always been believed to possess. Those lesser powers would have allowed the HIDB to take over land if a community came to it or to the Government and said, "This land is grossly neglected and underused. We want it to be taken over, not by faceless bureaucracy but into a form of community ownership." The proposals were overtaken by the 1979 general election. The right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) became Secretary of State for Scotland and they were thrown out.

That is the history of the HIDB and land ownership. We are merely trying to give the HIDB powers that it was intended to have and that the people of Scotland believed it had but of which it had been deprived by cruel deception and greatly to its cost.

The result has been that, in its 25 years, the HIDB has worked with one hand tied behind its back. It is an insult to anyone's intelligence to suggest that one can inherit a distribution of land ownership as grotesque as that which exists in the highlands and islands and superimpose development upon it. The communities and islands in question often have a scatter of people pushed by the forces of history to the edges of estates, from which, historically, they have worked to contribute to the wealth of the landowner. That is why people are on the fringes: the part of the community which should be supporting the people, enterprise and production was given over 100 years ago to the shooting of wild creatures. That is why people are huddled on the periphery, with thousands of acres behind them lying idle and unproductive.

It is absurd to suggest that one can impose development on such areas fully or comprehensively without first tackling the problem of ownership and all that flows from it. The HIDB, a Labour creation, supported by the Liberals for many years in the face of Tory opposition and hostility, has had many successes. The areas in which it is a failure and in which depopulation continues to be the norm are those in which the power of land ownership and the maldistribution of population are most severe—in other words, the peripheral areas.

Every time an estate comes on to the market, the land and the people are put into a great lottery. Will it be a philanthropist who buys them or a cruel person from Scotland—I make no racial distinction—or overseas? The nationality of who owns the estate does not matter. Most of the worst landlords in Scottish history have not been English, American of foreign. They have been Scottish. Perhaps that explains why no members of the Scottish National party, who like to pervert this aspect of the debate, have graced the Chamber this evening.

The press like the colourful manifestations of land ownership in Scotland. They like the colourful personalities. I would contend that the real ownership story of land in Scotland overwhelmingly involves——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Lightbown.]

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Wilson

A front page in the Daily Record this week was devoted to a one-time soft porn queen whose billion-dollar divorce settlement from her elderly husband, a Mr. John Kluge, the richest man in America, is to include the keys to a £13 million Scottish estate beside Balmoral. Apparently that estate runs to 20,000 acres.

Most intelligent people on the Opposition Benches would agree that that is not a terribly sensible way to allocate the ownership of 20,000 acres of land. But over the years, it is not the American porn queens who have screwed the highlands and islands of Scotland. The kilted grandees who have been there for generations have done that. Give me a social-climbing stripper any day, if it is a choice between her and a Vestey or a Westminster.

Mr. Bill Walker

For the sake of accurancy, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the estate to which he has just referred is not in the HIDB area? If he thinks it is, he must accept that my constituency is in the highlands.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman is a well-known geographer and I accept entirely what he says. We are talking about the HIDB area, which I would gladly extend to his constituency and to the area to which I have just referred.

The caricature example that I have just given is not the norm in Scotland. Neglect comes by and large from land-owners who have been in Scotland not for days or years but for generations.

I assure Ministers that there is minimal enthusiasm for Highlands and Islands Enterprise and LECs in the highlands and islands. It is an unwanted interference because people are overwhelmingly satisfied with the job that the HIDB is doing. That interference is a further example of the alienation between a political party that cannot achieve representation in the area and the people upon whom all this nonsense is being imposed.

If we must have Highlands and Islands Enterprise, it should have the powers to which I have referred. We do not expect to get those powers from this debate, but we will keep the issue on the agenda. The problem of land ownership in the highlands and islands is as real now as it was in 1965. Indeed, it is as real now in many areas as it was after the great war because the people in those areas and their successors have now disappeared from the land.

One of my predecessors, Archie Manuel, came from Morvern in Argyll. In the debate that set up the Highlands and Islands development board. he said that he hoped that the HIDB would create vigour and life throughout our Highland communities where at present we see, in certain areas, nothing but decay, depopulation and a gradually worsening situation.—[Official Report, 16 March 1965; Vol. 705, c. 1136.] Over 25 years, the HIDB has done great work and in many respects it has justified the faith placed in it. The one respect in which it has been a disappointment to the people of the highlands and islands has been the failure to come to grips with the land question. It did not come to grips with the land question because it did not have the powers to do so. We say that, in future, it should have the powers to do so.

Mr. Lang

Nobody doubts the concern and affection of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), or indeed that of the hon. Member or Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Mitchie), for the islands, but that concern and affection are not confined to the Opposition. Although I share hon. Members' views about the importance of the highlands and islands and their great qualities, I cannot accept their approach to the implementation of these measures as a way of seeking to advance economic development or success there.

When the hon. Gentleman referred to Conservative Members in the highlands being as scarce as capercaillies, I could not resist reflecting on the fact that, when electoral popularity was put to the test in the European elections last year, the highland seat was won not by a Labour Member or by a Liberal, or indeed by a Conservative. However, we moved from third to second. In the doughty person of Sir Albert McQuarrie, we thrashed Labour into third place, and the Liberals came last with less than 10 per cent. of the vote. I hope one day to see as many Conservative Members in the highlands as there are capercaillies.

We have made some progress in the debate. We have moved on from compulsory land purchase, to which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute referred in Committee to land use. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said in his excellent contribution, we are all concerned about the most efficient and productive use of the land. There is no difference between us on the objective. The question is how we can best reach it. I know that the question of highland land use is difficult and long-standing. I recognise that it is extremely important. My noble Friend Lord Sanderson recently published a consultation paper on the future of Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scottish-owned crofting land in the highlands and islands. Effective use of the land is necessary, especially in more remote and peripheral areas. No doubt my noble Friend will read the report of this debate with interest and be able to form part of the consultation process.

We must remember also that the need for rural economic diversification exists, often away from land-based activities. We now have opportunities in fish farming and in tourism, with all that that means for crafts and for culture, which benefit many parts of the highlands in ways that we barely could have dreamed of even 20 years ago.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Minister of State agree that, in the past, there were examples of quite bad landlords in the highlands? If so, why will he not agree to do anything about it?

Mr. Lang

There are bad landlords in the highlands and there are bad landlords in the lowlands—there are bad landlords everywhere. There are legislative processes to protect some people from some of the activities of landlords. I do not believe that the compulsory powers that the party that used to proclaim itself the Liberal party would seek to impose—it is now the Liberal Democratic party, although this measure is illiberal and undemocratic—would solve the problem.

I could understand such an approach if the highlands were in decline—if there were clearances and depopulation—but that is not the case. There are signs of dramatic changes and improvements in the highlands. The population in the highlands has increased for the first time in more than 100 years—by 8 per cent. in the past 19 years. That has been widespread throughout the area. There are many factors behind that change, and the role of the Highlands and Islands development board is undoubtedly one.

Mrs. Ray Michie

I have queried the Minister of State's assumptions before. Perhaps he does not realise that, even if the population has increased, the indigenous population of the highlands and islands has not increased. People are still leaving partly because they are not able to get land and partly because they are not able to get houses. The population may have increased, but the people whom we are particularly concerned about are still leaving.

Mr. Lang

Surely it is not part of our purpose to compel people to remain in one part or another part of the country. This is the United Kingdom. The attractive point about the highlands is that it is attracting population into the area. That is creating economic growth and greater prosperity. The hon. Lady must know that that is happening on a greater scale than before.

The board already has wide powers to assist the land sector. Its development programmes for Skye and the north-west have attracted wide local support and have contributed to a revival of interest in and commitment to crofting in those areas.

Since 1979, the board has provided £30 million to support land development in the highlands and islands. That is in addition to the normal mechanisms of agricultural support that operate in the area. But I cannot accept that there is any justification for sweeping new powers that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries rightly described as draconian. They would introduce a kind of corporatism and state intervention that is totally unacceptable, so I am unable to accept the hon. Lady's new clause.

If that is the case with her new clause, it is all the more so with the Labour new clause, which goes further and seeks to impose not only compulsory land use powers but compulsory purchase powers. That is completely unacceptable and incompatible with the economic growth and development that is being achieved in the highlands in response to Government policies.

Question put and negatived.

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