HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc136-7
10. Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

What responses he has received on his consultation on land reform. [65836]

12. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

If he will make a statement about the economic impact of his proposals for land reform in Scotland. [65838]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)

We received more than 1,200 responses to our consultation papers on land reform. Our proposals are genuinely radical and have been widely welcomed. I am glad that they are attracting the attention of so many Conservative Members.

Mrs. Laing

I agree that the Secretary of States proposals are, if nothing else, radical, but does he not agree that, in practice, those who look after the land in Scotland are farmers? Would it not have been more relevant to events in Scotland if the Secretary of State had made plans to spend taxpayers money helping farmers in their present crisis instead of wasting enormous sums on his radical but old-fashioned policies on land reform?

Mr. Dewar

May I say to the hon. Lady in a friendly spirit that I would welcome her coming back to her homeland, going perhaps a little wider than Kilmacolm, where she was born, and talking to the National Farmers Union of Scotland about the substantial package of aid twice put together in the past year to help, in particular, those in less favoured areas of agriculture, such as beef and sheep? A great deal of money has gone into that.

We are now putting forward a radical proposal that would allow communities who have lived on the land and invested their lifes work in the land to have a say. They would be able to buy the land if it were on the market and would get the advice, support and encouragement that would allow them do that if they so wished. That is not an easy option and people must be in a position to take advantage of that chance—they must have skills, know-how and staying power. Throughout Scotland, there is popular support for our attempts to deal with the land question and give those small communities, who often live in fragile parts of the country, the right to have a say, so that they do not wake up one morning and find that the land on which they live has been sold from under their feet without their knowledge.

Mr. Boswell

Will the Secretary of State heed the danger that the threat of a compulsory purchase order may reduce the collateral available to landowners on which they could raise loans to develop their properties and business? Will he also have regard to the interim report of the working party to the Deputy Prime Minister, which sets out the entirely sensible, fundamental principle that one precondition of compulsory purchase should be that the public interest clearly outweighs the rights of the individual citizen?

Mr. Dewar

I recognise that there are good landowners and that many struggle, often in difficult circumstances, to maintain their holdings and work them effectively. The hon. Gentleman has obviously given the matter much thought, so I am sure he will recognise that there has been a great deal of support for our proposals, from institutions as well as individuals, some of whom represent large bodies of landowning opinion. I have been very impressed by the constructive way in which many of those organisations have approached the matter.

I do not want to embarrass a noble Lord, but I cannot help reflecting on the words of the Duke of Buccleuch, who said of the reform: If this had been going through the House of Lords, I would have voted for it. I should say, in fairness, that he went on to criticise aspects of the reform.