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Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): It is not funny.

Mr. Salmond: The right hon. Gentleman says that it is not funny, but it illustrates the fact that we are debating an historic question and an historic injustice. My speech is meant to show that that historic injustice is still being visited the length and breadth of Scotland.

The challenge facing the Government is whether the legislative programme that they have announced--a limited and insubstantial crofting measure--can be extended to gather a cross-party consensus on radical change to at least some aspects of land law in Scotland. No sane or decent person can support the abuses that I have described this morning. Surely, within that piece of legislation, we can take action on casualty clauses and pre-emption rights, and so do something substantial to meet the real needs of the people of Scotland.

The hon. Member on Labour's Front Bench does not seem to think that this issue deserves a high priority--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Member on Labour's Front Bench does not seem to feel that the issue deserves a high priority.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to express my dismay at the

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hon. Gentleman's purely negative remarks. I have made no comment whatsoever, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remarks. I am here to listen to the debate, because Labour realises that land is an important issue in Scotland. I want that scurrilous remark to be withdrawn.

Mr. Salmond: I was referring not to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), but to his colleague the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy).

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman refers to another hon. Member, he should be specific, especially when making allegations. I heard the hon. Gentleman refer to the hon. Member on the Labour party Front Bench, who is the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) should make it clear that he was not referring to the Labour Front-Bench spokesman. The hon. Gentleman was, in any case, treading on tricky ground, so I suggest that he hurriedly withdraws his remarks.

Mr. Salmond: I will gladly take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was referring to the hon. Member for Rutherglen, who interjected from a sedentary position a few seconds ago.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): I did not.

Mr. Salmond: He did--I heard it and I am sure that other hon. Members and Mr. Deputy Speaker heard it. I made a fair comment.

My point is that land issues in Scotland have not been treated as a high priority in this House. It is time they were.

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I cannot let the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen be besmirched in this manner. I made a sedentary intervention--I did not think that the remarks of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) were particularly funny.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Now that we have had it clarified, first, that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was not referring to the hon. Member for Dumbarton and, secondly, that the sedentary statement was not made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen, perhaps the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will do the House the courtesy of withdrawing his allegations against both those hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Salmond: I will gladly do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in the--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will now continue with his ordinary speech.

Mr. Salmond: In the tradition of collective responsibility, I am sure that the Labour Members will share the responsibility in that matter.

My substantial point is a simple one--that the issue of land in Scotland has not been awarded high priority in this House, and it is time it was. It is time for substantive

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change. Before us, we have a part of the legislative programme that addresses a single narrow issue in the Scottish land debate and was chosen by the Secretary of State for his own purposes.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): The hon. Gentleman has raised an important--indeed, fundamental--matter, and I agree that the House should address it. I am sorry to say that the unfortunate way in which he has presented it sometimes gives offence, but the matter is serious and must be addressed, so I welcome the fact that he has brought it up.

Mr. Salmond: I exercised substantial restraint this morning when I dealt with the cases. The feelings that I expressed are as nothing to the feelings being expressed by many people the length and breadth of Scotland who are experiencing real difficulties caused by those ancient feudal overhangs.

The challenge, whether for Conservative Members or for Opposition Members, is whether we shall rise to that issue--whether the current legislative programme will give an opportunity to deal with at least some of those abuses. I ask a fundamental question: will the Minister and his colleagues at least consider whether the scope of the narrow measure on crofting that has been laid out in the legislative programme can be extended to tackle some of the substantive issues that I have discussed this morning?

I regret that the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) does not always appreciate the tone in which I speak. I would not expect us always to agree, but I expect the issues to stand on their merits. Something requires to be done about the state of land in Scotland, and any hon. Member who does not rise to that challenge and support that cause will have to face his or her constituents with some humility in less than six months' time.

10.10 am

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries): I am glad that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has raised the important issue of land tenure in Scotland. As he said, and as we all know, it is an extremely complicated issue, which cannot be rushed into willy-nilly at short notice. It is impossible to make progress between now and the general election, so I believe that the next Government should consider giving the matter careful thought in a major inquiry.

I am not deprecating the land commission instituted by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), but I wish to place on the record the fact that it is not a statutory body but an ad hoc committee set up by the Scottish National party for its investigation into land tenure in Scotland.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that there are many highly responsible landowners in Scotland, who do good work and look after tenants and add greatly to the community. Perhaps he tends to overlook the difference between land tenure and land management. It is very important to ensure that land is managed properly, irrespective of who owns it. He should bear that thought in mind in future discussions.

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I understand that, this weekend, the Scottish Landowners Federation, of which I am a member--although I do not speak on its behalf--will give a response to the Scottish National party's land commission inquiry. Unfortunately, this debate was a few days premature, so the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan did not have the benefit of advice from the federation.

I cannot accept what the hon. Member said about the operations of Cairnglen and others. It is reprehensible to purchase feus with the objective of buying out the current owner of the property, and we all want that problem to be sorted out in the not too distant future.

Such behaviour is very different from that of those who happen to have owned feu titles for very many years; when a building changes use, by law it must fall back into the ownership of the person who gave the original feu. That is different from the position, which the hon. Gentleman rightly outlined, of a company or individual searching out feus and buying them up, and putting the current owner of a house in an impossible position. I agree that that is very unfortunate, and it should be cleared up by legislation in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): First, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in my constituency, such as on the island of Arran, long-standing owners of the land exercise the powers of feudal ownership ruthlessly, so the distinction between people does not apply? He does not appreciate the fact that people suffer from that. Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Scottish Law Commission has prepared a draft Bill, which is lying unused? It could be made law very quickly, in this Session of Parliament, if there were any political will to do so.

Sir Hector Monro: I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am not aware of either point in detail.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that the debate was about land tenancy in Scotland. When I was responsible for agriculture in Scotland, I felt that we should seek a way of modernising--if that is the right word--land tenancy in Scotland. However, the subject is complicated, and I believed that it was necessary to take everyone with us, both the landowners, who were quite keen to go ahead with changes, and the National Farmers Union of Scotland, representing many tenant farmers who were very reluctant to alter the present arrangements.

I believe that we could have proceeded on the basis that the legislation was not retrospective, and that we should be allowed in future, as was agreed in England in legislation two years ago, to let land on an agreed term of five, 10 or 15 years, or whatever was wanted, with repossession at the end of the term. That seems to be working quite well south of the border.

One aspect of the feu system is worth considering in terms not of ownership but of planning. Often, especially some years ago, that additional hurdle to take in terms of planning has been beneficial in retaining a great deal of the beauty of the countryside. We do not want to throw that away without careful thought.

I shall make only one more point, because others want to speak, and the subject needs more detailed discussion than can be conducted in this short debate.

We must reach a result that is universal for the whole of Scotland--rural and urban. It would be wrong to change laws affecting one area rather than another. We

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must aim to create a simplified system. I agree that the issue is highly complicated and technical, especially where the feudal system is concerned. Many people forget that, in many cases, it is possible to buy out feus at relatively modest cost.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan raised this matter, and I am glad that the my hon. Friend the Minister will respond. The subject deserves further discussion. We shall have to hold a full inquiry for legislation some time in the more distant future.

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