22 March 2007

(S2O-12460) Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004

6. Mr Duncan McNeil (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to ensure that the provisions of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 are used effectively. (S2O-12460)

The Deputy Minister for Justice (Johann Lamont): We have provided over £130 million to local partnerships to tackle antisocial behaviour and to promote community safety. Every local authority now has a dedicated antisocial behaviour team and a community warden service. Increasingly, local agencies are working with local communities and making effective use of the powers available to them to tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour. We expect continued progress in implementing local antisocial behaviour strategies.

Mr McNeil: The minister will be aware that, although we have given local authorities the tools to do the job, some local authorities are less than enthusiastic about using those tools on behalf of their residents. Will she assure me that councils will not be rewarded for such an indifferent, half-hearted attitude? Will she make it clear that, in respect of the powers and money that local authorities have been given, they must use them or lose them?

Johann Lamont: First, I recognise that a significant number of local authorities have embraced the new powers. Understandably, local authorities that wish to represent their communities want the tools and resources to support those communities. When I have visited Duncan McNeil's constituency, I have been struck by the energy of community activists, who are also a crucial resource.

We have made it clear that we will support local authorities with resources and by providing advice, support and a challenging approach through our national co-ordinators, in order to ensure that the powers are used and the strategies are implemented properly. I agree with Duncan McNeil that we should not hesitate to withdraw funding from local authorities that are not making sufficient progress in implementing their antisocial behaviour strategies. Local authorities have a responsibility to their communities and we are committed to supporting those communities. Given the resources and the powers, local authorities must be challenged to ensure that their commitment to making communities safe is taken forward.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Is the minister aware of the answer to parliamentary question S2W-32271 that Robert Brown provided to me on Tuesday this week? The answer states that, although the pilot for parenting orders started on 4 April 2005, no such orders have been made, despite the fact that we are now more than halfway through the three-year pilot period. The minister will recall that during the debate on 2 October 2003—I know that both she and I were present during that debate—Margaret Curran stated:

"We cannot simply ignore the terrible damage that bad parenting can cause."—[Official Report, 2 October 2003; c 2271.]

In the light of Duncan McNeil's criticism of councils for not using the new powers, will she take money away from all the councils in Scotland that have not used the parenting order power that we agonised over, or does the responsibility for the situation lie at the door of the Minister for Justice?

Johann Lamont: The member has the advantage over me, in that I cannot report verbatim Robert Brown's answer to that question. However, I can say that the Executive and I are committed to the use of parenting orders. We have given local authorities the legislative framework and the funding for parenting orders, the need for which was identified by Parliament. Parenting orders are a means not just of dealing with parents who are acting inappropriately—they are not a threat to families—but of supporting families and ensuring that children are protected. We will continue dialogue with local authorities to challenge what seems to be their lack of use of a power. I emphasise that a blanket refusal by any agency to use any of the measures in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 is unacceptable, so we will take action in that regard.

15 March 2007

(S2O-12342) Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (Countryside Access)

2. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West) (Ind): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is satisfied with the implementation of the provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 in respect of access to the countryside. (S2O-12342)
I declare an interest as president of the Ramblers Association Scotland.

Members: Hear, hear.

The Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Sarah Boyack): I am satisfied with the progress that has been achieved in implementing the access provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. However, there will be scope within the wider review of the act, which we have indicated will be undertaken during 2007, to consider any matters relating to the access provisions.

I welcome the appointment of Dennis Canavan to the post that he mentioned. Future ministers will have to listen carefully to his representations.

Dennis Canavan: Is the minister aware of the complaints that have been made about the diversion of access funding, given that local authorities received £29.2 million in access funding up to March last year but spent only £17.4 million on access-related activities? Is she also aware of complaints that have been made that the access code is being breached in some areas, including on Balmoral estate, and that some landowners are challenging the 2003 act in the courts? Will she investigate those complaints and remind local authorities that they have a statutory duty to uphold and facilitate access? Will she remind them that selfish landowners must not be allowed to undermine one of the most radical and progressive pieces of legislation that the Parliament has passed?

Sarah Boyack: Further funding of £8.1 million for 2006-07 and 2007-08 for access-related activity has been made available to local authorities across Scotland in the grant-aided expenditure assessment. That money is not ring fenced, but I hope that local authorities will take seriously their responsibilities to implement the provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

The principles of the act were widely supported, and its provisions have secured wide acceptance in practice. However, I am interested in Dennis Canavan's concerns. I would be concerned if people believe that landowners are ignoring or deliberately breaching the access code. Obviously, I do not want to comment on any court cases, but I point out that the access code was subjected to wide consultation and a lot of discussion and negotiation. The final wording was not reached easily, but local authorities, landowners and groups representing those interested in securing wider access were involved in putting it together. I would be grateful if Dennis Canavan would write to me about any particular examples that I need to be made aware of.

Mr Alasdair Morrison (Western Isles) (Lab): Will the minister provide an update on the latest situation with the Pairc court case, which involves crofters from the Lochs area of Lewis? Those crofters are trying to secure the land that they live on, in spite of the best efforts of an absentee landowner, who is trying to thwart the crofters' legitimate aspirations. That landowner is similar to the landowners to whom President Canavan referred. Furthermore, will the minister outline what the Executive is doing to help to ease the problems that are posed by interposed leases?

The Presiding Officer: The minister must be careful, as sub judice considerations may be involved.

Sarah Boyack: The Scottish Land Court is now considering the Pairc case. A contribution of £16,000 has been received from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is expected that the first substantive hearing will take place in June. Matters are therefore progressing.

On interposed leases, section 35 of the Crofting Reform etc Act 2007 will enable community bodies to purchase any lease with a commercial value over croft land that they wish to purchase under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The provisions of the 2007 act will come into effect in June—I recently announced that crofters will be able to take advantage of the provisions from June. The two acts will work together from that point.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I return to the issue of access. There appeared to be difficulties with the definition of "curtilage" in relation to access. I was among the majority who agreed that "curtilage" should not be defined in the act. In the light of the legal actions that have been taken, is it time for us to reconsider the difficulties that might arise as a result of the lack of a formal legal definition of that word?

Sarah Boyack: As I said, we intend to carry out a wide review of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 in 2007. I do not want to comment on any court cases. If members who were on the committee that examined the 2003 act have specific concerns—I know, from questions that Pauline McNeill has asked me, that concerns exist—we would be keen to hear from them.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): Does the minister agree that the Scottish outdoor access code was intended to be a guide to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 for all matters within that act and that it was not meant to deal with responsible access only, but was meant to deal with what land was accessible? Does she further agree that the spirit of the act was to provide no less access than was previously enjoyed and that there is a danger that Parliament's will when it passed the 2003 act, which was to give wide access, might be undermined by some local authorities and court decisions? Can the minister reassure me that, when the act was passed, it was compliant with the European convention on human rights and that it is still compliant? If she has any concerns about the act not being compliant, will she advise members of that?

Sarah Boyack: The Executive certainly has no concern about the 2003 act not being compliant with the European convention on human rights.

I would be concerned if Pauline McNeill took the view that we are getting less access. That was absolutely not the intention of the act. Again, I say to members that we will review the issue during 2007. It is difficult to discuss this in the chamber, although I know that the bill was debated line by line in detail by the committee. A review is the proper way of assessing the issues.

If members have concerns in the meantime, it would be appropriate for them to contact ministers.

8 February 2007

(S2O-11951) Railways

5. Christine May (Central Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to increase the use of rail for passenger and freight traffic. (S2O-11951)

The Minister for Transport (Tavish Scott): We have recently published our rail policy document "Scotland's Railways" as part of the national transport strategy. The document examines the options for building on the improvements that we have already made to rail services to encourage more people to make the shift from private car to the train and to encourage many more businesses to shift from transporting goods by lorry to moving them by train.

Christine May: The minister may be familiar with some of the products of Diageo, which employs 800 people in my constituency, at Cameron Bridge and Leven. Is he aware that Diageo's recent proposal to consider the viability of reopening the Thornton to Methil rail link to bring goods into and export goods from its plants would result in a significant reduction in road miles and in congestion on the Forth road bridge? Will he ask his officials to brief him on the proposal and on how that might link into the reopening of the passenger line to Levenmouth?

Tavish Scott: I have some understanding of Diageo's products, but I will say no more than that.
I take seriously Christine May's point about the company's desire to move more products by rail. It would be welcome if it made that project happen and expanded the use of rail in place of lorry miles. I assure her that I will ask officials to examine the project closely to see whether our freight facilities grant mechanisms could provide assistance, if that is appropriate to the development of the project. We will examine closely what assistance we can provide.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): As the minister will be aware, there are increasing levels of passenger and freight traffic on the Ayr to Glasgow line and of coal traffic on the line from Hunterston. What plans does he have for those lines in light of the passing of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill, given that GARL will remove freight traffic from the lines in Ayrshire?

Tavish Scott: I will be happy to provide John Scott with further detail on Transport Scotland's current plans for the area. On the development of the part of the rail network to which he referred, he is right to point out that significant advantages will flow from GARL. We hope that GARL will allow better optimisation of the rail track both for passengers and for freight. I will be happy to discuss that further with him.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In the modern world, where much freight is multimodal, connecting rail freight and sea freight is a paramount part of the solution. Is the minister aware of discussions that are taking place to establish a highway of the sea linking Iceland, Shetland, Peterhead and Rosyth? What steps will he take to ensure that appropriate rail links are in place to maximise the benefits of such a development if it goes ahead?

Tavish Scott: Stewart Stevenson makes a good point. I believe that last Friday's highways of the sea conference in Kirkwall—which, unfortunately, I could not attend—was useful in developing some of the practicalities behind that project. He also makes a good point about the need to develop railheads at ports. The ports sector perhaps does not always get enough attention in general transport policy, given what we could achieve with our ports and given how important they are in developing the Scottish economy. We need to ensure that ports are used for business development, especially exports, by ensuring that they provide linkages to both the road and rail networks. I look forward to further development of the highway of the sea project not just for sea freight but potentially—dare I say it—for Arctic oil. One proposal that emerged from the earlier consideration was that Arctic oil could be transhipped in the northern isles, where there is a lot of expertise, as it has been done for the past 30 years or so.

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