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.

Stewart Stevenson
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