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Land Ownership

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take steps to set up a register of land ownership in Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent revelations by John McEwan, which show that huge estates are still owned by people such as the former hon. Member for Edinburgh, North, with more than 250,000 acres, which make even the 7,000 acres owned by the present hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) look modest? In view of the need for increased production and efficiency in agriculture and forestry, is it not time that we set up an official land register with a view to taking all land into public ownership for the good of the community?

Mr. McEwan's book contains an estimate of the acreage owned by some large landowners in Scotland. It deals with a small number of landowners and it was compiled from information that was available no later than 1970. I recognise the valuable work that Mr. McEwan has put into his book. The cost of compiling a land register of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend would be prohibitive.

Is it not true that until a change was made in the making up of the valuation role all the farms were listed with their ownerships?

While the Minister is considering Scottish land resources, will he also look into the possibility of instituting a detailed Scottish land use survey? Is he aware of the Civic Trust report on urban waste land and the enormous wasted resources that that report showed? Will he implement its findings?

I cannot say whether we are prepared to introduce a land use survey at this stage. There is a committee of inquiry into the use, acquisition and occupancy of agricultural land in Scotland. The committee of inquiry is likely to take between six and nine months to report. We shall wait to see what it has to say.

Does the Minister agree that the vast majority of land management in Scotland is extremely well done? Is he aware that apart from the SNP no one seems to find it difficult to discover who owns land? Does he agree that a land register of the kind suggested would be a costly waste of public money?

I said that a land ownership register would be costly. Whether it would be a waste of public money is debatable. I can understand the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) being incensed at the Scottish National Party. I find it difficult to hear them complaining about foreigners going to Scotland to buy land when one of their most well-known members in Scotland goes abroad to buy islands in the sun.