The Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill requires strengthening in key areas to deliver on its radical ambitions, according to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE).
The Committee highlights a range of issues in its report on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, including:
- The Bill needs to state clearly that land is a national asset for the benefit of all the people of Scotland and be firmly and explicitly set within the context of international human rights obligations.
- Changes are required to the draft legislation to secure improved transparency about who owns, controls and benefits from land, and the Committee suggests how that might be achieved.
- Steps must be taken to explain more effectively why engagement between landowners, land managers and communities is demanded by the Bill, to ensure that guidance on engagement will not be ignored by any party and make all concerned aware of potential penalties for not adhering to guidance.
- The proposed new right to buy for communities to further sustainable development is welcome but the Committee asks the Government to consider whether the test thresholds are too high and whether communities will be able to make full use of the provisions.
- A call for an intended review into deer management to be brought forward and concluded in time for the Scottish Government to take any required action at the end of 2016.
- The Committee has significant concerns relating to the lack of detailed supporting information concerning the reintroduction of non-domestic business rates for shootings and deer forests. It calls on the Scottish Government to provide a thorough, robust and evidence-based analysis of the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of ending the sporting rates exemption as soon as possible, and certainly before the start of Stage 2, if the Committee is to be in a position to support this part of the Bill.
- Regarding agricultural holdings, the Committee questions whether the Bill can deliver its stated objectives of maintaining or increasing the amount of land available to let and strengthening the rights of tenants and making it easier for them to invest in their tenancies while protecting the rights of landlords.*
- It is vital that, subject to a full consultation, a statutory code of practice for land agents is developed by the Tenant Farming Commissioner and rigorously enforced.
- A call for the Scottish Government to consider options that could give 1991 Act Tenants a right to buy ‘in certain circumstances’.
Convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Rob Gibson MSP said:
“The Committee shares the Government's stated aim of delivering radical land reform and supports many of the measures contained within and general principles of the Bill. But in our view, some parts, as drafted, require more work to deliver their ambitions.
“Key issues - such as improving transparency on who owns, controls and benefits from land, making the rent review process fairer and more transparent; and creating a better environment for investment in holdings by both tenants and landlords - require either further consideration or more detailed explanation. We are asking for greater detail before the Stage One debate at the Scottish Parliament, so the Committee can be clear on what is intended and how it will work."
Mr Gibson continued:
“The Bill has stimulated a huge debate across Scotland about our land and what it means for the country.
"It is important that as the Bill progresses through the parliamentary process members from across the chamber join the Committee and the Government in working to deliver the ambition and clarity most people in Scotland want to see.”
* Alex Fergusson MSP, with agreement of the Committee, dissents from the comments made on the Agricultural holdings and Community Right to Buy parts of the Bill and his views are available as part of the report.
Jim Hume MSP, also with agreement of the Committee, dissents from a section of the Agricultural Holdings part of the Bill relating to a right to buy for 1991 Act tenants.
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE) scrutinises Scottish Government policy proposals relating to rural affairs, climate change and the environment.
In addition to formal evidence sessions at Holyrood, the Committee scrutinised the Land Reform Bill with visits to Orkney, Skye, Islay, Jura, Fife, and the Scottish Borders. They hosted public meetings and heard views and opinions from a range of organisations and people, including estate owners, gamekeepers, policy makers, tenant farmers, environmental experts and community groups. The Committee has also scrutinised Bills on agricultural holdings; crofting; community empowerment and right to buy changes; and long leases during this Parliamentary session.
All media are invited to a photocall launch taking place on 4 December 2014. Details below. Photographs of the event will be available free of charge
Venue: Registers of Scotland, Meadowbank House, 153 London Road Edinburgh EH8 7AU 10:00a.m. on Friday 4th December
Media, including TV cameras and press photographers are invited to attend on Friday 4th December at 1000am as the Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee launches its report on the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill at stage 1.
The venue is Registers of Scotland (RoS), the non-ministerial government department responsible for compiling and maintaining 17 public registers relating to land, property, and other legal documents. ROS’s origins can be traced back to the 13th century, when the first land inventory was housed in Edinburgh Castle. Today it holds the oldest public land register in the world – the General Register of Sasines – which dates back to 1617.
Convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee, Rob Gibson MSP will be joined by
- Members of the RACCE Committee, MSPs Sarah Boyack and Angus Macdonald
- The Convener will briefly introduce the report and its headline recommendations. He will then be available for interview by broadcast media and will take part in photo opportunities. The Convener and Committee members will be photographed with the first land register of Scotland for press. For broadcast, the Convener and Committee members will also search for details of land ownership on ROS’s computer system.
Media should gather at the reception area of Registers of Scotland at 9.45am on Friday 4th December.