Rural Law

Scotch ThistleI attended the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee meeting on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill in Dumfries last night.

The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Committee to question the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen Mcleod and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead, on the provisions of the Bill.

A shorter question and answer session had taken place earlier in the day where members of the public were given the opportunity to raise queries and concerns about the Bill.

Unfortunately, the Cabinet Secretary was unable to attend the events for personal reasons. The Cabinet Secretary will instead be questioned tomorrow at 10am in Edinburgh.

General Comments on the Bill

The meeting began with the Minister introducing the Bill. In particular, the Minister emphasised that the Bill is not the end point for Scottish land reform – there is an ongoing programme of land reform.

Before discussing each part of the Bill, the Committee expressed two concerns about the Bill:

  1. Large parts of the Bill have been left to secondary legislation which will be subject to a lesser degree of parliamentary scrutiny (something that Brodies raised in its response to the call for evidence); and
  2. The structure and wording of the Bill means that it will be difficult for communities and individuals to understand its provisions.

Individual Parts of the Bill

The Committee then questioned the Minister on each part of the Bill in detail. Some of the headline points are summarised below.

Part 3 of the Bill – Information about the proprietors of land

The Minister was questioned about the absence from the Bill of restrictions on the legal entities that can own land in Scotland, a proposal that was included in the Land Reform Review Group’s Report.

Sections 35 and 36 of the Bill appear to be the alternative to the Review Group’s proposal (aimed at obtaining information about owners of land) – the Committee’s concern was that these sections do not go far enough towards creating a transparent system of land ownership. The Minister explained that such a proposal would not in fact increase transparency and so did not meet the policy objective.

The Minister’s legal counsel also noted human rights and EU law implications with the proposal.

Part 4 – Engagement with communities

The Committee explained that the farming community had queried the level of engagement which will be required. For example, would a landowner be required to consult a community before spreading slurry? The Minister simply confirmed that the relevant stakeholders will be consulted and detailed guidance will be provided in due course.

Part 5 – Community right to buy land to further sustainable development

In response to questioning, the Minister confirmed that this form of the right to buy has the potential to apply even where the land is being well managed (though each case will be decided individually).

Part 6 – Removal of exemption from non-domestic rates for shooting and deer forests

After some debate, the Minister advised that the removal of the exemption was based on the principle of fairness (not a revenue raising exercise as was originally stated at the meeting)

Further process

The Cabinet Secretary’s evidence tomorrow will complete the Committee’s evidence taking on the Bill. The Committee will be reporting to Parliament prior to the Stage 1 debate of the bill (early December 2015).

If you have any queries about the Bill or land reform in general, please get in touch with a member of the Brodies’ Land and Rural Business Team.

In addition, we would be delighted to see you at our upcoming Conferences, in Perth on 10 November and in Thainstone on 12 November.

Download further information on registering at the Conferences here.

Kate McLeish