The Scottish Government published its Programme for Government for 2023-2024 on 5 September. See here for the summary of the Programme for Government published by our Government, Regulation and Competition colleagues.
"Equality, Opportunity, Community" sets out the Scottish Government's priorities over the coming year, including the legislation which it intends to introduce in Parliament. Of the 14 Bills mentioned, two of them relate directly to the rural sector - agriculture and land reform.
The Bill will follow the Scottish Government's consultation "Delivering our Vision for Scottish Agriculture" which closed on 5 December 2022. A key aspect of the consultation was the future payment framework for supporting agriculture in Scotland from 2025 onwards. The Programme does not contain any detail on the intended framework but makes reference to the whole farm plan, a new approach to advice and support and enhanced conditional support measures (ie that payments will be conditional on essential standards being met to ensure appropriate activity and outcomes)
The Bill will follow the Scottish Government's consultation "Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation" which closed on 30 October 2022. It is anticipated that the Bill will set out a number of measures aimed at diversifying landownership. These measures will apply to "large scale landholdings" and a key challenge for the Bill will be defining such landholdings. Whilst the consultation proposed that one criterion would be scale of more than 3,000 hectares, MSP Mercedes Villalba put forward a Member's Bill (the consultation closed on 13 September 2023) which referred to a limit of 500 hectares.
Again, the Programme contains limited detail on what we can expect in the Bill, but it did confirm that any proposed reforms to agricultural tenancies will be contained in the Land Reform Bill (and not the Agriculture Bill as previously indicated – see here).
Other Legislative Reform
In addition to the introduction of legislation on land reform and agriculture, the Programme sets out the Scottish Government's intention to consider proposals for reform in relation to crofting (but does not commit to the introduction of a Bill) and to implement the recommendations of the Werrity Review through the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill (which is currently at Stage 1 of the parliamentary process).
We will be following the Scottish Government's proposed reforms closely over the coming year and providing commentary on the potential implications for rural businesses and landholdings across Scotland.