The much anticipated Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 23 June 2015. Plenty has been written about it already, with analysis by:
Brian Wilson; and
(for the landowners) Scottish Land and Estates
I published a few tweets to give my instant reaction (starting here).
All of this gives a flavour of the views on the proposed legislation, which it should be noted is: a) separate to the recent Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act; and b) bound to pass though Holyrood, as only the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party are likely to vote against or abstain when it comes to a vote. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish National Party will, in all likelihood, line up behind this legislation, so the important thing for Parliament and commentators to do now is ensure what gets passed is a workable and fit-for-purpose scheme.
For those who have been following the debate, there are no particular surprises in the Bill, but is notable that succession is not included. The rules of inheritance – which can have a definite land reform effect (per my previous blog) – are being dealt with separately. (For information, the Scottish Government is proceeding on the basis ‘rights in succession should no longer depend on the type of property‘, so the distinction between land and moveable property when it comes to a general freedom of testation looks doomed.) Also of note is the inclusion of agricultural holdings in a bill that is headed ‘land reform’: arguments that the reform of landlord and tenant law as it applies to rural land should not be under an umbrella of land reform have not found favour. In fact, the most detailed provisions in the Bill are on agricultural holdings and the new modern limited duration tenancy. Those detailed provisions deserve detailed consideration: forgive me for not providing that here.
A call for evidence has been issued by the relevant Holyrood Committee, with a deadline of 14 August 2015. In terms of what I intend to mention in my own response, my key point will be about the rules (or lack thereof) about ownership of land by non-EU entities.
Clause 35 of the Bill, headed ‘Right of access to information on persons in control of land’, allows for regulations to be made about transparency and provide for ‘civil penalties and offences’ for non-compliance. Whilst this is an innovation on the law as it stands, nothing the Scottish Parliament does can make (for example) a Delaware registered company more transparent. As such, how effective these provisions are will turn on how stringent and police-able the regulations are. Arguably, a clean ECHR and EU law compliant prohibition on non-EU entitites owning land, as the Land Reform Review Group suggested, should also form part of the package.
I will make a fleshed out version of that point and one or two other points in my submission to the call for evidence (the rules about intervention to further sustainable development in Part 5 of the Bill being a prime candidate for further analysis), but all of that is for another day. When that day comes, I will publish my response on this blog. As ever, feel free to share any of your own thoughts in the comments below.