The Scottish Government has just published its response to the Stage 1 Report (PDF) to the Stage 1 Report of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. This gives a fair idea of the Government’s direction of travel for any amendments to the Bill. Bearing in mind the parliamentary maths at Holyrood, and assuming the SNP MSPs hold tight on land reform policy, this in turn gives a fair idea of how the Bill will ultimately shape up.
Some instant thoughts from me follow.
As already indicated in the Chamber at Holyrood (see the exchange between Angus MacDonald and Aileen McLeod in the Official Report and on video (beginning 57 minutes in)) the Government has taken on the recommendation that one of the Commissioners of the proposed Scottish Land Commission has a knowledge of Scots Gaelic (see paragraphs 76-78 of the response). As people who follow this blog will know, this was one of the two recommendations that I made that appeared in the RACCE Committee report.
The second of those recommendations has not received such an enthusiastic response, with the Government not committing to any amendment that might lead to Local Access Forums having a dispute resolution role for access taker disputes (see paragraphs 236-240).
Moving the focus from me to the recommendations of my academic lawyer colleagues at the University of Glasgow, the concerns raised by Jill Robbie and others on the structure of the Bill are not shared by Government. (See in particular paragraph 19: “We do not consider that any significant change is needed to the structure of the Bill, and we consider that the time allocated for amending the Bill at Stages 2 & 3 would be better devoted to strengthening the substance of the provisions in the Bill.”)
A recurring point of discussion in the current land reform debate is that of transparency of landownership. Of interest in this most recent publication is the fact that the Government holds the line that restricting land ownership to natural persons or EU entities “would be outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament” (at paragraph 124). There is a nice debate to be had around that point, and you can see some debate at paragraphs 125-126. I would like to see more legal discussion on the point, but I appreciate that is maybe just me. Those interested in a bit more law can find some here, in the shape of a response to an earlier consultation by the law firm Balfour+Manson LLP.
The Government response also highlights some concerns about the European Convention on Human Rights and its framework for a home and private/family life. Like EU law, that is another matter that constrains Holyrood’s law-making power. Clearly, there are issues to do with the unintended consequences a commitment to transparency would bring, particularly in terms of personal data being made available. One thought about the right to a home springs to mind: might there be scope for two registration routes to the Land Register, depending on whether you are applying to register a family home or not? What I am imagining is a situation where someone who applies to register land is asked in the application documentation a question like “is this land to be your home?” Those answering “no” could then be subject to appropriate follow-on questions. This is not a fully-formed idea and there would clearly be discussion about what a “home” is, but this might provide a route for assuaging any Article 8 ECHR concerns by avoiding the need for a big disclosure when you are demonstrably acquiring a family home.
Two final thoughts. First, it now seems that the community right to buy to further sustainable development will not be subject to major revision from the form in which it appears in the Bill: for example, there will be no Government move towards allowing a community of interest (rather than a community of place) to benefit from this right (paragraph 173). Second, the RACCE Committee asked for more detail and consideration in relation to Part 6 of the Bill, entitled “Entry in valuation roll of shootings and deer forests”. At paragraph 190, the Governement “welcomes the opportunity to reiterate and expand upon points made in our evidence to the Committee to date and in the accompanying documents to the Bill.” It then proceeds to do so in paragraphs 191-206. From this level of detail, I think it is fair to deduce that the Government is digging its heels in rather than about-turning on the issue of sporting rates reform.
What now? We wait to see what amendments are actually brought forward. Calum MacLeod published a blog about that.