Stronger Bill ‘essential’ to delivering ambitious land reform, says Holyrood committee

Rob Gibson MSP
Rob Gibson MSP

The Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill requires strengthening in key areas to deliver on its radical ambitions, according to MSPs.

A report by the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee (RACCE) said changes are required to the draft legislation to improve transparency about who owns, controls and benefits from land, and it urged the Scottish Government to consider whether communities will be able to make full use of proposed right to buy provisions.

Issues in the report include:

  • 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.
  • 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 added: “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.”

    David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said the committee had made a “very important intervention” on some topics, but voiced fears about making the Bill “more radical”.

    He said: “The Land Reform Bill, as it stands, will have far-reaching and detrimental consequences for land-based businesses across Scotland, which employ many thousands of people and make a major social, economic and environmental contribution to rural communities.

    “There has been so much rhetoric surrounding the Bill that has been about ‘righting historic wrongs’ or ‘giving lairds a bashing’, that many landowners fear the Bill could be in danger of becoming more about inflicting punitive measures on landowners rather than about meaningful reform to benefit all.

    “We wholeheartedly agree that Scotland’s land should be used for the benefit of the many and believe that both private and community ownership have an important role in delivering that benefit. We will continue to work constructively with the Scottish Government and parliamentarians to achieve that objective and appeal for the contribution of land-based businesses to be recognised during the remainder of the parliamentary process.”

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