Day One: Stage Two Land Reform Bill

Yesterday the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee debated amendments to the Land Reform Bill. In the summer the RACCE Committee toured the country seeking evidence from communities and stakeholders. We had a huge response to our call for evidence which the Committee considered in our Stage One Report which we debated in the Parliament before Christmas.

Ministers have been keen to listen to and respond to members of the committee’s views and suggestions for changes to the bill. In the first week back we received the Scottish Government’s official response to our Stage One report and had a private meeting with Ministers the next day. That was helpful to RACCE members but made it hard for people who commented on the bill months ago to keep up with the changing position taken by ministers.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking alongside my Labour colleague Claudia Beamish about amendments we could make to the bill to strengthen it and make sure it would be the transformative legislation we wanted.

Key issues are: transparency about who owns land, both as a point of principle, but also to enable communities and those with a potential interest in how land is managed to be able to communicate with owners, and the new Land Commission. We’ve also been seeking a stronger statement on the face of the bill to set out the purpose of land reform in terms of human rights, equalities, diversity of land ownership, community resilience, and sustainable development. That’s essential to underpin the future effectiveness of the right to buy provisions which are a key purpose of the legislation. Transparency on the Land Responsibilities and Rights Statement, and the new Land Commission’s powers are important so that stakeholders and communities are involved in the process from the start. We’re also keen to see more use made of cooperative ownership structures for community land buy outs and believe there’s an opportunity Cooperative Development Scotland involved in giving advice to local groups in rural and urban communities.

Because the committee has been drip fed the Scottish Government’s changing positions on key elements of the Bill it has been difficult for land reform supporters and campaigners to follow the detail of the Scottish Government’s policy position. It was important therefore that as Opposition members we were able to get clarity on the Scottish Government’s position on the Official Report. Given the huge public interest in this Bill I was particularly keen to get on the record our support for substantial changes to ensure the Bill lives up to the aspirations we have for tackling inequality and making better use of our land in the interests of communities. As a result of our pressure significant amendments were made to the Bill which will strengthen its purpose and to increase transparency.

The key debate was on the issue of increasing transparency on ownership. As Labour members we were keen to see amendments approved which would have required registration of land ownership to be clear through using the vehicle of EU entities but the SNP, Tory and Lib Dem members voted this down.  The Committee did however unanimously pass an amendment which significantly strengthens the bill by introducing a register of “persons of significant control” who own large parts of Scotland.

We will continue to press SNP Ministers for changes to be made in advance of the Parliament’s Stage 3 consideration of bill and will take the opportunity to discuss detailed amendments with ministers where there are areas we can agree on.  The next 3 weeks will see the RACCE committee continue to work its way through Stage Two discussions on amendments to the bill.

You can read the Official Report of our discussions here.