Reform bill is ‘missed opportunity’

Members of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at the Land Reform Bill Stage 1 report launch
Members of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at the Land Reform Bill Stage 1 report launch

The Stage 1 report from a Scottish Parliamentary Committee on the Land Reform Bill has been dismissed as a ‘missed opportunity’ by MSP Alex Fergusson.

His comments follow the publication of the report by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE) who want to make the Bill more radical.

The committee stressed the Bill should be “bold in its ambition and clear in its purpose” adding that it “needs to deliver a rebalancing of the rights of people and property, and to tackle the current unhealthy balance of power, so that everyone in Scotland can have an improved relationship with, and connection to, the land on which they live and work.”

The Bill is made up of ten parts and examines issues such as transparency of land ownership, the relationship between landowners and tenant farmers and the reintroduction of sporting rates.

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Alex Fergusson said: “Given that the Scottish Government has an in built majority on the committee, this report is remarkably critical of the Bill as it was laid before Parliament.

“While there are aspects we can all agree on such as transparency of ownership, too much detail has been left to future secondary legislation for us to be sure of the impact of some of the measures within it.

“That has made scrutiny of the proposals – which is the primary role of the committee – extremely difficult.

“Nowhere is that more obvious than with the proposals to reintroduce sporting rates, about which the Government clearly has carried out no analysis into how they will be implemented, how much they will raise and how much it will cost to implement and collect.

“Where the Bill becomes really unstuck, however, is in Part 10, Agricultural Holdings.

“There are two stated aims, namely to create a vibrant tenanted sector and an environment that encourages people who have land to let to do so.

“Those are laudable aims, but I am convinced that this Bill cannot and will not achieve those twin aims, however much it may be amended at Stage 2.

“However, there is now a real desire amongst all stakeholders, landowners and tenants, to achieve a long term sustainable solution bringing mutual trust back into the landlord/tenant relationship and ensuring that the Scottish tenanted sector is truly reinvigorated.

“The only way to achieve that is to withdraw this part of the Bill and facilitate that debate; the time is right for that debate and there is a genuine desire to hold it.”

However, rural affairs committee convenor Rob Gibson said MSPs support many of the measures in the Bill.

But he added: “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 and making the rent review process fairer and more transparent, require either further consideration or more detailed explanation.”