Turcan Connell, in conjunction with The Scotsman, hosted a Land Reform breakfast seminar in Edinburgh on Tuesday 3rd November. Speaking at the event was John Glen of Buccleuch Estates and Peter Peacock, representing Community Land Scotland. For Turcan Connell, Partner Grierson Dunlop spoke on the ‘legislative process and the issues on the ground’.
During his speech, Grierson commented that the SNP conference call for the Bill to go further would not materially affect its final shape as the Scottish Government has said it wants to pass the Bill in the Spring before the Parliament breaks ahead of the May 2016 election. He commented; “Despite calls for deeper land reform, it is unlikely pressure on the Government will have any effect given the pressure of timescales and desire to legislate in this parliamentary term.”
However, he warned the Bill would be subject to MSP’s amendments at Stage 3 (when it comes before the full Scottish Parliament) and added: “The three-stage process is designed to produce robust and competent legislation but there is still considerable work to be done. Rushed legislation is not the best legislation.”
Grierson expected secondary or subordinate legislation to follow in the next Parliament and warned: “Even when the Bill comes into force, much of its application will be uncertain, which makes it difficult to plan ahead. It is unsatisfactory not knowing exactly what the law will be when the Bill has passed because there is so much to flesh out”. He called on the Government to set out the shape of the final Bill “comprehensively, clearly and definitively”.
Additionally, Grierson noted that the Scottish Land Commission (SLC) was a positive development but voiced concerns about several other elements of the Bill, including “nebulous wording” and the community right to buy to further “sustainable development”. He said: “The majority of landowners do not stand in the way of development and we need to be careful about making general law based on specific and isolated problems.”
In conclusion, Grierson outlined that he found it “hard to see how this sustainable development test will operate without recourse to the courts” and thought some of the agricultural holdings aspects of the Bill were “bad for landlords and tenants alike” and should have been dealt with as separate legislation. He concluded: “Holyrood needs to produce legislation which is clear and workable. We do not want further expense, uncertainty and dissatisfaction. If the legislation is not properly scrutinised, and thought-through, the only winners will be lawyers – and I take no pleasure in that."