The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill continues its swift passage through the parliamentary process. This note briefly summarises the position as of the end of 2015.
The Stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament took place on Wednesday 16th December 2015, and the Scottish Parliament agreed to proceed to stage 2. It is understood that Stage 2 will commence on 20th January 2016.
The Scottish Government’s intention to pass a Land Reform Act before the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections remains.
What are the current issues?
Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee
The Bill received quite a rough ride from the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. In issuing a fairly pointed report, the Committee raised concerns in relation to both human rights issues and also the parliamentary process generally. The Committee was particularly critical of the Government’s failure to provide meaningful information on certain issues and took the view that the Scottish Government’s response to the Stage 1 report was “wholly inadequate”. Concerns remain in relation to the volume of legislation that is to be made by secondary legislation after the bill has been made into law.
Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee
The RACCE Committee generally called for the Government to do more and called on it to deliver the “radical changes needed”. The Committee cited issues such as improving transparency on land ownership and changing the rent review process for agricultural tenancies.
The Sustainable Right to Buy
The RACCE Committee took the view that the criteria for exercising the proposed sustainable right to buy (as set out in the bill) is too high. It is likely that there will be a number of amendments to these provisions during stage 2, resulting in the sustainable right to buy being more easy to exercise.
A general comment has been made in a number of quarters since the Bill was published that the proposals for the reintroduction of non-domestic rates on shootings and deer forests contained very little detail in terms of facts and figures. The RACCE Committee took a similar view and stated that the Government had not yet made a strong enough case for the reintroduction of sporting rates. The Committee called for evidence to be submitted in relation to the effects of the reintroduction.
Agricultural Holdings/Modern Limited Duration Tenancy Assignation
Among the more contentious issues is the Government’s intention to replace the provisions in the bill relating to the conversion of a 1991 Act secure tenancy to a Modern Limited Duration Tenancy. In the context of debate about the options available to retiring farmers with a secure tenancy, it is understood that the Government will propose an “assignation for value” model during Stage 2. It is understood that the right to assign would be limited to “new entrants” and “progressing farmers” and the Landlord will also have the opportunity to purchase the Tenants interest in the Lease.
Absolute Right to Buy?
Discussion about an absolute right to buy has been on and off the table for a number of years and, perhaps not surprisingly in the context of a debate about Land Reform and agricultural holdings legislation, the issue has been raised once again by parliamentarians considering the Bill. The RACCE Committee recommended that the Scottish Government explores options for introducing an absolute right to buy in certain circumstances. It is not known definitively whether the Government will act on this recommendation, although it is certain that the issue will not disappear during Stages 2 and 3.
The Parliamentary timetable is extremely tight and it is likely that there will be much activity in January and February 2016 when Stage 2 is underway. It will be interesting to see whether the Government takes on board the comments which have been made by the relevant Committees on the terms of the Bill – and it will also be interesting to see the effect of proposed amendments from back benchers and opposition MSPs.