Scottish government to bring forward land reform legislation "before the end of current parliament"

Out-Law News | 11 Jun 2014 | 11:23 am | 2 min. read

New land reform legislation, to be introduced to the Scottish parliament before the end of its current session, will "take forward the direction of travel" set out in a recent report on the need for reform, Scotland's environment and climate change minister has announced.

Addressing the Community Land Scotland conference in Skye, Paul Wheelhouse said that the new Land Reform Bill would be introduced "in addition to a series of measures already announced by the Scottish government in response to the report". However, he did not address many of the Land Reform Review Group's more controversial proposals, including a ban on ownership of Scottish land by non-EU entities and a cap on the amount of land that could be held by any one landowner.

"The Review Group's report was a major milestone in taking forward Scotland's land reform journey and I welcome its vision and the significant contribution the report makes to the debate in Scotland," he said. "Over the coming weeks and months the Scottish government, Scottish parliament and Scottish society will have time to consider the report."

"By bringing forward a Land Reform Bill, before the end of the current term of the Scottish Parliament, we will take forward the direction of travel laid out in the report. The Bill will be another significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland. My vision, and that of my colleagues, for Scotland is for a fairer, wider and more equitable distribution of land across our nation, where communities and individuals have access to land, and the Land Reform Bill will enable much of this to happen," he said.

Wheelhouse also announced that the Scottish Land Fund, which helps communities to purchase land, would be extended and run until at least 2020.

The Land Reform Review Group, a group of property law experts and academics, was set up by the Scottish government in 2012 to consider ways to strengthen the relationship between communities and land ownership. Its final report, published last month, set out 62 potential changes to the current arrangements governing the possession or use of Scottish land which were "reforms in the public interest which promote the common good".

Commenting as the report was published, property law expert Alan Cook of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that many of the group's recommendations were "more likely to form part of a broad base for policy debate rather than a specific agenda for legislative change".

"The report proposes a variety of mechanisms to extend the diversity of land ownership within Scotland, but I suspect that much of this would hit significant difficulties with the 'right to property' enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights," he said.

Wheelhouse said that some of the review group's recommendations were already being acted on by the Scottish government. As previously announced, Registers of Scotland has been asked to make preparations to complete the Land Register within ten years with a target to register public land in the first five years; while a Crofting Legislation Stakeholder Consultation Group has been set up to develop a "modern and robust statutory framework" for crofting, he said.

In addition, a Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill will be introduced to the Scottish parliament in the near future, Wheelhouse said. This new bill will include measures to improve the ability of communities to buy land, he said.