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White Paper on Land Reform

This short article on the government’s proposed Land Reform Bill first appeared in the April 2000 Issue of the Bulletin of the Scottish Land Reform Convention.


bulletThe Process
bulletOutline Timetable
bulletBill’s Contents
bulletSome Recent Changes
bulletClose Scrutiny
bulletWho Decides What is Responsible Access?
bulletThe Community-Right-to-Buy could turn out to be a Pig-in-a-Poke
bulletFurther Information

The Process

The land reform White Paper published in July last year was the first stage in the lengthy legislative process which involves the production of a draft bill, a final bill, committee and parliamentary debate, and finally Royal assent. The speculative time outlined below gives some idea of how long the whole process might take.

Outline Timetable

This timetable is speculative and based on the performance of the Parliament to date.

Early May 2000 Draft Bill published for pre-legislative scrutiny
Late June 2000 Consultation period ends
September/October 2000 Bill introduced to Parliament
November 2000 Stage 1: Committee Hearings
January 2001 Stage 1: Debate
February/March 2001 Stage 2: Committee Hearings
April 2001 Final Debate
June 2001 Royal Assent

Bill’s Contents

Sometime during April or May the Scottish Executive will be publishing its draft Land Reform bill containing measures to provide a community right-to-buy, a crofting right-to-buy, and a right of responsible access to land. The content of this bill will be based upon the proposals outlined in the White Paper (available from the Scottish Executive Land reform Branch, Tel: 0131 244 6395 or from the Internet at www.scotland.gov.uk/library2/doc01/lrpl-01.htm).

Some Recent Changes

In response to public consultation on these proposals, Jim Wallace, the Minister for Justice, announced in Parliament on 24 November 1999 several changes to Government thinking on the provisions of community right-to-but. Importantly, the Minister also announced that plans to give crofting communities the right-to-buy would be brought forward and included within the forthcoming bill. Details of the Minister’s statement can be found in the Official report of the Scottish Parliament Volume 3 No9 Col.847.

Close Scrutiny

The bill will be closely scrutinised both by those who think it inadequate and by those who think that such measures should never have been introduced in the first place. The implications of the bill are difficult to predict and much depends on the detail.

Who Decides What is Responsible Access?

On the access side fears have been raised by landowners that greater access freedoms will damage land-based industries. Others have argued that by tying access to a code of responsible conduct, access rights will actually be reduced (no-one is arguing for an irresponsible right of access – but much hinges on what is deemed to be responsible).

The Community-Right-to-Buy could turn out to be a Pig-in-a-Poke

In terms of the right-to-buy, crofters may make early use of it, since it will be an absolute right for them to exercise at any point in time, but non-crofting communities may find the whole process irrelevant to their needs. Under the community right-to-buy, as things stand at present (the draft bill might be different), land can only be bought when it comes on the market and can only be bought in lots which are offered for sale. The necessity to register interests in land in advance then wait till it comes on the market (perhaps fifty or more years), and then to subsequently discover that you have to buy 10,000 acres instead of the ten which you want might constrain the ability of the legislation to make much of a difference. Vitally, however, everything depends on the detail.

Further Information

The Scottish Land Reform Convention is an independent civic forum established by the Scottish Civic Assembly and guided in its work by the four core principles of sovereignty and democracy, social justice and stewardship.

The Convention can be contacted through Lynsey Dingwall at lynsey@cosla.gov.uk or Allan Watt at allan@cosla.gov.uk. The Convention has a mailing list and archives of associated files that can be accessed through subscribing to Majordomo@landreformconvention.org.uk