Land reform debate reignited in parliament after land ownership consultation launched


Parliament’s land reform debate kicks off again with action needed on tax haven ownership

PRESSURE TO PURSUE truly radical change to Scotland’s land ownership system has re-emerged at the new Holyrood parliamentary session. 

Campaigners have run a two year long ‘Our Land’ campaign, supporting an end to tax haven registration that covers an estimated 750,000 acres in Scotland. 

The Land Reform Act 2016 was passed in March amid a focused campaign to confront the centuries of land ownership inequalities that remain rampant across Scotland.

Gordon MacDonald MSP asked the Scottish Government “what progress it is making toward compiling an open, transparent and comprehensive land register.”

Roseanna Cunningham, cabinet secretary for environment, climate change & land reform, replied: “The land register held by the Registers of Scotland has been operational since 1981. In May 2014 the government invited the keeper of the registers of Scotland to complete the land register by 2024, with all public land being registered by 2019.”

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“Work is well under way to meet these targets. On 11 September we launched our consultation on proposals to register controlling interests of land owners and tenants. That arises out of the land reform legislation passed by this parliament earlier this year.

“Regulations taken forward in the public consultation will help communities and the wider public to know and understand more about the people who control landowners tenants in Scotland.”

The new consultation on a register of controlling interests, follows a previous consultation when the public backed banning tax haven land ownership outside the EU outright. 

Campaigners, the land reform committee, and MSPs pressed the government to establish a register – which will seek to unravel the legal maze which makes it difficult to establish who owns land. 

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The lack of transparency has caused problems for organisations as diverse as Police Scotland to local developers. 

Labour spokesperson Lewis MacDonald MSP also pressed for further action on land reform, as the act is brought into operation.

He asked: “Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the holy grail of land reform must be a fully open and transparent land register? To me that means no front companies, no shell PLCs, and no multinational tax havens registered in Panama.

“The history of land reform in the Highlands and Islands is littered with examples of abuse of power and privilege. Now’s the time to open a fresh page on land reform.”

Green MSP Andy Wightman has said he will seek to persuade parliament to pass another Land Reform Bill in the course of the current five year parliament. 

Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV

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