Yesterday in the UK Parliament, the Prime Minister confirmed that he would co-operate with the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to establish “who owns and controls the great landed estates in Scotland, in order that they can minimise both tax avoidance and subsidy milking.”

In a debate following a statement on the recent European Council meeting called to discuss energy policy and tax evasion, Ian Davidson MP, the Chair of the Scottish Affair Committee raised the topic of transparency in landownership in Scotland (Column 1254 Hansard)

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The draft Bill that we produced also had huge amounts of pre-legislative scrutiny. We have to recognise that there will always be civil liberties concerns about this issue, so we should look at how we can start moving the debate on, recognising that there is a block of telephony covered by fixed and mobile telephony that is dealt with. As we move to more internet-based telephony, how are we going to help the police deal with that? We may have to take this in short steps, so that we can take the House with us and listen to concerns about civil liberties, but I am convinced that we have to take some steps, otherwise we will not be doing our job.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the statement from the European Council and the Government, which says that proper information on “who really owns and controls each and every company” will be provided. Will the Government co-operate with the Scottish Affairs Committee in establishing who owns and controls the great landed estates in Scotland, in order that they can minimise both tax avoidance and subsidy milking?

The Prime Minister: That is the intention of this move. Having all countries sign up to an action plan for putting together registers of beneficial ownership by companies and the rest of it will help tax authorities to make sure that people are paying tax appropriately. That is a debate that we are leading at the G8 and in the European Union, and that should apply—we hope—to every country.

This is a topic I raised with the Scottish Government in my evidence to the Land Registration Bill last year in which I argued that we should simply make it incompetent to register a title in the name of any corporate entity incorporated in a tax haven. This was rejected by Fergus Ewing on the basis that it would deter inward investment.

Given that the Land Reform Policy Group has decided to rename itself the Community Ownership Review Group, lets hope that David Cameron and Ian Davidson might be able to advance matters.

 

12 Comments

  1. You could hardly credit it. Ian Davidson and David Cameron about to man the barricades whilst the SNP do bugger all. I despair!

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  2. Perhaps we should not start to hold our breath just yet, or even exhale too deeply in amazement!

    Seems like there is a huge potential let out for Cameron in the two wee words in his answer,
    “- we hope -“

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  3. If transparency in land ownership would deter inward investment then so be it! this is the sort of investment we don’t need because it’s aim is to avoid tax and reduce the cost of ownership in effect reduce the money going into the local economy.

    Seems there are times when SNP stands for Shortsighted Numpties Party!

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  4. Shouldn’t be forgotten that much the most sweeping land reforms ever in the British Isles – those that (by giving Irish tenant farmers a right to buy their farms) eliminated large estates from Ireland – were the work of the UK Tory Party in the decades prior to Irish independence. And the first land reforming legislation in Scotland in modern times (a measure that recently brought West Harris into community ownership) was the Transfer of Crofting Estates Act 1997 – very much the personal work of then Tory Secretary of State, Michael Forsyth. So the land reforming credentials of the Conservative Party are way, way ahead of those of the SNP which has so far introduced no land reform legislation of any kind whatsoever.

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  5. Margaret Gardiner

    If only I could feel sufficient trust in the governments both in Hollyrood and Westminster. I fear they will take the opportunity to grab what little is not privately owned.

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    • The inward investment referred to in this BBC item is not investment in land it’s in industry and other services and is to be welcomed. As Andy has already pointed out jobs on estates are in the main poorly paid, few in number and to a large extent seasonal.

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  6. Lab’s Torquil Crichton is reporting on these if not the land matter.

    As Andy today 5 Jun, via a tweet spotted on polhome here: http://whitehall1212.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/mps-to-launch-who-owns-scotland.html

    And as Andy beforehand on 4 Jun, also seen by me here:
    http://whitehall1212.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/jim-hunter-reads-riot-act-on-land-reform.html

    I’ve put the links here in case Prof Jim wasn’t aware of them and thus there accuracy.

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  7. With the Land Reform Policy Group changing its name to the Community Ownership Review Group, the debate in that corner already appears to over and the current fascination-fixation with the quasi-kibbutzist, neo-tribal version of communality, by via buy out, will continue into attempted implementation. All the lessions of mass participation private landownership in the favourite Fennoscandian, North American and European analogues of the SNP will just be flushed down the statist, centrist toilet.

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  8. Guys,
    There are 3 separate threads in the Herald today, that would allow us to take the case to a wider public audience.

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  9. I had a quick rummage to see what the spark for this was and this resource on the European Council website seems to be it: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/tax_fraud_evasion/index_en.htm Given corporate law’s reserved status under the Scotland Act 1998 and the huge European element to company law, there is an argument that the UK/EU level is the appropriate level to be doing things. If that happens to shine a light on the companies and other entities owning land in Scotland, that is a [happy] by-product and the argument might go that there will be no (or less) deterrence to inward investment in Scotland if measures are Europe wide.

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    • Indeed. I shall put the full link as it helps. You are right that company law is reserved and so Westminster is appropriate locus. But trust law is not reserved so look forward to Scottish Govt’s response. The big difference between Prime Minister’s response and Scottish Government is that PM has promised to act. Scottish Government had opportunity last year to do something in Land Registration Bill and refused.

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