The land illustrated above (Midmar Paddock on the eastern slopes of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh) is currently for sale via Strutt & Parker (sales brochure here – 925kb pdf).
The reason for publishing this blog is to ask “who owns this land? Does anyone know?
Strutt and Parker refuse to divulge the answer.
The land is not registered in the Land Register but deeds are probably recorded in the Register of Sasines but it will probably cost around £50 and 1-2 days work to find out the answer there. I have neither.
So I thought I might ask you. Can anyone help?
The map below shows the location.
Improving access to information on land forms part of the Scottish Government proposals for land reform. See Briefing (1.7Mb pdf).
I have now determined the ownership of the Midmar Paddock. The Register of Sasines Search Sheet can be found at the foot of this text for those who are interested to see how land transactions were recorded prior to the Land Register which has been in operation in Midlothian (the old county including Edinburgh) since 1 April 2001.
1923 John Gordon of Cluny sells 18.6 acres (Midmar Paddock and allotments to the north) to Alexander Grant.
In 1938 the land is transferred to the Trustees of Sir Alexander Grant, 15 Hermitage Drive, Managing Director of McVitie & Price, Biscuit Manufacturers, Edinburgh & London.
1954 Allotments area conveyed by Trustees to Graeme Ellizabeth Laing. Midmar Paddock remains with Trustees.
1958 Midmar Paddock conveyed to beneficiaries of Trust – Hector Laing, Alexander Grant Laing and Robert Douglas Grant Laing.
1973 Hector conveys his ⅓ interest to Trustees for Anthony Rupert Laing
1973 Alexander conveys his ⅓ share to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.
1973 Allotments area conveyed by Graeme E Laing to Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing.
1983 Trustees of Anthony convey their ⅓ share to Anthony.
1993 Robert conveys his ⅓ share to Nettling Properties Ltd.
1999 Nettling Properties conveys its ⅓ share to Flagstaff Properties Ltd (Turks and Caicos Islands).
2011 Flagstaff Properties Ltd. conveys its ⅓ share to Midmar Properties Ltd.
28 November 2014 Trustees of Alexander G Laing conveys allotments site to Blackford Hill Ltd.
This means that:-
The allotments site to the north is owned by Blackford Hill Ltd.
Midmar Paddock (the site currently for sale) is owned by :-
Anthony Rupert Laing, Coulmony House, Morayshire Trustees of Alexander Grant Laing Midmar Properties Ltd.
Blackford Hill Ltd. is a company registered in Scotland No. SC466028 with its registered office at Logie Estate Office, Logie, Forres, IV36 2QN (see here for details of shareholders).
Midmar Properties Ltd. is not a registered company in the UK and is probably incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Interestingly, what this reveals is that the 2003 Tree Preservation Order referred to by Robin in comments names only one of the three joint owners. Additionally, the link to the Local Development Plan response provided by Dave Leslie in comments reflects the views of only one of the three co-owners (Trustees of AG Laing). It also contains a useful map showing the two separate ownerships (though not the up to date owners) and interesting insights into why the owners are wishing to sell the land.
Over the past 20 years, I have uncovered many examples of areas of common land across Scotland – remnants of commonties, greens, loans and the like. Unfortunately, little is being done to protect them from land-grabs by an assortment of avaricious individuals. If such claims go without challenge, a legally watertight title can be obtained. Such claims are open to challenge but there are three key difficulties.
Firstly, local knowledge of common land rights is often limited and the institutions don’t exist to maintain awareness and prompt action. This contrasts with the situation in England and Wales where there is a well-developed framework of law. (1)
Secondly, there is often no title for common land, leaving it open for land-grabbing.
And thirdly, where such land-grabs take place, there is no way that local people can know about it. Despite claims being lodged in a public register (the Register of Sasines or Land Register), no local publicity attends the lodging of documents with the Registers of Scotland by solicitors via DX Mail. Thus the only way one could stay abreast of any such developments would to spend thousands of pounds per day searching the registers every day all year round just in case someone had submitted a title claim.
For example, in the course of research for my book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, I found a number of examples of such grabs. One, which I have yet to fully document, involved the appropriation of 393 acres of commonty in Perthshire in 1986 by three landowners whose agent (the solicitor), according to a note in the Register of Sasines was “aware that granters apparently only have title to rights in pasturage in xxxx commonty.” The local community was not consulted and today, many locals are angry that a valuable part of their heritage was stolen from under their noses.
Which brings me to the subject of this blog.
Ancrum Common consists of three parcels of land extending to 35 acres in total to the west of the village of Ancrum in Roxburghshire. The lands have been subject to a long history of communal use and there is no evidence that there is any title held by any private interest over the common. In recent years, however, the land has become the subject of dispute although much of what has happened has only very recently become known to the residents of Ancrum.
In 1988 a company called Cranelg Ltd. recorded an a non domino (2) deed in the Register of Sasines. Cranelg Ltd. had two Directors, a Mr Nicholas W Cranston and a Mr William F Elgin (a Chartered Accountant). According to sources, this company specialised in land-grabbing. The company was wound up in 1998.
In 2001, Mr James George Montagu Douglas Scott, the owner of Kirklands Estate, Ancrum then recorded another a non domino deed in which he disponed the Common from himself in favour of himself. In a Court of Session ruling in the case of Aberdeen College v. Youngson  CSOH13, it was found that such a deed from a person to themselves was invalid. (3)
Finally, in May 2006, Mr Scott conveyed Ancrum Common via an a non domino disposition to his spouse, Sophie Mary Montagu Douglas Scott. And here matter rested until discovered by local residents in the past two years. There is now a quiet fury that the Common has been stolen.
I have found no evidence that Mr Scott has any legitimate claim of ownership of Ancrum Common. I spoke to him at length on the phone and he claimed that the land belonged to him but was unable to provide any account of why this was or to provide any evidence. At one point he claimed, “Listen, I don’t know what I’m talking about. You need to speak to my lawyers – Anderson Strathern. It was they who suggested I do this.”
Understandably, Anderson Strathern was unwilling to discuss its client’s legal affairs.
Evidence that has been uncovered suggests that there was a title to the Common in the name of the Feuars of Ancrum. In the Inland Revenue Survey of landownership in Great Britain and Ireland conducted in 1910 under Section 26(1) of Lloyd George’s Finance (1909-10) Act, the land is noted as being owned and occupied by the Feuars of Ancrum (see images below).
Further research is underway.
Image: Map extract from 1910 Inland Revenue Survey. Part of Ancrum Common (Parcel No. 200)
Image: Extract from IRS Survey Field Book for Parcel 200 (Ancrum Common)
Meanwhile, a Public Meeting has been organised for 7pm on 15 October 2014 in Ancrum Village Hall.
For legal reasons no comments will be allowed on this blog.
(1) See for example a recent dispute over Garway Common in Herefordshire
(2) An a non domino deed is a disposition (transfer of land) literally “from one who is not the owner”. Professors George Gretton and Ken Reid describe the circumstances in which this used as follows.
“It sometimes happens that someone notices that a piece of ground is unoccupied and apparently abandoned. Using prescription, it is possible to acquire ownership. What happens is that the person gets a friend to grant to him a gratuitous disposition of the land and the disposition is recorded..”
Among the recommendations of the LRRG are that more effort should be made to complete the Land Register and that patterns of rural landownership should be mapped and better understood. In response to publication of the report, the Scottish Government announced that it had asked the Registers of Scotland to complete the coverage of privately-owned land in the Land Register within 10 years and public land within 5 years.
The Registers of Scotland has launched a consultation on how it might meet this aspiration using the existing statutory powers contained in the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 which comes into force in December this year.
Currently 26% of land in Scotland is registered in the Land Register (see map below) with the remainder being still registered in the older Register of Sasines. (1) Currently as land changes ownership, it moves onto the Land Register. The Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 introduces new triggers and the LRRG recommended that there be further ones.
This blog examines the wisdom and desirability of the ten-year target and whether alternative means might be more useful in fulfilling the recommendations of the LRRG and the aspirations of Scottish Ministers.
It is important to understand the difference between the Register of Sasines and the Land Register.
The Register of Sasines is a register of deeds – bits of paper that record legal agreements to sell land, to raise a standard security over land, to lease land etc. It was established in 1617. The Keeper’s responsibilities are to record such deeds so as to provide a means by which the interests they represent can be legally enforced and defended.
Being a register of deeds means that in order to find out who owns a parcel of land, these deeds have to be read and interpreted. This can be a laborious process. There are usually no plans associated with the deeds. If there are, they can often be a black & white copy of a plan showing the “lands delineated in pink”.
In 1979, this register was replaced by the Land Register which provides a state-guaranteed title together with a definitive map. The Keeper undertakes a once-and-for-all search to determine the title to land. She then issues a land certificate containing details of ownership and a detailed plan based on Ordnance Survey mapping (see example here of Stirling Castle – title & plan). She also provides a state guarantee of the title and is liable to indemnify the owner if any mistakes subsequently come to light. A Land Certificate is is the gold-standard in defining and defending property rights. Given the choice, everyone would want one.
But Scotland’s landownership history is complicated and to generate a Land Certificate involves a painstaking check over all the prior deeds to establish what land exactly is contained within the title, what was sold in the past, what rights might be held by others over the land (such as servitudes for access to other land) and the precise boundaries of the land. This is often straightforward in property developed in the recent past but for land the forms part of very old estates or larger holdings that have a complex history of land transactions, it is time-consuming work. This is why, in many cases it can take years to generate a title.
The other fact to appreciate is that the Registers of Scotland is an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government and is self-funding. It receives no public funds from Parliament and, instead, finances its operations entirely from the fees paid to record deeds and titles and, to a lesser extend from search fees and consultancy work.
Is ten years realistic?
So would it be possible to complete the Land Register within 10 years?
My initial reaction to the Scottish Government’s aspiration was skepticism. Land registration is a complex and time-consuming business. Some titles take up to 5 years to be generated (although it can be expedited when, for example, PetroChina wanted to invest in the Grangemouth oil refinery). The Keeper has to check through the history of a property and make sense of sometimes ambiguous information. She has the discretion to withhold indemnity over all or part of a title and, where this happens, the owner must wait for ten years until their ownership is free from challenge.
Over the years I have seen titles that are incorrect. One of the most blatant involved an owner of several hundred hectares of land whose title included a house and garden owned by the parents of one of my childhood friends. This took much time and effort to sort out. Moreover, land registration has been used to claim land that is not owned by the vendor. I myself have advised that a small access strip be incorporated in a title hoping that the Keeper would not notice. She didn’t.
The biggest challenge to a rapid (and ten years is rapid) completion of the Land Register is financial. For over 30 years, the Registers of Scotland has been self-financing. If it were to complete the register within ten years, resources would have to be found. The consultation document is not very transparent about the workload and financial consequences.
Until recently, I was doubtful about the wisdom and practicalities of this target but had an open mind. Reading the consultation document does not convince me that this task is possible. But it was hearing of changes to how the Keeper intends to handle future applications for land registration that has not only confirmed my doubts but convinced me that we are about to embark on a reckless and dangerous path and that the target poses huge risks.
The Keeper’s Memo
In a memo issued to staff in early July, the Keeper announced that;
1) The Keeper will no longer check prescriptive title and will rely instead upon the certification on the registration form that the deed is valid. There will therefore be no search in the Sasine Register and the Keeper will not require sight of links in title to support an application. By certifying the deed is valid the solicitor is assumed to have carried out the relevant checks
2) The Keeper will not check for outstanding securities.
3) Only the deeds lodged with the application will be used and the Keeper will not examine any other deeds.
4) The Keeper will not use her own records to determine whether a deed should be included in the application or not.
In other words, the basic principles of Land Registration under the 1979 and 2012 Act are to be tossed aside and titles will be issued based on the information provided by solicitors. I have seen too many instances of land-grabbing and shady deals by solicitors to have any confidence whatsoever, that the Register will have any integrity if these reforms are implemented. There is nothing now to stop rogue solicitors and their clients abusing the system. Even well-intentioned and honest applications will now be compromised. Even now, many applications contain errors made in good faith. (2)
If there are no independent checks made on applications by the Keeper by looking behind the scenes then there is a significant possibility that anyone, whether a practicing solicitor or not, will be able to concoct a fraudulent application that is never checked. Once the title is registered it will appear to be as valid as any other. This may confer additional rights the applicant never should have had (which may or may not be the detriment of another land owner) and may sit as a ticking time bomb for some future land owner.
The changes appear to be in response to the Scottish Government’s request to meet the ten year target.
One of the biggest threats this poses is to owners of land that border that which is the subject of an application. The process of land registration has always favoured those titles are recorded first. Under the existing regime, owners of neighbouring properties are not consulted about the boundaries claimed by applicants. It is not hard to envisage those with most to gain (large-scale landowners and owners of the most valuable land) taking advantage of the new arrangements to appropriate useful bits of land from homeowners, local authorities, common good funds and others landowners. They will be completely in the dark about such claims and may very well find themselves many years from now having had their interests compromised.
My understanding is that senior staff in the Registers of Scotland have doubts as to whether these changes are consistent with the 2012 Act
It is my view a fundamental and highly dubious change is now in train which should not be made solely to secure a political goal of completing the Land Register within ten years. Indeed it should not be made at all.
I have proposals that would maintain the integrity of the Land Register, assist with the process of land registration AND ensure free public access to good quality information about who owns Scotland. This will be the subject of another blog in the near future.
Meanwhile, it looks like Murdo Fraser’s Economy, Energy and tourism Committee might be well advised to investigate this matter.
(1) This equates to 58% of all property titles. The extent of land is less because most titles are small urban sites rather than large rural estates.
(2) See paras 160 onward from the Stage One Report of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.
In 1965, Educational Films of Scotland made fascinating film narrated by Scottish actor Moultrie Kelsall about the history of Grangemouth from 1750 to modern times (1965). Among the highlights of the film is the focus on the role of Grangemouth Town Council as a local, democratic enabler of economic development. In Kelsall’s words,
“I think that Grangemouth has been very well served by a succession of hard-working, and enterprising, forward looking Town Councils.”
Take the time to watch the film. Click on the image below or here.
Today, Grangemouth is in the news in relation to the future of the petrochemical plant and oil refinery. The plant operator, Ineos owns the petrochemical plant and is a co-owner of the oil refinery with PetroChina Company Limited.
To facilitate this investment with Petrochina, the Registers of Scotland, agreed to admit a voluntary registration of the land in the land register. As reported in the Law Society of Scotland’s journal, the Keeper of the Registers was keen to highlight how registration can enhance the confidence of an investor by providing a state-guaranteed title.
Grangemouth Oil Refinery
Deborah Lovell, a partner in Anderson Strathern LLP’s Commercial Real Estate team, commented on their voluntary registration of Grangemouth Refinery.
“The voluntary registration process was used recently on behalf of our client, INEOS, for their landholding comprising their oil refinery and petrochemicals facility at Grangemouth and terminal at Finnart, all held on the historic General Register of Sasines. The registration of the land was key to a number of strategic deals involving transfers of the landholding, the reorganisation of the client’s funding arrangements, and the involvement of a new foreign investor. The benefit of the voluntary registration for our clients included speed and certainty for all parties, which was of major assistance in enabling the parties to achieve their goals.”
The Ineos site is registered under two titles (for links see below).
The petrochemical plant is registered in STG29375 and is owned by Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Ltd. which is a company 100% owned by Ineos Europe Holdings Ltd. which is a company 100% owned by Ineos Jersey Ltd.
The oil refinery is registered in STG64980 and is owned by Ineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd. which is a company 100% owned by Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland Ltd. which is a company 100% owned by Ineos Refining Li Ltd., a joint venture company between PetroChina Company Ltd. and Ineos Investments (Jersey) Ltd. This join venture company is not registered in the UK but probably in China and the “Li” in the name is probably a reference to Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang who, with Nick Clegg, witnessed the deal in 2011.
Curiously, the salmon fishing rights in the River Carron and 1486 hectares of the Firth of Forth are owned by BP Exploration Operating Company Limited under title STG27415.
I hope someone returns to Grangemouth and makes a follow-up film to Moutrie Kelsall’s 1965 account. From indigenous local endeavours by Scottish businesses and municipal enterprise, we are now in a world of local government which is not local and does not govern and a world of global footloose private equity firms based in tax havens.
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.
The Mirror carries a report today (13 April 2013) that the house that Margaret Thatcher lived in for the past 20 years is “owned” by a company called Bakeland Property Company Ltd. registered in the British Virgin Islands. The story is a little confusing and conflates ownership with leasehold. The fact that the house is owned offshore was first reported by Rob Evans and David Hencke in the Guardian in 2002.
In England and Wales, land is owned on a system of Freehold and Leasehold whereby Party A may be the Freeholder but may grant a lease to Party B (the leaseholder) of, for example 100 years. The property is thus “owned” by both parties simultaneously. In the case of 73 Chester Square (pictured above on Google Streetview) there are actually three parties with an interest in the property. (1)
1. The Freehold is owned by the Trustees of the Will of the Most Noble The 2nd Duke of Westminster.
2. There is a lease (Title NGL534189) for 200 years from 25 March 1984 of No.73 Chester Square and other land in favour of Grosvenor Estate Belgravia, 70 Grosvenor Street, London, Company No. 01138134.
3. There is a sub-lease (Title NGL688804) from Grosvenor Estate Belgravia to Bakeland Property Company Ltd. from 18 October to 25 December 2030 and a further sub-lease (Title NGL740241) from Grosvenor Estate Belgravia to Bakeland Property Company Limited for 59 years and 167 days from 12 July 1996 to 26 November 2055. (2)
Bakeland Property Company Limited is a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands with its Registered Office at Essanestrasse 91, Po Box 341, L1-9492, Eschen, Liechtenstein and c/o Collyer-Bristow, 4 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4DF.
Assuming that the leasehold interest was held by Bakeland Property Company Limited on behalf of the late Mrs Thatcher (who thus had a proprietorial interest in the house as opposed to simply being a tenant and having no connection with Bakeland), that the beneficial interest is inherited by her children Mark and Carol, and that, as the Mirror claims, the house is currently worth £6 million, then both inheritance tax at 40% (£2.4 million) as well as Stamp Duty Land Tax at 7% on any subsequent sale (£420,000) will be avoided.
The new Stamp Duty Land Tax rate for residential properties owned by corporate bodies of 15% only applies to properties acquired since 21 March 2012 and will not apply where the legal title remains in the same name and only the beneficial ownership of an offshore trust or company changes.(3) It may well be the case that Bakeland is owned by trusts whose beneficiaries are people other that the late Mrs Thatcher but because offshore companies are usually run by nominee Directors and owned by at least one offshore trust, the identification of the precise beneficial interest is extremely difficult.
And that is one of the legacies of Mrs Thatcher’s property-owning democracy. (4)
(1) There are 4 parties if you include the fact that Freeholders are not absolute owners but hold their land from the Monarch who is the only person capable of owning land “absolutely” in England and Wales as this entertaining exchange of emails with the Land Registry demonstrates.
(2) Thanks to @MrsTrevithick for alerting me to fact that Bakeland was, until 1996 registered in Jersey. This explains why there are two leasehold titles in the name of the same company – actually two different companies with the same name.
(4) In searching for the titles to 72 Chester Square I mistakenly typed 73 and obtained the title of No. 73 next door (Title NGL889003). It is owned by 72 Chester Square Limited incorporated in Liberia.
This sale of land adds to a growing list of land and property in Edinburgh and across Scotland including much of Charlotte Square which is now owned by companies operating out of offshore tax havens.
I argued during the passage of the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill that we need to make sure that there is transparency in landownership. The simple legal answer is that there is. After all, I have just consulted the Registers of Scotland and note that this land is owned by Sapphire Land Ltd. – what more do I need to know? But this analysis goes to the heart of the debate over the Bill which was regarded as merely a legalistic reform by the Scottish Government and arguments from myself and others that it should be seen as part of a wider public land information system were rejected by Ministers.
There are now over 750,000 acres of land in Scotland owned by companies in offshore tax havens. We know nothing about who is behind these companies and they are probably avoiding a lot of tax. Why, oh why does the Scottish Parliament not feel able to do the simple things it can to make Scotland a fairer and more equitable society? What possible public benefit can there be in allowing the public registration of land in the name of companies located in tax havens?
Today, the Scottish Government announced the establishment of a “Land Reform Review Group” that will oversee a “wide ranging review of land reform in Scotland”. If this happens it will be very worthwhile.
However, the remit and membership of this group are yet to be agreed with Scottish Ministers and it is unclear how wide the remit will be. If it is simply to undertake a technical review of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, it will be of very limited value when the real issues concern inflated land values, affordability of housing, succession law, tax avoidance, secrecy, absentee landlordism, theft of common land, land registration laws, common good etc. etc. etc.
Whether any of this gets looked at depends on two things.
The definition of the term “land reform” and the remit for the group. Let’s crowdsource ideas on both of these. Please leave comments on:-
1. a definition of land reform and
2. a remit for the Land Reform Review Group.
I will moderate comments strictly to these two questions.
UPDATE 25 July 2012 Rob Gibson MSP has issued a press release welcoming the establishment of the Group. From his comments it appears that the review will focus on community land issues. The “Overview of Evidence on Land Reform in Scotland” published by the Scottish government also restricts itself to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Given too that a review of the Act was the focus of the SNP manifesto commitment, this all suggests that the remit of the Review group is not going to be a review of land reform but a review of one piece of legislation. Since the remit has yet to be published, however, it is still impossible to be sure.
UPDATE 27 JULY 2012 Professor Peter Dale OBE who is a past President of the International Federation of Surveyors 1995-99 and currently their Honorary President has contributed a useful summary of what land reform means. It is an analysis that I agree with. In my view land reform is about the reform of power relations and how that power is derived, distributed and exercised form the core of any serious land reform project. Here is what Peter has to say.
“The words ‘land reform’ often mean almost whatever you want them to mean and depend on to whom you are talking.
Unless I have missed it, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 does not define the term, it merely lists those examples of land reform that the Act addresses. It is as if you had a Health Reform Bill that didn’t address health, only some service delivery such as patient waiting times.
Land is a diverse concept that depends on whether you are looking at it from a legal, financial, land use or social perspective i.e. its ownership, value or use. Reform may concern the changing of land rights (land tenure reform), the redistribution of ownership or use rights (including land consolidation and land reallocation, i.e. reforms to the pattern of ownership), alterations to land use (e.g. physical changes in agricultural practice or through inner city development), changes to land tax (that bring about changes in land ownership, value or use), or changes in how land is managed, etc.
In summary, the term ‘land reform’ embraces all those processes that alter the pattern of land ownership, land rights, land values or land use within a specified area.“
A number of people in the SNP have been trying to persuade me that the Scottish Government is serious about getting land reform back on track. I am prepared to accept this once I see the evidence. Meanwhile events suggest that I may have to wait some time. Take the following, for example.
The Land Registration Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. It’s the first time a democratically elected Parliament in Scotland has ever had the opportunity to debate important questions around how rights in land are recorded and secured. I provided written and oral evidence in an attempt to broaden out what was a narrow and rather legalistic piece of legislation in order to incorporate some important reforms. See previous posts on topic.
It concerns the Committee’s suggestion that the opportunity might be taken in the Bill to repeal the Division of the Commonties Act of 1695. (1) This Act was passed by the nobility as a means of dividing and appropriating Scotland’s parish commons for themselves. The introduction of feudal tenure led to the legal view that what were originally genuine commons were now the undivided common property of the landowners in the parish and the 1695 Act allowed them to be divided. The Act was simple and straightforward and was extensively used such that today only very few commonties remain undivided.
The argument for repeal is unanswerable. Feudal tenure is dead and these commons should revert to their pre-feudal status. The 1695 Act was passed by a undemocratic Scots Parliament to increase the power and wealth of the nobility.
So what has the Scottish Government said?
“The Scottish Government does not think there is merit in doing so. The Act allows an area of commonty to be divided among the owners either (1) where holding the land as Commonty no longer suits the parties or (2) to allow enclosure and cultivation of the land. In modern common ownership, a similar end may be achieved by an action of division or sale. It is not desirable to remove this right from the owners of Commonty.” (2)
Now, there is a question over whether this Bill is a legitimate place to be repealing the 1695 Act but the Government are not making that case. They are making the case in defence of continuing to allow landowners to divide common land. In other words they are defending the legitimacy of a 17th century statute designed to grab common land from the people. I find that quite astonishing.
The Scottish Government should be repealing such manifestly illegitimate legislation, speaking out against land grabbing and returning what little is left of common land to the people. Instead, it is entrapped by a conservative legal establishment into legitimising corrupt laws the have no place in a modern democratic Scotland.
(1) See Chapter 7 in The Poor Had No Lawyers for further details of what I term the 4th land grab.
As the Land Registration etc. (Scotland) bill makes its way through Parliament, those of us who wish to see a crackdown on tax havens being used to record title to land in Scotland might care to recall this story of Corrour Estate which was published in the Sunday Herald on 30 November 2003. The story ran on the back of a major investigation on the topic published on 5 October 2003.