Conservatives attack SNP proposals for land reform

A RADICAL shake-up of Scotland’s land ownership laws has been attacked as “state control through the back door” by the Conservatives, who claimed it could prevent people passing their homes to the family member of their choice.

Murdo Fraser has criticised the land reform plans.  Picture: Andrew Cowan
Murdo Fraser has criticised the land reform plans. Picture: Andrew Cowan

The SNP government proposes that the Land Reform Bill should include the creation of a Scottish Land Reform Commission, the ability to take action against landowners who pose a “barrier” to development, and measures to make information on who owns land and its value more readily available.

However, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the legislation, which would also limit the companies, trusts and partnerships that can own land in Scotland to within the EU, could effectively overrule a person’s will.

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Mr Fraser said the SNP government’s plan would end the current succession law, which allows people to name in their will who they want to leave their house – immovable property – without any legal challenge.

The MSP claimed that changes in the Land Reform Bill would mean that other family members could challenge a will in court – opening up the prospect of estates being broken up among different relatives.

He said ministers were now proposing to consult on a law change to remove the distinction between moveable and immovable property, as he cited a finding from the Land Reform Review Group stating that the “removal of the distinction was fundamental” to the overall plan.

Mr Fraser, the Conservative enterprise spokesman at Holyrood, called on ministers to rule out the prospect of any change to the law on property bequests.

He said: “We see this idea as a step too far. When a person dies, surely it’s up to them who they want to leave their estate to.

“Yet again, this is another example of state control through the back door by the SNP.”

Mr Fraser added: “If people want to leave their homes to individual family members, or even to charities, that should be a matter for them. Wills are very much a personal choice and not a matter for the state to decide on. This proposal will only lead to family arguments and put pressure on families during the grieving process.

“The Scottish Conservatives strongly oppose this idea and would ask that it’s removed from land reform.”

However, Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone accused the Conservatives of “lobbying to protect the interests of inherited wealth” and said the proposed reform would give children equal rights to inherit property.

Ms Johnstone, backing the Scottish government plan, said: “Fretting about a proposal that other European countries enacted hundreds of years ago shows how out of touch the Conservatives are.

“The proposal is about equality of treatment and will be of particular benefit to women who, historically, have been disadvantaged by Scotland’s unfair laws of inheritance.

“The changes proposed to succession law give children equal rights to inherit all types of property. This is a reform that has been advocated for over 100 years but consistently blocked by landed interests.”