Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, March 16, 2023


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S6M-08235, in the name of George Adam, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument. I call George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 (Register of Persons Holding a Controlled Interest in Land) Amendment Regulations 2023 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I wish to raise concerns about the SSI. The legislation has unintended consequences, so it is right to delay, but the delay means that unscrupulous people can still hide their interests in Scotland’s land in companies that are registered in tax havens. We have already waited a long time for transparency over who those people are, so I hope that the Government will act urgently to deal with that unintended consequence.

It is absurd that legislation that was designed to close tax loopholes and to create transparency about who the beneficial owners of land are—especially when that land is held in companies that are registered in tax havens—will put an unacceptable burden on Scottish churches. By their very nature, religious groups own multiple buildings, including churches and mosques, to allow their members to meet and worship. Each of those buildings is clearly marked outside with contact details; they are not hidden. It is less easy to identify other buildings, such as manses and church halls, but they can be identified through the property registers in Scotland, and a quick Google search will identify where to contact the church.

However, under the instrument, the Scottish Government is asking religious groups to register each property. The Church of Scotland alone has close to 6,000 buildings, each of which will need three associates, and around 20 notices, to be registered. The estimated cost of that is £100,000 for the Church of Scotland. Such organisations have never been hidden, have never used their assets as tax dodges and are wholly owned by their congregations, so the associates who require to be registered are not beneficial owners but are simply office bearers who represent their congregations.

Scottish charitable incorporated organisations are governed under different legislation, so I ask that churches and other similar religious buildings be treated along similar lines.

Sadly, due to the Scottish Government’s incompetence, today we are letting companies that are registered in Liechtenstein off the hook, by allowing them to remain hidden and misuse the privilege of owning Scotland’s land. Surely that is not right. The Scottish Government must bring forward secondary legislation that catches the people that the legislation was designed to capture, while removing the burden from well-known associations, such as Scottish charities and religious organisations.

I call Màiri McAllan to respond.


The Minister for Environment and Land Reform (Màiri McAllan)

The register of controlling interests stems from the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, and the principal regulations establishing the register received unanimous cross-party support in the Parliament in 2021.

The intention of the RCI is to ensure that there can no longer be a category of owner or tenant for whom, intentionally or otherwise, control of decision making is obscured. The 2021 regulations were a significant step forward in relation to the transparency that is sought. I am very pleased that the register is live—it went live on 1 April last year, as planned.

The principal regulations were the subject of extensive consultation—including of religious organisations—and of parliamentary scrutiny. We have previously made amendments to the regulations in response to concerns that were raised by bodies including the Church of Scotland. Despite that, in recent months stakeholders have raised objections with me on the grounds of cost and administrative burden.

I should be clear that there is no cost for making a submission to the register per se. However, in practice, some bodies that are in scope will instruct a solicitor, which obviously involves a cost.

Moreover, although the registration process itself is relatively straightforward, preparation will be required. If there are a significant number of titles or a complex ownership structure, that will make the process more complicated. However, for those very reasons, it is important that such bodies remain within the scope of the register.

I have had extensive engagement; the Church of Scotland has been involved since 2016. It is very important to me that its views are heard.

What is the public interest in churches having to conform to the legislation?

Màiri McAllan

I think that it was Rhoda Grant who said that the Church of Scotland alone has some 6,000 titles to land in Scotland, which makes it, I think, by some way the largest owner in Scotland by number of titles. Therefore, it is important to the integrity of a register that is about transparency of ownership that the Church of Scotland is involved in that.

However, the Church of Scotland first met the First Minister in June last year and it met my officials in August. I met the Church of Scotland in September and wrote to it in November, December, January and, most recently, in February, because on-going engagement with the Church of Scotland was very important to me.

I cannot do as the Church of Scotland has requested, which is to take it out of the scope of the register itself. However, the SSI that is before Parliament today responds to concerns by extending the period for registration before compliance terms come into play. That will ease the burden on those that are in scope by allowing them to spread the administrative burden and the cost.

I am pleased that the lead committee has recommended that the regulations be approved, and I ask members who are considering voting against the extension to consider that that would mean that charities and religious and third sector organisations that have made representations to me would be subject to criminal penalties from 1 April this year. I ask members to vote for the extension so that the date can be put back to the following year and the administrative burden can be spread.

The Presiding Officer

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of four Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move motions S6M-08236 to S6M-08239.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the National Bus Travel Concession Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Order 2023 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Landfill Tax (Standard Rate and Lower Rate) Order 2023 (SSI 2023/50) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Amendment Order 2023 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Non-Domestic Rates (Miscellaneous Anti-Avoidance Measures) (Scotland) Regulations 2023 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]

The questions on the motions will be put at decision time.