'Pay your tax': MSPs call time on special treatment for posh shooting estates #LandReformBill

Money from taxing shooting estates will help communities buy land

RURAL SHOOTING ESTATES are a step closer to losing their right to avoid paying non-domestic rates after MSPs backed Scottish Government plans to reintroduce a more equal tax system.

The Land Reform Bill will remove the tax emption for estates, meaning that some of the country's biggest landowners will pay rates for shooting activities like other rural and urban businesses.

Income raised, much of which will come from Scotland's aristocratic families, will then be used to boost the Scottish Land Fund, which supports communities to buy land holdings in the common good.

Shooting estates owners who are now likely to pay more tax include the UK's largest landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, as well as the Duke of Northumberland, Baron Ferdinand von Baumbach, Marquess of Linlithgow, and the Earl of Seafield.

Land reform minister Aileen McLeod, speaking today [Wednesday 3 February] to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (Racce) committee said the change was justified "to fund public services and reflect fairness, to return shooting estates to the same payments as other businesses".

She added that equal non-domestic rate payments would be "sustainable, as it was for over 100 years before the exemption".

Racce committee member Graeme Dey MSP spoke up for the tax change on economic grounds, arguing that the funds would be vital to supporting a more diverse structure of land ownership and provide community groups with support to establishing more successful rural businesses.

The Tory Government granted shooting estate owners a special tax cut in 1995, in a nod to some of its more consistent supporters amongst aristocratic families.

Shooting estates owners who are now likely to pay more tax include the UK's largest landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, as well as the Duke of Northumberland, Baron Ferdinand von Baumbach, Marquess of Linlithgow, and the Earl of Seafield.

Over a million acres of land in Scotland is used to shoot animals for sport, including grouse, deer and pheasant.

"We are leaving a poisoned land all to preserve the private profits of the estate owners." Kenny MacLaren

An investigation into grouse shooting , published last October, criticised the practice on environmental, economic and public interest grounds.

Published by the League Against Cruel Sports, the findings warned that the burning of heather and use of lead bullets were destroying landscapes. The report also concluded that workers on shooting estates were receiving pay below the minimum wage - despite a PS300,000 taxpayer subsidy to the sector.

At the time councillor Kenny MacLaren warned: "We are leaving a poisoned land all to preserve the private profits of the estate owners."

Racce committee convener Rob Gibson MSP asked McLeod if further information was available on the pay and conditions for workers on shooting estates. The minister promised further evidence to be presented in writing.

Tory MSP Alex Fergusson defended the estates in the committee hearing, alongside Liberal Democrat Jim Hume.

Hume described the new tax proposals as part of a "political move targeted at the landed gentry".

Scotland has one of the most concentrated systems of land ownership in the developed world, with just 432 people in control of 50 per cent of all private land.

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Picture courtesy of NHC_UKI