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Article by Sandy Lewis - The Press & Journal 19 October 2013

BY Sandy Lewis, Chief Executive, Seafield and Strathspey Estates and a member of Scottish Land & Estates.

To listen to the siren voices who claim to speak for the tenant farming sector it would be easy to paint a grim picture of overbearing landlords and ill-treated tenants locked in a loveless marriage.

It is a picture that suits the political agenda of those who wish to believe that no tenant can do wrong and no landlord right. It is also a portrayal that is regrettably embraced with alacrity by politicians across most parties.

But is that depressing picture really accurate? If the answer to that is yes, then measures must be taken to address such a situation. But what if the true answer to that question is no? 

I would contend that the answer is, in truth, no and strongly suggest the evidence available points directly towards landlords and tenants enjoying constructive and mutually productive working relationships. Certainly at group meetings we hold with our tenants from time to time I have not detected a relationship issue.

It would absurd to suggest there are no exceptions. All of us involved in agriculture have become aware over the years of cases where the landlord and tenant cannot see eye to eye and I do not suggest for a moment that disputes between parties are resolved at the drop of a hat.

The Scottish Government now estimates there are in excess of 7,000 agricultural holdings under tenancy arrangements of one sort or another and, at the last count, there were no more than a handful of cases reaching the Scottish Land Court in any year.

Only recently, we have seen some very misleading interpretation of what the Salvesen Supreme Court judgement case really means in terms of cases that remain unresolved. It is a fiendishly complex issue but the truth of the matter is that both tenants and landlords were ill-served by flawed legislation and all in the tenanted sector earnestly hope a solution can be found and damage limited.

On the estate which I manage there was one holding affected by the legislation and we sorted that out between us to our mutual satisfaction.   Unfortunately there will be some difficult cases to grapple with and compensation may become a feature for tenants as well as landowners.

It is right that voices are heard and interests are represented fairly and robustly. Within the last decade or so The Scottish Parliament has shown its willingness to legislate on agricultural matters and is preparing to do so again with another review of legislation. It is inevitable that siren voices will make themselves heard as that process unfolds but what spells dangers for the sector in which we work is the prospect that the true picture of landlord-tenant relations is obscured by those demanding radical action based on an inaccurate reflection of the current situation.

What Scottish agriculture needs from that review more than anything is an environment where landlords and tenants can have confidence in continuing to work together as they do now.


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