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Landowner's Statement On Agricultural Holdings Review Report

Following the publication of the interim report by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group, Scottish Land & Estates issued the following statement.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: "The group clearly recognised the complexity of the issues and has asked searching questions which will need answers in order to help Scottish agriculture. Scottish Land & Estates will continue to develop a range of initiatives and suggestions that we believe can benefit the farming industry.
"We will analyse the report in greater detail but overall we share the Review's group intention to produce recommendations that are enabling, balanced and resilient. Furthermore, we are not opposed to 'radical' solutions but this should not be a short hand for anti-landowner measures, as our members are mainly farmers themselves and have the interests of agriculture at heart.
"In general, our reaction to this interim report is mixed; there are measures which the Review Group has said it will consider further which we believe to be to the benefit of tenant farming. Equally, there are measures that, if implemented, would have a seriously detrimental impact on tenant farming and would not help the Scottish Government achieve its stated objective of creating a vibrant tenanted sector.
"We agree with the Cabinet Secretary in that tenant farming needs to flourish. As our members are in the business of letting land it is very much in their interests to operate in a climate that gives them confidence to do so. 
"We firmly believe that much can be achieved through working together as the reality is that day-in, day out landlords and tenants across Scotland are working together constructively. There is more that unites us than divides us.
"Scottish Land & Estates has already made a number of constructive suggestions to the Review Group and to other stakeholders groups such as NFUS and the STFA. These include an 'amnesty' on improvements which we believe may help farmers make decisions about retirement and we hope the Review Group accepts this suggestion in its final report.
"The Review Group recognises the areas of agreement between ourselves, NFUS and STFA for an ombudsman-type body to deal with complaints on landlord-tenant relationships and we believe our suggestion that such a body have the power to name and shame those who engage in bad practice - be they landlord, agent or tenant - would allay a lot of the concern that exists at present.
"Scottish Land & Estates also recognises industry concern about the nature and process of rent reviews. We have already suggested cross industry talks which would look at whether productive capacity be taken into account during rent reviews and will shortly be published a new Scottish Landowners' Charter which will set out clearly the responsibilities and obligations of landowners and those they employ, including dealing with rent reviews. We repeat our desire to have cross industry talks with other stakeholder bodies to build consensus and get the industry groups working more constructively with each other.
"The Review Group has said it has not reached a conclusion on whether an absolute right to buy should be implemented and we welcome the fact that it has stated it will examine 'all feasible solutions' to resolve the issues that are driving support this measure. The evidence that demonstrates why such a measure would be disastrous for the industry is in our view compelling and this view is shared by the overwhelming majority of landlords and tenants.  We do not see what public interest is served by allowing someone the right to buy someone else's property against their will. If such a measure was introduced it would create yet more owners rather than galvanise the tenanted sector where new entrants in particular can get access to farming.
"We are concerned by the language in the report which implies that 1991 Act tenancies can somehow be viewed in isolation from the rest of tenant farming. It is clear to those who work in farming that any change to 1991 Act tenancies will have far reaching impacts on farm businesses and their other letting arrangements. It is recognised in the report that 1991 Act tenancies are now low return and high risk vehicles and there needs to be a suitable return for investment.
"What both landlords and tenants are looking for is confidence - confidence to let and confidence to invest.
"We support the Group's view that legislation that will eventually flow from this report should be balanced and deliver stability in tenant farming and we will continue to make the case that Scotland needs a thriving tenanted sector and we are committed to realising that objective."

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