Scottish Land & Estates said today that a vibrant tenanted sector is vital for the future of farming in Scotland and appealed to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to take action to prevent the interests of agriculture being undermined by proposed land reform legislation.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates said: “Our members are fully committed to ensuring that there is a healthy and prosperous tenanted sector in Scotland. Letting farms is a core part of the businesses of our members who themselves are a core part of the farming sector.
"We share the Scottish Government's stated ambition to see a vibrant tenanted sector but we have real concerns that some of the measures being proposed may well jeopardise rather than achieve that objective."
In evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Scottish Land & Estates said: “We understand the political drivers of farm tenancy matters being dealt with in the Land Reform Bill but have always maintained that agricultural holdings should be dealt with through its own Bill.
“The policy objectives of land reform and agricultural holdings reform do not necessarily sit well together and the land reform proposals could actually undermine the policy intention of the agricultural holdings provisions by having a negative impact on the letting environment.”
David Johnstone gave evidence to the committee today and said it was of ‘paramount’ importance that agricultural issues that would have a major impact on tenant farming are not ‘lost’ in the wider land reform deliberations by the Scottish Parliament.
The landowners’ organisation is disappointed that key agricultural issues such as the proposed conversion of 1991 Act tenancies to fixed term tenancies were being left to be dealt with by secondary legislation with Ministers having the power to bring in further regulation without the same level of scrutiny.
Scottish Land & Estates said questions over the lack of detail over agricultural holdings provisions had been raised by a number of sources including the Scottish Parliament's Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee.
David Johnstone said: "There is real concern about the lack of detail on key provisions being suggested and the sector does not need more uncertainty or legislation that is not subject to the most rigorous tests."
In its evidence Scottish land & Estates said: “Instead of having an integrated package of measures as envisaged by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group we now have a selection of measures with some of the more difficult ones being left to the future. That suggests that we will have ongoing uncertainty and debate which will serve to undermine confidence in the sector.”
Scottish Land & Estates stated in its evidence submitted to the committee that it:-
• Supports the idea that there should be some sort of sanction on repeatedly failing landlords but believe that the draft proposals need to be revised.
• Is disappointed that the detail of conversion is left to regulations and not provided on the face of the Bill.
• Disagrees with the proposal to allow all secure tenants to have a pre-emptive right by default; experience has shown that the requirement to register is useful for both parties.
• Fundamentally opposes the proposals to widen the class of potential assignees or successors, coupled with a restriction in the landlord’s ability to object and the removal of the viable unit test.
• Fears the extent of the proposed change is significant and will, we believe, represent a significant change in the landowner’s position and potentially infringe their property rights.
• Supports the idea of an amnesty so that landlords and tenants can sort out any uncertainties over what will qualify as a tenant’s improvement that would potentially be eligible for compensation at waygo.
In relation to conversion of 1991 Act tenancies, Scottish Land & Estates recognises the policy objective of trying to create churn in the sector but any provision needs to balance the rights of the outgoing tenant, the incoming tenant and the landlord. Scottish Land & Estates suggests that this could be best achieved through a 15 year Minimum Limited Duration Tenancy (i.e. not 35 years or longer as has been suggested).
“Scottish Land & Estates believes it is very important that Parliament is made fully aware of the potentially negative consequences for some landowners. The granting of a new and valuable right to tenants would significantly impact on a landlord’s ability to manage their property and it will be important to ensure that the legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the rights of the different parties.”
On assignation of 1991 Act tenancies and the widening of succession, Scottish Land & Estates said: “Our primary concern is for the future of the let sector and of Scottish agriculture. Landowners would receive yet another signal that the government is very willing to intervene in ways that undermine their interests.
“If we want the let sector to have a long-term future we need landowners to want to let land; using legislation to restrict their rights simply undermines the landowner’s position and therefore the sector. There should be acknowledgement of the fact that some landlords would be disadvantaged through the introduction of such a provision.
“This proposal would introduce inflexibility into Scottish agriculture at a moment when it needs greater flexibility. Scottish Land & Estates supports the idea that the ‘family farm’ is the bedrock of Scottish agriculture, but these farms need flexibility if they are going to survive; the assignation and succession provisions will do little to assist and are likely to reduce the supply of land.”