Following today’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, Scottish Land & Estates has issued the following statement.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s continued commitment to creating a vibrant tenanted farming sector expressed during the committee hearing today.
“Mr Lochhead identified the need to create a tenanted sector that will serve the needs of farmers and those looking to let land over the decade, and this is an ambition we have long shared with the Scottish Government.
“We also recognise, as Mr Lochhead mentioned in his evidence, that it is a complicated process to achieve this that will require a number of new measures, but also confidence and collaboration of all the key industry stakeholders.
“With this in mind, we do remain concerned over the method by which agricultural holdings provisions are being dealt with within the Land Reform Bill, rather than being given their own dedicated legislative slot. Many key issues, such as the proposed conversion of 1991 Act tenancies to modern limited duration tenancies, are 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. As we saw today, there is a lack of precise detail and we believe it does not serve the industry well if there is still continued uncertainty after the Bill is passed or that new measures are not subject to the most rigorous tests.”
On the issue of absolute right to buy, which was once again raised in discussions, Mr Johnstone commented: “The Agricultural Review Group ruled out absolute right to buy on the basis that it would not be in the long-term interest of the tenanted sector. The Cabinet Secretary subsequently confirmed his support for this position, along with the majority of those in the sector.
“At a time when there needs to be an emphasis on the letting of land, especially for new entrants, most industry bodies are clear that absolute right to buy would substantially hinder the aim of seeing the tenanted sector flourish.”
He added that Scottish Land & Estates was disappointed that some of the ECHR implications that could arise from the new legislation had also been misrepresented.
Mr Johnstone continued: “We have provided consistent evidence to the committee across the full range of agricultural holdings measures in both written form and oral evidence sessions. It is disappointing that our views, in relation to freedom of contract and ECHR, were at times misrepresented within the session.
“We are not looking for complete freedom of contract. Nor, as seemed to be suggested in the session, have we stated that most of the Bill is outwith the legislative competence of the Parliament. We remain firmly committed to working with the Scottish Government and the parliamentary process to produce the best possible legislation for the good of the sector.”