Following the debate in the Scottish Parliament today on Stage One of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Land & Estates issued the following statement.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “It was made abundantly clear from criticism made during the debate today that the Scottish Government is on the verge of rushing through ill-considered legislation that could have a serious impact on those who live and work in rural Scotland.
“Landowners are not against land reform and for instance are supportive of measures for greater transparency of land ownership. Transparency and visibility are key elements of our Landowners’ Commitment – adopted by members across Scotland.
“We have seen an unrelenting clamour for the Bill to be made more radical and we are concerned that pressure to make the Bill even more radical will result in ill-considered legislation. We are alarmed at the lack of clarity, certainty and detail which remains on key issues and this was highlighted in today’s debate by parliamentarians across the political spectrum and underlined by the chairmen of two parliamentary committees.
“We are deeply concerned that key parts of the Bill will undermine property rights and will be vulnerable to challenge under European Convention of Human Rights Legislation. The Minister made clear in the debate the need for rights to be respected – and that includes property owners. It is totally ridiculous for certain politicians to claim that any ECHR concerns raised by landowners are threats. The Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee has raised significant concerns and we urge the Scottish Government to take cognisance of these concerns as the Bill progresses.
“One of the greatest threats to property rights is contained in the Scottish Government’s new proposals to enable tenant farmers the right to assign their tenancies to new secure tenancies for value or sell at a premium to their landlord. This proposal will be inserted at Stage 2, thus circumventing Stage 1 scrutiny and this certainly raises serious questions about lack of due parliamentary process.
“If such a measure is brought forward, it will take us even further from achieving the government’s stated aim of a vibrant tenanted sector. We would appeal to politicians of all parties to consider the more balance and proportionate alternative already contained in the Bill that could achieve exactly the same outcome without being so damaging to Scottish farming. That alternative is the conversion of secure tenancies to long-term fixed tenancies, as recommended by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary himself, and broadly supported by the industry. Indeed, his own Review Group did not recommend this assignation for value saying the public interest case had not been made.
“We are dismayed that the issue of a right to buy for tenant farmers continues to be raised by parliamentarians when it has been long established that it would be a disaster for the sector and the mere mention of it impacts on confidence to let land.
“We are also disappointed that the Scottish Government seems determined to press on regardless with the re-introduction of business rates on shooting rights when the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee had said there is a need for a much more thorough assessment of its impact.
“We were heartened that the Minister for Land Reform recognised the positive contribution made by landowners to Scotland. We are wholly committed to ensuring that this will continue. With only a very short time left in the current parliamentary session, there are significant risks that the legislation will prevent, rather than support, this continued positive contribution.”