Scottish Land & Estates has made an 11th hour plea to the Scottish Government to rethink damaging proposals for the tenant farming sector.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, has written to Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and urged the Scottish Government to find a last-minute solution that works for all parties and delivers for the sector as a whole - rather than simply for a small section of tenants.
Mr Johnstone said: “We are at the end of a very long process of reviewing agricultural holdings legislation but feel it is only right that once again we appeal to the Scottish Government to consider the full implications for Scottish agriculture of their proposals.
“Our members have been repeatedly told by the Scottish Government that good landowners have nothing to fear from land reform legislation and these proposals in particular. But fearful we are - for the future of tenant farming.
“We all want to see a thriving tenanted sector in Scotland with strong and constructive landlord-tenant relationships. The Scottish Government's own survey of landlord-tenant relationships showed that 85% of relationships are good but sadly, this has been forgotten as the debate became increasingly politicised and polarised.
“The Government may think that it has created a balanced and measured approach relating to the relinquishment and assignation of 1991 Act tenancies, but with such a late introduction in the legislative process – and the measures also flying in the face of the conclusions of Mr Lochhead’s own industry review group, not to mention most of the industry – it is clear that the proposals in this Bill have not received the proper scrutiny and due diligence they merit.”
Mr Johnstone continued: “There needs to be confidence for both parties – landlord and tenant – to build a mutually productive relationship. This legislation will have the opposite effect. Landlords want to have the confidence to let land and not have to shoulder the blame when measures brought in by Government, against industry wishes, kills that confidence.
“Scottish Land & Estates is clear that assignation of 1991 Act tenancies will damage the industry. NFUS and other stakeholders have also stated their opposition to the measure, as have many tenants.
“We do not see how new entrants are going to benefit and many new entrants feel that what the government is pushing through will actually reduce their future opportunities. Furthermore, following these proposals being enacted, landlords able to afford to buy out retiring tenants, and who do so, will have no incentive to let land on a long-term basis and this surely cannot be good for the sector.
“We do not want to be in a position where flawed legislation either does not work in practice or - even worse - the sector is plunged into more uncertainty in the event of any legal challenge to the legislation.
“We are acutely aware that the Scottish Government does have the parliamentary majority that will ensure its proposals can succeed but we are deeply worried that the adverse consequences of these measures will be felt in tenant farming for years to come.”