Scottish Land & Estates has today issued the following statement in view of ongoing publicity and activism referring to the so-called ‘eviction’ of farmers as a consequence of flawed legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament more than a decade ago.
Statements have been made suggesting that tenant farmers involved are being ‘evicted’ from ‘their farms’. This is a misnomer and does not accurately reflect the true position as was highlighted by Court of Session judges who said in relation to the original Salvesen v Riddell test case that the use of the word ‘eviction’ in this context was ‘emotive and misleading’.
Each of the farmers in question entered voluntarily into ‘limited partnership’ agreements with the owners of the farms. These are fixed-term contractual with a specified end date.
As a result, the farmer did not have a “secure” agricultural tenancy and did not have the right to remain on farm indefinitely.
In 2003 the then Scottish Executive unilaterally changed the terms of certain limited partnership agreements by granting no end date to the tenancy. This had the effect of signaling to the farmer that the fixed term tenancy could become a secure tenancy and become indefinite.
A provision in this 2003 legislation was subsequently ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in the Salvesen v Riddell test case. This has resulted in a small number of compensation claims from tenants and landlords affected.
The recent case at the Court of Session was brought by eight farmers claiming compensation from the Scottish Government for their losses. This hearing was not to determine the termination of limited partnership agreements.
Several compensation claims have also been lodged by landlords for the losses they incurred and hearings are expected at a later date.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We have a great deal of sympathy for the farmers involved because through no fault of their own they were given false hope that fixed term agreements were being turned into secure tenancies. Equally landlords faced the prospect of losing all possibility of resuming a farm they believed they had let only for a fixed period of time. As a result, both suffered losses.
“Recent publicity has said that eight tenants are facing ‘eviction’. What these tenants are facing is the end of fixed term tenancies that should have finished years ago on their specified end dates. They have only been extended as a result of the legislative error. For all this time owners who may have wished to resume their own farms to farm them themselves or to relet them to other tenants have not been able to do so.
“When these agreements do come to an end there are statutory provisions in place so that the farmers are compensated by the landlord for eligible improvements made to the farm during the tenancy.
“This situation is not a conflict between landlord and tenant but one between landlord and government as well as tenants and government.
“It is now for the Scottish Government – which inherited this situation from the Lib Dem/Labour administration - to find suitable measures and compensation for both landlords and tenants. Should that be achieved it would help draw to a close a deeply unfortunate episode in Scottish agriculture.”