Landowners have warned that an “aggressive” last minute change to controversial land reform legislation could strip them of control of their property.
They said the plan to allow tenant farmers to sell on a secure tenancy, or sell it back to the landowner at a premium, threatened the property rights of owners.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said the proposal was “daft”, would leave the Scottish Government further than ever from its aim of a “vibrant tenanted sector”, and could lead to legal challenges and land not being made available to let.
He urged politicians on all sides to consider the “more balanced” alternative that was in the Land Reform Bill until the controversial change emerged in the last two weeks.
The original proposal would allow a tenant to convert his secure tenancy to a long-term fixed tenancy before selling it to another farmer. The landlord would then know there was a definite end point.
But under the new proposal a tenant could sell on the tenancy, effectively removing the land from its owner as it could then be taken on in future by the farmer’s successors.
The same proposal includes a provision for the farm to be sold back to the landlord for around 25 per cent of the value of the land.
Mr Johnstone said: “What you are doing is giving a tenant a stake in the capital value of the farm. If the landlord doesn’t have the ability to pay, then the farm never comes back.
“It’s almost schizophrenic. On the one hand you have a Bill to create a vibrant tenanted sector and they are trying to encourage people to let for the long term, because we fundamentally believe that letting for a longer term is a good thing, it gives parties security and a chance to get on with it.
“But at the same time they are saying those who have already let for the long term in the past, who have created nice long tenancies, actually we are going to hammer you, we are going to stuff you.
“That has got to have a knock on effect in the confidence of anyone who might wish to come to let land or is letting land at the moment.”
The Bill, which passed the first stage debate in Holyrood on Wednesday, originally suggested the “conversion” system, which was recommended by the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group chaired by Richard Lochhead, the Rural Affairs Minister.
The legislation will also end business rate exemptions for shooting and deer stalking, give communities a right to buy land to further sustainable development and make information on who owns land and its value more readily available.
It will also reform the law on agricultural holdings to give tenants a right to buy when a landlord is not fulfilling their obligations.
Ministers were warned in the debate that the tenancy proposals would be open to challenge under European human rights legislation, although SNP members rejected the plans at the party’s conference in October on the grounds that they were not radical enough.
Alex Fergusson, the Conservative MSP, said his party could not back the legislation unless the section on agricultural holdings was withdrawn and revisited, adding: “There is a glorious prize to be won, a renewal of trust between landowner and tenant, a truly reinvigorated tenanted sector and a restoration of the tried, tested and traditional way into agriculture for young and new farmers alike.
“Surely that is worth more than any pre-election headline about landlords and tenants and the passing of an ill-thought out bill that is more than likely to end up in the European courts.”
Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph