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LAND REFORM BILL TAKES SHAPE

LAND REFORM BILL TAKES SHAPE

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 14th December 2015

 

 

LAND REFORM BILL TAKES SHAPE

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has told members of the Scottish Parliament that it fully supports the principles behind the Land Reform Bill and commends the RACCE Committee for their thorough and well-researched report. The STFA agrees with the committee that the bill can potentially make the rent review process fairer and more transparent; improve confidence in the sector; create a better environment for investment in holdings by both landlords and tenants; provide better opportunities for new entrants and younger farmers; and help older tenants to retire more easily.

STFA believes a strong Tenant Farming Commissioner equipped with sufficient powers and statutory codes of practice will be key to regulating the sector, improving relationships between landlords and tenants and in overseeing the implementation of the proposed legislative changes in the Land Reform Bill.

Commenting in advance of the parliamentary debate on the Land Reform Bill, STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “Although the timescales are tight, this is not a rushed bill, it has been subjected to two years of research, two substantial reports and some intense engagement by government and the Rural Affairs committee. A wide range of views has been listened to and the result is a bill that strives to be radical while striking a balance between competing rights and interests.

“The changes to rent reviews, succession and compensation for improvements for tenant farmers in Part 10 of the Bill represent the biggest reform to agricultural holdings since the post war 1948 Act. However, although the bill, as it stands, strengthens the position of existing secure tenancies, it does little to help those wanting to get a start in agriculture or those on Limited Partnerships or other short term tenancies who would like to move up the farming ladder. The new Modern Limited Duration Tenancies are little different from LDTs and landlords will inevitably prefer to keep control of the land and use short-term arrangements or contract farming.  Nowadays decisions on letting land are largely opportunistic and driven by access to CAP payments.

“Against this background it is encouraging to see that the Scottish Government intends to introduce amendments at Stage 2 allowing non-family assignation under certain conditions and creating a new full repairing lease both of which will fill the gaps in the bill.

“STFA has long advocated the introduction of assignation of 1991 tenancies to non-family members and welcomes the government’s decision to include it in the bill. This new provision carefully balances the rights of landlords and tenants by creating a process in which 1991 tenants can assign their tenancies on the same terms to a new entrant or a farmer who is progressing through the industry (including tenants on short-term tenancies and Limited Partnership tenancies).  As a balancing measure, the landlord has the option to buy out the tenant’s interest during the process; otherwise the tenant can proceed with the assignation.

“Although this measure does not go as far as we would have liked, it is, in many ways the missing piece in the tenancy jigsaw and potentially a game changer in making the bill a more complete package. The assignation proposal will open up opportunities for tenants to retire with a realistic waygo valuation and allow new entrants and progressing or developing farmers access to secure tenancies with the added benefit of slowing down the decline in secure tenancies. Above all this proposal has the potential to re-instate the missing rungs in the farming ladder and widen access to secure tenancies.

“In response to the RACCE recommendation, the government has also committed to bringing forward a new repairing tenancy which would allow landlords to rent out land in need of improvement with minimal fixed equipment on at least a 35 year term to allow the tenant to reap the benefit of his improvements before handing back an improved holding to the landlord. Other provisos are that the rent should be based on the productive capacity of the holding at the start of the lease and the tenant must receive compensation for his improvements.

“The Land Reform Bill is taking shape, but it will need careful consideration and hard work at Stage 2 to get the detail right to produce the next stepping-stone on the long road to Land and Tenancy Reform.”

 

 

 

For further information or for a copy of STFA’s Briefing Note to the Scottish Parliament click here or contact:

 

Christopher Nicholson               01988 500423

Angus McCall                        01408 633275/07767 756840

 

 

ELEVENTH HOUR REPRIEVE FOR STODDART FAMILY

ELEVENTH HOUR REPRIEVE FOR STODDART FAMILY

News Release

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

26th November

ELEVENTH HOUR REPRIEVE FOR STODDART FAMILY

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association can announce that a settlement has been reached between Andrew Stoddart and his landlord, the Colstoun Trust. The terms of the settlement are subject to a confidentiality agreement, but it is understood that agreement was reached last night following a mediation brokered by the Scottish Government.

Mr Stoddart’s was due to quit his holding on 28th November, but following intense media coverage and public interest the Colstoun Trust agreed a couple of weeks ago that the Stoddart family would be able to remain in the farm cottage after the end of the tenancy. It is now understood that offer is confirmed until the end of January.

Andrew Stoddart has made the following statement: “Following eleventh hour mediation, we have come to a settlement with the Colstoun Trust. This has been done to protect my family from further anxiety. A short period of occupancy has been agreed to allow us to remove our animals and dispose of our equipment to better advantage.

“After 22 years, against considerable odds, I have left this farm better than I found it. It has been a hard struggle at times, and I want to pay tribute to my wife Claire who has shared the burden with me. We probably should have left many years ago when difficulties with the landlords began, but we never suspected it would end like this. We thought the 2003 Act had changed our lives, only to see our hopes dashed by the remedial order of 2014. The laws which allow landlords to arbitrarily end tenancies in order to access farming subsidies directly need amended

“All we ever wanted was just to farm this place and bring up our girls in this community which we love. I would also like to thank my two loyal employees for sticking by me for many years, and especially this year when the end was in sight. I wish them both well for the future. I would also like to thank the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and my professional advisers.

“And finally, I would like to thank everyone who has supported us over this difficult time, and helped get us to a better place. Three special women – Michelle Wood, Jen Stout and Lesley Riddoch – have gone out of their way to help us in our fight for justice. This would not have happened without their support and pressure from everyone. We have made many good friends in the Haddington area who we will miss. We will leave East Lothian with many happy memories, on our way to a new beginning as yet unknown.”

Welcoming the news, STFA director, Angus McCall said: “This last minute agreement will be welcome to the Stoddart family, especially in the run up to Christmas. However, if the aftermath of the Salvesen Riddell Remedial Order had been managed better, Andrew Stoddart would have been able to mediate an agreement with his landlord and the Scottish government a year ago and the situation would never have gone as far as this.

“We are grateful to the RACCE committee for their support and it is largely due to their efforts and public pressure that this mediated settlement has taken place at all. We hope lessons will be learnt and the remaining seven tenants and families in the same situation will not be expected to suffer as much worry and stress as the Stoddarts.

“There are still a large number of tenants on short term agreements who are just as vulnerable to having their tenure cut short at the drop of a hat. This insecurity is something that must be tackled as Scotland contemplates land and tenancy reform over the next few years.”

RENT DEMANDS PUT OPPORTUNISM BEFORE RESPONSIBILITY

RENT DEMANDS PUT OPPORTUNISM BEFORE RESPONSIBILITY

News Release

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

18th November 2015

 

RENT DEMANDS PUT OPPORTUNISM BEFORE RESPONSIBILITY

 

STFA is concerned to hear from members that there are a high number of rent reviews taking place this November, with more rent notices served for May 2016 reviews.  With all main farm commodity prices at low levels for a second year in a row and CAP support payments expected to be both reduced and delayed, the industry bodies must question the reasoning of landlords currently seeking rent increases.

Commenting the situation STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said:  “Landlords know that this may be their last chance to increase rents prior to the Land Reform Bill introducing a new rent test based on the productive capacity of the holding, replacing the present open market test.  All industry stakeholders including Scottish Land and Estates recognise the need for a more appropriate rent test closer to the model used south of the border for the last 30 years to ensure the setting of viable rents.  The last time commodity prices were this low for two consecutive years was back in 2005/06, but the situation is arguably worse today given the poor prospects for CAP support payments.  Landlords continuing to seek rent increases in the current climate are clearly putting opportunism before responsibility, and risk driving a wedge between tenants and landlords at a time when the tenanted sector is looking for common ground and actively promoting better relationships.

“I would like to ask Scottish Land and Estates and NFUS to encourage their members who are still driving for rent increases to consider the potential damage that they risk causing.  A number of professional agents and lawyers have expressed the view that unless a holding has not had a rent review for a very significant length of time, there is little justification to increase rents in the current economic conditions.  It is therefore ironic that tenants who have had regular rent reviews are now being threatened with referral to the Land Court unless they agree to further rent increases.

“STFA have heard that some rent cases have already been referred to the Land Court and we fear that the total number of referrals this November will be higher than previous years with tenants understandably resisting ever increasing rents.  We will monitor progress over the next fortnight, but at a time when landlords are being encouraged by both the wider industry and Scottish Government to act in a fair and responsible manner, it is clearly disappointing to hear from so many tenants who are being pushed for rent increases under a rent test that all stakeholders agree is no longer fit for purpose.  In light of the current parlous state of agriculture and the dire straits many tenants find themselves in we would strongly urge landlords to reconsider demands for rent increases and withdraw rent notices until agricultural fortunes improve.”

 

 

 

 

 

PRESSURE BUILDS TO SAVE STODDART FAMILY

PRESSURE BUILDS TO SAVE STODDART FAMILY

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

4th November 2015

 

PRESSURE BUILDS TO SAVE STODDART FAMILY

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is pleased to hear that, in the wake of intense public pressure, government officials are at last trying to find ways of intervening in the impending eviction of tenant, Andrew Stoddart whose tenancy is due to come to an end on 28th November.

Officials are hoping to put the eviction on hold to allow Andrew Stoddart to take part in the mediation process along with the other seven tenants in the same situation.  The Stoddart family are the only ones whose homes and livelihoods face imminent threat following their landlord’s (the Colstoun Trust) decision to accelerate the end of the tenancy through the Land Court.  It is hoped that the Colstoun Trust will also be prepared to work with government officials to extend Mr Stoddart’s tenancy and to enter into negotiations to provide him with a realistic and fair end of tenancy compensation package.

Commenting on the situation, STFA director Angus McCall said; “The Scottish Government lawyers have treated these tenants poorly over the last couple of years and it is only now, as the sands run out for the Stoddart family and public pressure grows, that officials have begun to take action.

“No one, particularly the Colstoun Trust can now ignore the wave of public sympathy that “Scotland’s shame” has attracted through petitions, social media and widespread press coverage.  The plight of the family has struck a powerful chord and the online petition looks as though it will attract in excess of a staggering 15,000 signatures.

“The prospect of a tenant farmer with young children being removed against his will from his farm in mid-career has horrified the general public, especially when it appears that he will not only lose his home and livelihood, but may also be left with very little for by way of end of tenancy compensation for all the years he has spent investing in and looking after the farm.

“Scotland’s tenancy system has had a rocky and desperate journey over the last decade but this episode has highlighted some of the worst aspects.  Putting aside all the legal arguments, it cannot be right that a tenant can be faced with not only the loss of his farm and future prospects but also the value of investments and improvements he has made he has made over 22 years of being a tenant, to the undoubted benefit of the landlord who inherits a windfall.

“We are pleased to hear that government is seeking ways of assisting Andrew Stoddart in his current situation, but it must bear in mind that this is not the end of the matter.  There are another 7 tenants in the same boat and government must ensure that the commitments made to them are honoured through mediation and compensation packages to allow all the tenants to get on with the rest of their lives.”

 

UPDATE 10th November

Following the demonstration at the Scottish Parliament when the petition in support of the Stoddart family was formally handed over to members of the RACCE Committee, STFA issued the statement below on behalf of Mr Stoddart in response to the comments made by the Colstoun Trust this morning:

Mr Stoddart regards this latest statement issued by Colstoun Trust as inaccurate.  Mr Stoddart’s advisers are still in dialogue with the Colstoun Trust through the offices of the Scottish Government in response to offers of assistance from Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and hope to begin to mediate a settlement shortly.  Only one proposal for compensation has been made by the Trust and that required immediate removal from the farm and an unacceptably low offer of compensation.  Mr Stoddart has not yet received a formal offer of an interim payment to account for future waygoing claims and it is understood, through informal channels, that this offer is conditional on the farm being vacated on 28th November.    The offer to remain in the farm cottage comes as news to Mr Stoddart.

Mr Stoddart would also like to correct persistent claims that the tenancy of Colstoun Farm was intended to be of fixed duration.  The lease signed by both parties was for an initial term of 15 years to continue year by year hereafter until terminated by either side.  The expectation at the time, was that this lease, in common with most Limited Partnership tenancies signed at the time, would continue for the foreseeable future.  It was also confirmed verbally by the factor of the day that the tenancy would in all likelihood be extended. Mr Stoddart has farmed the land accordingly.

Moreover, Mr Stoddart would also like to make it clear that the date of quitting the holding was formally set by the Land Court and was not willingly agreed.

 

 

WITHOUT ACTION, FARM EVICTIONS WILL BECOME SCOTLAND’S SHAME

WITHOUT ACTION, FARM EVICTIONS WILL BECOME SCOTLAND’S SHAME

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

21st October 2015

 

WITHOUT ACTION, FARM EVICTIONS WILL BECOME SCOTLAND’S SHAME

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed the focus given to land and tenancy reform at last week’s SNP conference and the clear signal from SNP grassroots support for strengthening the land reform proposals in the current bill. The delegate’s call followed a powerful news item on Channel 4 TV which highlighted what are seen as some of the worst areas of bad land and estate management in Scotland.

The conference also heard pleas to halt the impending eviction of tenant farmer Andrew Stoddart whose tenancy on Colstoun Mains in East Lothian is due to come to an end in a few short weeks. Andrew Stoddart, who also spoke at a fringe event, is the first of the Salvesen Riddell tenants to be forced to quit their farms following the Remedial Order passed by the Scottish Parliament last year.

Commenting on the grassroots “rebellion” at the SNP conference, STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “STFA has been concerned that the government may have been wilting in the face of intense pressure from landed interests, intent on weakening what can only be seen as an already diluted bill. We hope that this message from the conference will strengthen the government’s resolve to deliver more radical and much needed reforms to create fairer conditions for tenant farmers, stimulating investment on agriculture, greater access to land and encouraging opportunities for new entrants.”

STFA has also become appalled at the recent treatment of tenant farmers affected by the Salvesen Riddell Remedial Order, including Andrew Stoddart who faces imminent eviction without having had the opportunity to take part in the government’s mediation process or be considered for any recompense which should be due from the government following the implementation of the Remedial Order.

STFA Director, Angus McCall who has been involved in the Salvesen Riddell debacle for the last few years said: “This whole episode has become Scotland’s shame which has seen the victims of a legal error hung out to dry by uncaring government lawyers and an inflexible government process.

“This tragic episode stemmed from legislation passed in 2003 which was proved to be defective. The UK Supreme Court then instructed the Scottish parliament to remedy the situation and, as a consequence, 8 families will lose their farms and livelihoods. However, rather than seeking to fulfil commitments made by government to parliament and the industry, government lawyers are abdicating all responsibility and liability and refusing point blank to consider any compensation package for the affected tenants. These tenants are now faced with a lengthy and expensive court battle to exert their rights.

“STFA has already written, and is writing again to the First Minister, Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, the RACCE committee and MSPs to get the matter resolved and allow these tenants and their families to move their lives on, but all to no avail. Ministers, MSPs and some officials have expressed a willingness to help, but seem to be held to ransom by lawyers.

“We all appreciate that this is a complex situation, but the rulers of this country must accept a moral responsibility for the damage done though the actions of a previous government to these families and move without further delay to find a way towards an equitable settlement rather than forcing them into a long drawn out, expensive and life sapping legal battle. This has been devastating for all concerned and, after 18 months of prevarication, the tenants’ lives are still on hold and they are no further on in knowing their future.

“This affair has been a well-kept secret, but it must be time for the Scottish people to wake up and realise what is going on and allow common decency and a sense of fair play to prevail and put an end to this sorry affair before any lives are tragically lost as has happened in the past.”

SCOTTISH RENTS CONTINUE TO RISE DESPITE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

SCOTTISH RENTS CONTINUE TO RISE DESPITE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

23rd September 2015

SCOTTISH RENTS CONTINUE TO RISE DESPITE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Scottish tenant farmers will be looking enviously across the Border where the signs are that farm rents are, at last, beginning to fall. According to the Tenant Farmers Association in England, tenants this year are being able to agree rent reductions with landlords, typically around 10% on rents which were agreed 3 years ago. This is in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland where rents continue to rise despite a continuing downturn in commodity prices and one of the most challenging summers in recent years.

Responding to the news from England, STFA Director, Angus McCall said: “Whilst we are pleased for fellow tenants in England that rents are falling, it is vexing that Scottish rents are unable to react to economic and climatic pressures to the same extent. The feedback we are getting from members that, although rent demands are, in the main pegged to the inflationary index brokered by the industry, landlords are still expecting increases, even from rents agreed 3 years ago. There are, of course, the usual maverick land agents who are determined to push the boundaries with totally unreasonable demands, in one case a rent rise of more than 80% is being demanded on a rent agreed 3 years ago.

“The difference in rental behaviour between neighbouring countries with similar tenancy arrangements is yet more conclusive proof that, not only do we need a rental system that takes proper account of the profitability of farming, but also a more accessible way of resolving disputes. Arbitration seems to work well south of the border and dozens of rents are regularly settled, quickly and cost effectively, whereas, up here, it would be a brave person who would take a rent dispute to the Land Court and risk a court case which could take several years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to resolve accompanied by all the attendant stress and anxiety.

“The industry is working on a new rent formula based on the productive capacity of the holding which should allow rents to fluctuate in tune with economic and other circumstances, but it must also provide for a more user friendly route to settling disputes based on arbitration or expert determination. Who knows, we may see tenants serving rent review notices in a couple of years to get rents in line with what the farming business can afford!”

 

STFA CALLS FOR TENANTED FARMS TO BE EXEMPT FROM CHANGES TO SUCCESSION LAWS

STFA CALLS FOR TENANTED FARMS TO BE EXEMPT FROM CHANGES TO SUCCESSION LAWS

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

21st September 2015

STFA CALLS FOR TENANTED FARMS TO BE EXEMPT FROM CHANGES TO SUCCESSION LAWS

In responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Law of Succession the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has called for agricultural leases to be excluded from the proposed changes to succession rules.

The government is seeking to modernise succession law and is concentrating on; what should happen where there is no will; what protections should be put in place from disinheritance; and on further protection for cohabitants. Part of this modernisation is the removal of the distinction between moveable and immoveable property (buildings and land). This means, in effect, that the deceased’s spouse/civil partner and children will now have a legal share in the whole estate, including land and buildings, (previously there would only have been a claim on moveable property, such as trading stock and investments).

As well as affecting domestic succession, this will inevitably impact on land and other rural property and fears have been expressed that claims for a legal share on smaller farms may force owner-occupiers to sell parcels of land which could make them unviable. Modelling work on the impact on owner-occupier farms has shown that potential claims for a legal share could be estimated at 20 – 25% of the estate. However, no modelling work has been carried out on the impact on tenanted holdings where the tenant’s interest lease is also considered to be a heritable right and therefore treated as immoveable property, even though it has no tradeable value. These changes mean that an agricultural lease could now be valued as part of the tenant’s estates. Such a move could potentially cause many tenanted units to become unviable if the value attributed to the lease attracted an additional claim for a legal share.

Commenting on the consultation STFA Chairman, Christopher Nicholson said: “STFA has no objection to the principle of the abolition of the distinction between moveable and immoveable property in domestic law but has concerns as to the impact this may have on agricultural businesses, specifically tenanted units. Other farming organisations will be exerting considerable pressure for an exemption for all farming businesses, but our main concerns lie with the fate of tenanted holdings.

“Scotland’s 6000 heritable tenancies will be particularly hard hit if a value is attributed to the tenancy from which relatives, not in involved in the farming business, can claim a share. At the moment a farm lease cannot be tradeable and therefore has only a notional value for tax purposes. The potential value of the tenant’s interest in a lease is thought to be around 30% of the open market value of the farm and if this value is take into account as part of the estate of a deceased tenant, his successor could be faced with a crippling bill in settling claims for legal shares in the estate.

“Whereas an owner occupier can sell of parcels of land to settle such claims, a tenant has only his trading stock to sell with potentially catastrophic consequences for the business.

“Imposing such a liability on a tenanted business is at odds with the thrust of the current agricultural holdings bill which seeks to widen the class of relatives entitled to succeed to a tenanted holding. It makes no sense to encourage wider family succession on one hand whilst compromising the viability of the new business where the new tenant is faced with the prospect of paying relatives out from a lease which has no realisable value.

“STFA considers that agricultural tenancies are a special case and we are calling on the government to exempt agricultural lease from potential claims for legal shares under succession law.”

To view STFA’s response to the Consultation on Succession Law click here

 

GOVERNMENT HELD TO ACCOUNT OVER SALVESEN RIDDELL REMEDIAL ORDER

GOVERNMENT HELD TO ACCOUNT OVER SALVESEN RIDDELL REMEDIAL ORDER

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

4th September 2015

GOVERNMENT CALLED TO ACCOUNT OVER SALVESEN RIDDELL REMEDIAL ORDER

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed the Scottish Parliament’s RACCE Committee’s intervention in highlighting the lack of progress in the mediation and compensation process put in place by the Scottish government following the Salvesen Riddell Remedial Order passed by parliament in April 2014.

STFA has been trying to work with government officials over the last 18 months to develop the mediation process, but legal concerns on the part of government lawyers have consistently hindered any progress resulting in deadlock with no communication with the tenants over the last few months. STFA has also been in contact with Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead and has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, all to no avail.

Commenting on the debacle, STFA director Angus McCall said: “ This has been an incredibly frustrating and anxious time for the affected tenants who have been ready and willing to enter into a mediation process which might have brought some resolution to their desperate situations. Time is pressing as the first of these tenant farmers will face eviction from his holding in two months time and the others face losing their farms in the next year or two.

“The government has failed to honour commitments made, firstly to establish a mediation process, secondly, to look sympathetically at compensation claims on a case by case basis if mediation failed, and thirdly, not to force the tenants involved into a long drawn out legal battle for fair play. However, despite the best efforts of the tenants and their advisers to participate in the mediation process they have now been forced to consider going down the legal route to obtain some redress for the unfair way in which they have been treated and the distress it has caused.

In February of last year STFA warned that the “Salvesen Riddell” tenants should not be “hung out to dry” and should not be prejudiced for acting within the remit of the law and following professional guidance. It must be remembered that they have all already paid a high financial and emotional price for the distress and anxiety over the last few years. The Scottish Government and Parliament should accept its collective moral responsibility towards these tenants who merely acted within the legislative framework provided to them in 2003 and against the backdrop of the intention of Parliament.  We would echo the RACCE Committee’s call to stop the clock on Notices to Quit to allow the mediation proves to restart.

“STFA has also asked the First Minister to urge her government to engage in dialogue with the tenants to work towards an equitable settlement rather than forcing them into a long drawn out legal battle to achieve just satisfaction for the harm that has befallen them through no fault of their own. After 16 months of prevarication, the tenants’ lives are still on hold and they are no further on in knowing their future.”

RACCE letter and docs can be viewed here

GOVERNMENT U TURN ON SIPHON RULING – A VICTORY FOR COMMONSENSE

GOVERNMENT U TURN ON SIPHON RULING – A VICTORY FOR COMMONSENSE

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

1st September 2015

GOVERNMENT U TURN ON SIPHON RULING – A VICTORY FOR COMMONSENSE

he Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed the news last week that the Scottish Government has accepted legal opinion commissioned by STFA and now no longer intends to impose the 50% siphon on single farm payments when a tenancy is transferred by assignation or succession to a new tenant.

Article 34 of the EU regulations provides Member states with the option to siphon part of the BPS entitlements into the National Reserve. In an attempt to discourage trading of entitlements and slipper farming, the Scottish Government elected to apply a 50% siphon to entitlements transferred without land.

Until challenged by STFA, the Scottish Government had intended to treat the transfer of an agricultural lease as a “transfer without land” and therefore liable to trigger the 50% siphon. It has now been recognised that legally, a tenant occupying land under an agricultural lease holds an interest in the land and so, transferring that interest counts as a transfer of land and should not therefore be subject to a siphon.

Commenting on the result STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The Scottish Government’s interpretation of the rules, which only came to light by chance, could have been devastating to many tenants who have just, or who are about to pass their tenancies on to the next generation. Fortunately this mistake has been spotted in time and can now be corrected so tenants who have recently taken over a family tenancy can be reassured that they will not lose half of their single farm payment.

“We are surprised that government officials interpreted the regulations in such a narrow way without considering possible unintended consequences and how they could be avoided. Without STFA’s intervention we would have been in the ludicrous position, where government policy was encouraging wider family succession to tenancies with one hand and clawing back single farm payments with the other. This must call into question the interpretation of other seemingly nonsensical regulations which could bear further scrutiny. Government officialdom doesn’t always get it right!”

Agriculture law expert Hamish Lean from Stronachs LLP also said; “It was very satisfying to have helped the STFA achieve this victory for common sense in the interpretation of the Basic Payment Rules. It’s also an object lesson in not taking Scottish Government guidelines at face value. It is always the underlying European Regulations which set out the law and which must be referred to for the definitive answer.”

 

 

STFA SIGNALS GREEN LIGHT FOR LAND REFORM BILL

STFA SIGNALS GREEN LIGHT FOR LAND REFORM BILL

Scottish Tenant Farmers

News Release

 

18th August 2015

STFA SIGNALS GREEN LIGHT FOR LAND REFORM BILL

 In submitting evidence to the draft Land Reform Bill, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has signalled its support for the general principles and the objectives of the draft Bill. STFA also welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to view land and tenancy reform as an ongoing process rather than a one stop shop and sees the establishment of a Land Commission and a Tenant Farming Commissioner as key its success.

 STFA has been lobbying for substantial changes to tenancy legislation over the past decade and is pleased to see many of these reforms in the bill; the creation of a Tenant Farming Commissioner, a fairer rent system, proper recognition of tenants’ improvements and enhanced succession rights. However, there are some gaps in the Bill which we hope will be addressed at Stage Two such as measures to encourage retirement by ensuring fairer end of tenancy compensation and the creation of assignation opportunities to allow new entrants and others climbing the farming ladder access to secure tenure.

 Commenting on the bill, STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “There has been a great deal of debate over the proposed Land Reform Bill, many think the proposals don’t go far enough, others object because they fear it goes too far. However, in reality, the bill is a diluted version of some of the Land Reform Review Group’ recommendations and there is little in the Bill that that responsible landowners or land managers should fear, despite the rhetoric of landed interests. The Scottish Government has been very cautious in is approach and ensured that all measures are ECHR compliant.

 “However, human rights should not be seen the exclusive preserve of landowners and STFA is pleased that the Bill proposes to widen the range of relatives allowed to succeed into the family tenancy. This will safeguard the investment made by generations of the same family in the tenanted farm and help reverse the steady erosion of tenants’ property rights since security of tenure was granted in 1948.

 “The Bill recognises the value of secure tenure and the need to maintain secure tenancies as a reliable and long term model of land tenure. STFA would like to see access to secure tenure widened and believes that the initial proposal to open access to secure tenancies to non-family through assignation should be reconsidered at Stage Two.

 “The Bill has, however, failed to address the difficulties tenants can experience in receiving fair compensation for their improvements at the end of their tenancy. Firstly, STFA has reiterated its proposal to create a double notice to quit procedure so that the tenant is not forced to leave the holding before compensation has been agreed and secondly STFA proposes that all improvements should be eligible for compensation, as long as they increase the capital value of the holding. This would cover improvements to houses, environmental and conservation works and so on which are not at present part of the compensation mix. These are important issues for all tenant farmers and STFA hopes they will be addressed at stage Two of the bill.

 “STFA welcomes the forthcoming debate over agricultural holdings section of the Land Reform Bill and commends the Scottish Government in taking the lead with tenancy reform. 12 years of engagement in the Tenant Farming Forum produced little bar stalemate and STFA now looks forward to working with other stakeholders, the Scottish Government and the RACCE Committee to strengthen the bill as it passes through the parliament and bring much needed change to the land tenure structure in Scotland.”

Read STFA’s submission here