Land Reform Bill an enormous step forward

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

 16th March 2016

Land Reform Bill an enormous step forward

  The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has greeted the Land Reform Bill, successfully passed through the Scottish Parliament today by an overwhelming majority, as the most significant reform to tenancy legislation since tenant farmers were granted security of tenure in 1948. The Land Reform part of the Bill is an enormous step forward to bringing much needed change to the way in which Scotland’s land is owned and managed, and the establishment of the Land Commission will guarantee the land reform becomes an on-going process.

Part 10 of the Bill, on Agricultural Holdings, has greatly strengthened the position of tenants by creating a Tenant farming Commissioner to improve relationships and see fair play between landlords and tenants; introduce a much fairer and more transparent system of rent reviews; improve the end of tenancy compensation; greatly broaden the class of relative entitled to succeed into a tenancy; and create an exit route for 1991 tenants to assign their tenancies to new entrants or farmers progressing through the industry if their landlord does not want to buy them out.

Commenting on the bill STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The tenanted sector has been in long term decline for decades, in 1982, 42% of Scotland’s farmland was tenanted, today it is 24% and these reforms to agricultural holdings will go a long way to breathe new life into the tenanted sector.

“The Scottish Government has recognised the value of 1991 tenancies and the family farms they represent as the backbone of the tenanted sector and has taken steps to ensure they do not wither on the vine by allowing them to be passed to a much wider group of relatives and also to new entrants and farmers making their way up the farming ladder. Rather than “mothball” the tenanted sector, as suggested by Alex Fergusson MSP in parliament today, the proposed changes to tenancy legislation will inject a new dynamism creating confidence, stimulating investment and forward planning.

“Opponents to the bill should now stop the rhetoric of threatening not to let land or to legally challenge the new legislation, and recognise that Scotland is moving on and land reform is becoming a reality. There is nothing in the bill that should deter landlords from using the new tenancies and, in practice, there will be very little in the rest of the bill which will materially disadvantage landlords.

“Tenants will also be heartened that this bill is taking a hard line with the behaviour of land agents who are frequently the cause of breakdowns in landlord/tenant relationships. One of the first tasks of the new Tenant Farming Commissioner will be to conduct a review of the way in which land agents operate and make recommendations where necessary.  This will build on the work already started by the interim commissioner, Andrew Thin, and will go a long way to regulate the bad behaviour which has been a blight on the sector.

“This bill was very much unfinished business from 2003 and STFA is pleased that some of our key objectives since then have been achieved:

  • High profile rent reviews have highlighted the deficiencies in the rent system – that is now being overhauled.
  • The lack of investment in tenanted farms has inhibited tenant farmers in comparison to their owner-occupier peers, new compensation and end of tenancy options will stimulate investment and put tenants on a level playing field with other farmers.
  • Finally, concerns over the rapid fall in 1991 secure tenancies will now be addressed by wider succession and assignations provisions. There is still more to do, but this is a good start.“In addition to bring forward legislation fit for 21st century agriculture, the bill also heralds a change in culture for landlords and tenants. Attitudes of the past should be put aside and the focus must now be on developing successful long-term businesses in the tenanted sector by making best use of the new legislation.”