Agriculture specialist comments on the ‘right to buy’ farmers issue raised by Rob Gibson MSP last week.
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a partner at Pagan Osborne and accredited specialist in agricultural law, writes:
“There has been a sharp exchange of letters recently which illustrate the landlord-tenant divide and once again raising the very fraught and difficult question of tenant farmers having an absolute right to buy the farms which they lease. Crofters already have rights such as this, however the possibility of tenant farmers having a similar right is highly controversial.
“This is an issue which Scottish Ministers seemed to have ruled out and landlords had hoped was no longer on the agenda, but as far as the debate is concerned it appears to have been put firmly back on the agenda following comments made by SNP MSP Rob Gibson last week.
“Many organisations including the Tenant Farming Foru) have done extremely valuable work in building up the trust and confidence between landlords and tenants. Trust in a long term relationship is essential particularly in traditional agricultural leases which may last for several generations.
“There is little doubt that the fear of an absolute right to buy is a major concern to landlords and does nothing to encourage them to consider letting more land which is a major objective of this Government. Anything which undermines trust between parties undoes much of the hard work that has gone into building relationships between them.
“The renewed threat of an absolute right to buy will have a significant effect on the letting market. Few if any landlords will be prepared to let land if there is a possibility of being forced to sell when they do not wish to do so.
“It is in everyone’s interest to have a healthy tenanted sector but all the feedback from landlords shows that introducing an absolute right to buy is not the way to do it. There is a mechanism in place already which gives tenants a chance to buy their farm although it only applies if the land is put up for sale by the landlord but many tenants have bought in these circumstances.
“It is recognised that tenant farmers play an extremely important role in Scottish agriculture. With land values being high at the moment leasing land is the only realistic chance a new entrant has to farm on their own account short of winning the lottery so every effort should go into encouraging owners to make more land available for let.
“Unfortunately, resurrecting the spectre of an absolute right to buy is likely to have the opposite effect.”