Crofter's house, Diurinish Peninsula near Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland© Rex Shutterstock

Allowing tenants to assign their tenancies to non-family members as part of Scotland’s Land Reform Bill would help to reinstate some of the missing rungs on the farming ladder, according to the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association.

The STFA issued a statement as members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) prepared to debate Stage 1 of the Land Reform Bill on Wednesday (16 December).

The organisation said it was pleased the Scottish government had recently revealed it planned to introduce amendments at Stage 2 of the Bill to allow non-family assignation under certain conditions.

See also: Farm industry reacts to Scotland’s Land Reform Bill

The government has indicated it wants to see farmers with a 1991 Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act tenancy be allowed to pass it to a new entrant or progressing farmer.

The landlord would have the option to purchase the tenant’s interest as an alternative to the tenancy being assigned.

“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,” said the statement.

“The assignation proposal will open up opportunities for tenants to retire with a realistic waygo valuation [when tenancy ends] 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 reinstate the missing rungs in the farming ladder and widen access to secure tenancies.”

In a letter to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (Racce) sent on 4 December, a Scottish government official said the idea would be to give 1991 Act tenants a secure way of exiting their tenancies even if they did not currently have an eligible successor.

It would allow people to retire at an appropriate point, enabling holdings to pass to newer or younger tenants who were likely to farm the land more productively and to modernise.

At the same time it would still protect landlords’ right to their property, he claimed.

The Racce has gone through the proposed Bill line by line, producing a detailed report, which it published on 9 December.

After taking evidence from a wide range of people, it said the issue of who should be able to succeed a 1991 tenancy had proved to be one of the most controversial aspects of the whole Bill and there had been significant disagreement between landlords and tenants.

The committee warned that before any change in legislation was passed by parliament the implications under human rights law had to be considered.

Evidence submitted by Scottish Land and Estates (SLaE) pointed to the fact that retrospective changes to the 1991 Act would be counterproductive to the aim of encouraging the letting of land.

SLaE asked the committee “how landlords can have confidence in future legislation when the terms of existing legislation and agreements are constantly being altered in such dramatic terms.”