8 January 1999

Tenants right to buy not in Scots reforms

By Allan Wright

LAND reform in Scotland, proposed by the government, will not give traditional tenant farmers the right the buy their holdings when estates are sold.

"This is a major disappointment. All we wanted was for tenants to have the first right to buy at market value. Tenants should have the same rights as those being proposed for crofters and rural communities," said Scottish NFU president George Lyon.

Final conclusions

He was speaking on Tuesday after final recommendations from the governments land reform policy group were announced in Edinburgh. The proposals include legislation to abolish the feudal land system, give all crofting communities the right to buy their land at any time, and community bodies throughout Scotland the right to buy land when it came on the market.

Legislation would also give Scottish ministers a new compulsory purchase power if it appeared to be in the public interest. "That would deter evasion of the community right to buy," said Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar. There would be no compensation for landlords for the time taken by community bodies to raise cash. The buying price would be set by government appointed valuers.

The compulsory purchase powers would extend to estates that were being mismanaged, leading the Scottish Landowners Federation to threaten European Court action to protect owners.

Tenant farmers, denied the right to buy on the grounds that it would break up estates and reduce prospects for new entrants, would benefit from legislation to allow greater diversification, a much simplified arbitration process, and the right to farm part-time without fear of eviction.

Mr Dewar said he hoped the land reform package would be implemented by the new Scottish parliament in a series of Bills. Scottish Tories, however, oppose community ownership while the SNP says the proposals in that direction do not go far enough.

Licence to farm

Proposals not involving legislation contain a move towards a licence to farm. A code of practice on rural land use is suggested aScots reformsnd there is to be a further study on the possibility of making provision of public support conditional on meeting the code of practice.

The Scottish Landowners Federation announced that it would be publishing its own code within the next week or so.