Clarity on Land Reform Bill Needed

Community buy out concerns but vital detail missing

Scotland’s landmark Land Reform Bill is pushing forward at pace, but NFU Scotland is calling for further clarity to be delivered to allow proper debate to take place.

NFU Scotland has briefed MSPs on the proposed Land Reform Bill ahead of today’s debate in the Scottish Parliament (16 December).

MSPs will vote on the Bill after this afternoon’s debate, following which the legislation will enter Stage 2, when MSPs and Scottish Government are able to table amendments to the proposals. An amended Bill will enter Stage 3 in the spring, with a view to the legislation receiving royal assent before the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.

The pace of the legislation going through parliament opens up the potential for change to be driven through secondary legislation and the Union is looking for the Scottish Government to fully engage with all stakeholders prior to secondary legislation being drafted, to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

One crucial area of the Bill involves extending the rights of communities to purchase land.  The legislative changes regarding community right to buy have implications for all farmers – owner occupiers, tenants and estates – and could affect farm businesses regardless of whether they farm one acre or 1,000 acres.

While the Union recognises that the direction of travel within the Bill is, in part, to secure the Scottish Government’s ambition of doubling the amount of land in community ownership by 2020 – from 500,000 acres to one million acres – the criteria around how a community is defined and in what circumstances the right to buy would be granted are still unclear.

Speaking ahead of today’s debate, NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “Much work still needs to be done to ensure we end up with a Land Reform Bill that will support food production and help deliver a vibrant tenanted sector that provides for both tenant and landowner.

 “However, in some crucial areas, the direction of travel is clear and unhelpful for farmers.  Scottish Government wants to lower the bar to support communities in their ambition to buy and manage land.  The difficulty is that, at this moment in time, proposals are so vague that no one knows where the bar actually is.

“Until the threshold on community right to buy is defined, then any land – whether owner-occupied, tenanted or part of an estate – could be included and the farm business affected. Promises and verbal reassurances that those with well-managed farmland have nothing to fear are not enough.  Scottish Government must ensure this principle is enshrined in the Bill.

“Today’s debate will also look to make progress on agricultural holdings – a huge element of the proposed Bill.

“It is worth reminding ourselves that following the publication of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group’s (AHLRG) well-reasoned recommendations last year, key stakeholders – NFU Scotland, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and Scottish Land and Estates - have very quickly taken responsibility and joint guidance on the big pressure points of rent reviews, recording tenant’s improvements, Limited Partnerships and landlord/tenant obligations have already been delivered to industry.

“NFU Scotland believes that voluntary codes, in principle, are good but there are clearly instances where these codes are not being adhered to.  It has always been our view that they should become statutory requirements as part of the Bill. That list must also include a statutory code of practice for land agents, given the key role that they play.

“We also welcome the engagement that interim Tenant Farming Commissioner Andrew Thin has had with stakeholders since his appointment but this crucial role, when enshrined in the Bill, must have powers to enforce statutory codes and proactively ensure they are being followed.

“There is much of what is contained in the Bill that reflects NFU Scotland’s views, based on one of the widest consultation exercises we have undertaken with our members.  Those were primarily focussed on addressing areas of conflict and routes to delivering a more vibrant let land market.

“On detail, when we get to Stage Two in debating the Bill, it is already widely known that a Scottish Government amendment to the legislation will be forthcoming that will effectively allow ‘secure tenants’ with a 1991 Act tenancy to assign their tenancy to a new entrant or to a progressing farmer, on the same terms as their existing tenancy.

“That is a substantial change to both what was recommended by the Agricultural Holdings Review Group and what was originally proposed in the draft legislation.

“Extensive discussion within NFUS throughout the agricultural holdings review process concluded that converting secure tenancies to fixed-term tenancies would retain confidence for both sides in a negotiation. It is therefore clear that a view must now be taken from the NFUS membership on this new proposal. The issue has already been discussed with our Tenant Farming Working Group, Legal and Technical Committee, some large landholding members and our Board of Directors.  It will also be on the agenda at nine regional AGMs which will take place throughout January 2016.

“Trust and confidence remains fragile across tenants, owner-occupiers, estates, new entrants and land agents, but it is inherent on all stakeholders – including Scottish Government – that what emerges avoids knee-jerk policies but is a well-reasoned, well-thought out piece of legislation that encourages longer-term letting for the future.”

Notes to Editors

  • A copy of NFU Scotland’s briefing issued to MSPs ahead of the debate in the Scottish Parliament today (Wednesday, 16 December) is available on request from


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 232/15

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