A row has broken out over new plans to allow Scottish farm tenants to assign their tenancies to other farmers.
Scottish Land and Estates said enabling tenants to effectively ‘sell’ their tenancies would be a ‘generational betrayal of the tenanted sector and therefore of Scottish agriculture’.
The Scottish Government tabled an amendment to the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill which will enable tenant farmers with secure 1991 Act tenancies to assign their tenancies to another tenant, thereby perpetuating the secure tenancy and denying landlord access to their property.
SLE said the move would ‘shatter confidence’ in the sector and undermine the future of tenant farming.
But the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) blasted he SLE’s concerns as ‘hysterical scaremongering’.
STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said assignation of 1991 tenancies had widespread support within the tenanted sector.
“Those with experience of security of tenure appreciate its benefits as a model of land tenure and would like to see these benefits rolled out more widely,” he said.
“A recent STFA survey of members showed 84 per cent of respondents in favour of assignation and a 90 per cent in favour of ring-fencing the tenanted sector.
“This proposal has the potential to re-introduce the farming ladder by creating opportunities for new and developing businesses to benefit from security of tenure with the added benefit of reducing the plummeting decline in the area under secure tenancy. “
Mr Nicholson said it may also encourage long-term investment in holdings.
But SLE chairman David Johnstone predicted the amount of land let to tenant farmers on a long-term basis would plummet and owner-occupier farmers looking to retire would not want to let land for fear of losing control of it.
He said landlords could be forced to mount legal challenges claiming a breach of property rights and submit claims for compensation estimated at several hundred million pounds.
Mr Johnstone accused Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead of proposing the move at the eleventh hour and not listening to industry concerns.
He added: “If his proposed measure goes ahead he will go down in history as the Cabinet Secretary who heralded the demise of the tenant farming sector in Scotland.”