Dear Sir,

Leaving aside the constraints of judicial neutrality which normally apply to judges, Lord Gill’s address to the SAAVA AGM arguing that recent tenancy reforms and the new style limited duration leases have failed to help new lettings will have caused surprise for many people involved with the tenanted sector.

Five years have passed since Richard Lochhead’s Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group started their work which led to Part 10 of the 2016 Land Reform Act. Over the period Scottish Government figures show that the area of tenanted land has been stable for the first time in decades, despite large areas dropping out of the tenanted sector to forestry and a significant number of sitting tenants buying their farms.

The tenanted area has been maintained over the period by big increases in the use of the new style limited duration leases (SLDTs, LDTs and MLDTs). From 2014 to 2018 the area under limited duration leases rose by around 150,000 ha, an increase of over 60%. To put that into perspective, 150,000 ha is roughly the total area of winter cereals sown each year in Scotland. Considering the pressures from forestry and a fiscal policy which currently works against the letting of land, these new leases first introduced in 2003 appear to be working well in generating new lettings.

Lord Gill cited elements of retrospective legislation in both the 2003 and 2016 Acts which, he claims, served to damage landlords’ confidence to let land, including the right for tenants to diversify, the introduction of family assignation (2003 Act), and the amnesty for tenant’s improvements (2016 Act). However, diversification is now recognised as a necessity for the future survival of family farms in marginal areas, assignation has been a success in allowing new blood into tenancies early in their careers, and the amnesty is vital for continuing investment and was originally proposed by landlords.

Lord Gill also questioned the need for security of tenure, arguing that that food security is no longer the same concern it once was immediately after the Second World War. However, in contrast to the 1940s when labour was plentiful and cheap, with grain stored in sheaves in a stack yard and dairy cows milked by hand in byres dating from the Victorian era, today’s food security is dependent on huge investments in modern farm infrastructure which could not be supported by tenants without security of tenure or leases of 30 years or more.

While some of Lord Gill’s calls could be supported by all, such as the need to consolidate legislation which is currently spread over a number of Acts, some of his other comments can only be destabilising and unhelpful at a time when we are seeing significant improvements in the tenanted sector. Relationships between landlords and tenants are healthier, new lettings have been increasing, and the establishment of the Tenant Farming Commissioner has brought about a calm in the sector we haven’t seen in over two decades. The last thing we need are divisive demands to turn the clock back seventy years. Times move on.

Christopher Nicholson

Chairman Scottish Tenant Farmers Association