Farming: Union walks tightrope over tenancies and reform

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The National Farmers Union of Scotland this week admitted that when dealing with tenancy issues and land reform it walked a tightrope between the disparate views of its membership.

Union president Nigel Miller said the last time the issue of allowing tenants a right to buy their farms had been in the news, such had been the strength of feeling that some members had resigned.

A recent online survey by the union carried out in order to base their response to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group, had produced a considerable majority seemingly in favour of giving tenants the absolute right to buy their properties, but Miller said that would not be union policy.

“The last time the possibility of introducing an absolute right to buy was discussed we (the union) lost members and I would fully expect to lose more if that became our stance.”

He explained that while there seemed from the online responses to be support for this move, the union believed the survey had been hijacked by one or two individuals who were strongly pushing that agenda.

He claimed the vast majority of Scotland’s existing 4,000 or so farm tenants’ first priority was a simpler system of dispute resolution between landlord and tenant and the union were working towards that end.

There was, however, union support for a right to buy for those who went through the process of registering this option. This has been in place for almost a decade, following the last reform of land legislation.

According to the union, only a few farm tenants have bothered to go through the registration process.

Throughout their wide-ranging submission to the LRRG, the union’s main line was that land management was of more importance than land ownership. This and the need to keep a wide diversity of options in rural areas was pressed home by the union, who were keen to get the three members of the LRRG group on to farms to ensure they are aware of the issues facing the agricultural industry.

Miller said knowledge of 
current farming systems and priorities was important before the LRRG presented its findings to Government, as the union was aware that a slot has been left in the legislative timetable of the Scottish Parliament in 2014 for possible changes in the laws.