Only a day after the land reform bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament, NFU Scotland announced that it is to set up a new working group to look into the details of implementing the legislation.
Revealing the move only hours after the bill had been approved by a majority of 102 to 14, NFUS president Allan Bowie said that the group would have the task of ensuring that the practical aspects and wider implications were fully understood by the union’s staff and office-bearers.
He said that professional advisers were being taken on to underpin the knowledge of experienced union members in the group.
High on the group’s agenda would be issues left to secondary legislation, such as the productive capacity test for rent reviews, standards of repair for farmhouses, interposed leases, and fiscal incentives for letting land.
Bowie said: “The land reform bill undoubtedly contains measures which will provide positive change for tenants and landlords alike in Scotland. However, NFU Scotland has always said it will measure the long-term success of the legislation on an increased amount of land being available for let in the future on a long-term secure basis.
“The legislation … contains a number of areas where the detail is yet to be developed.”
He said the union had always supported two separate bills – one for land reform and one for agricultural holdings – an approach he believed would have allowed unresolved issues to be thrashed out during the primary legislation discussions.
He said: “It is regrettable that this bill hasn’t been the vehicle in which to address further measures which could secure the confidence and vibrancy of the tenanted sector in Scotland.
“However, during parliamentary scrutiny the cabinet secretary undertook to examine further a number of issues which will be instrumental in driving future change in the sector.”
• Landowners’ group Scottish Land & Estates was quick to condemn the bill, saying it would be damaging for rural Scotland.
The organisation said that while it supported areas such as increased transparency and community engagement, it believed that parts of the legislation would lead to “years of uncertainty, questions over investment and division in rural Scotland”.
Chairman David Johnstone said: “These include the prospect of enforced sale of productive land by government ministers; changes to tenant farming legislation that jeopardise the future of the sector; and the ‘chaotic’ re-introduction of non-domestic rates on sporting estates.
“The Scottish Government is bringing into force legislation that may take years of discussion on the detail of how they will work in practice, and are very likely to end in legal challenge.”