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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Minister's u-turn over land purchase
Tenant farmers are expected to benefit
Tenant farmers in Scotland are to be given the opportunity to buy their land if and when it comes on the market.

Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie has had a change of heart over the move, which will now be included in a new Agricultural Holdings Bill.

Critics of the Scottish Executive's "right-to-buy" plan say it amounts to "robbing" landowners - but some farmers do not believe it goes far enough.

The Scottish Landowners' Federation said it was concerned about an absolute right-to-buy and the possible implications it may have.

We do not want an absolute right to buy

John Jeffrey

But one tenant farmer told BBC Scotland that some form of right-to-buy would protect those farmers who had invested and improved land.

Last year, Justice Minister Jim Wallace promised that the Land Reform Bill would create "a right of responsible access" to land.

The residents of Eigg and Gigha bought their respective islands and under new land reform laws communities across Scotland will have the right to do the same.

If the landowner is selling they will have first right of refusal and six months to raise the cash.

There is a similar deal for crofters - but until now Mr Finnie had been against extending the privilege to tenant farmers.

Consultation period

However, he announced on Tuesday that the right to buy for tenant farmers would be included in the Agricultural Holdings Bill.

"It is my intention that the bill should provide secure tenancy under the existing 1991 Act, with the pre-emptive right to purchase their holding from the selling landlord," he said.

The Bill is now subject to a three-month consultation period.

If it becomes law some 10,000 farmers will secure the right to buy their land if it is put on the market - although those on short-term leases will not be eligible.

Ross Finnie
Ross Finnie: Previously opposed to idea

John Jeffrey, a tenant farmer from the Borders, said he would welcome the opportunity to buy the land.

"We do not want an absolute right-to-buy. There is no reason why we should be able to go to a landlord and demand to buy it," he said.

"But a pre-emptive right is definitely within our rights because if he is going to sell it then we should be given first refusal on it."

Mr Jeffrey said farmers should be able to carry on with the investment and improvements they have made to the land.

"Two problems could be what triggers the right-to-buy and also who is going to fix the price we have to pay."

Market value

Robert Balfour, convenor of the Scottish Landowners' Federation, said concern existed about an absolute right-to-buy.

Mr Balfour said: "That would lead to a lack of investment by landowners in tenant farms because of the risks that they could be taken off them when they didn't want to.

"I am worried that it might be the thin end of a wedge.

"We have taken the view that if the executive introduces the right of a pre-emption at full open market value, then it is not something that we will oppose."

Political correspondent Glenn Campbell
"The scheme has its critics"
See also:

28 Nov 01 | Scotland
New row over land reform plans
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
Access pledge in land plans
24 Aug 01 | Scotland
Land reform splits Lib Dems
18 Aug 01 | Scotland
Islanders consider community buy-out
13 Aug 01 | Scotland
Call to help residents buy island
10 Aug 01 | Scotland
Isle be yours - for 3.85m
16 Jul 01 | Scotland
Land reform warning to ministers
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