Scottish parliament committee: “Immediate” action needed over eviction of farming families


Scottish Government must take “immediate and effective action” to stop eviction or provide compensation

THREE FARMING FAMILIES facing eviction by their landlord in East Lothian require the urgent support of the Scottish Government to provide support, according to an influential committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The Colstoun Mains scandal – where four adults and seven children face being removed from an estate near Haddington – has raised concerns over the lack of rights for tenant farmers amid a wider struggle for land reform in Scotland.

Now the convenor of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) committee Rob Gibson MSP has written to cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead MSP calling for the case to be included in ongoing attempts at tenant-landlord mediation.

Gibson, on behalf of the committee, wrote: “In addition to those tenants, the committee asks that you take immediate and effective action to secure appropriate resolution in the case of Mr Andrew Stoddart, who is facing eviction from his tenancy at the end of next month.

“The Scottish Government must intervene in his case without any further delay to ensure he is either enabled to continue in his tenancy or is appropriately and rapidly compensated for the loss of the tenancy.”

Stoddart is the most high profile tenant involved in the case as he has worked on the farm for over 22 years, and has developed its infrastructure by over PS500,000 in estimated values.

He was involved in a long-running legal dispute with the landlord, Colstoun Mains Trust, over the overcharging of rent – which led to a rent reduction for the tenant.

“It’s not from a lack of will from the ministers and MSPs. It’s the legal barriers that have been put in their way by government lawyers who have been extremely cautious.” Angus McCall

However, following that decision his fixed term tenancy has not been renewed, a decision that would evict three families and their children from the estate. Stoddart says the decision has been made so the landlord can increase his rent.

Activist Simon Brooke believes that Stoddart has been targeted due to his campaigning in favour of land reform.

Provost Ludovic Broun-Lindsay, a Conservative on East Lothian Council, is the landlord of the estate and has a “life rental” with Colstoun Trust. Sir Francis Gilbert Arthur Ogilvy is the factor or manager for the estate. Neither were available for comment.

In response to the letter, a Scottish Government spokesman told CommonSpace: “We’re doing everything we can to support all those involved and have encouraged landlords and tenants to take part in mediation. Given legal considerations, we can’t provide a commentary on the situation, however, we will provide a further update for the RACCE Committee next week.”

Angus McCall from the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association added: “We’ve been trying to get the government to take action. They have to accept that they should try to broker a settlement then look at compensation issues. We need to make sure that they follow through and do that.”

“It’s not from a lack of will from the ministers and MSPs. It’s the legal barriers that have been put in their way by government lawyers who have been extremely cautious.”

This echoes previous fears as part of the land reform bill debate that the government is under pressure from lawyers and wealthy business interests , who may sue the government if it takes action against the concentrated ownership of land in Scotland.

Campaigners, who see the Colstoun Mains scandal as symbolic of a wider need for land reform, have called for people to resist the eviction .

The Land Reform Bill does not give tenant farmers the right to buy their farms. Proposals from the Land Reform Review Group have been watered down, which led to a rebellion from SNP members – who rejected the party’s policy at its conference for failing to take necessary action .

The date for the Colstoun Mains eviction is set for Saturday 28 November.

Picture courtesy of Channel4 News