Scottish Parliament approves The Agricultural Holdings (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill 2011
The Bill, introduced on 31 October 2011, amends the law governing succession to agricultural tenancies and the review or variation of rent under such tenancies. It makes significant changes to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts 1991 and 2003. The changes are largely in response to suggestions made by the Tenant Farming Forum (TFF) for encouraging the release of land to rent.
The Bill progressed to Stage 2 on 30 March 2012 and proposes various changes, including:
Definition of “near relative”
The Bill amends the definition of “near relative” to include grandchildren of a deceased tenant. At present, “near relative” includes only a surviving spouse, civil partner, or child of the deceased. This definition becomes significant when a “notice to quit” is served upon the death of a tenant and ensures that when the notice to quit is served, there are a greater number of family members available to serve a counter notice on the landlord. This is particularly important in situations where the grandchild survives his parent; currently, where a grandchild survives his parent, he is not entitled to serve a counter notice, since he is not recognised as a “near relative” under the legislation.
The serving of a counter notice also provides that the Land Court’s consent is required before the landlord’s notice can be effectively operated. Ultimately, the Bill may serve to benefit the families of deceased tenants who may wish to continue with the lease, by ensuring that they have greater opportunity, and a greater number of qualifying family members, to challenge the notice to quit.
Prohibition of upward-only and landlord-only rent reviews
The Bill introduces a prohibition, ensuring landlords do not have the clear advantage of imposing such conditions. The prohibition will apply only to new leases (i.e. those entered into once the Bill becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament). The provisions of the Act will not be used retrospectively.
Plans for a “Rural Parliament”
The Scottish Parliament is progressing with its plans to create a rural parliament for Scotland. The basic idea of a rural Parliament is to empower Scotland’s rural communities, giving them a stronger voice and real access to decision making. The parliament would work closely with the Scottish Parliament on rural issues, enabling more enlightened discussion and realistic policy making. With their experience and knowledge of rural issues, there is a strong argument that members of the rural community ought to be closely involved in any decision making that affects their community and potentially their livelihood.
The plans for a rural parliament were first mentioned in the SNP’s “Programme for Scotland 2011 - 12”, and the SNP remains committed to the idea. In March 2012, an initial meeting took place, with interested parties discussing the potential shape of such a parliament. A further meeting will be held May with representatives from existing European rural parliaments (e.g. Sweden and Finland) to discuss the particulars of what a Scottish model would look like as well as how rural parliaments actually operate in practice. Groups including Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Association of Scottish Community Councils are involved in ongoing discussions.
Though the details of the shape of such a parliament remain to be seen, and the conversation at present is very abstract, awareness of these ongoing discussions and the possibility of the creation of a rural parliament are certainly something to be aware of.
Crofting Reform in Scotland
In 2010 the Scottish Government began the process of reforming crofting. Reform began with the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, which made various changes to crofting procedures, including provision for the establishment of an elections process for the Crofters Commission. The changes implemented by the 2010 Act were consolidated in December 2011, when the Crofting Commission (Elections) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 came into force.
The regulations form part of the mechanism for the re-organisation of the newly named “Crofting Commission” (the name having been changed on 1 April 2012 from the “Crofters Commission) by setting out provision for the establishment of a Crofting Electoral Register. The regulations also set out guidelines for the nomination and election of candidates for membership of the Crofting Commission.
The reasoning behind having a democratic election process to the Crofting Commission is to ensure that crofting is regulated properly and by people elected by crofters themselves. It is likely that some, if not all of the elected representatives will in fact be crofters, and of course the majority of the electors themselves will be crofters, too. Therefore, the crofters are being represented by people who can truly represent, and appreciate, their concerns and interests to the Crofting Commission. Since the Crofting Commission works closely with the Scottish Government on crofting issues, it is important that the Commission is comprised of people who are knowledgeable in the field. This will create closer ties between the crofting community and the Scottish government.
Electoral Register: A Registration Officer (the chief executive of the Commission) must compile and maintain a register of electors, known as The Crofting Electoral Register, for each crofting constituency. There are six constituencies: Shetland, Orkney and Caithness, East Highlands, Western Isles, West Highlands, and South West Highlands. The Register will include details of the names and home and croft addresses of any persons entitled to vote in the crofting constituency. To be entitled to vote, a person must be aged 16 or over, entered into the Register of Crofts and entered into the electoral register. The elections will take place every five years.
Running for election: a person can run for election if they are over 16 years of age and are registered in the Crofting Register as a crofter or are owners / occupiers of a croft. Alternatively, a person over the age of 16 can run for election if they are nominated by an elector. A person will be disqualified from running if they have in the previous year been an MP, MSP, or member of the European Parliament. Other grounds for disqualification include someone who is insolvent, has been convicted of a criminal offence in the last five years (for which a sentence of three months or more imprisonment was imposed), or is impaired by a physical or mental disorder.
For further information and guidance, please contact Jane Steel at bto.