Background of the Bill
With the Scottish Government’s ambition to be “Net Zero” by 2024, it has launched a sequence of land reform and policy changes targeting the rural community.
As a result, Net Zero has become a theme of discussion in the agricultural business world. Keeping up with the proposed changes to the management and organisation of rural business is of the utmost importance for farmers and crofters, to best prepare them for the future.
The rural community must adhere to these changes, and contribute to the move towards sustainability and the rise of natural capital as part of the Government’s Net Zero ambitions.
The Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill
On 29 September 2023, the Scottish Government introduced their proposal for the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill. This Bill seeks to further the goals issued on 2 March 2022 in their Vision for Scottish Agriculture, which are:
- the adoption of sustainable, regenerative agricultural policies;
- the production of high-quality food;
- on-farm nature restoration, climate mitigation and adaption; and
- enabling rural communities to thrive.
The Scottish Government have stated that the Bill will “attempt to recognise the crucial role that farmers and crofters play in delivering climate mitigation, biodiversity, and the production of high-quality food.”
The purpose of this Bill is to reform financial aid for rural communities and restructure farming businesses in line with sustainable practices in areas such as food production and rural development.
To date, financial aid has been provided by the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP offers monetary support for rural development and farming businesses through the provision of subsidies.
Following Brexit, the Scottish Government will have discretion on the granting of such support. It is intended that the new Agricultural and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill will give Scottish Ministers the power to create this new framework for financial assistance.
Aims of the Bill
The Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill will reform the current framework of financial support available for farming and food production businesses.
The current outline provided by the Scottish Parliament states that:
- The Bill will put Scottish Ministers under a duty to publish a five-year Rural Support Plan, targeting farming, forestry, and rural development support.
- The Bill will create powers enabling Scottish Ministers to amend and repeal existing rules under the current EU-derived CAP and create new support mechanisms using secondary legislation.
- The Bill will enable the Scottish Government to introduce training requirements for farmers and other workers. The regulation of animal identification will also be updated.
The National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFU Scotland) have affirmed that they will “scrutinise the Bill in detail and closely monitor its progress through the Scottish Parliament”.
NFU Scotland have also expressed concern that the Bill must contain power for Scottish Ministers to provide support to farmers and crofters. Such support should enable them to deliver the proposed ambitions of the Scottish Government, including sustainable food production.
Policy detail of the Bill has not yet been published. The current proposed date for the Bill to come into force is summer of 2024. Following this, it is anticipated that there will be a two-to-three-year transition period for the provisions of the Bill to be integrated. This aims to ensure that there is a smooth transition from the current frameworks operating in Scots law.
It is not yet clear what the Bill’s impact on the agricultural and rural landscape will yet be. It is hoped that a clearer plan will soon be released. Holyrood’s Rural Affairs and Island’s Committee has called for views to assist in their consideration of the legislation. The deadline for submitting views is Friday 24 November. Following their consideration, the Committee will report to the Scottish Parliament with their recommendations.
This is a brief summary of the proposed regulation that is to come into force, as we recognise the importance for landowners to be aware of the changing management practices and regulation that govern the Scottish rural landscape.
This article was co-authored by Mairead MacDonald, Trainee in the rural property and infrastructure team.