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National Parks in Scotland: Direct Elections (Consultation Paper)

DescriptionElections of Members to National Park Authority
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateNovember 27, 2000

The Issue

1. This consultation paper seeks views on the arrangements for direct elections to National Park Authorities. These arrangements will be set out in an election order (or orders), to be approved by the Scottish Parliament as required by the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000.

Background

2. The National Parks (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament on July 5. The Act is enabling and does not of itself set up any National Parks, but provides the powers for this to be done by means of a designation order (one for each National Park). Draft proposals for a National Park in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and a National Park in the Cairngorms, will be the subject of public consultation in the coming months, and will address the issues of boundaries, planning powers, and appointments to each National Park Authority.

3. Constitution of a National Park Authority(NPA): The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 sets out the following framework for the constitution of a NPA:

  • maximum size of a NPA to be 25 members;

  • a minimum of 20% to be elected in a poll by those on the local government electoral register within the Park area;

  • the remainder (80% if the elected portion is 20%) to be appointed by Scottish Ministers, half on the nomination of the relevant local authorities (those with all or part of their area in the Park).

This consultation paper is only concerned with the elected element - it is not concerned with the appointed element, which is the subject of a separate consultation on the respective proposals for designation orders for each National Park.

4. The National Parks (Scotland) Act specifies the following about the elected element of the membership (this is taken from Schedule 1 of the Act):

  • Elections are to be a poll of all those who, on the day of the poll-

    (i) would be entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in an electoral area falling wholly or partly within the National Park, and

    (ii) are registered in the register of local government electors at an address within the National Park, and

  • the day on which the poll at the first election is to be specified in the designation order.

The Election Order(s) may make provision as to-

  • the election of persons as elected members,

  • the matters mentioned in paragraph 8(a) and (b), [ note: paragraph 8 refers to term of office, and the holding/vacating of office in accordance with the terms of appointment or (for elected members) in accordance with the election order.]

  • the circumstances in which a person is disqualified from being an elected member and the effect of such disqualification.

The Order(s) may also make provision-

(a) about the conduct of elections for elected members,

(b) about the registration of electors and disregarding alterations in a register of electors,

(c) for the combination of polls at elections for elected members with polls at other elections,

(d) for determining the dates of the polls at elections for elected members (other than the first such election in relation to a National Park),

(e) for questioning the result of an election for elected members,

(f) applying, with or without modifications or exceptions, any provision made by or under any enactment relating to local government elections.

Matters to be Covered in the Election Order(s)

We would welcome your comments on these points, or any others you consider relevant, to help us in drafting the election order(s) for National Parks:

a) Electoral System. The debates in the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Act suggest that the provision for direct elections was made with a view to ensuring that "the principle of direct representation of local community interests should be guaranteed and distinct from both the local authority nominees and those directly appointed by Ministers". There was also a general consensus that we should seek to avoid those elections being fought by political parties.

We would welcome views on what type of electoral system would be most appropriate.

b) Frequency of elections. The date of the first election will be specified in the designation order, but the frequency of subsequent elections will need to be specified in the Election Order. There are a number of factors to consider. It makes sense to ensure that members of a NPA do not all change at the same time, and to have a system of staggered changes in membership. However, if the number of elected members is small, it may not make sense to hold direct elections every year for one or two members only. One option would be to have all elected members on the same cycle, but staggered with respect to appointments. Appointments to a NPA will (under the terms of schedule 1 of the Act) be for a maximum of 5 years. We would envisage these being made so that appointments are staggered. There would seem to be merit in also putting direct elections on a five year cycle, but staggered with respect to appointments. This would mean that in each year there would be some members coming to the end of their term; in four years out of five these would be appointed members, and every fifth year these would be the elected members.

Views are sought on holding NPA elections once every 5 years, with all elected members serving the same 5 year term.

c) Timing of elections. Although the timing of the elections themselves is a matter for the designation order, it seems sensible to raise the matter in this paper, in the context of all the other electoral arrangements. It is difficult at this point to identify precisely what would be the most suitable date. However, bearing in mind the following timetable, we would welcome any comments on how the decision on timing might best be made. The target dates for establishing the first two National Parks are April 2002 for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and January 2003 for Cairngorms. We would hope to have the designation order approved in each case around Oct/Nov 2001 (LL&T) and February 2002 (Cairngorms). From the point of approval of the designation order, we estimate that four months would be needed to make arrangements for elections, suggesting that elections could at the earliest be held around February 2002 for LL&T, and around June/July 2002 for Cairngorms. The timetable for appointments will be similar.

Views are sought on these tentative timings.

d) Qualification of voters: the Act already specifies this as being on the local government electoral register. In other words, those entitled to vote in the NPA election will be those who would be entitled to vote in a local government election if that were held on the same day. No change or qualification of this franchise is envisaged.

e) Qualification for candidacy : Should candidates be required to be nominated? Is candidacy to be restricted in any other way? There may be a feeling, given the principle expressed in the parliamentary debates during passage of the Act, that only people who live or work in the National Park should be able to stand for election. This would require a clear definition to be agreed, and agreement on a number of consequential matters such as, for example, what happens when a member moves outside the Park area - are they required to stand down? It could mean, for example, that someone living just outside the boundary, but otherwise well suited to articulate the interests of those in the Park, would be prevented from standing. Concerns have been expressed that individuals representing the interests of large organisations could dominate the elections, but this will not be prevented by allowing only those who live or work within the National Park from standing for election. If only local people are entitled to vote, arguably they will only vote for local residents if that is their wish.

Views are sought on whether candidates should be required to be nominated (and if so, by whom?), and whether there should be a restriction placed on who is entitled to stand for election?

f) Ballot to be postal or voting in person? Postal ballot has the advantage of convenience to the voter and experience elsewhere suggests that this is likely to encourage a higher turnout. It is the current intention to provide for elections to NPAs to be by postal ballot.

Views are sought on whether elections to NPAs should be by postal ballot.

g) Rules governing publicity, expenditure, etc. During the Parliamentary debates on the Act, a number of MSPs and others expressed concern about National park elections becoming politicised, and dominated by either Party politics or by large organisations or interest groups. It was felt this would run contrary to the spirit of the elections providing for members who speak for local interests. By the very nature of elections, candidates must be allowed to state what they stand for (their 'manifesto') to enable the electorate to make a choice. However, various means are suggested of dealing with these concerns:

  • keeping the description on the ballot paper to simply the candidate's name and address;

  • allowing candidates to provide a statement of suitability for election, to be distributed with the ballot papers (in the case of a postal ballot);

  • either not allowing for election expenses or imposing a low limit on election expenses (which would require candidates to submit returns).

What rules, if any, would you wish to see governing the use of publicity and expenditure?

h) Technical Matters: A number of technical matters remain to be dealt with in the election order(s).

Disqualification. This concerns the question of the circumstances under which an elected member ceases to hold their membership It is suggested that broadly the same sorts of rules apply as to appointed members (as set out in schedule 1 of the Act).

Rules for dealing with casual vacancies and the situation in which there are no candidates.

Appointment of Returning Officer, and stipulation of his/her responsibilities. It is proposed that the order require it to be the returning officer for a particular local authority within the Park.

Views are sought on these matters.

i) Number of elected members. The Act specifies that the number of elected members must be a minimum of 20% of the whole NPA. The NPA can be a number up to a maximum of 25. Although this is a matter for specification in each designation order, and will be consulted upon in that context, if anyone wishes to express a view here on the specific numbers in respect of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, or the Cairngorms, or in a general sense in relation to all National Parks, we would welcome those views.

j) Costs of running an election need to be considered, and arrangements for funding. The Scottish Executive will be considering this and discussing with the relevant organisations and local authorities.

Next Steps

Using the feedback from this consultation, the Scottish Executive will prepare a draft Election order (or orders - one of the things to be decided is whether a separate election order should be drafted for each National Park), on which there will be a further consultation. This could take place as early as spring 2001 - the exact timing will depend upon a number of factors, and it may be sensible, particularly if we have a separate election order for each National Park, to run the consultations on draft election order and draft designation order at the same time. Views on this matter of timing would be welcome.

Please send any comments/views by 12 March 2001 to :

Marcus Houston
The Scottish Executive
Rural Affairs Department
Countryside and Natural Heritage Unit
1 - J South
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh
EH6 6QQ

Or by e-mail to: NPB@scotland.gsi.gov.uk