A consultation on the priorities for future crofting law was launched today by Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing.
Ministers are seeking opinions on the form of new legislation and priorities for legislative change, covering what is accepted to be an unduly complex legal regime created by successive Crofting Acts.
There remain more than 20,000 crofts in Scotland, with around 33,000 people living in crofting households. In addition, there are more than 1,000 common grazings covering over 550,000 ha across Scotland. In 2016, the sector generated an estimated revenue of £85.8m.
The paper states that engagement events held this year with people across the Highlands & Islands have revealed "general consensus as to what crofting is about, and what it sets out to achieve, but there is limited consensus as to what new legislation should look like or deliver" – despite "almost universal agreement that the current law is no longer fit for purpose".
It continues by setting out four options as a basis for legislation: a simple consolidation of the existing law; an amending bill dealing with issues recently identified in the Shucksmith report or the Crofting Law Sump, followed by a consolidation; a bill making more substantive changes and restating some or all of the existing law; and a "clean sheet" approach with completely new legislation – which, it concedes, would require consensus to be built over a period of time and then agreement as to what should be set out in legislation.
The paper also invites people to put forward alternative legislative approaches, adding: "Respondents may also believe that there is no requirement to change current crofting legislation, and that crofting can be improved via other means (e.g. improved guidance, a National Development Plan for crofting, introducing new support schemes and so on)."
Writing in the foreword, Mr Ewing states: "I believe it is sensible to approach crofting reform from an open perspective as the legislation can take many different forms. That means we may be looking at a range of options, from a tidy-up or a consolidation exercise through to a clean sheet approach. I have also noted there have been recommendations on non- legislative aspects of crofting policy that I think should also be recognised. I welcome this, as legislation is not always the best way to make improvements."
Launcbhing the consultation he added: “Initial discussions have shown while there is plenty of agreement that the current law needs to change, there are many views on what should replace it.
“I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the future of crofting – whether they be crofters, landowners, those living in a crofting communities or in other parts of Scotland – to take part in this consultation and help us improve future legislation.”
Click here to access the consultation. The closing date for responses is 20 November 2017.
A series of public meetings will be held to help with any issues when responding to the consultation. Details have still to be published.