A comprehensive crofting reform bill, preceded and informed by a clear statement of overarching policy, should be delivered by the Scottish Government by the end of the current Scottish parliamentary session, a Holyrood committee said today.
The report, by the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee, comes in the light of the Scottish Government’s plans to produce a crofting bill and to develop a national development plan for crofting.
It states that the bill should be comprehensive and seek to address as many of the issues identified within the crofting community requiring action as is possible.
Recommendations contained in the report by the Crofting Law Sump Group should form the starting point for reform proposals. But given the importance of development function to the future of crofting, the Scottish Government should seek further views on where the responsibility for this function should lie.
Ministers should commit to ensuring that the bill timetable will be structured so as to allow sufficient time for thorough and detailed parliamentary scrutiny, with the passage of the bill being completed comfortably before the end of the parliamentary session.
The MSPs also want the role and responsibilities of elected Crofting Commission commissioners to be carefully considered and defined as part of the reform process.
Committee convener Edward Mountain MSP commented: “Several crofting Acts have been passed in recent years, making some useful changes but without fully dealing with all of the issues the crofting communities are keen to see addressed.
“A lot of work has already been done by crofting stakeholders to identify what the priority issues are, and the committee feels that a new bill is required which deals with these in a comprehensive manner.
“We also agree with many of our witnesses, who told us that before identifying what should be delivered from legislative reform, the Scottish Government needs to develop a clear policy setting out the role crofting is expected to play in the 21st century."
Further recommendations in the report include:
- Legislation and guidance covering grazings committees need to be updated to reflect modern circumstances and practices. The completion of the mapping of common grazings should be given a high priority.
- The committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to introducing a new entrants scheme for crofting. The potential for areas of common grazings to be used for the creation of new crofts should be explored as part of the development of this scheme.
- Options for the treatment of owner occupiers within the crofting environment should be examined in detail as part of the Scottish Government’s consultation.
- The issue of the retention of shares in common grazings on the sale of crofting rights should be examined as part of the legislative reform process, to determine whether any changes are required.
- The process for managing cases of absenteeism and neglect of crofts should be reviewed by the Scottish Government, to identify whether any scope exists to streamline or simplify its operation.