Category Archives: Crofting Reform

The Cross-Party Elephant?

The elephant in the crofting cross-party room

Was there an elephant in the room at the crofting cross-party group meeting?

The cross-party group on crofting met last Wednesday at Holyrood.

It was very ably chaired by Tavish Scott MSP. He is one of the three co-conveners of the group, having been elected along with Kate Forbes MSP at the last meeting to replace Michael Russell MSP after Mr Russell became Brexit Minister. Rhoda Grant MSP is the third co-convener of the group.

Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary with responsibility for crofting, was a special guest at the meeting.

Mr Ewing made it clear at the outset that he couldn’t comment in any respect on the current controversy regarding the convener of the Crofting Commission given the allegations made by him against Mr Ewing which are the subject of an independent investigation.

Mr Ewing outlined all that the Scottish Government is currently doing to assist crofting and its future.

In particular he discussed future crofting law reform. The Scottish Government wants to modernise crofting law and make it transparent, understandable and workable in practice. Mr Ewing made it clear that they very much wanted to listen with no precise timetable in mind.

Mr Ewing stressed the importance of taking time to get it right. I couldn’t endorse that view more and trust that we won’t see the chaos of a huge number of last minute amendments that was encountered in creating the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill in 2010. That was possibly partly responsible for many of the issues (not common grazings ones that were not affected by the 2010 legislation) that has led to the current Scottish Government having to tackle crofting law reform so soon again.

After Mr Ewing left the meeting we continued with the topic of crofting law reform. Derek Flyn outlined the background to the crofting law sump report which he described as a “collection of what is wrong with crofting law”.

Michael O’Neil, the newly appointed Head of the Scottish Government Legislation Team, then outlined proposals to take crofting law reform forward.

Mr O’Neil indicated his intention to involve as wide a range of stakeholders as possible. He will get out and about and meet anyone he needs to speak with.

He will refer to the information contained in the crofting law sump and in the Shucksmith Report.

Some questions Mr O’Neil had in mind included:-

  • Why do we need crofting legislation?
  • What changes need to be made to it?
  • How do we go about delivering the changes identified?
  • Are there other options to new legislation?

A small team has been assembled by the Scottish Government to take crofting law reform forward.

It will be interesting to see this process move forward and we will keep you posted on the Crofting Law Blog as it does.

Bill Barron, the new Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, was attending his first cross party group meeting. On the agenda was an “update on grazing committee removals and other current Crofting Commission business”. He appeared to dodge being able to provide that update on the basis that it was his fifth day in the job.

However, sitting next to him was the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy. Mr Kennedy did not offer an update on grazing committee removals and other current Crofting Commission business. Indeed, other than to introduce himself as all attendees did at the outset, Mr Kennedy sat silent throughout the entire meeting. He didn’t speak and no one asked him to speak.

This was, of course, the first crofting cross-party group meeting that Mr Kennedy has attended in this session of Parliament, having avoided the last two. He has thus not expressed the views of the Crofting Commission to the cross-party group since this session of Parliament commenced.

Mr Kennedy has, however, been very vocal in expressing his own personal views (which don’t necessarily coincide with those of the board of the Crofting Commission) in the media over the past few weeks including, in particular, in four successive editions of the Scottish Farmer.

His presence at last week’s cross party group meeting was referred to by some as the elephant in the room. But can the situation simply be ignored?

Brian Inkster

Political Consensus on the need for Crofting Law Reform

Crofting Question Time - Crofting Law Conference 2016

 

At the Crofting Law Conference (organised by the WS Society and the Crofting Law Group) held in the Signet Library, Edinburgh yesterday there was cross-party agreement on the need for crofting law reform.

Trudi Sharp, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, in the Scottish Government stood in at the last minute for Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who was unfortunately unwell and unable to deliver the keynote address on behalf of the Government.

Trudi Sharp - Crofting Law Conference 2016Trudi Sharp indicated that she had yet to speak to anyone who would disagree with the sentiment that there was a need to simplify crofting legislation. She said:-

The Minister is clear that crofting legislation should be well thought through with stakeholders and deliver law that is modern, simple and fit for purpose.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Views from the OppositionThe Conference heard the views of the opposition from Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour; Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats; Donald Cameron, election candidate for Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party; and Andy Wightman, election candidate for Scottish Green Party.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Jean Urquhart MSPThis was followed by ‘Crofting Question Time’ moderated by Jean Urquhart MSP with the opposition MSPs/election candidates being joined for that session by Rob Gibson MSP, Scottish National Party.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Rob Gibson MSPThere was little in the way of disagreement about the need for crofting law reform.

Rhoda Grant MSP - Crofting Law Conference 2016Rhoda Grant MSP said:-

The 2010 Act is a mess and probably needs to be revoked altogether.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Tavish Scott MSPThis was echoed by Tavish Scott MSP who said:-

The less said about the 2010 Act the better. It is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by the Scottish Government.

He added:-

Crofting Law has been a mitigated mess and devolution has not helped take it forward.

Crofting Question Time at Crofting Law Conference 2016Both Tavish Scott and Rhoda Grant were of the view that crofting can mean different things in different areas. Shetland, for example, is very different to other areas that may work in a more communal way. They felt the current legislation does not recognise these differences.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Donald CameronDonald Cameron was of the view that it was “time for crofting law to be for the crofters and not the lawyers”. He warned though that “if you legislate in haste on crofting law you will repent at leisure”.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Andy WightmanAndy Wightman, quoting Dr Jim Hunter, referred to crofting law as a “highly unsatisfactory guddle”.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Brian InksterBrian Inkster, Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, commented:-

It is heartening to see such cross-party support for crofting law reform. The word ‘mess’ was used more than once to describe the current state of crofting legislation. It is to be hoped that the next Scottish Government take cognisance of this and put crofting high on their agenda for new legislation during the next parliamentary term.

Photo Credit: All photos are by Rob McDougall for the Crofting Law Group

Setting the Agenda for Crofting Reform

Setting the Agenda for Crofting LawAhead of the Crofting Law Conference in Edinburgh today The Scotsman have published an article with the headline ‘Crofters to lobby for key changes to ‘complicated’ laws‘.

They quote Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, as saying:-

Crofting law is notoriously complicated and the waters have been further muddied after the 2010 Crofting Act.

Crofting is unique in Scotland by having its own legislation and being a regulated system. It is therefore is essential that the legislation is fit for purpose.

The act needed cleaning up before the 2010 changes. This is unfinished business.

Unfortunately the 2010 introduced further errors and anomalies. The Sump gathered 126 of these and probably the only way to address them is with a new act.

Politicians are a bit reluctant to do this, but SCF is asking parliamentary candidates to finish the job.

And they also quote Brian Inkster, in his capacity as Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, as saying he hopes today’s conference will set the agenda for crofting reform by the next Scottish government. Brian told The Scotsman:-

On Monday I will be spending much of the day arguing before the Scottish Land Court the significance of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 having deleted the word ‘or’ in a section of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.

The result could be an unintended consequence. This is a good example of the problems that the 2010 Act has been causing since its introduction. It was an extremely badly drafted piece of legislation on top of existing complex law.

There remain numerous problems and issues in the legislation that can trip up the unwary on a daily basis. The current government pledged to resolve matters, and the next government really must seize the bull by the horns and sort the mess out once and for all. That will involve a comprehensive new crofting act that is well drafted, easily understood and designed to resolve the existing problems and not create any new ones.

MSP Alex Fergusson has referred to recent crofting legislation being like the Hydra. You think you have solved a problem but suddenly two new ones appear. The next Scottish government simply can’t afford to let that happen again.

We will provide a full report on today’s Conference after the event.

The Future of Crofting Conference

The Future of Crofting Conference 2015Brian Inkster will be speaking about ‘The Sump‘ at The Future of Crofting Conference in Inverness on 4 December 2015. This conference is a joint venture involving the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Crofting, the Highland Council and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Conference details are:-

Where: Highland Council Chamber, Inverness.

When: Friday 04 December 2015 09.00 – 16.00 (registration opens 08.30).

Background: In the wake of the near collapse of the Crofting Reform Bill in 2006, pressure from the Scottish Crofting Federation led to Scottish ministers commissioning a Committee of Inquiry on Crofting (CoIoC). This was chaired by Professor Mark Shucksmith. The CoIoC undertook many community meetings throughout 2007 and delivered their final report in 2008.

This was the most comprehensive study of crofting since the Taylor Commission, which reported in 1954.

The Scottish ministers used this report to formulate a further bill, its passage through Parliament culminating in the passing of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. Before the 2010 Act was published a conference called ‘The Future of Crofting’ was held in Stornoway in January 2010, hosted by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Crofting agreed at a meeting in April 2015 that it is time to hold a further ‘Future of Crofting’ conference to look at what progress has been made since the CoIoC. The Highland Council have generously offered to host this with funding assistance from HIE.

Conference agenda: the conference offers expert speakers on the CoIoC, including Professor Shucksmith, and on the state of crofting law, regulation and development. There will also be ‘a view from the fank’ – a reflection by crofting activists. The format will give plenty of time for open discussion to gather views from the floor, which will be collated and presented by the Cross Party Group on Crofting, on behalf of the conference, to the Scottish Government.

You can download the conference programme here: Programme – The Future of Crofting Conference – 4 Dec 2015.

The conference is free and as there are limited places, advance registration is essential.

To register please email Maria Scholten.

The Crofting Law Sump

Crofting Law Sump

The Crofting Law Group has announced details of its Crofting Law Sump. The purpose of ‘the Sump’ is to gather together details of the significant problem areas within existing crofting legislation.

During the recent passage through the Scottish Parliament of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013, MSPs were informed by practitioners who had been called to give evidence about the many problems  in the existing legislation that were causing difficulties for crofters, landlords and others.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change with responsibility for crofting, gave an undertaking that his officials would investigate, in consultation with stakeholders, what the best method might be for dealing with these outstanding issues.

The Sump has been set up to assist the Government in this process. It will be administered by Derek Flyn, retired crofting lawyer, and Keith Graham, formerly Principal Clerk of the Scottish Land Court. They will collate the issues and problems that are causing difficulties, prioritise them and indicate  how the problem can be resolved. Their Report will be made available to the Scottish Government on completion.

Brian Inkster, Hon. Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, said “this initiative will hopefully assist the Scottish Government in deciding what to do next with crofting law. It is a notoriously complex area of the law and with experts of the calibre and experience of Derek Flyn and Keith Graham the Report will be comprehensive, thorough and focussed.”

Submissions to the Crofting Law Sump will be taken up to the end of this year and should be sent by e-mail to sump@croftinglawgroup.org or can be tweeted to @croftinglawsump. Information concerning the Sump will be updated at www.croftinglawgroup.org.