Tag Archives: crofting law reform

The 2010 Crofting Law Rush

he 2010 Crofting Law Rush

Ready, steady… MSPs didn’t have long to get through 230 crofting law amendments!

In my post yesterday, about the two phase approach being taken to crofting law reform by the Scottish Government, I made reference to the rush over the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.

I thought it would be worthwhile to remind readers about that rush which in effect took place at Stage 3 of the Bill going through the Scottish Parliament. In that final stage of parliamentary procedure there were around 230 amendments dealt with in around three hours.

At the commencement of the debate the Presiding Officer stated:-

The first division will be a 30-second division, following a five-minute suspension. Thereafter, there will be a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate and the voting period for all other divisions will be 30 seconds. We are incredibly tight for time, so, to begin with, I ask no speaker to speak for more than one minute.

It is little wonder that we are having to revisit crofting legislation given the potential lack of scrutiny that these 230 last minute amendments might have received in the very limited amount of time allowed to debate them.

Furthermore the rush to get these amendments through saw an opposition amendment being passed without the objections thereto being noted! The chaos surrounding this in the debating chamber at Holyrood was well documented at the time by Scott Wortley on the Edinburgh University Scots Law News Blog: The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill and the curious incident of the unopposed opposition amendment.

Back in November 2016 when Fergus Ewing MSP met with the Cross-Party Group on Crofting at Holyrood he stressed the importance of taking time to get crofting reform right. The two phased approach recently announced by him reinforces that.

Let’s hope that we do not see a repeat of the 2010 fiasco when the next crofting reform bill reaches stage 3 debate at the Scottish Parliament. It looks as though Mr Ewing, as Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, will be doing his very best to avoid that.

Brian Inkster

Two Phase approach to Crofting Law Reform announced by Scottish Government

Fergus Ewing MSP - Cabinet Secretary responsible for Crofting - announces proposals for legislative reform

Fergus Ewing MSP

The Scottish Government’s plans for legislative reform of crofting were first outlined to the Cross-Party Group on Crofting on 28 March 2018 by Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity with responsibility for crofting.

Following on from that meeting Mr Ewing has stated:-

This government is determined not to allow crofting to be simply a relic of our past: crofting must have a purpose and a role in our present and our future.

That purpose is to support people to remain on the land and to bring people back to the land, with crofting also playing a role in creating a sustainable and productive environment in which people can live and work. To achieve this, crofting needs an effective regulatory and statutory framework.

Yet, most agree that current crofting legislation is complex and lacking in transparency, having been developed on a ‘piecemeal’ basis over nearly 150 years. We have recently completed a public consultation on what might usefully be changed through legislative reform.

The consultation was launched last August, seeking views from stakeholders on (amongst other things) the Scottish Government’s Crofting Policy, the potential form that new crofting legislation could take, and priorities for legislative change.  During the three month consultation period, my officials held a series of 21 meetings with the public and interested stakeholder groups, hearing directly from over 300 individuals across the crofting counties.

The consultation closed in late November last year with 122 responses from individuals and organisations. The responses were independently analysed and a report on that analysis was published in mid-March. The results made for interesting reading  and the diversity of responses only highlighted the scale of the challenge ahead.

After careful consideration, there does not appear to be a consensus that would allow me to decide on specific pieces of legislative reform. I was also presented with a dilemma over deciding the best legislative approach to take, as the analysis highlighted almost equal proportions of support for new crofting legislation, versus making changes to existing legislation and restating or consolidating the law.

Following the publication of the analysis report I met with the Cross-Party Group on Crofting to outline how I wish to take matters forward and to hear members and MSPs’ views. I am proposing a two-phase approach to legislative reform, with a first phase in the shorter term, leading to a Bill in this parliamentary session.  This first phase will focus on delivering changes which carry  widespread support, including across the Scottish Parliament, and result in  practical everyday improvements to the lives of crofters and/or streamline procedures that crofters are required to follow.  I am keen to fully involve and engage MSPs with crofting interests to ensure that their ideas and proposals can be considered and taken forward in legislation.

The second phase is longer term work, where I have asked my officials to continue with fundamentally reviewing crofting legislation to provide a solution to some of the more complex and challenging issues facing crofting, and what that might mean for how legislation is developed in future. This work will begin now but will be for a future Parliament to deliver.

I’m also keen to use non-legislative means to make changes that help to improve the sustainability of crofting, and encourage new entrants. These will include a National Development Plan for crofting, and a new entrant’s scheme that will directly benefit crofters without the need to wait for legislative change. It is also not just within crofting that I see opportunities to enhance provision – I am keen to encourage more woodland crofts through the National Forest Estate and to ensure that crofting communities benefit from our ambitions for a low carbon economy, and commitment to provide all homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband.

The approach I am taking forward is pragmatic and focused on delivering a future for crofting in 21st Century Scotland   My approach seeks to support people to make lives on the land, to diversify to create sustainable livelihoods, and to collaborate with neighbours and communities to find common solutions. That approach is as important to supporting crofting more generally as it is to reforming its statutory frameworks.

The Crofting Commission stated:-

The Crofting Commission look forward to working with Scottish Government and other Stakeholders to take forward crofting legislation reform. The practical approach outlined by the Cabinet Secretary will enable the necessary improvements of phase one to be made in this Parliamentary Session, with more complex issues being held over to a second phase.

In particular the Commission welcome the opportunity to work with the Scottish Government in developing a New Entrants Scheme for crofting and to discuss a future promotional role for the Commission itself.

Rod Mackenzie, Convener of the Crofting Commission, said: “We support the Scottish Government’s decision to take a collaborative approach to rectifying and improving crofting legislation during this Parliament.  The Commission will play a full part in this, and will be particularly keen to consider with others what improvements can be made to the law on registration and on common grazings, among other key issues.”

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) also supported the Scottish Government’s proposals. Their chair, Russell Smith, said:-

We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has announced a positive way forward for crofting law and restated his commitment to non-legislative changes also. He promised that we will have a bill in this parliamentary session which corrects the major anomalies in the current law and so enables it to work appropriately for crofters. This is the essential course of action needed and will pave the way to a consolidation bill in the next session. It is exactly what SCF hoped for.

There will also be a fundamental review running in parallel which may enable more far-reaching changes to crofting law, whilst maintaining crofters’ rights, in the future. This is very good news for crofting. The Cabinet Secretary asked for input to the bill and the SCF are delighted to contribute.

My view

This seems an eminently sensible way for the Scottish Government to take legislative reform forward. They have recognised the complexities involved and that all that needs to be sorted probably can’t be easily sorted in just one parliamentary term.

Thus splitting reform over two parliamentary terms should allow a comprehensive and considered approach to crofting reform unlike the rushed approach that led to the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. That rushed approach created many of the problems requiring to be resolved today.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

The Crofting Law Group are holding their annual conference this year at Lews Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis on 9th June 2017.

Chaired by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Bt. QC, the conference will look at the Scottish Government’s proposals for Crofting Law Reform, where things are at and what happens next. Michael O’Neill from the Crofting Bill Team of the Scottish Government will guide delegates through that. There will be views from Patrick Krause Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Bill Barron, Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission will provide a Crofting Commission Update.

The Conference will look at the question of Common Grazings, what went wrong last year (a recurring theme on this blog!) and what does the future hold with reference to the Crofting Commission’s proposed new Common Grazing Regulations Template.  There will be contributions and discussion on this topic from the Crofting Commission’s Solicitor, David Findlay, Solicitor Brian Inkster, Crofters and Landlords.  Relevant excerpts of the film ‘Grazing on the Edge’ will be shown and introduced by Janette Sutherland of the Scottish Agricultural College.

Duncan MacPhee, Solicitor, will look at Mortgages for Croft Houses.

There will also be the usual case law update provided this year by Robert Sutherland, Advocate.

Representatives from Registers of Scotland will be on hand to answer any queries concerning the Crofting Register.

For full details and to book your place see Crofting Law Conference 2017 on the Crofting Law Group website.

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