Submissions by Eilidh I. M. Ross on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill
The perceived need for, and the technical detail of, the draft Crofting Amendment Bill has been covered by my colleague Brian Inkster in his own submission, which I fully support.
For my own part, I will make a few comments on the limitations of the draft bill, and the need for further, radical, improvement of crofting legislation. I note the Scottish Government’s position that the bill will only be used to address one of the specific (perceived) problems with decrofting of owner-occupier crofts by owner-occupier crofters, namely the issue of whether such crofts can ever be vacant.
Not only are there many anomalies, hiccups, and unforeseen consequences of the provisions currently contained in the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 caused by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, but the 1993 Act itself is, in my view, a mess.
Matters are now to be exacerbated by the addition of yet another layer of incomprehensible extra sections and consequential amendments to an Act which was consolidated 20 years ago, and which has been (badly) amended numerous times. If the Act which my fellow crofting solicitors and I work with on a daily basis, and on which we must advise our clients, is in such a poor state of repair, that has serious implications for our profession (not to mention for crofters and landlords).
It is, in my view, now imperative that further steps are taken by the Government to address the wider problems of the 1993 Act. Further amendment is not sufficient, nor even perhaps consolidation, if that would not result in an act which was understandable. The Government know what people want from crofting legislation (that was established by Mark Shucksmith quite recently and, although some do not support his findings, I am not aware of calls for a new committee of enquiry), and the 1993 Act tries to achieve those objectives that but fails in almost countless ways. The Act should be deconstructed and then redrafted in a way which is simple, understandable, and which clearly sets out the rights and obligations of all those whom it regulates (and affects in other ways).
The crofting act is important not simply from a historical perspective (although in my view that element is important); it is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of the Highlands and Islands and it is simply not acceptable that the legislative framework which supports that system is such a shambles. It is now incumbent upon the Scottish Government, once this single problem amongst many has been addressed (albeit in my view doing so complicates matters still further), to address the 1993 Act without delay. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the crofting system as a legal entity depends upon it.
Eilidh I. M. Ross
[Picture Credit: Channel 4: Very messy Eton mess recipe]