The Consultation on the Future of Crofting Legislation received responses up until 20 November 2017. An analysis of the responses was published on 21 March 2018 and Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity with responsibility for crofting, outlined the Scottish Government’s plans for legislative reform to the Cross-Party Group on Crofting on 28 March 2018.
I will come back on this blog to look in more detail at the analysis and Government plans. In the meantime I thought I should publish here my own personal response to the Consultation.
Current Scottish Government crofting policy may be stated as:
The Scottish Government values crofting as a form of land tenure and recognises
the added contribution that crofting continues to make to the rural economy and the
sustainability of rural and remote rural communities.
The Scottish Government is committed to reforming crofting to secure its future,
bring new blood into crofting communities, and ensure it can continue to contribute to
the development of a thriving rural Scotland.
This policy is reflected in the current legislative framework which places a number of
duties on crofters, including the duty to reside within 32 km of the croft; cultivate the
croft, or put the croft to another purposeful use; and not misuse or neglect the croft.
These duties serve to maintain the integrity of rural communities in the Highlands
Question 1: Do you agree with the stated Scottish Government policy on crofting?
Answer 1: No strong views on the question of policy but will refer to it when commenting on the ‘Clean Sheet’ approach to legislative reform below.
Question 2: Please select your preferred option to indicate which you believe to be the most suitable way to proceed with any crofting law reform. Should you wish to suggest another approach that has not been discussed above, then please select ‘other’ and provide details.
The options given were:-
Option 1 – Consolidation Bill
Option 2 – Bill amending existing legislation / Pre-Consolidation Bill
Option 3 – Bill amending existing legislation and restating crofting law
Option 4 – Bill setting out ‘new’ crofting law
Answer 2: Option 2.
The Scottish Government has already given a commitment to legislative change. Option 1 will not achieve that and arguably should not have been an option at all.
The Scottish Government’s Crofting Policy “is reflected in the current legislative framework” and thus there would appear no merit in pursuing a ‘Clean Sheet’ approach when current legislation and policy coincide. There is also a danger that pursuing a ‘Clean Sheet’ approach will result in much debate and little ability to actually fix the problems identified in ‘The Sump’ Report within this Parliamentary term. Thus Option 4 should be discounted.
It would appear that Option 3 may result in less problem areas being tackled than Option 2. Consolidation does not need to happen at the same time as amendments to the law and should not be pursued at the same time if that is going to reduce the number of amendments involved to existing law.
Thus Option 2 is really the only sensible one for the Scottish Government to pursue.
Questions 3 – 9 asked various questions on (1) Absenteeism, Misuse and Neglect; (2) Assignation and Succession; (3) Common Grazings; (4) Crofting Commission Regulatory Functions and Processes; (5) Crofting Registration; (6) Owner-occupier Crofts; and (7) Standard Securities.
Question 10 asked for those seven issues to be listed in order of priority: ‘higher priority’ first to ‘lower priority’ last.
Rather than answering those questions individually, or providing a priority list, I decided to deal with that as part and parcel of my answer to question 11 and simply referred the Scottish Government to that particular answer.
Question 11: Please tell us any other thoughts you have about the proposed Crofting Legislation reform not covered in your earlier answers.
I have not answered questions 3 to 10 as I consider my views on these matters to be covered by ‘The Sump’ Report (November 2014) [PDF] and the Proposals put forward by the Scottish Government’s Crofting Legislation Stakeholder Consultation Group (10 February 2015) [PDF]. These documents prioritise matters but ultimately are of the view that all (not some) of the problem areas identified should be tackled and fixed by the Scottish Government. A new Bill under Option 2 should set out to do just that.
My views on Standard Securities are contained in an article entitled “Is it Time for a Crofting Mortgage Bill?” originally published by The Firm Online on 31 May 2010 and subsequently reproduced in The Crofting Law Group Newsletter. Those views have not changed with the passage of time.
Those were my responses. You can view 97 of the 122 submitted responses (N.B. 97 of those 122 respondents gave consent to publish their responses) via this Scottish Government link: https://consult.gov.scot/agriculture-and-rural-communities/crofting-consultation-2017/consultation/published_select_respondent.
In future blog posts I will look at the analysis of those responses and the Scottish Government’s plans in light of that analysis. I will also publish on this blog my views on Standard Securities from 2010 as ‘The Firm Online’, where those views were originally published, is no longer online.