Crofting Law Reform

2 May 2017

Text of Rhoda's speech in the debate

Crofting has developed over the years since the first crofting legislation, and it now reflects what is required by each distinct community.

In some cases, the croft is simply a house site with a little land for some livestock or vegetable growing; in others, it is a working farm that provides a livelihood for a family.

Governance also differs between areas. In some communities, the grazings committee manages activity and crofters work collaboratively.

In other areas, there is little or no collaboration, and the croft is viewed as someone’s private land to farm in any way that they wish.

Therefore, when we are considering legislation, we should remember that any small change can have dire unintended consequences for people.

That is the challenge with new crofting law.

The Scottish Government legislated in 2010 to change crofting law, but it rushed the bill through at the end of a parliamentary session and did not listen to concerns about unintended consequences.

As a result, the 2010 act created more problems than it solved.

The Scottish Government, to give it its due, has recognised that, and it has announced that it will introduce crofting legislation in the current session of Parliament.

However, the Government has not indicated, nor has the cabinet secretary indicated today, what form the new legislation will take.

Will it right the wrongs of the 2010 act and use the sump as a guide to put right the pressing problems that the previous legislation created?

The sump is a list of issues that have been put together by crofting lawyers and specialists that highlights the problems with crofting law as it stands.

Some of those issues simply require tidying up, whereas others need urgent attention because they are preventing crofters from doing what they need to do to secure their homes and livelihoods.

Will the new legislation simply consolidate the current law in one act while changing nothing?

Consolidation has been called for because the original act has been amended many times, and many of the problems arise because the various pieces of legislation do not fit well together.

The third option is to start from basic principles and create a new crofting act, which is what the committee has decided, on balance, to support.

However, that is not without its challenges.

As I said, crofting has evolved differently among the crofting counties.

For the most part, my constituents value their own form of crofting and the way it works in their area.

Different challenges need to be addressed in different areas.

For example, some areas are pressured because land values are high and holiday homes are sought after.

Crofts have been allowed to fall into disrepair where the croft house has been purchased at a price that was way above the pocket of local people, but the land was not required.

In other areas, work is hard to come by and people have been driven away from their croft to seek a livelihood elsewhere.

They have kept their croft and the family home; leaving was not their choice and they long to return.

Meanwhile, those crofts are either sublet informally or worked by a cousin or friend, and the house sits empty other than at holiday times.

Those are the people who are now being pursued over absenteeism.

They feel that they are being unfairly treated—first, because they have been let down by the lack of provision for the local economy, which has forced them out, and secondly, because they are now viewed as a problem for holding on to what they see as their heritage.

In truth, they are unlikely to be able to return until they retire, and at that stage they will probably not want to be large-scale crofters.

Surely there is a way to meet their aspirations to return home and to have access to a little land, while allowing the bulk of the croft area to be let to a local person, a new family or a young crofter.

None of that can be dealt with by broad-brush legislation.

Every person and every family is different, and each situation will therefore require a personalised solution.

The legislation may need to be stripped back to the basics: security of tenure, security of inheritance and a right to buy.

In return for all that, the crofter would be expected to work their croft and ensure that it does not fall into disrepair.

Localities could be allowed to look at enhancing the legislation with local regulations that would work with the community to tackle particular local issues and to build the economy, thereby leading to greater use of crofting land.

Crofting has been successful in slowing down depopulation in many crofting counties.

That is what it was set up to do, and that is what we must protect and enhance.

We need to fight depopulation and recognise that people need to be supported to live and work in crofting communities.

Crofting alone will not halt depopulation, but it is an economic driver.

It is essential that we protect crofting and ensure that the legislation is not a barrier but a driver for repopulation of the crofting counties.

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