The challenges facing crofting in the 21st century will be on the agenda next week when the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee visits the Western Isles.
The committee will spend time in North and South Uist and Benbecula as part of a series of visits it is undertaking to different areas in Scotland as part of the scrutiny process of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill.
On Monday, committee members will visit individual crofters, estate managers, and local businesses in the Uists and Benbecula before holding a public meeting at Sgoil Lionacleit at 7.30pm to provide local people with the opportunity to express views on the bill.
The following day, committee members will travel to Stornoway to take part in a major conference on the future of crofting organised by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP said: "Nowhere has crofting been so important in sustaining communities and preserving Scotland's unique Gaelic culture as in the Western Isles. It is therefore highly appropriate that it should be the first place the committee visits as we examine the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill.
"The bill has arisen from the recognition that there are challenges to the crofting way of life that need to be addressed – issues such as absenteeism, concerns over the effectiveness of the Crofters Commission, and the lack of availability of crofts to younger people.
"Everyone agrees there is a need for legal change if crofting communities are to have a thriving future. The question is whether the current bill does this in the best way or whether there are other approaches that would work better.
"The views of those involved in crofting matter hugely so we want to hear direct from those with an interest or involvement in crofting. We want to hear their suggestions about what is required to ensure crofting in Scotland has a healthy future.
"I hope that as many people as possible are able to attend the discussion at Lionacleit School so they can put their views on the bill directly to MSPs.”
The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Parliament by the Scottish Government on 9 December 2009. The bill is currently at Stage 1 of the scrutiny process meaning that the lead committee – the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee – will take evidence on the general principles of the bill from a range of stakeholders before reporting to the whole Parliament in late April.
The bill seeks to deal with a range of issues including:
- increasing the accountability of the Crofters Commission and strengthening its regulatory role
- enabling the Crofters Commission to address absenteeism and neglect more effectively
- providing for a more comprehensive system for croft registration
- making it more difficult to de-croft land.
As part of the committee’s Stage 1 scrutiny process, members will visit the Western Isles, Caithness and Shetland, as well as holding public meetings with stakeholders and with the responsible Scottish Government minister in Edinburgh.