An effective regulatory framework will help ensure the future of crofting in Scotland and address issues such as absenteeism and the neglect of croft land, according to a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.
Its Stage 1 report on the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill has recommended that the legislation proceeds, but says that some issues which it sets out will need further consideration.
The committee also states that regulation alone will not guarantee the future of crofting and that wider considerations, including the rural economy and the state of agriculture, must also be taken into account.
Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP said: “Crofting is a unique and distinctive part of the Highland and Island way of life, but one in need of greater protection and support. One of the benefits of the Bill is that it will give the Crofters Commission more powers to address some of the issues holding crofting back, such as the under-use of crofts and speculation in croft land.
“The committee has travelled around the Highlands and Islands – to the Western Isles, Caithness, Sutherland and Shetland – to meet crofters and hear their experiences first-hand. This evidence has allowed us to scrutinise the Bill and suggest appropriate solutions. At the end of the process, we hope that there will be legislation in place which will allow crofting to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Key recommendations in the report include:
- Absenteeism and neglect to be tackled but with sensitivity to individual circumstances and with more clarity on how they are investigated. Clear cases of neglect, especially those with an impact on a crofter’s neighbours, should always be pursued.
- Support for a part-elected Crofting Commission. However most committee members want the electoral franchise to be extended to cover spouses and partners of crofters so as to widen and diversify the electorate.
- The Crofting Commission to be given a much greater input into the planning process so as to help protect croft land from commercial speculation.
- The committee was split on whether the Bill should provide for a map-based register of crofts. It wants clarity on a number of points concerning the proposed Crofting Register, including on whether the sale of an estate should trigger mass registrations. There is strong cross-party support for voluntary community mapping exercises.