Section 1 - Introduction
Crofting has a unique role in the communities of the Highlands and Islands. The Scottish Government recognises the need for crofting to continue delivering valuable, local benefits to rural communities, sustaining agricultural activity, supporting the rural economy, enhancing wildlife and the natural environment, and retaining young people in our remote, rural and island communities.
The Programme for Government  2016-17 sets out a commitment for a Crofting Bill planned for later in this Parliamentary session (the current session runs from May 2016 to May 2021). The work on the planned Bill will also take into account other work on-going in wider crofting policy, including the National Development Plan for crofting (for which a public consultation is planned for in the near future) as part of a sustainable rural economy.
Responses to this consultation will primarily inform the Bill work, but may also input into the National Development Plan should anything be identified that does not require new legislation to implement. This consultation seeks views on the type of legislation that may be developed and particular priorities it should address.
What is crofting?
A croft is a small agricultural land unit, situated in the crofting counties (the former counties of Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Orkney and Shetland, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland), and are subject to provisions stipulated in the various Crofting Acts.
A crofter is the person who occupies and works on a croft. They are normally a tenant of the croft, paying rent to a landlord. Since the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976  , however, numerous people have purchased their crofts, and have become what is termed "owner-occupier crofters". (Definitions sourced from Scottish Crofting Federation.) 
There are currently around 20,500 crofts across the crofting counties (15,000 tenanted crofts and 5,500 owned). Crofters make up around 10% of the Highlands and Islands population, with over 33,000 people live in crofting households. Crofts are regulated by the Crofting Commission  . This has a Board of 9 Commissioners, 6 elected by crofters and 3 appointed by Scottish Ministers.
The average size of a croft is around 5 hectares (ha), but some are only 0.5 ha while a few extend to more than 50 ha of land. Crofts also often have a share in hill grazing, which is held in common with other crofters in a township. As most crofts cannot support a family or provide full-time employment, crofters usually have other occupations as their primary source of income. For example, many have diversified into small-scale tourism and others often have roles within the local community (both in the public and private sectors).
Crofting therefore provides a platform from which families can support themselves, with crofts and croft houses providing a base from which to operate, and income from crofting providing a helpful contribution to family income. This, in turn, helps sustain rural and remote communities.
Why is there a need for new crofting legislation?
Crofters in Scotland were first given legal recognition in law with the creation of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886  . Before this, it was legal to evict any crofter at the landlord's convenience; an event that was widespread during the period known as the Highland Clearances. This Act granted various rights to crofters, including security of tenure, fair rent, the assignation of crofts to descendants, the right to be paid for land improvements and the establishment of the very first Crofters Commission.
There have been many Crofting Acts enacted since then, each making additions or changes to the fundamental principles set out in 1886. The last consolidation of crofting law occurred in 1993 ( Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993)  , although there have been several other Acts passed since then. The latest two (the Crofting Reform etc. Act 2007  , and the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010)  again made several substantial changes to the law, and was followed by an amendment  in 2013.
In early 2017, aligned to the Programme for Government 2016-17 commitment, the Scottish Government's Crofting Bill Team met with a wide variety of people across the Highlands and Islands with an interest in crofting (crofters, landlords, unions, businesses, young crofters, etc.). Everyone that participated was asked to consider the following three questions.
- What are we trying to achieve through crofting?
- Why do we need crofting legislation, and changes made to that legislation?
- How might we go about delivering the changes that are identified? (There may be, for example, alternative avenues to resolving issues to legislation.).
It was clear from those discussions that there was general consensus as to what crofting is about, and what it sets out to achieve, but there is limited consensus as to what new legislation should look like or deliver. There was, however, almost universal agreement that the current law is no longer fit for purpose, either in terms of complexity or what it allows crofting to be.
It has also been said that crofting legislation is too complex. Sometimes the complexity arises from unclear or inconsistent drafting in past Acts, and this could demonstrate a case for reform. In other instances, however, the complexity arises because crofting law aims to balance the historic land rights of different parties. In such matters, simplifying the framework may prove more challenging to achieve.
The early engagement by the Bill Team with stakeholders identified the following broad, interrelated aims for crofting:
- to encourage stable and flourishing communities;
- to assist in delivering thriving and resilient local, rural economies;
- to assist in delivering maintained and balanced land usage and management, including sustainable small-scale agriculture; and,
- to encourage fair and equitable relationships between all crofting stakeholders.
These aims are set against recognition that having a croft provides the crofter with certain rights (such as security of tenure, fair rents and right to buy) and also requires crofters to meet certain responsibilities.
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." ( Annex A provides some wider context on crofting policy.)
"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 and Islands." ( http://www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Rural/crofting-policy)
The Scottish Government's general policy on crofting is still considered be to relevant and is generally consistent with the aims of stakeholders, although some stakeholder's views on the aims and purpose of crofting differ. The remainder of this consultation document has been drafted on the basis of this policy statement and seeks views on the legislation in that context.
Do you agree with the stated Scottish Government policy on crofting?
Please explain your answer.
Email: Crofting Bill Team, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House