Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Bill to tackle absentee crofters

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The proposed legislation aims to crack down on absentee crofters

Measures to tackle absentee crofters are part of new legislation proposed by the Scottish government.

The Crofting Reform Bill will introduce measures to crack down on crofters who live away from their croft and do not play an active role in the community.

The government hopes the proposals in the bill, which will now be considered by MSPs, will help preserve crofting as a way of life in Scotland.

It was unveiled by Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham in Inverness.

MSPs sitting on the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee have sought views on the proposed laws as part of its examination of the bill.

Other proposed powers include a constitutional change to crofting's regulator, the Crofters Commission, to make it more representative and accountable.

The creation of a new map-based register of crofts to replace the existing register has also been put forward. The government said the cost of registering to the new system would fall from £250 to between £80 and £130.

This bill does not shy away from the issues that need to be addressed and sets out measures that will ensure crofting not only survives but thrives
Roseanna Cunningham
Environment minister

Speaking at she officially launched the bill, Ms Cunningham said: "Crofting is a vital part of Scotland's social, geographical and cultural make-up yet its very existence is under threat. Absenteeism is running at 10% and more and more quality land is being removed from crofting tenure.

"There is consensus that something has to be done to reverse this decline and, while there have undoubtedly been differences of opinion about how best to do it, much progress has been made in recent months to reach agreement on a way forward.

"This bill does not shy away from the issues that need to be addressed and sets out measures that will ensure crofting not only survives but thrives in the 21st century."

Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, said the document no longer contained some of the most controversial elements of the draft version.

He added: "I believe that, after many months of patient lobbying, we have ended up with a bill that is dramatically more acceptable to crofters than the government's original proposals were."

Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Peter Peacock criticised proposed new registration procedures.

He said: "Crofters will have to pay to put their croft on the new Edinburgh-based register, possibly pay to have accurate plans of their boundaries drawn up, pay to fight any challenge to those boundaries, but it is not clear what benefits accrue from being on the register.

"The government make it clear that the Crofting Commission will have to keep a parallel register, so the new register seems like an expensive duplication of bureaucracy."

Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro said the bill would take powers away from the commission.

He said: "I'm afraid it is very disappointing that the government has watered down proposals to bring democracy to the commission and instead opted to confer all powers onto ministers and civil servants.

"The government has missed the opportunity to give the commission real power to act on the very real problems facing crofting."

'Widely rejected'

The publication follows a public consultation exercise on a draft bill.

During the consultation, the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) said the majority of its 2,000 members rejected the proposals in the draft bill, and said it was too heavy on enforcement of regulation.

The SCF has recalled its reform working group to look at the bill set out by Ms Cunningham.

Working group chairwoman Marina Dennis said: "At first glance our reaction is that the government have listened to our response to the draft bill and have dropped some of the more widely rejected proposals.

"There are some potentially useful aspects to the bill if implemented sensitively and there are of course some proposals we will be seeking amendment to, such as costs to crofters."



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