The Scottish Government has recently passed the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill. The main features of the Act, which is not yet in force, include the re-organisation of the Crofters Commission, the establishment of a Crofting Register and changes in relation to the duties of crofters.
The newly named ‘Crofting Commission’ will have a more regulatory role and will report annually to the Scottish Ministers. The Registers of Scotland will create a new Crofting Register which will cover both individual crofts and common grazings. Registration is triggered when new crofts are created and when owner occupied crofts are transferred. Other events affecting the status of a croft such as resumption will also trigger registration in the new Register. The Crofting Commission will be involved in checking any application for registration before forwarding this to the Registers of Scotland. Interested parties such as the landlord and neighbours will be notified of the application by the Commission and anyone wishing to challenge the registration has a right of appeal to the Scottish Land Court within nine months of the notification of registration being issued.
In addition, any new common grazings any new grazings must be registered and the Act provides that existing grazings may be registered by the Commission. Most events which involve grazings, such as change of ownership or resumption will trigger registration. When it comes to an application for resumption of part of an unregistered croft the Land Court may only authorise resumption if an application for registration is submitted within six months from the date of the resumption application. The Act goes so far as to make failure to register changes of ownership of owner occupied crofts or changes of landlords of registered croft land within one year an offence.
Perhaps the most talked about part of the Bill concerns the duties of crofters and one of the headline duties is that crofters must not misuse or neglect their crofts. “Misuse” occurs if the croft is not cultivated, while a breach of the Cross Compliance regulations will amount to “neglect”. In a similar vein crofters must reside within 32 kilometres of their crofts unless they have sought Commission consent for their absence. Increased powers are given to the Commission to investigate breaches in the carrying out of their compliance role and this includes taking steps to terminate a tenancy or re-let a croft. The Act does however, introduce the right for owners or occupiers to grant “short leases” to tenants who will not be crofters (nor come within the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Acts).
Another major change brought in by the Act is that a crofter purchasing croft land may only nominate a member of his family to take the title. The clawback period in which landlords who have sold croft land may share in any uplift in value is also increased from five to ten years.