Section 3 — The Crofting Register

Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 1st July 2010.

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Amendment 5 moved—[Roseanna Cunningham]—and agreed to.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We move to group 4. Amendment 146, in the name of Peter Peacock, is grouped with amendments 147 to 174, 179 to 189, 193 to 197, 93, 200, 225, 201, 226, 204 to 220, 228 and 221 to 224. I draw members' attention to the pre-emption information on the groupings paper.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I lodged a series of amendments in this group to try to remove the whole of part 2 of the bill, which now runs to dozens and dozens of pages of complex procedure with which crofters will have to comply.

Part 2 establishes a second register of crofts; it does not replace the existing register. The new register will require precise maps of croft boundaries to be produced. Those maps are designed not to assist with regulatory applications, necessarily, but to record the croft holding on a national register that will be held in Edinburgh. Many things will trigger the requirement for a map, whether the crofter believes that map to be necessary or not.

This second and compulsory register that is proposed by the Government could take up to 40 years to complete, and has little or nothing to do with better support for crofting. It is argued that it will provide certainty on croft boundaries for all time, but to what effect? Where there is uncertainty about a croft boundary that is material to one of the interests, the matter can ultimately be settled by the Land Court, which is something that the new register's provisions simply repeat. The fact that the committee convener had to use her casting vote on no less than 18 occasions to force the Government's measure through demonstrates the depth of the division on this matter.

Amendment 93 is different in character from the other amendments in the group. The minister has said that the Government's policy is not to commence the register for one year following the creation of the computer database, which itself will take some 18 months or more. The minister has added that there could be a further delay in commencement of a further year. In theory and in practice, there could be further and indefinite delays to the commencement, which puts the matter down the road by a number of years. Who knows what might happen in that time, as circumstances change? In that context, given that commencement could be a number of years away, I believe that the Parliament should have a chance to assess the case for commencement at that time, so amendment 93 seeks to make that commencement subject to affirmative order. That is the democratic thing to do.

I move amendment 146.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

In evidence to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, Sir Crispin Agnew said:

"A map-based register of crofts is essential. All land in Scotland goes on to the land register, and it seems anomalous that crofting titles do not appear on that register."—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, 10 February 2010; c 2354.]

In fact, in each of the past 10 years, around 500 cases of decrofting have led to registration of land.

I find it odd that a Labour Party that spent the 1990s attempting to get a register for the land of Scotland should exempt crofts from that approach, and should make it more difficult to administer crofts in a manner that is fit for the 21st century. Many arguments have been aired around this issue before, and I am sure that we will hear more, but the nub of the matter is that many of the experts—the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, the National Farmers Union Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish Crofting Federation—say that there is a need for a land register. The fact that the land registers take time to build up should not stop us from starting the crofting register. We must oppose the removal of the crofting register from the bill.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Group 4 is entirely about removing map-based registration from the bill. As we believe map-based registration to be in the long-term best interests of crofting—as do the organisations that Rob Gibson mentioned—we cannot support the amendments. Because of implementation and construction timings, the new register will not be in place for a number of years—perhaps not until 2012 or 2013—which gives those who wish to prepare for the registration facility a window of opportunity to do so.

The register will introduce a level of certainty into many crofters' lives about the boundaries of their properties, whether tenanted or owner-occupied, and will, over time, create secure titles to all crofts. Some crofters will dispute boundaries with their neighbours during that process, but I believe that most will amicably agree boundaries with their neighbours, where they are not already accurately established.

I believe map-based registration to be essential. The Conservatives will not be able to support the 72 amendments in the group.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The amendments that were lodged by Peter Peacock and supported by me concern the part of the bill around which the most significant controversy and on-going disagreement exists. Like Peter Peacock, I will not oppose the Government's amendments to part 2, as I support the intention of removing the entire part through the amendments in this group.

I acknowledge the steps that Roseanna Cunningham has taken to jettison a significant proportion of the toxic inheritance that was bequeathed to her by Michael Russell, but I am disappointed that she remains unpersuaded of the need to reconsider the cost of and need for a map-based register, held by the Registers of Scotland. The Crofting Federation and the SRPBA now believe that the plans are costly and unworkable.

The committee's stage 1 report noted that the NFUS and the National Trust also

"expressed reservations about the approach to registration set out in the Bill, instead expressing a preference for community-led mapping".

It has become increasingly clear, as the SCF has highlighted, that the proposed register is for the benefit of anyone but the crofters, who are being asked to pay for it. The Government has estimated that the capital costs will amount to up to £1.5 million, with project and on-going costs to be borne by crofters. The case for such a proposal was never particularly strong. In the current climate, pursuit of such a register seems verging on reckless.

Many of the objectives that the Government seeks to achieve through its costly register could be secured by extending and expanding the scope of community-based mapping. As the chair of the Crofters Commission, Drew Ratter, made clear in evidence,

"A crofting tenancy is not really a territorial unit; it is, essentially, a bundle of rights and duties ... an understanding of exactly where the boundary lines go has never been desperately important."—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, 23 February 2010; c 2452.]

Exactly so.

I urge the minister and her colleagues, as well as John Scott, Jamie McGrigor and other Tory members, to think again. In the name of austerity, if not common sense, ditch these plans now. A bill that contains such a register is not one that I or my Liberal Democrat colleagues can support.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

The previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration set up the committee of inquiry on crofting—the Shucksmith inquiry. That inquiry said:

"An accurate and current Register of Crofts is a prerequisite for effective regulation of crofting."

The majority of respondents to our consultation who expressed a view on a register said that they wanted one and, this morning, Patrick Krause of the SCF said that there was a need for a register. It seems ridiculous that Peter Peacock wants hill tracks but not crofts to be mapped. If we are to have effective regulation of crofting, we need crofts to be mapped.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The Government has listened throughout the passage of the bill and various changes have been made.

The hokum about a second register is just that. The first one is basically an administrative list; it is not a register in the sense of the proposal that we are considering, which is for a new, accurate, legal, map-based register that will have long-term benefits for crofting.

On the radio this morning, Patrick Krause of the SCF—contrary to what Liam McArthur has just said—supported the case for change and for a map-based register. Crofters are not keen to pay for it, of course, but the cost of registration has been reduced by the Government from £250 to between £80 and £130; again, it has listened.

As with agriculture in general, the real problem for crofting is its general viability, as Patrick Krause also said on the radio this morning. That will be dealt with on another day. It is being looked at through the less favoured area support scheme, the Scotland rural development programme and single farm payments. Last night, I was at a meeting of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on crofting, at which the crofting counties agricultural grants scheme was mentioned.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

We will deal with those issues as we make progress.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Professor Jim Hunter said that it would be a huge step forward to have a register, particularly a map-based register. Sir Crispin Agnew said;

"A map-based register of crofts is essential."

Keith Graham, retired principal clerk to the Scottish Land Court, said

"I welcome the general principle behind a definitive map-based register".

Jonathan Hall of the NFUS said:

"The NFU Scotland is firmly of the opinion that we need a definitive map-based register—there is no doubt that that is essential."

Even Jean Balfour of the SRPBA said:

"We support map-based registration in principle."

The SCF said:

"The SCF strongly supports an effective crofting register."—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, 10 February 2010; c 2354, 2357, 2385, 2386.]

The National Trust for Scotland, a landowner, said that it welcomed the creation of a new map-based crofting register, which it believed was essential for the future of crofting.

In the face of all that evidence, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are trying to destroy a proposal to create, for the first time, a proper, accurate, legal, reliable and map-based register of land held in crofting tenure. The existing crofting register is administrative only. The case for such a register and the benefits that it will bring is compelling.

The Government has listened to some of the concerns that have been expressed about the crofting register and has responded with incentives to encourage communities to come forward with group registrations and a commitment to delay the mandatory trigger points for a year, which will give those communities three years to prepare group registrations. The first mandatory trigger cannot come in until 2013.

To ensure that the register will deliver those benefits, we must allow for a fair challenge to first registration and registration must become mandatory if the voluntary approach does not deliver enough registrations. The benefits to crofters and society in the long term significantly outweigh the costs. The bill will meet the most basic requirement—it will provide clarity about what land is croft land and who has the rights and responsibilities for that land. Please oppose the Labour-Liberal Democrat amendments.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 9:45 am, 1st July 2010

As I said, there is a fundamental disagreement here that is evident from the debate.

The minister quoted various people in support of the register, but I do not believe that she quoted a crofter, and it is the crofters who are telling me loudly that the register is impractical in a variety of ways. The costs and bureaucracy that the bill builds around it are unnecessary. Although John Farquhar Munro is not able to be here today, for understandable reasons, I refer members to what he said during the stage 1 debate. There is a man who understands crofting thoroughly and fully, and I commend what he said when he said that the register is unworkable, unnecessary, bureaucratic, costly to crofters and costly to the public purse. That is why we should reject it.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The question is, that amendment 146 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

For:

Alexander, Ms Wendy (Paisley North) (Lab)

Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Baker, Richard (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Boyack, Sarah (Edinburgh Central) (Lab)

Brankin, Rhona (Midlothian) (Lab)

Brown, Robert (Glasgow) (LD)

Butler, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab)

Chisholm, Malcolm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab)

Craigie, Cathie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab)

Curran, Margaret (Glasgow Baillieston) (Lab)

Eadie, Helen (Dunfermline East) (Lab)

Ferguson, Patricia (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab)

Finnie, Ross (West of Scotland) (LD)

Foulkes, George (Lothians) (Lab)

Gillon, Karen (Clydesdale) (Lab)

Glen, Marlyn (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Godman, Trish (West Renfrewshire) (Lab)

Gordon, Charlie (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab)

Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)

Henry, Hugh (Paisley South) (Lab)

Hume, Jim (South of Scotland) (LD)

Jamieson, Cathy (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab)

Kelly, James (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab)

Kerr, Andy (East Kilbride) (Lab)

Lamont, Johann (Glasgow Pollok) (Lab)

Livingstone, Marilyn (Kirkcaldy) (Lab)

Macdonald, Lewis (Aberdeen Central) (Lab)

Macintosh, Ken (Eastwood) (Lab)

Martin, Paul (Glasgow Springburn) (Lab)

McArthur, Liam (Orkney) (LD)

McAveety, Mr Frank (Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab)

McCabe, Tom (Hamilton South) (Lab)

McConnell, Jack (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab)

McInnes, Alison (North East Scotland) (LD)

McMahon, Michael (Hamilton North and Bellshill) (Lab)

McNeil, Duncan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab)

McNulty, Des (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab)

Mulligan, Mary (Linlithgow) (Lab)

Murray, Elaine (Dumfries) (Lab)

O'Donnell, Hugh (Central Scotland) (LD)

Oldfather, Irene (Cunninghame South) (Lab)

Park, John (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Peacock, Peter (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Peattie, Cathy (Falkirk East) (Lab)

Purvis, Jeremy (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)

Rumbles, Mike (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD)

Scott, Tavish (Shetland) (LD)

Simpson, Dr Richard (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Smith, Elaine (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)

Smith, Iain (North East Fife) (LD)

Stephen, Nicol (Aberdeen South) (LD)

Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Stone, Jamie (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

Tolson, Jim (Dunfermline West) (LD)

Whitefield, Karen (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)

Whitton, David (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

Against:

Adam, Brian (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

Aitken, Bill (Glasgow) (Con)

Allan, Alasdair (Western Isles) (SNP)

Brocklebank, Ted (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Brown, Gavin (Lothians) (Con)

Brown, Keith (Ochil) (SNP)

Brownlee, Derek (South of Scotland) (Con)

Campbell, Aileen (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Carlaw, Jackson (West of Scotland) (Con)

Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

Constance, Angela (Livingston) (SNP)

Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)

Cunningham, Roseanna (Perth) (SNP)

Don, Nigel (North East Scotland) (SNP)

Doris, Bob (Glasgow) (SNP)

Ewing, Fergus (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP)

Fabiani, Linda (Central Scotland) (SNP)

FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee West) (SNP)

Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Gibson, Rob (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Goldie, Annabel (West of Scotland) (Con)

Grahame, Christine (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Harper, Robin (Lothians) (Green)

Harvie, Christopher (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP)

Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)

Hepburn, Jamie (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Hyslop, Fiona (Lothians) (SNP)

Ingram, Adam (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Johnstone, Alex (North East Scotland) (Con)

Kidd, Bill (Glasgow) (SNP)

Lamont, John (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)

MacAskill, Kenny (Edinburgh East and Musselburgh) (SNP)

MacDonald, Margo (Lothians) (Ind)

Marwick, Tricia (Central Fife) (SNP)

Mather, Jim (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)

Maxwell, Stewart (West of Scotland) (SNP)

McGrigor, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

McKee, Ian (Lothians) (SNP)

McKelvie, Christina (Central Scotland) (SNP)

McLaughlin, Anne (Glasgow) (SNP)

McLetchie, David (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con)

McMillan, Stuart (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Milne, Nanette (North East Scotland) (Con)

Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)

Morgan, Alasdair (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Neil, Alex (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Paterson, Gil (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Robison, Shona (Dundee East) (SNP)

Russell, Michael (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Salmond, Alex (Gordon) (SNP)

Scanlon, Mary (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)

Smith, Elizabeth (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Lothians) (SNP)

Stevenson, Stewart (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Govan) (SNP)

Swinney, John (North Tayside) (SNP)

Thompson, Dave (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Watt, Maureen (North East Scotland) (SNP)

Welsh, Andrew (Angus) (SNP)

White, Sandra (Glasgow) (SNP)

Wilson, Bill (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Wilson, John (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The result of the division is: For 59, Against 66, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 146 disagreed to.