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Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th June 2013.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I, too, welcome the bill, but I am concerned about its complexity. It has already been said that specialist crofting lawyers have warned the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee that the bill is unnecessarily complex and could create unintended consequences to add to those introduced by the 2010 act.

I heard what the minister said in his opening speech, but I urge him to get round the table with those who expressed those concerns and ensure that the stage 2 amendments deal with them. Perhaps he could include the bill team in those discussions, as well. There is no harm in testing and debating the bill, because it is in all our interests to get it right. Given the short consultation, I do not think that it would be remiss of us to do that.

I turn to some of the anomalies in the 2010 act that also need to be sorted out. I understand why those anomalies are not being sorted out in this bill, because it deals with an urgent issue, but they could become just as urgent.

It was recently brought to my attention that the bill will make it illegal for anyone other than the registered crofter to work their croft. The Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 act stated:

“The crofter shall, by himself or his family, with or without hired labour, either or both (a) cultivate his croft; (b) put it to some other use, being a purposeful use, so that every part of the croft either is cultivated or is put to such use.”

The 2010 act amended that to say:

“A crofter must comply with each of the duties set out in subsection (2)”,

which says

“the crofter (a) must (i) cultivate the croft”.

The unintended consequence of that is that the crofter can no longer cultivate the croft with the help of his family or indeed hired labour. That flies in the face of crofting, which is very much a family activity, and it misses the essence of crofting, which is normally carried out collectively in a community. That work has been restricted to just the crofter and not the family, community or indeed hired help, which has created an anomaly. It might not be policed or reported on, but there is an anomaly in the law.

Others have mentioned other anomalies—Alex Fergusson might have already spoken about a very similar anomaly to the one that I am going to describe. I give the example of the crofter who has bought a croft, crofts the land, has a home and garden on that land and subsequently decides to sell the house and garden but keep the croft. The home and garden are not decrofted, but change hands. The new owner goes on to try to sell the house, only to discover that although he is the landlord of his home and garden, he is a tenant of the crofter—the original owner of the house. The new owner cannot apply to decroft, because he is the landlord, not the crofter. Such anomalies need to be sorted.

It is my view and certainly the view of others that elements of the 2010 act were simply not required. With regard to the use of grazings committees, the body that should organise collective working in a crofting township became the body that polices other crofters. That is a very difficult issue to deal with.

We need to look at the 2010 act and start to unpick it.