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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

It all depends on what is required in that report—what its contents will be. Those who live and work in small communities know that stresses and tensions can exist, and the report could be used as a way of giving voice to those stresses and tensions and thereby could ramp things up to the point where the community is no longer cohesive or working together.

When we review crofting law, we need to look at the role of smallholders and tenant farmers in the crofting counties. A person’s status in those counties depends on a twist of fate with regard to how their land was categorised when the crofting laws came into force, and many tenant farmers and smallholders in those areas are keen to have the same protections offered by crofting.

There is a degree of unity in the Parliament about the need to review and rewrite crofting law. However, that work must be done by those who understand crofting. Too often, those who draft crofting legislation have no understanding of the system and are simply looking in from the outside. Although their genuine aim is to make things better, they manage only to make things worse. We must remember first principles: crofting is an economic driver that was introduced to deal with the excesses of and imbalance in Scottish land ownership that we debated yesterday, and it provides crofters with security of tenure, a home and, indeed, an income. However, recent legislation regulates and polices crofters instead of empowering them, and crofting law should offer protection and empowerment to ensure that we create sustainable economies in our most marginal areas.

The 2010 act has also, and for no good reason, imposed costs and put up more barriers and hurdles. I am not saying that this is my party’s position but I certainly feel that the act should be repealed and that we should then look at how we can simplify previous legislation. I stress again that that work must involve those who understand crofting.

Of course, that will be no mean feat. Crofting has evolved differently in different areas and means different things to different communities, so it will be almost impossible to define it in legislation. However, any new legislation must enshrine security of tenure, in return for which the crofter must work their croft. Legislation needs to provide not only a high level of protection but the flexibility to allow crofting and crofting communities to work as they have evolved.

It is right that the bill has come before Parliament and that it is processed with haste because of the cost to those who suffered from the anomaly that it deals with. However, there are many other issues to be sorted out and I look forward to the minister’s bringing forward an action plan on how he intends to deal with those anomalies.