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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 Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I am sorry—I was so taken with Alex Fergusson’s run-through of various features of mythology and trying to remember my schoolboy Greek that I lost his point, but I take note of what he says.

I will briefly address the wider points that other members have raised, which relate not only to the bill but to other issues. I have sent most of the correspondence that I will mention to the minister, so I will not go into any detail, but I note that there are significant problems in other areas. I am grateful to Rob Gibson for suggesting that his committee may consider those issues, and to the minister for his earlier reply in that regard.

I will give an example of one particularly go-ahead crofting couple at home in Cunningsburgh in Shetland. They run a very good agricultural business and a bed and breakfast, and they have built self-catering accommodation. They have done all the things that, in terms of public policy, we expect them to do, and have turned a small unit into a successful and thriving unit on which to bring up their family. However, they now face a situation in which the Crofting Commission views them as joint landlords of a vacant croft, and they cannot decroft any land without agreement. In the email that I received from them just the other day, they point out, with some justification—this may answer Graeme Dey’s question about how widespread the problem is—that there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of the problem in Shetland alone. Landlords and crofting landowners have given or sold land for gardens, house sites, sheds, garage grounds, polytunnels, driveways—you name it. In the circumstances, it seems remarkably unfair that, in the case that I mentioned, the system stops that couple making progress simply because of the way in which it is now being ruled by the Crofting Commission.

Worse than that, the couple took up the issue with the Land Court and got a letter back just the other day in which the very helpful clerk to the court advised them that, whether as individuals or as a crofting couple, they could not challenge the Crofting Commission’s policy in the Land Court, although they could pursue a judicial review in the Court of Session. That makes the case, does it not? The best advice that, as legislators, we can give a crofting couple who are making a real go of their business is that they can go to the Court of Session. I think that we need to do a bit better than that.

I hope that the Government can introduce some concrete plans to deal with the other anomalies that Rhoda Grant and others mentioned, which I also believe need to be sorted. It is important to deal with the reality of the crofting counties. Angus MacDonald made absolutely the right point about differences across the crofting counties. I hope that the minister will reflect on the situation, which I am sure that he has seen in his own visits around the crofting counties. Recognising those differences will be absolutely the key to whatever the Government decides to do. I hope that the bill will be passed quickly and that we will quickly get on to other matters that need to be addressed.