As I have said before, there appear to be a few people with smiles on their faces, and they are not particularly the crofters—which leaves the lawyers, I suppose.
As I pledged to the minister in response to his statement on decrofting on 28 March, the Scottish Conservatives will support the bill, as we recognise the urgent need for legal clarity that will allow owner-occupier crofters to enjoy the same rights as croft tenants.
We look to the Scottish Government, working closely with crofting law experts, to do everything possible at subsequent stages to ensure that the bill has no unintended consequences. We want ministers to address the other issues that the committee identified—especially those that badly need attention.
Crofters and the crofting communities have many other challenges to overcome, especially this year, with the rigours of a bad winter and the increases in animal feed prices. At the very least, they deserve clarity from their legislators.
When I look back, my experience of crofters has always been good. Fifteen years ago, I canvassed many crofters across the Western Isles when I was a candidate there, and I found that, whatever their politics might have been, they were very welcoming. However, their dogs were sometimes not as welcoming. I once entered a kitchen that revealed a Mary Celeste situation. There was an uneaten breakfast on the table and the news was on the radio. I realised that the house was empty but, before I could exit, growls from the door revealed two enormous sheepdogs, which would not let me out until the owners arrived an hour later.
Another time, I went to canvass a crofter who was feeding his sheep in a field. He shouted at me that I would not have his vote until I went back to Westminster and got John Major to do something about the sea eagles. I know that we have mentioned sea eagles a lot.
Crofters face many issues, which are practical. The lives that we live here do not involve going out at 6 in the morning and feeding cattle and sheep in muck, rain, wind and other difficult things. It is up to those of us who sit in the comfortable chairs to give crofters at least the legislation that they deserve.