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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 Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I thank all those who worked on the stage 1 report, which was done quickly. I know that the committee has a very busy work programme, and we all support its efforts to resolve the recent problems as soon as possible. The committee’s stage 1 report highlights the challenges in taking evidence within such timescales. The complexity of the evidence that the committee received and the desire of many stakeholders to talk about wider issues with the 2010 act and other crofting legislation have been highlighted.

At the time of the statement, it was identified that 179 crofters had already decrofted and 60 were in the process of decrofting. I welcome the updated numbers for the current picture.

At the beginning, the minister gave real-life examples of people who have been impacted on in the current situation. That emphasised the need for swift action. The situation has added to the financial pressures for those crofters, and it is good that we are on track to provide legal clarity before the summer recess. That is particularly important for those who have been caught by this set of circumstances and those who have planning permission that is running out.

There has been a period of uncertainty, and there has been uncertainty in the committee. As other members have highlighted, there was a debate on whether the bill is necessary. The crofting lawyer Brian Inkster, who has been mentioned a few times, argued that the matter could be resolved in a different way, while the chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Derek Flyn, supported the bill as the right way forward. In conclusion, there was an agreement that the bill is the way we should proceed, and we support efforts to resolve the issue as quickly as possible through the bill, which is subject to stage 2 scrutiny.

The experience has lessons for the future. Like Jayne Baxter, I looked back at the stage 3 debate on the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill. She has already quoted what Peter Peacock said then, but I will repeat his final line. He said that if the bill

“passes on to the statute book, it could be held up as a warning, not an example.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2010; c 28193.]

Members’ contributions this afternoon on the complexity of the bill have raised questions about how we should go forward on crofting legislation. There were concerns about the scrutiny of the 2010 bill at the time, and we abstained with the Liberals in the final vote as an expression of our concerns. We recognised the Government’s intentions, but we had concerns about the implementation of the bill. I would rather that we did not return to the legislation so quickly.

Many made the point in evidence at stage 1 that there is perhaps a need to look at the 2010 act as a whole to guard against any future flaws or unintended consequences that may come to light. There have been concerns about future unintended consequences or anomalies.