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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 Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am happy to do so. The original estimate of 50 fell to 44 after we requested the commission to do as much as it could to process the applications that it had in hand, short of approving them. In the course of that work, the commission identified that six of the applications did not fit the description of an owner-occupier decrofting application and they are now being processed under a different stream. Applications are at various stages of development; some will be able to go forward almost immediately once the bill is passed while others might take up to eight weeks after royal assent is given, but I hope that the whole backlog will be cleared over the summer. A further 31 applications have been made and returned to the applicants at this stage—we hope that the commission will be able to start on them quickly once royal assent is received. I hope that that clarifies the matter for the member.

Tavish Scott mentioned the case of the crofting couple in Shetland. I am sorry to hear of their difficulties and that the Land Court indicated that they cannot appeal through it against the policy of the commission. As we do not have all the facts of that particular case and it is a live case, I cannot comment on it too much, but I highlight the fact that the 1993 act contains a wide range of appeal opportunities, some of which may apply in their case.

Rhoda Grant mentioned that crofters cannot cultivate crofts with their families as a result of the duty on crofters in the 2010 act. There is nothing in theory to prevent a crofter’s family from assisting the crofter by working the croft, but the crofter must be responsible for ensuring that the duty to cultivate the croft is met. I hope that there may be more scope there than perhaps the member indicates, but if she is willing to write to me about a particular case, I can always undertake to have a look at it.

It is also open to a crofter to apply to the commission to sublet a croft and, since 2011, it has also been open to an owner-occupier to apply to the commission for a short-term let of a croft of up to 10 years.

Nigel Don very fairly raised a point about the transitory provisions in the bill. I reassure him that full consideration was given to the effect of those transitory provisions when developing the proposed legislation. We will continue to consider any points as they arise during the bill process, but I take on board the concern that the member raised and I will ensure that I will take a personal view of that.

Jamie McGrigor commented that further amendments may be required to the bill, with particular reference to Sir Crispin Agnew and Brian Inkster’s comments. We are aware of the drafting concerns, but I hope that in addressing the points that were raised earlier about the particular form of the drafting, I clarified that we picked a form that replicates the provision for tenant crofters and that, therefore, we believe is relatively stable and appears to work in processing applications. We cannot guarantee that there will not be a problem, but in seeking to do it this way, we hope that we have minimised the risk of a problem arising in relation to owner-occupier crofters. However, of course, I will consider any detailed comments that the member has on that.