Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th June 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

That is useful to know.

The law must reflect the policy intention of the 2010 act, which was that all crofters should be able to decroft land, subject to the safeguards that the act introduced to protect croft land, ensure the sustainability of crofting and stop speculation.

Most of the evidence that we received agreed that the problem needed to be addressed. Admittedly, there was some disagreement about whether the current legislation could be read as already permitting such decrofting applications, but most agreed that the bill was the best way to settle the issue beyond doubt.

The committee had some regret about the very short time for written views to be sent to it. We received a significant number of responses in the week or so during which the opportunity was available. For that reason, we strongly recommended that the Government consider carefully all the evidence that was sent to the committee ahead of this debate.

All who gave evidence to us agreed that the bill would achieve its desired outcome. That is a key point to remember during the debate. Is there a consensus that a problem exists? Yes. Is there consensus that the bill will fix that problem? Yes.

The bill also ensures that its provisions will be applied retrospectively, as if it had been in force in October 2011, as the 2010 act intended. In this instance, the committee is supportive of applying provisions retrospectively, as that will ensure that all owner-occupier crofters have been, and will be, treated fairly and appropriately.

The bill will also ensure that the appeals process that is available following the Crofting Commission giving a decrofting direction is applied fairly to those who have made applications but who have yet to receive a decision. I am sure that that issue will be raised repeatedly in the debate, but we should realise that it is important to quite a number of people, which is why we are taking it so seriously.

More thickets and brambles awaited us. Lawyers who are experts in crofting law said that the bill was unnecessarily complex and that, in places, it required amendment to avoid further difficulties with legal interpretation in the future. We strongly urge the Government to consider those points carefully in determining whether amendments are needed at stage 2 to ensure that the bill is clear and competent.

Additional issues were raised about the definition of what makes an owner-occupier crofter, as opposed to the owner-occupier of a croft, and how multiple owners of distinct parts of the same croft can proceed if all of them do not agree on one owner-occupier seeking to decroft their piece of that land. Those issues stem from the pre-devolution 1993 act. Because of the expedited process, no resolution of them was examined, but they are listed in our stage 1 report.