Crofting Debate highlights further legislative concerns

7 June 2013

The Crofting Amendment Bill was debated in Parliament yesterday, and although there was cross-party consensus that a solution to the current decrofting debacle was needed swiftly, there was concern voiced at both the complexity of the drafting and the need to address other issues raised in the consultation.

That consultation – despite its short timeframe, generated a number of detailed responses, not least from Inksters.  Brian Inkster put forward an alternative bill which simplified what was trying to be achieved, and Eilidh Ross made it clear that the current state of the legislation causes confusion for practitioners and crofters. These responses can be found on the Crofting Law Blog.

Several members called on Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change responsible for crofting, to address the wider legislative issues relating to owner occupier crofters; Mr Wheelhouse did give an assurance that this would be looked at following investigations and consultation. It was recognised that the remit of this particular Bill could not be widened given the timescales. It was acknowledged by Mr Wheelhouse that proper consideration will need to be given to the issues raised by crofting law practitioners.

Brushing aside criticisms of the legislative flaws, Mr Wheelhouse stated that the Bill had the support of various organisations including the Crofting Commission, Scottish Land and Estates and NFU Scotland. He stated that the Bill was designed to ‘mimic’ the provisions that allow tenant crofters to decroft, and that these appeared to be working, the policy is stable and the system was being ‘administered fairly easily’. Whether mimicking existing provisions that Mr Wheelhouse acknowledged were not perfect is the best way to create legislation is another debate.

Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson was clear in his criticism of the current state of Crofting Law, (Inksters Eilidh Ross’s assertion that it is a ‘mess’ was a term used throughout the debate). Mr Fergusson made the dramatic statement that ‘Crofting Law is a monster that was created in the past, and it will exist long into the future unless it is effectively destroyed and replaced.’ While this might be an extreme view, the responses to the consultation make clear the level of complexity and impenetrability of the legislation, even for legal practitioners, is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, there are 44 applicants (reduced from 50) awaiting the Bill becoming law so they can decroft, representing those trying to commence or complete building work, or those looking to sell to finance projects. Not to mention those since the halt on processing in February. Mr Wheelhouse had instructed the Commission to progress the applications as far as possible so they would presumably be ready to go forward once the Amendment comes into force.  It is hoped any backlog will be cleared ‘over the summer’.

Mr Wheelhouse is bound to be reminded of his assurance to address the wider legislative problems raised. Jean Urquhart MSP stated that he could be remembered as the Minister who ‘fixed crofting’. Whether he decides to grasp the nettle and undertake such a task remains to be seen. 
If you require further information or assistance about this or any other crofting law matter, Inksters can assist you. Contact Brian Inkster in Glasgow and Eilidh Ross in Inverness.

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