Minister reaffirms position on decrofting

13 March 2013

The scheduling of a debate on crofting in Parliament yesterday evening, proposed and introduced by Independent MSP Jean Urquhart, could not have been more timely. Among the varied issues discussed, including championing crofting produce, CAP reform and the recent Raasay sporting lease controversy, there was no doubt in the minds of the members assembled what has become the most pressing issue - the ability of owner occupier crofters to decroft.

Many awaiting further answers from the Government over the decrofting debacle might have hoped that Paul Wheelhouse, Minister responsible for crofting and the Crofting Commission, might have taken on board calls to act quickly to solve the problem. Brian Inkster has suggested that the Ministers use their powers under the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 to direct the Commission to process the decrofting applications from owner occupier crofters.
Mr Wheelhouse yesterday re-iterated that no further applications could be processed in light of legal advice received by the Commission. Despite Brian Inkster’s advice to issue a direction to the Commission - a suggestion that was referred to by several members in the debate - Mr Wheelhouse was clear in stating that based on the advice the Commission has received, if he was to direct them to process the applications he would be asking the Commission to act unlawfully.

Tavish Scott MSP was highly vocal in calling for the Government to sort out the ‘shambles’, and highlighted that the issue is in fact far bigger than that of Raasay which was fixed in fairly short measure. Mr Scott pointed out that in comparison,  this problem “affects far more crofters across the crofting counties. It is a mess that needs to be resolved immediately.”  Rhona Grant MSP also highlighted that the aim of crofting legislative reform was for owner occupiers and tenants to have the same benefits. She said: "However, it appears that shoddy drafting has created the opposite effect."

Mr Wheelhouse, who said he appreciated the economic difficulties faced by crofters, acknowledged that the decrofting issue was a matter of ‘great concern’ to members and crofters and that further legal advice was being taken. He stated that they would be prepared to take “any necessary steps” to fix the problem. He said: “If legislative change is required, I will look to Parliament for support to encourage smooth passage of that legislation.” He highlighted that 179 owner occupier crofting decrofting directions had been made since the new legislation came into force, with 59 current applications placed in abeyance. However, Mr Scott had earlier pointed out that the issue has the potential to affect around 3000 crofters with owner occupier status.

Unfortunately, for the people mentioned in Mr Wheelhouse’s statistic, there will be a further period of uncertainty and it does not appear that a quick solution is going to be reached by the Government.

If you are affected by these latest developments, and need advice, Brian Inkster and Eilidh Ross are specialists in crofting law. They can assist you from our offices in Glasgow and Inverness.


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