At the stage 1 debate on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill on 6 June 2013 the following exchange took place between Rob Gibson MSP and Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change (with responsibility for crofting):-
Rob Gibson asked:-
How many people are in this multiple owner situation and how many are caught up in these decrofting problems? Does that, too, conform to the 80:20 principle?
Paul Wheelhouse responded:-
Estimates of the numbers involved vary. To pick up Alex Fergusson’s earlier point, I believe that there are between 3,000 and 4,000 owner-occupier crofter crofts and know that the figure of 700 has been bandied about for crofts in multiple ownership. We believe that the actual figure might be slightly higher, at 808, but if it will assist, we can clarify the exact number for the committee and members as we move towards stage 2. The issue is another that falls outwith the scope of the bill but which we recognise needs to be addressed, and I hope that members whose constituents are affected will note that. The bill deliberately has a tight focus to address a key issue and our view is that, unfortunately, any deviation to cover such a substantive issue would not necessarily respect the expedited procedure that is being applied to the bill, on which there is clearly a consensus to address the existing decrofting issue.
The figure of 700 was not really bandied about as such. It was an unknown figure when the question was first asked of the Scottish Government on 15th May and one that was supplied at a later date (22nd May) by an official from the Crofting Commission. One would have thought, at the time, that this would therefore have been a fairly accurate and reliable figure. However, as we have seen it is a moving target as the Crofting Commission check and reduce the number of owner-occupier crofters thus increasing the number of owner-occupiers who are not owner-occupier crofters. Paul Wheelhouse recognises that 808 may not be the exact number and this has still to be clarified. It is amazing that we are now so many weeks down the line and such clarity has still to be given.
Paul Wheelhouse did not answer the second part of Rob Gibson’s question, i.e how many owner-occupiers (who are not owner-occupier crofters) are caught up in decrofting problems. Rob Gibson had asked the same question on 22nd May and at that time Paul Wheelhouse said:-
I am happy to try and establish, after the meeting, whether there are any statistics that would give us an idea about how many crofters might be affected. I apologise that I do not have the numbers in front of me now.
This, I would suggest, is a more important figure to be clarified than the total number of owner-occupiers in existence. Perhaps MSPs need to press for an answer on this question at the final debate on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill on Tuesday 25th June. It has been dodged by the Minister at least twice now during the passage of the Bill. It may not be directly relevant to the Bill as the Bill does not deal with those decrofting problems. But it might highlight the real need for a swift Crofting (Amendment No. 2) (Scotland) Bill to resolve the plight of the owner-occupiers, not to mention the ‘aliens‘, who still will not be able to decroft once the first of those two Bills becomes an Act.
There was also an implication by Paul Wheelhouse that this is a new decrofting issue. It should be remembered that the decrofting problem faced by owner-occupiers actually pre-dates the one faced by owner-occupier crofters albeit by 7 days.