At the evidence taking session on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill on 15th May there was an exchange between Tavish Scott MSP, Richard Frew (Scottish Government) and Rob Gibson MSP that was quite enlightening on the Government’s stance on the problems associated with decrofting applications by owner-occupiers as opposed to by owner-occupier crofters. It would appear that the Government does not consider, as Tavish Scott perhaps does, this to be a “significant” issue.
I rather think this is because the Scottish Government has simply not thought through the consequences of the Crofting Commission’s stance on this issue. As I have indicated before now, owner-occupiers are, in certain circumstances, being quite simply prevented from decrofting. Furthermore it is arguable that decrofting directions issued by the Crofting Commission between 1 October 2011 and 18 February 2013 to owner-occupiers are, in certain circumstances, invalid with all the consequences that flow from that not only for those owner-occupiers but also for third party purchasers and lenders who have relied on the decrofting directions in question. That is not significant?!
Richard Frew appeared to suggest that the matter was perhaps adequately covered by the fact that “people who were, in effect, owner-occupiers prior to the 2010 Act can apply jointly to the Commission, as long as they do it collectively as landlords.”
Tavish Scott quite rightly rebounded that:-
The point is that those people are not agreeing to act jointly in that way. If that was happening, I would agree with you entirely.
The quite surprising response by Richard Frew to this was:-
I would hope that everybody would be able to work together at some point to recognise the benefits.
To which Tavish Scott replied:-
We do not live in a perfect world, Mr Frew.
Indeed we do not. If we did then perhaps we would have the Crofting Commission working together with crofters by interpreting crofting legislation in a way that was to their benefit rather than to their detriment!
Richard Frew’s response does, of course, ignore the question of the potentially invalid decrofting directions that may be out there.
On the question of when will this issue be dealt with Richard Frew stated:-
When and whether we address that, and whether particular legislation is introduced at any time is really a matter for the minister, rather than for civil servants, to determine.
We all know that the minister will base his decisions on advice received from civil servants and it is somewhat worrying if the civil servants are not up to speed with what the problems actually are. In particular Rob Gibson asked:-
That is an interesting issue that might affect some crofters. We do not know how many—unless Mr Frew can give us a ballpark figure at the moment.
The response from Richard Frew was:-
I am not aware of the exact figures, but I am sure that the Commission has a list of the different types of crofter.
How can the Government state that this is not a significant issue when they have no figures at their fingertips regarding the number of people affected by it? Surely this should have been fundamental research in deciding whether or not to include this issue in the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill?
[NB: This blog post forms part of Submissions (Part 3) by Brian Inkster on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. See also Submissions (Part 1): A Sledge Hammer to Crack a Nut; and Submissions (Part 2): An Alternative Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill]
[Picture Credit: The painting (1994) by Douglas Chowns is in the Collection of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. It shows the artist’s imagining of the famous ‘Battle of the Braes’ that took place in Skye in 1882. It was part of a long struggle for crofters throughout the Highlands to win fair rents and security of land from the landowners during the nineteenth century.]