The whole thing seems to me to be a bit like the Hydra—you cut off one head and two others appear. With crofting, we get rid of one problem and two others appear in its place. What other issues have been identified during the process for the 2010 Act and the recent process, and what timescale might the Government have in mind for addressing them?
Richard Frew responded:-
I am certainly aware that there are other issues, albeit that they are not of the scale of the one that is dealt with in the bill. There are issues not just with the 2010 Act, but with the 1993 Act and of course, the Crofting Reform etc Act 2007, which came between them. It is everybody’s responsibility, from the development of draft legislation—in this case, in the Scottish Government—and as it passes through Parliament to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose when it is passed and that it delivers what it is intended to deliver. We all need to work closely to ensure that that is the case with this bill, focused as it is.
There are problems. One that I would like to have a look at, as I mentioned earlier, is the definition of “owner-occupier crofter” in section 19B of the 1993 Act. Some people do not necessarily fall within that definition in the legislation. Whether they need to fall within it could clearly be considered. Other issues in the legislation are mostly to do with cross-references and how various sections interact, an example being the register provisions. It would be useful to look at those issues but, as I said, when and how that happens is a matter for ministers.
Alex Fergusson asked further:-
As a brief follow-up question, what priority do those issues have and how important is it to address them? I am afraid that I genuinely do not understand that. I presume that, if the problems are important, they ought to be addressed fairly soon.
Richard Frew responded again:-
As I said, it is for ministers to decide when such matters are addressed. I am sorry if I sound repetitive. Before we introduce any legislation, we have to consider carefully what it would do and what issue we are trying to address. If something is highlighted as being a particular problem, we would clearly want to consider not just legislation, but other ways of resolving it. For example, that might be done administratively, which I think would be the first choice.
It is a pity that as part and parcel of introducing the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill the Government has not given a commitment to resolve all other problems associated with crofting legislation with a timetable for so doing. Much effort is going into a Bill which I believe was not necessary in the first place. There are many other problems with crofting law that have more unanimous support for being issues where the law is indeed flawed. Richard Frew has his work cut out if he is going to kill the Crofting Law Hydra as Heracles managed to kill the Hydra of Lerna. But the sooner Richard and the ministers he advises tackle it head on the better.
[NB: This blog post forms part of Submissions (Part 3) by Brian Inkster on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. See Crofting is not a perfect world which also forms part of those Submissions (Part 3). In addition see Submissions (Part 1): A Sledge Hammer to Crack a Nut; and Submissions (Part 2): An Alternative Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill]
[Picture Credit: Hydra Monster from Istaevan]