The Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Patrick Krause, previously highlighted the fact that the Crofting Commission were not delivering “the express will of Parliament”. I indicated that this was something I would return to in detail in a later blog post with a clear analysis of what the will of Parliament actually is on this issue. This I indicated would, actually, help to spell out the letter of the law on the matter.
It must be remembered that to date, despite being called upon to do so, the Crofting Commission has not given any explanation with reference to the law as to why they are taking the stance or actions that they are and have been taking on the issue of ‘The Common Clearances‘.
So here goes. We are concerned, for current purposes, with crofting law enacted by the Houses of Parliament in London prior to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The will of the Houses of Parliament in London can be found in Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates. Hansard can, in certain circumstances, be used by courts to aid the interpretation of statutory provisions and does, of course, give a flavour of the intention and will of Parliament.
When debating the provisions of the bill that became the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976, Parliament looked at the question of resumption monies being payable to shareholders in Common Grazings.
An Amendment was tabled by Lord Campbell of Croy to the effect that, as an alternative to apportioning resumption monies amongst the shareholders in a common grazing according to their rights therein, “a lump sum should be made available to the grazings committee who decide on improvements for the benefit of all”. This alternative was suggested by the Stornoway Trust as it was a practice “generally acceptable in their area of Lewis”.
Lord Kirkhill, on behalf of the Government of the day, indicated that there was no good reason to legislate in this way as “there would seem to be nothing to prevent a voluntary arrangement being made whereby any crofter’s share would be diverted to the grazings committee”.
On this assurance Lord Campbell of Croy withdrew his amendment as being unnecessary.
In a subsequent debate Lord Kirkhill re-emphasised the position stating that:-
This leaves the apportionment to be carried out on the initiative of the landlord with the agreement of the individual crofters. It will not prevent a landlord, such as the Stornoway Trust, agreeing with shareholders in a common grazing that the money should be paid to the common grazing fund.
Indeed Lord Kirkhill goes to pains to spell this sentiment out several times in that debate.
Lord Campbell of Croy said in response:-
We are glad to hear what the noble Lord said at the end of his speech, which was that the system practised by the Stornoway Trust can be continued.
The House of Commons agreed with the House of Lords.
Little did Lord Kirkhill or Lord Campbell of Croy know of what the Crofting Commission had in mind 40 years later. That was to completely ignore the will of Parliament and impose their own will on the crofters of Lewis removing any and all who might argue with them from office.
The Crofting Commission has insisted that the Grazings Committees of Upper Coll and Mangersta, both on the Isle of Lewis, must pay resumption monies to shareholders even where those shareholders want the monies in question retained within the common grazing fund for township improvements.
There is absolutely no basis in law for this and it is clear that the Crofting Commission are flouting the will of Parliament.
If I were an MSP I would not take kindly to that.