At the stage 1 debate on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill on 6 June 2013 Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change (with responsibility for crofting), stated:-
“There was of course a question over what to do with… the 44 applications that are currently held in abeyance. The observant will have noticed that the figures have changed slightly from the earlier announcement in Parliament on 28 March—the number of outstanding applications has reduced from 50 to 44 as a result of checks undertaken by the Crofting Commission at our request, which have verified that six of the outstanding applications did not in fact relate to owner-occupier crofters.”
What pray did those applications relate to if not owner-occupier crofters? Aliens perhaps 😉 There is no explanation that I can find in the Stage 1 debate and no MSP enquired as to the fate of the six involved. So I made my own enquiries of the Scottish Government and was advised that these were, as I suspected, owner-occupiers who were not owner-occupier crofters.
Thus, whilst on the face of it, Paul Wheelhouse’s announcement looks like the decrofting problems of some have been reduced the fact of the matter is it may only be beginning. Those owner occupiers are likely to be owners of part of what is technically classed by the Crofting Commission as one croft unit. Thus, given the Crofting Commission’s recent policy (apparently based on legal advice which as usual remains top secret), decrofting applications will only be considered by the Crofting Commission if all the distinct owners of that croft unit concur in the application. That could happen in all six cases but it may only happen in some or indeed none. If the latter you then have six people who simply cannot decroft land that they own. The six are therefore potentially in a worse position than they would have been if classed as owner-occupier crofters with a resolution in sight, by virtue of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, possibly as soon as the end of this month.
Thus this latest spin actually hides a problem that the Scottish Government is at the moment continually sidestepping. Whilst they have indicated an intention to tackle the numerous other problems that exist in crofting legislation this is one that certainly needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Remember… crofting is not a perfect world.
[Photo Credit: Nature’s number 6 by David M. Goehring]
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