Battle over Crofting Future set to continue

07 May 2010

A battle over crofting's future is set to continue following the publication of the Parliamentary Committee report on the general principles of the Crofting Reform Bill.

The Bill and the report will be debated in Parliament on Thursday (13th May) with Labour members set to move an amendment urging radical changes to the Bill if it is to become acceptable.

The Stage One report to Parliament reveals fundamental differences of view within the Rural Affairs Committee, with SNP and Tory members joining forces in favour of imposing new charges on crofters for administration of regulation and to legislate for a "costly and bureaucratic" proposal for a new and extra map based register of crofts.

Labour members have opposed the new charging regime, the new and additional map based register, and transferring the croft development function to Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Labour members are also heavily critical of the lack of any new extra funding for the extra duties the Commission will have to administer, raising fears that the new charges on crofters will have to rise to help fund the Commission's basic work.

The report is littered to references of where the Committee could not find agreement on the Scottish Government's proposals.

The Committee is only recommending that the Bill proceeds to its next stage on the basis of noting that some members believe the Bill needs to be heavily mended.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Peter Peacock, who has been a consistent critic of key aspects of the Bill, said,

"There is still a long way to go in amending this Bill if it is not to damage crofting and dump yet more bureaucracy and cost on crofters, rather than help crofters face a difficult future.

"There is fundamental disagreement with the Scottish Government on some key aspects of the Bill and we will continue to fight those particular proposals.

"We have made it clear that we do not support the Scottish Government's proposals for a second croft register, to be kept in Edinburgh by the Keeper of Registers, and for which crofters will have to pay a fee.

"We are also opposed to charging crofters fees for ordinary regulatory applications to the Commission and believe that this may be just the thin end of the wedge for escalating costs being dumped onto crofters’ shoulders.

"The Scottish Government have a major challenge on their hands to get the most controversial proposals through Parliament and I hope they will still listen to the views of crofters."

In some moments of unity, the Committee is backing direct elections to the new Crofting Commission, though with suggestions for improving the voting system and with some (Labour) members urging the Government to think again about whether it is essential for the Government to appoint the Chair of the Commission.

The Committee are also largely agreed on additional measures to address absenteeism and neglect, but emphasise the need to deal with absenteeism very carefully and sensitively, and are urging the Scottish Government to change their policy and allow the new Commission a direct role in local planning in order to protect croft land and act against speculation on croft land.

Peter Peacock concluded,

"There are a few aspects of the Bill which will be helpful and we don't want to see those aspects lost, the direct elections to the Commission and the possible extra planning powers, for example.

"But any notion that this Bill is somehow, of itself, going to secure a strong future for crofting is well wide of the mark.

"As it stands the Bill is a recipe for more burdens on crofters and few advantages.

"It is the economics of our crofting areas and the economics of crofting itself which will determine its future, and there is nothing in this Bill that will improve that."




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