Crofting Debate

Yesterday in Parliament I spoke during a member’s debate brought forward by Jean Urquhart on Crofting. 

The debate was also well timed due to the situation around the awarding of shooting rights in Raasay to firstly an absentee company and then back to the Raasay community.

The Minister still has many questions to answer on the issue, specifically on the issue of whether the Estate Charter brought in by the Scottish Executive in 1999 is still adhered to.

Below you can find a video of yesterday’s debate along with a copy of my speech.

Taken from the Scottish Parliament Official Report: 

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): I congratulate Jean Urquhart on bringing the debate to the chamber. Her speech revealed a real understanding of not just the challenges that crofting communities face, but of their resilience and their reason for being. This is an opportune week for the debate, given that we had a debate on food policy this afternoon and will debate CAP reform tomorrow afternoon.

Crofters play a vital role in the rural economy. As the motion highlights, they maintain land in remote areas, contribute to securing population levels in remote communities, support the larger agricultural sector and make a significant contribution to Scotland’s environment.

I want to cover three areas in this short debate. First, the motion identifies CAP subsidy as a means of support for crofting communities. The process of CAP reform is on-going; we need genuine reform, and there will inevitably be winners and losers, but reform provides an opportunity to direct support to where it can achieve greater multiple gains. Crofting, given the contribution that it makes to sustainable communities and Scotland’s environment, has much to be championed.

Crofting agriculture is generally agreed to be uneconomic, but it delivers much more. CAP reform and the move from historic to area payments in Scotland could give us an opportunity to ensure that appropriate support measures are put in place to protect and enhance crofting agriculture. We need to decide what the best use of the funds is to deliver the greatest benefits to vulnerable rural communities by contributing to their vitality and securing them even where the benefits are not easy to measure.

Secondly, I want to refer to Raasay, which Jean Urquhart has lodged another motion about. Although the fact that the lease has been returned to the Raasay community is welcome, it is for only one year and has cost the Government three times what it accepted as a bid for the rights, so questions remain about how the decision was made.

As land reform legislation passed through the Scottish Parliament, the then Scottish Executive introduced the “Estate Charter”, which set out a series of principles that acknowledged the Scottish Government’s role as landowner, and the impact that poor decisions could have on the viability of communities. The recent decision on Raasay shooting rights has highlighted the charter. The Scottish Government has claimed that ministers were not involved in the decision. Even if that were to be accepted, the question remains, why not? This evening’s debate is perhaps not the appropriate parliamentary forum for the unanswered questions to be answered, but there needs to be parliamentary scrutiny of the decision and the status of the charter.

The minister will be aware of growing concerns, which have been raised by other members, about interpretation of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. Guidance from the Crofting Commission has informed owner-occupier crofters that they do not have a legal mechanism through which to decroft, and that is creating uncertainty. If the problems are being caused by the 2010 act, steps must be taken to resolve the issue and the Government must provide clarity on how the situation will be resolved.

I thank Jean Urquhart for bringing the debate and for recognising the importance of crofting to the Highlands and Islands.

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