20 March 2002

S1M-2506 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We move on to the stage 1 debate on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I fear that Bill Aitken may actually be right about the Marxists. Having looked through my file, I will give him a little quote:

"We are also prepared to take direct action ... where the normal mechanism of the market is unlikely to work effectively."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 6 November 1996; Vol 284, c 1174.]

The Marxist who said that was the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Raymond Robertson.

However, there is more. Bill Aitken has enjoyed our debates on land reform, especially in the committee. I would like to quote Bill to give members an insight into his thinking. He said:

"I have a funny mental picture of Rannoch moor being illuminated by the kind of floodlights one would find at Hampden park."—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 6 February 2002; c 1029.]

Perhaps he really meant Ibrox.

Bill Aitken: No, I would have meant Firhill.

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to record my apologies.

Let me turn to more serious matters. Jamie McGrigor spoke about fishing, but the reality is that the bill's inclusion of the right to buy fisheries is important as it is one of the bill's few genuinely radical provisions. The majority of Scotland's fishery potential is undeveloped or underdeveloped. It is precisely those underdeveloped rivers that would benefit from the right to buy. Jamie McGrigor is wrong in stating that the issue has not been considered. The Justice 2 Committee visited a fishing estate on Lewis and listened very carefully to what people said.

Mr McGrigor: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time.

I believe that the owners of that fishery were rather reassured by what the committee members had to say. However, the real test for Jamie McGrigor is this: where is the success of the current pattern of ownership of salmon fisheries? Stocks are at record lows and catches are even lower.

When the minister sums up, I would like him to address a couple of issues, so that we can see where he stands. In particular, will he respond to the Justice 2 Committee's recommendation that we consider extending the definition of crofting counties? After all, the exclusion of Aberdeenshire, which took place many years ago, was done simply on the opinion of a single person. I welcome the fact that the minister has stated that he is prepared to look again at the situation of trusts and companies. I will remind him that, on the stock exchange, once a new owner owns 30 per cent of a company, the new owner is required to bid for the whole thing. A rule along those lines may work in this situation.

Let me close by saying of the Tories, once again, that they are mining a rich seam of indifference to the real interests of the people of Scotland. No surprise there.


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