23 January 2003

S1M-3780 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3780, in the name of Ross Finnie, which seeks agreement that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill be passed. I ask members to stick to their time limits. Ross Finnie has five minutes.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One thing that has marked the progress of the bill is the energetic engagement in proceedings by many strands of Scottish life. That has been heartening and I hope it presages a golden age in the countryside—perhaps it will not.
Crofting communities may now have the opportunity to plan their futures with greater certainty than they could in the past, secure in the knowledge that if they wish to buy land, and they fulfil the requirements to do so under the bill, they can. Would that the decision had been made in the 19th century to include Aberdeenshire in the crofting counties—there would have been no limit to my delight today. However, I am happy to share in the pleasure that will be felt in crofting communities, even if the bill is more limited than what we wanted to achieve.
Under part 2, communities throughout Scotland "may" have the opportunity to acquire the land that will help their economic development. However, the bill, in its timidity, leaves much of Scotland's land—that held by companies, trusts and enduring partnerships—beyond the reach of the right to buy that is provided under the bill. In reality, only land that is under private ownership when it comes up for sale will be open to communities. The history of land in rural areas of Scotland suggests that a very small proportion of land will be affected by the bill. It is a matter of regret that the SNP amendments that would have extended rights under certain conditions and allowed communities throughout Scotland to share in the opportunities that the bill will create were not agreed to.
I hope that all who walk in Scotland will enjoy the new secured access rights that the bill provides at least as much as we have enjoyed passing this legislation. Unlike Bill Aitken with his gloomy adumbration of a future led by Beelzebub, I am absolutely confident that, although the bill might not do everything that my SNP colleagues would have wished, it creates opportunities across Scotland for increased economic activity in many of our society's vulnerable rural communities.
I am very happy to support the bill.

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