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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 18:11 GMT
Land reform bill wins support
Eigg - generic
MSPs voted to back proposals for reform
An historic bill reforming land ownership and access in Scotland has been approved by MSPs.

The Land Reform Bill establishes statutory access rights for ramblers and creates opportunities for community ownership.

Its successful passage, after the longest debate in the Scottish Parliament's history, was hailed by supporters of reform.

However, Conservative opponents of the bill said it was a day of shame for Scotland.

Bill Aitken
Bill Aitken warned of a "land grab"
MSPs had spent two days voting on a series of proposed amendments to the bill but by the time of the vote the main provisions -the right to roam in the countryside and the right of a crofting community to buy its own land - remained intact.

They voted by an overwhelming 101 to 19 with no abstentions to support the bill, which is expected to gain Royal Assent next month.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Nationalist MSPs were delighted with the result but the outcome was attacked by the Conservatives, who said the bill was similar to the land reform policies pursued by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Tory MSP Bill Aitken said: "This bill has nothing to do with land reform and everything to do with the other parties in this parliament being obsessed by replaying the class wars of 200 years ago.

"This type of legislation has no place in modern Scotland. It will have a dreadful effect not only on those living in rural areas, but on city-dwellers whose hard-earned tax will be used to pay for this Mugabe-style land grab."

Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie rejected the attack and said the bill would "hugely benefit" people in rural communities and across the country.

Freedom to roam on the land of Scotland is a right long asserted and dearly held

Roseanna Cunningham, SNP MSP
He said: "This represents a substantive piece of legislation, a very reforming piece of legislation, a progressive piece of legislation and I commend it to the house."

Roseanna Cunningham of the SNP said: "Freedom to roam on the land of Scotland is a right long asserted and dearly held by the Scottish people and I am glad we have taken steps to assert that right."

She added that the new law would mark "the beginning of a significant change in the pattern of land ownership in Scotland".

The legislation gives members of the public a statutory right to responsible access to the countryside for recreation and passage.

It also gives rural communities first refusal when the land where they live and work is put up for sale.

However, there was opposition from the Tories over plans to give those in crofting communities the power to buy the land where they live and work without it first being put up on the market.

George Lyon
George Lyon defended the crofting proposals
Mr Aitken tabled a number of amendments in a last-ditch attempt to have that part of the bill struck out but failed.

He said: "This is expropriation of property is a land grab of which Robert Mugabe would be proud."

Those comments infuriated opponents, including George Lyon, the Lib Dem MSP for Argyll and Bute.

He said: "We seek to empower the many ordinary people who live and work in Scotland - you seek to support the many absentee landlords who see land as a tax shelter and an investment vehicle."

After the vote, John Markland, chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, said it would lead to an improved relationship between ramblers and landowners.

"These changes, which come at a time of debate over land management, create real opportunity to build a better accord between the public and land managers," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Colin Blane
"The new bill also establishes a right of access to the countryside"
  Kirsten Campbell reports
"The time is the landlord is passed."

 Land reform
How will the changes affect Scotland?
See also:

23 Jan 03 | Scotland
22 Jan 03 | Scotland
23 Apr 02 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
28 Nov 01 | Scotland
24 Aug 01 | Scotland
18 Aug 01 | Scotland
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