After the consultation on the proposed Cairngorms National Park... the Land Reform Draft Bill! After years of legislative inaction by successive governments on vital Scottish issues, the first Scottish Parliament since 1707 is maintaining a rapid legislative pace as the Executive seeks to deliver on election commitments. The Land Reform Draft Bill consists of three sections - Access, Community Right to Buy and Crofting Community Right to Buy. NEMT's formal response to the Bill was developed by a sub-group of General Council members and is reproduced in this issue of Mountain Views. It addresses only the Access component as Right to Buy was considered to be outwith NEMT's remit. The Scottish Executive has in fact been criticised in many quarters for combining these two essentially distinct issues in a single piece of legislation.
NEMT's submission to the Executive was circulated to 17 MSPs representing north east constituencies and also to the convenors and vice-convenors of the three parliamentary committees which are expected to give the Bill detailed consideration before it passes through the Scottish Parliament.- Justice 1, Rural Development and Transport & Environment. Several of the MSPs who acknowledged receipt of the response indicated that they also had concerns about the Draft Bill and expected it to be amended in the course of its passage through Parliament.
South Aberdeen's Liberal Democrat MSP Nicol Stephen passed the response on to Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice Jim Wallace and invited him to comment. In response, the Deputy First Minister indicated that he expected "significant changes" to be made before the Bill is introduced to Parliament later this year and that NEMT's comments, along with others submitted during the consultation period will be considered in preparing the Bill for Parliament.
Irene McGugan MSP of the SNP said that her party considered the Bill's right to roam proposals to be "extremely restrictive if not fatally flawed". The proposals required complete re-evaluation. The SNP would like to see access measures removed from the present Bill and presented to Parliament as separate and distinct legislation. Present indications are, however, that this is unlikely to happen.
Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson is Convenor of the Rural Development Committee. He described the proposed legislation as a "completely inadequate proposal". Although Justice 1 is likely to be the lead committee when the Bill comes before Parliament, he expects the Rural Development Committee to play an important role in considering the legislation. He said that NEMT's submission would be "valuable" and "high on the agenda" when the RDC does have the opportunity to consider the Bill.
Encouraging responses were also received from the North Aberdeen Labour MSP Elaine Thomson and from Aberdeenshire Liberal Democrats Mike Rumbles and Nora Ratcliffe. It seems clear that there are MSPs in all parties who are unhappy with the existing proposals.
It has been reported that more than 3,500 people responded to the consultation and that the majority were from the outdoor recreation committee. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has suggested that the Draft Bill is so unsatisfactory it should be redrafted and resubmitted for public consultation – though that is unlikely to happen. It is important that the final legislation and the accompanying Scottish Outdoor Access Code should reflect the consensus developed by the Access Forum and illustrated in the package of proposals published by the Forum in November 1998. Otherwise it may well be a case of "legislate in haste, repent at leisure".
It is not yet clear what the precise timetable for the presentation of the Bill to Parliament will be. Jim Wallace did indicate that he expected it to happen in the late Autumn and it could receive Royal Assent next summer. It would be nice to think that any delay to this timetable will be the result of major redrafting in the light of widespread criticism by public and politicians alike.
Will Campbell, 27 October 2001
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