The Scottish Executive's Land Reform Bill, with its critical proposals on access to Scotland's countryside, is currently passing though Stage 2 of the legislative process. This stage involves the consideration of numerous detailed amendments by the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee. The Committee is convened by Labour MSP Pauline McNeill and includes Banff and Buchan member Stewart Stevenson amongst its membership.
One significant amendment, which has been accepted by the Committee, concerned the proposal to exempt land owned by the Queen in her private capacity from the access proposals. This clause, which would only have applied to Balmoral estate, was opposed by NEMT and other outdoor organisations as threatening public access to one of Scotland's most outstanding mountain areas. It appears to have been motivated by security concerns and was apparently never requested by the Queen or the estate management, who are satisfied, as NEMT and others argued, that security concerns are already sufficiently addressed by existing arrangements and have no intention of restricting the current level of public access. This clause has therefore been dropped from the Bill.
The Justice 2 Committee is holding weekly meetings to get through the outstanding business. Stage 2 meetings should be completed by the end of October. The Stage 3 debate, the last opportunity for amendments, is likely to be some time in November. The whole Parliament will debate and vote on amendments. The precise timing can be affected by other Parliamentary business so the Stage 3 debate could take place as late as December. There seems to be little doubt, though, that the Bill will become law during the current session of the Parliament.
Will Campbell, 25 September, 2002
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