If the 1100 islanders of Barra and Vatersay want to take control of their land they are going to have to pay for some of it – under an act introduced by the last Conservative Government.

Public meetings have been held across the islands and there has been a positive response to the idea of investigating taking control of 16,000 acres.

In 2003, the late clan chief Ian Macneil agreed to donate his crofting estate on Barra to the then Scottish Executive. However, he made clear that if islanders wanted the 9000 acres, they were to be given the estate free of charge at a later date.

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There was also more than 7000 acres already owned by ministers. When the Macneil transfer was completed in 2004 the then rural affairs minister Ross Finnie said: "We intend to manage this land with a view to its transfer to community ownership at a time appropriate to the islanders of Barra."

This raised local hopes that there might be no charge, but a spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The Transfer of Crofting Estates Act sets out that any government-owned land sold would be subject to the independent valuation applied by the District Valuer."