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Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:06 am on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 11:06 am, 16th June 1999

This legislative programme seems to be rather like the curate's egg-good in parts. As Mr McLetchie has indicated, there are areas of the programme which the Conservatives are prepared to endorse and to support, but the other parts cause concern.

I agree with some of the earlier comments about the determination of priorities and the consequent gaps in the programme. The First Minister, in his preliminary remarks, said that people ask when this Parliament will make a difference. He also said, in defining the Parliament's role, that we are here to keep promises.

One of the most alarming gaps in the programme relates to drugs abuse in Scotland. I endorse what Mr Gallie and Mrs Godman have already said, and I am grateful to Mrs Godman for an accurate outline of the extent of the problem. The Deputy First Minister, Mr Wallace, has some sympathy for the problem. During the election campaign, he and I met in connection with the problem of drugs abuse in Scotland. I think that he and I would agree that the people we met-the youngsters we encountered, and the people who work with addicts and victims-were a deserving and meritorious group.

If I heard one comment recurring throughout the election campaign, it was that drugs abuse in Scotland is one of the major issues that perplexes, worries and alarms people. I am concerned that there is a silence about that in the legislative programme. Another recurring theme that I heard-as did the Deputy First Minister-was that all those who are trying to work at grass-roots level with the horrendous consequences of addiction and abuse are apprehensive about the lack of coherence, cohesion and a definitive Scottish programme to deal with the problem. During the election campaign, the Conservatives submitted that the issue was one of beckoning opportunity for this Parliament. We can look at the problem, take it on board, and spearhead a Scottish initiative through a minister or a parliamentary committee.

It is regrettable that the coalition Government has been unable to produce anything of comfort to the people of Scotland. They are desperately and acutely aware of the problem and they seek urgent reassurance. I hope that, notwithstanding the silence on drugs abuse in the legislative programme, it might be possible for the Executive to devise a means of bringing this problem to the fore, and in so doing to reassure the people of Scotland that this Parliament is concerned not about minutiae or technical detail or other aspects of bureaucratic tedium, but about the profound issues that are ravaging the communities of our country.

I am equally alarmed about the omission from the programme regarding enterprise and business. It is a matter of concern that there is no specific encouragement for the business community. Mr Dewar said that he wanted to build an enterprise economy. As Nicola Sturgeon said about education, however, words may be one thing, but what are the substantive components of policy and legislative intent that will bring bricks and mortar to that proposal?

On the transport bill, there is silence on the need to address the desperate concerns of the business community about inadequate transport links. If one speaks to business communities in all parts of Scotland, one finds concern about congestion in a road structure that is unable to cope with the needs of business and commerce and concern that the ability of those areas to attract investment-inward or otherwise-is being deeply prejudiced.

I am concerned that apparently that is not perceived by the Government as a matter of any importance. What about reassurance on business rates? What about succour for the small business community? I come from that background, and I know that running a small business is a matter of daily, indeed hourly, challenge and preoccupation.

It would be helpful if the Government could reassure the business community that the matter of business rates has not been lost sight of, and if the Government could emphasise that it recognises the importance of preserving stability of business rates. If it does not, business communities in Scotland have real cause for concern.

In relation to training, the new deal-which I think we all acknowledge was Labour's English solution to a Scottish problem-has not been a success. It can hardly be classed as a success when more than 60 per cent of those involved do not end up in full-time jobs and when the cost of success is huge for those who do.

I am concerned that that problem has not been addressed. It is known to exist; one cannot speak to the business communities or the business agencies and not hear that there is deep concern about the efficacy and the workability of the new deal. I should have thought that this was an ideal opportunity for the Parliament, within the Government's legislative programme, to look at that and to determine a better structure for people in Scotland.

I, too, welcome the attention to the technical detail of feudal reform, which most people recognise is long overdue. However, it might not be universally recognised that there is a useful aspect of feudal law: the current relationship between what is technically known as the superior and the vassal allows the superior a preservation of amenity conditions, as well as private expense and immediacy of enforcement action. I am pleased that the Government acknowledges that and is prepared to try to support and retain it. That can be contrasted sharply with the lumbering enforcement procedures under planning law, which are carried out at public expense.

I hope that the Government, in framing the bill, will not throw the baby out with the bath water, but will preserve the best, the most workable and the meritorious aspects of feudal law.

I endorse what Mr McLetchie said about the national parks bill; there is a need to see clearly what the bill is about. It is easy to wave the words "national parks" around and imagine that it is a panacea for all the problems that have been identified in relation to the management of land and water in, for example, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area.

One of the burning issues at Loch Lomond is the abuse of activity on the water extent, which has been going on for many years and is of deep concern to both riparian dwellers and visitors. I hope that in the phrasing and drafting of the bill, due regard will be given to the need for proper management of activity on the water surface.

As Mr McLetchie said, the Conservatives will gladly support aspects of the Government's programme. However, there are huge gaps, which are a matter of concern, and there are other areas where the greatest sensitivity and the exercise of manifest common sense will be required.