Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:43 pm on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 4:43 pm, 16th June 1999

I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up this debate and to congratulate all members who have taken part in it. It has been a good, constructive debate. Specifically, I wish to congratulate Mr Duncan McNeil on the birth of his first granddaughter.

This is an occasion. It is the first opportunity for a new Parliament to discuss the legislative programme of the first Executive. It gives us a chance to move on from the discussions about how the Parliament will be set up and operate to the substance of government.

Like Mr Swinney, I welcome the fact that there will be cross-party agreement on a number of the measures that were announced today-probably not always on the detail, although the opportunity for consultation will allow us to thrash out and discuss some of that detail. As the First Minister said when he answered questions, the financial bill will have as its basis the bones of the financial issues advisory group report to the consultative steering group.

I cannot accept that the legislative programme is light in any way, as many of the bills will be substantial. Mr Salmond said how much he welcomed-and I welcome his welcome-the long-overdue abolition of the feudal system, which the Westminster Parliament failed to abolish for 300 years. It is fair to point out that the English Parliament took the first step towards abolishing the feudal system in 1290-with the statute Quia Emptores-and effectively got rid of it in 1660. The old Scottish Parliament did not address the issue, and it is a tribute to this Parliament that one of its first pieces of legislation will be to get on with the job of doing what our colleagues south of the border achieved some 700 years ago.

Land reform legislation, which will bring benefits to people living and working in rural communities, has also been generally welcomed in the chamber. As I think the First Minister said in his statement, the legislation will also deal with access. I acknowledge Roseanna Cunningham's comments about land use and management; it is clear from other speeches that those will continue to be issues. I hope so, because there are also non-legislative ways in which to address these issues. We will also be able to make good use of the committees to highlight and to tackle such issues.

There will be legislation to protect the rights and interests of incapable adults, which will benefit 100,000 people; I am pleased that many members have welcomed that. There will be legislation to address Scotland's transport problems, such as pollution and congestion. However, our number one priority is legislation on education. Mr Monteith bemoaned the fact that the education bill was last on the list, but he overlooked the theological point that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

I endorse what Mr Swinney said about my colleague Ian Jenkins's speech, which indicated the importance of valuing teachers. Mr Salmond was somewhat selective when he quoted Mr Galbraith, because Mr Galbraith also recognises the importance of valuing the commitment and professionalism of teachers. They play a key role in raising our country's educational standards and in ensuring that our young people have the best start in life to have the best opportunities for life.