Programme for Government

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 9th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:30 am, 9th September 1999

Good morning. The main item of business this morning is a debate on motion S1M-127, in the name of the First Minister, on the Executive's programme for government and an amendment to that motion, S1M-127.1, in the name of Mr Alex Salmond. The debate will last most of the day, but we interrupt it at 12.20 pm for the business motion.

I call the First Minister to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour 9:31 am, 9th September 1999

The document "Making it work together", with which most members of the Parliament will be familiar, brings together radical promises that lie at the heart of the partnership in government. It is a pledge to the people of Scotland that members of the Executive will work together for them.

The document is exciting, innovative and original. It is certainly more innovative, original and exciting than the best charge our opponents can find to lay against it. On this morning's broadcasts, I heard that it was a relaunch; I fear that that is confirmation of the awful predictability of Oppositions through the ages. I know all about opposition. I relish the challenges of government, and that is what this document is about.

It sets out a framework—more accurately, a timetable—for action across a sweep of policy. In it, we set out not just our intentions and our pledges, but a programme for delivery. That is what makes it different. We are telling the people what we will do and when we will do it. It is—if you like—a yardstick against which future progress can be measured. Who knows, in that sense it may even be useful for the Opposition. That is a risk that I am happy to take and I welcome it, because risks are often worth taking. I am determined to deliver on our promises.

Why take on such a challenge? I will say a word or two about that. The electorate deserve it. The state of politics demands it. We all know and have suffered from the unease and cynicism about our trade; that should worry us. We see the evidence of it in falling turnouts. People tell us that they never vote for politicians because it only encourages them. For the people, there are few signs of the guinea's stamp.

The situation is reinforced by the feeling that promises produced with a flourish under electoral pressure often blur with the passage of time and finally drop away into a political limbo. Over the years, unspecific, ill-defined promises, which are soon forgotten, have corroded public confidence in the political process.

We want to reverse the process that has led to that decline in confidence. This document is an attempt to stand against cynicism and fudge. That is what people voted for when they voted for the Parliament. The programme has big themes: the fight against poverty and the need to unlock opportunity and to raise standards.

Themes and aspirations are not enough, however. On their own, they are no more than political mood music. Without specifics, they are not challenging. I suspect that everyone here would sign up for hopes and ambitions, but what the public—understandably—want to know is how things will be done and when they will happen. This document attempts to answer those questions. It is not exhaustive—much more will be done over the next year or two—but it sets out the core of an agenda for change.

I would never accuse the nationalists of being devoid of style; I leave that to others. Even the most unlikely sources can have occasional eloquence. The public prints have been reporting that the Scottish National party group's standing orders ban inappropriate comments to the press. Apparently, he or she who is guilty will be banned from speaking to the press, and a repeated offence can lead to expulsion from the group. It does sound a little draconian, but I noticed in the prints the other day that the SNP chief whip, Bruce Crawford, said that every organisation he had ever worked in had had a disciplinary code.

I do not disagree with that, but when it was put to Mr Crawford that the new rules could be used to dump MSPs who did not obey the party hierarchy, he said:

"My understanding is that it would be the same as if an MSP fell under a bus. They would be replaced by the next name on the list."

That is smashing; it is the matter-of-fact style, reminiscent of the late J Stalin, that turns me on. What I found particularly disappointing is the SNP amendment before us today, which—I say this as a serious point—seems to be the worst sort of yah-boo, old-style politics, calling to mind the literary efforts of Michael Howard and Peter Lilley.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

If I ever wanted evidence for the defence, that is it.

The amendment is the worst of Westminster. I believe—perhaps naively—that Parliament's job is to scrutinise the Government's plans. The nationalists complain when those plans are made available for scrutiny; that is perverse.

Mr Salmond refers hopefully to a floundering coalition—good, constructive, thoughtful stuff. If the partnership was in that state—and fortunately it is not—I can think of nothing more likely to unite its component parts than the mess of nonsense that he has served up for us today.

The amendment asks us to use

"Scotland's resources to tackle poverty, lack of opportunity and unemployment".

That is exactly what we propose. Mr Salmond is entitled—and I understand that it would be a great temptation to him—to quarrel with the strategic balance, but it deserves at least some serious consideration and debate. I hope that that is what it gets.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

On the unity of the coalition—and the attack on poverty—I am sure that the First Minister will have noticed that the Liberal candidate in Hamilton South, Marilyne MacLaren, was quoted yesterday as saying that she would vigorously oppose the Labour Government's attack on the poor and vulnerable in Hamilton. What was she talking about, if the coalition is unified and the Government is attacking poverty?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

The Liberal candidate in Hamilton will be enormously flattered that Mr Salmond has been sitting at the back of her press conferences, taking notes. [Laughter.] That is probably a substitute for sitting up through the night, looking at Ceefax; it is a nice extension of night-time activity, and I congratulate him on it.

Mr Salmond makes an assertion, and one would have to know a good deal more about it. I will be coming to poverty in a moment, but we have a great deal that we can stand by and push as the policies and the template for the future. I want to tackle poverty, lack of opportunity and unemployment. The only question that matters about this document is whether the programme passes this test: does it have the urgency and commitment that Scotland deserves?

It has got timings—that is important. It is not just a continuous text of aspirations. It says, "This is what we want to do; this is when we want to do it." Any member may quarrel with individual items in the programme, but I remind the Parliament of some of them: a drugs enforcement agency by June 2000; the doubling of witness support schemes by October 1999; legislation this year to help adults who are, sadly, incapable of helping themselves; a nursery place for every three-year- old by 2002; 100,000 out-of-school care places by 2003; 5,000 classroom assistants in place by 2002; 100 major school developments completed by 2003; class sizes in primaries 1, 2 and 3 reduced to 30 or fewer by August 2001; a health service appointments system that allows the patient to leave a general practitioner's surgery with a consultant's appointment in their pocket—in place and wired up by 2002; an additional 80 one-stop clinics by 2002; and eight new hospital developments by 2003.

Those measures are not insignificant; they are precise, ordered and timetabled, and they are relevant to the effort to unlock opportunity and to raise the quality of life in Scotland. To imply in the amendment that the measures are not relevant to that effort, or are ill-considered trifles, is a total deception. The measures are the promises that the partnership has come together to deliver. We believe in those promises and believe that they will greatly help the people of Scotland.

Managers of great enterprises tell us that objectives should be SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed. That is our aim, too, in government; it is the mark of our programme. No doubt Mr Salmond or one of his followers will object on the basis that that is importing efficiency standards from the private sector, just as they object to partnership with private money.

I understand from the broadcasts this morning that Mr Salmond intends to major on public-private partnerships. He certainly knows an auld sang when he hears one. I repeat and underline that this Government wants the hospitals and the schools that the patients, the pupils and the teachers deserve. We have no intention of letting his ideological hang-ups interfere with progress.

A key commitment is the attack on poverty—social inclusion and the social justice agenda. Much in the pledges in this document is relevant to that attack. We have to move on all fronts, as the social justice agenda is not some narrow field of activity; we all have to join in. We have also to co-operate with the policies of the UK Government and work together for common aims.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Given Mr Dewar's statements in Westminster in the past, Conservatives welcome the fact that he has now hung up his ideological thinking on private finance. That is a great conversion.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I am not ashamed to say that I believe in public-private partnership—it is essential if we are to make progress. I listened to people in the general election with great care; at face value—I realise that the pressure of electioneering affects all parties—other parties seemed to be saying, "Stop the hospital building programme, don't modernise our schools." I will not go along with that Luddite approach.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour


In October, the working families tax credit comes into effect. It is estimated that 130,000 families in Scotland—working families, struggling with low pay—will benefit; the added value will be about £170 million. That is direct help to make work worth while.

That measure goes with a more accessible health service and better educational standards, which are our responsibility, and with other measures to tackle poverty, create opportunity and build for the future. This Government will never accept a future that offers success for the few and continuing injustice to the many.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I am pleased to note that you have mentioned tackling poverty several times this morning, but I remind you of one of your first answers to me when I asked for a specific, measurable and achievable target for tackling poverty in Scotland: you told me that you were not interested in simplistic targets. You will be aware that your leader has now set a target of lifting 1.25 million people in Britain out of poverty; what is your target for lifting people out of poverty in Scotland?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order. Before Mr Dewar replies, I remind Mr Sheridan that I cannot give an answer to that question. Questions should be addressed through me to Mr Dewar.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

A sorry Mr Sheridan is a thing indeed. I understand his concerns but I am sure that he has read the document and knows that on almost every page there is a series of timed objectives and targets. I hope that he will support us in the vote later today. I believe that anyone who is interested in these problems and wants progress may argue about the detail and the weighting in our programme, but I am sure that anyone of good will and sense will want to support its drive and thrust. I hope that Mr Sheridan will be such a person.

A lot of things are happening, such as the national minimum wage and the national income guarantee for pensioners, that are outside the Executive's responsibility, but a lot is also happening in our areas of responsibility—that is outlined in the document.

Our programme is full of innovation. I can think of no more radical and fundamental reform than the proposals on community ownership in housing. We will tackle the debt problem and create room for investment in the housing stock, which has been crumbling and is hardly viable in many areas. We will also put the tenants and their elected representatives at the very heart of the management of that housing stock.

There is a great deal of work to be done—I do not hide that fact. There are difficulties that may turn out to be formidable. Up to now, opposition has largely consisted of cries of "privatisation". Our reforms are not, and cannot possibly be regarded as, privatisation. They are a proper reorganisation of resources to improve the housing stock. They put the community in charge of its own affairs and of the future of the housing stock. I challenge the Opposition to be constructive and to build with us a new democratic structure in an area in which change is long overdue.

The foundation for the future is an economy that works, grows and offers hope. The Scottish economy is changing, and we should not be afraid of change. There will be disappointments, but we should all look to the century that is coming, not back to the one that we are leaving; if we look back, we will do nothing to encourage our prospects in the next century.

There is good news. At a press conference last Friday, a journalist asked me why the announcement of new high-technology jobs was timed for the day on which Tony Blair visited Scotland. Was it, I was asked with a gleam of malice, just a coincidence? The answer was that it was a very good week, and that the same question could have been asked on any day of that week.

I remind people of what happened that week: Amtel announced 200 high-technology jobs in Hamilton; Quintiles announced 1,500 biotechnology jobs in West Lothian; Motorola announced 200 computing jobs in South Queensferry; Compaq announced the important news that its two major plants in Scotland would not suffer as a result of a global reduction in the company's work force; and Unisys announced 350 software jobs in Glasgow. Those are jobs at the cutting edge of the new economy. It is right that we should take satisfaction from that and work to build on it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I certainly welcome the good job prospects that those announcements bring, but does the First Minister intend to make representations today to the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England about its decision to raise interest rates? That decision drew a critical statement from the Royal Bank of Scotland, which said that the decision was not giving growth a chance and was motivated by a 10 per cent increase in house prices in the south of England rather than a 1 per cent increase in Scotland. When will the First Minister stand up for the Scottish economy?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I have given evidence in the past two or three minutes to show that we have been standing up effectively for the Scottish economy. We have certainly not got into the ludicrous muddle that has marked the nationalists' position on interest rates, with which John Swinney has wrestled with some honesty but with great difficulty. As I understand it, if the SNP had its way, an independent Scotland would shadow the English pound for an indefinite period, so that we would have even less influence over interest rates than we have now, although we would certainly have to accept the consequences of them.

The independence of the monetary policy committee has been widely welcomed. Even the Conservative party now accepts that handing control of interest rates to a technical committee is a sensible way of ensuring that small adjustments can be made outwith political pressures to maintain a very low inflation rate—2 per cent—remarkably effectively. That objective has been achieved. To complain about it is almost perverse.

It is in our interests, as it is in the interests of the rest of the country, that downward pressure should be maintained on inflation. I suspect that that is why interest rates have been marginally adjusted on this occasion.

John Swinney quotes the words of one bank, so let me quote the words of another. The Bank of Scotland quarterly report, produced on 1 September—I am sure that Alex Salmond will remember it—shows that, in Scotland,

"activity in both manufacturing and service sectors . . . have risen again in August, with improved order books and business confidence driving a further increase in employment within both sectors . . . In the manufacturing sector, output rose for the sixth consecutive month, rising at the fastest rate since January 1998 . . . New orders rose for the sixth month running, with the rate of growth the fastest since September 1997 . . . In the service sector, business activity rose for the tenth successive month".

That is not a cause for gloom or dismay. It is certainly not a cause for complacency, but it gives genuine grounds for confidence about the future.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The First Minister talked about there being no room for complacency and said that complaints about interest rate rises were somewhat perverse. What would he say to the chief executive of Scottish Engineering, Peter Hughes—one of the people appointed to important positions in the Government policy-making unit by the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning? Yesterday, Peter Hughes said:

"This shows that the Monetary Policy Committee ignores the pain being suffered in Scotland."

The director of the Confederation of Business and Industry Scotland, Mr Iain McMillan—not known as a staunch supporter of my positions on many issues—says:

"It is all very well for the overheating south of the Border, but it is not happening here in Scotland."

I ask the First Minister: is the Scottish economy overheating or not?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

If Mr Swinney wants to consult the chief executive of Scottish Engineering he will find that Mr Hughes praised the Government strategy and warmly welcomed what is happening.

We have the lowest unemployment rate in 25 years, a net gain in jobs and growing business confidence, but the SNP's only interest is to look for the downside, the black cloud and the bad news. From time to time, there will be problems in the Scottish economy, as in all other economies. Let us at least work together to build and to recognise what is good at the moment.

I was at the unveiling of one of the recent job announcements and the chairman said that the company had come to Scotland because of

"excellent national and international communications, a high-quality workforce from an excellent educational system . . . world-class co-operation and support from investment agencies."

We are doing well and it would be gracious if that was occasionally recognised. I say that to John Swinney with some regret, because in some ways he is rather better than the ruck behind him. However, even he has the tendency to be an ambulance-chaser when it comes to the economy. That is in the nature of Oppositions, but at least let us stand back and get some perspective.

We attract industry because we welcome industry and I believe that we must continue to do so. It is important that we work together to deliver programmes that matter to Scotland, which is what this debate is about.

We should deliver on our promises as politicians—that, too, will mean a great deal to Scotland. The programme for government underlines our commitment to delivering those promises. It is specific, including timed pledges, which will allow the people of Scotland to judge our progress and, if necessary, to call us to account.

The Scottish Parliament was established by political parties working together with the people of Scotland. No one wants to blur the differences of political principle, but those differences do not justify an approach that is universally negative. Today's politics in Scotland should not be dominated by the 19th-century maxim that Oppositions oppose everything and propose nothing.

The Government's programme contains ambitions that are shared by many members; there should be scope for working together, across the party divide, to deliver them. If that were to happen, it would do much to justify the votes so generously and determinedly cast in the referendum that created the Parliament. Promises made should be promises kept—that is the principle that underlines the programme. We want to work together to build a skilled, healthy and caring Scotland.

I move That the Parliament endorses the contents of Making It Work Together: A Programme for Government.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I call the next speaker, I remind Parliament that it would help the occupants of the chair if members who want to speak this morning could indicate that by pressing their microphone buttons.

I call Mr Alex Salmond to move his amendment.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 9:55 am, 9th September 1999

I have pleasure in moving the amendment that seems to have irritated the First Minister so much.

The First Minister offered us some quotes from The Sun, I thought that I might reply with some quotes from the Daily Record. On 29 July 1999, it said:

"First Minister Donald Dewar took the unprecedented step yesterday of publicly backing his spin doctor David Whitton".

Well, no great split there, rather commendable unity in the Government ranks. However, what he was backing David Whitton on was his description of the rest of the ministerial team as "unproven and unqualified". As I understand it, the Daily Record has some degree of certainty about Labour party sources.

At the invitation of the First Minister, I was also looking at "Making it work together". I was trying to work out what the document reminded me of—it is rather like one of those lifestyle supplements that come with the Sunday newspapers.

There are some worrying messages in the document, particularly for the minor partners in the coalition. Yesterday, a member of the Executive described it to me as a tabloid document. I suppose that is right because almost one third of the document is pictures. There are some good pictures of various members of the unproven and unqualified ministerial team going about their business, looking vigorous.

However, when we come to the pictures of the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition, things start to get rather different. There is a picture of the Deputy First Minister getting nabbed by the polis. Strangely enough, while the pictures of the policemen concerned are entirely in focus, the Deputy First Minister's picture is totally out of focus. Considering the stick he has had and how he has been hung out to dry over the Ruddle case in the last two weeks, that is fairly good symbolism.

Just in case that picture was a mistake—the wrong photographer or something—I turned to the picture of the other member of the Liberal Democrat party in the coalition Government. Mr Finnie's picture is not simply out of focus—the left-hand side of his body is disappearing altogether.

I turn again to the Daily Record—this time to its website, which had the pre-release of the Government's programme. I find, under the heading, "Labour Take the Pledge", that the ministerial commitments for every minister are listed with the exception of those of the Minister for Rural Affairs, who has disappeared altogether.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I know that the press benches will have noted that further attack on the Daily Record from Liberal sources.

I heard the earnest pleas of two Highland MSPs on the radio a couple of days ago. I can see one of them, Mr Farquhar Munro, up there. He was very eloquent in saying that this Parliament had to produce for the Highlands and Islands. He said that there were already signs that the Highlands and Islands were being neglected by the Parliament. I thought that there was a lot in what he was saying and that answers would have to be given. I thought to myself, if only there were a Liberal Minister for Rural Affairs who could respond to those grievances. There is some schizophrenia as far as the relationship between the Liberal Democrats and the Executive is concerned.

I want to demonstrate a few things today. For a First Minister who has made a political career—admirably in my view—of being adverse to spin, presentation and public relations hype, the document represents something of a change of direction. The document does not just represent spin; it represents re-spin. Every serious pledge in the document is a recycled pledge from previous statements.

Let us see how far back we can go in terms of the 10 key pledges. The first pledge is on modern apprenticeships. Many of the pledges contain positive parts that should be considered constructively. However, I resent the fact that this document, published at public expense, is being presented as novel, exciting, new and earth-shattering, when every single major pledge in it has been made before—often as much as two years before. I see the First Minister is poised, so perhaps I should let him in at this stage.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I am always delighted to receive compliments; I am not often called poised. [Laughter.]

There was never any suggestion that the policies were new. What the document does is this: it takes the partnership pledges and puts them into a time framework. If Mr Salmond does not think that it matters to people when things are going to be delivered and when actions are going to be taken, he is in a minority. Could he answer a simple question? If this document is so commonplace and pointless, does he know of any precedent of a government producing the same sort of timetable?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I am going to do exactly that over the next few minutes. Mr Dewar said that he never claimed that the document was something new, but he started his speech today by saying that it was original. I noted it down—he started by saying that it was original. Something original usually means something new.

I would like to examine the document's 10 key pledges, which are helpfully listed at the back of the tabloid version. Incidentally, none of the 10 key pledges is a Liberal pledge, as we are about to demonstrate.

The first pledge is on modern apprenticeships, and I think that it will have widespread support. It says:

"By the end of 1999 there will be places for 10,000 Modern Apprentices in Scotland."

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

In a few minutes, after I have discussed the ten points in the document, I will give way to Mr Gallie—although I have to say that, because in his first intervention Mr Gallie came in with support for the First Minister, to his obvious embarrassment, I am wary of him coming in and supporting me. [Laughter.]

The trouble with that pledge on modern apprenticeships is that, on 28 October 1998, exactly the same pledge was made by the Scottish Office minister Mrs Helen Liddell—remember her?

The next pledge is on new businesses:

"We will help to create 40,000 new Scottish businesses by 2003" and

"100,000 new businesses by 2009."

When I worked in economics, there was always a preference for long-term forecasts, on the basis that the longer the term of the forecast, the fewer people would remember what the forecast had been. The pledge equates to 10,000 new businesses a year. The trouble with that is that, on 19 June 1998, the First Minister, when he was Scottish secretary, said that he wanted 100,000 new businesses by 2008. All that has happened is that the pledge has been moved back a year. Have we had 10,000 new businesses created by the Government in the past year? The First Minister screws up his face, but if that was a pledge—100,000 new business to be created by the Government—we should have had 10,000 new businesses, created by the Government, in operation since the commitment was first announced in June last year.

Next is the pledge on the Scottish drug enforcement agency. There is a lot of good will to maintain the cross-party consensus in tackling the drugs problem in Scotland; but the pledge in the document is a development of the drugs enforcement programme that was announced in November 1998. The pledge has good will, but it is not novel, it is not original.

On schools, there is a pledge to provide

"100 new or refurbished school buildings during the lifetime of the Parliament."

In November 1998, the First Minister in his previous incarnation announced a programme giving money to eight local authorities for 70 schools. Incidentally, 100 schools represents 3 per cent of the number of school buildings in the whole of Scotland.

The next pledge is that the Government

"will ensure a nursery place for every 3 year old whose parent wants it by 2002."

That was announced in the comprehensive spending review, just a few days after the Scottish National party, in constructive vein, had made the same commitment, and three years after the Liberals had made the same commitment. I think that the Deputy First Minister is about to claim that this pledge is the Liberal input to the Government's programme.

On hospitals we read that

"8 major new hospital developments will open between 2001 and 2003."

On 30 April 1998, the Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar, announced that eight new hospital projects worth £450 million had been given the go-ahead.

We have had a very constructive debate on public health, but the pledge on healthy living centres—No 7 on the list of key commitments—was issued by the health department in a press release on 30 December 1997.

There is a pledge on homelessness:

"We will ensure that no-one has to sleep rough by 2003, by providing new accommodation and better support services."

Six months ago, the then Scottish Office minister Calum Macdonald made the same commitment, except he said that no one would have to sleep rough by 2002. The only change has been that, over the past few months, the programme has slipped by a year.

Exactly the same pledge as is contained in the proposal for land reform was made by the then Secretary of State for Scotland and by me, on the same day, on 4 September 1998.

The last of the 10 key pledges, on natural heritage, was first announced on 2 February of this year. The only difference is that the February announcement stated that the national park was to be operational by April 2001, not summer 2001, as is stated in this document.

I am not doing this to decry the 10 pledges; I just resent them being announced as some major innovation, when every single one of them has been previously announced.

Two or three years ago there was a very popular film, which involved somebody being condemned to go through the same day time and time again. What we have here is the Groundhog programme—the same programme re-released and re-spun for public relations hype purposes. There is nothing wrong with some of the contents, but let us not kid on the people that they are novel, exciting and new.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

On the issue of modernity, does not Mr Salmond agree with me that the proposals for modern apprenticeships, and even for skillseekers, go back not just to 1998 or 1997, but to the glory days of Tory Government?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

An invitation to agree with Mr Gallie. I met Mr Gallie's cousin last week, playing a round of golf on the Jubilee course at St Andrews. Mr Gallie's cousin thinks very well of him, but he is a solid SNP voter.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

None the less, Mr Gallie brings me on to a point that I think is worth making. It is not just that those commitments have previously been made by the Labour party: as I am about to demonstrate, the very centrepiece of those commitments had previously been announced by another person altogether. How do I know that it is the centrepiece? Again I refer to the Daily Record website.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

On a point of order. Is this constant propaganda to boost the faltering circulation of the Daily Record ? [Laughter.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

That is an amazing transformation: only yesterday David McLetchie was trying to curry favour with them. However, Presiding Officer, I know that the Daily Record is an impeccable source, as you have enunciated over the past few days. According to the Daily Record , the hospital building programme is the very centrepiece of Labour's commitments.

Let us have a look at that hospital building programme. It sounds quite impressive. There are to be eight new hospitals; everybody welcomes that—we want new hospitals built. But let us look in some detail at the hospitals that we are talking about. Seven out of the eight were approved in 1998 or before. The one exception is the Aberdeen children's hospital, which still awaits approval as it will be funded by the proceeds—as we know in the north-east—of the land deal. Of the other seven hospitals, four will be privatised hospitals under the private finance initiative.

The first of those four is the Edinburgh royal infirmary, costing £180 million. The outline business case was approved by Ian Lang in November 1994, and the invitation to tender was approved by Michael Forsyth in January 1996. The contract was signed by Donald Dewar.

Second is Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride, costing £67 million. The outline business case was approved by Ian Lang in March 1994, and the invitation to tender was approved by Michael Forsyth in August 1995. The contract was signed by Donald Dewar.

Third is the Law hospital in Wishaw, costing £100 million. The outline business case was approved by—wait for it—Ian Lang in March 1994, and the invitation to tender was approved by Michael Forsyth in November 1995. The contract was signed by Donald Dewar.

Fourth is the East Ayrshire community hospital at Cumnock, costing £9 million. However, there is a change: both the outline business case and the invitation to tender were approved by Michael Forsyth in December 1995. The contract was signed by Donald Dewar.

The centrepiece of the policy programme is not just old policy—it is not even Labour policy. A centrepiece that is being trumpeted as a major change in the policy programme for Scotland is actually the Tory programme revisited. Over the summer, there has been speculation about who is pulling the Scottish Executive's strings. Is it John Reid? Is it Brian Wilson? No, it is Lord Forsyth, who is still here, pulling the strings of the programme's centrepiece.

I remember The Scotsman debate with the First Minister earlier this year. Andrew Neil asked a question that we will call the Andrew Neil question: why should Mr McLetchie be the only person to try to curry favour with the press? Mr Neil asked the First Minister—the then Secretary of State for Scotland—what he would be able to do as First Minister that he could not do as secretary of state. Answer came there none. The document gives the impression that the entire Executive cannot think of an answer to the question.

I want to contrast the PR spin, the hype and the reissuing of policies in the document with what is actually happening in the Scottish economy and social life. The First Minister gave us a rosy picture of a series of job announcements over the past two weeks, which he is entitled to do. However, he missed out the closure of the Continental Tyres factory that was announced over the same time period. He missed out the fact that entire major industries such as tourism, agriculture, the manufacturing sector and the engineering sector are in serious trouble. Those industries are in trouble because of common causes that are outwith the responsibilities of the Executive. However, the Executive is not even prepared to face such problems by articulating any argument that might save those industries, which is why the First Minister dodged John Swinney's question about whether the economy was overheating.

We have had debates in Parliament in which ministers could not say whether petrol prices were a factor in the downturn in tourism this year. My extensive research over the summer tells me that both petrol prices and the strength of sterling have been factors in the fortune of the tourism industry this year. Mr Finnie, for the first time in many years, the agriculture industry is suffering a general recession because of a 20 per cent appreciation in the value of sterling.

The SNP knows that the Parliament's powers do not extend to legislating on some of those issues. However, this party—and the public—expect an articulation of a Scottish point of view from a Scottish Executive that should be examining the priorities of the Scottish economy.

Everyone salutes measures to tackle poverty. I supported the minimum wage. Although I disagreed about the level at which the wage should be set, I believed that the measure would make a major contribution.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Did the SNP vote for the minimum wage?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes, we did vote for it, but I want to leave that issue to one side.

I want to compliment the Parliament's researchers for reminding us of the statistics on poverty. If we define poverty as half the average income after housing costs, 1.2 million people in Scotland—25 per cent of the population—live in poor households. Poverty is greatest among children: 34 per cent of all children—41 per cent of whom are under five years old—live in poverty. Furthermore, using the same definition, 29 per cent of pensioners also live in poverty.

Yes, Rome was not built in a day and measures in the programme must be given time to come to fruition. However, current statistics indicate that the poverty gap, instead of closing, has been widening over the past few years. There is evidence to support that view. The Liberal Democrat party in Hamilton has made a declaration about measures that the Labour party has taken to oppress the poor and vulnerable in that constituency.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am sorry. We will not have any more interventions; Mr Salmond is coming to a close. [Interruption.] We are well over the time that has been agreed, so will Mr Salmond please press on?

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

On a point of order. Surely it is up to the individual on his feet to decide whether to take an intervention.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

That is true. However, I have been kind and have not interrupted Mr Salmond in mid-flow, even though he has gone well over the time that we agreed. The First Minister did the same, which is why I have been very generous. Mr Salmond should now come to a close.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I was only responding to the fine example that the First Minister set me. As for being called a minister, someone has obviously been reading the Executive's website.

I will close by raising a restricted number of points. I want a Parliament that, instead of worrying about the press coverage, starts to introduce novel measures such as scrapping tuition fees—which we hope for—and the ridiculous beef-on-the-bone ban. I want a Parliament that makes real changes in the private finance initiative and in the privatisation of public services. I want a Parliament that articulates cases of justice and injustice internationally and, for example, gives Linda Fabiani a chance to speak about her findings as a monitor in East Timor over the past two weeks. I want a Parliament that articulates the case for a Scottish economy policy, not just hand-me-down policies from Westminster, and that realises that it should back fair taxation against unfair taxation and front-door taxation against the backstairs taxation of tuition fees and road tolls.

A survey from the University of Aberdeen indicates that, across the north-east of Scotland, 10 per cent of pupils from schools surveyed are showing a disinclination to go to university because they are frightened of debt levels and tuition fees. Far from extending the ladder of opportunity in Scotland, the ministers who benefited from free access to education are pulling up that ladder behind them. If the Parliament were to articulate such changes, it would not have to worry about negative press headlines and would show the people of Scotland a vision transcending their experience.

I move, as an amendment to motion S1M-127 in the name of Donald Dewar, to leave out all from "endorses" to end and insert

"condemns the use of valuable Parliamentary time and public resources for yet another public relations re-launch of the floundering coalition, calls upon the Scottish Executive to bring forward a programme of substance rather than spin, and instructs the Scottish Executive to take steps to access and use all of Scotland's resources to tackle poverty, lack of opportunity and unemployment, and to raise the ambitions of all of Scotland's peoples."

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 10:17 am, 9th September 1999

I welcome the opportunity to debate the second Labour party political manifesto of the year. The only difference is that this document has been published at the taxpayer's expense, rather than at the expense of Lord Sainsbury, who is busy racking up his own reward points with the Labour party. I am sure that many of us would welcome a limit on the number of manifestos that a party can publish in a year, but that is probably the only new bit of red tape and regulation that Labour would not support.

Like Mr Salmond, I am impressed by the document's design standards, which are very much what we have come to expect from the post-Mandelson Labour party. I was particularly touched by the gem of a picture of the First Minister at work, filling in his pools coupon. He looks amazingly dishevelled compared with his normal smart appearance in the chamber. His shirt is creased, his tie is squint and his sleeves are rolled up in a contender for photographic cliché of the year. However, I found it very alarming that we could see right through his head to the venetian blind behind him, until I realised that that is a photographic metaphor for the openness and transparency of government to which he is committed.

Alex Salmond also drew attention to the other photographic gem of the Deputy First Minister. Alex wondered why Jim Wallace is out of focus; I can tell him that it is because the picture has been touched up. We can see that Jim Wallace has his hands out, but we cannot see the handcuffs. The police officers in the photograph are actually questioning him about why, under Labour, the number of police officers is being cut when crime is rising. The Minister for Justice is proffering his standard defence, "It wisnae me." The document gives clear and incontrovertible evidence that all the worst aspects of the new Labour project that we have seen at Westminster are to be fully replicated in the Scottish Parliament. There will be no aim beyond the maintenance and exercise of power and decisions will be made for the sake of news management and of policy driven by focus groups.

In the past, we have been led to believe by the First Minister's advisers that the First Minister is a politician of the old school, who has no time for spin-doctors or the soundbite culture. He is a man who values thoughtful and reasoned debate in which politicians can put forward carefully crafted programmes based on substance.

If all that is true, the First Minister must be deeply embarrassed by the document. Far from being a groundbreaking development in ministerial accountability, it is—as Mr Salmond rightly said—a lot of meaningless PR hype, which has been published to try to relaunch the Executive after its stumbling start over the summer.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

David McLetchie said that the First Minister should be embarrassed. Should not he be embarrassed given that under the Conservative Government unemployment was at its highest and that under Labour it is at its lowest?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Under our Government, we transformed the Scottish economy. [Laughter.] We gave new life, new industries and new jobs to areas that were, frankly, going down the drain. One fine example is the accomplishments of Lanarkshire Development Agency, which has transformed towns such as Hamilton and Airdrie and many others in that area and brought new life, jobs and hopes. I am proud of our accomplishments in turning round Scotland's economy and making Scotland one of the fastest growing and most prosperous parts of the United Kingdom, which it became after 18 years of Conservative government.

This is a relaunch. As Conservatives know from bitter experience, relaunches are a sure sign of trouble, but this relaunch has come early in the life of this Administration. There is nothing new in the document—it is as much a rehash as it is a relaunch.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I asked Alex Salmond whether he would give me a precedent for the timetable, legislation dates and administrative actions in the document. He said that he would and then did not. Can David McLetchie?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Ministers regularly give target dates for completion when they announce programmes. What they do not do is put a mishmash together in a single document at the taxpayers' expense and pretend that it is something new. Every policy statement that I have ever heard from the First Minister has had a target date and time attached. We have political manifestos produced at our own expense for that purpose and we do not have to do the same at the expense of the taxpayer.

Even if individual ministers fail to hit the target dates that have been assigned to them, there is no sanction. Axes will not fall and jobs are not on the line, so what is the point of all of this? We have an expensive document that has been produced at the taxpayer's expense. I hope that the Minister for Finance, who makes a virtue of prudence, will tell the Parliament the total production costs and how he hopes to recoup all those costs at £4.95 a copy.

In his part of the paper, the Minister for Finance states that he now wants to spend even more of our money on

"customer focused policy development and service delivery."

That sounds suspiciously as if the Minister for Finance has a new role as the minister for focus groups. We all know that Labour politicians cannot leave home without consulting a focus group, but it seems as if we will have to fund that development—and key weapon—in Labour party policy on Executive administration here in Scotland. It is rather ironic that members of the Liberal Democrat party who have been highly critical of the use of focus groups by the Labour Government at Westminster now seem to have signed up for that strategy in Scotland.

One of the other dubious practices with which the document is littered is the setting up of reviews or the adoption of so-called strategies as a means of avoiding hard decisions. Being in government means having to take difficult decisions and not kicking them into the long grass or hiding behind some meaningless waffle. Judging by the programme of government, which is littered with references to new strategies for this and new strategies for that—I counted them and there are 17 in all—I believe that the Executive is firmly set on following the example set by Mr Blair and his Westminster Government.

In any event, why should we believe all the PR hype about what the Executive will do when over the past two years so many promises have been broken? Labour introduced tuition fees for students, despite a specific pledge not to do so by Mr Blair before the election. Labour promised to shorten waiting lists in hospitals, but we now know that people have to wait even longer to go to hospital and to obtain an appointment to see a consultant. Labour promised to be tough on crime, but there are now fewer police officers in Scotland than there were in 1997 and crime has risen across the board in all categories for the first time in seven years.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Does David McLetchie not remember the Tory record on tax? The Tories gave guarantees that theirs was the party of low taxation and that no tax rises would be introduced after the 1992 election, yet 22 tax rises were introduced by the Tory Government. He has a short memory indeed pre-1997.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I have a good memory because by the same criteria that George Lyon uses to tabulate 22 tax rises, I can tell him that there were 25 tax cuts during that same period of administration and, over that period, the proportion of gross domestic product taken in taxation was falling. As the Prime Minister acknowledged in the House of Commons a few months ago, the tax burden under Labour is rising, not falling.

It is interesting that Mr Lyon introduced the subject of taxes. Labour promised lower taxes. As the Prime Minister acknowledged in the House of Commons, the overall tax burden has gone up. Labour has introduced an array of stealth taxes, which have added some £1,500 to the tax bill of every taxpaying household in Scotland over the past two years.

The programme offers nothing to tackle the issues facing Scotland. On top of the stealth taxes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already introduced for the UK, the programme confirms the Scottish Executive's intention to introduce new stealth taxes solely for Scots—toll taxes to travel on our motorways, to enter our cities and to park cars at our places of work. Those are new tax burdens to be introduced by Labour and Labour councils. They will damage the competitiveness of Scottish businesses and will hit hardest the most vulnerable households.

The programme confirms the Executive's failure to address what the real priorities should be to meet the crisis in rural Scotland. That part of the document is stuffed with platitudes and offers no encouragement to those living in the countryside. It shows that the Scottish Executive's priority is land reform—a bureaucratic nightmare that will deter investment and do nothing to help those struggling to make a living in the countryside. As long as the welfare of foxes is apparently a higher priority than the welfare of people who live and work in rural Scotland, those people will view the Executive and Parliament with contempt.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Does Mr McLetchie agree that there is not one scintilla of evidence that the Executive has in any way put fox hunting at the top of its priorities? No one in the Executive has made a statement suggesting that. Does he further agree that the part of the programme that relates to rural development will be of constructive benefit for rural Scotland?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The Executive is stuffed full of members of the Labour party. I think that, when asked for their views on Mr Watson's bill, most members of the Labour party have indicated their support and assent for it. There seems to be far more support and enthusiasm—


indicated disagreement.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

We have only to consider the analyses in the newspapers of support for this issue. Is the First Minister against Mr Watson's bill? We should be interested to know. Scotland's countryside awaits the answer; do tell the chamber.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

As it happens, I am opposed to fox hunting and I have always said that, so Mr McLetchie will not get a great coup. Does he condemn John Young, his colleague on the back benches who is sponsoring Mike Watson's bill? Is he by definition against the countryside because of that view and is he someone who is interested in vilifying and downgrading the countryside? If that is so, why is he on the Conservative benches?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I ask Mr McLetchie to bring his remarks towards a close.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

And answer the question.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Certainly. It is highly appropriate that, in the discussion of rural affairs, the question is about a great coup.

My point is about the perception of people who live in rural Scotland of the priorities of this Parliament and its members, if members wish to prioritise this issue above all others. We will be interested to see the prioritisation of the bills that are lodged by members and the priorities that the Parliament attaches to them. I am simply flagging up the issue as of key concern to anyone who lives in rural Scotland.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

In terms of those who represent the rural economy—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Labour forgot about and abandoned them.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Does not Mr McLetchie agree that the Conservatives did more to destroy the rural economy through their mishandling of and failure to address the problems of BSE?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

That is the reason why the rural economy is in such a bad state today. The Conservative party created the problem.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I missed the last of Mr Lyon's remarks because of the synchronised sycophancy of his colleagues.

When a real public health problem arose, as we discussed last week—

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Mr Reid. We all heard Mr Gallie's intervention and while he may be allowed to think that, I would have thought that he would not be allowed to say it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I note that point and will return to it shortly. Mr McLetchie, please continue; this will be your last minute.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I will endeavour to do so, if I am not subject to such barracking.

When a major public health problem arose with BSE, our Government did not hesitate to devote more than £1 billion of funds to assist in alleviating the crisis and its impact on the farmers. Our willingness to dip into the reserves for that money, and to try to cushion the blow, contrasts with the pathetic, struggling efforts of the Administration—in the circus of the past week or so—to cope with the problems of the sheep farmers in particular.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I must ask the member not to take further interventions.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I have been instructed to bring my remarks to a close, but I will be happy to give way to the member on another occasion.

Given the programme's lack of references to the Liberal Democrats' policies, it must be an embarrassment to them. The document fails to mention the Liberal Democrats' supposed commitments to abolish tuition fees, restore free eye and dental checks, or stop the use of the private finance initiative. What about getting rid of the beef-on-the-bone ban, Mr Lyon? Or ending tolls on the Skye bridge, Mr Munro? I hope that Liberal Democrat members who support the coalition noted that their PFI policy was subject to particularly withering scorn from the First Minister in his opening speech.

Anyone in Scotland who reads the document will wonder why we need an army of ministers to administer and deliver such a lacklustre programme. We now have 23 ministers to govern Scotland; under the Conservative Government we managed with five. The fastest growing business in Scotland is the business of government; we have ministers, policy advisers, spin-doctors, task forces, review committees and focus groups, all tripping over one another to tell the people of Scotland what is good for them. This is a circus that fools no one; the document is a triumph of style over substance. The emperor has no clothes and, before long, the people will see through him and find him out.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

On Mr Salmond's point of order, I remind members to address their remarks through the chair and of their obligation to conduct themselves in a courteous, respectful and orderly manner, as laid down in rule 7.3.1 of the standing orders.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:33 am, 9th September 1999

On behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I welcome the publication of "Making it work together: A programme for government". The document is a bold and imaginative step by the Scottish Executive that puts further flesh on the partnership document agreed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Labour party.

We have listened to Alex Salmond's criticisms; he advocates that the only way to address Scotland's problems is to go for independence. I wonder whether Mr McLetchie, his partner in opposition—in the unholy alliance—agrees with him. Perhaps we will hear about that during the debate.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Mr Lyon began by saying that he was speaking on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Is there any distinction between his position and the one that the Deputy First Minister will adopt when he winds up the debate? When Mr Wallace winds up, will he do so for the Scottish Liberal Democrats or for the Executive? Why did Mr Lyon begin by making that distinction?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I said that I was speaking on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats because I am a member of that party. I take it that that is not out of order, Deputy Presiding Officer?

The programme outlines 150 individually timetabled priorities. As Donald Dewar rightly said, that has never been done before. That shows the Government's confidence in its ability to deliver across a wide range of areas. Most important, it will deliver by improving our public services, the economy, our transport infrastructure and the environment and by tackling the needs of rural Scotland that were so badly betrayed by the Tory party when it was in power.

Mr McLetchie claimed that the Tories acted to address the problems that faced rural Scotland. I remind him that the Tory Government's failure to introduce a proper traceability system for cattle created one of the biggest obstacles to re- establishing the beef trade. The Tory Government failed to deliver.

Mr Salmond said that there was nothing new in the document.

Photo of Duncan Hamilton Duncan Hamilton Scottish National Party

On the failure of Governments to deliver on agriculture, what advice would Mr Lyon give to Mr Finnie, who trumpeted an announcement of aid for the sheep farmers and did not deliver?

On the question of not delivering, perhaps the party that Mr Lyon so proudly represents has nothing to offer us.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

If Mr Hamilton understood what was announced yesterday, he would know that Mr Finnie reached an agreement—with the UK Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—that the Scottish Executive would draw up a plan to dispose of unwanted cull sheep; the Scottish Executive will take that plan to Europe for approval. Mr Brown said that under European rules, the cull scheme cannot include direct compensation for farmers.

Education is a key priority for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The programme contains a commitment to nursery provision for all three and four-year-olds by 2002 and a commitment to drive up literacy and numeracy standards. Those are Liberal Democrat priorities.

On new measures announced, we already have the £29 million extra to tackle student hardship and the £50 million to help education—for new teachers, books and equipment—as part of the partnership agreement.

A rural affairs department has already been created; we pushed for that. An enterprise and lifelong learning department and a health department, which also covers community care, have already been created. Those are all policies that we Scottish Liberal Democrats brought to the "Partnership for Scotland" agreement; they have already been delivered.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The list that Mr Lyon articulated comprises a series of policies that create bureaucracies, departments and ministries. Nothing is being delivered, but the number of civil servants and politicians is increasing. That has been the hallmark of the Executive from day one.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Mr McLetchie obviously does not understand that £29 million and £50 million is real money—real investment in education and in supporting students—not bureaucracy. He also fails to understand that the creation of those departments is about joined-up government. The people involved, in business and the higher education community, welcome the establishment of the new departments.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Will Mr Lyon help me to understand the economics? How much does it cost to go from seven to 27 ministers? How does it help to have 50 advisers instead of three and what is the cost? Such costs are part of the new expenditure that Mr Lyon mentioned.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The Conservatives' record in Scotland proves that their seven ministers failed completely to deliver.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The document demonstrates the partnership Government's commitment to delivering better public services, which remains one of our key priorities. Of course, we need to create wealth to fund good public services—that idea is central to the document. It outlines a powerful programme of measures to help the Scottish economy to grow, creating new jobs and new opportunities for our people. The commitment to create 10,000 new jobs or businesses per year is a big step forward, as is the introduction of a new manufacturing strategy for Scotland, which Henry McLeish set up yesterday to ensure that the Scottish economy continues to grow.

The overhaul of tourism strategy will be important for much of rural Scotland, although there has been some good news already in that sector. As Henry McLeish told us at the meeting of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee last week, the figures for this year show a 20 per cent increase in the number of Scots holidaying in Scotland—I am glad that Mr Salmond was one of them and was obviously contributing to the rural economy. Most important, spend was up by 30 per cent, which shows, thankfully, that last year's disappointing figures are being turned round.

Our Tory and nationalist friends in the Opposition—who, as we have seen on numerous occasions, are experiencing real tensions—should stop their usual opportunistic bleating, grow up and start to engage constructively in the debate on how to deliver for the betterment of the Scottish people. To say that the programme—100 new schools, 1,000 extra teachers, an extra £50 million for education, £29 million for students, eight hospitals and 10,000 business start-ups a year—is all spin with no substance is ridiculous and not even worthy of discussion.

So far, the Opposition has been characterised by wrecking tactics, in which Mr McLetchie—or should I say Mr Gerry O'Brien—plays the lead role. That strategy will bring comfort only to fundamentalist nationalists.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We have been very relaxed about the duration of opening speeches, but I would be grateful if members could aim to conclude their remarks within five minutes from now on.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour 10:42 am, 9th September 1999

My microphone does not seem to be working. Can members hear me?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

There is a problem with the microphones. As on previous occasions, please project your voice while it is sorted out.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

I am a shy and retiring creature, so I must concede that I am not sure that I will be able to project my voice, but I will try to ensure that members can hear me.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Order. I have been informed that the microphone system has crashed. I propose that we adjourn the meeting until the problem has been sorted out.

Meeting adjourned.

On resuming—

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 11:05 am, 9th September 1999

Order. I reconvene this meeting of the Parliament and I wish to apologise to members for the inconvenience that has been caused. I am informed that the fault is not internal to the Parliament but was caused externally. Unfortunately, it caused a complete computer crash and I am now working blind—there is nothing on my screen. I would be grateful if members who intend to speak in this debate could indicate that again by pressing the appropriate button.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

As I was saying, I have found some parts of this debate very interesting indeed, as Steve Davis might have said. The First Minister's insight into the new discipline that is operating within the Scottish National party was fascinating. It is nice to know that I am in more danger of being expelled from the SNP than from the SLP. That will at least improve my standing in the Scottish Labour party.

This morning's debate is about the programme for government, which was launched—or re-launched, according to taste—in Cumbernauld last week. As we know, Cumbernauld is not a million miles away from Hamilton, but I am sure that that is purely coincidental and that the choice of location for the launch was because Cumbernauld really is the First Minister's favourite spot in Scotland.

We must be clear, however, that the debate about the programme for government is not a debate about a manifesto for the Hamilton by-election. In particular, this debate is not a substitute hustings for that by-election. The SNP and Tory attacks this morning have been interesting. In the main, they have been focused on the Liberals, rather than on the Labour element of the coalition. That is, in my view, an attempt to squeeze the vote in Hamilton and to highlight the role of the Liberals there.

This debate should be about the core Executive programme that this Parliament has to deal with over the next four years. The focus of the debate should be on the powers of this Parliament and about what we can do with the Executive programme to make it relevant to the people of Scotland and to change their lives. Party politics should be put to one side, if possible; at least for a brief moment.

Mr Salmond's speech was, as always, very carefully and cleverly crafted. I particularly enjoyed the joke about "Groundhog Day". I, too, have seen the film. It is nice to know that Mr Salmond did not spend all his time reading Ceefax—although if I was a Hearts supporter I might be tempted to spend all my time doing that. Stripped of the jokes and the cleverness, however, Mr Salmond's speech was just a party political rant aimed at voters in Hamilton. That was a serious mistake.

The SNP amendment is even worse than the debate. It complains about the use of Scottish Parliament time to debate the core programme of the Scottish Executive, which is accountable to the Parliament. What on earth should this Parliament be doing, if not holding the Executive to account? That is the purpose of the Parliament. The amendment is a joke and it should be treated as such by all members, including some of the sycophants who sit behind Mr Salmond and applaud his every little student reference. I do not include Mr Swinney in that—he has some integrity and at least sits beside Mr Salmond, not behind him.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mr McAllion for allowing my intervention. In a week that has seen a renaissance in the financing of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, his attack on that particular point is scurrilous. There is a serious issue that I want to raise. We are debating the programme for government, yes, but we have done that already. As Mr Salmond made clear in his comments earlier, very little of the programme for government has changed since the election, never mind since the debates we have had since the Parliament was constituted in the middle of May.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

We may have had one debate, but if Mr Swinney believes that the purpose of the Scottish Parliament is to have one debate every four years about the Executive programme for government, he has a very different idea of the role of the Scottish Parliament from me. We should have repeated debates about the core programme, how it is progressing and how it has been implemented by the Executive. It is legitimate to attack the Executive on that basis, but not to ridicule it for having a debate about its programme. That is nonsense, and it should not be tolerated by anyone in this Parliament.

We are told, for example, that the programme is all spin rather than substance. Are Opposition members saying that putting Scottish land reform at the heart of the programme for government is all spin and no substance? The United Kingdom, to which Scotland has belonged for nearly 300 years, has never had a nationalist revolution of the sort that happened in other parts of Europe in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. In those revolutions, the old feudal systems were swept away and replaced by modern democracies. Many would say more is the pity—although sometimes, when Mr Ewing stands up, I think that it is as well that we did not have a nationalist revolution, as there would be even more people like him around if we had.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will take Mr McAllion's last remarks as an endorsement.

If the Government is so committed to land reform, why has the effective date of the land reform bill becoming law been postponed by two years, until 2003?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Mr McAllion, you have about a minute.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

That will be dealt with by the committees when they scrutinise the bill. That process is what this Parliament is about—holding the Executive to account for the way it implements its programme.

It would have been a disgrace if the Scottish Parliament had not included Scottish land reform in its first programme of work subsequent to reconvening after 300 years. In those circumstances, the Opposition could have legitimately attacked the Government, but when the Government does what Scotland has cried out for, the Opposition should accept that and congratulate the Government for so doing.

I am a wholly urban phenomenon. I have only ever been to the countryside during the Glasgow fair holiday to visit my uncle's hut at Balfron. I do not know much about the countryside. It is this Parliament that should speak for the countryside, not a countryside alliance that goes under the banner of the Tory party. It is time that this Parliament showed that it speaks for all Scotland, not just part of it.

Can anyone here truly say that taking on drug barons is not a priority of this Government—that it is just spin without substance? Can anyone say that the setting up of a Scottish drug enforcement agency that targets the suppliers and dealers in drugs—who profit from the destruction and death that they inflict on ordinary working-class kids around Scotland—is not a priority?

Is not trying to tackle drugs in prison a priority? Is that just spin? It is estimated that four fifths of all crimes of dishonesty committed in Scotland are drug-related offences. We catch the offenders and put them into prisons. A few weeks ago I listened to a prison governor on the radio who praised the fact that for the first time Scotland has one drugs-free prison.

We are taking drug addicts off the streets and putting them into prisons where they are getting more drugs. We are then putting them back on the streets, which causes more crime and results in more people being picked up and put in prison. Surely we should be tackling drugs in prison. Surely that should be a priority and surely the Government should be congratulated on doing that.

We will probably also hear during this debate that there is no housing bill. I take an interest in Scottish housing and have done for a long time. I am delighted that, at this stage of this Parliament's life, there is no Scottish housing bill. The green paper consultation has just finished. No member of this Parliament can put their hand on their heart and say that they have read all the responses to the green paper.

There is a committee of this Parliament that is responsible for housing, but which has not had a meeting dealing with housing. We have not spoken to any of the people who are interested in housing in Scotland at the moment. We do not know what are the views of the people of Scotland. We do not even know who is for or who is against stock transfer.

We need to take time. We need to find out what is the best possible legislation on housing and then to implement it. The Executive should be congratulated on that.

The Executive should be held to account, but I remind all members that this is not Westminster. There is no luxury of Opposition in this Parliament because every member of it will, after four years, be held to account for how he or she has conducted himself or herself in those four years.

We are all members of powerful committees. We all have responsibilities and powers. Above all, if we argue for something in the Parliament, we had better be able to justify it and say how it will be paid for. We cannot sit in the luxury of Opposition and call for everything under the sun to be done without explaining where the money will come from.

I welcome the Executive programme. It is a good start for the Scottish Parliament but it is not the entire work of the Scottish Parliament. We in the chamber, with the Executive, will decide what this Parliament will achieve in the next four years. It will not be done by the Executive alone.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 11:14 am, 9th September 1999

I can assure John McAllion that I am not going to target the Liberal Democrats with what I will say—I will stick completely to the Labour party, which runs the Executive. Mr McAllion's problem is that he fails to address the fact that this programme proposes nothing of substance and is almost wholly spin.

I believe that when an Executive presents its proposals, it has two clear duties: first, to address the immediate needs of the nation and, secondly, to implement its own ambitious programme. I regret that this new document does neither—indeed it is an abject failure on both counts.

I would like to deal in particular with transport and the environment, which is the portfolio that I cover. Ten key pledges are referred to in the programme for government—which was ripped to shreds by the leader of the SNP during his tour de force speech. The only pledge on transport and the environment is that there will be a national park at Loch Lomond in 2001. We look forward to that legislation coming in. We will examine it critically and constructively. The SNP views Loch Lomond as a national treasure and making it a national park will add to that. It is not, however, one of Scotland's immediate needs in terms either of transport or of the environment.

Scotland's clear and pressing transport problem is the crippling price of fuel and the excise duty that was imposed by the Labour Administration in London. Since it came to power in May 1997, it has increased the price of petrol and diesel by 25 per cent. That affects everybody. It affects not only motorists, but consumers and the whole nation in terms of our manufacturing capability and the ability to sell our goods abroad, which is necessary in a global economy. It is not something that we look at flippantly.

The Government has brought the price of a gallon of petrol up to £3.30 in central Scotland and even higher elsewhere. It takes 85p in every pound as revenue for Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is a pity that Sarah Boyack is not in the chamber, because when I said that the minister was quite correct in pointing out that fuel and excise duties are reserved matters, she said that she would liaise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I asked later what liaison she had had with the chancellor regarding fuel prices and the fact that we face a 6 per cent increase on top of a 20 per cent market force rise resulting from the fuel duty escalator, I was told—by the press corps—that the chancellor had not spoken to her.

I see no need for this Parliament to sit and wait for the chancellor to come to speak to us. As the elected representatives of the people of Scotland it is our duty to articulate their position. We should tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that his ripping off of the Scottish motorist is undermining our ability to cope economically as a nation.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

I am grateful to Mr MacAskill for giving way. I would like clarification—are Mr MacAskill and the SNP asking for a tax cut and a reduction in the public spending that is paid for by current taxes?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We are calling now for what we called for before—abandonment of the fuel price escalator. It is causing and compounding problems. The price of a barrel of oil has doubled through tariffs. The Government is—as it did last year and the year before—adding 6 per cent to that.

We in Scotland have seen no tangible benefit to our public transport infrastructure. The Government has taken our money and, over the years, has built the M25 and other major components of transport infrastructure south of the border. We have received very little and we await with interest the implementation of a strategic trunk road review. We will see what we receive in comparison with what the review suggests.

We have asked some questions about the consultation document, "Tackling Congestion", and the minister has told us that it is up for discussion. Nothing is ruled out and nothing is ruled in. Where is the leadership?

When we ask what reduction there will be in the number of road journeys as a result of tolling, we are told that the Government does not know. We are told that it will depend on the type, the manner and the location of the tolling. That is not enough. If the Government does not know whether road tolls on trunk roads will reduce congestion, what is the purpose of implementing them, if not to tax the Scottish motorist more?

The Government says in its consultation document that it favours electronic marking and collection. Who will pay for the implementation? Who will pick up the tab? We are told that the Government does not know and that that is up for consideration. That is an abandonment of the Government's duties.

Regarding the environment, we are told that recycling is to be targeted and that there will be a national park. What mention is there of genetically modified foods? Are not we, as a Parliament, meant to reflect and represent the needs, wishes and desires of the people of Scotland? Is the debate on GM foods not one in common currency among the general population of Scotland? Is that not worthy of a mention by the Minister for Transport and the Environment? Why is nothing said, with no plans or proposals? Is it perhaps because, as is the case in other areas, lobby groups down in Westminster have nobbled the real leadership of the Labour party?

What about landfill tax? We are told that the Executive wants recycling. This is a specific point, and it is unfortunate that the minister is not in the chamber. We are told that there will be a new recycling strategy because landfill in Scotland is an abomination and a blight on many communities. What do we know? At present, we know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets around £40 million per annum from landfill tax. That will increase every year. Where does the money go?

Apparently, we have hypothecation within the Labour Administration in London. The money the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets for his green tax goes to reduce the national insurance contributions of employers. I ask the Executive why we should not use that tax, brought in because of a blight on areas of Scotland, to assist with recycling and to create an environment fund.

What is contained in the document is cauld kail het up. It is not a recipe for a new Scotland; it is a diet of porridge and gruel for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 11:21 am, 9th September 1999

I see this week as containing an innovative approach—many would say a courageous approach—towards a programme for government. "Making it work together" attempts to prioritise the future work of the Parliament.

The importance of the timed action points should not be underestimated. They are what is needed for the credibility of the Parliament and they are an important aspect of the document. I do not think that we should apologise for the fact that the partnership agreement forms the basis for those points. The new document has re-emphasised key aspects of the partnership agreement.

"Making it work together" presents a way of working and a commitment to partnership at all levels: not only at the level of the Scottish Parliament and of the people of Scotland, but on a local level between agencies and community groups. Believe me, that is why I came to the Scottish Parliament: I thought that we could make those links effectively and promote more effective decision making for Scotland. I think that the title "Making it work together" is therefore particularly apt.

It should, however, be appreciated that partnerships do not come easily and that there are difficulties. In the past, piecemeal funding has often meant that projects have not realised their full potential; they have not allowed communities to achieve the type of sustainability that the document aims for. Sustainability, like social inclusion, is one of the big trends that run through the document.

The problems of piecemeal funding have been clear in my and other constituencies. One example is in Crianlarich and Tyndrum. That rural area has achieved a great deal through the Strath Fillan Trust, which has brought together housing, economic development, childcare and the environment. The trust has provided us and all rural communities striving to create a sustainable environment with a model.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I agree that partnership and sustainability are important for the future. Can Dr Jackson tell me what partnership the Scottish Executive will enter into with Inverness College and the University of the Highlands and Islands to address the £4 million deficit the college faces, to continue its and the university's sustainability?

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

Mary Scanlon has raised a very specific issue and it should be directed to the appropriate area of the Executive for the fullest answer. I am sorry that I cannot answer that one.

The Strath Fillan Trust provides a model for other rural communities, but it has faced significant problems in developing its vision—and it still has problems because different funding streams for different services had to come into operation. The trust has succeeded only because of the enormous enthusiasm and hard work of key members of that community, supported by a range of services, including Forth Valley Enterprise and Stirling Council. It is vital that we ease the path for such initiatives and provide the mechanisms for funding agencies to be brought together in a more co-ordinated way to support communities.

A second important thread that runs through the document is the creation of a more holistic and joined-up approach to service delivery. I will mention two ways in which it emphasises that. The section on children brings together childcare and school issues. The section on health examines effective community care, which requires an integration of social work and health provision.

Stirling Council is at the forefront of this approach, providing new structures to bring departments and agencies together, but there will be difficulties that we have to identify. They relate, for example, to the possibility of job change and raising awareness on the issues connected with that. In Stirling, the development of new structures in the council has all-party support, which is probably the most hopeful sign for the future.

The programme for government presents real challenges. It calls for change—in some cases radical change. That will never be easy. Those are the real issues that we must address. They must not be ignored: they must be anticipated and met head on.

Provision has to be made for negotiation. We know from the teachers' dispute that nothing is as important as on-going negotiation. Negotiation has to open up the possibility to modify plans before agreement is reached.

True partnership involves seeing each side's point of view and finding a solution that moves the discussion forward. I urge members in all parts of the chamber to look to the future in that constructive way. Partnership is at the heart of the document and effective partnership presents us with a real challenge. Although it will not be easy, it is worth pursuing. I commend the document and suggest that we all move forward constructively in the interests of all the people of Scotland.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 11:27 am, 9th September 1999

In his remarks, Alex Salmond started an entertaining trend by commenting on some of the nice pictures that appear in the document "Making it work together". My favourite is the one of Sam Galbraith sitting next to a poster headed "Minor Trouble Shooting!" Given some of Sam Galbraith's public comments over the past few weeks, "trouble making" might be more appropriate.

It is not so much the document, but the letter from Donald Dewar accompanying it which first caught my attention. In the letter, he says that the document represents an unprecedented step by Scottish ministers. We heard him say this morning that the document is original. The problem is that both "unprecedented" and "original" suggest that there might be something new and challenging in the document. As Mr Salmond outlined this morning, nothing could be further from the truth. It is simply a rehash—a repackaged mixture of the 1997 covenant with Scotland, the election manifestos of 1997 and 1999, the comprehensive spending review of 1998 and all the countless launches and relaunches in between.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Not just at the moment.

Alex Salmond referred to this as "Groundhog Day". We all have to hope that that movie is not repeated on television as often as the commitments in the document are repeated in and outwith this Parliament.

It is not the repetition that should have the Labour ministers—if most of them were here—hanging their heads in shame, but their total lack of aspiration. Donald Dewar says that the document is about allowing people to hold ministers accountable.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In a minute, Mike.

It is easy to talk about accountability when the commitments in some areas are so minimal that even a stalled Government, such as this one, would find it difficult to default.

I quote the flagship education policy that is mentioned on the back of the document:

"One hundred new or refurbished school buildings by the end of this Parliament".

The commitment sounds fine until one does what Labour fails to do in this document and puts it in the context of the real world. There are 32 local councils in Scotland; it is hardly aspirational to expect them to build or refurbish an average of three schools each over a four-year period. Add to that the fact that two thirds of those 100 schools will be built using private finance and the sheer lack of ambition in Labour's programme becomes even clearer.

Significantly, the Government has not published a list of those 100 schools. It does not have to do anything so concrete because it knows that, even if it does nothing more than it is doing now, those 100 schools are bound to appear by 2003. The school that Sam Galbraith visited the other day to launch this document—Gylemuir Primary School in Edinburgh—will no doubt count as one of the 100 new or refurbished schools, but that project is going ahead already out of the City of Edinburgh Council's existing budget. Not much effort from Sam Galbraith is required there; no wonder he was so keen to sign on the dotted line.

One hundred new schools: it sounds great, but there are 3,000 state schools in Scotland, a frightening number of which are in a state of disrepair. The HMI reports that land on my desk every day highlight just how many of those schools are in a state of disrepair.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I am genuinely curious. I understand that Nicola Sturgeon regards our provision as totally inadequate. I also understand that she rules out public-private partnership to finance these projects. Will she explain what budget, from the public expenditure survey figure of the Scottish Executive enterprise and lifelong learning department, she would anticipate spending if the SNP was in power?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I shall state what I think this Government, if it were an aspirational Government, should be saying. The picture that is outlined in many of the HMI reports—such as that for Greenock Academy, the education minister's own school—shows that many schools are in a state of disrepair, and that their accommodation is unsatisfactory.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I have already taken one intervention from the First Minister. He asked what I thought an aspirational Government should be doing. It should be pushing out the boundaries and raising aspirations. How about a genuine rolling programme of repairs to our school buildings, throughout this country, that is worked out in consultation with councils so that the educational experience of children will be improved?

The First Minister said that one of the Government's key pledges was to reduce class sizes. That is commendable. However, the Minister for Children and Education said in yesterday's Education Committee meeting that he had no problem with the idea of 100,000 Scottish schoolchildren going into higher composite classes, as is proposed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. How does that square with the First Minister's commitment to reducing class sizes? Is his rhetoric as far removed from reality as that of his education minister?

Like Mr Salmond, I do not resent the proposals that are made in this document but, for goodness' sake, the Government should get on with them—it has promised them for long enough—and move on to tackle some of the other issues that affect people in this country.

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative 11:33 am, 9th September 1999

The Conservative party welcomes much—but not all—of this document. I particularly commend the Scottish Executive on its proposals on drugs issues.

Listening to the speech of the First Minister, I was reminded of a meringue—all sugary and sweet on the outside and nothing at all in the middle. On the outside is the wish list of targets; on the inside is a vacuum, especially where the business agenda is concerned.

It is easy for the Executive to meet targets when it sets them, reports on them and decides the measurement criteria itself. At the meeting of Parliament on 16 June, when launching this programme for the first time, the First Minister said that we needed an economy that captured the new spirit of enterprise, and that we would succeed when we got the best out of all our people, grasping opportunity and making the most of our natural resource.

He went on to say:

"We need to generate the resources required to deliver a transport system that will be fit for the 21st century."-[Official Report, 16 June 1999; Vol 1, c 407.]

The Conservatives were the midwives of the enterprise economy when the Labour party still thought that the word profit was an obscenity—there are people in that party who still think that. The Labour party has no idea how to create such an economy. As the transport bill makes clear, an enterprise economy requires low taxation. That is why the Conservatives have consistently opposed the introduction of road tolls, workplace parking and tax barriers for our cities. Labour should work towards creating a level playing field for our hauliers; it should stop penalising the motorist and damaging our businesses.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I am curious about what steps Mr Johnston took to oppose the introduction of the fuel escalator of 5 per cent under the Conservative Government.

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative

The First Minister gives me the opportunity to say what we have always said—an escalator usually stops at the first floor; it does not continue upward through the roof.

Business needs the infrastructure to grow. We have heard nothing today about improving the infrastructure of our transport network. Unhindered by taxes, road tolls and swingeing fuel prices, there must be a modern rail network, facilities to handle freight, an expansion to the docks and freedom to develop new facilities on the Forth and the Clyde, in Aberdeen and in Rosyth. The target of 10,000 apprentices will be met only if the employment prospects exist to begin with.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

Mr Johnston was talking about the importance of freedom. Will he comment on the proliferation of mobile telephone masts which, if less than 15 m high, can be placed without planning permission?

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative

I have lodged a question about that subject, and I would rather comment after the minister has replied. I have my own views on telephone masts, as one has appeared right outside my kitchen window. However, I shall not let that influence my thoughts.

On 16 June, the First Minister also said that he wanted further extension of small and medium- sized businesses. I refer him to the Scottish Engineering document that I received this morning. It says that, over the next few years, 11,540 jobs will be lost as a result of the energy tax. He would have a far better chance of achieving his aim if business was not hobbled by fuel costs, planners and petty regulation.

In the finance bill that is before the Audit Committee, we must ensure that rigorous standards are maintained and tightened. However, I am aware that company law is a reserved matter.

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative

I would like to finish this point, as it is a little obscure and I am sure that I shall lose the plot.

I am worried by the number of private companies that are being set up by local enterprise companies and local authorities—in competition with private enterprise—but that are not regulated by the Accounts Commission for Scotland and the Auditor General. I ask the First Minister to take up the matter with the powers that be at Westminster, so that proper scrutiny of that use of public funds will be allowed.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Mr Johnston mentioned the importance of the business economy and the relevance of transport. Will he comment on the fact that it was the Conservative Government that privatised the rail network and that in Scotland we have only 6 per cent of rail investment, although we have 12 per cent of the railway lines?

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative

Would Helen Eadie like a comment on the rail network in general or on investment?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

On the fact that the Conservative Government privatised the rail network so that it is now not the Scottish Government but the network itself that is responsible for investment. Scotland now has only 6 per cent of the investment, although we have 12 per cent of the rail network.

Photo of Nick Johnston Nick Johnston Conservative

That is an indication that old Labour still lives. Mr Prescott will be upset to find that the issue of the rail network is being brought up yet again.

To create apprenticeships we need to create a vibrant economy and small businesses. There would be a far better chance of that if we were not hobbled by fuel costs and petty regulations—the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee should look at the regulation of business. We will work with the Executive—but what arrogance its members have to say in this document that they are going to be in power for 10 years. The First Minister said that he welcomes change—please will he change his policies on business to allow it, and Scotland, to flourish.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 11:40 am, 9th September 1999

I welcome the document for its content, if not for its awkward size. It makes a straightforward commitment that manifesto promises, negotiated into the partnership agreement, will be delivered—and it says when they will be delivered. I like the story of the old dear on the west coast who heard the Spanish word mañana and said, "Och, we have naething as urgent as that here." Some of the actions outlined in this document are for mañana, as they have to be but, for a substantial part of the programme, mañana has been pinned down.

I may be in trouble on the west coast for the mañana story but, as equal opportunities spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, I point out that at least the "old dear" was gender free. Proposals that I am particularly enthusiastic about in terms of equal opportunities include more geographic opportunity for students, with support committed to the University of the Highlands and Islands. I am pleased that barrier-free housing standards will be looked at; it is better and very much cheaper to build houses that are barrier free at the outset than it is to adapt them later. I am also pleased to see the commitment to continuing to make public buildings really public by adapting them for the less physically able. I am glad to see support for concessionary bus fare schemes for pensioners and those with special needs and support for greater equality of access to public transport in rural areas through the rural transport fund, which has already been put in place.

On recycling and waste minimisation, I hope that the Parliament will use its purchasing power to close the recycling loop by buying recycled products. The only way in which to maintain recycling is to have a market for the recycled products.

In conclusion, I have a question and a comment. Would Mr Salmond have cancelled new hospital projects because someone else had begun them? My comment is for Mr McLetchie. If the Tory Government had spent half the £1 billion that it spent on the BSE crisis to deal with the problem at the outset, we would all be a lot better off now.

Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour 11:43 am, 9th September 1999

I welcome the programme for government outlined this morning by the First Minister. It is an excellent opportunity for the government to reinforce the policies that will show the people of Scotland just how the Parliament can make their lives better.

I will focus on health and, in particular, on the environmental issues that have such a huge impact on health. As a member of the Transport and the Environment Committee I was pleased to hear the Minister for Transport and the Environment say to the committee yesterday that she sees cross-cutting between her remit and that of most other ministers, including the Minister for Health and Community Care, as a vital part of her brief.

We have a real opportunity to make things better. By improving our environment we can improve the health of Scotland; we can reduce pollution and facilitate access to health and other services. We can improve the quality of life in rural communities by improving transport options. We can reduce the incidence of asthma and other respiratory conditions by cleaning up the environment and implementing the national air quality strategy. I have worked as a nurse in a respiratory unit and have seen how already debilitating illnesses can be exacerbated by poor air quality.

Some of the issues also have a feel-good aspect. When I was young we used to go doon the coast in the summer. It was always a big treat for us townies to go to the beach and paddle in the sea. Parents today are a wee bit more reluctant for their kids to do that because of the dubious condition of some of the bathing waters. I welcome the huge investment of £115 million in making sure that once again our beaches and waters will be safe and clean for us to take our children to.

There is so much we can do to improve our environment and, in doing so, improve the nation's health and well-being. That is why I welcome the government's proposals. Mr Salmond is not here—he called the programme a tabloid. Perhaps he is a wee bit worried that it goes the same way as another tabloid that his party was recently associated with. I think in this case his worries are unfounded and I fully support this programme for government.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 11:46 am, 9th September 1999

It is no wonder that this document has been called a triumph of spin over substance. It tells us that crime is a bad thing and bad health is a bad thing, but absolutely nothing new. To compensate for that there is a lavish number of photographs of members of the Scottish Executive—so lavish that I confused it at first with the theatrical directory "Spotlight", because only it has more photographs. We all have our favourite—and so has the press. Mine is the one of Jim Wallace that has already been referred to. It is the subject of a funny caption contest and I plagiarise a journalist's suggestion that in the picture of two coppers and Mr Wallace the bubble says, "No, officer, I am not Mr Ruddle, I am Mr Muddle." Seriously, even in Westminster documents still tend to be rather more humble than this one is. Mr Dewar referred earlier to the "guinea's stamp" and he and I have in common a love of Burns. With the "guinea's stamp"—just how much did this cost? Another line from the same poem is

"their tinsel show, an a' that".

This document is the tinsel show of 1999. This is the sort of spin that brings the Parliament into disrepute, but it is not the Parliament as a whole that should be brought into disrepute. It is the Scottish Executive that is on a nauseating degree of high-speed spin.

In Glasgow we see that behind that well-spun façade there is no real social inclusion and there is less open government than before. I am on the health committee, yet I was not told that there is a behind-the-scenes plan by the Minister for Health and Community Care that may lead to the withdrawing of paediatric cardiac services from the royal hospital for sick children at Yorkhill. The people of Glasgow will not tolerate that. This is a warning. The people of Glasgow have contributed lavishly to their hospital and they and the people of Lanarkshire are fed up with Edinburgh-centred thinking, which may now extend to danger to the health of their children.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

At the end of my speech—I only have a few minutes to go.

There is no social inclusion for individuals or groups that are not a pushover for the Executive's plans. I am regularly called out to people in the east end of Glasgow who have been promised consultation, but have received none. Mr Dewar referred to tenants being at the heart of the consultation over housing stock transfer, but they are not. The council admits that the tenants have been computer-picked from a list of people who had not been, and I quote, "previously vocal". All 50 of Glasgow's tenants associations oppose the housing stock transfer. Homelessness and child poverty are increasing in Glasgow under this Government.

Regularly, excellent social work projects are closed down without any proper consultation. An example is Easterhill day centre in Baillieston. A few weeks ago I was at that centre and witnessed a pitiful scene. The parents, some of whom were 80 years old, of severely disabled adults were being told—

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I will give way later.

Social work chiefs simply told those parents that the centre was closing and that their young people were being sent to three other centres. The parents pleaded, "Don't do this. We want them to remain here", because those utterly helpless and speechless people had been together for almost 20 years. However, the social work department had decided to close that excellent centre.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

Later. You had your chance.

Easterhouse is another example of social non-inclusion. A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference there involving Greater Easterhouse Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents almost 300 organisations. It is an excellent body, with excellent people, and nobody wanted it to be absorbed into the new social inclusion partnership. One week before the consultation period ended on 30 August, it was told that it was to be absorbed into the SIP. The decision was made before the consultation was over. It is a shadow show.

It is after coming through sickening experiences like that that many in this chamber feel angry when we see this piece of flim-flam. However, I have one useful purpose for it. I have a cat. This document is the most expensive piece of kitty litter in Scotland, but it will be useful in that context.

I support the amendment.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 11:52 am, 9th September 1999

Far from what Nicola Sturgeon says is a lack of aspirational Government, what we are witnessing today is a lack of inspirational opposition. She neglected to answer, or deliberately avoided, the question put by the First Minister: how will she pay for all the things that she wants to be done?

If we had an inspirational Opposition that was genuinely concerned about trying to improve the lot of people in this country, perhaps we would have had something other than the facile amendment lodged in the name of Mr Salmond. What does the Opposition intend to do about poverty? We have heard a lot, but there is no substance. What does it intend to do about lack of opportunity? Absolutely no substance has been forthcoming. What does it intend to do about unemployment? No substance. What does it intend to do to raise ambition? Again, no substance. If the Opposition's idea of raising ambition is anything like the ambition shown in that amendment, we will wait a long time before anything comes from the Opposition that improves the quality of life of people in Scotland.

I would have more faith and confidence in, and more respect for, an Opposition that tried to—

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

What does Hugh Henry intend to do to improve the quality of life of the people of Angus and the Mearns—a delegation of whom visited Parliament yesterday—and what will he do with regard to their attempt to keep open Stracathro hospital?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I will return to some of the issues dealing with rural areas, but once again the Conservatives are asking questions of back benchers that are better addressed to those members of the Executive who are dealing with the issues. However, I will respond to some of the comments about rural areas. The Opposition is not showing any concern for raising the standard of living in Scotland: it is attempting to score cheap points.

Certain aspects of this document could be questioned. Perhaps some things need to be addressed in a different way. I welcome the opportunity that this document provides to ask about the number of students who are going into higher education, and to ask whether modern apprenticeships may, for some people, provide a better route to improving their life chances than a meaningless university course. We must have debates on the best way to improve the lifestyle, ambition and education of our young people.

I would like to have a debate on nursery provision for three-year-olds. Is it always best to provide that care in the current kind of facilities, such as nursery schools and nursery centres, or are there other flexible ways of supporting families in Scotland? The great thing about this document is that, for the first time, the targets and ambitions on which we will deliver are set out. We will provide facilities for three-year-olds, and we will provide facilities for the 16 and 17-year-olds who have been denied them.

We need to articulate the needs of rural communities, but when I hear rural issues being peddled in this chamber by people who show no concern at times for the poverty and deprivation in many of our urban centres, I am disturbed, and I begin to wonder what their agenda is. Is it about an inclusive Scotland, working together, and examining every area in Scotland?

For the first time in Scotland, this document begins to show some way forward for communities like those that I represent, for example, Johnstone, Glenburn and Foxbar. There, young people have been denied opportunities for many years, and people have been forced to live in intolerable conditions. Whether it is with regard to health, education, public transport or a whole range of matters, this document starts to address the specific things that need to be done.

I welcome the opportunity to hold the Executive to account over its targets and progress in the coming years. I will hold it to account so that people like me can intervene in the debate to ensure that the measures in this document have an impact on the communities that we represent. If the Opposition has any faith in the people of Scotland and any confidence in this Parliament, it should stop doing the people a disservice by being a cheap Opposition that lacks ambition, inspiration and detail.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 11:58 am, 9th September 1999

I am a bit confused, because I am not sure whether I am attending the same debate as the SNP/Tory Opposition alliance. I am not even sure whether I am talking about the same document. Indeed, I wonder whether I inadvertently stumbled into a black hole on my way up here and slipped into an alternative universe.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

If Dr Murray slipped into a black hole, it is because the Labour council has not repaired the roads and pavements in Edinburgh, which are a disgrace.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

David McLetchie, Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Dorothy-Grace Elder do not like the photographs in the document. They spent a lot of time talking about the style, but not about the content. Alex does not like it because it is too big. Perhaps the Scottish Executive will take that on board and produce one that he can slip into his handbag.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Does Dr Murray think that the resources that were committed to this publicity stunt would be better spent on hospitals and schools, or does she think that this document is the priority?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

It is relevant that the people of Scotland see the programme that their Government intends to put into practice, and the time scales and performance indicators that it sets for itself.

I see that Mr MacAskill is here. I know that he and his colleagues like to comment on who is not here, so I will mention the fact that he is here. He said that there is nothing of substance in the document. Dorothy-Grace said that it is a triumph of spin. I will refute that by referring to the section entitled, "Working together for a successful and prosperous Scotland". It states on page 10:

"Our priorities are:

To create a culture of enterprise".

Is that nothing of substance? I know that Mr Johnston has said that the Labour party does not know how to do that. I have to hold up my hand and say that I was a scientist, an academic, and I have not created jobs. Perhaps a number of us have not been business people, but we know how to ask people who can give us that advice. That was the point of the partnership, to find out from those who know how we can improve the culture of enterprise in Scotland.

The second priority is also on page 10:

"To provide training for skills that match jobs for the future".

I want my children to get the skills that match jobs of the future. I want that for my constituents and their children. That is hardly nothing of substance.

The third priority is

"To widen access to further and higher education".

I will let members into a secret. Opposition members talk about how we all had the benefit of a free education, which we are now denying to everyone else. I went to university in 1972. I know that that reveals how old I am—some members might think that I am one of the cast ewes of the Scottish Parliament. In 1972, the vast majority of students at Edinburgh University were middle-class kids like me, products of the middle-class selective education system. There has been a widening of the education system since then. The Labour Government intends to widen it further. I want my constituents in north-west Dumfries to have the same access to higher and further education as I had all those years ago.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Is Dr Murray insinuating that middle-class people do not have the right to free education?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I prioritise the needs of working-class people over the needs of those who can afford to pay. That is the basis of socialism.

The final priority is

"To create a culture of lifelong learning, increasing adult participation in education and training".

I speak as a former lecturer at the Open University. I taught many people from disadvantaged backgrounds who wished to retrain. The vast majority had to pay their own tuition fees and had to support themselves without a maintenance grant. I am pleased that the Government has promised to consider sorting out the anomalies between part-time and full-time students.

The section at the bottom of page 10 states that a priority is also to

"Support the progress of the University of the Highlands and Islands and investigate a South of Scotland University."

In August, the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning went with me to Crichton College in Dumfries. I wish that Opposition members had been there. It might have helped them to set aside their cynicism. It is a terrific facility. We spoke to people who had been on the first access course at that college. We spoke to one woman—who was not my constituent but one of Alasdair Morgan's—who explained that, had that course not existed, she would not have been able to get access to lifelong learning.

The commitment to improve access to education in rural areas is extremely important. If the Parliament manages to deliver that for people in rural communities in the south of Scotland, I will be proud of it.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 12:04 pm, 9th September 1999

That was interesting.

I remind Hugh Henry that his is the party of government. This document is the Executive's programme of government. Unfortunately, only a few members of the Executive are here. At one point I thought that we had just the book-ends, but I am glad that Ms Alexander has now joined us. Coffee tables from Hamilton to Hyndland will groan under the weight of this latest designer fad in the relaunch, this ministerial montage. The black and white shades flatter the ministers and certainly do justice to the finance minister's crisp, white shirt.

The document flatters to deceive. It deceives the Scottish public by adding dates to the programme for government from June, to give the impression that we now have an Executive that means business. If it means business, many obvious things should be in that document that it could and should be doing.

Promises will not address poverty when the Executive is cutting back on services for families and children. Families and children in Scotland are suffering because of Labour—and Tory—spending cuts in public services. In the first three years of the Labour Government there have been cuts of £176 billion—it is spending even less than the Tories spent. It is not just the coffee tables that are groaning; the coffers of Gordon Brown's Treasury are groaning with cash, and we hear estimates ranging from £10 billion to £22 billion.

The Scottish Executive should be Scotland's voice, ensuring that that money is spent now rather than later to tackle poor, damp housing. So much of what the Executive does is driven from London. We acknowledge that. That is why it cannot take housing out of the public sector borrowing requirement, as happens in other European countries. That is why it cannot lift the 75 per cent clawback rule, or can it? Labour is following the Tory economic dogma. That is why it is poor on producing a vision of how the housing debt can be dealt with in Scotland. That is why it is poor on exploring the range of financial opportunities to direct finance into rebuilding Scotland's housing, which would create real jobs and homes. Scotland's housing policy is decided for Scots by London.

The promises in the document are not based on what the Executive guarantees it will do in housing; they are based on what it hopes will happen. It hopes that there will be a mass council house sell-off to inject private cash—if the tenants agree and if the figures stand up. Those are hardly reassuring promises that will stand up under the scrutiny of the Parliament. Most of the limited cash that the Executive has identified is going on feasibility studies and consultants' fees, not on bricks and mortar. Not a penny of the £125 million that is going into servicing debt and producing feasibility studies will remove a single damp spore from a child's bedroom.

The rough sleepers initiative is discussed on the blood-red pages. The document states that we will tackle rough sleeping, so that nobody will sleep rough after March 2003. Remember that in February this year Calum Macdonald said that rough sleeping would be finished by 2002. That is enough to make us see blood red.

We must examine what the Government could be doing. The Executive has been pushed into examining suspended repossession orders. That was in the SNP's manifesto. The Executive is finally thinking about it. The Executive acts only when it is pressured or panicked into taking action. The subject should not be tackled by a member's bill—the Executive should take action. When the Executive does something, such as suggesting on-line surveys, it does it in haste after prodding from the Opposition. On the substance of housing policy, it delays; meanwhile the children of Scotland cough, splutter and wheeze in cold, damp houses.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 12:08 pm, 9th September 1999

As has been said, this is another expensive relaunch of a disappointing legislative programme. It puts land reform at the top of the agenda on three occasions and does not address issues that matter to the people of Scotland: the desperate need for good, affordable housing; jobs; the decline in the agricultural industry; and the fall in tourism.

I will address matters that are covered by my portfolio—local government and housing. There is not a lot to be said because there is not a lot in the proposals. I note that, as has been mentioned, the rough sleepers initiative has been extended for one year. Even at this early stage, one former target has been revised. How many more of those targets will not be met? Apart from a code of conduct for local government, there are no initiatives to address the failures of predominantly Labour-controlled councils. As the controller of audit revealed this morning, the £10 million losses in direct labour organisations and direct service organisations in 1997-98 were compounded in this financial year by losses of another £4 million.

All that is being picked up by the council tax payers. It is time that we began to consider the issues. There is more than £800 million outstanding in unpaid community charge and council tax, and non-payment in Glasgow alone amounts to some £24 million. When will we act to recover the £40 million in rent arrears? The disgrace of empty council houses results in the loss of rent of almost £30 million. The recovery of those moneys would go a long way towards addressing some of the problems that the Minister for Finance, Jack McConnell, has to tackle, and towards dealing with some of the housing issues, such as the increased target for improving houses that suffer from dampness and condensation.

Why are we not setting targets for reducing homelessness? Such targets should be set and monitored, and best practice introduced throughout the country. Let us begin to deal with homelessness, instead of just talking about it.

We welcome the McIntosh report, as we realise that it will address many issues in local government. We look forward to the forthcoming debate on the implementation of proposals agreed. However, those alone will not address one overriding issue: the need to review the financing of local government. Already we hear through the press that £80 million in savings has to be identified to meet education commitments. That, along with the rising costs of ministers, parliamentary advisers and spin-doctors—goodness knows what this publication cost—will stretch the imagination of even the Minister for Finance, well known for his innovative approach to finance in Stirling, where he and his Labour controllers were surcharged for setting an illegal rate. Happy days, when Jack was a socialist. [Laughter.] Now we are in the real world, and the destiny, welfare, aspirations and future of Scotland are in his hands.

I note that the First Minister, in his foreword to "Making it work together", states:

"We will be a listening and learning Government—hearing what our people are saying and acting on it."

I welcome that statement, but I wonder why we are having an expensive inquiry into tuition fees, when the people have already said that they wish them to be abolished. Was the Executive not listening then?

I realise that these are early days and that this programme was cobbled together because of the coalition. However, I look forward to the real issues being addressed in the coming months, particularly through the committee structures. I trust that by the end of this Parliament we will be able to say that we have really made a difference and that the quality of life for the people of Scotland has improved.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 12:12 pm, 9th September 1999

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on an excellent programme for the good governance of Scotland and, more important, an agenda designed to ensure the delivery of this Parliament's priorities and promises to the people of Scotland.

The concept of identifying year by year a timetable for delivering the priorities will undoubtedly revolutionise the way in which Scotland's people hold the members of this Parliament accountable. However, I would like to refer members to one promise that is made in this programme—the promise to introduce next year a carers strategy to assist unpaid carers.

The issue is pertinent to a great number of my constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston and to thousands of carers throughout Scotland. According to current statistics, at least one eighth of the members in this chamber should have already experienced the demands and difficulties of caring at home for a friend or relative.

I welcome the initiatives that were previously announced by the Executive in pursuit of a needs-led caring at home agenda. I commend it also on its recognition of the unpaid work carried out by many of Scotland's citizens. That work, undertaken by almost 500,000 people in Scotland, is estimated to save the Scottish taxpayer some £3.4 billion a year. Appreciation of that is long overdue.

Additional funds have already been allocated to local authorities throughout Scotland for the provision of respite care, and the resourcing of much-needed assistance for carers is symbolic of the commitment shown by the Government and is richly deserved by Scotland's carers. I share the Executive's hope and vision for modern community care provision and look forward to the adoption of that ideal by local authorities and other care providers.

While congratulating the Executive on its current and future pledges to carers, I seek assurances that the needs of carers and the cared for will be central to the development of our agenda and our legislative proposals. I hope very much that monitoring procedures will be put in place quickly to guarantee that our plans for community care are effectively delivered at local level, for the benefit of people in greatest need.

I see that Dorothy has left, but I take on board to some extent her comments about consultation. I trust that our vision of a needs-led approach will be successful and will ensure proper consultation and resource allocation by local service providers.

I look forward to the programme for government being implemented and I support the motion.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 12:15 pm, 9th September 1999

I congratulate the Executive on being very good on motherhood and apple pie, but it is very poor on substance.

Let us analyse what this document says and what it will do in relation to the situation in which we in Scotland find ourselves. It says that the Executive intends to tackle poverty and ensure the best environment for children to grow up in, and that it will do that primarily through the new social inclusion partnerships. Let us consider the effect of the Executive's policy in the light of what its partners in London are doing.

When we examine planned expenditure on the social inclusion partnerships over the next three years, two points stand out. First, the expenditure that is planned by the Executive in this area will go down—not up—in the third year. How can we tackle poverty when we are reducing expenditure in poor areas? Secondly, when we compare the expenditure that is planned—between £30 million and £40 million a year—and compare that with the scale of the problem, it is peanuts. It is putting a thumb in the dyke of poverty and deprivation in Scotland.

We need also to consider Alasdair Darling's targets for poverty reduction in Scotland. Two weeks ago, he announced that he intends over the next three years to take 1.25 million people out of poverty in the whole of the UK. Even if he achieves his target, he will leave more than a million people in poverty in Scotland at the end of a four-year Labour Government and a three-year Scottish new Labour Executive—1 million people condemned by two Labour Governments to eternal poverty and deprivation.

What is proposed in this document does not begin to tackle poverty and deprivation in Scotland. One third of our children are living on or near the poverty line—that is not my figure, it is the Government's figure. More than 30 per cent of our pensioners—who are not mentioned in this document—are living in poverty, and that is getting worse. Our disabled people, who are barely mentioned, are living in poverty. Their benefits are also being cut from London by the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.

The Executive's promises on welfare to work involve cutting welfare without creating work. How is it that, according to today's Daily Mail, people who live on peripheral housing schemes are going to be told by Gordon Brown that if they do not get a job their benefits will be frozen for at least a year?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I will take Duncan's intervention later.

What hope have those young people when there are no jobs for them to take up?

The Government says that its answer is the new deal, but according to the Office for National Statistics, despite the fact that £4 billion is being spent on the welfare-to-work programme, the way in which that money is being spent means that it is having no significant effect—the office's words, not mine—on the level of unemployment.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Does the member accept that the best way in which to tackle poverty is to provide people with jobs?

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Will Alex Neil also accept that we now have the lowest unemployment figures in Scotland for many years?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

More than 130,000 people are unemployed in Scotland. Until they get real jobs, we will have a high level of unemployment.

We should compare the unemployment level in this country with that in other small European countries. In Luxembourg, the level of unemployment is 2 per cent; in Austria, it is 3 per cent; and in Norway, it is between 2 per cent and 3 per cent. It is three times those rates in this country.

Consider the new deal. In Ayrshire, for example, 5,000 people are on the unemployment register and 211 are on the various options that are available under the new deal. Finding funding for a change is not a substantial problem: as Fiona Hyslop said, Gordon Brown is building up a huge cash mountain of between £10 billion and £20 billion. He should spend that money on creating jobs and eliminating poverty instead of saving it up for tax breaks for the rich. That is what socialism used to mean.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

It is time to move on to the next item of business. As was said earlier, the debate on S1M-127 will resume after open question time this afternoon.