Programme for Government

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 9th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:30 pm, 9th September 1999

The next item of business is the continuation of this morning's debate on motion S1M-127, in the name of the First Minister, on the Executive's programme for government. I ask members who want to be called to press their buttons now so that their names will come up on the screen.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:15 pm, 9th September 1999

I do not intend to speak for long. I did not intend to speak in this debate at all, but I felt that it was incumbent on me to pick up on some of the comments made by SNP members this morning.

Alex Neil said that there was nothing about poverty in this document. Elaine and I had to ask ourselves whether he had read it. Page 12 is about nothing but poverty and the social inclusion agenda. The document states that the Scottish social inclusion strategy will be produced this year and is designed specifically to address poverty and the regeneration of communities. Social inclusion is, and should be, the concern of all ministers and their departments. Comments on consultation appear throughout the document.

I am glad that Dorothy-Grace Elder has remained in the chamber, as I would like to pick up on what I thought was a pretty damaging comment that she made this morning about the social work department of Glasgow City Council. As Dorothy-Grace Elder's comments are on the public record, I would like to challenge on the public record what she said.

I start by declaring an interest. As the senior convener of social work at that time, I instigated the review on Easthill with officials in January 1998, and the consultation process continued until July 1999. That process was thorough and wide-ranging. It is always difficult to ask people who have attended the same care centre all their lives, who are used to the people there and the area, whether that is the best place for them now, given what we know about what is wrong with them. Each individual was assessed thoroughly and each carer was taken into consideration. We are talking about people with learning difficulties, not people with a handicap, as Dorothy-Grace sometimes says. Perhaps she should look to her language.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

She has changed her mind.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I apologise. I must point out that the carers—including parents who were aged around 80—were unanimously against their young people being split up and sent to three different centres. They also feared that, if those young people were put among others who had more mental ability than they did, there could be abuse. They were unanimously against the plan in late June and again in August 1999.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

That is exactly what I am trying to say: it is an extremely difficult thing to do. However, if it is better for the person who is receiving the service, that is what we must do. I understand how a parent who is 80 would be anxious about what might happen to the person who is receiving that service—it happens every time—but Dorothy-Grace's comments this morning against Glasgow City Council were bad, and I do not accept them. That is why I want to put on record the other side of the story.

The document deals with education. My constituents in areas such as Kilbarchan, Houston and Bridge of Weir will have the opportunity to claim nursery places for three-year-olds—something that has never happened in those areas, which would never before have been included in such programmes.

Constituents in Port Glasgow will benefit from the regeneration of disadvantaged communities, of which, unfortunately, it is one. They will benefit from

"decent, affordable housing" and from

"high quality local government services which provide customer care, flexibility and choice".

As John McAllion said this morning, no one can object to a drugs enforcement agency when not only all our constituencies but every part of them suffers from the scourge of drug abuse. We must support those initiatives. Elaine Smith's comments on carers were well made. I am involved with carers groups and they welcome their inclusion in the document.

The document is a timetable. If the Executive does not keep to the timetable or does not allow appropriate parliamentary debate, those of us in this part of the chamber will hold them to account—Donald has turned round and is smiling at me, but that is what I am here to do. I commend the document.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 3:21 pm, 9th September 1999

Like Trish Godman, I expect to hold the Executive to account. I have found a gem in the document—I will comment on content rather than style. It says:

"Increase the number of doctors and recruit more nurses and introduce more family-friendly policies as part of our overall commitment to retain and to value all NHS staff".

I could not have put it better myself. I congratulate Susan Deacon—I am glad to see that she takes the comment in good spirit, because I want to measure those words against the reality of the decision that she has to make on the provision of paediatric cardiac services.

I am aware of the professional advice that is likely to have been given and of the fact that there are only 50 miles between the two existing units. The best practice that the professionals would like us to adopt is for a unit to serve a radius of territory that encompasses about 10 million people—in some parts of the world, particularly north America, where a one-centre system of excellence is operated, those areas can often be more than 50 miles in diameter.

When you are making that decision, minister, do not be held fast by the professionals. You say that you want more family-friendly policies. It will not be friendly to any of the families whose children have, unfortunately, been admitted either to the royal hospital for sick children at Yorkhill or to the Edinburgh sick children's hospital if you have to close one unit. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the decision that has to be made and I share your concern that there should be no turf wars, because we should have the best possible service.

Mr Reid, I apologise for speaking directly to the minister, but she has the responsibility for ensuring that we have a quality service and that that service is dictated not by the professionals but by need and by what we already have. We have two centres, each with an excellent record and each with competing claims that are very difficult to judge between.

In the case of Edinburgh's unit, we know that, if we lose the paediatric cardiac service, we may lose the whole intensive care unit. That is a huge price to pay. I do not imagine that any of my colleagues from Glasgow would want to be forced to take the decision that you, minister, are going to have to take if, as is said, you have already conceded the case for there being only one centre. I hope that you have not conceded that case. The document makes a pledge:

"Increase the number of doctors and recruit more nurses".

I fail to see how that pledge will be met by cutting one unit.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Members should address their remarks through the chair.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 3:24 pm, 9th September 1999

I always make it to the floor in your period of tenure, Deputy Presiding Officer—it is a coincidence, I am sure. The theme of the programme for government is "Making it work together", which is a reference to the partnership between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. I want to stress the partnership approach to delivering the changes that we want in Scotland—partnership between ourselves and the Liberal Democrats delivering legislative change and partnership between the Parliament and civic Scotland working together.

An example in the document of the use of a partnership approach is the commendable target to create a network of healthy living centres by 2002. I have a declarable interest, because I am a member of a healthy living centre project involved in social inclusion. The centres will focus on improving health in areas of poverty and deprivation.

Healthy living centres address the wider determinants of health, such as social exclusion, mental health, poor access to services and other social and economic aspects of deprivation. Like the one in which I am involved in the Garnock valley, centres have been developed by broad partnerships, which have included health authorities, local authorities, voluntary organisations and local communities.

Local communities and the users of the centres are involved in all aspects of the development and delivery of the service, which links in with local economic regeneration programmes, welfare-to-work programmes, education action zones and drug action teams. This wider action agenda, involving public authorities, voluntary and community associations and local commercial and industrial enterprises, makes use of vital partnerships, which must succeed if the other equally commendable public health targets are to be met. The targets to cut the number of deaths from heart disease by half and those from cancer by 20 per cent by 2010 underpin our commitment to those other vital national health service and public health commitments.

The healthy living centre initiative delivers £34.5 million of lottery funds to Scottish projects, helping people of all ages to maximise their health and well-being. The initiative will make a major contribution to the Executive's drive to tackle health inequalities and to improve the health of those living in deprived communities. The cornerstone of that initiative, and the theme to which I return, is the partnership between the public and private sectors, between voluntary agencies and communities and between this Parliament and the people. I commend the document to Parliament.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 3:27 pm, 9th September 1999

I will address one part of the Government's legislative programme—land reform. Land reform has been criticised as one of the most uninteresting topics in the Government's programme, but it is actually one of the more interesting parts, as we are legislating for the rights of ordinary people—this is about our right of use over our own land.

It is because we are a modernising Government that we recognise that Scotland is still the only country in the western world that has a feudal system. That system has existed for 300 years and must be swept away. The old laws have created traumatic situations for those ordinary people who do not have the right to improve their properties. The Government's programme will sweep away that system. The abolition of feu duties, the rights of communities to buy their own land and the right to enhance one's property will no longer be determined by a remote superior. Most important will be the sweeping away of the obscure language—such as vassal and superior—that that no one understands.

The role of this Parliament and its committees is to add to the Government's programmes in a positive way. We must not stop at what we have done, so I will be supporting Adam Ingram's proposal for a bill on the abolition of leasehold casualties, because that is a way of demonstrating that we aim to modernise land laws.

I put the case that the Government's agenda is a positive one. Land use must be viewed as a central issue for Scots. We must ensure that our national resources are used for the benefit of all and that we all have the right to determine rights of ownership. Those are crucial issue for Scots, as they understand.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I remind all members that, in accordance with the Procedures Committee ruling, all occupants of the chair should be addressed as Presiding Officer.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 3:29 pm, 9th September 1999

I am severely tempted to refer to the photographs in the Government's document, as many members did earlier. I bring to members' attention the photograph of Ross Finnie. As everyone will know, he went to London yesterday to negotiate on behalf of Scotland's sheep producers, with the principled support of the entire Rural Affairs Committee and, I hope, every member of this Parliament. At the end of that meeting, I am sure that he shook hands with Nick Brown. The photograph shows Ross Finnie counting his fingers afterwards.

The principle of cross-party support is not universal in this Parliament. George Lyon took a different approach this morning when he raised his hands in the air to proclaim that he was a Liberal Democrat. Given some of his statements, it is difficult for us to believe that he is a Liberal Democrat. The close relationship that seems to have developed between George and the First Minister is as cosy now as it appeared to be when they were both in different jobs.

I am the Conservative party's rural affairs spokesman, so I will deal with the parts of this document about rural affairs. I will not go into great depth, but will address a couple of issues briefly.

I think that Agenda 2000 will be more significant to the work that this Parliament does on rural affairs than the two references to it in the document suggest. We must remember that the United Kingdom is always accused of over-zealously implementing European regulations. When this Parliament gets the opportunity to consider European legislation—and with Agenda 2000 there will be a great deal of it—we must implement the regulations so as not to disadvantage Scotland's farmers, fishermen and rural dwellers. It is important to remember that standards are not equal across Europe and that the way in which we implement regulations will be crucial for Britain's—and Scotland's—competitive activity in rural areas.

The document suggests that there should be an independent appeals mechanism for farmers suffering penalties in relation to their EU subsidies. As far as I know, that proposal was in our manifesto and the Liberal Democrats' manifesto; it also appears in the partnership agreement. Many farmers would desperately like it to be implemented, but I am concerned that the date in the document shows that implementation is at least a year away. Why cannot the time scale be much shorter?

Much of what was said this morning—admittedly in reaction to comments from Conservative members—was slightly dangerous and misleading. Rural Scotland is an important part of our country. Those of us who represent rural Scotland—in all parties—realise how important it is to maintain a balance between the rural and the urban. Hugh Henry and John McAllion suggested that the balance was in danger of being tipped too far towards the rural. I urge members to remember that rural Scotland is different and that people there sometimes feel that they are being ignored. I ask members to keep rural Scotland at the forefront of their minds to ensure that we are treated with the same respect as people in urban Scotland.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 3:34 pm, 9th September 1999

I am the Liberal Democrats' local government spokesman, so I will concentrate on that issue. I apologise because, as I am heavily involved in the Hamilton by-election, I was not present to hear Donald Dewar's gracious remarks about me. I was busy being briefed on the very intricate affairs of Hamilton Academical Football Club. It is funny what becomes involved in by-elections.

Twice in his speech, Alex Salmond very kindly advertised our excellent candidate in the by-election, Marilyne MacLaren. She made remarks criticising the Government—it is a Westminster election, and I should make it clear that she was criticising the Government in London for, in her view, not doing enough about poverty. That seems a perfectly correct thing to do. I think that Alex was trying to suggest that it was a criticism of the partnership Executive here, which it was not.

In the terminology, as I understand it, the Government means the Government at Westminster and the Executive means the Government here. Perhaps we will have to talk about the Westminster Government and the Scottish Executive to make the distinction clearer. The rules must be made clearer so that it is obvious which we are referring to. In this case, we are—quite legitimately—criticising the Government in London.

The partnership document contains a lot of good stuff. In fact, my main criticism relates to its size. It does not fit nicely into my very amateur filing system. My helper said that that was a subtle move; it meant that, because I could not file it away and had to have it around, I would have to read it more. There may be something in that.

Much of the content in the section on local government is excellent, although we would like to push various things further. There is a commitment to proportional representation, which—although not a panacea—will improve local government more than any other single measure.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

Donald Gorrie says that he would like to see some things pushed further—will he name them?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I am about to do that. In the excellent Local Government Committee, chaired by Trish Godman, there has been considerable discussion of a thorough review of local government finance, for which there is great support. The Executive has problems with that, but the committee wants to explore the concept. There is also widespread support in the committee and throughout the local government community for powers of general competence. We must explore that issue with the Executive and push it along.

There is a great deal of agreement, not only in the committee but across parties and throughout local government, on a great many issues. I hope, therefore, that we can make progress quickly and effectively on a great many of them.

The document contains many good things on improving housing, with respect to both the physical content—building more houses for social rent, which is critical, and improving houses that are damp—and to improving relations with tenants. Communities could be improved if there was a much simpler system of adjudication between tenant and landlord, between tenant and tenant and between neighbour and neighbour.

There are many good ideas in the document on providing more employment. The document also mentions the voluntary sector, on which we will be having a separate debate. That is absolutely critical. This Parliament has a great opportunity to put real drive—an engine—behind the voluntary sector, which makes such a huge contribution to wide areas of our life.

Despite the many good things, there is one fundamental problem, which relates back to the Westminster Government—the underfunding of local government. This Executive and this Parliament will have to make the best of the budget that they have, but the Liberal Democrats believe that there must be well-directed increases in money for a great many local services. That money must come from the UK Treasury. We will continue to argue for that at Westminster.

I am, allegedly, a member of the awkward squad—a maverick. I discovered that Mr Maverick was an American gentleman who did not put marks on his cattle—that is a piece of useless information for members. I do not know whether I am a maverick.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Mr Maverick was also a gambler. It seems that Donald Gorrie is aping his style with the large wager that he made yesterday.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I bet only on certainties. The only bet that I have placed in the past 10 years was that I would win in the last general election.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:40 pm, 9th September 1999

The First Minister, who I hope has only temporarily departed, gave some excellent advice this morning. He said that we should be positive. I must acknowledge that all members want what is best for Scotland, no matter which party we belong to. My question about the Government's programme is whether it is best for Scotland. I am afraid that it is not good enough.

As the SNP's spokesman for small business, I am interested in the only specific proposal in the document—that the Executive will

"help to create 100,000 new Scottish businesses by 2009".

Anybody can set a target, but how is it to be delivered? No measures in the document indicate how the Government's target will be achieved. Last week, in the committee on which I serve, I was positive, as Mr Dewar advised us to be. Henry McLeish listened to three specific proposals that I made that would help to deliver the Government's target. The first was de-rating for small businesses, as proposed by the Federation of Small Businesses. The second was a root-and-branch review of planning law. The third was an elimination of red tape. I am sure that there would be a high level of support for those proposals.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Will Fergus Ewing inform us what the SNP's position is on the penny rise in tax that it proposed?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The SNP will always support progressive taxation, just as the late John Smith did. I inform Duncan McNeil that the yield from Gordon Brown's increases in fuel tax is far in excess of one penny in the pound. The difference is that Scotland gets none of that money back, while it would have had the whole of the yield from forgoing Gordon Brown's one penny tax cut, which we advocated.

In the absence of any specific measures in the document, is the Government even willing to recognise the fact that Scotland has the highest fuel tax in the European Union? In her meeting with Gordon Brown, Sarah Boyack failed to mention the issue. I find that almost incredible.

The Government has no ideas for solutions and no idea of the problems. Perhaps it has one cunning plan: to suggest that the 100,000 Scots for whom it aims to create jobs apply to Chris Tarrant's programme, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" I ask the Executive to answer this simple question: which country in the European Union has the highest fuel tax? Is it a) France, b) Germany, c) Spain or d) Scotland, trapped in the United Kingdom?

The Executive does not have to answer immediately. If Mr McConnell wants, he can telephone a friend. Gordon Brown, for instance, who not only knows the answer but caused the answer.

When we ask the audience on 23 September, we will find that they know the answer, too. They also know who will best fight for the interests of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I wonder whether Fergus Ewing wants to follow Donald Gorrie's example and will place a year's salary on the prediction that he has just made.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As part of the SNP's economics team, I am not inclined to recommend that anybody gamble one year's salary on anything. However, a member of my family who was involved in a certain by-election 32 years ago made a bet with odds of nine to one. I remember getting a rather good toy the day after the result. Who knows, I might break with my inclination and place a bet on my sister's winning.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 3:45 pm, 9th September 1999

Fergus Ewing cannot be as sure as Mr Gorrie about what is a sure thing and what is not.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Scottish Executive's programme for government. We should recognise that the Scottish Parliament faces the challenge of building the confidence of the people of Scotland and that there has been a bit of damage to that confidence in the Parliament's first few months. I appeal to members of all parties to start to play a constructive role in shaping the programme of government. One of the encouraging things about Fergus's contribution—something that has been lacking in many speeches—was that he came up with ideas and tried to move the debate forward.

While the leader of the Scottish National party's speech was humorous, once the humour has been stripped away it will be found to contain little substance. I encourage the SNP genuinely to welcome the parts of the government programme that it supports and to present its ideas on the areas that it wishes to develop further.

One of Mr Salmond's criticisms of the Executive's programme was that it was not original. Why was it not original? Many of the ideas were brought out during the election campaign.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Does Mr Muldoon realise that many of the ideas to which he refers were germinated by Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth? That is the point—they are Tory ideas, not Labour ideas.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

That is a travesty of the position set out in the Executive programme. Had, by some miracle, Mr McLetchie's party won the election in May, very little of the programme would have been implemented. The programme is being implemented, and it received the support of a larger proportion of the Scottish people than did that of Andrew's party.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Is there not a great deal of difference because the vast majority of the programme contains Conservative policies that have already been implemented?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Absolutely not. I do not accept that for one minute and I do not think that the people of Scotland would either—hence Mr Harding's party's continued low position in the opinion polls.

Mr MacAskill concentrated quite heavily on the subject of fuel taxes, but I have not yet heard what the SNP would like to be done about fuel taxation. By how much does the SNP want fuel taxation to be reduced? How would the SNP pay for the reduction? Is it another of the things that the penny for Scotland would pay for? Is this the elastic penny for Scotland?

Mr MacAskill said that the SNP is opposed to certain aspects of the proposed road charging, but he stated in the Transport and the Environment Committee that he is sympathetic to congestion charging in cities. Could the SNP convey that to its colleagues in West Lothian, who are opposed to road charging in cities? Or does the SNP intend to continue its practice of espousing different policies for different audiences?

I would like to highlight the concentration of the programme for government on the subject of education. The Parliament has an obligation to the children of Scotland to provide them with the best possible standard of education. It is much to the credit of the Executive that one of its first bills will be an education bill that will aim to raise standards in Scottish education and maintain them at the highest level. The programme sets out areas on which we can make real improvements, particularly in dealing with educational inequalities.

I am receiving hints from the Presiding Officer. Because of all the interventions that I have taken, I am curtailing my speech.

To conclude, there is much to commend in the programme for government. I repeat my appeal to the Opposition parties: engage with us and try to shape policies that will build a better Scotland.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 3:49 pm, 9th September 1999

The purpose of the Parliament is to hold the Executive to account. The programme for government does exactly that. As John McAllion and Hugh Henry said this morning, a timetabled programme, especially with a regular monitoring debate—as John McAllion in particular mentioned—gives the Opposition the opportunity to scrutinise progress.

In June, we had a debate on the legislative programme; today, we are having a debate on the programme for government. Both debates have given the Opposition an opportunity to scrutinise progress. The Tories and the SNP have been entertaining at times today, but their front benchers' concentration on the size of the booklet and the quality of the photographs could not be described as the Opposition in scrutiny mode.

The programme for government includes many important transport and environment policies, which I will talk about briefly. Parliament has the opportunity to set those policies in action.

When addressing transport policy, there is no point in ignoring financial realities. According to the press this morning, the Confederation of British Industry will be told that there is a huge need for public investment in transport. Where will the resources come from? Changing political priorities—across the parties—are reflected in funding for transport. The Scottish Office trunk road capital programme fell from £208 million in 1995 to £104 million in 1998.

What are the options for getting funding into transport, which it is broadly agreed is necessary to improve public services? One option is to invest through taxation, but the Tories have demonised tax over the years, so we cannot have a debate on using tax to invest in public services without the kind of advertising campaigns that have appeared at general elections. This morning, the First Minister mentioned the public's cynicism about the political process; it has certainly not been helped by those campaigns.

By implication, the SNP and the Conservatives have said that they will cut transport funding. If they are to find funds for transport, they should explain from where in the Scottish block they will take it.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Last week, The Guardian had the headline "Brown builds war chest". It said that the chancellor has £24 billion to spare before he breaches the Maastricht criteria. Does Tavish Scott agree that the First Minister should suggest to the chancellor that that money be invested in public services?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

This debate is about public services in Scotland. Submissions on public services will no doubt go forward, so Scotland will receive its share of that funding. It is very important that we make our arguments as strong and as clear as possible; I hope that the SNP will join us in that.

Mr Salmond called congestion charging taxation by the back door. The SNP's spending commitments in its penny for Scotland campaign were for health, housing and education—there was no mention of transport. The SNP cannot argue that it will increase investment in transport—it was not included in that campaign. That is opposition for the sake of opposition. The SNP's manifesto was in favour of congestion charging, but now a campaign has been mounted against it—that is having it both ways.

We would be very grateful for an explanation of how the Conservatives and the SNP would provide funding for transport if they will not do so through taxation or congestion charging. The Executive, at least, is illustrating in this programme potential routes to investment in affordable public transport.

It is right to consult on urban road charging, as the Executive is doing. It is hard to argue against the case for congestion charging in our cities. Working in Edinburgh, we are made aware daily of the disbenefits of congestion: CO2 emissions, pollutants in the air, frustration and lost time.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Is the member aware that the Government's principal transport adviser, Mr Begg, acknowledges that no more cars are coming into Edinburgh than 20 years ago? Much of the congestion is caused by the traffic management measures that he imposed.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

David Begg made a very interesting presentation to the Transport and the Environment Committee about how we should take congestion planning forward. It is quite clear that the current policies cannot continue. We must improve public transport so that we can achieve the reductions in pollution and CO 2 emissions that we need to achieve now. Offering arguments against that is bizarre and goes against what we need to do.

Motorway charging is different from urban charging. The Executive's proposal is certainly right in seeking to find whether there is merit in motorway charging, but there are justified concerns about it. The key questions for the Executive in responding to the consultation are: where the revenue goes; what the objective underpinning the approach is; and, perhaps most important—particularly for local people—what the effect of diverted traffic will be.

Those issues need to be addressed when the responses come in, but it is important that we take those ideas forward. Transport is the main issue.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

David Mundell will wind up for the Scottish Conservative party. You have a maximum of 10 minutes, David.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 3:55 pm, 9th September 1999

I am one of those people who have been calling for the Scottish Executive to listen to business. Behind the spin, there is some evidence that it has been doing so. However, in relation to the production of "Making it work together", it is clear that—right down to the pastel shades so beloved of those wanting to create a caring, sharing image—the Executive has been listening to the message from just one section of the community: the marketing men.

No doubt seven out of 10 people in a focus group somewhere have said that the shade of burgundy used in the document is both warm and inclusive. As Conservative members would expect, the blue on the cover is the colour of prudence and responsibility, although it must not be too deep a blue in case it is perceived as cold. Then, as we have already heard, there are those photos: half art house, half small child with unsteady hand.

From my experience of business, the style of the document is out of date. Not only is the current trend to be environmentally friendly and smaller, really successful organisations include feedback from their customers in their brochures. However, it might be difficult to find a farmer with enough positive feedback on the Government's performance so far to fill the six inches of unused space in the entry by the Minister for Rural Affairs.

As Mr Gorrie suggested, the awkward size of the document may not be a mistake. In a short time, it will fit into nobody's filing system and will have to be discarded.

Who is the document—produced at the taxpayer's expense—aimed at? It should not be aimed at members of the Parliament; most of us could have managed with a simple e-mail, as could the work force of the Scottish Executive. Surely it cannot be aimed at the people who voted for Labour in the general election, as they have the Labour manifesto. At £4.95, I do not think that it will be read by many members of the public—certainly not the poor and disadvantaged whom the Executive says it wants to help.

The only specific audience that I can think of are those poor unfortunate souls who voted Liberal Democrat in the Scottish Parliament elections, because for them it sets out the full catalogue of broken promises: tuition fees, free eye and dental checks, beef-on-the-bone ban, Skye bridge tolls and the end of the private finance initiative.

Earlier today, Mr Salmond referred to the film "Groundhog Day". He has a point. Given the Executive's performance, a more appropriate film—and indeed its innumerable sequels—might have been "Rocky". If we read the Official Report of 16 June, we find that apart from the birth of Duncan McNeil's granddaughter and Keith Raffan's very individual contribution—which we have missed today—nothing new is being said and nothing new is being offered. That is no surprise.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Are you going to say something new, Jack?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Does Mr Mundell agree that the line-by-line timetabling of the 100 commitments in the document is indeed new? If he admitted that, his speech would be far more valid.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I admit that the Executive has brought together, in one document, many things that have been stated over many years.

When I was working outside the Parliament, I was subject to an appraisal scheme and I was paid on the basis of achieving objectives. One of the tricks that the Government has pulled off—which I never managed—is to set a group of objectives of which some have already been achieved, others are at so long a distance as to ensure that no one will be around to pick up the bonus in 2009, and yet others are simply unmeasurable.

I am not surprised that we have not heard anything new, because we have had nothing new from the Government since 16 June.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Are you going to say something new, Iain?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I was going to ask whether the Opposition was going to say something new. In this entire debate, we have heard only talk about the style and presentation of the document, and nothing about the content.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

David Mundell is summing up on behalf of the Conservative party. Can he tell us which of the items in the document his party disagrees with?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

What our party disagrees with is the list of broken promises over the past two years: tuition fees introduced, hospital waiting lists longer, police numbers down, crime on the increase, class sizes larger, taxes increased by stealth, junior doctors' hours longer, no attempts to tackle the burden of red tape and bureaucracy on small businesses, and no let-up in the crusade against the motorist.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I am in my last minute, Richard. I am sorry, but I will not give way.

People in Scotland—as Bristow Muldoon said—will judge the Parliament in general and the Executive in particular on what difference they make to their lives, and not on the content of documents such as this. It is the very production of a document such as this—all style and no substance, Iain—that compounds the Executive's difficulties. A presentation with no substance fuels the perception that this Parliament is not making a difference to the lives of ordinary people in Scotland.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I now call John Swinney to wind up for the Scottish National party. You have up to 12 minutes.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 4:02 pm, 9th September 1999

This has been an interesting debate with many interesting speeches. We have heard members of the SNP reflecting on the contents of "Making it work together" and proposing ideas to hold the Executive to account. We have heard from members on the Labour back benches. Trish Godman in particular made very clear her determination to hold the Executive to account. I would have been delighted to witness the exchange that took place between her and the First Minister as he left the chamber, but I am sure that Trish will keep that for her private thoughts and reflect on it in the months to come as she harries the Labour Government.

Labour members have given varying degrees of support for many of the points in the programme for government. Some speeches from Labour members were refreshing—especially those from Janis Hughes and Elaine Smith, who considered some of the key aspects of the Government's policies on child care and the health service. The points they made are welcome.

In an intervention while John McAllion was speaking, I questioned the real value of having a day-long debate on this subject. The amendment whose proposer I am summing up on behalf of refers to the use of valuable parliamentary time to consider such issues. I know that the use of parliamentary time concerns the Minister for Parliament, whom I am glad to see here. On his behalf, people have been telling newspapers that we need to spend more time in the chamber.

If more time is needed, we will have more time, but we could have spent today a little bit more productively than in discussion of a document that, for all the joking about photographs, reveals only the development of new timetables for the implementation of the Government's previously announced proposals, and—as a number of my colleagues have said—the previously announced proposals of the previous Government.

I accept—I can see that the Minister for Finance cannot contain himself until I finish this sentence—that there is new material in the document and that there are new timetables. There are also different timetables—timetables that have slipped and have not been kept to from previous commitments. We should concentrate on that when measuring the Government's performance in the future.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

At the outset of this debate, the First Minister asked a question of Mr Salmond that I hope will be addressed. What other Government in the past has produced 150 timetabled promises collected in one document? That is innovative. Please answer the question.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

There are numerous examples of Governments, such as the US Government, that have come into power with timetables. It is important for us to judge the Government on the measures that it is introducing. I concede to Richard Simpson that it is helpful to have—not in black and white, more in pastel shades—a measurable timetable to which we can hold the Government accountable, so that we do not have a plethora of announcements of the same material with the only change being the timetable itself. The point that my colleagues have made throughout the debate is that the Government has been responsible for the slippage in its timetable.

It would have been more productive to have had a debate about some of the Government's specific policy initiatives. Before lunch, the Minister for Parliament told us that it would not be convenient to have a debate on the manufacturing sector in 10 days' time. We could have had that debate today, to drill into some of the detail that underpins the froth that has been put before Parliament in the form of the document, instead of returning to a debate that we had in June. We could have focused on the real policy questions that concern the public.

Much has been said about partnership. Sylvia Jackson talked about real partnership and the First Minister said that it was important to co-operate with policies pursued by the UK Government. Perhaps that explains Sarah Boyack's bewildering answers, given at yesterday's meeting of the Transport and the Environment Committee, about the fact that no representations about fuel prices had been made by this Administration to the UK Treasury. Perhaps what the Executive means by partnership is that the UK Government gives us the bad news about such issues.

Speaking of partnership, George Lyon—I am sorry that he is not here—opened his speech at the start of the debate by saying that he was speaking for the Liberal Democrats. I thought, "Well, here we go." I thought that we were going to get a formalisation of the points that Marilyne MacLaren has been raising during the Hamilton South by-election campaign. She has not just complained about the Westminster Government, but declared her determination to vote for the abolition of tuition fees. In his speech for the Liberal Democrats, George Lyon made no mention of his party's varying, variable or completely dumped stance on tuition fees.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I want to make it unequivocally clear to the Parliament that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to the abolition of student tuition fees—full stop—and that we will all vote that way when appropriate.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I find that as bewildering an answer today as I found it when Mike Rumbles intervened on me in a previous debate, when there was a legitimate opportunity to vote in principle for the abolition of tuition fees. The timetable has slipped on that issue, too.

The issue of the private finance initiative, about which so much has been made, has also underpinned the debate. We have heard more and more about the matter from the Liberal Democrats. Before the election, a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said in The Scotsman on 2 April 1999 that the party would

"press for the abolition of the Government's private finance initiative . . . The party is attracted by the Scottish National Party's plans for replacing PFI with Public Service Trusts".

There is no such argument in the programme for government.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Does Mr Swinney agree that substantial changes—in particular the Liberal Democrat pledge that assets would, if necessary, return to the public sector—have already been announced in the operation of PFI? Does that not go a long way to meet the Liberal Democrats' commitment on that issue?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The simple answer is no. John McAllion has made his position on PFI quite clear. He said:

"The Tories may have gone, but their ideas live on under the name PFI".

In response to Mr Finnie's point, Matt Smith, one of the critics of PFI in the public sector, has made a number of comments in his critique of the policy. Following Mr McConnell's announcements to Parliament about the supposed change of direction on this issue, Matt Smith said:

"PFI is still a bad way of financing public services. It will still cost the taxpayer more. It will still break up the team delivering Scotland's public services and there are still other, better ways of accessing public sector borrowing that could help".

The debate on that issue has not advanced much further as a result of the contribution made by the Liberal Democrats.

In winding up, I want to concentrate on some remarks that were made earlier.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am coming to a conclusion, Iain. I will begin to sum up. I must observe the time limits as well.

Hugh Henry attacked the Opposition for lacking ambition in what we have set out in this debate. I want to tackle his criticisms. He said that he was interested in holding the Executive to account—a comment that has been made by other members of the Executive and the Labour party—and made four criticisms. He said that we had no ambition to tackle poverty, no ambition to tackle the lack of opportunity, no ambition to tackle unemployment, and no ambition to raise ambitions in Scotland.

Is it not ambitious enough to demand a hard target on the number of people in Scotland who will be removed from poverty as a result of this programme? What is unambitious about that? A hard target does not appear in this programme, but soft measures for delivering it do.

How about testing the effectiveness of the Government's measures? There is nothing in this programme to test how effectively the Government changes the lives of people. What about the ambition to tackle the lack of opportunity? Is it not ambitious enough to demand the removal of obstacles to higher education by putting an end to tuition fees and by introducing student grants and sensible student maintenance? That is more ambitious than palming the problem off to a committee that does not immediately implement the priorities of the people of Scotland as expressed after the election campaign.

Is it not ambitious enough for all of us, regardless of our politics, to recognise, as numerous Scottish companies have recognised over the past 24 hours, that yesterday's rise in interest rates will be damaging to the productive capability of the Scottish economy and that we do not need those increases?

Is it not ambitious enough for all of us—the Liberal Democrat party, the Conservatives, the SNP and the Labour party—to make a representation to the monetary policy committee on behalf of the Scottish Parliament that says that that strategy is bad for Scotland?

Is it unambitious to desire to create the best economic conditions for Scotland? Instead, we are saying that we will take what we get because the priorities of the monetary policy committee suit the priorities of the south of England and the Labour Government at Westminster. How can we break out of that when it goes to the heart of the Scottish economy?

Is it not ambitious enough for one of my colleagues, Mr Neil, to compare the prospects for the Scottish economy and society with those of other small European countries? He should be able to do that in this chamber and not be laughed at by Labour members who are not prepared to see that we have the ability to raise sights, standards and expectations or that we can compare ourselves with other countries and have ambition to deliver a new and better society. That is what is lacking from this programme. It was lacking in June when we debated it, it is still lacking today, and I suspect that it will be lacking when we have the first debate on how effective this Government has been in changing the lives of people in Scotland.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

This debate will conclude at 16:30. I now call the Deputy First Minister to wind up for the Executive.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 4:13 pm, 9th September 1999

This has been a wide-ranging debate on a programme for government that sets timetables for the commitments that have been made by the Executive. It develops the partnership agreement that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party entered into.

Mr Mundell complained that the programme added nothing new to the debate in June. My recollection of the debate on 16 June, which was on the legislative programme of the Government, is of numerous complaints that the legislative programme did not mention health, jobs or housing. It was explained that there is far more to a Government and the actions of an Executive than simply passing legislation. This programme refers to matters that are part of the legislative programme but it goes beyond that and sets out what the Executive plans to do, and is committed to doing, in tackling the range of responsibilities that have been given to this Parliament.

The Opposition has not been able to get past the pictures. I can understand that—the members of the Cabinet are a fairly photogenic lot. I thought that when David Mundell rose to speak he might have been able to introduce something novel and constructive from the Conservative party, but he complained about the pastel shades. That perhaps sums up how far the Conservative party has got with this document. If I may parody Mr Mundell's words, he delivered a speech that had no style and no substance. The problem faced by both Opposition parties is that they cannot see the bigger picture; they cannot acknowledge that the document contains details of commitments and a fixed timetable.

As Richard Simpson reminded John Swinney, the First Minister challenged Alex Salmond, at the start of the debate, to say when any previous Government had set out a detailed timetable of commitments. Alex Salmond was unable to answer. No one has given any indication that such a timetable has been produced before. That is a challenge to the Executive to deliver, and I am confident that we can meet the challenge. We promised open, transparent and accountable government. This document is an important contribution to government in Scotland, which will be open, transparent and accountable.

Although Opposition members have trivialised the fact that dates have been set, I suspect that they will be very quick to latch on to them if—peradventure—any of those dates should slip. I do not expect a press release from Mr McLetchie or Mr Salmond to congratulate us when we hit or exceed our targets, but I am sure they will use the document to hold us to account in the weeks, months and years of this session. I do not complain about that; an important role for any Parliament is to hold the Executive to account. I do not expect only the Opposition parties to do so; we have had indications in the debate, from John McAllion, Trish Godman, Tavish Scott and Hugh Henry, that they will use this document to keep the Executive up to the mark.

The predictability of the Opposition attacks was one of the disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, aspects of the debate. The Opposition appears to believe in opposition for opposition's sake. Even in the final speech, Mr Swinney could not seem to get beyond suggesting that we should have included a commitment to write a letter to the monetary policy committee by the end of September. I do not know if the SNP policy is that high inflation throughout the UK is good for the Scottish economy; that is certainly not my policy. The SNP admitted during the election campaign that in an independent Scotland it would shadow what would then be the English pound, without any opportunity at all for influence. I do not understand how John Swinney can criticise as he has done today.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Does Mr Wallace believe that the economy of Scotland is overheating? I presume that that is what he means by high inflation throughout the UK. Does he believe that yesterday's announcement on interest rates was helpful to the Scottish economy?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I have indicated how well the Scottish economy is performing. I will return to that because it is an important part of the Government's work.

Members attacked the photos in the document because they cannot attack the text. It would have been interesting if Alex Salmond had told us which of the commitments on the back cover of the document he supports and which ones he does not, rather than concentrating on the origin of those various commitments.

In spite of a lot of fury, froth and allegations of spin, it has been a feature of the debate that members have said precious little about whether they support any or all of the commitments. If they do not support them, what alternatives would they put in their place? With one or two honourable exceptions—

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I think that Mrs Scanlon was first.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I support the progress of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Does the minister support it and what will he do to address the £4 million deficit at Inverness college, the lead college in the UHI network?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Not only do I support the UHI, but I can claim to be one of the first MPs to call for it to be established. The fact that the university has made much progress is a source of great satisfaction to me. The university is widely welcomed in the Highlands and Islands and I am pleased to have the opportunity to endorse that welcome.

On Inverness college, Mrs Scanlon probably knows that responsibility for the financial position of Scotland's further education colleges has, since 1 July, been a matter for the Scottish Further Education Funding Council. That council was informed last week of the financial situation faced by Inverness college, and I understand that the council engaged with the college as a matter of priority to consider what action is required to address the situation.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

On the subject of support, the main point of the launch of the Liberal campaign in Hamilton seemed to be to oppose Labour's attacks on the poor and vulnerable. I know it is—to coin a phrase—devilishly difficult to oppose the Labour party in Hamilton and to support it in Edinburgh, but does the Deputy First Minister support his party's candidate in Hamilton?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

As has been said, the Scottish National party seems to be incapable of understanding that the partnership is a coalition for the Scottish Parliament. In Westminster, I sit on the Opposition benches, as does Mr Salmond. It is not exactly the great secret of Scottish politics that, after the first Cabinet meeting that the Executive held, the First Minister and I travelled to London together and voted against each other in a debate on disability allowances, which are a Westminster responsibility. I disagreed with the Labour Government's policy on them. There is nothing unconstitutional about that.

The important thing is that this Parliament should work in partnership with other parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

If the minister is saying that there are times when he disagrees with Labour at Westminster, does he see there being occasions when he may disagree with them in Scotland?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

There may well be disagreements, which is why we have Cabinet meetings to try to resolve them. Mrs Ewing fails to understand a fundamental constitutional position. Furthermore, we have still not heard which of our pledges the SNP would sign up to.

Mr McLetchie, predictably, made reference to the photographs in the document. We did not hear much about an alternative strategy for Scotland. Indeed, his biggest criticism of the Executive was that we were giving priority to legislation on fox hunting. There is no reference to fox hunting in the document, because the measures on fox hunting were proposed by an individual member. The Executive has indicated that there will be a free vote on the principle. Fox hunting is not an issue in the Executive's programme.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Does the minister acknowledge that the Executive controls the parliamentary timetable through the Parliamentary Bureau? Therefore, the view that the Executive takes of the progress, timetabling and prioritisation of members' bills is germane to whether they are approved.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I am a democrat and I believe that if there is widespread support across all parties, including Mr McLetchie's, for the measure to be debated, the Parliament would not come out of it well if it tried to frustrate the debate.

Mr McLetchie exposed the Conservative party's weak flank—the damage that the previous Conservative Government did to rural Scotland through its mishandling of the BSE crisis. That can be contrasted with our setting up a rural affairs department, which was one of the first acts of this Government. The department, headed by Ross Finnie, was set up to ensure that the wide-ranging issues affecting rural Scotland—not only agriculture, fishing and forestry, but all the other issues germane to the well-being of rural Scotland—came together.

The minister is addressing some of the real problems that face Scottish agriculture by bringing forward the industry's marketing plans to stimulate the export market, by trying to secure a private storage scheme and by trying to establish a cull ewe scheme in Scotland.

Those initiatives have been widely welcomed by the industry and in the Highlands and Islands. Alex Johnstone, Convener of the Rural Affairs Committee, has also acknowledged the setting up of an independent appeals mechanism for farmers who have complaints or who feel that they have been unfairly penalised in their claims for European subsidies.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I have taken a number of interventions. I will come back to Mr Morgan later.

People have made claims of spin and presentation, but if one examines the programme in detail, it is not about spin and presentation, but about real issues. We have made a pledge on the rough sleepers initiative, mentioned by Keith Harding and Fiona Hyslop. A total of 138 extra hostel places have been or will be provided and, in the first year of the initiative, 1,200 people were taken in. The first evaluation report on the rough sleepers initiative came out relatively recently. It pointed out that the issue was one not only of hostel provision, but of being able to move on to the next stage and provide people with supported tenancies.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I will just finish this point.

In response to the evaluation report, Wendy Alexander, the Minister for Communities, has already indicated that we will provide support workers. This is not a question of spin or of presentation—we are taking action. The purpose of this commitment is to tackle real problems with real measures and to be held to account on the timetable that we have set out.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

If it is not a question of spin or of presentation, surely it is a question of timing. Will the minister explain why, only six months ago, Calum Macdonald said that there would be no one sleeping rough on the streets of Scotland by 2002, while the Executive's target is 2003? How much further back will the target go?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

As I have said, the first evaluation report of the rough sleepers initiative indicated that the initiative should not be limited to the route that it had already been going down, such as building hostels and providing hostel places, but that it needed to be refocused in order to give more support to people who pass through the hostels. That is being done and the initiative has been refocused. The Executive gives a pledge in "Making it work together", a pledge that I am confident that we can meet, which links to our pledges on tackling poverty and promoting a social inclusion strategy.

John Swinney asked about targets. The document says:

"We will work in partnership with the UK Government to tackle child poverty and raise over 60,000 children out of poverty in Scotland by 2002."

The document also refers to the regeneration of Scotland's most deprived neighbourhoods and to the healthy homes initiative, which will give priority to the elderly and those on low incomes.

As Duncan McNeil rightly observed, in an intervention during Alex Neil's speech, the most direct route out of poverty is a job. The document also refers to our intentions regarding the promotion of the enterprise culture in Scotland. There is no complacency on jobs and employment. This morning, the First Minister read out a long list of new jobs that have been announced in the past 10 days. The International Labour Organisation's unemployment rate for Scotland is well below the European Union average, and the claimant count is at its lowest since 1976.

We believe that an enterprise economy that focuses on the education and skills of our young people is the way forward, in order to ensure that those jobs exist in the future. Nursery places, investment in books and equipment and early intervention in primary schools to improve children's standards of literacy and numeracy all add up to ensuring that we have a well-skilled and educated young population that is able to contribute to Scotland's future prosperity.

Sylvia Jackson spoke about the importance of partnership. The document "Making it work together" reflects the partnership agreement between the Labour party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the partnership that we, as an Executive, want to have with this Parliament and with its committees in implementing many of those measures. We believe that the partnership is important within the United Kingdom in order to ensure that Scotland gets the best deal. Above all, the partnership is with the people of Scotland.

Many of us fought and worked for a Scottish Parliament because we believed that, when we had a Parliament that could determine Scotland's domestic agenda, we could make a difference to the lives of the people of Scotland. When the pledges in this document are implemented on the timetable that we have set, they will make a difference to the people of Scotland—a difference for the better.

I beg members to support the motion.

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

The debate on the Government's programme is concluded. The amendment and the motion will be put to the vote at 5 o'clock.