Scottish Executive's Record

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 6th March 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 9:30 am, 6th March 2003

The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3986, in the name of David McLetchie, on the record of the Scottish Executive.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Labour's latest slogan is

"Four Years, Forty Real Achievements", but it is the hollowest of hollow boasts. One does not need to be Einstein to know that there is deep disillusionment with devolution even among those who were once its most ardent supporters. Devolution has simply not lived up to the inflated and unrealistic expectations of four years ago. The blame for that lies fairly and squarely with our Government of the past four years, which has been a Labour and Liberal Dimocrat—sorry, Liberal Democrat—coalition.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Yes, I was right first time. I will start putting that on posters.

In "Recording Our Achievements"—as the Executive calls them—the claim is made that the Executive has focused on the five areas of health, education, transport, crime and the economy, which affect everyone regardless of who they are and where they live. I agree that those are indeed the key issues. Given that they are, however, people are entitled to ask why we have wasted so much time, effort and money during the past four years on politically correct nonsenses such as land reform, section 28, fox hunting, fur farming and trying to brand loving parents as criminals.

We all know that the latest First Minister likes to pretend that history began when he took office—the year-zero, Pol Pot approach to politics. Fortunately, voters have slightly longer memories and will rightly judge Labour on its record over four years. That record is one of failure to deliver real improvement, irrespective of who has been notionally in charge.

More important, the Executive is failing on its own terms. It claims to champion the poor and to stand for enterprise and fairness. I do not doubt its sincerity, but there is nothing fair about failing public services or taking more and more from people in taxes while failing to deliver real improvements. Under Labour, we have had 53 tax increases since 1997, but we have not experienced the improvements in public services such as health and education that we are entitled to expect in return.

The Executive does not seem to realise why, so perhaps I can help it. The failure comes from the fact that the Labour party in Scotland and its fellow travellers—that lot, the Liberal Democrats—still cling to the outdated belief that more regulation, higher taxes, higher spending and more centralised state control are the answers to all our problems.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

By implication, Mr McLetchie views the last Conservative Administration—I hope that it is the very last—as a success. However, its record included the two biggest recessions since the second world war, the introduction of the iniquitous poll tax and mass unemployment, which it used quite deliberately as an economic tool. If that is success, would Mr McLetchie care to admit to any failures?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I will gladly confess to the fact that the Conservatives transformed the economy of Scotland and set Britain as a whole on the right path. In the things that it has done right, the Labour Government has adopted and copied our approach. It is clear that Labour has benefited by learning lessons from the Conservative approach in the few things that it has done well. Bill Butler would do well to reflect on that.

The attitude of mind of the Labour Administration is that the state and society are one and the same. For Labour, only the state can improve our quality of life, so more and more power is accumulated at the centre. The state will run everything, control everything, regulate everything, monitor everything, have targets for everything and tell everyone what to do. The same prescription comprehensively failed our economy in the past and it works no better now as a way of improving our public services or strengthening society.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Sorry, perhaps later.

The fact that that approach does not work has not prevented all the other parties in the chamber from offering variations on the theme. The Liberal Democrats like to preen themselves with the notion that they have made the difference in Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

However, that just shows how out of touch the Liberal Democrats are. Only a Liberal such as Mr Rumbles would want to take credit for a record of failure. The truth is that the Liberal Democrats invented the irrelevance agenda long before Labour took it up. Their incompetence is equalled only by their insufferable, self-righteous sanctimony. They are no so much a political party as a bunch of charlatans. The Liberal Democrats are simply a pale imitation of Labour and they should do the honest thing by merging with Labour.

The Scottish National Party is no better. In the last analysis, it offers us a change of passport but not a change of policy—only even more of the same. It claims to be an Opposition party but has opposed only three Government bills in three and a half years of the Parliament. That is because the SNP is a self-proclaimed left-wing political party that is a fully paid up member of the political establishment that is failing Scotland today.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Given all that Mr McLetchie has said, he should cast his eye on the benches behind him. It is an open secret that, if the Conservatives lose more than four seats at the next election, his job is up for grabs. Will Mr McLetchie look at his own house before tidying up everyone else's?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

For Mr Wilson to advise on losing jobs is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. He will be in the unemployment queue a lot earlier in his political life than I will be in mine.

Scotland deserves a great deal better. The Scottish Conservatives are the only party that offers a genuine alternative. In Scotland today, too much power is concentrated in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats and too little resides with the institutions and people who make up our society. That is why our policies are based on the principle of decentralisation—what we might call real devolution—which seeks to reduce the scope and power of the state and its agencies and to give back power to parents, patients, professionals and local communities. We know that politicians do not have all the answers and that we must place our trust in people.

Scotland needs a programme of reform that restores people to individual, independent citizenship. Instead of treating people as victims of a society who are in constant need of help, we would treat them as responsible adults who are capable of making choices for themselves. The key is to create opportunities for self-improvement to enable people to fulfil their potential and to rise as far as their talents and efforts will take them. That means providing a firm foundation of high- quality public services on which people can rely and which will enable them to build a better future for themselves and their families.

That must start from a secure foundation of public order. Crime, especially violent crime, is rising in Scotland today. Such crime affects everyone in every community but, as we all know, it preys disproportionately on some of the most vulnerable people in our society: the poor, the elderly, youngsters drawn into drug abuse and people from our ethnic communities. In response to the situation, the Scottish Executive came up with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which proposed to ban smacking and to send 16 and 17-year-old offenders to the children's panel. How typical of a justice department that is headed by Jim Wallace and the Liberal Democrats.

Beating crime and providing secure communities requires real reform. I believe that that must start from a zero-tolerance approach. We need to tackle crime at its roots by challenging the graffiti, vandalism and yobbery that undermine so many communities and create a culture of crime. Our police forces should be far more accountable to the communities that they serve. Crime figures should be published for each neighbourhood. Fundamental to the success of such an approach is to put far more police officers on our streets to ensure that there is a visible presence to deter crime and to detect criminals.

Of course, that means that we must have a criminal justice system that is capable of dealing with the work load. That requires an improved prosecution service, an efficient courts system, certainly more places in secure accommodation for persistent young offenders and enough prison places to meet the demands of justice. As someone once rightly said, "Prison works." It protects the public and it deters criminal behaviour—

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

It would work a lot better if Mr Rumbles were in it.

The prison service is not perfect. We should try to rehabilitate offenders, but let us not forget that the number 1 priority is the protection of the public. We need honest sentences with limited remission that has to be earned and is not granted automatically. If we are to consider alternatives to prison—as the Justice 1 Committee is—such as community service or tagging, those alternatives must not be regarded as a soft option. They must be properly supervised and they must be sanctions in which the public can have confidence; they must act as punishment, as a deterrent and as a road to rehabilitation.

Nowhere is the Executive's failure more apparent than in health. Our centralised bureaucratic system of health care is failing us all. Choice is the preserve of the few when it should be the right of us all. Most of us have to settle for what is on offer rather than what we would choose for ourselves. There has been extra spending—I acknowledge that. The Executive has completed the Conservative hospital building programme, financed in part by methods that we pioneered and that the Executive once scorned. However, I thank the Executive for that.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

Aside from acknowledging the increased investment in the national health service, will Mr McLetchie commit himself to matching it or is he still fixed on cuts of 20 per cent across the board?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

We are happy to commit ourselves to the planned budgets over the next three years for the totality of the health service. We will combine that with a programme of reform that will deliver better results. We are about giving people value for money and for the taxes that they pay, unlike the Labour party, which, regrettably, has consistently failed to give value for money.

Our health service is failing our patients. It is no wonder that the launch of Mr Chisholm's charter had to be shelved, given that patients are now waiting longer on longer waiting lists, which now have 19,000 more people on them than in 1999. So much for Labour saving the NHS.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No, I am sorry, but I must move on.

The fact that some patients might have to be shipped overseas in order to receive the treatment that they need in a reasonable time is the ultimate admission of failure on the part of the Minister for Health and Community Care. It would be better if, instead of shipping patients abroad, he went there himself to learn how other countries in western Europe run their systems more effectively than we do in the interests of all their citizens.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I must make my point, but I will give way in a second.

The problem is that, despite all the evidence piling up that the minister's centralising approach is not working, he prescribes even more of the same medicine.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I will take Mr Lyon's intervention first.

The minister's white paper takes centralisation to new lengths by taking power away from hospitals and giving it back to health boards. He is going in exactly the opposite direction from Alan Milburn down south, who is taking the Conservative medicine. As a result of the Executive's approach, Scottish patients will be the losers once again.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Mr McLetchie said that we should look to Europe to discover how things are done. How come the Tories spent less on health provision than the average in the rest of Europe for 20 years, making the health service the mess that it is today?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

If Mr Lyon looks at the figures, he will discover that public sector health spending in Britain is consistently higher. When one brings together all the elements, the totality of health spending is greater. The commonsense thing for any Government to do is to ensure that increasing expenditure is provided by the state and the independent and voluntary sectors to expand the total investment in health care and the services that are available to our citizens.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I am bewildered by the fantasy that David McLetchie has created. The vast majority of people in Scotland know that the last Conservative Government was the most centralising Government in the history of this country. Anybody in local government or the health service will tell him that. If he reads the white paper on health, he will know that its central theme is decentralisation, which is the exact opposite of his caricature of our approach.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

What Mr Chisholm says about his white paper proves my point. Labour members are masters of sophistry—they say one thing in writing and do another in practice. The truth of the matter is that it was the Conservative party that established the principle of fundholding. Some 50 per cent of general practitioners were on their way to achieving full fundholding in 1997 until, in an act of ideological vandalism and dogma, the Labour party destroyed a system that was delivering better results for patients and a better deal for the taxpayer. Of that, the Labour party stands guilty.

Let us move on to the next subject, because my time is—

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No, I have already responded to three interventions in a row.

Let us face the facts. Our health service needs reform, but we will not get it from our present Administration. In many respects, education faces similar problems. We have a one-size-fits-all system that is supposed to be about equality, but there is an enormous gulf between the best and the worst-performing schools. Far too many of our pupils are trapped in catchment area prisons. Overwhelmingly, those pupils are in our most deprived communities, which denies them educational opportunities to improve their quality of life.

We know that standards of discipline are falling in our schools. The number of attacks on our teachers is now seven times higher than in 1997—in Scottish schools, there were 5,412 attacks last year alone and there is one attack every 15 minutes of the working day. Headmasters are constrained by Labour's targets to reduce pupil exclusions and they are powerless to remove from the classroom violent and disruptive pupils who cause mayhem. Is it any wonder that so many of our children are unable to read and write properly, as was recently revealed? Mr McConnell and his Executive might promise excellence for all, but the reality is mediocrity or worse for far too many.

We need reform to raise standards and to extend opportunity. We do not need to return to an era where only a select few benefited from high-quality academic education. We can do better than that. We can create a system that caters for the needs of every child. That means giving parents the choice of a diverse range of schools. Nearly 1,000 secondary schools in England specialise in business, engineering, maths, technology, languages, sport and the arts. That number is expected to double by 2006. What is the situation here in Scotland? We have a paltry seven specialist schools with no increase in prospect—what a scandalous poverty of ambition on the part of the Executive. We need a major expansion in the number of specialist secondary schools. Parents should be able to set up their own schools with state funding, as happens in Denmark and the Netherlands. That is the effective way of extending opportunity and choice to pupils and parents in Scotland, irrespective of their backgrounds.

We know that we will be able to do everything that we—all of us in the chamber—want to do in public services if we have a dynamic and competitive economy. Labour's return to tax-and-spend measures and its obsession with regulation threatens to impoverish us all. Business in Britain is struggling with a burden of an extra £15 billion of higher taxes and red tape and the competitive advantage and legacy that Labour inherited from us is being steadily eroded.

We need to create the right environment in Scotland for business by reducing the burden of tax and by cutting red tape. Some people might be aware that the Scottish Executive has a unit that supposedly improves regulation in Scotland. It was the brainchild of Mr McLeish, who christened it IRIS—the improving regulation in Scotland unit. IRIS recently celebrated her third birthday. Guess how many regulations she has abolished? None. We need in Scotland not an IRIS, but a CURTIS—a determination to cut unnecessary red tape in Scotland. That is what we are pledged to do.

When we were last in government, we worked hard to establish a uniform business rate throughout the UK—a level playing field for all businesses. Along came the Scottish Parliament and along came Labour and our hard-won parity was tossed out the window. Our businesses now pay a rate poundage that is 9 per cent higher than their competitors pay down south.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No, I am sorry, I am coming to the end of my speech.

That policy should be reversed as a matter of urgency. We should cut business rates and restore a uniform business rate throughout the United Kingdom.

Let us not forget the much-needed improvements to our roads network, which is essential to our export-oriented economy. Those improvements have been at a standstill—although the Executive is now falling over itself with announcements—thanks to the Executive's roads review. It is time to get Scotland moving again and to make up for lost time. Some of the £250 million that is being squandered in the enterprise budget on consultancy services should be redevoted to cutting business rates and to improving transport links. We are determined to focus spending on practical measures to help all businesses in Scotland and not just a select few.

The ultimate irony for the Executive parties must be that their record in government has undermined public confidence in their whole devolution project. People know that they are paying more in taxes. Indeed, the average family in Scotland will be paying an extra £445 a year following the increase in national insurance contributions, the freezing of income tax allowances and the rises in council tax, yet they see very little in return. Far too much of that money is wasted and does not reach the front line of our public services.

That waste and incompetence is epitomised by the Holyrood building project. Follyrood will for ever stand as a monument to the past four years of Labour and Liberal Democrat rule. The fact that the cost of the project has risen by £300 million is both a farce and a national scandal and the guilty must be brought to book. The First Minister said that it was the biggest single disappointment of devolution. He was right, but what a brass neck he has. Labour promised that the building would cost only £40 million, Labour chose the Holyrood site, Labour rejected a fixed-price tender, Labour ruled out the private finance initiative, and Labour MSPs and their Liberal Democrat lackeys voted on four separate occasions in the Parliament to proceed with the project.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Government continues to abdicate its responsibility by carrying on and signing the blank cheques—money with which we could and should have built schools, hospitals and roads.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I think, Mr McLetchie, that you are over time and should bring your remarks to a conclusion. There should be no more interventions.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Nothing—absolutely nothing—better illustrates why Scotland needs a change of Government than that whole sorry episode. Holyrood is truly Scotland's disgrace.

I shall conclude with a retrospective on 1997 and the whole issue of tax, waste and failure to deliver. Members of the Labour party might like to look again at their 1997 election manifesto, which said:

"The level of public spending is no longer the best measure of the effectiveness of government".

Improvements in our public services were supposed to come about through a twin programme of what was called investment and reform. However, all that Scottish ministers can do in this Parliament is boast about how much they are spending, because there is no programme of reform in Scotland that is worthy of the name.

Scottish Labour is the Status Quo party, strumming the same three chords and wondering why the people do not buy their record any more. On 1 May, people will have a chance to vote for the Scottish Conservatives for a change—a change very much for the better.

I move,

That the Parliament notes that four years of government by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have not achieved the better public services and stronger economy that people in both our urban and rural communities were led to expect and believes that Scotland needs an Executive that will undertake a coherent programme of reform designed to boost Scotland's economic performance and improve our public services by reducing the burden of tax and red tape, empowering parents, professionals and local communities and increasing choice and accountability.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 9:53 am, 6th March 2003

I had got to about 20 minutes and counted one thing that David McLetchie got right. Then he got into his 20 th minute and got his second thing right. Voters will indeed have an opportunity to vote Conservative on 1 May, yet once again they will not do it, because they know that David McLetchie's other correct point was that voters, like the rest of us in the Parliament, have a very long memory. Even if Mr McLetchie chooses to gloss over what went before, we will not allow him to do so.

Why should the attitude of the Conservatives surprise us? As everyone in the chamber knows, the Tories did not want a Scottish Parliament and they campaigned against it. After four years, what do we have? We have a motion that attacks the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. The motion contains nothing new. It is the same old whingeing motion that we have come to expect from the Tories. In fact, it was probably drafted around 12 September 1997, the day after the Tories failed to stop the referendum victory. They immediately set out to rubbish the Parliament and I am afraid that they just cannot kick that habit.

The Conservative motion attacks the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive and its record of achievement. The Executive is proud of its record and I believe that it has good reason to be proud. Let us look at that record. By the end of this parliamentary session, the Executive will have introduced 50 bills, every one of which will make a difference to the lives of the people of Scotland. Every one of those bills reflects our concern for our people and none of them would have been introduced if the Tories had had their way and prevented the Parliament from being established.

Indirectly, the Tories have played a part in deciding the Executive's priorities because, if it were not for the Tories' 18 years of flawed policies, we would not have had to introduce those bills. We would not have to invest so heavily to help the unemployed back to work and we not have to invest so massively in education, health and housing.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Patricia Ferguson talks about investment, but does she agree that the way in which the Executive is investing, through the private finance initiative, shows that she endorses Tory policy?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Absolutely not. Our public investment is not just in capital. A whole lot of other things have to go into making those services work. Unlike the Conservatives, we are not cutting staff for those facilities; we are ensuring that the facilities are adequately staffed.

I do not accept what Phil Gallie says at all. What I will say is that—

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No. I am talking about the 18 years of Conservative rule and I seem to remember that the SNP had something to do with that.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

The Liberals voted Labour out in 1979. The minister should take a look at history.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Members on the Executive benches are proud of their history. I am not sure that other members can say the same thing.

It took the Tories 18 years to wreak havoc across our public services. In the six short years that Labour has been in power at Westminster, and in the four years that the coalition has operated here, we have made massive inroads into redressing the damage that the Tories did.

Let us look at our record in more detail. On the economy and jobs, we have created 20,000 modern apprenticeships, one year ahead of schedule. We have frozen the business rate for a year and we have encouraged business through our "A Smart, Successful Scotland" strategy. What did the Tories do? They presided over unemployment rates that twice hit 3 million. How did they react to that shaming fact? They said that it was a price worth paying. What are they suggesting they will do now—if they ever get a chance, that is? They will take £250 million out of the enterprise network, as Mr McLetchie confirmed this morning, and spend it on transport. That is more than half Scottish Enterprise's budget and more than Scottish Enterprise can spend annually on skills.

On health, we have introduced free nursing and personal care for our older people, helping 75,000 of our most vulnerable Scots. We are investing £100 million over four years in the health improvement fund and we have recruited 1,400 more doctors and nurses. What did the Tories do? By 1997, residents in my city of Glasgow were 66 per cent more likely to die prematurely than people living in rural Dorset were. At the same time, the number of nurses in Scotland reduced by 8,490 between 1989 and 1997.

I should tell Mr McLetchie that I worked in the health service for many years during the Conservatives' period in office and I do not recognise the picture of the NHS that he paints. The picture that most of us who worked in the health service at that time saw was one where patients did not get the treatment that they wanted, where the bureaucracy was overwhelming and where, from day to day, we did not know where the next reform was coming from. Well, we did know that—it came from the Conservatives—but we did not know how it would make a difference to our working lives.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will give way in a moment.

If the past of the NHS under the Tories was bad, what would its future be like? We know that they want to break up the health service and that, given the opportunity, that would be their priority. Conservative members are not contradicting that.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Mr McLetchie may intervene if he wishes.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I would like to ask the minister two things. First, will she confirm that there were more nurses in Scotland in total in 1995 than there are today? Secondly, if she thinks that we are busy trying to privatise the health service by seeking to establish foundation hospitals here in Scotland, does she think that Mr Milburn is privatising the NHS in England and Wales?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The figure that I quoted answers Mr McLetchie's first question. In Scotland, the number of nurses reduced by more than 8,000 between 1989 and 1997.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

If David McLetchie wants to quote figures from a particular year, he can do that when he is speaking. I will quote from the Conservative's health spokesperson, Liam Fox, who operates for the Conservatives at Westminster. He said:

"We've got a problem in this country where the NHS and health care have been synonymous. We're here to break that."

I have news for him; we will not let the Conservatives do that.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Order. There is a difference between making witty interjections and sledging. This is becoming a bit of a sustained barracking.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

In education, we have provided a nursery place for every three and four-year old whose parents want that place. We have guaranteed class sizes of 30 or less for all five, six and seven-year-olds. For the first time, more than half of Scotland's school leavers now go into further or higher education.

The Tories invested money in a bureaucratic nursery voucher scheme instead of increasing nursery places. The other thing that they did in education was to introduce the assisted places scheme.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The Executive claims to have guaranteed nursery places. How does that square with Labour-controlled East Lothian Council's saying that it cannot guarantee the nursery places that the minister talks about?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

A colleague behind me has just remarked that it is interesting that, as soon as we mention the assisted places scheme, we have an intervention from Mr Monteith—I would not want to comment on that. The information that we have from East Lothian Council is that it says no such thing about its ability to provide nursery places. Perhaps Mr Monteith should go back and check his source.

On transport, we have introduced free local off-peak bus travel for our older people. We are investing £690 million in a package of improvements to Scotland's motorway and trunk road network over three years. Also important is the fact that we are investing money in road safety schemes to cut the number of children killed in traffic accidents. What did the Tories do? Not a lot, surprisingly enough. In fact, in their last year in government, they reduced to zero the number of grants that they gave to local authorities for public transport.

On crime, we have introduced new measures against anti-social neighbours, we have taken powers to allow the confiscation of the profits of criminals who deal in drugs and we are implementing a range of new measures to tackle youth crime, which is a blight in so many of our communities. What did the Tories do? They tried to block attempts to remove handguns from society. Moreover, recorded crime rose by 42 per cent under the Conservatives.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No thank you.

By any comparison, I think that the Executive's record is good, but by comparison with the Tories' record over 18 years it is excellent. I believe that what we have done is only a start, which an incoming Administration will be able to build on, because there is still a lot to do. There is still a lot to do in social justice, health and education, but the Executive knows what it wants to do and what its priorities are. The SNP's idea of divorce from the rest of the UK, with all the instability and danger that that would bring, is not for us and certainly not for us is the 20 per cent cut in spending on public services that the Conservatives would impose.

We want to continue to make real investment in our public services, which is possible only because of the economic stability of the United Kingdom and would not be possible if the nationalist dream of divorce were ever realised. We want more nurses, teachers and police officers. That would not be possible if the Tories' plan to cut investment in those services were ever realised.

I am sure no one in the chamber has forgotten what it was like to live under a Tory Government. There was—to name but a few things—the poll tax, massive unemployment and high mortgage rates. As I said, the Tories have, in spite of themselves, helped to shape the agenda of the Parliament because of the pressing need to reverse the effect that they had on our country.

The Tories are also responsible for a whole lot more. They are responsible for creating a whole generation of new political activists, many of whom are sitting in the Parliament—people such as me who would never have dreamed of joining a political party if they had not experienced Conservative government at first hand. Collectively, we have a vision of the Scotland that we want. We want a Scotland where all our children can achieve to the best of their potential, where our old people and our sick receive the best possible care, where people have meaningful work and where our old people are not afraid to leave their homes at night. We want a Scotland where pensioners can put on their central heating timer to coincide with their return home after having used their free bus pass to pick up their grandchildren from their free nursery places. We have worked hard to make progress towards our goals and we will continue to do that. We have done a lot, but there is a lot more to do.

I move amendment S1M-3986.2, to leave out from "not achieved" to end and insert:

"delivered a clear record of achievement which includes, amongst many other accomplishments, a full legislative programme and Executive action in urban and rural areas that has led to record investment in the health service, the abolition of tuition fees, the introduction of free personal care for older people, nursery places for all three- and four-year-olds whose parents want them, record numbers of police, an increase in the seizure of class 'A' drugs by 173%, freezing business rates, rates relief for small businesses and a substantial programme for long-term investment in transport; notes that Scotland has achieved the lowest level of unemployment for 25 years, and further believes that the next Parliament will have every opportunity to build upon the foundations laid in this first session for a prosperous, confident Scotland."

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 10:05 am, 6th March 2003

I apologise to the Presiding Officer and Mr McLetchie for my slightly late arrival.

So far, the debate seems to have been one between Labour and the Conservative party about who is more Tory than who. The truth is that the past four years have been four years of failure by the Labour-Lib Dem Executive. It is a marriage of convenience that has been more than inconvenient for the Scottish people. As it prepares to leave office, it leaves behind it a record that makes very depressing reading. Its record shows that it has consistently failed the country and our people across all areas of government.

Let us consider the reality. One in three Scottish children still lives in poverty. The Scottish economy is underperforming and there is low long-term growth. Violent crime, serious assaults, drug crimes and vandalism have all increased since the Executive came to power. Under the Executive, large class sizes mean that our schools cannot deliver the best education to children in their formative years and, because of a lack of staff and a lack of beds, people are waiting too long for medical treatment.

Scotland is a rich country. It is blessed with great resources and great potential, but none of that potential is being realised. The Executive has had its four years; it is time for it to make way for real ambition.

First, let us look at the junior partners in the Executive. We need only compare the Lib Dems rhetoric before the last election with the reality to see how their thirst for power has overcome any thirst for justice or for the real improvements to their lives that the people of Scotland need.

The Lib Dems promised to abolish tuition fees, but all that they did was back-end instead of front-end the fees and hope that no one would notice. They promised to introduce maximum waiting times; they stated that they would

"identify firm limits for waiting times in every specialty."

The reality is that waiting times have increased by 16 per cent, waiting lists are up 10,000 and 85,000 fewer people are being treated by the NHS than in 1999.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does the SNP accept the fact that the Scottish Executive paid the £3,000-plus tuition fees lock, stock and barrel?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I recognise that the Scottish Executive thinks that people are stupid enough to believe that if they pay afterwards instead of ahead of the game, that somehow means that they are not paying. That might be the way that Mike Rumbles runs his finances, but it is not the way that the rest of us do.

The Lib Dems promised to reform prisons and, specifically, to cut prisoner numbers. The most recently released figures show that the average prison population in Scotland has reached an all-time high.

Tolls on the Skye bridge are still in place. Charges for eye and dental checks are still in place, despite the fact that the Lib Dems said that that was their first priority in a national health screening scheme. I notice that that pledge may make it back into their manifesto.

People might suggest that the Lib Dems should save some money and reissue their 1999 manifesto, as clearly not much has changed. Of course, they cannot do that because what has changed is their former commitment to proportional representation. That must be their most baffling achievement of the past four years. Most of us thought that if they stood for anything, they stood for PR. However, astonishingly, they failed to support Tricia Marwick's bill to introduce PR for local government. They had a chance to vote for PR when it counted and they bottled it. If they are prepared to ditch that commitment, what would they not sell out? Perhaps they should list in their manifesto the things that they have no real intention of pursuing any more.

I see that some of the Tories are sniggering at the Lib Dems—I grant that it is easy to do. However, while Labour and the Lib Dems have failed Scotland, the Tories have a cheek to criticise anybody else's record of governance in Scotland. The Tories are the party that brought us the poll tax and 18 years of Thatcherism, introduced privatisation into the public sector and destroyed our country's economic base. Despite David McLetchie's sweeping description of the establishment in this chamber, the truth is that the Conservative party is in administration in Perth and Kinross Council only because it is in coalition with Labour there. That is the real coalition that is beginning to emerge across the country. Scotland has not forgotten—and will never forget—what Tory rule means, which is precisely why the Tories are flat-lining in the opinion polls.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Why then does the SNP sustain Labour in power in Dumfries and Galloway?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

On the evidence of Patricia Ferguson's example this morning, the plan is to bore the electorate into submission in the upcoming election. Labour somewhat belatedly kicked off its election campaign with a document that boasted of "Four Years, Forty Real Achievements", but all it did was expose the failure of the Labour party. In truth, the record is not so much top 40 but top of the flops. Even the most cursory examination shows up that document as nothing more than a collection of weasel words and a litany of lies, which is what we have come to expect from the Labour party.

People cannot trust the Labour party. Crime is up, but rates of prosecution are down. People feel the truth of that and, consequently, confidence in our criminal justice system is eroding rapidly. On health, Labour crows that it has guaranteed new jobs for all new nurses and midwives, but there are 1,869 nursing vacancies in our hospitals, which is an increase of 12 per cent on last year and 46 per cent since new Labour came to power in 1999. Meanwhile, the drop-out rate for student nurses is one in four—it is easy to guarantee jobs for new recruits if one knows that one has not recruited anywhere near enough in the first place. Labour should try offering a decent wage and see whether that makes a difference.

On the economy, Labour claims that unemployment is down by a quarter to its lowest level in 25 years, but the fact is that massive levels of unemployment in Glasgow, Dundee, Lanarkshire and elsewhere are concealed within the headline figures. Those figures do not include the massive numbers of people who are excluded because, instead of signing on, they receive other state benefits. Labour politicians used to complain about the Tories' fiddled figures, but they have learned more than one lesson from the Tories.

Scotland has suffered decades of low growth and relative economic decline. We are a nation of huge potential, but our economy is structurally geared for low growth and our most disadvantaged communities are paying the price for that underperformance. Labour knows that it has failed Scotland on the economy and that only the SNP has the policies to release Scotland's economic potential—the Labour party has admitted that to itself and it should admit it to the Scottish people.

It is a pity that the First Minister is not here, because the Scottish Executive's record is very much Jack McConnell's record. He is the longest-serving—perhaps that should be "surviving"—Labour member of the Cabinet and, as he is First Minister and former Minister for Finance and Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs, the buck for much that is wrong in Scotland must stop with him. His sticky fingerprints are all over the Executive's successive failures—it is too late for him to plead that it was not him, he was not there. He might not be in the chamber very often—he has obviously been taking lessons from Tony Blair on how to deal with parliamentary chambers—but he has been at the heart of the Executive all along. His culpability is self-evident.

In Patricia Ferguson's amendment, the Executive has managed to distil the 327 so-called policy commitments in the Executive's glossy document "Recording Our Achievements" and the Labour party's "Four Years, Forty Real Achievements" down to what it presumably believes to be the top 10 from its top of the flops. The amendment claims

"record investment in the health service", but with waiting lists and waiting times soaring, patients would be right to ask where that money is going. The amendment mentions free personal care for the elderly but, as I recall, some members of the Labour party had to be dragged kicking and screaming into supporting that policy, which was a victory for the Parliament, not the Executive.

The amendment mentions nursery places, but in Scotland parents still pay for 75 per cent of their child care overall, compared with 17 per cent in Sweden, 20 per cent in Spain and 15 per cent in Finland. The amendment states that there are "record numbers of police", but we should consider the facts: in December 1997, there were 15,050 police officers in Scotland and, by June 2002, there were 15,324. It is true that that is a marginal increase, but it should be compared to the figure of more than 16,000 that there will be when the SNP forms the Government.

The amendment mentions "freezing business rates" and

"rates relief for small businesses", but when Jack McConnell was Minister for Finance, he increased business taxes twice.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Given the member's previously expressed like for the Liberal Democrats, does she rule out joining the Liberal Democrats in a future coalition, if the SNP were the largest party after the election?

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

I would be astonished to discover that I have ever indicated a like for the Liberal Democrats. Members would be wise to wait for the results of the election before making coalition agreements.

The Executive amendment also claims

"a substantial programme for long-term investment in transport", but, of course, a programme is not delivery. Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money left the railways as private profit under the Tories' failed privatisation project. Devolution gave the Scottish Executive the responsibility for funding trains but not for the rails on which they run—a better metaphor for the whole devolution settlement would be hard to find.

Perhaps the Executive's biggest and most significant failure is its apparent indifference to the almost despairing response of the people of Scotland to the Executive's performance. Time after time we see evidence that ordinary people feel desperately let down—and so they should. The Executive gives no indication that it gives a damn, which is the most damning indictment of all.

In contrast, the SNP has consistently won the debate on fiscal autonomy for Scotland by having

"a clearer, stronger and more consistent" economic message than the Labour party's. It was heartening to know that people within the Labour party recognise that point; it is a pity that we will not hear a similar recognition on the record in the chamber. The SNP is winning the argument and the Labour party knows it. According to an NFO System Three poll last year, 70 per cent of Scots want financial independence and that call for full financial freedom has been backed by leading voices in Scottish academia. The Labour party cannot afford to ignore such voices and Scotland cannot afford to wait much longer.

The Tory motion notes:

"four years of government by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have not achieved the better public services and stronger economy that people in both our urban and rural communities were led to expect", which is true. However, having identified the problem, the Tories fail to propose the obvious solution, which is to give the Parliament the powers that it needs: the powers of a normal parliament in a normal nation to shape its own future. That is why my amendment recognises that

"a change of government is essential to reverse the decline in public services", and expresses the belief that

"only with the normal powers of an independent Parliament will Scotland be able to release its full potential."

I move amendment S1M-3986.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:

"regrets that four years of government by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have failed to improve on the disastrous record of 18 years of Conservative rule; notes that since the Labour/Liberal Executive came to power, hospital waiting lists have grown longer, violent crime has risen, one in three children live in poverty and the economy has recorded the lowest level of growth anywhere in the European Union; recognises that a change of government is essential to reverse the decline in public services, and believes that only with the normal powers of an independent Parliament will Scotland be able to release its full potential."

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:16 am, 6th March 2003

I remind members of the 18 years of failure by successive Tory Governments and the legacy those Governments left in Scotland. It is clear from David McLetchie's speech that the Tories, to a man, have succumbed to amnesia about everything that took place before 1997, which was year zero for the Tories. We must highlight the legacy of failure because the failure to invest in public services and the transport system, the failure to widen our economic base and the complete failure to tackle the problems of rural Scotland are the starting point in judging the Liberal-Labour coalition's achievements in its first four years in power.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Does George Lyon ever travel the roads of Scotland? Has he travelled to the Borders on the M74 or on the dual carriageway up to Aberdeen, which were Tory infrastructure improvements? Can he tell me of one new road that the Executive has provided since it came to office?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

We all remember the privatisation of the railways.

The Liberal-Labour coalition is investing record sums in Scotland's national health service—the real-terms growth of more than 6 per cent a year is unprecedented in modern times and the £7.3 billion of health spend next year will put Scotland above the European average. The coalition has recruited 572 extra doctors, 840 extra nurses and 77 more dentists since 1999 and £100 million is being invested in health promotion to tackle the causes of ill health rather than treat the symptoms. That long-term investment will take time to pay off, but it is important if we are to improve Scotland's appalling health record. This year, 75,000 older people will receive free personal care—a flagship policy of the coalition.

We should contrast that record of investing in and rebuilding the NHS with the Tory legacy of failure. Under the Tories, 50,000 nurses left the NHS, but the creation of the internal market resulted in a 22 per cent increase in the number of managers.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Is it traditional for coalition partners to try to sink their own flagship, which Labour members tried to do during the course of the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Bill?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The power and influence that the Liberal Democrats have had in the coalition are highlighted by the fact that it is a flagship policy of the coalition.

Iain Duncan Smith—whom members would be delighted to welcome to Scotland on a regular basis, apart from his Scottish Tory colleagues—knows that the Tory health spokesman, Dr Liam Fox, gave the game away at the Tory party conference in April 2002 when he revealed a four-phase strategy to undermine the national health service, which would lead to patients having to pay for their health care. That is the Tories' real agenda—abandoning the principle of making health care free at the point of delivery, as David McLetchie confirmed again this morning. It is time that they were honest about that.

The Liberal-Labour coalition has invested heavily in our children's education, providing pre-school places for every three and four-year-old. We have recruited 738 extra teachers and 1,500 extra staff and, as part of the McCrone deal, an extra 4,000 teachers will be recruited and teachers will receive a 20 per cent increase in their salaries. We will also have tackled the Tory legacy of crumbling and rundown schools. Whereas we saw £1 billion of underinvestment under the Tories, last year phase 1 of our £1.15 billion school building programme was announced by the Minister for Education and Young People, Cathy Jamieson. Phase 2 will be announced shortly. That is a record investment in our children's education and future.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that it is very important to have smaller class sizes, especially for our younger pupils? Does he also agree that the problem with PFI projects is the fact that the schools are not built with more classrooms to allow smaller classes? Finally, does he agree that the only way in which we can ensure that we have the schools that our children need is to have them built not for profit, so that the privateers are driven out of our education system?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The fact of the matter is that, under the SNP—the so-called business-friendly party—that £1.15 billion programme would be abandoned. The SNP has stated on the record that it would allow no PFI projects and that they would all be pulled. The SNP does not like to have the private sector involved in the public sector. I do not understand how the SNP could deliver smaller class sizes if it abandoned that school building programme.

The Liberal-Labour coalition has also improved the lot of Scottish students by abolishing tuition fees. It is interesting that Roseanna Cunningham did not reject that idea. Scottish students are no longer required to pay university fees directly to the universities; it is the Scottish Executive that now pays tuition fees. We have also brought back student grants. Student support in Scotland is now among the best in Europe, which has led to 60,000 extra students entering further education during the life of the Parliament. Scotland is leading the way in student support and students are voting with their feet. Indeed, last year, for the first time, 50 per cent of school leavers in Scotland entered further education. Unlike the Tories, the Liberal Democrats will not be part of a coalition Government that introduces top-up fees for students in Scotland.

The coalition has also introduced free travel and concessionary fares on buses and ferries for our pensioners and we are investing a record £1.2 billion in improving and renewing our transport infrastructure, reversing years of underfunding and decline under the Tories. Voters have a long memory, and the Tories will continue to be haunted for years to come by their failed privatisation of the railways. That was a victory for ideological dogma over common sense and sound public policy. Every time that a train is late, there are leaves on the tracks or there is a major accident on our railways, the general public will be reminded of the words of the former Railtrack director, Gerald Corbett, who stated that the railways were "ripped apart at privatisation", with the resulting structure designed to maximise the proceeds to the Treasury rather than safety or investment for the passengers. That is a damning indictment of the Tories' track record on transport.

The coalition has tackled crime and the fear of crime in our streets. Police numbers in Scotland are at a record high. We now have 648 more police officers than when the coalition came to power; detection rates are twice as high in Scotland as in England and Wales; and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which was set up by the Executive to tackle drug dealing, has reported a 68 per cent increase in drug seizures and a 35 per cent increase in arrests.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I would like to make some progress.

To make people feel safer in their communities, we have funded 50 additional closed-circuit television schemes, with 2,000 extra cameras. Last year, a record £933 million was spent on our police forces so that our communities would not only be safer but feel safer. The coalition will also invest a record £24 million in ensuring that our courts deliver justice quickly and efficiently. That track record on tackling crime on our streets demonstrates the fact that the Liberal-Labour coalition is making the difference when it comes to making our streets safer, in contrast to the failure of the Tory years.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

If we have all those additional police officers and if the detection rates are up, how come the prosecution levels have fallen dramatically?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The record is there. We have increased the number of police officers on the streets and detection rates in Scotland are twice as high as in England and Wales. When the Tories left office, there were 75,000 more crimes every year than when they took over. Their record on youth crime makes even grimmer reading. Of all the young offenders who were released from custody in 1995, an astonishing 60 per cent reoffended within two years. They were born under the Tories, they offended under the Tories, they were imprisoned and released under the Tories, and they reoffended under the Tories. So much for throwing them in jail being the way to cure youth crime.

The coalition has ensured that the concerns of the people who live in rural areas have been at the heart of Government policy and thinking. The historic Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 has tackled head on the national scandal of the few rich—and often absentee—individuals owning the majority of Scotland's land and blocking development in many of our rural communities. By giving crofters, communities and tenant farmers the right to buy, the coalition has empowered the ordinary men and women who live and work on Scotland's land and has reduced the power and influence of the absent few. That approach contrasts with the approach of the Tories—the landlords' lapdogs and defenders of the power and influence of the absent few day after day in the chamber. Is it any wonder that the people of Scotland continue to reject Iain Duncan Smith's Tories at the ballot box time after time?

The Liberal-Labour coalition has a strong track record of delivering in the first four years of the Parliament. The appalling legacy of failure that was left behind by the Tories and, unfortunately, continued by our Labour colleagues in their first two years in power as they stuck to the Tories' spending plans, is now being reversed. By entering into a coalition with our Labour colleagues, the Liberal Democrats have ensured that Scotland's new Parliament has had a strong and stable Government in its first term—a Government that has begun the long process of rebuilding our public services and our transport infrastructure. I am sure that I speak for my fellow Liberal Democrats when I say that we are proud to have been part of Scotland's first Government in 300 years and proud to have delivered our manifesto pledges and made the difference. I support the Executive's amendment.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 10:28 am, 6th March 2003

After listening to that brilliant speech by George Lyon, I wonder when he last listened to people in Argyll and Bute about the state of the roads, the health service and education. They are certainly not singing from the same hymn sheet as he is.

The Government's own figures from its information and statistics division, which were published last week, have confirmed the differences between the situation at the start of the Parliament and the situation now. The total NHS waiting list is up by more than 18,000 and the median waiting time has increased by 10 days. The percentages of patients who are seen within nine, 13 and 26 weeks are all down by an average of 10 per cent. The total number of out-patients seen, including those on the deferred list, has fallen by more than 83,000; the number of emergency in-patients seen is down by 561; the number of elective in-patients seen is down by 7,945; and the number of day cases is down by 14,899.

Unlike George Lyon, who would get 0 per cent for his homework, I have done my homework and I am quoting the Executive's figures, which have cost taxpayers an extra £2 billion. The recent Executive document "Recording Our Achievements" should be renamed "Cataloguing Our Disasters".

I will raise several other points in the time that I have left. The first one is on public health, which can work in a fully co-ordinated manner in an integrated programme only if inputs and outputs are fully held to account. A coalition promise on page 70 of "Recording Our Achievements" is:

"We will ensure that all schools have a sports co-ordinator by 2003."

However, in the next column, in a paragraph on progress on that promise, the Executive states that the promise

"May not be achieved" because

"not all local authorities provide the required match funding."

That is another Labour failure.

Hospital-acquired infections cost the health service £186 million and take up 11 per cent of hospital beds. How often have we heard Labour, Liberal and SNP MSPs say in the chamber that that rise is due to contracting out? However, nothing could be further from the truth. A written answer on 7 February from the Minister for Health and Community Care showed that of the 31 hospital trusts in Scotland, 24 have in-house contracts for cleaning; another five trusts mainly have in-house contracts, but each of those trusts has at least one hospital that has contracted out; and only two hospital trusts have fully contracted out their cleaning services.

The two bodies that have contracted out are Grampian Primary Care NHS Trust and NHS Shetland and both have hospitals that are in the top NHS category in Scotland for cleanliness. In category 1 are the Royal Aberdeen children's hospital, Aberdeen maternity hospital, Aberdeen royal infirmary, Aberdeen city hospital and the Royal Cornhill hospital. The hospitals that are the best in Scotland for cleanliness are those that have contracted out their cleaning services.

Like other MSPs in the Highlands, I welcomed the increased Arbuthnott funding. The Highlands got the highest increase in Scotland and were the biggest gainer. However, all the money that the Highlands were given has gone to balancing the books and reducing the year-end financial deficit. Not one penny went to service development or to tackling poverty deprivation and improving equality of access.

On the patients charter, the Minister for Health and Community Care spoke last week in the chamber about the report "Partnership for Care: Scotland's Health White Paper" and said that patients' interests are at the heart of the health service. Under the Tories, patients' interests were at the heart of the health service when we launched the patients charter in 1991. Labour ignored the patients charter from 1997 and the patients charter that was launched last week has been cancelled—I wonder why.

The television advertisements in Scotland about drugs and alcohol abuse ask parents to be more sensitive, tolerant and understanding when their children have a drugs problem. We all assume that services exist to support those who have drugs and alcohol problems. However, when families in the Highlands seek advice and support for their sons and daughters who have heroin and alcohol addictions, the support is simply not available. I was pleased that Mary Mulligan met parents in Inverness this week. She heard a parent say, "When I went along to ask for help, advice and support, they took away any hope I ever had." When alcoholics turn up for detoxification and rehabilitation, they are turned away if they smell of drink—but alcoholics sometimes do smell of drink. They are told to come back in a few weeks, when a place might be available. However, in Moray, they are told to come back in six months. Despite the increase of £2 billion in health spending, matters are definitely not getting better under the Liberal-Labour coalition in Scotland.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 10:34 am, 6th March 2003

It strikes me as being richly ironic that a party that has an appalling record of promoting the maximum amount of social and economic dislocation between 1979 and 1997 should presume to upbraid successor Governments in Scotland and Westminster. However, it will come as no surprise to the people of Scotland that the Tories retain the same purblind arrogance that characterised their period in office and that ensured that they were, properly, reduced to the insignificant rump that exhibits itself in the chamber today.

In the whole of Mr McLetchie's somewhat self-regarding contribution there was not the merest hint of an apology for the Tories' years of misrule and not the slightest acknowledgement that what they put the citizens of Scotland and the UK through was in any way a mistake. According to Mr Merry Mac McLetchie, we should accept his comic-cuts version of history at face value.

In Mr McLetchie's Orwellian rewriting of history, mass unemployment is merely a part of a vibrant free-market economy and the poll tax must be defended with no word of apology offered. Underneath Mr McLetchie's practised urbanity is an attitude that indicates that he would abolish the devolved Scottish Parliament if he were given half a chance to do so.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Bill Butler referred to economic dislocation. Is it not the case that his Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who has provided the funds for the Scottish Administration, inherited the most magnificent of economic scenarios when Labour came to power, as was acknowledged by Tony Blair in 1997? Does Bill Butler still have confidence in Mr Brown, given that his budget has been put on hold and that we are all awaiting disastrous news?

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I thank Mr Gallie for his succinct point. It is obvious that he is as much a fan of George Orwell as Mr McLetchie is. Let us get one thing straight—the Labour-led Scottish Executive and its Westminster partner will take no lessons from the Tories about Labour's record. Of course, our record is by no means perfect. No members should pretend that their parties have a monopoly on wisdom. However, unlike the Conservatives, who have a dismal catalogue of failure, we have nothing of which to be ashamed. Holyrood, in partnership with Westminster, has reduced unemployment by 25 per cent and it is at its lowest level for a quarter of a century.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

No.

Inflation and interest rates are at a record low. We can contrast that with the previous Conservative regime, which presided over interest rates that were 15 per cent in 1988 and above 10 per cent for four years. Under the Tories, too, inflation ran at 10 per cent and we had the two worst recessions since the second world war.

Today we hear from the Tories no hint of contrition for their record—there is only a deafening silence. There is no acknowledgement that lives were wasted and that potential was left untapped. Let me tell our Tory parliamentarians a truth that they might find unpalatable but which is nevertheless salutary. The people of Scotland and the UK have neither forgotten nor forgiven the Tories for 18 years of ineptitude, which was laced with an overweening certitude. I believe that too much hurt was done to too many people for it ever to be forgotten.

That does not mean that everything is now perfect, because it is not. The Executive is working hard, with its Westminster partner, to repair the destruction of the Tory years. In terms of the economy, 42,000 young people have entered employment under the new deal. They would have languished on the dole under the Tories. As for the health service, we undoubtedly inherited a complex range of problems from the Tories, but we are making a serious attempt to invest and to deliver. We will provide an extra £3.2 billion for the health service over the next five years, abolish the internal market and provide 1,400 more nurses and doctors.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

No. I will not give way to someone who uses Harley Street. I believe in the national health service.

In education, which is the key for unlocking and realising people's potential, 100 schools have been built or refurbished, nursery education has been provided for every three and four-year-old and, for the first time, over 50 per cent of our young people are continuing their studies into further or higher education.

The Tory motion represents a past that never worked and which, except for a privileged few, was never meant to work. I urge members to reject the Tory motion. The voters will certainly reject the Tories on 1 May.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 10:39 am, 6th March 2003

It is difficult and perhaps impossible for any sentient human not to feel some sympathy for the plight of Conservative MSPs, because they are led—if that is the right word—by Iain Duncan Smith. The surprising thing is why they chose to have—

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will not do so just now, but I will give way later to Sir James Douglas-Hamilton. [MEMBERS: "Lord James."] I am sorry that I demoted him.

Why, instead of a leader, did they choose an acronym? Who knows what IDS is? What does he stand for? Could it be "in dire straits"? The prospects of the Conservatives getting anywhere in Scotland seem about as likely as those of hearing an extempore speech in the Parliament from George Lyon. It is absolutely clear that the Scottish Conservatives have no prospect of success. They are the Eddie the Eagle of Scottish politics. They are going nowhere, no one is interested in what they say and no one understands their message. They have no relevance to the people of Scotland and no chance at the forthcoming election.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

The leader of our party in this Parliament is David McLetchie, and under devolution we can form our own policies, which are not necessarily the same as those south of the border. Two examples of such policies are the abolition of tuition fees and free personal care.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I did not expect a ringing endorsement of confidence in IDS from Lord James, and we did not get one. I wait with interest to see whether IDS will be unleashed on the Scottish electorate during the campaign, given reports that he is to be kept in a cupboard somewhere, away from the Scottish voters. That is a very wise decision, in my opinion.

I want to talk about the total failure of this Executive to tackle the real problems in rural Scotland. Let us look at the mainstays of the economy. We see the fishing industry facing what is without doubt the worst crisis in history, as a result of the total failure of the UK to stand up for Scottish fishermen. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, exemplified that failure in an article in the Daily Record on 4 December, in which he said that 14,000 jobs in Scotland were dependent on fishing, whereas, in fact, there are about 44,000. Tony Blair got it wrong by a factor of 300 per cent, which serves only to show his total lack of commitment to the fishing industry in Scotland.

We were promised an aquaculture strategy, but instead have a framework document that says nothing and gives no commitment. The reason for that is that the Executive is scared of the small number of incessant critics of the aquaculture industry. Rather than recognise the huge potential of that industry and give it support, the Executive undermines it, despite the fact that its standards have improved—so much that Scottish farmed salmon has won the distinction of the Label Rouge in France.

Rather than have a forward-looking forestry policy, the Executive practices studied inertia. It has totally failed to prepare the way for the wall of wood that we will see over the next few years.

Farming policies are not really formulated here; policy decisions made here are seen only as policies from a north-British outpost of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as Jim Walker, former president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, has pointed out again and again. All the major decisions are made by DEFRA, and there are worrying times ahead as we anticipate the prospect of Margaret Beckett and Lord Whitty, rather than Scottish ministers, making decisions on the decoupling of the common agricultural policy.

That situation can change only if, after 1 May, we have a Scottish Executive that will stand up for Scotland on every occasion—including standing up to the ministers at Westminster who have sold out our rural economy in the past four years.

Responsibility for the Holyrood project rests with the Labour party. The decision to go ahead with it was made by Donald Dewar, but it was ratified in June 1999 by every Labour MSP and by most Liberal MSPs, despite the fact that Donald Dewar rejected advice about the site, the contractor and the architect. That project surely is a Lib-Lab folly. It is their responsibility, and that will become absolutely clear at the forthcoming election.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 10:44 am, 6th March 2003

It appears that the true Tory agenda is now being revealed. The Conservative party remains opposed to devolution—

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

Mr McLetchie stated that quite clearly at the start of his speech. He said that he considered devolution to be a failure, which means that he must be opposed to it.

The Conservative party seeks a two-tier, partly privatised health service and a two-tier education system. When Tories talk about decentralisation, they mean taking more power away from directly elected and accountable councils and giving that power to unaccountable quangos. The Tories want to remove education from local government control, which equates to taking power from local government. Would such a move lead to better decisions being made and an increase in local accountability? No; it would mean that decisions about budgets and whether schools get money for capital investment would be taken not by local councils that are accountable to communities but by—

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

No, not by head teachers and not by communities but by Scottish Executive ministers, as they would have to allocate the budgets. That is not decentralisation; it is centralisation. Tory decentralisation always means putting more power in the hands of fewer people.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Would Iain Smith like to quote the sources on which his assertions are based, as we do not recognise them?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

How else would the budgets be funded? Who would provide the budgets for local schools? Would schools be able to raise their own money? Would they be able to tax people in order to secure funding? Someone would have to pay for the budgets and that someone would be the Scottish Executive rather than local councils. I consider that to be centralisation, not decentralisation.

However, the debate is supposed to be about the record of the Liberal Democrat and Labour partnership Government. We have made major progress and I am proud of that record. I know that there is a lot more to be done and that improvements must be made to our health service and our schools. However, we cannot be expected to undo the damage of 18 years of Conservative rule in four years.

Between 1995-96 and 1996-97, the Conservatives cut 4.4 per cent from education budgets in Scotland and left schools with a repairs backlog of £1.3 billion. Between 1979 and 1997, they cut the number of teachers by 6,000. How on earth could we have solved such major problems in our education system in the four years that we have had so far? We have made a start. We have started to invest money, which has enabled us to increase the number of teachers and deal with the backlog of repairs to our schools. However, much remains to be done.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Would the member accept that the official statistics show that overall education spending increased by 15 per cent in real terms during the 18 years of Conservative Government and that although, due to falling school rolls, the number of teachers was reduced, the teacher to pupil ratio increased, thus improving standards in education?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The figures show that, during the final years of Conservative rule, education budgets were cut left, right and centre. That caused many of the problems that we now face in our schools.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am not making things up. The figures show that there was a 4.4 per cent cut in cash terms in the education budget in the last two years of the Conservative Government, which represents a greater cut in real terms.

Student support was cut 13 times by the Conservative Government. We have abolished tuition fees in Scotland. No Scottish student pays for tuition in a Scottish university. Their tuition fees are paid directly by the Scottish Executive.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

They pay in the end, though.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

They do not. Not a penny of the graduate endowment goes towards the tuition of any Scottish student; it goes towards the £2,000 maintenance grant that was introduced by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration. The Tories do not want to admit that, but it is a fact.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

If that is the case, why did Wendy Alexander, the former Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, say on Radio Scotland this week that the graduate endowment goes directly to pay for higher education costs in Scotland?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

It does not go directly to pay for higher education costs in Scotland; it goes towards the maintenance grants of future generations who will go to university. Not a penny of it goes to universities.

Of course, the Conservatives do not want to talk about that matter because they support top-up fees. As Brian Monteith said:

"If St Andrews and other Scottish universities are to remain in the premier league ... to fund this, they may require the best universities to charge top-up fees, as in the case of Harvard and Yale".

I point out to members that those places charge up to £20,000 a year in top-up fees.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I have not made it up; it is a quote from Brian Monteith. The Conservatives' policy is that they do not want fees—they want top-up fees instead.

In the final three years of the Conservative Government, local government budgets were axed, yet council tax was increased by 25 per cent. That is the record of the Conservative Government. The Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive's record is the abolition of tuition fees, the introduction of free personal care for the elderly, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, record numbers of police and more investment in education, health and local government. That is a good record and one that I will be happy to defend in the election campaign.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 10:49 am, 6th March 2003

The Tory motion calls for

"an Executive that will undertake a coherent programme of reform designed to boost Scotland's economic performance and improve our public services by reducing the burden of tax and red tape".

Did the Tories not have 18 years to do that? Did they not have 18 years of abject failure on those issues?

The first thing that the debate reinforces is the Scottish Conservative party's astonishing brass neck, typified best by their year-zero approach. I correct Mr McLetchie: he was not the first to use that term in the chamber. I think that my colleague Brian Fitzpatrick used it with regard to the Tory party in a previous debate, so Mr McLetchie is not its author.

The Tory record is one of 18 years of economic vandalism, 18 years in which industries and communities throughout Scotland were devastated and 18 years in which the country saw the two worst recessions since the second world war. As Patricia Ferguson pointed out, unemployment soared above 3 million, even using the claimant count figures. For the people of Scotland, the Conservatives have nothing to contribute. That is reflected in their continued rejection.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I wish to continue a bit further. I will take an intervention later.

My speech will focus on transport. The Tories starved local government of finance, which resulted in the deterioration of our roads. They failed to complete the motorway that connects our two biggest economic drivers—Edinburgh and Glasgow. They presided over the sustained decline of public transport with their policy on buses. Perhaps the biggest mistake that they made on transport was the ideologically driven, last-minute privatisation of the railway industry, which resulted in higher costs for the taxpayer, a reduced emphasis on safety and increased unreliability. We are still trying to correct that situation. The only people who benefited from the Tory privatisation of the railways were the lucky handful of individuals who happened to be the managers of the rolling-stock companies, who became millionaires overnight at the expense of the British public.

As I have examined the Tories' record, I will examine Labour's record in Government since 1997 and 1999. On the economy, that record has resulted in Britain having the lowest unemployment, inflation and interest rates that we have had for generations. If it has been so easy for us to achieve that record, why did the Tories never achieve it during their years in power?

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Does Bristow Muldoon agree with me—it would be difficult not to, as I lectured economics for 20 years—that the period between 1992 and 1997 was the first time since statistics began to be collected that unemployment and inflation both fell, disproving the Phillips curve?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I am astounded that Mary Scanlon is in the Conservative party if she lectured in economics. She obviously did not understand the subject welI, and I fear for her students. The Tories' record of failure on the economy is the worst of any British Government since the second world war. If they cannot recognise that, they will never start to make any recovery in the country.

As I said, the achievements of the Labour Government under the stewardship of Gordon Brown are the lowest unemployment, inflation and interest rates for decades. They all aid and create the conditions that are necessary for economic growth.

However, that is not enough. We must invest in skills—I am sure that other colleagues will touch on that issue—and in our transport system. We have already started a major shift towards that, by investing in public transport and trying to create a move towards a better modal share of public transport within our transport system. We have created the public transport fund and the integrated transport fund, which have put money into bus and rail services in Scotland. Capacity on train routes in Fife and West Lothian is due to increase this year due to investment that the Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority are making. More rolling stock will arrive later this year, following a deal between the Scottish Executive, ScotRail and the SRA. In addition, new or reopened lines, such as the proposed new lines to our airports and the Bathgate to Airdie line, will start to come on stream. We are also increasing resources for local government to allow councils to invest in the condition of our roads and reverse the neglect that the Tories left us to inherit. We have established an investment programme that will complete some of the missing links in Scotland's motorway sections, including the M8.

We cannot put right the neglect of our transport system in four years; it will take years of sustained investment to put that right. The Tories try to deny their past and their record of failure in Scotland. I suggest to them that all the opinion polls indicate that the Scottish people have not forgotten the Tories' past. The Scottish people rejected them throughout their years in power under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and will again reject them utterly in the elections on 1 May.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 10:55 am, 6th March 2003

Bristow Muldoon mentioned that the Tories were in power for 18 years and he put the case for change. The Labour party has been in power in local government in the west of the central belt for 50 years. The argument that it is time for change can be advanced against more parties than just the Conservative party.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Does Lord James Douglas-Hamilton accept that, in a democracy, the people decide whether it is time for a change? The people decided that it was time for a change from the Tories. There is no sign of that with Labour in central Scotland.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

As Bristow Muldoon and I are good democrats, we both accept that. However, my point is that the argument that it is time for change can be advanced in a range of circumstances.

It is no secret that we want a much tougher approach to law and order than that presented by the Executive. The Executive boasts that it has provided the highest level of policing in Scotland. However, it chooses not to shout from the rooftops that, in the past four years, drug crime has gone up by 9 per cent, fire raising and vandalism have gone up by 19 per cent and gun crime, excluding air weapons, has gone up by 23 per cent. At the same time, our police services are tied up with a great many additional responsibilities and criminals are escaping prison thanks to an Executive that is desperate to pursue policies of early release and alternatives to custody to alleviate overcrowding in prisons. We believe that the Executive's policies have failed to protect the public.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I would like to develop my argument, if I may.

We want to encourage a zero-tolerance policy in policing in Scotland. To do that, we will provide £45 million to provide better protection for our neighbourhoods, £25 million of which will be additional spending for the police. Our policy will require all police boards, through their chief constables and in consultation with councils in their area, to prepare a neighbourhood protection plan to deliver a zero-tolerance approach in community policing. Further, we would introduce a system whereby local police statistics would be published to improve public accountability.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

Does Lord James Douglas-Hamilton accept that a substantial contribution to such a policy could be made under the existing community safety plans, such as that in East Dunbartonshire? Will he join me in welcoming the work of the police force in East Dunbartonshire and, in particular, the introduction of the cadet scheme? That welcome initiative to get young people into the police force has been introduced and delivered under Labour. I believe that his party might have at least attempted to welcome that initiative.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Such initiatives should always be encouraged. However, it is important to have far more police officers visible in communities. That will be our absolute resolve and top priority.

It has often been pointed out that it is no use having police officers if the criminals escape justice due to backlogs in the courts. It is just as important to have more procurators fiscal. The Chhokar inquiry recommended that we have more fiscals. Ministers, including the First Minister, do not deny that there is a pressing need for more fiscals.

We also want to increase sheriffs' sentencing powers on summary matters. We believe that that would be a sensible move, but, unfortunately, it was rejected during consideration of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. We consider the protection of the public to be paramount. That is why we believe that there should be more honesty in sentencing and that early release should not be an automatic right but should be earned. We will try to reduce the levels of automatic early release.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is Lord James Douglas-Hamilton saying that the Tory solution to the criminal justice system's problems is not only to have more people in prison but to have more people in prison for longer?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I am saying that the community should be protected from those who represent a violent danger to it. The Justice 1 Committee is about to produce a report on the sentencing of those who are in prison for minor offences, such as fine default.

Drugs threaten the fabric of society. Serial criminals are able to use the fact that they have a drug habit to escape prison through drugs courts and drug treatment and testing orders. We believe that such opportunities should be given to first-time or second-time offenders, but not to serial offenders, who should go to prison. We believe that there must be a strict, zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prisons.

We would like weekend and evening detention, tagging, community service orders, supervised attendance orders and DTTOs to be used, as well as a substantial increase made in secure accommodation for the children's hearings system.

I recommend those policies as being in tune with the electorate.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party 11:00 am, 6th March 2003

We should note a moment of history today, as the Conservatives lead what is possibly their last ever debate in the Scottish Parliament in its modern history. As Donald Dewar once famously said, the Scottish Conservatives are like the North American buffalo: once seen in great herds, but now only dotting around the place in ones and twos.

What of the Executive? We have had four years of complacency, back-stabbing and internal feuds. The result is a record that speaks for itself: a country with vast potential, yet with a mediocre performance. This country—our country—is led by a man who rules the roost by backbiting and briefing against his own senior colleagues. The fox is very much in charge of the hen-coop.

This is the Executive's record: waiting lists are up; crime is rising; one in three children live in poverty; and public services are in crisis. Perhaps most unforgivable of all, there is a paucity of ambition at the very heart of our country's Government. All the while, the country wants reform and needs growth.

When one of Scotland's leading academics, Professor Tom Devine, joins a growing consensus for reform and economic independence, Government ministers step up to the plate and condemn and dismiss one of Scotland's finest brains. They say—wait for it—that we cannot take control of our own economy and our own finances because the Government spends more money than it raises in tax. That provides the imperative for reform, not a reason not to reform.

The absurdly backward-looking Labour Executive needs to examine its conscience. The politics of the 1970s are over; we need to step forward into the 21st century. Given all that, is it any wonder that the SNP is, through the acclamation of the Labour party, winning the argument? It has clearer, stronger and more consistent policies and communication on the economy. Given that praise from our opponents, today is a heady day indeed. We recognise that we still have work to do and trust to build in the country, but we will go on trying to build a coalition of interest in Scotland growing up and moving on. We will put our case openly and positively, and we await the verdict of the people.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I sometimes think that Mr Wilson is a singular voice of sanity in the Scottish National Party, as he supports financial autonomy because he wants to use it to stimulate economic growth in order to reduce taxes. All his colleagues, however, support financial autonomy for exactly the opposite reason: they wish to raise taxes in order to fund their grandiose spending plans. What is the real policy of the SNP?

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

We often like to receive praise from our opponents, but that is one piece of praise that I would rather have missed. I shall have to go home and spend a lot of time in the bath tonight, examining my conscience—[ Laughter. ]—as well as the Official Report of my speech.

The truth is that financial independence brings with it the opportunity to deliver a vibrant economy, which, with the proper mix of taxation, will give us growth. That is the way to fund better public services. From left and right—across the political spectrum—everyone can back the case for Scotland moving on.

The current approach simply is not working. Let us examine the record: in the last period, growth has been 13 times faster in the United Kingdom as a whole than it has been in Scotland; one in four households in Strathclyde have no adult in work; the sectors currently in recession include energy, water engineering, textiles and chemicals; and the sectors with falling output include financial services, metals, food and drink and others. The economy is in deep trouble and, since Labour took power at Holyrood four years ago, there has been 0.7 per cent annual growth, which is one third of the already abysmal trend rate.

What can we expect from the Labour Executive in the weeks ahead as we examine the record of the past? It is led by a man who is trying to unify the nation, yet his record on taking office was sacking Jackie Baillie, Sarah Boyack, Angus MacKay, Tom McCabe, Rhona Brankin and Alasdair Morrison. Susan Deacon was constructively dismissed and Wendy Alexander resigned months later, saying:

"I can't get growth on the agenda", adding that the

"First Minister does not consider economic growth to be one of his top priorities".

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

It is the last minute of my speech; Wendy Alexander should take a seat—we have heard enough of her interruptions this week.

More recently, Richard Simpson resigned, and Patricia Ferguson and Andy Kerr were knifed in the back for attacking the Liberals. Andy Kerr will be sacked after the election, and Mike Watson is about to be sacked for attacking the Government over the Victoria infirmary. We are told that Cathy Jamieson, who has been briefed against, is to be sacked in the same week that we learn that Tom McCabe and Angus MacKay are being brought back. This week—unforgivably, in what is a time of crisis—Iain Gray has been stabbed in the back by Andy Kerr, with support from the football chairman, Jack McConnell.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

I am in my last second; Wendy Alexander should examine the Parliament's procedures.

Who is left standing in the total mess that is the present Labour leadership? Nobody seems to be left standing, other than Jack McConnell, who is trying to brief against his colleagues. That is not leadership and it is not what Scotland needs. We need to move on—we cannot afford to wait any longer.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

As of now, speeches are to be kept to four minutes, plus time for interventions.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour 11:06 am, 6th March 2003

This kind of Opposition debate sometimes calls for a secular Lenten exercise. No party, no matter its history and its achievements, enjoys a divine right to govern. Every party that seriously aspires to Government must strive continually to make itself relevant to the era in which it seeks to serve.

We might have hoped, in an Opposition debate, to find some evidence of an Opposition aspiring to Government. In the 1950s, the Tories commanded 50 per cent of the vote, not in rural Dorset, but here in Scotland. In 2001, against the backdrop of 1997, they gained just one seat in the United Kingdom, their hold over AB voters shrunk further and the average age of their voters rose yet again. Among the under-40s, the Liberals—I repeat: the Liberals—are now pushing them out of the way. Across the United Kingdom, the Tories have about 30 per cent of public support and have been languishing at that level for a decade. That is their lowest sustained run in modern history. In Scotland, they are bumping along with between 10 per cent and 15 per cent support because they have no wish to govern nor, on today's evidence, to be relevant. There was not a hint of reflection or change in David McLetchie's speech. Perhaps it is a collective death wish.

As ever, we heard a predictable opening speech from the nationalists—there was nothing wrong with its being predictable. The poor old Liberal Democrats, yet again, were treated to some kind of rough wooing by Roseanna Cunningham, as she opened coalition talks in order to establish the first nationalist Administration.

With some odd exceptions, we know that Mr McLetchie is usually careful with his language. We know what the Conservatives say about decentralisation, and we know what that is about: it is about reducing the scope and power of the state and its agencies—apart, of course, from when that goes against their vested interests and those of their voters.

We have been asked to place our trust in the people: I doubt that anyone in the Parliament—perhaps with the exception of the troika—would have any difficulty with that. We would also agree with having high-quality public services. The Conservatives' commitment to match our spending on health over the next three years is very welcome, and is a commonsense thing—they will perhaps be interested to hear about that in Smith Square. The Tories have talked about increasing expenditure on infrastructure in public services. Again, we will be interested to see that—if they stick to it. If we can get consensus that it is not possible to build a world-class national health service without paying for it, that is all the better.

We should welcome that. I do not think that the Conservatives mean that but, if they are saying it, that is at least an improvement.

We heard a retuning of "no such thing as society". I take it that that means going back to tax cuts for the rich and poorer services for the poor. Society is suffering as a result. We do not need to look beyond this chamber, but we should. The people outside the chamber know that we have all paid the price of the Conservatives' approach to society. More important for Mr McLetchie, they know that Scotland must not pay that price again.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Does the member disagree with Audit Scotland, which recently reported that 50 per cent of wards in Scottish hospitals are understaffed by nurses and others?

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

That is why I want to ensure that we get the required reform and investment. I want there to be scrutiny of public spending—I agree with Mr McLetchie on that—although I do not view that as some totem in itself.

We heard a serious point about the improving regulation in Scotland unit. I would argue that we need more specialists in the civil service, rather than fewer. We were told that we need not an Iain Deficit Syndrome, a wee Goldie or even a Murdoburger, but a CURTIS—presumably a Tony CURTIS. If we can get the Tony part of that agreed, I will be quite content.

As Andrew Wilson mentioned, we are heading for the end of Tory debates in the chamber, and who knows, perhaps the end of the Tories. In the past four years, there has not been one shadow budget or legislative programme. If the Tories devised those on their own time and money, I probably would not object. However, Audit Scotland also has a role. The assisted places party is paid out of public funds for its research and opposition activity—McShort money, if you like. As this is likely to be the last Tory debate and there has been no shadow budget and no shadow legislative programme, what have the Tories been doing with all that public money?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 11:11 am, 6th March 2003

It must have been extremely difficult to choose only half a dozen of the Executive's success stories for the amendment. I should like to go through that half dozen.

First, the amendment mentions the record investment in our national health service, which is clear. The second issue mentioned is the abolition of tuition fees. For the benefit of Roseanna Cunningham and the rough wooing that we received from her, I make it clear that there is no question that—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Just a moment. The abolition of tuition fees was achieved in coalition. That abolition means that if top-up fees ever were introduced in Scotland—as the Tories and the Labour Party wanted to do south of the border—the Scottish Executive would have to pay the top-up fee because it pays the fees. That is why no top-up fees will be introduced in Scotland.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

What is Mike Rumbles's response to Tony Blair's claim that the fees have not been lost, but are postponed?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

He would say that, would he not? He is a member of the Labour Party. I am speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

We have free personal care for older people, which is a huge achievement. That indicates the effect of the Liberal Democrat influence in the Scottish Executive: free personal care has not been introduced south of the border, where the Labour Party rules on its own. In Scotland, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party rule in coalition.

We also have free nursery places for three and four-years olds whose parents want such places, as well as a record number of police officers, etcetera.

The creation of the Cairngorms national park in the north-east hits home with me, particularly where direct elections to the board are concerned. That radical achievement, which we managed in the chamber, empowers local people and was a huge step forward.

The First Minister recently announced transport commitments for the western peripheral route, and that is a terrific step forward. It would be a terrific achievement to have that western bypass round Aberdeen within the next eight years. We have never had such commitments from the many years of Tory rule, or of lone Labour rule from Westminster.

Despite the Arbuthnott formula, we have had the highest-ever level of funding for Grampian NHS Board. [Interruption.] I am getting a barracking from the Conservatives. I expect that, because I barrack them.

The Conservatives seem to live in a different world. References were made earlier to Liam Fox, the Conservative spokesman on the NHS south of the border, and his taped conversation at the Tory party conference in which he revealed his four-phase programme. In the first phase of that programme the public are to be persuaded that the NHS is not working.

Do members remember Iain Duncan Smith? He said in 2001 that health care in the private sector would cost more, so that patients would have to top up with their own money or use an insurance scheme. That would mean top-up fees for the national health service.

As I am talking about the Tory view of top-up fees, I would like to bring Brian Monteith into the debate. He said:

"If St Andrews and other Scottish universities are to remain in the premier league...to fund this may require the best universities to charge top-up fees...as is the case in Harvard and Yale."

He was put down by the shadow education spokesman, Damian Green, who said:

"This is social engineering of the worst possible kind."

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Obviously the member would like to take an intervention on that.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I would be delighted to take an intervention, if I am given time.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Having compared two quotations from different sources Mr Rumbles may also care to note that I went on to say that universities can make their own, independent judgment and could introduce top-up fees only if they gave up public funding. No university has indicated that it wants to give up public funding, so there is no chance of top-up fees being introduced. I would not support the introduction of top-up fees if universities continued to receive public funds.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The member has missed the point. Top-up fees would be paid in full by the Scottish Executive, out of public money. The Conservatives have completely lost the plot.

I could continue talking about the years of Tory failure, but the Presiding Officer is telling me to press on.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am telling the member to wind up.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

A great deal has been done, but much work remains. In the next session, I would like to support an Executive that is focused on the reform of our whole local government system, including local finance. Proportional representation is the way in which to achieve that. The introduction of PR for local government is a fundamental issue for any possible future coalition.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 11:16 am, 6th March 2003

I am pleased that Mr Euan Robson will wind up in this debate, as he has practical experience. He lives in a ward in Kelso that the Conservatives have won from the Liberal Democrats. Over the past couple of years the Conservatives have been making gains at local government level from Labour, the SNP and Liberals in real elections, using real ballot boxes. When it comes to real votes, the Conservatives are still in there for the fight. Do not write us off.

The second point with which Mr Robson will be able to deal in his summing up is Mr Lyon's interesting take on the past six years—especially the first two years of the Labour Government. On this occasion, I agree whole-heartedly with Mr Lyon. Labour's record on transport between 1997 and 1999 is a disgrace. Labour stopped the completion of the M8, which was about to go ahead—

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

If Karen Whitefield took notice of these things, she would know that the order had been laid.

The extension of the M74 to the stretch between Gretna and Carlisle—a road link vital to Scotland's economy—was stopped and the M77 extension was delayed needlessly. Instead there was a road-building hiatus, anti-motorist rhetoric, political correctness and a relentless move towards tolls.

At least Wendy Alexander was honest. She admitted that transport was sold short in the first spending review. Labour's transport guru, David Begg, estimates that at least £90 million less has been spent on transport in Scotland than has been spent equivalently in England and Wales.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

David Mundell should remember that the authors of the budget for the first two years of the Labour Government were the Tory party.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I recall that when the Conservatives left office spending was at record levels. If we are returned to office in Scotland with our commitment to spending £100 million extra on roads, it will return to those levels.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I cannot, because the Liberal Democrats just make things up.

Let us deal with some facts. If the Conservatives are returned to office in Scotland, Scotland's missing motorway links will be completed. The A8000 will be upgraded. We will see the Aberdeen bypass, rather than just the smoke and mirrors of the Executive.

Yesterday Iain Gray, the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, said smugly that the Edinburgh crossrail project had been implemented by the laying of new rail track. However, in the written answer that I received subsequently from Lewis Macdonald, it was conceded that existing freight lines had been used. In the past four years—never mind the previous two—not a single mile of road or rail track has been laid. That is the reality of the Executive's transport policies.

We make no apology for suggesting taking money from the budget of Scottish Enterprise to put directly into the infrastructure that will make a real difference to business, not consultants. We want tarmac and rail. The people of Scotland will see that on 1 May.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 11:20 am, 6th March 2003

The tenor of the debate has been, "Whose Government is worse than ours?", as the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive trades punches with the Tories. The Tories are trying to conjure up imagery of 18 glorious years. Mr McLetchie waxed eloquently about crime and law and order. That was from a party that cherishes the United Kingdom, but presided over the worst urban riots seen south of the border in centuries. The streets of Toxteth, Handsworth and Tottenham testified to that in the 1980s. The Tories set the United Kingdom on a path following the right-wing agenda of the USA under "Reaganomics" and the trickle-down economy. All that failed, bringing social discord and tension.

I expect no better from the Conservatives, but the people of Scotland were entitled to expect better from new Labour. Mr McLetchie attacks what he describes as a centre-left establishment—we should be so lucky. I see that as an opportunity. One of the strengths of this party should be to create a centre-left agenda to allow our people to prosper. I do not want to see our country continue down the path that we are currently following: that of the USA-UK-Australia model, with all the problems of social inequality that that brings, creating "haves" and "have nots", alienating huge swathes of our society and resulting in crime, ill health, delinquency and alcohol and drug abuse.

We have the opportunity to follow a different agenda, based on economic growth, but recognising the responsibility that a state has. There must be a welfare state and it is the duty of a state to look after people irrespective of their income, wealth and power. We should not dismantle the welfare state, as was done in the 1980s and 1990s, and which continues to be done in the 21st century under new Labour.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Ms Alexander will get her opportunity later.

The Scotland that we seek is not based on Bush or Clinton's United States of America; it is based on Persson and Palme's Sweden. We would much prefer to follow that direction. But what of the Lib-Lab position? They say, "Not our fault, guv; it's all the fault of the Tories' mess." One Scottish Parliament, two UK Governments, three First Ministers later, they say that it is nothing to do with them; it is all the fault of 18 years of Tory rule. There comes a time when the buck stops with those in the Administration.

That was highlighted yesterday in the ministerial statement on transport. An Executive is judged not on the brochures and the studies that it publishes, or its manifesto commitments for a future period of office, but on what it achieved during its tenure. Three transport ministers later, three years and 10 months into office, three weeks from dissolution, the Executive was asked—as Mr Mundell mentioned—"How many miles of road have you built and how many miles of track have you laid?" We received no answer yesterday or today. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the Executive has failed in terms of the tangibles. The Executive had a fair wind as the first Scottish Executive in 300 years. It had the empathy, sympathy and support of the people of Scotland, but all it offers is excuses.

The time has come to stop looking back and apportioning blame to what happened in the 1980s and 1990s and to start looking forward to what the solutions are, so that we can compete and prosper in the 21st century. I believe that that means allowing our country to prosper and to go forward, to release our potential, to stop looking at the problems that we have and to start looking at what we can achieve. That means giving the Parliament the proper powers of an independent nation and that means that we must go forward recognising the necessity of economic growth balanced with a stable society in which a state has a role, duty and obligations. That means having a change in the elections on 1 May to a nationalist Administration.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 11:24 am, 6th March 2003

When I first learned of the subject of today's Tory debate, I though that the Tories were attempting to run some sort of parliamentary version of "Desert Island Discs". That made me wonder which records could summarise the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive's record of achievement. I thought of "2-4-6-8 Motorway", for the completion of the upgrade of the A8 to motorway status. I thought of "Day Tripper" for free off-peak travel for the elderly. "The Last Train to Clarksville" would obviously become "The First Train to Airdrie from Bathgate".

I then pondered the songs that the Tories might have used for their years in office. "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)" would most certainly have been the song for local government. Then there is "Help"—too many people to mention. The anthem of unemployment could have been "Another One Bites the Dust" or "Maggie's Farm". While we are on the subject of Maggie, I do not want her friends on the nationalist benches to feel left out, but the only record that I could think of for them was, "Somewhere over the Rainbow".

The record of the Scottish Executive stands in stark contrast to the 18 years for which the Tories abused power. Finally, after 18 years of the Tories we have a commitment to upgrade the A8 to motorway status and to reopen the Airdrie-Bathgate rail line. There is now a guaranteed nursery place for every three and four-year-old, compared with the Tories' failed voucher scheme. We have a pay and conditions deal that recognises and values the efforts of teachers, compared to 18 years of Tory neglect and indifference. We have an unprecedented programme of building for new schools, compared with the decay and decline caused by 18 years of Tory underachievement.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I am delighted and thankful that Karen Whitefield has given way—she is "My First, My Last, My Everything" after all. Does the member accept that the Tory song would be "Simply the Best"?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

I say to Mr Monteith that the children of Airdrie who go to school in damp, appalling buildings would not say that the Tories were simply the best, but simply the worst.

A stable economy is important and that is what a Labour Government at Westminster has delivered. We have the lowest inflation for a generation, compared to 15 per cent interest rates when the Tories were in power.

Back where I come from in Lanarkshire, people would say that our record is a "shootie-in", but I think that we have much more to add. Unemployment is down to its lowest level in 25 years, compared with the giddy and quite sickening heights of 3 million, which the Tories said was a price worth paying. We have free local bus travel for the elderly, compared to absolutely nothing, because the Tories would not have had that vision or the commitment to public service.

That was then and this is now. Perhaps the Scottish Tories have learned from their mistakes. They are more community-oriented, are they not? They are much more compassionate Conservatives than they were, surely. They would never revert to their true-blue type. Then again, yesterday they voted against the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill, which is considered to be one of the most progressive, right-making pieces of legislation in Scotland.

The achievements of the Scottish Executive over the past four years dwarf those of the Tory party, which was in power for 18 years. Let us not forget that if the Tories had had their way there would be no Scottish Parliament, no free bus travel for the elderly, no powers to seize the assets of drug dealers and HCI would not have been taken back into public service. Thankfully, the nightmare of those 18 years is over and I think that the electorate will reinforce that message on 1 May.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 11:28 am, 6th March 2003

I must say that I am finding this one of the more entertaining debates of late and it does not lack cut and thrust for that. I am only disappointed that George Lyon is not here to continue to take in some messages. I hear that he is quite good at karaoke and I think that the most appropriate song for him today would be "Road to Nowhere", as it is by the Talking Heads. He could also sing, "Hit the Road, Jack", or perhaps that could be, "Build a Road, Jack." Ultimately, his main song would be "Road to Hell" by Chris Rea, because that is the road that the Liberals are going down, being in tow with the Labour party.

It was said earlier that the Tories should apologise. Of course we should. We should apologise for the reaction to our successful policies, which brought forward new Labour politicians such as Karen Whitefield, Bristow Muldoon and Brian Fitzpatrick. We apologise for being the inspiration for those politicians.

I must use my time to talk about the subject for debate.

I will move on to consider some aspects of education, in particular the indiscipline in our schools. The dreadful record of indiscipline in our schools is the result of the Labour and Liberal Democrat inclusion targets. The fact that violent and disruptive pupils are remaining in the classroom is ensuring an increase in violent assaults on all school staff—teachers, janitors and dinner ladies are all suffering assaults. In the two hours since the debate began, there will have been another eight assaults. On average, there is an assault every 15 minutes. That situation is a shocking scandal for which the Executive must be held to account.

We can improve attainment only if we have peace and discipline in our classrooms. We must protect the teachers and those children—the vast majority—who want to learn. It is no surprise, when we look at the attainment targets that the Executive has set, that we find that it is failing. Eighty per cent of pupils were meant to achieve the attainment target of level D by primary 7, but only 72 per cent are reaching that target. The situation is worse by the time they have got to secondary 2, when 50 per cent of pupils have not reached the target that they should have reached. More than 30 per cent of pupils are two years behind the target. They have very little chance, if any, of catching up. Attainment is letting down the pupils in Scotland.

We were told that McCrone would solve many of the problems. However, we find that the number of teachers who are leaving the classroom and taking time off because of stress—which, of course, is related to indiscipline in the classroom—is rising. Although teachers might be better paid and might have better conditions, which all members of the Parliament supported, they are still taking time off because they are facing indiscipline in the classroom. The Conservative party would change that.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

In Brian Monteith's world of education, everything is for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. We all accept that there are problems. Would not the member accept that, through their hard work, teachers have enabled larger numbers of pupils and students to obtain standard grades, highers and advanced highers than ever before. Should not we celebrate that?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

It is a delight to celebrate that, because it is all part of the five-to-14 standard-grade achievement that the Tories introduced, which was about identifying the problems that existed in schools and producing remedies. However, last year we discovered that the number of pupils who leave school without qualifications after 12 years of state education had increased by 8 per cent. That is a figure that all members of the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of.

We have seen that the Executive's education policies have failed the vulnerable. It is the clever, bright children who are managing to get through the comprehensive system. The Executive's policies on special educational needs and on vulnerable children in the bottom schools, which are finding it harder to continue to improve their attainment, are failing and it is on those policies that the Executive will be condemned. Motion S1M-3986 might be the last Opposition motion that the Conservatives lodge, because when the public wake up to the Executive's record on education, they will ensure that our next motion will be an Administration motion.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 11:34 am, 6th March 2003

Rather than dealing in rhetoric, I want to do a reality check and to mark a report card on the Lib-Lab coalition, which will apply to their achievements in that Liberal fiefdom, the Scottish Borders.

In the Scottish Borders, 1999 began well, with the loss of 1,200 jobs and the closure of Viasystems. The jobs were transferred to north Tyneside. The plant has now closed and the £12 million that the Department of Trade and Industry gave to Viasystems will never be recovered. The first instalment payment is due in 2007, but few believe that the money will ever be seen.

In the same year, there was a fig-leaf announcement about a call centre in the Scottish Borders. After first being announced by the late Donald Dewar, it was reannounced by Wendy Alexander and subsequent enterprise ministers. It was claimed that it would create 250 jobs in the Scottish Borders, but it has not done that. To date, only 100 jobs have been created there.

The lethal decommissioning proposals for the fishing fleet and the possibility of displacement to prawn fishing represent a huge threat to about 300 jobs in Eyemouth.

Over the past seven years, the net loss of jobs in the Scottish Borders has been 500. That does not take into account the transfer of jobs from manufacturing to service industries, which reduces the income. The average weekly wage in a Scottish Borders household is £50 per week less than it is in the rest of Scotland, and the population is aging—in the next 10 years, 50 per cent of those in work will retire.

Transport is at the core of economic development. There has been practically no investment in roads in the Scottish Borders—the A68, the A7 and the A702 have been untouched. Only the A1 is having part of the road dualled, but that is because the relevant part is in a Labour constituency and Labour looks after its own. In 2002, the A6 closed for four days, because of a snowfall. In 2003, the A72—the main road from Gala and Peebles to Glasgow—has closed for two weeks, because of a landslip. The A6 and the A72 are main Borders roads.

Trains do not stop in the Borders. There is an overwhelming case for the Waverley line, as an economic necessity, as an investment in the community and as a development that would help social inclusion. The minister has put only £2 million into the Borders railway line, to promote the private bill. There is no commitment to funding the railway line. The private bill will be introduced during March, just in time for dissolution, and there will be no need to attach a financial memorandum to it. It is interesting that it is proposed that there will be four stops in Midlothian and just one in the Borders. Midlothian is a Labour seat.

There are always the buses. The Tories promoted good old deregulation and the Liberals and Labour have endorsed it. With courtesy breakdowns, it can take two hours to travel from Peebles to Edinburgh on buses that are often between 15 and 20 years old—so much for public transport. Rather than being driven to use public transport, the Borders public are being driven to get back into their cars to pay the imminent congestion charges in Edinburgh.

Free travel for the elderly is not much use if there is no bus service. In Gala, the number 6 is being taken off. As its route goes up a steep incline, it is usually full of elderly people. From March 31, there will be no bus service. At Ladywood in Penicuik, where there is a big elderly population, there is no bus service in the evening or on a Sunday. Elderly people have bus passes, but there ain't no buses. That saves everyone money.

Free personal care for the elderly is being rationed. There are huge delays in the central heating programme and a faulty service. On nursing care, people are losing nursing home places because they are not being funded. Local authorities give their homes £70 per week more for residential care than they pay to private nursing homes. Thirty thousand Scottish pensioners are in poverty.

The Executive has failed the Borders and it has failed the elderly, so I mark "failed" on its report card.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 11:38 am, 6th March 2003

The motion seeks to bury the past. It ignores the impact that the Conservatives' policies had on our communities, it turns a blind eye to the destructive days of the last Tory Government and it refuses to accept the long-term damage that the Conservatives and their policies inflicted on Scotland.

The Conservative party is the party that took shipbuilding out of Greenock. It closed the Glen yard, Lithgow's yard, Cowal Engineering and the Inchgreen dry dock. The Conservatives might not like listening to the list of closures, but it was harder to live through them. The Tories also closed the Cartsdyke yard, Scott's Shipbuilding, Scott's engine works and Kincaid's engine works. In spite of that, we hear Tory spokesmen bemoaning the decline of the manufacturing industry.

The Tory party was the party that took "working" out of "working class" and gave my constituency 23 per cent unemployment. Although unemployment there is still high—it is about 6 per cent or 7 per cent—it is much better than it was. The Tories replaced skilled, stable jobs with low-paid, low-skill contract work, crushed my community's confidence in the name of right-wing ideology and had the cheek to tell us that that was a price worth paying. We will never forget and we will never forgive. Brian Monteith is smiling again. He thinks it is funny.

Members should not just take my point of view, as I have a right to be bitter on behalf of my community. They should take someone else's view.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

No. Brian Monteith has already taken up a lot of time of people who do not even want to be here.

"Businesses went to the wall, we broke our pledge on taxes, there was negative equity in homes, the public felt hurt.

Then we lectured them, and we seemed arrogant. We said it was all your fault, not our fault—you are the problem, not us ... They still remember that we were in power, and that is what we left them with."

That is a pretty accurate rundown by none other than Mr Iain Duncan Smith in The Sunday Telegraph of 6 October 2002. All the accusations and all the bluster cannot hide the legacy that the Conservatives left. From what we have heard this morning, it seems that nothing would change: cuts of £250 million in the enterprise budget and 20 per cent cuts in public spending. For cuts in red tape, read a retreat on rights for part-time workers, and a retreat on employment time regulations and rights to holidays. Those rights were all introduced by Labour and are in danger from the Conservatives. They clearly have nothing new to say.

This morning, we see the enemies of devolution on both sides of the chamber come together again. What pains them most is that this Labour-led Executive is making devolution work successfully and picking up the pieces of the Tory wasted years. Labour looked on as John Major and William Hague marched the Tory party to the cliff edge. On today's performance, under Iain Duncan Smith or David McLetchie—members may take their pick—they are about to take a great leap forward. We should wish them well, and vote against the amendment.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 11:42 am, 6th March 2003

I am delighted to hear Duncan McNeil suggesting that members should vote for the motion—which is obviously what he means if they are to vote against the amendment. That is an endorsement of what we are trying to put forward.

I declare an interest as an ex-farmer and current landowner in south Ayrshire.

The purpose of the debate is to determine whether this first Scottish Government has delivered for Scotland. It will probably surprise nobody who knows me that I wish to speak from a rural perspective. As I have said many times before in the chamber, much of rural Scotland—certainly the South of Scotland, which I represent—was pretty sceptical about the very concept of the Parliament. Indeed, Dumfries and Galloway, the region within which I live, was the only region on mainland Scotland that voted against the Parliament having any tax-raising or tax-altering powers. Nonetheless, that scepticism was dumbed down and, to some extent, bought off by the impossible aspirations and unachievable visions that were advanced by all and sundry prior to the elections of 1999.

Following those elections, considerable support was expressed for the creation of the embryonic department of rural affairs, rather than the old agriculture, forestry and fisheries department that existed before. Even when that metamorphosed into rural development, and finally emerged as the environment and rural affairs department, the concept seemed sound enough, so why now, nearly four years on, is there disappointment at the Government's mishandling of rural Scotland, which is so tangible that it is hard to encounter anything other than distrust, dislike and often sheer cynicism towards most of the Administration's output? The answer can best be summed up by highlighting the missed opportunities and mixed messages that have become the hallmark of Ross Finnie's ministry.

It was glaringly obvious to most people involved in driving the rural economy that, following devolution, most of the important decisions governing rural policy would continue to be made either in Brussels or at Westminster. Therefore, the opportunity for a Scottish minister to alter radically the broad drift of policy was always going to be minimal at best. However, there existed a golden opportunity for Ross Finnie, or any other minister, to concentrate their energy on supporting and encouraging initiatives and policies downstream from primary production, to ensure that the high-quality products of all types for which rural Scotland is so well known did not leave rural Scotland until the last drop of added value had been extracted from them, thus genuinely encouraging rural development. That focus and that drive would have helped to bring about the economic regeneration that rural Scotland needed so badly four years ago, and which it is still in desperate need of today.

Instead of any such focus, we have had nothing but mixed messages, as the Minister for Environment and Rural Development chose instead to concentrate his fire on obtaining the easy headlines that come with the politically correct policies to which David McLetchie referred.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I have four years of disaster to get into one more minute, so I am afraid that I cannot give way.

The primary example of Ross Finnie getting his ministerial wires crossed is the access provisions in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, which I have always said would bring about confrontation when it did not have to. If members still do not believe me, they should study the recent verbal outpourings of the Ramblers Association. Basically, access is now available to all people on all land, yet only weeks after Parliament approved the bill, the minister issued his biosecurity code of practice to all farmers, one of the principal recommendations of which is to keep people away from livestock as much as possible.

The Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, which is to be concluded next week, aims to reinvigorate the tenanted sector, which is something with which the Conservative party whole-heartedly agrees, yet the confusion and uncertainty that have been created over the right to buy, which the minister himself deplored only two years ago, will kill the sector stone dead.

Jim Wallace berated me in the chamber for daring to question the Executive's commitment to rolling out broadband technology across rural Scotland. "Look at our pathfinder project," he roared in indignation. Well, I have been looking for its benefits ever since, and I cannot find them. What I have found is that information technology-based firms, which should be contributing so much to rural development, are having to move out of rural Scotland and back to the central belt to be able to compete on a level playing field.

The examples go on and on, but I am running out of time. I finish by saying that this first Scottish Government will be remembered as one that promised too much and delivered too little. To deflect attention from its deficiencies, it has concentrated its fire on the soft targets of land reform and politically correct niceties, rather than the hard issues of the day, which so badly need the Parliament's attention. Rural Scotland is in disarray because of this Administration, and in seven weeks' time it will exact its revenge.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 11:46 am, 6th March 2003

We recently had the BAFTAs, the Brits and the Pride of Britain awards, but looking at the Tory motion and listening to the Conservatives speak today, one cannot help but think that they deserve a special brass neck of Britain award. If we were at the Oscars, the Tories' performance today would not even get a nomination, although the SNP would certainly pick up the award for the best adapted work of fiction for its constantly changing economic policies.

I want to address unemployment and red tape. There is still work to be done in creating sustainable, quality jobs. Job losses, in particular in the manufacturing sector, are certainly setbacks, but I will not sit here taking lectures from the Tories, because I would like to consider some facts. An examination of unemployment figures is interesting. My own constituency of Midlothian is an area that the Tories left reeling from the massive blow of pit closures, just as Greenock lost thousands of jobs with the closure of the shipyards and Lanarkshire was decimated by the destruction of the steel industry, although thankfully, those areas are turning the corner. In April 1997—the dying days of the last Tory Government—there were 1,354 unemployed people in Midlothian constituency. By the time the Scottish Parliament was elected in May 1999, the figure was down to 1,062, and since then it has been cut further to 852.

The reference to

"the burden of tax and red tape" in the Tory motion is interesting. The phrase "red tape" disguises the same old right-wing Conservative agenda, according to which things like health and safety regulations and the national minimum wage are routinely attacked as being a burden on business. I do not know where Annabel Goldie is today, but I suspect that if she was about in 1864 when Parliament passed the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers Act, which prevented children from being forced up chimneys, she would have been moaning about the strangulation of British industry by mile after mile of politically correct red tape. When the Tories refer to cutting red tape, what they really mean is returning to a sweat-shop economy. Much of what the Tories characterise as red tape is nothing of the sort; it refers to basic regulations to enforce a safe and fair society.

I quote from someone who was appointed by the UK Government to cut red tape:

"You cannot live in a civilised society without regulations. All those people who complain in general terms, are they seriously saying we should have a free-for-all with the environment, no restraints on health regulation or fire regulation. Once you start looking into it, it becomes much more complex."

Who was it who backed the current Government's policies on regulation? Step forward Michael Heseltine. [MEMBERS: "Oh!"] You said it.

No one wants to place unnecessary burdens on business. It is unfair to accuse the Scottish Executive or the UK Government of doing so. In fact, the truth of the matter is that, if UK regulatory impact assessments are studied, only 3 per cent of the legislation that was produced in 2001 imposed a cost on business.

Indeed, regulation can also save money and help business. Regulation allowed the operators of small power stations to generate and supply electricity without a licence. Regulation required HM Customs and Excise to pay interest on overpaid excise duty. Where we see needless environmental damage or exploitation of the individual, we take steps to tackle that through regulation, if regulation is required. That is what Governments are for and that is what Governments do.

Let us be clear: the regulatory environment is getting better. Members do not need to take my word for it. A study by Andersen and GrowthPlus benchmarked the business environment in nine EU countries and America and put the UK in top place as the country that provided the most entrepreneur-friendly environment.

I dismiss totally the Tory charge of too much red tape. The extra 210 Midlothian people who have found work since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament speaks volumes for the performance of our economy under the stewardship of the Scottish Executive. We will take no lectures from the Tories on the economy. I urge the chamber to reject the Conservative motion.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 11:51 am, 6th March 2003

I was on my feet a couple of weeks ago talking about discipline in schools and reflecting on the fact that discipline in schools has got a lot worse in recent years. Labour claims to have the first national policy on school discipline. In retrospect, given all the head teachers and teachers who, down through time, have striven to maintain the highest standards in their schools, I find that a little cheeky.

Now that we have a national policy on discipline, we discover that discipline has got worse. In 2001-02, there was a 25 per cent rise in incidents. Last year, incidents involving physical violence rose by 26 per cent—two thirds of which were against members of school staff. In primary schools, truancy and temporary exclusions have increased by 30 per cent and, in secondary schools, the increase is 21 per cent. It was bad before, but this is worse.

Labour also claims that it has improved results in writing and maths in Scotland's schools and yet its own figures, which came out on Tuesday this week, indicate—

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

No, I am sorry but I only have three minutes.

Labour's figures indicate that in 2001, 59 per cent of primary 7 and 57 per cent of S2 pupils were not reaching appropriate national standards of reading. The same figures indicate that 43 per cent of primary 7 and 62 per cent of S2 pupils did not reach national standards in writing. However, the 1999 Labour manifesto in Scotland pledged that 80 per cent of primary 7 pupils would reach the appropriate standards.

We know that the much-vaunted reduction in class sizes in primaries 1, 2 and 3 to below 30 has almost been achieved, but when I went to school, class sizes were over 40. A reduction from that number to 30 would have been a triumph, but a reduction from 31 or 32 to 30 is not a major breakthrough. The fact of the matter is that every educational expert and all teachers—they are not necessarily the same people—agree that, in the initial stages of education, in primary 1, 2 and 3, massive reductions in class size are required. Everyone in the chamber knows that that can be achieved while maintaining the teachers budget at the same level, because the demographic reduction in the number of children coming into schools will enable the figure of 18 to be met.

Whatever happened to apprentices? Labour claims to have doubled the number of people in proper apprentices. If there are "proper" apprentices, how is it that the number of 16 to 19-year olds not in education, training or employment has risen from 13 per cent to 14 per cent?

The subject of tuition fees has been bounced around the chamber already this morning.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I really must move on.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

This is supposed to be a debate.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party

Everybody—including the National Union of Students, who will be out on the streets later today—knows the truth of the matter, which is that all we have are postponed tuition fees.

Just in case the Tories think that they were any better, I am not going to let them off the hook. The fact is that we now have teachers who will not turn out voluntarily and who find it more difficult to make time to help with voluntary activities. That is largely down to the fact that the Tory Government under Mrs Thatcher did everything it possibly could to destroy the morale of the teaching profession—it engaged the profession in a long, punishing war. The Tory legacy remains and is being carried on by this Labour-Liberal Administration.

I come to my last brief sentence. Patricia Ferguson said that the Tories were great recruiters for political activism in the Labour party and the SNP, and so they were. However, the reason why my colleagues and I are in the SNP is because of the manifest failure of British political parties to deliver the best for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 11:55 am, 6th March 2003

First, I thank David McLetchie and Tory members for lodging the motion for this morning's debate. It has given those of us on the Labour benches an opportunity to record our record in Government in the first four years of the new Scottish Parliament. I also thank them for reminding us all that the electorate has a long memory—thank goodness it has, otherwise we could forget the ideology of the Tory years. The widening gap between rich and poor and the alienation of our young people will not be forgotten.

It is mainly because of the 18 years of Thatcherism that members on the Labour benches are ideologically committed to driving forward the social justice agenda. We want to tackle inequalities in health and housing. Alex Fergusson said that rural Scotland believes that the Parliament has not been a success. I do not believe that. The Parliament has been a good voice for the communities of rural Scotland and it will go on to do more.

Whatever the criticisms of the central heating programme, it is impossible to deny its success. It is quite ridiculous for Christine Grahame to stand up in the chamber and criticise an unprecedented programme as she did. People in my constituency, who live in Glasgow tenements, have never had central heating in their lives. Thanks to the coalition Government, the programme is now happening.

The principle of the state providing nursery places for three and four-year-olds is the principle that matters. Nursery provision is not only good for children; it is good for their mothers and fathers. It assists them in their busy lives to improve their quality of life.

The Scottish Parliament has passed the best tenants rights package, which has given security to those who live in social rented accommodation. As Karen Whitefield rightly said, the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 will be an important measure in our commitment to tackle homelessness.

I heard Fergus Ewing say that every single thing that the Executive has done is a failure, but he must have missed the mood of the electorate if he thinks that people will be impressed by that. The symbolism of funding the purchase of the Health Care International hospital—a private hospital—with public money is of major significance to many Scots in the west of Scotland. Everyone should congratulate the Executive on having brought that facility into the NHS. It is an indication of whether the NHS should be public or private.

Patricia Ferguson was right to remind the chamber of what life in the NHS was like under the Tories. Nurses had to deal with a two-stage pay offer—they were not given the dignity of a one-off pay deal. Performance-related pay was forced on our nurses and they had to pay for their own conversion from enrolled to registered status. It is no wonder that our nurses were beginning to leave the health service.

Worst of all was the internal market. It meant forced competition in our public services, and hospitals having to cost their operations to sell them to neighbouring hospital trusts. We are still clearing up the mess of the internal market. Members must recognise that last week's white paper will eradicate the last vestiges of the internal market. If members believe in a public NHS, they will acknowledge that that is a significant step forward.

The agenda for change means change not only for nurses and midwives, but for low-paid health service workers, who for the first time will have a minimum rate of pay that is well above the established minimum wage. That is what we stand for and what we think is important.

We take crime and law and order seriously. Serious and violent offenders will be dealt with under new sentencing policy. I mention also the introduction of drugs courts, the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency and youth courts. We are also tackling racism: a racist element cannot now be dropped from a crime if there is evidence to support it. We take such equalities issues seriously. For the first time, victims of crime will be central to the criminal justice system.

I am not sure how long I have, Presiding Officer.

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

You have six minutes, but the time limit is not obligatory.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I see that the member is struggling. Will she give way now? [ Laughter. ]

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The most common complaint that I have received about schools and learning is that children are being taught in crumbling buildings. It is simply not right for people not to recognise the importance of building and repairing schools.

Brian Fitzpatrick is quite correct to point out that no Government takes its support for granted. This coalition certainly does not do so. We stand on our record, our comprehensive approach to government and the 63 bills that have been passed. We have strengthened public services, and have taken the work force with us by giving them the benefits of what we believe in.

Andrew Wilson accused us of aiming for mediocrity—he might know a bit about that himself. The public sector, industry and business would not agree that they are mediocre and certainly believe that they are striving for success. Labour believes that the best way of securing Scotland's success is to continue our partnership with the UK. We benefit from low inflation and low interest rates; indeed, borrowing money has never been cheaper in this country. At the same time, we can shape our public services in a distinctly Scottish way. That is the benefit of the devolved settlement.

It is about time that the nationalists got honest with the electorate about what fiscal autonomy means to them. It is SNP-speak for independence. They should say what they mean, because they do not do so very often. If they used the I-word, they might be respected for it. The SNP simply claims that anything that the Executive can do, it can do better, but there is no evidence that the electorate believes that, and I suppose that we will see whether the claim is true in the weeks and months to come.

We on this side of the chamber believe in social progress, social justice, a vibrant Scottish economy and stability in this new Parliament. We stand on our record.

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

Before I call the next speaker, I remind members that those who have taken part in the debate are supposed to be present to listen to the winding-up speeches. I notice that some members are not in the chamber.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 12:02 pm, 6th March 2003

There were great hopes for the Parliament and what it would be able do once it was established. However, somewhere along the line, the Executive's performance became confused with the Parliament's democracy—after all, the performance of the Government at Downing Street is rarely confused with the job of the Westminster Parliament. Whether accidentally or deliberately, the Scottish Executive and its failures have been confused with the Parliament and its performance. That situation must not be allowed to stand.

Although the debate has allowed Parliament to focus quite deliberately on the Executive's performance, it has all been rather sad and bitter. We have been in something of a time warp with all the references to the record of the Tories during the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, the time that the Executive parties have spent on that period betrays its lack of confidence in its own record, although I make an honourable exception for Brian Fitzpatrick's considered speech. [MEMBERS: "Oh."] I see that he is worried now. Can I have some more time for that moment of incredulity, Presiding Officer?

I worry about the legacy that the Executive will leave after its first term. We have had a series of different ministers introducing variations of different programmes; however, all have taken a similar approach, which is to micromanage relative decline. Through management-speak processes and misplaced and meaningless target-led government, the Executive has created and promoted a culture that is inward-looking, controlling and obsessed with change, but it has also created a culture of "Meet the target" rather than "Make the change." It has fostered performance that is measured by Government targets; it makes meeting Government health targets a stumbling block to meeting patients' needs and it makes meeting external assessments a stumbling block to meeting pupils' needs.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

The member said that I made a "considered speech". Does she agree that it is important to be careful about what we say about targets? No one on the Executive parties' benches would want targets to get in the way of better health services or educational attainment. However, as Audit Scotland in this country and the Audit Commission in England have recently pointed out, we need targets in order that we know where we are going. Given the mess in which the Conservatives left the health service, for example, we need targets to indicate where improvements can be found. Is the member saying that all targets should be put in the bin?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I think that I must have touched Brian Fitzpatrick earlier. I apologise for doing so.

We need targets and strategies, but we do not need meaningless targets that get in the way of progress. The Executive should be giving Parliament a strategy, vision and direction that will make a real difference to people's lives; instead, its suffocation of Scotland will condemn us to governance that is more like the shadow of a regional council.

We needed a bonfire of the quangos and we need to get rid of the duplication of department and quango that the Tories devised before devolution in order to bypass Labour councils. We needed a smaller and leaner Government, but we did not get it. We needed an end to jobs for the boys. We needed public services that are public, an end to the march to privatisation and excess profits from public services and we needed respect and courtesy from Government for public sector workers, but all we get is blame and name-calling. Finally, we needed democracy, decentralisation, transparency and accountability, but we got only limited movement on those.

I agree with Mike Rumbles that the next Executive must put reform of local government finance, proportional representation and governance issues at centre stage. The problem is that the Executive has had four years to do so—members of the Labour party have had six years—but we have seen no significant movement. Although we have heard everything about how to deal with the symptoms of poverty and the underperformance of the economy, there has been little vision and less action to tackle the core problems that the country faces.

Roseanna Cunningham and Andrew Wilson highlighted the economic growth problems that face Scotland. Our economy has great potential that is not being realised, so I ask Murdo Fraser to listen carefully to this fact: if Scotland had matched the UK economy's modest growth since Labour came to power and if it had had responsibility for raising as well as for distributing tax, we would have had £2 billion more of revenue to invest in health and education. Indeed, if we had matched Ireland's economic growth, we would have had £13 billion more.

I was very struck by the Labour party's silence on its health service record. We know that waiting times are 18 days longer than they were in 1999. Moreover, its election pledge to bring down waiting lists by 10,000 was conveniently dumped when it realised what everyone had been saying. Those figures are now up by 10,000. That is some progress and some performance. There are now 1,869 nursing vacancies, which is an increase of 46 per cent since Labour came to power, and there are 600 fewer hospital beds than there were in 1999. Wards are frequently closed and operations cancelled; indeed, 15,500 operations were cancelled last year. We are paying the price of PFI.

As for free personal care, George Lyon said that it was the flagship policy of the Executive parties. Well, the only flag I saw in that respect was Tom McCabe's white flag on an SNP motion. It was the Parliament that delivered free personal care. I must also point out that tuition fees have been subject to a pantomime-horse manoeuvre—they have been moved from the front end to the back end. However, everyone knows that they are still there; as the audience shouts in theatres at panto time, "They're behind you!" The Executive has hardly made a dent in poverty. Although there have been worthy and necessary education and health initiatives, they do not tackle the core problem of economic underperformance. We are seeing a new generation of the working poor. We need a high-waged and highly skilled work force to ensure that we can all share in the country's economic growth and lift our children out of poverty. In that respect, someone should remind Bill Butler that the real rate of unemployment in Glasgow is 23.7 per cent. Under this Labour Government, the gap between the rich and poor has grown.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Unfortunately, I will not; the member did not take an intervention from me.

I want to refer to the Government's document "Recording Our Achievements", and its list of legislative achievements. Do members remember the Erskine Bridge Tolls Act 2001? That emergency legislation was needed because the Executive forgot to renew collection laws. The Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2002 covered up a legal loophole and the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill largely enacts a European directive. Such double-counting occurs throughout the document.

The document smacks of panic measures as the Executive realises that the public do not feel that the Executive has made any difference and have not experienced any improvements in their lives or their families' lives. As a result, the Executive needs to print another self-justifying brochure to tell people that there have been improvements. The Executive is so unconfident about the public's experiences of its achievements that it must produce propaganda prompts that are paid for by the public purse.

Four years on, the world views the Executive's performance as one big let-down. We have had all the deputy ministers and ministers of three different Administrations with two different programmes for Government. The targets that were set were either so easy that they would not but be reached, or were so vacuous as to be meaningless. The achievements, all of which were either already in train or would have happened regardless of the hue of the Government, have been dressed in semantics to allow the Executive to pretend that it has done something when it clearly has not. Given such leadership of the country, is it any wonder that public cynicism about politicians is growing?

The public is not, however, cynical about democracy or the need for this Parliament. We cannot, and should not, allow the lack of impact of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive to stand in the way of the progress of Parliament. We need a Government that will make the most of Parliament and which will help it grow, rather than limit it by micromanagement. We need a Government that makes social justice a touchstone for delivery and economic growth a driver for change. We need a Government that has the determination to release the potential of this country and the drive to achieve the powers of independence that will let Scotland be all that it can be. We need a Government that has ambition for Scotland—that Government is an SNP Government.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 12:11 pm, 6th March 2003

We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. We have heard some predictable contributions, as well as speculation about what Andrew Wilson will or will not do in his bath tonight. As to rough wooing, I think that Roseanna Cunningham must have been chewing lemons all morning—doubtless to get the tone of her amendment just right.

Let me start with the legislative programme. By the end of this Parliament, we will have passed 50 Executive bills—an impressive legislative achievement for a new Parliament. As members will recall, the legislation that has been passed ranges from the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the wide-ranging Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. We have also made smaller valuable changes that would have waited—indeed, did wait—years for progress at Westminster.

Ministers have recognised that the Parliament's committee system has made a major contribution to legislation. That contribution has been made by members of all political parties. It does the Parliament no credit for the Tories to denigrate that record, but that seems to be the purpose of the "No, no" leader of the "No, no" party, which is still fighting the challenges of devolution. The "noes" continue: no alternative budget and no amendment to the budget has ever been presented by the Tories in the past four years. Brian Fitzpatrick made that point eminently clear in his speech. It must also be said that the Tories have introduced very little in the way of members' bills, apart from a measure on dog fouling, which required Executive assistance.

Public services are improving across the Executive's five priority areas. Through reform and modernisation, we are ensuring that we get best value for every public pound. Our reform programmes throughout the public services are focused on ensuring that services meet the needs of those who use and need the services. We are empowering local people to take the decisions to promote first-class services. We are putting in much-needed investment in school buildings, in transport infrastructure, in IT and in modern equipment. We are modernising the services that we deliver to people.

That modernisation is yielding impressive results. In health, there are more doctors and nurses in our hospitals. The new HCI hospital is available to all NHS Scotland patients in order that we can tackle waiting lists. As members from all round the chamber have said on several occasions, we have also introduced free personal care. The emphasis is now rightly on examining the causes of ill health. A major agenda is being developed that will ensure healthier lifestyles so that in future Scotland has a health service rather than a service that treats sickness.

In education, we have 100 new or refurbished school buildings and we have reduced class sizes in primaries 1, 2 and 3. As members from all round the chamber have pointed out, a pre-school place is available for every three-year-old and four-year-old whose parents want them to attend. Brian Monteith mentioned the McCrone settlement, which he acknowledged had provided better pay and conditions for teachers. There are developing issues around McCrone and those must be addressed. However, the fundamental truths are that teachers are now better paid and have better conditions.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The minister might have sat through my speech with a fixed expression, casting doubt on all I had to say, but surely the truth is that local authorities claim that they are not well enough funded. I cite the example of schools in Stirling, where teaching positions are being merged to ensure that the schools have the funding to introduce McCrone. Is not that the case?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I served in local government and I do not recall a year when local government did not say that it did not have enough money. I say to Mr Monteith that such decisions as he mentioned are to be taken locally. I cannot comment on the situation in Stirling because I do not know the circumstances. I was interested that Mr Monteith acknowledged that better pay and conditions were being achieved.

We have the highest crime clear-up rates since the second world war, which is important for the people of Scotland. Illegal drugs seizures are up by some £37.5 million and we have installed 1,170 closed circuit television cameras to detect and prevent crime.

We have been improving transport and we have introduced free off-peak local travel for older and disabled people, as Karen Whitefield rightly said. Bristow Muldoon commented on road and rail investment. I do not know where Mr McLetchie has been recently, but he has certainly not driven down the A1, on which £45 million has been invested—£5 million worth of which is in my constituency. That situation was ignored by Mrs Grahame—the prophetess of doom. We have tackled congestion by removing 17,000,000 lorry miles from Scotland's roads. As George Lyon said, the track record of the Tories on railways was deplorable and it is taking time to turn that around.

The Opposition says that we have not achieved a stronger economy. Jobs are one of our five key priorities and again, the facts speak for themselves. There are 98,000 more people in jobs in Scotland than there were in 1999.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Mr Robson is listing achievements, but we read in the press that it is the Liberal Democrats that make the difference. Perhaps the minister could tell his Labour colleagues behind him which of those achievements they would not have managed had they formed a minority Government without the Liberal Democrats to urge them on.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Far be it from me to criticise what Mr Mundell has said, but the achievements of the coalition are shared by the parties, both of which rightly bring distinctive characteristics to the coalition.

We have built the success that I have been recording by supporting education and training to boost the economy and let young people make the most of their potential. As has frequently been referred to, we have scrapped student tuition fees and there are now 60,000 more enrolments in further and higher education. As George Lyon said, 50 per cent of school leavers now go into higher education. There are 20,000 modern apprenticeships. Through our five core priorities we are strengthening the economy and driving up standards in our public services.

On rural development, the Executive is committed to promoting prosperity and improving the quality of life throughout Scotland. We are making progress in a number of areas. Some 108 projects have been introduced to support public transport in rural areas. If I might refer to the desultory comments of Mrs Grahame, much of that investment has gone into my constituency in Hawick, for example, where about £1 million has been put in through public transport support.

We are on track and ready to deliver two national parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, which is already open, and the Cairngorms national park, to which Mike Rumbles referred. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is on track to be implemented in 2003. I was disappointed by Alex Fergusson's speech—he kept saying that Ross Finnie attracted the "easy headlines". Let me tell him this: the farming community thoroughly respects Ross Finnie. He is considered to be one of the best agriculture ministers there has ever been. If Alex Fergusson thinks that Ross Finnie attracts the easy headlines, Mr Fergusson should consider Mr Finnie's handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak; there were no easy headlines to be had there. I was very disappointed that Alex Fergusson could not give credit to Ross Finnie for all the effort that he has put in.

We have established the rural partnership for change to address rural housing issues. In my own constituency, the first housing stock transfer in Scotland will ensure a massive extra investment in housing in the Borders. That is a fact that was also studiously ignored by Mrs Grahame.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I can go on; I have plenty more. I will say, however, that the central problem that the Conservatives have is that they do not accept the devolution settlement. Not only that, but while they argue for tax cuts, they turn up here looking for more expenditure. It is a circle that they cannot complete—their position is simply impossible and fundamentally dishonest. If one were to invite the Tory leadership to dinner, I suggest that one should count the cutlery before they left.

The Executive's record in its first four years of devolution is impressive, but I know that there is still much to be done. There are many intractable problems in Scotland, which the next Executive will address. However, many concrete improvements are now in place that will make the lives of Scotland's people better. In four short years, the Executive has achieved a huge amount. We have shown that devolution can work for Scotland and will work for Scotland. I support the Executive amendment.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 12:21 pm, 6th March 2003

It was entirely appropriate that the Conservative party took the opportunity of the last non-Executive time allocated to us in this Parliament to lodge a motion that put the Executive's record under scrutiny. It is important that we, as an Opposition party, ensure that we scrutinise the record of the Executive. It is our fundamental reason for being here and will continue to be our priority right until the end of this Parliament.

At the end of this session, we will move to the next one; the coalition parties will perhaps have a chance of being the Opposition and we can perhaps have a chance of being the Executive—[Interruption.] I hear shouts of "Dream on," but we must remember that any party that enters Parliament to make a serious contribution to Scotland's way of life must aspire to hold power in Scotland. The Conservative party is prepared to make that commitment in the coming election and at any subsequent election. We will not turn our back on the people of Scotland, but will defend the interests of those who seek to have us defend them.

There are many people in Scotland who rely on the Conservative party and there are many who do not vote for us, or have not done so in recent years, but who still rely on our presence. There is not a huge majority within Scotland that supports the notions of socialism—there are still those who see wealth creation as being at least as great a priority as spending. That is why we see ourselves as the guardians of the economy in Scotland and as the party that will continue to defend wealth creation as the means by which the economy will ultimately provide the opportunity to spend.

We have heard a great deal of prejudice today. We have been subjected yet again to the assumption that, because we are Conservatives, we have not been through the state school system and have no experience of the national health service, but that could not be further from the truth. Like all other members, we know only too well what the services that are provided in this country have been in recent years. It is ironic that, as we debate the points that have been raised today, we hear—especially from the Labour party, but in a particularly whining tone from the Liberal Democrats—the notion that everything that has been good in the past six years has been the responsibility of those on the coalition benches, and that everything that has been bad is the legacy of a previous Conservative Government. Anyone who believes that must be naive. We have had a long period during which Labour has either formed the Government or has been a significant part of it, yet it shows no acceptance of the responsibilities that it must face.

We have heard far too much today about the idea that tax must be increased in order to secure greater expenditure. Gordon Brown has, unfortunately, had to begin to learn the lessons of the mistakes of that policy. We can now only hope that some members in this chamber will learn those lessons. When, as a legacy of the Conservative Government, the total tax take was 39 per cent of gross domestic product, Gordon Brown made great play of the fact that he was paying back the national debt hand over fist. Now that the total tax take is up to almost 42 per cent of GDP, we suddenly find ourselves with one of the largest public sector borrowing requirements that the country has had. Those who blindly follow the tax and spend lead need quickly to learn a lesson from that.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

In the spirit of the pursuit of scientific proof, does the member care to admit to any failure of the Conservative legacy from 1979 to 1997?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I have a great confession to make: there is one failure of which I am ashamed, which is our failure to win the 1997 election.

On today's debate, we heard the accusation early in the debate that the Conservatives never believed in this Parliament and that we are not prepared to take our place in it. I hope that we have given the lie to that, not only today but over the past four years. It is our duty to represent our constituencies in this Parliament. We will therefore ensure, whatever our position was prior to the Parliament's creation, that our role as a democratic party in Scotland is to be within Parliament defending the rights and interests of those who put us here.

We heard that 50 bills have passed through the Parliament; there is an element of "Never mind the quality, feel the width." Many of the bills have been efforts to catch up on what many saw as 300 years of back-business.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Which bills did Mr Johnstone not want to be passed?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

The Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Scotland) Bill would have been top of that list, given that there were no fur farms in Scotland.

On one day, during the passage of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, we made illegal two things that were already illegal, but which were required to be made illegal for a second time in order to satisfy political correctness.

There have been some interesting interventions from the Liberal Democrats during the debate. I must thank George Lyon for his speech; I always find his speeches entertaining. The speech was especially entertaining when he referred to the "flagship policy" of free personal care, when he expressed his enthusiastic support for PFI and when he claimed to have been personally responsible for ending tuition fees. I have to say to George Lyon and the rest of the Liberal Democrats that not a single one of their achievements, which they trumpet so often, could not have been achieved more effectively by voting with the Opposition rather than with the Executive.

The interests of members such as Iain Smith never cease to amaze me. His notion of what Conservative policy constitutes defies even the understanding of we who are in the Conservative party. We hope that some day we might be able to educate him.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No, not at this stage—I am about to go on to speak about Mike Rumbles.

I have to admit that I am one of Mike Rumbles's constituents; I live in the heart of his constituency. He has managed to portray himself—today in particular—as the friend of the Scottish Executive, but back home he portrays himself as the leader of the Opposition. This week, I am sure that Mr Rumbles will, in the pages of the Mearns Leader, praise health expenditure in Grampian. That will be praise that has been conspicuous by its absence in the previous three years.

The Conservatives believe that our programme of policies will bring us success in the Scottish elections. We want to make councils more accountable to their local communities so that they can deliver better services and provide better value for money. We want to reduce the ring fencing of Executive grants to give councils the freedom to determine local policies.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Not at this stage.

As Mary Scanlon said, we want to devolve power to local hospitals and GPs so that doctors and nurses have more say in how the NHS is run and so that the NHS responds to the needs of local people. We want to ensure that money follows the patient in the NHS so that patients have real choice about the treatment they receive. We want to create a partnership between the NHS and the independent sector so that all facilities are used to cut waiting lists and times for NHS patients. We want to unify the health and social work care budgets to provide decent care in the community for older people.

On the economy, we will cut business rates to ensure that our businesses operate on a level playing field with those south of the border. We will reduce the burden of unnecessary red tape by instituting a programme of repeal of all laws and regulations that have no proven worth or need. The figures prove that such legislation strangles growth in the Scottish economy. We will also spend an extra £100 million a year on roads to help large and small businesses to develop.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am finishing up.

We will improve standards and choice in education by increasing substantially the number of specialist schools in order to give parents real choice. We will give schools greater freedom so that head teachers and school boards can set their own educational priorities and allocate their budgets, and we will allow head teachers to exclude violent and disruptive pupils. We will abolish the £2,000 a year graduate tax and replace it with a saltire award scheme to cover the cost of university tuition.

We will be tough on crime. We will provide a more visible crime-fighting presence on our streets in order to deter and detect crime. We will widen the disposals that are available to the children's hearings system and we will increase the number of secure accommodation places. We will restore confidence in the Scottish justice system by ensuring that offenders serve the sentences that are handed down in court. We will also ensure that alternatives to prison, such as community service, actually work. We will deal with drug crime by ensuring the fast-track prosecution of drug-related crimes and allowing judges to hand down higher sentences for those crimes. It is ironic that the Minister for Justice is Jim Wallace, when there have been leaked documents from the Labour party criticising the Liberal Democrats for being weak on crime. The Conservatives guarantee a return to a strong performance on crime.

On the rural economy, we will ensure that farmers and fishermen get a fair deal from the European Union and that there are stricter import controls on meat. We will give control back to fishermen through local fisheries devolution.

We will also ensure that, in line with the Scotland Act 1998, the number of members of the Scottish Parliament is reduced to 108 and we will streamline the Parliament's committee system and reduce the size of the Cabinet.

This debate is our final opportunity to give our views on what we believe Scotland could achieve with a more appropriate programme of government, which we have outlined in detail. I commend our motion to members.