We have already set more than our fair share of precedents in the past four years and the passing of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill will be another one, as this is the first time that we pass a private bill in the new Scottish Parliament.
The bill might be modest in size and purpose, but it is the final piece in the jigsaw of the Playfair project, which the promoters believe will make a considerable difference to the public's enjoyment of art in our capital city.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Playfair project, it is the catch-all title for the improvements that will restore the Royal Scottish Academy building, stabilise its foundations and create an underground link between the RSA and the National Gallery of Scotland.
During the preliminary stage of the bill, the promoters said:
"the project is ambitious for Scotland. We intend to deliver for Scotland a world-class exhibition facility ... we intend to upgrade the visitor facilities to the whole complex, concentrating in particular on the important areas of education and information technology."—[Official Report, National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee, 3 February 2003; c 4.]
The bill has two purposes. In that respect, it is probably as straightforward a piece of legislation as the Parliament is ever likely to consider. Its first purpose is to remove a small strip of land from Princes Street gardens; its second is to disapply paragraph 22 of the schedule to the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991 in respect of that strip of land.
I would like to make it clear that the bill does not give permission for the Playfair project as a whole. The City of Edinburgh Council has already granted planning permission and listed building consent for the overall project. The only part of the project that the bill concerns is a rectangular piece of ground on the east side of Princes Street gardens, on which the promoters wish to construct a new entrance to the galleries.
I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have contributed to the passage of the bill. I
I do not intend to dwell on the details of the process that we have undertaken. Suffice it to say that private bills differ quite considerably from public bills—private members' bills are something else entirely. The train-spotters among us—I know that there are a few sad cases, although Jackie Baillie does not seem to be present—know that private members' bills exist only at Westminster. The Scottish Parliament has private bills and members' bills and never the twain shall meet. That is the end of my mini-lecture on legislation—anyone with questions can see me after class.
It is fair to say that the bill is as non-controversial in nature as it is possible for a bill to be. We received no formal objections during the objection period, so the preliminary stage focused on the somewhat wider views of interested organisations. Three issues were raised: the protection of Princes Street gardens; the overspill of the commercial aspects of the project into the gardens: and the precedent for future building in the gardens. The committee noted those concerns, but we were satisfied by the evidence from the promoters and from others, such as the city council, the Scottish Civic Trust and the minister, that Princes Street gardens will not be detrimentally affected by the bill. In addition to receiving no objections, no amendments were lodged at the consideration stage. However, the promoters appeared before us briefly and, again, we were grateful for their input.
Private bills, although non-political by definition, can be publicly contentious. I am sure that colleagues who convene future committees to consider railway bills and the like will have plenty of important issues to contend with. In our case, I am happy to say that we managed to keep most of the people happy for most of the time. How often can we claim that we have been able to do that?
Earlier, I spoke to one amendment at the final stage of the bill. That was a technical amendment to ensure that the correct Ordnance Survey co-ordinates were used in the bill. Getting the correct grid references is important. I ask members to imagine what would happen if we had accidentally transferred the Marks and Spencers ladies lingerie department into the ownership of the National Galleries of Scotland. It is important to get the details absolutely accurate, and I am confident that we have now done so.
I would like to address quickly a couple of concerns that were raised by external correspondents. One concern was about disabled access to the gardens. The promoters believe that the bill will go some way towards assisting disabled users, in so far as people in wheelchairs should soon be able to access the gardens via a lift in the expanded galleries complex that will take them from Princes Street level to the lower garden level.
The other concern related to the relocation of the Spanish war memorial to another part of the gardens, which was part of the promoters' successful planning application to the council. All that I will say is that the move ought not to be seen as in any way diminishing the respect that we hold for those Scots who went to Spain to fight fascism all those many years ago.
I have aimed to keep my remarks brief and to the point on this concise and simple bill.
That the Parliament agrees that the National Galleries of Scotland Bill be passed.