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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
McLeish unveils legislative plans
Scottish Parliament chamber
New Bills have been laid before the Scottish Parliament
First Minister Henry McLeish has announced detailed plans for 18 new laws in the coming term of the Scottish Parliament.

The package includes free personal care for the elderly, reform of mental health laws, a clampdown on serious violent and sexual offenders, land reform, freedom of information and new moves to protect children.

Mr McLeish told MSPs on Wednesday that the package proved devolution was working for the people of Scotland.

But opposition parties said the proposals did not go far enough in providing the reforms that were needed.

Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish introduced 18 new Bills
Mr McLeish said that four new Bills would be introduced in the area of social justice "very soon".

He said one of these - the Community Care and Health Bill - would "prepare for implementation of free personal care and free nursing care".

"The introduction of free personal care addresses a major injustice - the anomaly that imposes the costs of long-term illness such as dementia and stroke on individuals and families, when the sometimes comparable costs of more acute illness such as cancer and heart disease are fully met by the state," he said.

The first minister also promised a Mental Health Bill that would "strengthen the rights of mental health service users and their families".

Sex crime

The legal system will also be reformed through the new Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr McLeish said this legislation would contain "new measures for the control and treatment of serious violent and sexual offenders".

He also said the executive would introduce "a Bill to replace the diligence of poinding and warrant sales with a humane and workable alternative".

The Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill will contain the executive's proposals for four-year terms for councils

First Minister, Henry McLeish
This would be designed to "ensure that the interests of some Scotland's poorest people are protected - while at the same time safeguarding the legitimate rights of creditors".

A Land Reform Bill will also be put before MSPs during the new session.

Mr McLeish said: "This will provide a right of responsible access to land and inland water for recreation and passage, a community right to buy when land comes to be sold, and a crofting community right to buy croft land."

Local government is another area that has been targeted for reform through two separate pieces of legislation.

The first minister said: "The Scottish Local Government (Elections) Bill will contain the executive's proposals for four-year terms for councils."

Water Bill

This will defer the next local government elections by one year until the executive finalises the change in 2003.

Mr McLeish said the second local government bill will "provide a framework for better, more responsive local government services" and give councils "more flexible powers".

It will also sound the death knell for compulsory competitive tendering, which was introduced under the Conservative government.

Burst pipe
The water industry will be reformed
But the first minister made no mention of proportional representation being introduced in the near future.

Elsewhere, the Water Industry Bill will establish a single authority - Scottish Water.

Another, geared at the environment, will aim to "promote the sustainable management" of water dominated landscapes in Scotland.

Mr McLeish said a Public Bodies Bill would implement "certain recommendations" from the review of quangos and create a commissioner to oversee all major public appointments in Scotland.

The first minister finished his address to MSPs by promising "several measures aimed at improving people's lives".

Protecting children

"We plan legislation to improve the education and welfare of Scotland's children in a number of ways," he said.

"We will be introducing a Bill for the Protection of Children.

"This will have two main functions: to set up an index of adults unsuitable to work with children and to disqualify those on the index, and those convicted of certain serious offences against children, from working with children."

A fully independent Scottish Information Commissioner will have strong powers to promote and enforce the legislation

First Minister, Henry McLeish
He also said a new career structure for teachers would be brought in through the School Education (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

The venue of civic marriages will also be widened through the Marriage (Scotland) Bill but there was no mention of the promised easing of divorce law.

A Freedom of Information Bill will also become law providing "a legal right of access to information held by a wide range of Scottish public authorities".

Mr McLeish said that a "a fully independent Scottish Information Commissioner will have strong powers to promote and enforce the legislation".

This, he added, will be complimented by a "Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman Bill, which will set up a modern public sector complaints system".

Political editor Brian Taylor
"It is a really substantial pile of legislation"
Alex Johnstone MSP, Tory Chief Whip
"The programme seems to contain a lot of bills but not a great deal of substance."
First Minister, Henry McLeish
"A year ago Donald Dewar stood here to deliver the executive's legislative agenda"
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