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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 12:29 GMT

UK Politics

Friendly face for Scottish Parliament

A high-tech and family friendly Scottish Parliament has been unveiled.

An all-party steering group agreed the workings of the new assembly, which will use electronic voting and meet during office hours to help members with families.

Donald Dewar: "This parliament should make it's own way, it's own rules"
The blueprint for the Parliament assembly has drawn on assemblies from across Europe to create a body which was not simple a "Westminster in the north".

The Scottish Parliament will follow school holidays, have a presiding officer, rather than a speaker, and members (MSPs) may be addressed as plain Mr and Mrs or even Ms in the assembly.

In addition to an electronic voting system, members will have e-mail addresses accessible to the public.

[ image: The all-party committee wants the public to play a key role]
The all-party committee wants the public to play a key role
The group has also discussed allowing the use of Gaelic, as well as English, within the proceedings, and measures by which ministers can be closely scrutinised are also likely to form part of the plans.

Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar said: "It is very much a blueprint for our Parliament.

"It is based on the assumption we share power with the people, it's based on the assumption it is an open, accessible and participative Parliament and it is also one, I believe, which will be truly accountable to the people of Scotland and the electorate it represents."

Henry McLeish: "We drew upon best practices from Parliaments across Europe"
The Scottish Parliament is expected to have a different composition from Westminster with more younger members and a higher proportion of women.

Its formal opening is to be on 1 July, but MSPs will sit for the first time within days of the Scottish election on 6 May.

Devolution Minister Henry McLeish said he was delighted by the co-operation of everyone involved in drawing up the proposals.

Andrew Cassell: Scottish parliament will be very different to Westminister
He said: "The key principles were the sharing of power, the accountability, accessibility and participation and, of course, equal opportunities.

"During the course of our discussions we drew upon best practices from Parliaments across Europe and further afield to ensure we brought together the best and most appropriate package of recommendations for Scotland.

"All of us believed our Parliament would never be a Westminster in the north. We always believed it would be a fusion of the best practices, the best ideas, best examples from around the world."

The Scottish National Party's constitutional affairs spokesman, George Reid, welcomed the different shape of the new Parliament.

"It will be the voice of Scotland, the focus of national life, the means of moving Scotland forward," he said.

"The Scottish Parliament will be open, accessible and participative. It will be strong on equal rights for all.

"Its business will be determined not by elective dictatorship, but by cross-party agreement."

What role now for Scots MPs?

A Commons committee is also to investigate whether Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs at Westminster should have their powers curtailed after devolution.

Scotland correspondent Colin Blane: "It will be very different from Westminster"
The inquiry by the Procedure Select Committee will look at whether MPs representing constituencies outside England should retain the right to intervene and vote in debates on English legislation after regional assemblies are established later this year.

Power will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and National Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Any proposal that could effectively create two classes of Westminster MP would be highly controversial.

The committee will also take evidence concerning the time allotted to Scottish questions at Westminster and whether it should be reduced after the Edinburgh parliament is set up this summer.

MPs will take evidence from the leader of the Commons, Margaret Beckett and the chairmen of the Scottish Grand and Scottish affairs committee.

The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, may also be called to give evidence.

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