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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Critics attack legislative plans
John Swinney
John Swinney wants "a normal independent parliament"
Opposition parties have attacked the Scottish Executive's legislative plans for the new session of parliament.

Although First Minister, Henry McLeish's statement on Wednesday was broadly welcomed by the Liberal Democrats, other parties branded it visionless.

Mr McLeish said 18 new Bills would be put before MSPs in the new session of parliament.

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

I welcome the first minister's statement today as recognition of the commitment of the working partnership between Liberal Democrat and Labour colleagues

Tavish Scott, Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party leader John Swinney said the executive had been forced to agree to free personal care for the elderly and the parliament should have more powers to ensure it did not go "cap in hand" to Westminster.

"This government has not brought forward these proposals (for free personal care) with a sense of urgency or enthusiasm," he said.

"They have been forced to bring those proposals to parliament kicking and screaming.

"We must have the ability to deliver properly and that means the Scottish Parliament must be able to take on the full financial and social security responsibilities to ensure that we deliver the best deal for our pensioners."

Mr Swinney said the executive had failed to tackle poverty, reduce hospital waiting lists and cut crime.

Independent parliament

"There are more things that we can do with the powers of this parliament to create a more effective and better Scotland," he said.

"But if we want to create the best country in which people can live we have to have the normal powers of a normal independent parliament."

He also said that Mr McLeish's speech made no reference to introducing proportional representation for local government and called on the first minister to guarantee change in time for the next council elections in May, 2003.

David McLetchie
David McLetchie: "Size of government"
Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie said there was "much that is worthy" in the programme, but criticised the volume of proposed Bills.

He said: "The really worrying revelation is that this first minister seems to believe that more is better and that, by implication, the answer to all Scotland's problems can be found in legislation or at least executive action.

"There is a suspicion that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are trying to justify their own existence, and that of their army of spin doctors, by passing more and more legislation in the vain hope that this will lead to a public acceptance of the burgeoning size of government in Scotland."

Mr McLetchie said most Scots thought the parliament was "one of disappointment, if not contempt".

"This belief that progress will only come about through government direction betrays the lack of trust that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have in the Scottish people," he said.

'Dog's breakfast'

Mr McLetchie also criticised Health Minister Susan Deacon for accusing NHS professionals of making dangerous calls for extra cash.

He said: "Instead of berating those who work in our health service for telling the truth about the appalling state it is in, Susan Deacon should treat health professionals and workers with the respect they deserve and show some faith in them."

Mr McLetchie said that responsibility should be devolved down, both in the health service and in education.

He also called the proposed Land Reform Bill a "dog's breakfast" and said the proposed Freedom of Information Bill would restrict access to information.

Robin Harper
Robin Harper: "Wildlife legislation"
The parliament's only Green MSP, Robin Harper, said he was "saddened there has been no mention of the wildlife legislation" and stated that the "environment is clearly way down the executives list of priorities".

"All the environment organisations were asking is that the executive bring forward their own proposals from the Nature of Scotland document to the parliament so we can make them into law, and the executive have left it out of their programme," he said.

"You have a situation now where in England you can be jailed for wildlife crime whereas in Scotland criminals are often let go."

Mr Harper said he would be writing to the environment minister to ask when the executive "will act to protect our natural heritage".

He also said "the proposals for Freedom of Information are weak" and described the Land Reform Bill as "a mess".

'Working partnership'

But Labour's coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were kinder to the executive's legislative plans.

Leading Liberal Democrat MSP, Tavish Scott, said: "I welcome the first minister's statement today as recognition of the commitment of the working partnership between Liberal Democrat and Labour colleagues.

"Amongst the raft of 18 Bills the first minister has announced today is the Freedom on Information Bill.

"I seek today an assurance that there will be no backsliding in this Bill and it will genuinely achieve what so many of us, particularly Liberal Democrats, have sought.

"Finally, I want to mention free personal care for the elderly. I welcome this commitment today that sets a standard of dignity for those who've paid taxes all their day, for those who've worked for their fellow man and women and for those who've served and given for their country."

Mr Scott said the the programme had been "brought to parliament by Liberal Democrats and Labour colleagues working together".

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."
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