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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 June, 2003, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Holyrood rises to meet Queen
By John Knox
BBC Scotland political correspondent

The Queen
The Queen reflected on the progress of Holyrood
"The days when Scotland was limited to a few Acts each year are over. Today, across a whole range of issues, this parliament is carving out a distinctly Scottish position."

So said the Queen this week, on her third visit to her Scottish Parliament.

She should, of course, have been opening the new Holyrood building had it not run into delays.

And her visit was followed by yet another embarrassing increase in the cost.

The occasion was a direct echo of her first visit on 1 July 1999.

There were school children waving flags as the Queen drove up the Mound.

The Inverness Gaelic Choir sang in the quad.

There was trumpeting and more singing inside.

The Presiding Officer George Reid welcomed the Queen in Gaelic and spoke of the "rainbow" of parties and independents in the new parliament.

"There is a new voice in the land," he said.

The Queen acknowledged this "diversity" and praised the parliament for its commitment to working in partnership with the people.

"At a time when, in many countries, there is disengagement from politics, parliaments everywhere can draw on your experience - from the petitioning process, to regular meetings of your committees throughout the land, from your engagement with young people, and from your determination to employ the latest technology to reach out to the electorate."

The Queen took on the many critics of the new parliament building.

Queen in car
People waited for hours just for a glimpse of the Queen
She said she looked forward to having a new "neighbour" at the bottom of the Royal Mile.

"I hope it will be seen as a bold statement of Scotland's standing in the world."

What she did not know was that the cost of the project was to increase, yet again.

It is up another 37m to 375m.

The pageantry over, the parliament got down to business on Wednesday.

The task in hand was an emergency measure to close a loophole in the law over who gets free school meals.

Changes to the benefits system would have meant that 6,500 children would have lost out on free lunches in August, if the new law was not rushed through.

It was agreed unanimously.

But the Scottish National Party (SNP) said it was another example of the Scottish Parliament having to correct mistakes made at Westminster.

And the Socialists argued that it was an ideal opportunity to widen access to free school meals for everyone.

Most of Thursday was given over to a debate on neds or socially challenged young people as we must now call them.

The Socialist MSP Rosie Kane put down a question to the executive asking why ministers are using the insulting word ned to tar all young people with the same brush as the tiny minority of persistent young offenders.

The debate itself was a well-behaved discussion on the role of young people in Scotland and how the government could help them.

The Queen arives at Holyrood
The Queen met party leaders
Education Minister Peter Peacock said the action being taken against young offenders was only a small part of what the executive was doing in schools, colleges, voluntary organisations, apprenticeships, sports facilities, and concessionary transport to give all children the opportunity to develop into happy and useful citizens.

Question time this week was dominated by a story broken by the BBC.

It has emerged that 17,000 court cases last year were abandoned because of delays due to the introduction of a new computer system.

The first minister admitted there had been significant delays but said the new computer system - tracking cases from police station, to procurators fiscal, to court, to sentence and final outcome - was now beginning to reduce delays and would soon be the envy of many other countries.

Down in the "engine room" of the parliament, the committees are gradually being sorted out.

The parties have nominated nine members for each of the 16 committees.

There was a row over the size of the health committee.

The Socialists wanted it increased from nine members to 11 to allow their own Carolyn Leckie, a midwife, to serve on the committee, as well as the independent Dr Jean Turner.

They took their fight all the way to the floor of the chamber but were defeated by 104 votes to nine.

The convenerships of the committees have also been decided.

The environment and rural affairs committee will be chaired by Labour's Sarah Boyack, the former environment minister.

Trumpeters
A fanfare greeted Her Majesty
Labour's feisty Johann Lamont, champion of neighbourhoods affected by youth crime, is convener of the communities committee.

The Liberal Democrats have been given the convenership of the education committee.

Competent Robert Brown will be a safe pair of hands there.

The SNP take charge of the enterprise and culture committee.

They have nominated their eagle-like Alasdair Morgan as convener.

He will keep an eye on Jim Wallace as enterprise minister and the executive's top priority of lifting Scotland's growth rate off the floor.

The health committee will be chaired by another SNP heavyweight Christine Grahame.

So we can expect a no-nonsense approach here.

The local government and transport committee will be chaired by ex-railwayman and councillor Bristow Muldoon.

He is a Labour loyalist who will have his loyalty tested as the committee tackles the difficult issues of congestion, road-charging, and PR for local council elections.

The SNP's Richard Lochhead will want to use his convenership of the European committee to challenge the UK government on issues such as fishing, farming, competition rules and Scotland's representation in Europe.

Holyrood building
The parliament is due for completion next year
Two big Labour hearts will chair the equal opportunities committee and the petitions committee, Cathy Peattie and Michael McMahon.

And the Labour technocrat Des McNulty will chair the finance committee.

Finally, the Conservatives have been given charge of two committees.

The witty and urbane lawyer Annabel Goldie will convene one of the two justice committees.

Labour's Pauline McNeill chairs the other.

And right-wing tiger Brian Monteith will chair the audit committee.

We can be sure he will maul the executive whenever he gets the chance.

So the Queen leaves behind a working parliament.

It is strange how the institutions of democracy have to stop while an election is held.

That has been the feeling there at Holyrood for the past two months or so.

And it is curious how it takes a royal visit to set things in motion once more.




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