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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Prince attends Kirking ceremony
Sir David Steel and Prince Charles
Prince Charles with Sir David Steel before the service

Prince Charles has attended the traditional Kirking of the Parliament in Edinburgh along with MSPs and respresentatives of all faiths.

The service, which marks the start of the new session of the Scottish Parliament, was held in the city's St Giles Cathedral.

It was led by the Very Reverend Gilleasbuig Macmillan, who took the Kirking ceremony for the inaugural Parliament in 1999.

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, The Right Reverend Dr Finlay Macdonald gave the sermon.

He urged politicians to continue efforts to eradicate sectarianism from Scottish society.

He said: "A sectarian-free Scotland is certainly something which it is time to build up - indeed, long past time."

Prince Charles, whose Scottish title is the Duke of Rothesay, arrived amid tight security at the cathedral in Parliament Square at 1800 BST.

'Disappointing turnout'

Hymns were sung and blessings pronounced during the hour-long ceremony which also saw retiring Presiding Officer Sir David Steel and Parliament chief executive Paul Grice read from the Bible, while Khalid Al-Awaisi recited from the Koran.

Prince Charles and Jack McConnell
Prince Charles spoke with the Labour leader
In his sermon, Dr Macdonald described the turnout in last Thursday's election as "disappointingly low".

And referring to a memorial at Westminster to Emily Wilding Davison, a campaigner for womens' right to vote, he said: "I don't believe that she and her sister suffragettes would have been impressed by a turnout of just over 50%.

"And her thoughts would certainly have been directed towards the non-voting 49-point-something percent of the electorate."

The leaders of the five largest Holyrood parties were among those MSPs attending the ceremony.

However, Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan was not present, but the Glasgow list MSP said this was not a "political decision", insisting it was "entirely up to individuals who have a religious belief", and he had "other priorities".

After the ceremony, Prince Charles went on to the nearby Scottish parliament committee chambers where he saw the visitor centre and met parliamentary officials.

St Giles Cathedral
The service was held at St Giles Cathedral
He also visited the Signet Library, where he met briefly with Scottish party leaders before attending a private reception for MSPs and guests in Parliament Hall.

As he spoke to the party leaders, Jim Wallace informed him of the Lib Dems' ongoing coalition negotiations with Labour which resume on Wednesday as MSPs are sworn in and a new Presiding Officer is elected.

The parliament must then turn its attention to voting in a new first minister before the end of the month.

Failure to do so would mean there would have to be another general election in Scotland.

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