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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
McConnell's legislative speech
First Minister, Jack McConnell, has outlined his legislative programme to MSPs in the new Scottish Parliament building.

Here is his speech in full.

Presiding Officer, we have been reminded in recent days of the importance of democracy as a system for resolving disputes and settling arguments.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell detailed a dozen legislative changes
As events unfolded in Russia, we watched with horror as young children died, or lived through a terror that will haunt their days.

The mass murder of innocents in Beslan was barbaric, and it will impact on the local people there for generations to come.

On behalf of Scotland, and I hope everyone in this Chamber, I have conveyed our condolences to the people of Russia through their government.

Here in Scotland we have felt the pain and shock of mass murder in a school. So as we offer the people of Beslan our prayers and sympathy, we have also offered any advice or experience that might help them at this terrible time.

And as we do that, we must respect the enormous privilege granted to us. We should treasure our democratic traditions and remember democracy is a force for good.

This is a stunning building. Built I know, with controversy and argument - but built too to capture the promise of devolution and the challenge to all of us to meet that promise.

And it is a credit to all those who have worked hard and long over many months to design and build it. I pay tribute to their skills and expertise and I thank them for their hard work.

Stunning building

It is also the realisation of a vision shared by two people: Donald Dewar and Enric Miralles. Their families will, rightly, be very proud of the legacy they have left Scotland.

But for the people of Scotland, it is not this building that really matters - it is what we do in this building that really matters.

We are here to help people to realise their ambitions, their hopes and their dreams. We are here because they have placed their trust in us.

They want a parliament of vibrant debate and passionate argument. A mature parliament where we argue hard for our own beliefs, but respect the views and ideals of others.

Where we work together to build a Scotland to be proud of. A Scotland of ambition and enterprise, of fairness, tolerance and respect.

Today is a big day - so our business should be fitting
A parliament that inspires people across Scotland and wins their respect by the quality of the work we do and by the intensity of our commitment - to work for others not ourselves, to change lives for the better and to reach out with confidence to the wider world.

Today is a big day - so our business should be fitting.

And I want to mark that start by laying out the programme this coalition government will take forward in the coming year. A programme to tackle the next set of challenges we face.

A programme to modernise Scotland's laws. To make modern laws for a modern Scotland. Legislation to protect children and family life, to strengthen communities and to support enterprise.

First though, five Bills, introduced before the summer will complete their passage through this Parliament in the weeks ahead.

The Fire (Scotland) Bill to improve fire safety and provide for a modern framework for our fire services.

Tenements legislation will put in place the final piece of our radical programme of property law reform.

Bill protection

A programme which in November this year, will see the end of feudal tenure in Scotland. Other legislation will ensure high standards across our school education service.

The Water Services (Scotland) Bill will establish a modern regulatory framework for water and sewerage services that will safeguard public health, improve environmental protection and provide fairness for customers.

And new laws will protect our critical emergency service workers - protecting them while they save the lives of others.

Each of them will make a difference to the lives of people across Scotland.

In a few weeks our Scottish Budget will be outlined to parliament before introduction of the annual Budget Bill this winter.

The Budget statement will outline our investment in services for 2005 - 2008 and the improvements we expect to see. In health, in local government, in the justice system and elsewhere, investment will be linked directly to reform, modernisation and improvement.

Primary school class
Pledges have been made to reduce primary class sizes further
Investing in our public services is essential if they are to offer the opportunity and the safety net we need from them.

But we also need them to focus directly on the needs of those who use their services. To move the money they spend away from the back room and into the front line. To step up to the challenge of proving their worth in 21st century Scotland.

Our Scottish Budget will be boosted by efficiency savings which will improve front-line services and deliver value for taxpayers' money. Not aspirations; but decisions which will serve Scotland well.

I am convinced that our public services and more importantly those who work in them are more than able to meet the challenge.

We see examples every day of their innovation and expertise, their compassion and their commitment. The challenge we put to the private sector - to improve innovation and productivity - is the same challenge we are ready to accept for ourselves.

'Standards are up'

Today is not the day to detail budgets and public service improvements, but in the first weeks in this new building, ministers will lay out their plans.

Devolution is working for Scotland's children and families. Child poverty has been dramatically reduced. Standards in our schools are up year on year. Healthy eating initiatives are changing diets and the habits which harmed the health of previous generations.

And I want future generations of young Scots to have ambition for themselves and the confidence to make their way in the world.

Children may not have votes, or the loudest voices, but our obligation to them is all the greater because of that.

For most young Scots, more and more opportunities are opening up before them - built on the prosperity our country is enjoying. More jobs, fewer unemployed - the fruits of a stable economy.

anti-social behaviour order sign
More action on anti-social behaviour is in store
But for still too many Scots, a life cycle of deprivation and poverty starts when they are children - and if we do not change that life cycle to one of prosperity and ambition then it will stay with those children, and their children, through generations to come. History, cold statistics and our own eyes tell us that.

That is why we are determined to end child poverty. We have made a start with over 210,000 children lifted from poverty. We are on track to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it in a generation.

In this modern, devolved Scotland we will hold no child back; but we will leave no child behind either.

But the powers of devolution mean that we can create laws to meet other challenges our young people face in this modern world.

Two generations ago, it was unthinkable that global communication was only one click away. Those advances have delivered new opportunities in business, in leisure and in learning.

But they have also allowed individuals around the world to exploit the imagination and curiosity of children for their own perverse ends.

Legislation will close loopholes and make it an offence to contact, meet or travel to meet a child with the intention of committing a sexual assault
Today our children are at risk from those who use the internet to groom them for abuse and exploitation.

Scotland needs new laws to tackle this threat and we need them urgently. So, within weeks we will bring forward a Bill to further protect our children from sexual harm. We will outlaw internet grooming.

The Bill will tackle the means sexual predators actually use to entice and prepare children for abuse. Legislation will close loopholes and make it an offence to contact, meet or travel to meet a child with the intention of committing a sexual assault.

It will give new powers to our police and impose additional restrictions on the movement of those who prey on our children, banning them from loitering near children's playground areas, schools or centres.

And there will be further legislation to protect and support Scotland's children.

Everyone in Scotland has the right to live free from abuse, intimidation and fear. Young and old, male or female, of all cultures and religions. And that right is there even when you are sent abroad so those who would abuse you can escape our law.

Female genital mutilation is a grotesque crime, illegal in Scotland. But there are those who send young girls out of Scotland to avoid prosecution here.

Vulnerable citizens

The Bill we will introduce will make that act a crime too. It will increase the penalty on prosecution from a maximum of five to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

I don't believe in government intervention for its own sake. But I do believe that government has a responsibility to act to protect its citizens, and its most vulnerable citizens most of all.

Strong families provide the security, stability and support children need to become confident in themselves and ambitious for their future.

And every child deserves the best start in life that strong families provide. We will continue to give the highest priority to supporting and protecting children and - when it is appropriate - help parents meet their responsibilities to their children.

So our starting point in framing the legislation on family law, which we will bring before parliament later this session, is about safeguarding the best interests of the child.

The Holyrood chamber
The Holyrood chamber opened for business for the first time
Not arbitrating in adult disputes, but offering practical support and recognition that allow those disputes to be worked through by the adults concerned - with minimum damage possible to the child.

The legislation recognises the diverse reality of family life in Scotland today, and we will publish our final plans shortly.

In this year, we will also enact European regulations, to protect children across borders, continue our reforms of child protection, and make progress in securing the future of children's hearings.

It is because of our belief in the vital importance of the early years in a child's life that we have been building the foundations to support children and family life.

And while we will legislate this year to protect Scotland's children, we will also build on previous legislation to help young Scots succeed.

We have made one of the biggest advances in a century of education by providing universal pre-school and nursery education for Scotland's 3 and 4 year olds.

We have brought primary class sizes to an all time low - and plan to go even further.

Making a difference

We have invested in teachers and equipment and set new standards for schools.

We are making the biggest investment to modernise our school buildings in over a century.

And we are seeing the results - with rising attainment year on year.

Devolution has already made a difference for Scotland's children.

But there is more to do.

Scotland has a proud tradition in education and on the world stage we outperform most other nations.

But my ambition is that we can, we should and we will do even better. Particularly in the early years of secondary where we still see too many young people lose their motivation and begin to disengage from learning.

Over the coming weeks we will unveil the most comprehensive modernisation programme of our secondary schools for a generation.

  • We will have the rich, diverse and colourful comprehensives Scotland deserves.

  • We will explicitly raise expectations of the standards we expect.

  • We will give pupils more choice and schools more freedom.

  • And we will ensure a regime of tough accountabilities.

Our schools can and must do more. For those doing well, we need to spur them to aim even higher. More improvement, higher attainment. And all of that recognised by a new inspection standard - the excellence standard. A new standard to reflect the scale of ambition for schools.

Schools with the best of leadership, the highest of ambition and the widest choices for pupils. Schools where the good work done today will be bettered tomorrow.

When you have seen the best schools at work - and we have many in Scotland - you are impatient for all to reach that standard. I am determined that we will narrow the gap between the highest performing and those which need to transform to perform.

But we will do that by bringing those at the bottom to the top. We will not hold back those already there or on the way up.

There are those who say that excellence is only achieved if others fail. That to select only a few to succeed should be our choice.

To them I say - devolution was not devised to take Scotland back. Scotland will not succeed if only a few prosper. We need to have ambitions for all, opportunities for the many - not just the few.

Reaching high

There will be centres of excellence, but let me be clear. There will be no elitist selection of pupils. But choice and diversity for different talents and ambitions will be available to all.

Because I reject the calls to return to the divisive failures of the past, when children were rejected at an early age.

The future of Scotland, the only successful future for our country is to spread know how and build aspirations - and help even more people realise their goals.

Some schools are there already, many are on their way. But too many are not close enough.

We will deliver a programme to bring about the transformation that some need and back the ambition of those who are aiming higher.

By 2007, we will have 20 of our secondary schools most in need of transformation on our schools for ambition programme.

Schools will not be able to opt out of improvement or escape our attention.

With our Local Authorities we will expect them to reach high standards of leadership, achievement, discipline and attendance.

Crime, including drugs related, will be a further policy focus
Standards met and exceeded - throughout the school, year on year.

In return, we will commit the support and resources, enhanced from private sector investment, that they need; and we will ensure they have the freedoms that they need, to take decisions and chart the direction necessary, to become schools of excellence.

And our vision of communities where our children can learn and grow in safety, our elderly live in peace and our families see the rewards of their efforts. So we will act on crime, health, housing and the environment.

In too many of our communities, violent crime and regular antisocial behaviour are hurting. Hurting ordinary, hard working people and eating away at our confidence and quality of life.

Devolution has seen a reduction in crime; more crimes solved and more police officers in Scotland.

Last year we acted swiftly to crack down on anti social behaviour. And now, one year on, we have the new laws which allow us to say to the law abiding, hard working majority, ' the law has changed and this time, it's on your side'.

Tackling crime

In the coming year, we will take that forward, with further action on antisocial behaviour, action on violent crime and action to cut reoffending.

Not only introducing the laws to curb anti-social behaviour, but now bringing forward a Licensing Bill to overhaul radically Scotland's licensing laws.

It will crack down on the irresponsible promotions which encourage binge drinking, end the saturation of off licences, pubs and clubs from which too many of our communities suffer, and give local people more say in what goes where.

This is legislation to bring Scotland's behaviour on alcohol and the use of alcohol into the 21st century.

We have put in place new provision and new investment to protect vulnerable witnesses and we have continued to invest in our police forces to tackle serious and violent crime.

In the coming year, we will consult on a new Scottish Police Bill - increasing the powers police officers have to deal with knife and violent crime, build on the success of the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency, reform the complaints system and put common police services on a statutory footing.

Since devolution five years ago, we have invested heavily in the courts and prosecution services to reform the efficiency and the effectiveness of these vital public justice services.

Tackling the scale of re-offending and having a clear objective to reduce it is not easy
We have led from the front with radical legislation to reform our High Courts, tackling the culture of delay and increasing the focus on justice for the victim as well as the accused.

We have acted promptly to deal with backlogs in the Appeal Court and through our investment, have increased the number of permanent High Court judges by 20% since 1999.

We are encouraging co-operation across borders, speeding up the process of prosecution and trial, and supporting witnesses.

But if we do all of this and ignore the challenge to reduce re-offending - we will not succeed.

Re-offending rates in Scotland are appalling. On current figures, 60% of prisoners will re-offend within 2 years of release.

Whether from prison or from community sentence, too many offenders leave only to reappear in the police cells and courts - and back into the prison.

This cycle is wasteful - of time, of money, of lives. It is especially wasteful of each new victim's life. Tackling the scale of re-offending and having a clear objective to reduce it is not easy. Perhaps that's why successive governments have ignored it for so long.

Distress and anxiety

This is not a job for government alone. It is going to take the hard work and effort of people working in our prisons, in our local services and in our voluntary organisations. But this government will not duck the challenge.

We will reform sentencing, reform our prisons, and reform the organisations responsible. We need tougher action against the most dangerous, and more serious rehabilitation for the vast majority of other offenders.

In the autumn we will publish our proposals to reduce re-offending and we will make sure that any necessary legislation will be introduced as early as possible in 2005.

And in the coming year we will bring forward legislation in the Health Bill to tackle some of the areas which have caused distress and anxiety to many in Scotland.

The legislation will improve the legal framework for organ and tissue donation and transplants, ensuring families that they will be treated with respect and their loved ones with dignity.

It will allow us to transfer resources on a continuing basis for payments to support those who have contracted Hepatitis C from blood transfusions or blood products. And we will begin the process of legislating to further protect vulnerable adults.

Blood bag
Those who have suffered blood infections will receive continued support
In health, we tackled first the issues for those most at risk.

So we focussed our resources and have reduced deaths for those under 75 with coronary heart disease down by 23%, cancer down by 6% and deaths from strokes down by 14%.

This was the right thing to do and we have made a difference to the lives of ordinary men and women up and down the country.

We have increased the number of hospital doctors and consultants, the number of nurses and midwives and we have set clear targets to go further.

In our health service there is very much more for us to do. And in the coming weeks, the Health Minister will be outlining the action he will take to further reduce treatment waiting times and drive up standards in hospital cleanliness and care standards.

But our vision is for healthier Scots who live longer and live a life free from unnecessary ill health.

We continue to be held back by a health record that for generations has been poor.

We know that to really improve our national health we need to improve diets and exercise levels and reduce alcohol consumption and smoking.

In the next month we will conclude our consultation on smoking in enclosed public places.

'More than walls'

And in this parliament we will take action to reduce the terrible toll that smoking takes on our people.

Good quality housing is central to our success. And central to the regeneration of communities across Scotland.

Families need housing - of the right size, in the right area, with decent services.

The economy too needs skilled people able to live in the right areas, able to move where the jobs are, and young people able to take up work on the first step of the employment ladder.

This is why affordable housing is so important. It supports our hard working families; and removes a barrier to a growing economy.

Boarded-up houses in Dalmarnock, Glasgow
Increased investment in housing is on the cards
But houses are more than walls and roofs. They are homes. Having your own home gives you security and confidence. A place to live and be who you are. In a neighbourhood where people look out for each other and take pride in the home they live in and the street they walk down.

Homes are where you start out from, and where you return to.

We have done a lot to improve housing since 1999. Our investment has been substantial, whether through stock transfer or our support for low cost home ownership; we are tackling homelessness and introducing new rights for housing tenants; we have introduced new funding for local social housing through the prudential borrowing regime.

All of it backed by practical steps to improve quality in social housing through a new housing quality standard.

Taken together - our strategy, our investment and our insistence on quality add up to a housing renaissance for Scotland. And in the coming weeks we will announce our plans to go further with increased investment and more homes for rent and low-cost ownership.

Our modernisation of housing will build on this strong foundation with the introduction of the next Housing Bill. A Bill to modernise the buying and selling of homes across Scotland, raise standards in Scotland's private housing stock, strengthen the rights of private sector tenants and help local authorities deal with areas of disrepair and decline.

Too many communities suffer from poor decisions in the past which ignored their environmental impact. That's why we'll be introducing legislation in this current parliamentary year to put new environmental responsibilities on the public sector in Scotland.

Seeking solutions

The new legislation will introduce a strategic environmental assessment - requiring all of the public sector to take account of the environmental impact of all new strategies, plans and programmes and giving the public a new right to comment on what is proposed - and have their views taken into account.

The Charity Law Bill will increase public confidence in charitable giving. Scotland has a large charitable sector and a strong tradition of volunteering. We have to nurture it - charities build community infrastructure, they create opportunities, they deliver vital public services, often to our most vulnerable people, they intervene when the market fails and they make a significant contribution to growing our economy.

The strength of charities and volunteering is not just that they work for the benefit of others or that they give up their time for free - their strength lies in the ethos and the values they enshrine.

New students
Mr McConnell spoke about the role of universities
Volunteers tend to take action where others have given up. They seek solutions and common ground and they want to get things done. They persevere to build, to organise, to change things where many of us gave up years ago.

They believe that one person can make a big difference.

Over 1 in 4 people in Scotland volunteer and we stand amongst the best in Europe. With Project Scotland, we will build on that - giving every young person the opportunity to make a real contribution to communities. And in doing so, reaping a real benefit in their own life.

Our goal - a Scotland, where we encourage ambition, reward success and open up opportunities for all - means we must re-ignite Scotland's enterprising spirit.

This Scottish government has put growing the economy as our first priority. Not growth at any cost. It should be growth that encourages people to make the most of their talents. And growth that respects our wider environment.

But a bigger private sector creates the wealth our country needs to build strong communities, tackle crime, pay for excellent schools and improve the care of those who are sick.

Most of all - economic growth opens up the opportunity of employment for all.

Having a job means paying your way. Looking after yourself and those you love, planning a future and realising dreams. It brings independence, self respect and the pride of a good day's work rewarded fairly.

Unemployment in Scotland is at its lowest for a generation. Youth unemployment, the waste of so many young lives in the 80s and 90s - is virtually eliminated.

More productive

Full employment is finally within our grasp. But the closer we are too it, the harder it is to reach.

So our task now is to reach out to those who are still unemployed. To offer them the chance to gain the skills, the experience and the confidence to take up the jobs that are there. To see a way out of the dead end days on the dole and use the opportunities we offer to take responsibility for themselves and their families.

To do that, we must help to create the conditions in which our companies can grow.

Last week, Jim Wallace and I launched the updated framework for economic development in Scotland. It sets the priorities for higher growth and challenges us to go further than ever before.

We must address Scotland's key challenge - productivity.

Business and public services in Scotland need to become more and more productive.

Getting greater value from the resources they invest in their products and services.

We will do that by innovating and investing in skills and knowledge:

Quality modern apprenticeships, more vocational education and opportunities to learn while earning will enhance the level and relevance of skills throughout the economy.

And to re-ignite Scotland's enterprising spirit - every school pupil in the country is getting the chance to learn enterprise education. To learn about calculated risks, to learn from mistakes and ultimately to build the confidence to 'have a go'.

And Scotland's Universities are world class.

They punch well above their weight in quantity and quality of research. And their research is increasingly relevant too. This year there has been a 20% increase in applications from overseas.

Our universities are a national strength. Their reputation, the national prestige they bring enhances Scotland's mark on the world.

Now is the time to strengthen their position - in the UK, Europe and the world.

And so too, it is time to recognise the contribution Scotland's colleges make to our economy, to local communities - and most of all in embedding the notion of lifelong learning throughout Scotland.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell said what went on in the stunning building was important
So in this parliament, we will bring forward a Further and Higher Education Bill to ensure the strategic development of these two critical education sectors for the economic, social and cultural benefit of Scotland.

To make the best of all those skills and that spirit of enterprise, we need better planning and transport systems too. We will publish our detailed plans for legislation to modernise and improve Scotland's planning services.

But good transport links are vital for connecting our communities and supporting business; linking people to jobs and Scottish jobs to the world. We need a high quality, integrated transport system that is accessible, reliable, safe and efficient.

So, we're investing heavily in infrastructure - roads, railways, sea and air links - and broadband.

And now it is time to take the next step. In this parliament we will introduce a Transport Bill to continue our modernisation programme for Scotland's transport system.

Legislation to better align our transport infrastructure with the needs of a modern Scotland, to meet the demands of business and communities.

A strategic approach, introducing regional and national partnerships to bring will real improvements to the planning and delivery of transport services.

In particular it will bring an end to poorly co-ordinated road works that can cause traffic congestion, cost business money and cause needless delays for all road users.

Fresh talent

And it will provide the mechanism to deliver on our commitments to introduce Scotland - wide concessionary travel schemes for pensioners and others.

Devolution moves on. And in this next year, we expect to fulfil our agreement with the UK government to improve Scotland's railways.

They will devolve new powers to make our rail track and infrastructure work for Scotland.

And devolution brings the flexibility for government to meet the needs of Scotland.

Five years ago the decline of Scotland's population was considered inevitable. Government was planning for it, not reversing it.

But now - in a world where some think that movements of people are a threat, Scotland is bold enough to say that it is in our national interest - in every way - to welcome fresh talent alongside the development of our home grown talent.

Fresh Talent is more than just growing our population. It is about our ambitions. That Scotland will be the best place in Europe to live and work. And we will be the most welcoming place too.

We will welcome all those who want to make their lives in Scotland. We value their contribution and we welcome students from overseas, seasonal workers, professionals - and we welcome those fleeing persecution from unstable states too.

Our groundbreaking Relocation Advisory Service will be open by the end of next month. Demonstrating our welcome in practical, constructive ways.

This parliament has helped renew Scotland's profile internationally. We have always had a big voice for such a small country. And this new building will create greater interest too. This devolved government will grasp the opportunity that presents itself.

We will stand up and promote our country - our businesses, our universities, our artists, musicians and sports people.

To talk up our successes and increase confidence at home and abroad.

We will value the arts and culture, support excellence and improve access for all.

But, Presiding Officer, as a Gaelic learner yourself, you among many know the specific value of Gaelic in our national life.

Proud Scots

The Gaelic language is a unique part of our culture and heritage.

Across Scotland there are strong and clear links between our geography, our natural heritage, our people, our values. Gaelic is for many Scots our first tongue.

Gaelic is about much more that our past or our place names.

For some, Gaelic is a barely living echo of the past.

But Gaelic is a living language. It is the gateway to a rich culture, both ancient and modern. A language that has helped shape many aspects of Scottish life and society - and continues to do so today.

But Gaelic is a language facing the challenge of survival. It is vital that we do all we can to ensure our Gaelic doesn't only survive, but that it thrives.

As Sorley Maclean said: "If Gaelic dies, Scotland will lose something of inexpressible worth."

My ambition is to see Gaelic grow once more in its everyday usage across Scotland. Something more Scots can feel part of, and proud of.

We can lift our heads when we walk into this phenomenal place for debate to collectively raise our game
A year ago, on the 100th anniversary of the Mod, we launched our consultation on a draft bill to secure the status of the language in Scotland.

And one year on, in this legislative programme, we will introduce and pass into law the Gaelic Language Bill to build on the work we already support in broadcasting, the arts and education.

This is a programme for the year ahead in government. Making good laws, setting budgets, acting to improve the opportunities for young Scots.

But the greatest thing that devolution has created for Scotland is a sense of national ambition.

There are truths here for every one of us in this chamber.

We can't create a law that instils aspiration in the hearts and minds of Scotland's teenagers.

We can't create a fund to pay them to have ambitions.

But every one of us can help create the conditions for confidence and ambitions.

We can lift our heads when we walk into this phenomenal place for debate to collectively raise our game.

And we can use these next 12 months to make further progress towards an enterprising, healthier, tolerant and fairer Scotland.

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