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92. LEGISLATIVE PROGRAM 2004-5
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92. Scottish Executive's legislative programme for 2004 2005

Introduction

This briefing outlines the Scottish Executive's legislative programme for 2004 2005 as revealed by the First Minister on 7th September 2004. This includes 12 new Bills introduced by the Executive as well as 5 Bills which were introduced prior to the summer recess.

The New Bills:

The Scottish Executive announced a dozen bills on the opening day of the new Scottish Parliament building. Five bills are carried over from the last session. The bills of most interest to UNISON Scotland are:

The Health Service (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill

This patchwork bill will introduce free eye and dental checks for all and modernise the dental service. In the wake of organ retention scandals, it will also amend the Anatomy Act, modernising and strengthening the rules on post-mortem examinations, organ and tissue donation and transplantation. It allows Ministers to form or take part in joint venture companies involving public and private sector partners. See UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Executive Consultation: The Use of Joint Ventures to Deliver Primary Care/Joint Premises http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/jventure.html.

Budget Bill

There always has to be a Budget Bill as a technical device to allow the executive to do its job. This one, to be introduced in the new year, comes against a backdrop of a revamped enterprise strategy, an updated approach to the Smart, Successful Scotland policy and the first minister's pledge to seek public-sector efficiency savings of 2% over the next three years. See UNISON Scotland Briefing on Parliament Budget 2003-04 http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/budget2003.html.

Housing (Scotland) Bill

It will modernise council powers to intervene and carry out work on privately-owned property falling into disrepair and to promote area renewal. It will also add insulation and electrical safety to existing rules on tolerable standards, and improve the rights of private sector tenants and mobile home owners. It will also clear the way for ministers to bring in a new system of single surveys provided by those selling a house, though this would still require further legislation. This will be relevant to UNISON members working in various areas of local authority housing and housing associations.

Further and Higher Education Bill

This will merge the two funding councils covering the university and further education college sectors to provide one strategic organisation for higher and further education. This body would have the overview to spread best practice between the sectors, signal where mergers between institutions might be beneficial. UNISON has no objections to this Bill and does not forsee it affecting members in the field.

 

Transport Bill

It will create a network of bodies modelled on the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive, the intention is to spread best practice across Scotland while allowing local flexibility. These bodies will include local business representatives. Ministers will have powers, through a new national transport agency, to harmonise existing concessionary fare schemes for the elderly, young and disabled currently operated by a variety of councils and bus operators. There will also be a "new, independent watchdog" to monitor the quality of roadworks. This has implications for UNISON members due to the transfer of some powers from Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive and the creation of a new national transport agency. There may also be implications on local authority staff with the creation of regional transport partnerships and the extension of concessionary travel schemes to the new national transport agency


Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill.

There is no definition of charity, so for tax purposes bodies in Scotland borrow the English definition. A new Scottish definition will be created as part of a general overhaul of the law, with a new regulator created as an independent statutory body, with powers to investigate and take action to prevent misconduct and protect funds.
The regulation on fundraising will also be tightened. This should not have a major impact on UNISON members working in the voluntary sector, however UNISON will keep a watchful brief on the Bill as it unfolds.

Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences Bill

It will strengthen the law on predatory sex offenders who groom children on the internet. Even if they never get as far as meeting the child, they could face 10 years in prison. Chief constables will also be able to apply to a sheriff for a Risk of Harm Order to restrict the activities of suspected sex offenders, even if they have never been convicted. The big challenge for this bill will be to ensure that it is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. This could have implications for UNISON members who work in Children and Families' social work department.

Other Bills:

 

Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation Bill

The bill would make it a crime to send girls out of Scotland to have the operation done overseas, with a penalty of five to 14 years in prison.

Licensing Bill

Much trailed and consulted upon, this will aim to curb happy hours and other cheap drink promotions, it takes a fresh look at licensing hours, and gives local communities a greater say on the proliferation of pubs and off-licences which can be a focus for antisocial behaviour. The aim is to cut binge drinking, lower alcohol-related crime and encourage safer socialising. There would be a premises-by-premises approach to hours.


Family Law Bill

Consultation on this ended in June. It will give unmarried fathers legal rights in recognition of the important role fathers play in bringing up children. It will introduce legal safeguards for cohabiting couples, allowing them to apply to courts for discretionary awards in the event of breaking up or death. It will also reduce from five years to two years the separation period constituting grounds for divorce.



Gaelic Language Bill

Bord ne Gaidhlig will have a statutory role in developing the language and introducing a National Gaelic Language Plan to encourage public bodies to promote and facilitate this. The measures are seen as complementing current executive efforts in education, broadcasting and the arts.

 

Environmental Assessment Bill

Part of the "Green Thread" commitment running through the coalition's partnership agreement, this will insist that all new strategies, plans and programmes developed by all public sector bodies take full account of both positive and negative impacts on the environment. The public will have full right to comment and authorities will have to consider alternatives which would better the environment.


Bills already introduced:

There are currently five Executive Bills that were introduced prior to the summer recess which still need to complete their passage through Parliament. These are:

  • The Fire (Scotland) Bill
  • The Tenements (Scotland) Bill
  • The Water Services (Scotland) Bill
  • Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill
  • School Education (Ministerial Powers and Independent Schools) Bill

The Fire (Scotland) Bill aims to improve fire safety and provide what the Executive describe as a 'modern framework' for our fire services while the Tenements legislation will put in place the final piece of the Executive's programme of property law reform.

The Water Services (Scotland) Bill aims to establish a modern regulatory framework for water and sewerage services to safeguard public health, improve environmental protection and provide fairness for customers. See UNISON Scotland Briefing: Water http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/waterbrief90.html The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill makes provision for statutory offences where someone assaults, obstructs or hinders an emergency worker (as defined in the Bill), or other persons assisting such a worker, in circumstances associated with emergencies. See UNISON Scotland Briefing: Protect Emergency Workers http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/emergency.html.

The School Education Bill proposes new powers of ministerial intervention where schools or education authorities are found to be failing to implement recommendations of a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. In addition, there are also separate proposals to update the registration and monitoring system for independent schools. See UNISON Scotland Briefing: National Education Debate http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/education.html.

 

Further Information

The full text of the First Minister's speech can be found at:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/News-Extras/FMlegprog

 

 

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