The Scottish Government recently unveiled their legislative plans for the year ahead at Holyrood. In total, 15 Bills will be brought before the Scottish Parliament in the coming year covering a wide range of subjects. Some of the headlines include:
- Council Tax Abolition Bill: the controversial proposal to abolish the Council tax and introduce a local income tax will be brought before the Parliament in the current year. As a minority administration, the Scottish Government will be reliant upon cross-party support for this measure to pass;
- Health Bill: this Bill will include two of the Scottish Government's flagship policies. Firstly, measures will be introduced to ban the open display of tobacco products in shops. Secondly, it will also seek to set minimum prices for alcoholic drinks whilst increasing the age at which alcohol can be purchased from an off-licence to 21;
- Scottish Climate Change Bill: the Scottish Government are seeking to set a target of an 80% reduction in omissions by 2050;
- Scottish Parliament and Local Government Elections Bill: following on from the confusion at the time of the last elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government, the Bill seeks to separate the polling date for each of these elections. What the Bill cannot do, however, is to transfer responsibility for the running of these elections to the Scottish Government: these remain the responsibility of the UK Government;
- Legal Profession Bill: in a move welcomed by the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Government are to introduce a Bill which, amongst other things, should allow for law firms to adopt alternative business structures which in turn, it is hoped, will increase the competitiveness of the legal profession in Scotland.
These Bills, along with ten others, are expected to be introduced in the Scottish Parliament in the course of the coming Parliamentary year. Unlike Westminster, it is not necessary for the Scottish Parliament to pass these Bills during the same legislative year. They do, however, require to be passed in advance of the next Scottish general election, in 2011.
One Bill from last year has recently completed its passage through Parliament: the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Bill, which we have considered in earlier bulletins, has passed the final stage in the Scottish Parliament and will now be sent for Royal Assent. This Act will introduce a unified judiciary, headed by the Lord President and will re-enforce statutory guarantees of the independence of the judiciary in Scotland.
It promises to be a busy year ahead in the Scottish Parliament and we shall no doubt return to many of the topics above when the time comes for the Scottish Parliament to consider them in detail.