Scotland

At-a-glance: SNP programme for government

The Scottish government has unveiled its legislative programme for the year ahead, including plans to tackle alcohol abuse, violent disorder and streamline public services.

Here is a look at what was announced by First Minister Alex Salmond:

Budget Bill

This is the key piece of legislation without which the Scottish government cannot function.

The bill sets out the government's spending plans for the year ahead, totalling more than £30bn, although ministers increasingly have to do more with less, given the severe public spending squeeze.

First Minister Alex Salmond has, once again, put economic growth at the heart of his government's plans.

Police and Fire Reform Bill

Alex Salmond first floated the idea of cutting the number of Scottish police forces - currently at eight - during the 2010 SNP conference.

With brutal public spending cuts at the forefront of the political agenda, the first minister has always said his choice was to put "bobbies before boundaries".

The SNP, which has long-favoured a single force, as well as a national fire and rescue service, confirmed its intention to go ahead with the plan after a consultation.

The government said the move had won widespread political and other support, but there are also sceptics, including Grampian Police chief constable Colin McKerracher and local government group Cosla.

Ministers say one police force and one fire service would protect front-line services, while ensuring "clear separation" between ministers and emergency services.

Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill

One of the most controversial measures to have come before Holyrood, the SNP's plan to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol was defeated in the last parliament after opposition parties refused to back it over concerns it was illegal and would punish responsible drinkers.

Now in majority government, the SNP has the votes to pass the measure, regardless of opposition, which it says is a vital tool in tackling Scotland's long-standing history with drink-fuelled violence and related health problems - put at an annual cost of £3.56bn.

Since minimum pricing was defeated, the UK government announced similar plans for England and Wales, under proposals which would see a can of lager cost at least 38p and a litre bottle of vodka no less than £10.71.

And Stormont ministers in Northern Ireland also backed similar plans, which could bring the cost of the cheapest bottle of wine up to £4.20.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has also come round to the idea of minimum pricing, which the SNP previously wanted to set at 45p per unit.

That would have meant a two-litre bottle of supermarket-brand cider trebling in price from about £1.32 to almost £3.80, while super-market-brand vodka would go up from about £8 to £11.80.

Scottish ministers will consider the minimum price separately from the main legislation - which they say is but one of more than 40 measures to tackle drink problems.

Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill

Football match-related violence and sectarian abuse has become one of the big political issues in Scotland in recent months.

Following several high-profile incidents, mostly related to Celtic and Rangers games, ministers moved to rush emergency legislation through the last parliament, to bring in tough penalties for such behaviour.

Following concern from church, football figures and opposition parties about the speed with which the new laws were to be passed, ministers decided on a delay to allow the measures to be debated more fully.

The bill, which the government wants to see passed by the end of the year, creates two new offences on football-related behaviour regarded as offensive and threatening.

One deals with disorder around football matches inside the ground, and extends to those travelling to and from stadiums - as well as fans watching games elsewhere, for example in pubs or on big screens outdoors.

The second offence deals with serious threats - including murder - made on the internet, taking in posts on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Both offences would become indictable, with a maximum punishment of five years in jail,. although decisions on sentencing in each case are a matter for the courts.

Water Bill

Another piece of legislation making a comeback will reform Scottish Water, after ministers admitted the original bill, brought before the last parliament, was too limited in scope.

Amid the ever-present backdrop of spending cuts, the Scottish government wants to "evolve" the utility to an agency which would play a key role in driving the economy and protecting the environment.

The proposals would see Scottish Water gain more powers to make money and could, for example, sell expertise or generate renewables without a cost to the taxpayer.

The Scottish government has faced calls to save hundreds of millions of pounds by selling off or mutualising Scottish Water but, under this plan, ministers say making the body "financially neutral" means Scottish Water can stay in public hands.

Scottish Water would also be charged with fostering humanitarian expertise, such as that provided by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Criminal Cases (Punishment & Review) Bill

The body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice - the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission - will get powers to decide whether to publish reports in appeal cases it has looked into, where such appeals have been abandoned.

The bill essentially relates to an SCCRC report into the Lockerbie bomber case.

The commission previously referred Abdelbasset al-Megrahi's conviction to the Court of Appeal, although Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, later dropped his appeal before being released on compassionate grounds to return home to Libya.

Rights of Children Young People Bill

The Scottish government is planning long-term reforms to improve the lives of young people, but, for now, this bill will enshrine the duty of ministers to observe the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in law.

The convention spells out the basic human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural - to which all children up to the age of 18 are entitled.

Council Tax Bill

The SNP wanted to abolish council tax in favour of a local income tax in the last parliament, but financial constraints and a lack of political support meant the plans were shelved.

Under this bill, ministers want to ensure housing is more efficiently used and the number of empty homes - put at 25,000 - reduced.

Local authorities will also be allowed to remove homeowner council tax discounts for houses empty for more than six months - and even increase charges if they want.

Owners will also be encouraged to rent or sell homes if they are empty.

Ministers also want to get rid of the housing support grant, set up to subsidise housing budgets by helping pay interest on housing debts.

The government says councils are now expected only to borrow cash for housing when they are satisfied that they will be able to repay the costs from rent or other income.

National Library of Scotland Bill

As Scotland's only legal deposit library, the National Library of Scotland offers free access to a collection of more than 14 million items - including the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots and the first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455.

With 70,000 visits a year to the reading room and about 2.5 million calls on the digital library, ministers say it is time to update the regulations under which the library operates, brought in during 1925.

The bill will also cut the size of the NLS board, remove reserved places, and ensure all appointments are made by Scottish ministers "based on merit and selection".

Agricultural Holdings

The Scottish government wants to encourage landlords to let land to tenant farmers, so it can be used as productively as possible.

The legislation also aims to make it easier for the next generation of farmers to inherit tenancies by by extending the definition of a near relative to include grandchildren.

Long Leases

Another housing-related piece of legislation, this bill implements recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission by simplifying property law.

Crucially, it converts ultra-long housing leases - of which there are about 9,000 - to ownership, matched by compensation paid to landlords by the tenants.

Landlords would also be able to preserve sporting rights in relation to game and fishing, where applicable.

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill

Ministers want to add "strength and clarity" to current freedom of legislation laws by amending current regulations as part of a drive to improve "open democratic government and responsive public services".

Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill

The government is considering new measures on ensuring good management of fish farms, wild salmon and and freshwater fisheries.

Ministers are also reviewing the level of fixed penalties for offences and other enforcement measures.

Legal Aid and Scottish Civil Justice Bill

The Scottish government says those who can afford to help pay defence costs in criminal cases should do so.

The introduction of contributions, says the SNP, could save up to £5m a year.

A new Scottish Civil Justice Council will be set up to replace the existing civil rules councils, with a wider policy role to advise and make recommendations on improving the civil justice system in Scotland.

Land Registration Bill

The Scottish government has agreed to implement the findings of a Law Commission report to update the land registration system and associated issues, including conveyancing transactions and the operation of the state guarantee of land titles.

Self Directed Support Bill

The bill seeks to achieve a key government aim on designing public services to meet the needs of local people - fashioned "around the citizen and not the service".

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