Eyes down for the Bill;Leading Article;Opinion

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
THE Education Bill, which was to have been the first legislation by the Parliament, has been pre-empted by an emergency Bill to deal with mental patients released from Carstairs State Hospital. But the call to MSPs to close a legal loophole coupled with the consultation now going on about the details of the education legislation is evidence that the Parliament is getting down to the kind of business which proponents of devolution always said should be transacted in Edinburgh rather than London. It is a pity that carping by media short of a constructive story filled the gap between the May election and the September start of real activity.

A main difference from Westminster will be the emphasis on specialist committees. The members have the opportunity to become expert in their fields rather than the clever cross-examiners who seek to wrong-foot ministers and officials in the Westminster committees. Of course. knowledgeable committee members will be able to grill ministers as Jim Wallace was this week by the justice committee, but their real role is to be creative, helping to write legislation as well as to pore over the minutiae of officials' drafts during the committee stage of Bills. The education committee will be the first to be put to the test.

Although early meetings of the committees were unsatisfactory for lack of things to do, the greater risk is of overload. The "education MSPs" have also to deal with culture and sport. Those on the enterprise and lifelong learning committee, along with Henry McLeish and Nicol Stephen, the departmental ministers, will have to avoid becoming bogged down in the backwash of industrial crises like those at Kvaerner and Continental.

Otherwise brave aspirations by the Executive about learning as a component in social inclusion (FE Focus, page 34) will get lost in troubleshooting.

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