Scotland is to pass two acts on mental health and community care as part of the Scottish Parliament's legislative programme, which was outlined last week. First minister Henry McLeish said the programme was building on the work done in the first two years of devolution.

The passage of the Community Care and Health Bill, which should lead to free nursing and personal care for elderly people, will be watched eagerly by Westminster, while the Mental Health Bill looks set to precede its equivalent in England and Wales.

Mr McLeish, who has made full implementation of the recommendations of the Sutherland committee something of a personal crusade, is believed to have upset his colleagues in London, who fear they may be pressurised to follow suit.

According to the Scottish Executive, the Community Care and Health Bill will provide powers to introduce free nursing and personal care, which could be in place by March 2002. Charges for non-personal care, both in the home and in residential settings, will remain. But the bill will also provide legislative backing for the remaining charges to be applied more equitably across Scotland.

In line with a previous announcement, the bill will also legislate to include non-principal GPs in the list system and enable the setting up of supplementary lists to improve standards and monitoring.

Scottish health minister Susan Deacon said it was hoped the bill would be introduced to Parliament at the end of this month. She added: 'This bill will enable us to make further improvements to people's care by creating more equitable care charging, offering improved choice to service users and their families and encouraging greater joint working for the more seamless delivery of care.'

Mental health legislation for Scotland is seen as long overdue and the new act will replace the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, which deals with the compulsory care and treatment of people with mental disorders.

The bill will modernise the statutory framework for the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, provisions for mentally disordered offenders and protection from abuse. It will build on the recommendations of the Millan committee set up in 1999 under chair Bruce Millan, whose report was published in January.

The generally well-received report, which contained more than 400 recommendations, is still being considered by the Scottish Executive, which aims to make a policy statement 'soon'.

The most controversial aspect of the bill, mirroring plans in England and Wales, is expected to provide powers to compel mentally disordered people to take medication in the community.

Dr Mike Winter, medical director of Lothian primary care trust, welcomed proposals for free nursing care. He said: 'The original Sutherland proposals were welcomed as they offered improved equity of care and suggested investment in an important group of people. They allow staff to ensure that acute care and assessment are provided within NHS facilities and that continuing care, when needed, can be provided timeously outwith an NHS facility.'