30 October 2007

The Slightly Belated Whip

Better late than never, they say, but here we are. Anyway, the Parliament went through three votes on Wednesday, all concerning the debate on Agriculture, and absentees for the whole of Decision Time were Angela Constance (SNP, Livingston, on maternity leave) and John Farquhar Munro (LibDem, Ross, Skye & Inverness West). First came a Labour amendment to the Government motion, which fell by 65 votes to 59. In what is still a common pattern despite the end of the Coalition (at least in public), Labour - though Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) and Tom McCabe (Hamilton South) missed this vote - and the LibDems voted together in favour, with everyone else (and I include the Greens and Margo in this) voting against. A Tory amendment fared far better, passing by a fairly hefty 111 votes to 14 - Gordon and McCabe had arrived by this point - with the LibDems being the only ones to break the consenus. Curiously, Tavish Scott went missing for this vote, and only this vote. The amended motion then passed by 79 votes to 46: this time, it was everyone except Labour in support, with one notable exception: Hugh O'Donnell (LibDem, Central Scotland) has clearly got into the habit of backing Labour and voted against, along with his friends in Wendy Alexander's party, apart from David Stewart (Highlands & Islands), who vanished at this point. So the Parliament resolved:

That the Parliament notes with concern the impact on our livestock industry, particularly the sheep sector, of the recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in England; calls on the UK Government to recognise its financial and moral responsibility to reimburse Scotland's farmers; acknowledges the work being done in Scotland to support the sustainability of the Scottish livestock industry and the viability of rural communities; believes that the Scottish Government should introduce additional measures to support Scotland's sheep industry; welcomes the review, to be led by Professor Jim Scudamore and commissioned by the Scottish Government, into Scotland's response to the outbreaks, and recognises the need to reduce the risk of future outbreaks and minimise the impact of future disruption.

Then it passed four statutory instruments on the nod: the Club Gaming and Club Machine Permits (Scotland) Regulations 2007; the Licensed Premises Gaming Machine Permits (Scotland) Regulations 2007; the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 (Privative Jurisdiction and Summary Cause) Order 2007; and the Small Claims (Scotland) Amendment Order 2007. But can we please have a Bill to get excited about? This whole non-binding motions thing is getting me down, and seeing secondary legislation just waved through without so much as a minor squabble is making it hard to find a good story.

Anyway, MSPs had more to do on Thursday - eight questions were put to a vote, all non-binding, and there was a defeat for the Government in there. Angela Constance was still absent and probably just about to go into labour (that's childbirth, not the party), while John Farquhar Munro was also missing for asecond day, and Margo MacDonald reverted to form and gave the Chamber a miss. Votes on Free Personal Care went the Government's way, with the SNP and Greens backing a Tory amendment (against Labour and LibDem opposition), which passed by 64 votes to 61. A LibDem amendment then fell by 64 to 61, with the same combination of parties, and the amended motion carried by (surprise, surprise) 64 to 61, so the SNP, Tories and Greens agreed:

That the Parliament notes with concern that the interpretation, implementation and funding of the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 have raised difficulties, many of which remain unresolved; notes that the decision of Lord Macphail dated 17 October 2007 on the Petition of Argyll and Bute Council reflects the guidance issued in July 2003; wishes to reassure those assessed, either now or in the future, as requiring free personal or nursing care that their entitlement to receive it is not affected by Lord Macphail's decision; agrees, however, that the current operation of the law, although in line with existing guidance, may in some cases result in an undue delay between assessment and a local authority care contract being concluded; therefore supports the Scottish Government's ongoing dialogue with COSLA to address issues such as waiting lists, eligibility criteria and food preparation, together with its assurance that it will take action, if necessary, to clarify the law, and considers that Lord Sutherland's review of the level and distribution of resources for free personal care will make a valuable contribution to ensuring that the policy is put on a secure and sustainable basis for the long term.

The police votes went less well for the Government, with an SNP amendment to the Tory motion falling by 77 (Labour, the Tories and the LibDems) to 46 (the SNP alone), with two abstentions (the Greens). The motion then passed by 77 votes to 48 - this time the Greens opted to support the SNP, but fairly obviously, it wasn't enough. So the Parliament resolved:

That the Parliament notes with serious concern that, almost six months after its election, the Scottish Government has made no progress towards the SNP's manifesto commitment of 1,000 more police officers; expresses concern also at an apparent dilution of that commitment, and calls on the Scottish Government to keep that election promise by increasing the number of police officers from 16,234 to 17,234 by the end of this parliamentary session.

Votes on alcohol saw alliances shift somewhat, with a Labour amendment to the Government motion passed on the nod. A Tory amendment was not so fortunate - in fact, it died a rather painful death, being voted down by 109 (everyone but the Tories) votes to 16. A LibDem amendment was voted down, but the humiliation wasn't quite so painful: it fell by 92 votes to 31, with 2 abstentions. The Greens (or Robin and Paddy's Sustainable Cycle Route to Nowhere, if you're a fan of Peter Kay) were - evidently - the abstainers, while the amendment did get Tory support, but the SNP and Labour voted together, so that was that. Anyway, the motion, which had been amended (though Alex Fergusson had to be reminded of the fact) by Labour, went through by 108 votes to 16. The Tories stood alone, defiantly opposing the motion against everyone else - though Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston and Shadow Health Secretary) had gone walkabout by then - who agreed:

That the Parliament notes Scotland's first Alcohol Awareness Week and endorses the partnership approach between the government, industry and the voluntary sector to educate consumers about alcohol units, while recognising that further work is needed to ensure that alcohol is accepted as different to any other product for sale; further notes the high incidence of underage drinking and the harm done to those young people and the negative effect that underage drinking can have on Scottish communities; believes that the Scottish Government should call a summit of all relevant stakeholders to develop an effective strategy to tackle underage drinking; further agrees that tackling the problems surrounding the misuse of alcohol is one of the great social and public health challenges of our time, requiring direct, innovative, long-term and sustained action; recognises that this includes tougher enforcement action against those who sell and promote alcohol irresponsibly; notes the importance of close co-operation with, and support of, Scotland's police forces and licensing boards in this respect; welcomes the recent commitments by the Scottish Government to regulate the display and promotion of alcohol in off-sales premises and to find a method of ensuring that those licensees who profit from Scotland's alcohol culture help offset the damage done by that culture, as well as to develop a long-term strategy to tackle the negative effects of alcohol misuse, and further notes the need for the NHS to play its part in early identification and intervention for those individuals drinking at harmful or hazardous levels.

Now, can we please have some legislation for our entertainment? I know the budget's comng up, but I don't want to wait that long.


Count James d'Estaing said...

Rivetting stuff, Will.

Will said...

I know, I know, but I'm keeping this for when the Parliament actually discusses something that will have any effect, rather than non-binding motion after non-binding bloody motion.

I've come this far, I ain't stopping now!