27 January 2008

The Sunday Whip

This has to go down as an excellent week for the Government. After the passage of the Business Motion, Wednesday saw full attendance for Stage 1 of the Budget (Scotland) Bill. First came an amendment from the Finance Committee (the first amendment tabled by a Committee since the Election), which passed by 65 (SNP, Tories, Greens) votes to 1 (Margo), with 62 abstentions (Labour and the LibDems). A Labour amendment fared badly: it fell by 82 votes to 46, with Labour failing to get any other party to support it. Even the LibDems voted against it. But there were no hard feelings: although the LibDem amendment fell by 66 votes (SNP, Tories, Greens and Margo) to 62, Labour were happy to support it. Then came to vote on the motion (as amended by the Finance Committee's proposals): as I'm sure everyone is now aware, it passed, by 64 (SNP, Tories, Margo) votes to 62 (Labour, LibDems) with 2 abstentions (Greens):

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Budget (Scotland) Bill but, in so doing, recommends that the Scottish Government (a) brings forward proposals setting out how, over the period covered by the spending review, the level of police recruitment can be increased beyond that currently planned and (b) considers whether there is scope to increase the business rate reductions applying in 2008-09 beyond those stated in the Spending Review as the first stage of the acceleration of the reductions, setting out what changes will be required to the 2008-09 Budget as a result.

Following that, the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 (Modification) Order 2008 was waved through.

Thursday, on the other hand, saw only one actual vote, so consenual were proceedings (even the Presiding Officer remarked on this). The Government proposed a Legislative Consent Motion favouring the UK Parliament's Dormant Bank & Building Society Accounts Bill. It was the LibDems' proposed amendment that shattered the peace, falling by 65 votes (SNP, Tories, Greens) to 17 (LibDems) with 45 abstentions (Labour and Margo). Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there was one more supporter than there are LibDem MSPs: Karen Whitefield (Lab, Airdrie & Shotts) carried on the long tradition of the two parties voting together, though whether or not that was intentional is another matter. Also, Marilyn Livingstone (Lab, Kirkcaldy) was absent, though on a day like Thursday, she could afford to take the time off, especially as the Labour amendment to the motion passed without challenge, and the amended motion was agreed to on the nod:

That the Parliament supports the principle of clauses in the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill, introduced in the House of Lords on 7 November 2007, providing for the collection and distribution of sums released from dormant bank and building society accounts for social and environmental purposes, and agrees that the provisions in the Bill that relate to the distribution of such sums in Scotland should be considered by the UK Parliament and, in so doing, calls on ministers to ensure a full and open consultation involving all interests with a social or environmental purpose and, in particular, organisations providing services, facilities or opportunities to meet the needs of young people; notes that a further vote will be required in the Scottish Parliament, and calls on ministers to return to the Parliament at the conclusion of the consultation exercise for further consideration of the distribution of the funds not later than September 2008.

Following that, consensus was reached on the Government's motion on the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Report: this was waved through, after being amended by Labour and the LibDems, both of whom enjoyed the full support (or at least, acquiescence) of the Chamber:

That the Parliament welcomes the collaborative work being undertaken by a wide variety of partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors to take forward implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy from 2004 to 2007, as set out in Scotland's Biodiversity: It's In Your Hands - A Progress Report 2005-07; commends the enthusiasm and commitment of all those involved in that work, and acknowledges that continued effort by all the partners engaged in conserving biodiversity in Scotland is required in order to address the challenges identified in the progress report such as climate change, invasive non-native species, river basin management, sustainable management of the natural world, the development of the ecosystems approach, wildlife crime and the need for the broader engagement of all citizens so that Scotland can play its part in delivering our national and international commitments to the cause of halting biodiversity loss; calls on the Scottish Government to confirm the commitment to meeting the 2010 EU Gothenburg biodiversity targets; and notes that land users, land managers, inshore fishery interests, sea fishing interests and land practitioners are charged with delivering environmental benefits, and recognises that there is a need for these stakeholders in particular to be formally involved in the strategy at all levels, to understand the objectives, and thereafter to contribute practical solutions to the strategy and its overall aim.

And then, just to put the icing on the cake, no one wished to oppose the re-appointment of Kevin Dunion as the Scottish Information Commissioner until 23 February 2012.

All this consensus has left me with a warm fuzzy glow inside. I need to get back into a bad mood.


Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

The Emergency Workers regs are one of the more bizarre stories of the session. The best discussion on it is by James Chalmers in his blog on Scottish criminal law. He pointed out at that http://criminalletters.blogspot.com/2007/12/protecting-doctors-allegedly.html they are meaningless provisions as they purport to increase sentencing powers to the new summary cause maximum sentence, see also the Scots Law News blog (undated posts) at numbers 713 and 728. Chalmers suggested when they were proposed that

""the fact that the proposal is useless is unlikely to lead to any dispute: it can hardly be said to do any harm, and even if opposition politicians have their doubts about its usefulness, being seen to oppose "protection" for healthcare workers is probably on a par with being photographed drowning kittens. All this, however, allows the Government to be seen to be doing something (even if it really isn't), and it provides an opportunity for trade unions to be seen fighting to protect their members (even if they really aren't)."

I agree with him. This is gesture politics, and the sort of gesture that - while meaningless in law - has no-one in Parliament prepared to say there's something odd. At best it's harmless, at worst misleading - but the track record on SSIs is not good under the current government.

Remember the fuss about the emergency SSI before the summer recess that MSPs seemed ot think was going to stop ship to ship transfers in the Forth? It's still not been used - because it can't prevent ship to ship transfers.

The more meaningless legislation there is passed, the more it brings the legislative process into disrepute.

As a lawyer I guess I'm over-interested in this - but I think there is scope for the opposition parties to start targeting the government on this.

Will said...

Well I must confess that my scrutiny of the parliamentary process hasn't (yet) extended to examining the SSIs. Perhaps I should start, but what I am quite sure of is that since May, not one has even come to a vote in the Chamber. I think the LibDems asked questions about one once, but that's as far as it goes.

The curious thing it that the parties will concert their efforts to defeat the Government on non-binding Parliamentary motions - making them equally guilty of gesture politics - but they don't seem to be taking a look at actual legislative proposals.

And the end of the link you provided was cut off, so here's what I hope is a working link to the post.

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...


I take the point. The use of SSIs throughout the history of the Scottish parliament is one that should be examined. generally, amendment is not possible - and accordingly hopes become absolutes to accept or reject. Further the MSPs, while they can engage with primary legislation (having heard evidence or seen a Stage 1 report) are, with SSIs typically left with a technical provision which means little outwith context of the primary legislation, and where the political or policy purpose for implementation is never presented as clearly as it might be. And while the SLC notionally scrutinises matters its work focuses primarily on general issues and often misses crucial material.

On gesture politics that's fair comment. The use of parliamentary motions gets headlines but does nothing.

I remain astonished that the opposition parties have not used the make up of the parliament set up initiate committee bills (it's not like the committees are swamped with primary legislation), or members bills systematically - to offer an alternative programme that can be put to voters next time round. Failure to do so rather misses the opportunities that minority government brings.

The link to James Chalmers piece is correct. The Scots Law News blog is at http://www.law.ed.ac.uk/sln/ .

Best wishes


Jeff said...

I have to thank you for yet another faithful break-down of the week's activity.

Work has been choc-a-bloc in January so it's been ace to dip in here once a week and pick up the detailed action rather than find out for myself what's going on when I have a bit of time.

I am sure viewing figures will confirm I am not the only one who's grateful for these Sunday whips...

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