23 March 2008

The Sunday Whip

This was a week of extremes: Wednesday was the usual grey affair, though it could have been enlivened by someone speaking against the Business Motion. In the event, however, whoever it was had their name removed and the motion went through on the nod, as did the LCM on the Housing and Regeneration Bill:

That the Parliament agrees that the relevant provisions in the Housing and Regeneration Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 15 November 2007, relating to the executive competence of Scottish Ministers to enter into agreements for the provision of services with the Housing Corporation and/or Welsh Ministers, on such terms and for such payment which they consider appropriate, so far as these matters fall within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, should be considered by the UK Parliament.

Thursday, on the other hand, was something of a nightmare for the Government. Roseanna Cunningham (SNP, Perth), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) and Tavish Scott (LD Finance Spokesman and MSP for Shetland) missed the shenanigans.

First came the Labour motion on Housing. The SNP amendment went down by 77 votes (Labour/Tory/LD/Margo) to 46 with two Green abstentions. A Tory amendment went down by 64 (SNP/LD/Green/Margo) to 61 (Lab/Con), but a LibDem amendment passed by 79 (everyone but the SNP) to 46. The amended motion passed by 78 (Labour/Tory/LD/Green) votes to 46 (SNP) with one abstention (Margo):

That the Parliament regrets the SNP government's lack of a coherent housing strategy; notes that the Housing Supply Task Force has no timetable or remit to produce recommendations for action; notes in particular the absence of robust evidence on funding and efficiencies in delivering its housing targets; believes that the Scottish Government's provision of a real terms increase of 9% in affordable housing over the period of the comprehensive spending review falls far short of what is needed to address the affordable housing shortage; further notes concerns about the impact of a single regional developer model, as outlined in the Firm Foundations consultation, on community-controlled housing associations and housing co-operatives; agrees that the Scottish Government should make a statement to the Parliament as soon as possible, clarifying its plans for the clear SNP manifesto commitment on a £2,000 first-time buyers' grant, and urges the Scottish Government to act to secure long-term improvements in housing rather than the short-term appearance of change.

Things got worse over the Labour motion on Schools of Ambition. The Government amendment fell by 76 (Labour/Tory/LD) votes to 49 (SNP/Green/Margo). The Tory amendment passed by 77 (Labour/Tory/LD/Margo) votes to 46 (SNP) with two abstentions (Green), as did the LibDem amendment. The amended motion itself passed by 77 (Labour/Tory/LD/Margo) votes to 48 (SNP/Green):

That the Parliament recognises the important contribution that the Schools of Ambition programme has made in giving schools greater freedom to develop creative and innovative approaches to school improvement; notes HM Inspectorate of Education's positive comments on the programme's effect on pupil motivation; deplores the Scottish Government's decision to axe the Schools of Ambition programme in the face of such success, calls on the Scottish Government to continue the funding of existing schools of ambition and to identify further individual schools that would benefit from becoming schools of ambition and to continue to provide Schools of Ambition funding directly to schools and to support decisions being taken on the expenditure of such funds at school level; and considers that head teachers play a crucial role in leading excellent schools and turning around schools that face challenges, and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to provide additional support and incentives for head teachers to improve their schools, including enhanced contract terms with more flexibility and increased rewards for outstanding leadership.

Things eased a little on the votes on the Government's Marine Environment motion. The Labour amendment passed by 110 (everyone but the LibDems) to 15 votes. The LibDem amendment was itself the subject of a Green amendment, which passed by 109 (everyone but the Tories) to 16, and the amended LibDem amendment passed by 108 to one with 16 abstentions. The one was Jim Mather, MSP for Argyll & Bute and the Enterprise Minister, and I assume that it was a slip of the finger as he's still a Minister. The 16 were the Tories and everyone else voted in favour. The amended motion then passed by 111 votes to 0 with 14 abstentions, which were Tories, though Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland & Fife) and Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) voted in favour with everyone else.

Anyway, next week will be the last before what is technically the Easter recess, despite it missing the period by a couple of weeks (though that's perfectly logical by Parliamentary standards!), so expect a review of the term at some stage.

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