08 June 2008

The Sunday Whip

This week was a quiet one - and a successful one - for the Government.

Wednesday was its usual tranquil self: two Business Motions got waved through - one was a revision for that day's programme. As to Decision Time, it was missed by Jackie Baillie (Lab. Dumbarton), Tom McCabe (Lab, Hamilton South), Labour's Shadow Transport Minister Des McNulty (Clydebank & Milngavie), LibDem Finance Spokesman Tavish Scott (Shetland), Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston) and LibDem Leader Nicol Stephen (Aberdeen South). They didn't miss much, as there was only one vote: the Labour amendment on the SNP's Drugs Strategy motion. It fell by 64 votes to 57, with one abstention: the SNP, with the exception of Roseanna Cunningham (Perth), voted against, as did the Tories and Greens. Labour, the LibDems and Cunningham (wrong button?) voted in favour, and Margo MacDonald squeezed what little life must be left out of her abstain button. The LibDem amendment, and the motion, got waved through, and read:

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the national drugs strategy, The Road to Recovery, as a sound framework for tackling drug misuse in Scotland; acknowledges that it is founded on expert advice and has been developed through a wide-ranging and inclusive process; supports the Scottish Government's vision that recovery should be the guiding principle of all services for problem drug users; recognises the breadth of action set out in the strategy and calls on the Scottish Government to provide the leadership and resources necessary to prevent drug use, to make communities safer, to tackle drug use in prisons and to protect children affected by parental substance misuse; recognises the Scottish Government's intention to support action to tackle drug misuse with £94 million from the Justice portfolio alone over the next three years and welcomes the work that Audit Scotland is carrying out into the scale and effectiveness of drugs expenditure, and resolves to support the implementation of the strategy over the coming years.

The last item on Wednesday, which was the Advice and Assistance (Limits, Conditions and Representation) (Scotland) Regulations 2008, also got nodded through.

Thursday saw a few more challenges - there were more things to challenge, though - but the Government got its way. There were eight absences: Labour Leader Wendy Alexander (Paisley North), Jackie Baillie, Labour Shadow Higher Education Minister Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), her husband and Labour Chief Whip Richard Baker (North East Scotland), Tavish Scott, Nicol Stephen, Labour Shadow Environment Minister David Stewart (Highlands & Islands) and Karen Whitefield (Lab, Airdrie & Shotts).

Anyway, the first vote was the Labour amendment to the Government motion on remote and rural health care, which was missed by Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) as well as everyone else, and fell by 79 (SNP/Tory/LibDem/Green) votes to 40 (Labour and Margo). The Tory and LibDem amendments were waved through, as was the motion itself:

That the Parliament commends the work of the Remote and Rural Steering Group and recognises that its report, Delivering for Remote and Rural Healthcare, forms the basis of a safe and sustainable service for remote and rural areas that will increase community resilience and guarantee the future of Scotland's rural general hospitals; notes the extension of the Emergency Medical Retrieval Service pilot, providing consultant-led resuscitation and transfer of patients with life-threatening injuries or illness in remote and rural hospitals in the west of Scotland, which commenced on 2 June 2008; further notes the work of the Remote and Rural Healthcare Education Alliance in providing a co-ordinated approach to the development of remote and rural health education programmes across Scotland to ensure that Scotland's healthcare professionals can provide, and their patients can benefit from, the best possible healthcare, as locally as possible; further notes the concerns raised regarding the provision of ambulance services and asks the Scottish Government to ensure that those living in rural communities are not disadvantaged; in line with recommendation 10.12 of the NHS Scotland Resource Allocation Committee's (NRAC) report, calls on the Scottish Government to establish without delay a standing committee to lead work on the future development of the NHS board funding formula and to come forward with details on the precise membership, format and remit of the committee, and further calls on the Scottish Government to review the impact of the NRAC report on NHS boards' ability to maintain and develop remote and rural services.

The votes on investment in Scottish infrastructure were less consensual, but no less successful for the Government: the Labour amendment fell by 66 (SNP/Tory/Green/Margo) votes to 54 (Labour/LibDem); the Tory amendment passed by 65 (SNP/Tory/Green) to 54 (Labour/LibDem) with one Margo-shaped abstention. Brian Adam (SNP, Aberdeen North) missed the LibDem amendment, but it still fell by 64 (SNP/Tory/Green) to 54 (Labour/LibDem) and one abstention (guess who!). The motion itself passed, by 66 (SNP/Tory/Green/Margo) to 54:

That the Parliament notes the publication of Taking Forward the Scottish Futures Trust and the £14 billion of infrastructure investment set out in the Scottish Government's Infrastructure Investment Plan; believes that it is important to ensure maximum value for the public purse from infrastructure investment and welcomes efforts to deliver better value, and further notes that 14 possible options for work to be carried out under the umbrella of the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) were identified and will be the subject of further development before being brought back to the Parliament; believes that a broad range of public and private options should be available for capital investment by public bodies and that the public sector should seek appropriate provisions in the best interests of taxpayers; calls on ministers to report to the Parliament on progress after the summer recess and regularly thereafter until the final range of options and shape of the SFT has been confirmed; calls on the Scottish Government to finalise the details of the SFT as soon as possible and, as part of its work on the SFT, to review how refinancing provisions in non-profit distributing models might be amended to ensure that they achieve intended aims without discouraging investment, and calls on the Scottish Government to develop and publish a robust investment option-appraisal framework capable of producing comparable information on whole-life costs for future projects regardless of which method of procurement or operation is used.

Next week sees the SPCB debate on the Parliamentary Expenses Scheme. The debate will be ugly but brief, as it's scheduled for Thursday lunchtime. We'll also see the Public Health Bill debated at Stage 3. Should be a good week.

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