05 October 2008

The Sunday Whip

On balance, this was a quiet week, and with one exception was broadly successful for the Government. Wednesday was its usual consensual self: the business motion was waved through. A motion from the Public Petitions Committee was also passed on the nod:

That the Parliament notes the conclusions contained in the Public Petitions Committee's 3rd Report, 2008 (Session 3): Availability on the NHS of cancer treatment drugs (SP Paper 133).

Following that, two SSIs were passed without dissent: the Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Amendment of Specified Authorities) Order 2008 and the Housing Grants (Assessment of Contributions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2008.

Thursday was not quite so peaceful, though could have been worse. Jackie Baillie (Lab, Dumbarton) was absent, as were Labour Shadow Further & Higher Education Minister Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), Helen Eadie (Lab, Dunfermline West), Patricia Ferguson (Lab, Glasgow Maryhill) and George Foulkes (Lab, Lothians). Labour Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) is on maternity leave. James Kelly (Lab, Glasgow Rutherglen), LibDem Local Government & Transport Spokesperson Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) and Labour Shadow Economy & Skills Minister John Park (Mid Scotland & Fife) were also absent.

First up for consideration was a Tory motion on Local Government Finance. A Government amendment passed by 65 votes (SNP/LibDem/Green/Margo) to 38 (Labour) with 16 Tory abstentions. A Labour amendment was nodded through, while the amended motion was passed by 68 votes to 34, with 16 abstentions. The SNP, LibDems, Greens and Margo were in support, though Gil Paterson (SNP, West of Scotland) didn't register a vote. They were joined by four Labour MSPs: Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland), Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South), Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) and rather embarrassingly, Deputy Finance Spokesman David Whitton (Strathkelvin & Bearsden). The remaining Labour MSPs voted against the motion, while the Tories abstained. What passed was this:

That the Parliament calls on the Scottish Government to publish in detail, prior to the introduction of a council tax abolition Bill, how it proposes to allocate to each local authority local income tax revenues and all other sources of funding, including revenue support grant and non-domestic rates income, together with indicative figures for each local authority for the first year of operation of local income tax, and how stability of funding is delivered to ensure that no local authority loses revenues directly because of the introduction of the new tax system in the event of the Bill being enacted, and believes the UK Government should agree that Council Tax Benefit money forms an integral part of local government finance and should be available to local government as part of decisions by the Scottish Parliament to reform local taxation in Scotland.

Next came the Tory motion on age limits on purchases of alcohol, which was not so good for the Government, but the outcome was not entirely unexpected. Nevertheless, the SNP pressed ahead with an amendment which got surprise support from Nanette Milne (Con, North East Scotland, and I suspect that she was as surprised as anyone) but otherwise fell by 71 votes (everyone but the SNP and Nanette Milne) to 48. The motion itself passed by 72 to 47 - Nanette Milne remembered which side she was on for this one - and read as follows:

That the Parliament rejects the Scottish Government's proposals to raise the age limit for purchasing alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets from 18 to 21.

Next came the votes on Government motion about the Scudamore Report on foot-and-mouth disease, which was more consensual. The Labour and Tory amendments were waved through. The LibDem amendment faced a challenge, but passed by 64 (SNP/LibDem/Green) votes to 54 (Labour/Conservatives). There was one abstention (Margo). On the amended motion, Margo had decided that she'd had enough, but the 118 brave souls who stayed on (well, 119 if you count the Presiding Officer) saw the motion passed by 64 (SNP/LibDem/Green) votes to 38 (Labour) with 16 Tory abstentions:

That the Parliament supports the Scudamore report's conclusions on Scotland's handling of the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, contained in Foot and Mouth Disease Review (Scotland) 2007, and welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to take the recommendations forward, including consideration of any potential opportunities for regionalisation and other steps such as the role that local abattoirs might play and the unique circumstances of Scotland's islands; notes however the continuing difficulties experienced by the pig industry; calls on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to support the Scottish pig industry and to consider further action to minimise the potential future disruption to the Scottish livestock industry; notes the continued economic impact of the outbreak on Scotland's beef, sheep and pig farmers; calls on the Scottish Government to address proactively the continuing decline in livestock numbers across Scotland; believes that, although the devolution settlement has largely been a success for Scottish agriculture, the current position whereby Scotland decides on animal health policy but has no control over its funding is an anomaly of the Scotland Act 1998, which is detrimental to relationships between the two administrations, and calls on the Scottish Government to press the case for devolving a proportionate share of the animal health budget currently held at Westminster to Scotland, while preserving the right to access the UK Treasury reserve fund.

Following that, Labour proposals to rejig their Committee membership (and substitute) arrangements were waved through. So all in all, not a bad day.

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