10 May 2009

The Sunday Whip

An unusual week, this one, primarily as Wednesday's business spilled over onto Thursday, with the result that a kind of not-quite-consensus-but almost broke out on that issue. And things turned somewhat ugly for the Government, with ministers on the wrong end of an unusually hard Parliamentary slapping.

So, firstly, Wednesday saw the nodding through of the Business Motion but nothing further; everything else was left until Thursday, where nine MSPs were absent: Labour's Shadow Rural Development Minister Karen Gillon (Clydesdale), Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire), Hugh Henry (Lab, Paisley South), Bill Kidd (SNP, Glasgow), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Irene Oldfather (Lab, Cunninghame South), Cathy Peattie (Lab, Falkirk East), Nicol Stephen (LD, Aberdeen South) and Jim Tolson (LD, Dunfermline West).

The first matter was Stage 1 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, proceedings for which has begun the previous day. There were amendments to the motion passing the Bill - annotation on the front cover, I suppose - and the first of these, from Labour, was waved through. The second, from the LibDems, fell by 62 (SNP/Tory) votes to 57 (Labour/LD/Green). The motion itself then passed without dissent:

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill and, in so doing, further agrees that unambiguous quantified targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the period between 2010 and 2019 are needed so that the current government and governments elected in 2011 and 2015 can be held to account for delivering early action on tackling climate change.

Following that came the Tory motion on School Discipline, which provided a sign of trouble to come for the SNP: their amendment fell by 71 (Lab/Con/LD) to 48 (SNP/Greens); the Labour amendment passed by 89 (SNP/Lab/Green) to 16 (Tories) with 14 LibDem abstentions; the LibDem amendment passed by 78 (everyone but Labour) votes to 41. Parliamentary Business Minister Bruce Crawford (Stirling) missed the vote on the amended motion, and it passed by 102 (everyone but the Tories) to 16:

That the Parliament deplores the rise in the number of exclusions from Scottish schools attributable to weapon attacks by pupils; supports all appropriate measures to uphold the rights of teachers to teach and pupils to learn in a disciplined environment; notes the significant steps made by the previous administration to achieve this including the setting up of the Discipline Task Group, the removal of restrictions on head teachers to exclude pupils if necessary, the use of special units, support for teacher training, reduced class sizes and more classroom assistants; calls on the Scottish Government to address the recent decline in teacher numbers and support staff, including behaviour support staff, and to work in partnership with key stakeholders to put in place a framework for a discipline code in every school incorporating rights and responsibilities for head teachers, teachers, parents and pupils, and further believes that the Scottish Government should engage closely with pupils, staff, the voluntary sector and other partner organisations to improve formal and non-formal learning opportunities for young people to ensure that they are not excluded from education.

Things got ugly for the Government when the Tory motion on Community Courts came around, however. The SNP amendment fell by 73 (everyone else) to 46. The Labour and LibDem amendments, as well as the amended motion then passed by 73 (everyone but the SNP) to 46:

That the Parliament notes with regret the decision of the Scottish Government not to proceed with the establishment of a community court in Glasgow; recognises that community courts based on the New York City model in Midtown can address patterns of offending behaviour by providing for swift and effective summary justice coupled with a range of rehabilitation services to break the cycle of reoffending, notes that the independent business plan in March 2009 anticipated numerous benefits from a community court project, including improved community safety, greater offender accountability and reduced rates of reoffending; believes that the cancellation of the community court project also undermines the Scottish Government's own stated commitment to replace short-term prison sentences with tough and effective community sentences; calls on the Scottish Government to continue to work with the Community Justice Project Board, and further believes that the Scottish Government should reverse its decision and seek to progress plans for a community court in Glasgow.

Finally, the financial resolution for the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill was waved through.

One thing to point out: calls were made following the vote on the Community Courts motion for there to be a statement made to the Chamber on the way forward. Personally, I would echo those calls as it's been some time since the Government found itself so politically isolated in the Chamber on an issue. Indeed, the last time was the off-sales age limits motion in October. Even if the Government doesn't wish to change direction on the issue, it'll be beneficial for all of us to know exactly what the position now is and why. Otherwise, this one will just fester in the background, popping up again when the Government least needs it.

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