31 May 2009

The Sunday Whip

After a hectic, unusually legislation-heavy fortnight, this has been a quiet week in terms of votes, at MSPs' attentions turn to Europe.

Wendesday saw no votes taken at all: the Business Motions were waved through (inculding a rather curtailed schedule for next week), as was the Government motion on Swine Flu:

That the Parliament acknowledges the work of NHS Scotland, local authorities and other stakeholders in handling the recent outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1); commends NHS boards and Health Protection Scotland for the success so far of the containment strategy in limiting the spread of the virus by quickly and effectively treating confirmed cases, tracing contacts and dealing with possible and probable cases; accepts that we must maintain a high state of preparedness given the potential seriousness for the nation's health and economy of a full-scale pandemic, and supports the collaborative approach of the Scottish Government and all its partners, both within Scotland and beyond, in minimising the spread of A (H1N1).

Following that came two SSIs: the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 (Amendment) Order 2009 and the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (Scotland) (No. 2) Order 2009. Both were nodded through.

Thursday saw some action, but not much. There were a few absentees (small wonder, really, when peace was on the verge of breaking out): Labour's Shadow Further and Higher Education Minister Claire Baker (Mid Scotland & Fife), Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife), Patricia Ferguson (Lab, Glasgow Maryhill), George Foulkes (Lab, Lothian), Jamie Hepburn (SNP, Central Scotland, whose absence may or may not be connected to this piece of great news for him and Julie - congratulations, guys!), Jim Hume (LD, South of Scotland), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothian), Jack McConnell (Lab, Motherwell & Wishaw) and John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West).

The first thing they missed was the nodding through of a LibDem motion (complete with Labour amendment) on a missing children alert system:

That the Parliament supports the establishment of strong cross-Europe working to ensure that there are effective, linked "amber alert" systems in place to bring European-wide attention to missing children; understands that early action is critical in locating missing and abducted children and that the experience of those countries that have alert systems in place, such as the United States of America, is extremely positive; welcomes the formal adoption of the written declaration on Emergency Cooperation In Recovering Missing Children as a resolution of the European Parliament in April 2009 but regrets that European countries currently fail to cooperate effectively when recovering missing children and that progress has been slow, and calls on the Scottish Government to work proactively and constructively with the UK Government and to encourage Scottish police forces to collaborate with their UK and European counterparts to ensure that all missing children alert systems and cross-border cooperation policies, including the 116 000 European hotline, are operational as soon as possible to bind the country effectively into the European system.

The only votes of the day came on a LibDem motion on supporting Scottish business. The SNP amendment passed by 63 (SNP/Con/Green) votes to 56 (Labour/LD); the Labour amendment passed without dissent and the amended motion was supported by 105 (everyone but the LibDems) to 14 against:

That the Parliament notes the serious difficulties faced by the Scottish businesses struggling to access the funds that they need during the economic downturn, with the double squeeze of late payment and tighter lending a critical concern for small businesses in particular; notes that the Welsh Assembly Government is using European Investment Bank (EIB) funding to help small businesses bridge funding gaps, supporting the expansion of 800 businesses and creating up to 15,000 jobs across Wales; further notes that the Scottish Investment Bank, announced by the First Minister on 21 April 2009, will initially bring together approximately £150 million in public sector resource to support company growth in Scotland; also notes that, following this first step, the Scottish Government will look to enhance the scale and impact of such financial support to growing Scottish businesses including the potential to secure significant additional funds from the European Investment Bank through the establishment of a Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE) fund for Scotland, and considers that, among other measures that the Scottish Government has introduced, its small business bonus scheme has helped the tens of thousands of Scottish firms now exempt from paying local business rates, and calls on the Scottish Government to provide detailed information about the Scottish Investment Bank proposal announced by the First Minister at the STUC conference on 21 April 2009.

After that, Parliament unanimously backed the re-appointment of Karen Carlton as Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland. Finally, a Parliamentary love-in ensued for an SNP motion on Cashback for Communities, where Labour and LibDem amendments, along with the amended motion, were all passed without dissent:

That the Parliament welcomes the fact that, since its launch in January 2008, the CashBack for Communities programme has provided positive opportunities and activities for over 100,000 young people in Scotland; recognises that providing healthy and fun activities not only gives young people something to do, but can help in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour by diverting the small minority who cause trouble away from such behaviour; welcomes the fact that the CashBack programme has been funded through £12 million recovered from criminals using the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; commends the significant efforts of partners in the CashBack programme including Youthlink, Scottish Football Association, Scottish Rugby Union, Basketballscotland, Scottish Sports Futures, sportscotland, Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, as well as the very many local projects and volunteers that are making the scheme a success; believes that every effort should be made to ensure further progress in recovering assets from those who profit from crime, and believes that funds obtained through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 should continue to be focussed on projects in communities affected by crime and in activities that provide diversion from offending, and calls on the Scottish Government to promote closer working and engagement between safer neighbourhood and community police teams and young people in efforts to prevent and tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and to ensure that the CashBack money is distributed fairly so that the whole of Scotland can reap the benefits of the scheme.

So that was last week. This coming week sees only one day of proceedings, taken up by Question Time and the start of Stage 3 of the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill. As always, I give notice to MSPs that should they oppose it, I shall set out to cause them offence, which shall be aggravated by their prejudice. They have been warned!

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