11 October 2009

The Sunday Whip

Parliament has now gentle eased into recess, with a broadly consensual approach, save for the now regular education policy bunfight.

Anyway. Wednesday was quiet: the only substantive business was a report by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on rural housing, called, imaginatively enough, Rural Housing. Once this was noted, MSPs waved through a decision to put the Local Government & Communities Committee in charge of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Bill and agreed the Summer recess dates for next year.

Thursday was, of course, different, and seven MSPs were absent: Tory Finance Spokesman Derek Brownlee (South of Scotland), Labour's Shadow Finance Secretary Andy Kerr (East Kilbride - and should the Government be worried that two Opposition finance spokespeople were absent at the same time?), Marilyn Livingstone (Lab, Kirkcaldy), Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead (Moray), Margo MacDonald (Ind, Lothians), Hugh O'Donnell (LD, Central Scotland) and Elizabeth Smith (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife).

First came the Labour motion on School Buildings. The SNP amendment fell by 75 (everyone but the SNP) to 46, the Tory amendment passed by 104 (SNP/Lab/Con) to 17 (LD/Green) and the LibDem amendment fell by 62 (SNP/Con/Green) to 59 (Lab/LD). The amended motion passed by 58 (Lab/Con) votes to 48 (SNP/Green) with 15 LibDem abstentions:

That the Parliament notes with concern that the Scottish Futures Trust has yet to fund a single new school building in Scotland despite the 2009 School Estates Statistics revealing that around 150,000 pupils remain in schools classified as being in poor or bad condition; is dismayed that, after more than two years, the SNP government has identified only 14 schools to be built under its first school building programme, that none of these 14 schools will be open to pupils in this parliamentary term and only 55 will be built in total by 2018; further believes that the SNP government's claims on the number of schools that it has commissioned are unsustainable given that its own School Estates Statistics reveal that a majority of schools built or substantially refurbished in the last two financial years were legacy PPP projects, and further believes that it is hypocritical for ministers to criticise PPP schools while praising them at their official opening and that the SNP's record in government is falling far short of its 2007 election manifesto pledge to "match the current school building programme brick for brick, and offer an alternative funding mechanism through the Scottish Futures Trust", and believes that the school building programme should be funded so as to deliver best value for money and that all sources of finance, including those in the private sector, should be considered.

Then came the Labour motion on Volunteering. A LibDem amendment fell by 104 (SNP/Lab/Con) to 17, but the motion passed without further quibbling:

That the Parliament recognises and celebrates the role of the voluntary sector and volunteers across Scotland in supporting individuals, families and communities and in shaping and delivering services locally; notes the excellent work of volunteering organisations in encouraging volunteering through offering training and volunteering placements and particularly in reaching out to those who might not otherwise have the chance to volunteer; agrees, given the opportunity that volunteering provides to develop skills and build confidence, that, in this economic recession, volunteering organisations should be given adequate resources to allow them to do that important work, and further agrees that innovative organisations that create structured volunteering placements for young people, such as ProjectScotland, should be recognised and supported by the Scottish Government.

Following that, a Government motion on Civil Justice, along with amendments from Labour and the Tories, passed without dissent:

That the Parliament welcomes the Report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review conducted under the chairmanship of the Lord Justice Clerk and the reports of the Administrative Justice Steering Group conducted under the chairmanship of Lord Philip; looks forward to the report of final appellate jurisdiction in preparation by Professor Neil Walker, and believes that, following a full and wide consultation, the people of Scotland deserve a reformed and modernised civil justice system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, which is founded on the principle of ensuring access to justice and that reforms must be driven by this as well as by efficiency in the justice system.

Finally, MSPs waved through the Health Board Elections (Scotland) Regulations 2009. And for the record, the regulations state that NHS Fife will have 25 members on its Board: 12 appointed, 12 elected, and one Councillor. Dumfries and Galloway will have 21: 10 appointed, 10 elected and one Councillor.

So there you have it. No more whippage now for a couple of weeks, though I daresay I'll be issuing a couple of missives from Inverness next week.

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