28 March 2010

The Sunday Whip

This was a busy and rather successful Parliamentary week for the Government, and saw one of the most vote-heavy days in since the election.

Wednesday was its quiet, borderline-consensual self, and there were a number of absentees: Bill Butler (Lab, Glasgow Anniesland), Margaret Curran (Lab, Glasgow Baillieston), Patricia Ferguson (Lab, Glasgow Maryhill), LibDem Health Spokesman Ross Finnie (Lab, West of Scotland), Marlyn Glen (Lab, North East Scotland), Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart), Cathy Jamieson (Lab, Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley), John Farquhar Munro (LD, Ross, Skye & Inverness West), Shadow Climate Change Minister Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) and Elaine Smith (Lab, Coatbridge & Chryston).

They missed the waving through of the Business Motion and Stage 1 of the Scottish Parliamentary Commissions and Commissioners etc. Bill. The main substantive piece of business came in the Government motion on Double Jeopardy: the LibDems had an amendment but had requested to withdraw it. However, they were thwarted by David McLetchie, who decided to force it to a vote just, it seems, to show that he was obviously the sort of child who pulled the wings off insects for his own amusement: the amendment fell by 104 votes to 0 with the 14 LibDems abstaining on their own amendment. The motion itself passed by 115 to 2, with the Greens being the only opponents:

That the Parliament agrees that, although double jeopardy must continue to provide an important safeguard, it needs to be reformed to fit with a fair and modern criminal justice system; agrees that persons who confess after an acquittal or who undermine trials by threats or corruption should be retried; supports reform to allow a second trial in very serious cases where important new evidence emerges and for this to apply retrospectively, and welcomes the Scottish Government's consultation on this issue.

There then came a motion from the Corporate Body, which was waved through probably because just reading the motion would have taken half an hour:

That the Parliament recognises that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body ("the SPCB") commissioned and received a report from Sir Neil McIntosh on the Reimbursement of Members' Expenses Scheme and in implementation of those recommendations therefore agrees to:

(a) Amend the Resolution of 12 June 2008 ("the Resolution") agreeing to the Reimbursement of Members' Expenses Scheme ("the Scheme") annexed as Annex 1 to the Resolution by—

(i) adding after "appropriate" at the end of paragraph (iv) "and in particular, and without prejudice to the generality—

(a) entering into arrangements with those members who, in relation to Edinburgh accommodation, are claiming and have claimed reimbursement of mortgage interest allowance in accordance with paragraph 4(5)(b) of Part B of the Previous Scheme and paragraph (v) of the Resolution. In respect of paragraph 2.1.6 of the Scheme as amended by this Resolution, the entitlement to the costs in paragraph 2.1.3 (b), (c), (d) and (e) of the Scheme will not apply to those members who have not entered into such an arrangement with the SPCB; and

(b) making provision for termination payments to members' staff who are close family members of the member (as defined in paragraph 9.1.1 of the Scheme), where the costs of employing such close family members is reimbursed in accordance with Section 3 of the Scheme and termination of the employment of such close family members on or before the 31 July 2015 is due to the effect of paragraph 3.1.8 of the Scheme as inserted by this Resolution, and paragraph (a)(ii) of this Resolution. Such termination payments shall be calculated in accordance with the principles for determining redundancy payments provided for in Section 3.6 of the Scheme";

(ii) adding after "31 March 2011" at the end of paragraph (v) "except that (i) the entitlement to reimbursement of staff costs under Section 3 of the Scheme in respect of close family members (as defined in paragraph 9.1.1 of the Scheme) whose employment by a member commenced before 1 April 2010, and (ii) the requirement to declare such relationships to the SPCB in accordance with paragraph 3.7 of the Scheme as it read prior to the amendment made by this Resolution, shall end not later than 31 July 2015";

(b) Amend the Scheme with effect from 1 April 2010 by—

(i) substituting for existing paragraph 1.6.2—

"On no more than two occasions in any financial year, a member may transfer in total an amount which does not exceed in aggregate one half of the limit on that member's entitlement to reimbursement of office costs to that member's entitlement to reimbursement of staff salary costs. A member making such a transfer shall notify the SPCB in advance of incurring any costs in respect of the sum transferred";

(ii) deleting from paragraph 2.1.4 the words "and 2.1.6";

(iii) substituting for existing paragraph 2.1.6(b)—

"(b) the member also owns another residence in Edinburgh which the member uses in connection with the performance of Parliamentary duties, the member is entitled to claim reimbursement of the actual costs specified in paragraph 2.1.3 (b), (c), (d) and (e) in respect of that other residence.";

(iv) inserting as new paragraph 2.3—


2.3.1 Section 2.3 shall only apply to a member with a main residence in a constituency listed in Group Three of Annex A.

2.3.2 Subject to paragraph 2.3.3, where more than one member leases the same residential property in Edinburgh together with another member or members, those members are entitled between or amongst them to reimbursement of the costs of leasing the residential property in accordance with paragraph 2.1.3.

2.3.3 The limit on the entitlement of each member to reimbursement of costs reimbursed under paragraph 2.3.2 is the limit in each financial year specified in the Schedule of Rates plus one third of that amount in respect of each additional member, apportioned equally between the members.

2.3.4 A member who submits a claim in respect of the cost of shared residential leased accommodation shall declare that arrangement to the SPCB. The declaration shall be in writing, include the name(s) of the other member or members with whom tenancy is shared, a copy of the letting agreement and/or lease, and such other information as the SPCB shall determine.";

(v) inserting new paragraph 3.1.8—

"Section 3 does not apply in relation to the employment of a close family member by a member, whether individually or through a pool;

(vi) substituting for existing paragraphs 3.7 and 3.7.1—


3.7.1 A member who submits a claim in respect of the costs of employing a close family member of another member, whether individually or through a pool shall declare that relationship to the SPCB. The declaration shall be in writing and shall include the name of the close family member, the name of the other member, the relationship to that other member and such other information as the SPCB may determine" ;

(vii) substituting for existing paragraph 8.4—


8.4.1 A former member is entitled to reimbursement of the costs reasonably incurred—

(a) in the closing down of a parliamentary office;

(b) in connection with the termination of any agreement pertaining to leasing residential property within Edinburgh under paragraph 2.1.2(b);

(c) in connection with any ancillary obligations arising from paragraph 8.4.1(b);

(d) for the purpose of travel within Scotland undertaken in connection with (a) (b) or (c);

8.4.2 The reimbursements in paragraph 8.4.1 are subject to a limit equivalent to one third of the office cost provisions set out in section 4";

8.4.3 Any costs reimbursed under paragraph 8.4.1 may include the costs of travel of the former member's staff provided that such costs are incurred for the purpose of paragraphs 8.4.1(a), (b) or (c).".

Then came another waved through motion on nominations to the European Economic and Social Committee:

That the Parliament endorses the Scottish Executive's proposal to nominate Mr George Traill Lyon, nominated by CBI Scotland and the Institute of Directors Scotland, Mr Sandy Boyle, nominated by the STUC, and Ms Maureen O'Neill, nominated by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Poverty Alliance, to the UK delegation on the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union for the forthcoming mandate from September 2010 to September 2015.

Finally, MSPs approved the Advice and Assistance and Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions and Contributions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010, the International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2010 and the National Bus Travel Concession Scheme for Older and Disabled Persons (Scotland) Amendment Order 2010.

Thursday, meanwhile, saw a staggering thirty votes taken, all revolving around the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. John Farquhar Munro was the only day-long absentee, and apart from that, there was the usual revolving door of MSPs, though Iain Gray did miss eleven of the votes, ten of which in the morning, when he doubtless would have been rehearsing for FMQs. And of course, the Deputy Presiding Officers Trish Godman (Lab, West Renfrewshire) and Alasdair Morgan (SNP, South of Scotland) were alternating in the Chair and seem to have a permanent pairing arrangement whereby whichever is in the Chair, the other also refrains from voting, so could only vote on three occasions.

Green Amendment 1 fell by 64 (SNP/Con/Margo) votes to 63 (Lab/LD/Green).

Labour Amendment 24 fell by 63 to 62 (same party balance), while Labour Amendments 25 and 27 fell by 63 to 61 (same balance again), while Shadow Children's Minister Karen Whitefield (Airdrie & Shotts) voted against her own party's Amendment 28, which fell 64 to 60.

Labour Amendments 29, 30 and 32 to 36 were taken together, as were Amendments 38 to 41 and 43. Both blocs fell by 63 to 61.

The Government had a series of amendments which all passed convincingly: Amendment 60 passed by 120 to 2, Amendment 61 by 122 to 2, Amendment 68 by 121 to 2 and Amendment 69 by 122 to 2 again. In each case it was the Greens opposing the amendments, though it's worth noting that we can only guess at what Margo MacDonald would have done for Amendment 68: she missed that one.

Tory Amendment 44 fell by 64 (SNP/LD/Green/Margo) to 16 (Con) with 44 Labour abstentions, Labour Amendment 73 fell by 62 (SNP/Con) to 61 (everyone else), and Amendment 74 fell by 64 (SNP/Con/Green/Margo) to 60 (Lab/LD). Government Amendment 51 passed by 77 (SNP/Con/LD/Margo) to 46 (Lab/Green).

Tory Amendment 77 fell by 47 (SNP/Margo) to 32 (Con/LD/Green) with 45 Labour abstentions, while LibDem Amendment 78 fell by 63 (SNP/Con/Margo) to 17 (LD/Green) with 45 abstentions. The Tories could only muster LibDem support for Amendments 84 and 85, which fell by 94 to 30 and 94 to 31 respectively.

Labour's Amendment 52 fell by 63 (SNP/Con/Margo) to 62 (Lab/LD/Green) while Tory Amendment 91 passed by 77 (SNP/Con/LD/Margo) to 48, where Labour and the Greens were joined in opposition by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (Edinburgh East & Musselburgh), who had clearly pressed the wrong button.

Labour Amendment 26 was voted down by Alasdair Morgan's casting vote, with MSPs tied at 62 votes each: Labour, the LibDems and Greens in favour, the SNP and Tories against. Labour Amendments 31 and 42, however, both fell by 63 (SNP/Con/Margo) to 62 (Lab/LD/Green).

Government Amendment 97 itself had two amendments, both lodged by the Tories. 97A fell by 109 to 16 when no one but the Tories supported it, but 97B passed by 108 to 17 with the LibDems and Greens opposed. The amendment Amendment 97 then passed by 125 to 2, with only the Greens voitng against it.

Alasdair Morgan had to use his casting vote again to reject Labour Amendment 26, which tied at 62 votes each with Labour, the LibDems and Greens in favour, but the SNP, Tories and Margo against. Amendment 55, however, fell by 63 to 61 (the same party breakdown).

So finally, after all that, the Bill itself was passed, by 109 (SNP/Lab/Con/Margo) to 16 (LD/Green), with Ted Brocklebank (Con, Mid Scotland & Fife) and Jamie Stone (LD, Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross) the only MSPs not around at Decision Time to see the fruits of their day of labour.

So that's the last Whip now until the 18th, though I'll have the Spring Whip ready soon enough to check up on MSPs' overall records this term. With the General Election around the corner, it'll be a good opportunity to see how much parliamentary bang the parties deliver for your electoral buck.

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