Ministerial Appointment

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:33 pm on 22nd March 2001.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 3:33 pm, 22nd March 2001

We come to the extra business on the business bulletin, which is a debate on motion S1M-1775, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a junior minister.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour 3:34 pm, 22nd March 2001

I am pleased to move that Lewis Macdonald be appointed as a junior Scottish minister. The purpose of the motion in my name is to get Parliament's approval for the appointment, after which I will present Lewis Macdonald's name to Her Majesty the Queen.

I do not want to delay the chamber too long as an important debate is to follow. Lewis Macdonald is well known to members in all parts of the chamber, notably for his sure handling of the Holyrood progress group on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. His appointment is well deserved and I know that he will serve Scotland well. I hope that colleagues will support him this afternoon in the chamber.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Lewis Macdonald be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Three members have asked to speak. In view of this morning's decision to postpone decision time by 15 minutes, I recommend a time limit of three minutes apiece.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 3:35 pm, 22nd March 2001

I rise to oppose, on behalf of the SNP, the motion in the name of the First Minister. Our opposition to the appointment of Lewis Macdonald as a junior minister for transport and planning has absolutely nothing to do with him as an individual; our opposition to his appointment will be our only opportunity to record the SNP's dissatisfaction with the First Minister's reshuffle package.

It must surely be unwise and inappropriate to add the environment portfolio to that of rural development. The Minister for Rural Development is in the midst of a crisis of quite extraordinary proportions. That is accepted by the Executive in the wording of its motion for this afternoon's debate on rural Scotland. Given that the Executive has acknowledged the crisis, and given that Ross Finnie has to deal with it, how can it be right that he is expected to absorb the environment portfolio into his already overburdened work load? How on earth can he be expected to deal with a brief as important as the environment while tackling the foot-and-mouth crisis and the crisis in our fishing communities? The minister should be devoting all his time, energy and abilities to dealing with his current work load. Our farmers and fishermen expect nothing less.

The decision is also deeply concerning from an environmental perspective. There is a huge job to be done in the environment brief and there are many important negotiations to be undertaken in the European Community. The immediate issues, which any environment minister must get their teeth into, include the shocking record on recycling. The target that has been set is 25 per cent by 2000, yet 13 councils in Scotland are still at only 4 per cent. Scotland's record on CO2 emissions is equally concerning. The latest figures show that Scotland's emissions are going up while England's go down. This week, we have had a report on the condition of our bathing waters and beaches, which shows that we are still one of the dirty men of Europe. Much work also needs to be done on organic waste and encouraging renewable resources.

The First Minister has received a letter from Scottish Environment LINK, which puts the matter quite succinctly. It highlights the negotiations that will be needed on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy and continues:

"Furthermore, who will speak for Scotland in vital EU negotiations on issues such as the sixth Environmental Action Plan and lead Scotland's international effort on sustainable development?"

That deals with the question of the work load, but what about conflicts of interest? The rural affairs and environment briefs are littered with areas of potential conflict. Who will champion the environment in the Cabinet when it comes to issues relating to genetically modified crops and EC directives on pesticides? There are other areas where the conflicts are obvious.

The Herald perhaps summed up the situation best in its editorial yesterday. Ross Finnie's work load at this time of crisis cannot be added to. The environmental portfolio is important and a large amount of work needs to be undertaken. In addition, there is the enormous potential for areas of conflict. The First Minister said on 1 November 2000:

"Environment issues must and will be taken seriously—that department is a key part of the Administration." —[Official Report, 1 Nov 2000; Vol 8, c 1190.]

That has not happened on this occasion and we should oppose the motion.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:38 pm, 22nd March 2001

Like Bruce Crawford, I will raise a number of points in relation to the appointment of Mr Macdonald and to the change in ministerial responsibilities that has occurred as a result of Mr Galbraith's resignation.

First, Mr Macdonald's appointment gives a real lesson to ambitious members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat back benches, which is that the fast track to promotion in the Parliament is to become a member of the Holyrood progress group. Tavish Scott was in that role and was elevated, albeit for a short time. Now, we have Mr Macdonald.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Mr Stone should not worry; Mr Lyon will edge him out shortly. I recommend to Mr McAveety that he should offer his services as a member of the Holyrood progress group, as one part of his political rehabilitation programme.

On a more serious level, I repeat that there should be a minister on the Holyrood progress group—I have urged the First Minister to do that on many occasions—so that there is direct ministerial responsibility for the expenditure of some £210 million of public money, a sum that is still rising inexorably. The First Minister paid tribute to Mr Macdonald's sure handling of the chairmanship of that group. I endorse that view and I think that he would best serve the country at present by remaining in that position when he takes on his new ministerial portfolio.

Why is the ministry of Sam Galbraith's talents, which the First Minister found it necessary to create barely five months ago, now being dismembered and having its portfolios scattered to the four winds? As Mr Crawford pointed out, rightly, the overburdened Mr Finnie has more than enough on his plate at the moment with foot-and-mouth disease and the fishing crisis, without being given further responsibilities.

What about the arts in Scotland? We are told that that well-known culture vulture, Allan Wilson, will report to the First Minister on the arts, culture and sport and will presumably advise him, on a weekly basis, on the filling out of his pools coupon.

I do not oppose the First Minister's motion, because I believe that the appointment of the ministerial team is the First Minister's prerogative and I do not question Mr Macdonald's fitness for the post. However, I repeat that the changes that have been forced upon the First Minister by the resignation have been a missed opportunity. I think that he will regret not taking advantage of the opportunity to cut his Government down to size and to focus ministers and portfolios more appropriately than he has done.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 3:41 pm, 22nd March 2001

Like the previous speakers, I have no quarrel with the appointment of Lewis Macdonald to the post of junior Scottish minister. For the past two years, I have taken every opportunity to recommend that Sarah Boyack get a deputy minister. I am glad that she has got one at last and wish them both well in their jobs.

However, as the previous speakers said, we are dealing with a matter of principle. The reshuffle has not helped us in our attempt to serve Scotland's environment. I had a brief and equable conversation with the First Minister earlier today and we reserved our positions on that point.

We have an important debate next and I want to be as brief as possible, so I will ensure that I stay within the three-minute time limit by reading the text of the letter that environmental organisations have sent to the First Minister and to which I know he has made a favourable response by inviting the groups to meet him. The letter reads:

"Dear First Minister, We are writing to express our deep concern over the decision to dissolve the position of Minister for the Environment in the Scottish Executive. This leaves Scotland as possibly the only Western country without a dedicated Environment Minister and seems inconsistent with the commitment to put 'environmental sustainability' at the heart of Government policy. We cannot accept that distributing the existing portfolio throughout the cabinet will succeed in putting the environment firmly into all other portfolios. The practical consequences of this are demonstrated, for example, in Rural Affairs, where both Ministers are busy tackling agriculture and fisheries crises and EU negotiations on CAP and CFP reform. There appears to be no Cabinet champion to ensure that the environment and sustainable development are being progressed across government. We are also concerned that the initial momentum that was gained by Sam Galbraith's stewardship of the environment portfolio may be lost."

I agree especially with that part, as I felt that Sam Galbraith was getting a real grip of the portfolio. The letter continues:

"We would appreciate the opportunity to meet to discuss constructively these issues with you as soon as possible."

First, we had a minister with responsibility for transport and—as if in brackets—the environment. She did not have a deputy minister. Then, we had a minister with responsibility for culture and sport, and—as if in brackets—the environment. He took on the environmental part of his remit well. Now, we have the Minister for Rural Development, who is already up to his neck in work, and—as if in brackets—the environment. Other bits of the environment portfolio are distributed around.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order. He is past his time limit. Please wind up, Mr Harper.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I see the logic in some of the changes in ministerial responsibility. Some of them might work well. However, on the environment, we still lack the driver in the middle. We lack the motivator; the person who will chair MOSS—the ministerial group on sustainability in Scotland; the person who will drive things forward for the environment in Scotland. That is the only reason that I rise to speak in this debate. I wish Lewis Macdonald all the best in his job.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 3:45 pm, 22nd March 2001

Before I decide whether I approve of Lewis Macdonald's proposed appointment as a deputy minister, will he be good enough to say whether he would be willing to receive a delegation of MSPs who are interested in an important planning matter in the Falkirk area, which was of great interest to all political parties during the by-election not so long ago? I refer to the proposed stadium for the Falkirk Football and Athletic Club, which would also be a great sport and leisure asset for the entire community.

Unfortunately, Lewis Macdonald's predecessor, Sam Galbraith, seemed disinclined to meet such a delegation. There is a relationship with Falkirk Council's proposed new structure plan, which would help facilitate construction of Falkirk FC's new stadium. Lewis Macdonald may or may not be aware that candidates of various parties, including Labour, signed a memorandum of agreement, guaranteeing—I repeat, guaranteeing—that the building of the new stadium would commence on 31 March 2001, which is next week. It is about time that politicians, particularly those in the Executive, who have power over planning and other matters, saw fit to receive a delegation of interested MSPs to discuss the matter further, in order to expedite approval of Falkirk Council's structure plan which, in turn, would help expedite the construction of the new stadium.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour 3:47 pm, 22nd March 2001

After that, I am sure that Lewis Macdonald is relieved he is still a back bencher for the moment.

I had a meeting with Robin Harper, and I respect very much his concerns. I have also arranged a meeting with Scottish Environment LINK to discuss at first hand the issues that its members have raised.

At that meeting, I will take the opportunity to tell LINK that the environment remains at the heart of what the Executive is about. It is vital that we take environment and sustainability seriously. Let us reflect on the fact that we have a minister for the environment. That minister is Ross Finnie; his deputy is Rhona Brankin. I hope that the Parliament will share the vision that we will not have foot-and-mouth disease and the issues in the fishing industry carrying on for ever. When we take the synergies between the countryside, rural matters and the environment, there is a very positive case to be made. We should dispel any myth that the changes to ministerial responsibilities are in any way undermining our serious commitment to environmental issues. I am quite happy to take Robin Harper and LINK through that, but it is important to put on record the Executive's commitment to the environment.

It was slightly cruel of David McLetchie to raise the expectations of Jamie Stone. However, it is clear that there is an important track to be pursued in that regard, and it may well be the case that Jamie Stone will be doing greater things in the years that lie ahead. [MEMBERS: "Ah!"] However, there is no prospect at all for any Tory advancement, because the Tories still will not sit on the Holyrood progress group and consider the parliamentary issues involved. [Interruption.] David McLetchie can sit there and rant and rave, but the simple point is that if the Tories are serious about the Holyrood progress group, they should join it; if they are not serious about it, they should not join it.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Mr McLeish's ministers should join it.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

The Tories should put up or shut up. That is the plea from the Executive.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party

There is a fair bit of noise in the chamber, but I think I heard the First Minister say a few seconds ago that issues in the fishing industry will not carry on for ever. What did he mean by that?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

I mean simply that our current discussions with the fishermen about the record package of £27 million will be resolved so that conservation and getting boats back to work will walk hand in hand.

Bruce Crawford raised some important environmental issues, which we all want to take seriously. However, nothing that has happened in terms of the environment portfolio will result in those issues not being dealt with seriously and effectively. I hope that members will agree to the motion and that we will acknowledge that steps have been taken that will enhance the environment. Over the next few months, I think that we will see the benefits of that.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Of course, I have no views on the appointment of ministers, but before I put the question, I want to record the thanks of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to Lewis Macdonald for the work that he done on the Holyrood progress group. That work has been of great assistance to the group and to Parliament. We appreciate it very much. [Applause.]

I ask members to check that their cards are in place and that the red lights in front of their cards are out.

The question is, that motion S1M-1775, in the name of Henry McLeish, on the appointment of Lewis Macdonald as a junior Scottish minister, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Division number 1

For: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeish, Henry, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Young, John
Against: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Mr Alex, Sheridan, Tommy, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Abstentions: Harper, Robin

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The result of the division is as follows: For 84, Against 32, Abstentions 1.

Motion agreed to.

That the Parliament agrees that Lewis Macdonald be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.