Minister

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:33 pm on 8th May 2002.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 2:33 pm, 8th May 2002

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3069, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a minister.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 2:34 pm, 8th May 2002

I want to start by thanking Wendy Alexander for the contribution that she made to the work of the Executive and the Cabinet. [ Applause. ] I also want to extend my best wishes to her in the Parliament and in continuing to serve her constituents in Paisley North well.

In recommending the appointment of Margaret Curran, it is right that I should first of all say something about the appointment of Iain Gray as Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning.

Since the beginning of this Parliament, Iain Gray has consistently demonstrated his commitment to improving the lives of people in Scotland. He has an excellent track record in health, in justice and, most recently, in social justice. Throughout, his capacity to bring people together and forge the partnerships needed to deliver change has brought real improvements to people's lives. He has demonstrated both the leadership skills and an understanding of the Government's role that will allow him to consolidate and develop the relationships that we need with the business, education and transport communities to support our drive for an economically successful and prosperous Scotland.

Iain Gray understands that a strong economy is the cornerstone of a successful Scotland and that our work to invest in the education, science and transport infrastructures is critical to creating the environment in which business can grow. Building that framework, creating those opportunities and working to deliver our strategy for a smart, successful Scotland is the way in which we will secure higher growth, because that way we will put in place the foundations that businesses need to allow them to grow.

Margaret Curran has a lifetime's experience helping communities to support themselves and to grow. She chaired the Parliament's Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and has always demonstrated her understanding for the concerns felt in our communities and, importantly, for the potential that exists in those communities to develop the talent and the opportunities of our citizens. I have no doubt that Margaret Curran will now take that lifetime's commitment and experience and turn her role as Minister for Social Justice into one that drives forward the Executive's commitment to closing the opportunity gap across Scotland.

We must end the situation where at least 70 per cent, and perhaps as many as 90 per cent, of lone mothers want to work, but only 52 per cent are in jobs. We must turn around the position where men in our most deprived areas are twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease as men living elsewhere. We must end the scandal that 75 per cent of our young people in care will leave school without the qualifications that they need to build their futures. We must build a Scotland of opportunity for all, because we understand the central importance for our prosperity of achieving that goal.

Margaret Curran's appointment will bring energy and talent to the team of ministers who lead the Executive, and I am delighted to commend her appointment to the Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Margaret Curran be appointed as a Minister.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:37 pm, 8th May 2002

I wish to oppose the First Minister's motion to appoint Margaret Curran to the Cabinet. The appointment of ministers to Cabinet office should largely be about who can focus the Government's priorities in order to achieve the Government's objectives. The Executive tells us that one of its top priorities is social justice, but it has a very strange way of showing that.

Margaret Curran is now the fourth minister in three years to have responsibility for social justice and, as far as we know, at least the fifth person to be offered that post by a Labour First Minister. It shows a strange focus and a strange set of priorities that ministers change so often in office. I hope that the First Minister will tell us in summing up that he has given Margaret Curran a very specific task for her term in office to add to the list that he announced earlier. That task is that she has a duty to reduce child poverty, which has actually gone up in Scotland in the past 12 months, to the shame of the Labour Executive.

The appointment of Margaret Curran as Minister for Social Justice comes about only because of Iain Gray's appointment to the enterprise role, which arises from Wendy Alexander's resignation last Friday. One of the clear factors in that resignation was that Wendy Alexander had too much to do and too many responsibilities, and did not receive the support that she needed to focus on the formidable challenge of improving the Scottish economy. In the ministerial changes leading to the appointment of Margaret Curran, the First Minister should have taken steps to get the focus on the Scottish economy right.

There are vital issues that must be tackled. Our economy grew by 0.6 per cent in 2001, below the trend of the past 10 years and below the UK level of economic growth. Manufacturing output decreased by 8.2 per cent in 2001, compared to the previous year. Unemployment is 6.6 per cent higher than it was a year ago, and we heard this morning that business failures are up 40 per cent on last year. In making this Cabinet appointment, the First Minister should have learned his lesson and not put as many burdens on another minister with responsibility for enterprise as the previous minister was not prepared to carry.

While observing the revolving doors through which ministers in the Scottish Executive regularly pass, nobody ever seems to count the cost of the changes. There are costs to the children of Scotland, who are left in poverty as a result of the Scottish Executive's confusion about social justice, and to the Scottish economy, as the minister with responsibility for enterprise carries too many burdens and cannot focus on the challenge of building the Scottish economy. There will be other costs. In the First Minister's summing up, I wonder if he can tell the Parliament about the cost to the taxpayer of the many ministers who have left the Scottish Executive in the years since 1999.

The Executive continues to spin, like the revolving doors through which ministers pass. The Executive should stop spinning and start to focus on delivering for the public, who elected members to the Parliament. The Executive should focus on making the Parliament and the country the best that they can be. That will not be the result of constant ministerial changes, but of the Government's addressing the challenges that exist in Scotland today.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:41 pm, 8th May 2002

Here we are again with another ministerial reshuffle. Sometimes, it seems that there are more drop-outs in the Scottish Executive than there were at Woodstock. We are stardust, we are falling is a song for Wendy Alexander, as the Cabinet bids her farewell and welcomes Margaret Curran.

The Scottish Executive is, of course, an equal opportunities employer—everyone gets a shot and everyone gets fired. After barely three years of the Parliament, only eight out of 55 Labour members have not held ministerial office, junior ministerial office or been the beneficiary of party patronage as a convener, deputy convener, ministerial aide, gofer or spear carrier. I have a list of the awful eight, but I say to Mr B, Ms C and Mrs L—I have changed the names to protect the identities of the innocent—that their time will come and that they should not fear. They are not too incompetent to get a job in the Scottish Executive—ability is no barrier to advancement. There are still 358 reshuffling days before the next election.

Earlier this week, an opinion poll was published which said that 72 per cent of Scots rated the First Minister's performance as ranging from very poor to the dizzy heights of plain average. That will not be a surprise. However, to my great alarm, the poll disclosed that 3 per cent of Scots believe that I am the Deputy First Minister. That is a worrying statistic. It means that, as we speak, 150,000 people are walking around Scotland blaming me for Jim Wallace's mistakes. I would like to take this opportunity to state categorically for the Official Report that I take absolutely no responsibility for such failures.

More seriously, the motion represents an opportunity, which the First Minister has missed, to put into practice his favourite soundbite: "doing less, better". From day one of the Parliament, I have consistently said that there is absolutely no need for 20 ministers in the Scottish Executive. Adding those 20 ministers to the two ministers in the Scotland Office means that 22 ministers are undertaking the work that was adequately done by only five ministers at the old Scottish Office prior to 1 July 1999. The non-appointment of a successor to Ms Alexander and the allocation of her portfolios to existing members of the Cabinet would have been a welcome step in the right direction. Sadly, an opportunity has been missed and the desire to preserve the power of patronage has overridden the need to consider the public purse or the efficient discharge of the responsibilities of Government. We should certainly be doing a lot less and we should certainly be doing it far better. We could certainly do it with far fewer ministers.

However, having made that point it would be churlish not to acknowledge and thank Wendy Alexander for her contribution as a minister or to congratulate Margaret Curran on her preferment to the Cabinet. She has proved herself to be a spirited and combative contributor to debates in the chamber. My colleagues and I look forward to some robust exchanges.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call on the First Minister to wind up the debate.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 2:45 pm, 8th May 2002

The Presiding Officer caught me by surprise. I expected there to be other speeches. I am delighted to get the opportunity to respond to what has been said, however briefly.

It is very sad that, a week after calling on everyone else in Scotland to stop moaning, girning and whingeing, Mr Swinney chooses today to get back to his old habits and to moan and whinge about the current state of Scotland.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Opposition can also be about ideas and vision. Some day we look forward to getting that, Dr Ewing.

For the good of the Scottish economy it is important to put on the record the recent reports published by a series of business organisations. The Bank of Scotland monthly report stated that manufacturing activity has risen for the third consecutive month. The Confederation of British Industry industrial trends survey stated that optimism was positive among Scottish manufacturers for the first time since January 2000. Lloyds TSB says that expectations for the six months to August 2002 are positive.

There are positive signs in our Scottish economy. We had an extremely difficult year last year, but Scotland's economy was robust enough to see us through that. It is wrong for members of the Parliament to talk down the economy and to run it down, in the chamber or anywhere else.

Predictions were made by the nationalists, week after week and month after month, that Scotland would be in recession by the end of last year. We were not; those predictions were wrong. The nationalists talked down the Scottish economy then and they are talking it down again today.

We need focus in the Parliament. I have been saying that for six months. Part of that focus is to have the key posts of enterprise, transport and lifelong learning combined to provide a focus to rebuild the Scottish economy, to get the skills in place and establish the infrastructure that we need. Business organisations throughout Scotland have welcomed that change and are working with us to secure the basis for the Scottish economy to achieve higher growth in the future.

I have to say, perhaps with some irony, that Mr McLetchie might want to remember that the same Mr Gray that he castigates today defeated him in Edinburgh Pentlands in the elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I am sure that Mr Gray will do that again next year.

This is a strong team, which is presiding over serious progress in public services and in the economy in Scotland, but there is much more still to do. After today's debate, we will get on with doing it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that motion S1M-3069, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a minister, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 1

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

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 66, Against 27, Abstentions 15.

Motion agreed to.

That the Parliament agrees that Margaret Curran be appointed as a Minister.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the vote is valid. Parliament has agreed the First Minister's recommendation and he may now invite Her Majesty to approve the appointment of Margaret Curran as a minister. [ Applause. ]