Junior Minister

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 28th November 2002.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:15 pm, 28th November 2002

Our first item of business this afternoon is the debate on motion S1M-3656, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister. It is a short debate.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Before speaking to the motion, I thank Dr Richard Simpson for the contribution he has made to devolved Government in Scotland. [Applause.] He made a major input as Deputy Minister for Justice, particularly on important matters such as the fight against drugs and the reform of prisons. I am sure that Hugh Henry will successfully advance those key issues. I wish him well in his new post.

Since devolution, the importance of the role of deputy ministers has increased substantially. Deputy ministers allow the Executive to be more accessible and more accountable to Parliament. They provide an extra resource within ministerial portfolios, assisting ministers in meeting their responsibilities and driving forward specific projects. They have enabled the Executive to focus further on delivery.

Des McNulty has a strong understanding of the importance of delivery. He has a proud pedigree of working for the people in Strathclyde and the city of Glasgow. From that experience, he understands clearly why we in the Executive put the winning of social justice for all Scotland's citizens at the heart of all that we do. He knows that, for us, working for growth in the economy and closing the opportunity gap is the foundation on which we are building a better Scotland.

We face a range of opportunities and challenges in the social justice area. We are making progress on housing stock transfers and the Building (Scotland) Bill, as well as tackling planning issues, equality issues and the regeneration of communities throughout Scotland.

Des McNulty's background is in strategic planning and economic regeneration. From his involvement in the Glasgow social inclusion inquiry, as well as from his work as a board member of Greater Glasgow Health Board and with the World Health Organisation, he has first-hand knowledge of the problems of poverty and ill health. He has a history of commitment, which augurs well for his work in the post. He has considerable experience in the critical work of the Parliament's committees, most recently as convener of the Finance Committee.

With that wealth of knowledge, experience and personal commitment, he will bring new insight and expertise to the important work of Deputy Minister for Social Justice. I want to harness that expertise to advance our policies. I have no doubt that Des McNulty will bring knowledge, energy and enthusiasm to his new post, that he will boost the social justice team led by Margaret Curran and that our work for the people of Scotland will benefit from his appointment. I commend the appointment of Des McNulty to the Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Des McNulty be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:18 pm, 28th November 2002

In speaking against the approval of Des McNulty, I make it clear that I do not do so on a personal basis, although if members have read Rab McNeil's column today, they will be aware that it is not a risk-free appointment. I speak against the nomination because of the way in which the vacancy has occurred—circumstances that are exacerbated by the failure of the First Minister to come to the chamber and explain the sequence of events that have unfolded.

If the letters exchanged between Dr Richard Simpson and the First Minister are to be believed, it is the first resignation in political history that took place because the minister involved had done nothing wrong and said nothing untoward. Apparently he has resigned simply because he did not want to add to the Executive's problems. If that were the test, many more Executive ministers would be leaving office in exactly the same way.

In these serious times, when confronted with the reality of a strike in one of the most important public services, every politician has a choice about whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution. The Scottish National Party believes that the role of ministers and of the Government is to be part of the solution. That is why we abhor the actions of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the inaction of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, who have failed to broker a solution and deliver stability to the fire service. However, even their culpability pales into insignificance beside that of a minister who was directly responsible for the fire service but who was prepared to shoot his mouth off at a dinner and to do so in terms of the worst saloon-bar prejudice.

Even more disgracefully, for a full 48 hours, Dr Simpson hid behind a cloak of anonymity while speculation rose, damaging his colleagues in office. In fact, even once Dr Simpson had outed himself, the First Minister continued to offer him full support. He had the First Minister's complete confidence at 11 o'clock on Tuesday, but by 4 o'clock he had gone. It took the full facts to be laid before the people before the First Minister realised that the game was up and that he could not protect his own appointee any longer.

The reputation of the Executive has been further tarnished by the saga, and the Executive has been plunged further in the public's esteem by the continued inability of the First Minister to act with the dignity and principle that his office demands. That is why I oppose the nomination: because of the actions of the nominator rather than the suitability of the nominee. It is time that Scotland had not just one new minister but a completely new team of ministers. I look forward to the coming election, when I am sure that the people of Scotland will choose a team from this side of the chamber. The SNP is determined to improve our public services, restore dignity to Government and make Scotland the best that Scotland can be.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:21 pm, 28th November 2002

Here we are again—another day, another reshuffle—as the accident-prone Government stumbles towards its date with destiny on 1 May next year. For those who like to keep count, there are 123 reshuffling days left before the dissolution and opportunity may yet knock for the mere seven Labour back benchers who have still to be given a job of any description.

It would be remiss of me not to comment on the circumstances that have led to the elevation of Mr McNulty to the dizzy heights of junior minister. Two years ago in this Parliament, Jim Wallace announced proposals to reform family law in Scotland. He said:

"We will end the status of illegitimacy in Scotland."—[Official Report, 14 September 2000; Vol 8, c 262.]

End? End? Far from ending it, Labour politicians talk of little else. The vulgar and intemperate Dr Simpson is, of course, not the first. Members will recall that infamous taped conversation between Helen Liddell and Henry McLeish in which the parentages and pedigrees of John Reid and Brian Wilson were discussed in less than flattering terms. We know that the Labour party in Scotland struggles with numeracy, but its language is not much better.

With Dr Simpson's departure, Hugh Henry moves to the justice portfolio at a highly opportune time. Thanks to the Scottish Conservatives, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill has been significantly improved. There has been a partial U-turn on the ludicrous proposals to criminalise parents for disciplining their children and a humiliating retreat on the plan to send 16 and 17-year-olds to children's panels. Accordingly, the bill has been shed of some of the higher nonsenses of the Wallace-Simpson era, although little did we know that it would also be followed by an abdication. So I say— [Laughter.] Come on. Members will have to be quicker than that. I say to Hugh Henry that if he wishes to prosper in that portfolio and make a real difference to tackling crime in Scotland, he would be well advised to listen to Bill Aitken, James Douglas-Hamilton and others in the chamber who are in touch with reality, rather than to Jim Wallace.

I turn to Mr McNulty. I hope that he will not take it personally if I say that he should never have been appointed. This was an opportunity missed by the First Minister to make a start on cutting Government down to size in Scotland. However, it seems that he and the Liberal Democrats are determined to persist with their overblown Administration, so that we continue to have five times the number of ministers governing Scotland today than was the case only three years ago.

However, as far as Mr McNulty is concerned, I think that his contributions to this Parliament have been considered and measured and that, in his new portfolio, he may prove to be the perfect foil for the more passionate and combative style of Margaret Curran. We all know that we should never underestimate the determination of a quiet man. On a personal level, we wish Mr McNulty well in his few months in ministerial office. However, the truth is that Scotland does not need another mini-reshuffle, but a wholesale clear-out. Next May, the people will get their chance.

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

Order. This is a short debate. There should be no interruptions.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I hear SNP members saying that it has been a bad week for the Scottish Executive. They are correct. Unfortunately, many members of the public do not differentiate between the Executive and the Parliament and therefore what the Scottish Executive does wrong sheds poor light on the rest of the Parliament.

A minister in the First Minister's Government has made remarks that are deeply offensive to some of the most dedicated men and women in this country. Before the vote for his new appointee, I invite the First Minister unreservedly to do what has not yet been done and apologise to the firefighters and control staff of this country. He should apologise for remarks that were made by a minister who should have known better. If he does not publicly apologise here and now, some of those men and women might begin to think that the views that Dr Simpson holds are also held by others.

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

Just a minute. There should be no interruptions from the gallery, please. This is not a participative meeting.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

In congratulating Des McNulty on his appointment, I hope that he will use his new position to ensure that the Scottish Executive takes more effective action to eradicate poverty and fight for higher standards of social justice.

There is widespread and understandable concern about the circumstances that led to the ministerial mini-reshuffle. The remarks that were attributed to Richard Simpson were inflammatory, deplorable and inexcusable. It is essential that the Scottish Executive apologises publicly to the firefighters and builds bridges with the Fire Brigades Union. The current pay of firefighters does not recognise their professionalism and dedication to duty in saving lives and properties. Sometimes acts of heroism are demanded that are well beyond the call of duty. That is why the Scottish Executive and the Government must ensure that resources are made available now to enable the employers and the union to return to meaningful negotiations and ensure a fairer deal for the firefighters so that they can return to work with dignity and justice done.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 2:28 pm, 28th November 2002

In response to the absolutely outrageous comments that Mr Sheridan made, I want to make absolutely clear to the chamber what has been made clear in other places this week. On Sunday at lunch time, within hours of the publication of the newspaper in question, I made it absolutely clear that I unreservedly rejected the remarks and that, if they had been made, they should never have been made and would not be made by someone who is a minister in the Administration. On Tuesday, Dr Richard Simpson apologised in his letter to me.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mr Sheridan can shout and make things up as much as he wants to, but Dr Richard Simpson apologised in writing on Tuesday. If more members took such an honourable approach, we would have a better reputation in the country.

I am delighted that Mr Canavan mentioned the important issues with which the Deputy Minister for Social Justice will be involved.

It is fine and well in a debate such as this for the Opposition leaders to refer to comments that have been made, although I think that it is a little bit rich, when the previous Conservative Prime Minister referred to the current Conservative leader in terms similar to those quoted in a certain Sunday newspaper this week, for the Conservative party to reflect on illegitimacy.

It is important in this chamber for us to discuss the issues as well as the personalities. I am deeply disappointed that we have heard a very short debate about the appointment of a deputy social justice minister in which neither the leader of the Scottish National Party nor the leader of the Conservative party in Scotland referred to the key issues in that portfolio: poverty in Scotland, housing in Scotland, and the regeneration of Scotland's communities.

Those issues—not the personalities nor the petty backstabbing of politics, but the real issues that face Scotland today—are the issues for which, if we deal with them, people in Scotland will respect us. Therefore, we will continue in Scotland to concentrate on the issues of tackling poverty, improving housing and boosting urban regeneration. The work of this portfolio goes on. The Opposition may not like it, but we will make a difference in Scotland.

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

The question is, that motion S1M-3656, in the name of the First Minister, on the appointment of a junior Scottish minister, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 1

For: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, 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, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Against: Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Reid, Mr George, Russell, Michael, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Abstentions: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Harper, Robin, Jenkins, Ian, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Young, John

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

The result of the division is: For 61, Against 28, Abstentions 16.

Motion agreed to.

That the Parliament agrees that Des McNulty be appointed as a junior Scottish Minister.