Ministers and Junior Ministers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:38 am on 21st May 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 9:38 am, 21st May 2003

I associate the Scottish National Party with the First Minister's comments about Celtic's football match in Seville tonight. I wish the team every success. Believe me, that is a cross-party gesture in every respect.

I heard the First Minister say the other day that because of pressing Government business relating to the appointment of his ministerial team he was unable to travel to Seville to support Celtic. I have to say that having seen the modest changes that he has made to his Administration he would have been as well going to Seville to support Celtic. I wish Celtic every success in the match tonight.

There are few opportunities to comment on the appointments proposed by the First Minister, particularly when so many of the previous ministerial team are returning. I do not oppose the appointment of Peter Peacock in order to question his ability to do the job—although the electorate of Moray certainly seemed to prefer Margaret Ewing to Peter Peacock—but to comment on the proposed Administration.

The changes that were made yesterday missed an opportunity. I welcome the fact that there are two fewer ministers, but the First Minister had an opportunity to go much further and he did not take it. A more sizeable reduction in the ministerial team would be a sign that the new Scottish Executive will get tough on the waste of public money caused by the vast size of government in Scotland.

The lesson of yesterday is that, faced with a big opportunity to change, the First Minister will choose only to tinker at the margins. We said last week that we would give the First Minister fair wind with his proposals when he had good ideas. Only the First Minister can explain how increasing the size of the Cabinet is consistent with cutting the size of the Government.

There are other reasons to question the proposals. Sentence 1 in section 1 of the partnership agreement says:

"Growing the economy is our top priority."

I warmly welcome that bold aim, but it begs the question how. After four years in which Scotland has had the lowest economic growth rate in Europe, and given that there was zero growth last year, how does the Government intend to transform Scotland's economic fortunes?

Yesterday, we were given the answers—Jim Wallace and Nicol Stephen. Henry McLeish, Wendy Alexander and Iain Gray may all have failed, but here come the Liberals. [Applause.] I notice that the Labour members are not cheering. Jim Wallace and Nicol Stephen are the latest members to attempt the seemingly impossible task of transforming Scotland's economy with virtually no economic powers. The reality is that Scotland does not need more enterprise ministers; we need more economic powers for the Parliament. Without those powers, Mr Wallace and Mr Stephen, however talented they may or may not be, will be no more successful than their predecessors.

Apart from the target on the economy, the partnership agreement sets another bold target. It says:

"We will ... work to end child poverty by tackling deprivation and social need."

The first step in the crusade against child poverty is the huge one of renaming the Minister for Social Justice as the Minister for Communities. Changing the title does not change the fact that 320,000 children in Scotland live in poverty, nor does it change the fact that the Minister for Social Justice in the old Administration had virtually no power to tackle child poverty and that the Minister for Communities in this Administration has virtually no power to tackle child poverty.

Even within the existing powers of the Parliament, the First Minister has missed an opportunity. He could have made a genuine effort to create a more focused Government structure; instead, he has created sort-of Cabinet ministers—deputy ministers whose basis for sitting at the Cabinet table is unequal to that of their colleagues. That mess smacks of satisfying a Liberal demand for three seats at the Cabinet table, but it does not satisfy the needs of good government.

For those reasons, I oppose the appointment of the new minister. I oppose the appointment because ministers claim to pursue goals that they know they are powerless to achieve and because the Government is still too big and unwieldy. The creation of a two-tier Cabinet will do nothing to change that.

I move amendment S2M-52.1, to leave out "Peter Peacock".