Section 18 — Severance payments for councillors

Local Governance (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 23rd June 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:45 pm, 23rd June 2004

That takes us on time to group 6. Given that only 10 minutes have been allocated for the group, I ask members to keep their speeches brief. Amendment 19, in the name of Andrew Welsh, is grouped with amendment 20.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party

I will be as brief as I can. I also declare an interest, which is that my wife is an Angus Council councillor. I made that clear at committee and I want to make it clear again today.

The SNP will move amendment 19 to address the anomaly and unfairness in the original bill that arise from the fact that qualification for severance pay will depend on a councillor not standing at the next election and the fact that candidates who stand for re-election will be excluded. A councillor of many years of public service who was not re-elected would receive no such payment while former council colleagues who did not stand would receive the full payment for their years of service. At the heart of the situation lies the question about why the severance payments were introduced at all. Are they a recognition of past public service or simply a financial incentive to get longer-serving councillors out of local government? I ask the minister to make clear on which side of the fence his provision lies.

If its aim is to remove existing councillors from local government and bring in fresh faces, it will lead to the obvious problems of loss of experience and expertise and of how to achieve a financial reward that is sufficient to entice former councillors not to stand, which would give the proposed remuneration committee a financial puzzle to solve. The payment may be designed to reward past public service. If so, and if the bill is not amended, the provision will clearly discriminate.

I am clear that the severance payment should be a recognition of past public service. As such, all past public service should be recognised and people should not be penalised by a rule that doubly punishes electoral defeat—a defeat that could be on the narrowest of margins.

Amendment 19 would prevent discrimination against long-serving councillors who wish to be judged by the electorate and not pre-judged by the bill as drafted.

I move amendment 19.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I speak to amendment 20 and in support of amendment 19.

Under the Executive's current provisions, within, say, the Labour Party—given the size of its wards across the country—a councillor who wanted to go forward for election could be defeated by 2:1 in a local selection contest, and would be guaranteed a severance payment for their previous council service, yet a councillor who won the 2:1 vote but who was then defeated by 2,000 votes to 1,800 would not be entitled to any severance payment.

The Executive's provision lacks any principle or logic. If the idea is to reward past service, which is a good idea, let us do that. Let us not base the reward on whether the councillor stands for election again. The provision is discriminatory and amendment 19 seeks to address that fact.

Amendment 20 seeks to address the idea that we should somehow debar someone from standing for election in future simply because they have been rewarded for their past service in a local authority. We should be careful about how we debar people from standing for election. One of the ways to debar them is not to agree that they should be rewarded for past service, only to say, "By the way, you can't stand again for election in the future." That is utter nonsense, which is why amendments 19 and 20 should be supported.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I found Mr Kerr's comments on the provision at committee compelling. It is a payment for an adjustment between one system of election and another. Politics is about hard decisions: everybody who goes into the political process has to make hard decisions about whether to stand in a particular election. It is not for Parliament to negate the candidate's personal responsibility in that regard.

Photo of Mr Bruce McFee Mr Bruce McFee Scottish National Party

When the proposal was originally mooted, we were informed that the severance payment was to recognise service to the community by councillors who would not be continuing after the next elections. Frankly, what we have now is another expedient—introduced cynically—to use public money to buy off Labour councillors in the authorities where the number of Labour councillors elected is grossly out of proportion to the number of votes that Labour receives.

Labour members know that there will be casualties within the party, and they intend to use severance payments to buy off the problem of certain selection meetings.

"The severance payment proposal contained in the Bill is tantamount to a bribe to persuade councillors to stand down at the next election".

Those are not my words, but the words of Councillor Pat Watters—a Labour councillor—on behalf of COSLA, which says it all.

Mr Sheridan's amendment 20 is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it amendment. It would allow councillors to take what is, in effect, a voluntary redundancy payment and reapply for their jobs later. We cannot support that.

Frankly, ministers have spoken nonsense about the severance scheme, and have danced around trying to make it stack up. It is an abuse of public money to use it to sort out internal Labour Party problems.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The Executive has had a consistent position on severance payments. We are proposing a one-off scheme, available only to those councillors who choose to stand down at the next election. Andrew Welsh's amendment 19 would mean that councillors who chose to stand but were not elected would be entitled to a severance payment. We simply do not think that that is the right approach.

In fairness to Mr Mundell, the introduction of a new electoral system is, as he rightly recognised, a big change for everyone. We acknowledge that not all councillors will want to take part in the new arrangements. We respect that view, so the scheme will give councillors a choice: they can choose to take a severance payment or not, or they can choose to stand again for election under the new voting system. That will mean that all candidates go into the next election on an equal basis.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Is not it the case that the reverse is the situation with respect to MSPs and MPs?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I accept that there are different arrangements for MSPs and MPs. We are dealing with the local government elections and the system that will elect local government in the future. The arrangements are just different.

It is not right in principle that councillors who stand again should also be eligible for a severance payment if they are defeated. We also need to look at the bigger picture. In line with our widening-access agenda, we want to create opportunities for more people to consider standing for election. The average Scottish councillor is male, white and in his 50s. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is hardly representative.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Of course there is something wrong with that. If there is not, why does the minister want to change it?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Yes, we do want to change matters. We need to find ways of encouraging people from a range of different backgrounds to come forward, which I would have thought Mr Sheridan would want. That will work only if posts are available for them to fill. Amendment 19 would restrict the ability of parties to field new candidates. Amendment 19 is wrong in principle and would be detrimental to our widening-access agenda, so I ask members not to agree to it.

With amendment 20, Mr Sheridan is trying to be all things to all councillors. I acknowledge that the scheme may appear harsh to some, but we are not in the business of letting councillors benefit from a severance payment and then stand again. The practical effect of Tommy Sheridan's amendment 20 would be that a councillor could accept a severance payment and stand down at the next election. Then, a few months later, they could win a by-election and benefit from the new salary and pension arrangements that will be in place.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

No.

That would do nothing to encourage more people to stand, it would do nothing for the age profile of Scotland's councillors, and it would do nothing to address gender inequality, which are all matters that we want to address.

Tommy Sheridan also needs to consider how constituents would view a scheme that allows councillors to accept a severance payment and then come back shortly afterwards with a new salary and pension. The reaction would be less than positive.

Our severance scheme is fair and lets councillors choose what is right for them. Mr Sheridan's amendment 20 would amount to a golden handshake and a golden hello for some councillors, which we do not think is right.

I invite Parliament to reject amendments 19 and 20.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh Scottish National Party

As Tavish Scott has revealed, the severance scheme is a bribe to get rid of councillors, not a reward for past service. David Mundell said that there will be an adjustment between systems. Such adjustments should be fair and should not discriminate unfairly against certain councillors and not others. If pre-2007 councillors are to have past service recognised, that should apply to all pre-2007 councillors. There should not be any discrimination. The severance scheme should apply to everybody. There should not be one rule for MPs and a different one for councillors. The issue is a point of principle for Parliament to decide, and it should do so.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:00 pm, 23rd June 2004

The question is, that amendment 19 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 6

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Curran, Frances, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harvie, Patrick, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Maclean, Kate, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, 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, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 29, Against 80, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 19 disagreed to.

[Amendment 20 moved—[Tommy Sheridan].]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 20 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 7

For: Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Curran, Frances, Harvie, Patrick, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 11, Against 98, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 20 disagreed to.