Junior Ministers

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:13 pm on 29 June 2005.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:13, 29 June 2005

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3042, in the name of Jack McConnell, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers, and one amendment to the motion. I ask those who wish to contribute to press their request-to-speak buttons, but we must be done by 2.35 pm.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 2:19, 29 June 2005

I put on record my thanks to Euan Robson for his contribution to the ministerial team both as Deputy Minister for Parliament and, recently, as Deputy Minister for Education and Young People. [ Applause. ] He has been a pleasure to work with. He admirably represents his area as well as having an interest in areas throughout Scotland. In the past two years in particular, he has driven forward changes in social work, child protection and other areas that I am sure will save lives in years to come, which is no mean feat to achieve in a short time in a ministerial portfolio. I wish him all the best.

I know that one of the achievements of which Euan Robson is most proud is the Marriage (Scotland) Act 2002, work on which he was involved with as a back bencher and completed when he was a minister. The act gave people in Scotland more choice about their marriage plans, which means that Euan Robson has probably caused a lot of arguments among couples. I hope that he will effectively take part in the arguments that we will have in the Parliament in the years to come.

Today, I nominate George Lyon and Robert Brown to join the ministerial team as junior ministers. They are two of the most formidable and effective back benchers that the Parliament has seen in the past six years. Robert Brown has brought a passion and an intellect to the debates in the chamber in a way that I think is extremely creditable. I am certain that his interest in education and young people, which we have seen in his work as the convener of the Parliament's Education Committee, will be shown in his ministerial work as he supports Peter Peacock in bringing about the changes that will deliver real opportunities for young people across Scotland.

One of my relatives once said of George Lyon that he was more of a politician than a farmer. He is, of course, both things and I know that he will take particular pleasure in achieving ministerial office, having spent so many years in the farming country of Buteshire. On the back benches, George Lyon has been a fiery representative of his constituency and his party. On many occasions, he has successfully exposed the absolutely paltry positions of the Opposition parties and he has been a passionate advocate of real change for Scotland. He recognises the need to celebrate the successes of this country and to ensure that, across Scotland, our young people become more and more confident as a result. I know that he will bring to the finance and public service reform portfolio the same commitment that he has given to his work on the Audit Committee and as the Liberal Democrats' chief whip. I am sure that he will be an excellent minister. With the Parliament's support, I look forward to welcoming George Lyon and Robert Brown to the team.

Although it will be noted elsewhere, I should say for the record that Rhona Brankin is now the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development. She has a long track record of hard work, both as an MSP and before joining the Parliament. I think that she will bring renewed vigour to our policies in an area that is about to become a real priority following the G8 summit next week, which will address climate change.

I also note that Lewis Macdonald will join Andy Kerr in working on the health and community care portfolio to ensure that we improve not only dentistry and the health services of Scotland, but public health, ensuring that more Scots live longer and have happier and more successful lives.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that George Lyon and Robert Brown be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 2:23, 29 June 2005

I am opposing Robert Brown's appointment not on personal grounds—having served on the Education Committee under his stewardship, I can testify to his hard work and dedication to the subject—but because I want to protect him from the possibility that he will be held responsible for Government education policies that are failing to make the grade.

I note with interest that the last parliamentary questions that Robert Brown lodged as a back bencher were on allotments. I do not know where his sudden interest in allotments came from on Monday. Was he cheekily preparing the ground for Jim Wallace and his new-found spare time or was he perhaps putting the knife into Euan Robson, whom he is replacing?

On the subject of knives, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. I always thought that Robert Brown—who, like me, is a Latin scholar—had the air of a Roman senator. I am sure that he will be missed by the other members of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which is the nearest that this place gets to a senate of the great and good.

I am worried about the welfare of Mr Brown and his potential fall from grace. Only today, two stark facts emerged that demonstrate the creaking nature of the Government's education policies. We are told that 30,000 out of 50,000-odd teachers are not teaching for a variety of reasons, whether it is because of the demands of their families, stress, retirement, better opportunities becoming available elsewhere or whatever. The bottom line is that we know that, at the chalkface, there is a shortage of teachers and that our pupils are losing out.

It is four years since the McCrone report, which was intended to make the teaching profession more attractive. After almost £1 billion of investment, however, more than 50 per cent of registered teachers are choosing not to teach and we have shortages in the classroom. The number of teachers who are in front of pupils is what matters, not the number of teachers who are registered.

The move throughout the country to faculty curriculum management is undermining morale. We have indiscipline and stress in schools, yet as recently as last year the First Minister said that teachers had exaggerated the problems of indiscipline. The Executive's refusal to adopt a policy of presumption against closure of rural schools is causing concerned parents to seek to save their local rural schools. I note that the Liberal Democrats were the only party that did not provide a speaker at yesterday's rally by parents on the subject.

Only today, we heard that 50 per cent of schools are in a shocking state of repair. The Government has moved too slowly and with an expensive scheme of financing that does not provide the value, or indeed the value for money, that is required. The Executive started to invest heavily in schools too late—not only that, but it did so via expensive public-private partnership schemes that provide less but cost more. No wonder the pace of investment is so poor.

I cannot help thinking that Robert Brown is letting himself down by allowing himself to be put forward today as the Deputy Minister for Education and Young People. Perhaps it is a case of the appointment of a fall guy as political cover for previous education ministers whose failures are coming to light. Who might they be? They are a certain Nicol Stephen, who is a former Deputy Minister for Education and Young People; Cathy Jamieson; and, of course, the First Minister himself. However, I say to Robert Brown that he should not worry. They are not the type who would leave him out to dry when education policies start to unravel.

I supported Robert Brown during his tenure as convener of the Education Committee, but I cannot support his demotion to Deputy Minister for Education and Young People. I hope that he will reconsider but, should he not do so, the Parliament should save him from himself.

I move amendment S2M-3042.1, to leave out "and Robert Brown".

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 2:27, 29 June 2005

It is, of course, necessary in such debates immediately to put down a marker that there is absolutely no personal animus in what one is about to say. Robert Brown and I have known each other for many years. Indeed, as someone unkindly pointed out last night, we have known each other for some 30 years, back to the days when we both had hair. I first met him when he was elected to Glasgow District Council. There, he was an earnest and committed councillor. I recall that I greatly offended him one day when I accused him of political duplicity. Little did I think that, some years down the road, he and his colleagues would demonstrate to me that they had made political duplicity into an art form.

Having departed from the senatorial and patrician Brown, let us turn to the plebeian Lyon. I have a terrible confession to make. I know that I will be condemned resolutely by Conservative members for what I am about to say, but I will be condemned even more by members on the Liberal benches. I actually quite like George Lyon. I have always found him to be quite witty and intelligent; he has a degree of self-confidence that, in someone else, one might find quite admirable. However, he, too, has now joined the ministerial gravy train.

I oppose the two appointments with a degree of concern for the individuals involved. It could not be said that they are anything other than hard-working and committed members. Having been a chief whip and a busy committee convener, they now enter the ministerial tower. I know that Parkinson's law declares that the level of work and input will expand to fill the time available, but I cannot see what they will be doing up there. Is Fiona Hyslop perhaps right to say that poor old Robert Brown will be there as the fall guy? Could George Lyon become the hate figure of the Parliament generally rather than just of members on the Liberal benches? Is there something sinister in the appointments? I urge the gentlemen, even at this late stage, to work out what Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott are thinking in placing them in their invidious position.

To deal with the serious point, we have too many ministers, so perhaps we should save the two men from themselves by voting against the appointments.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 2:30, 29 June 2005

Looking back at previous debates on motions such as this, as I do regularly, I have noticed two things. First, members always explain that they have absolutely nothing against the individual who is being proposed. Indeed, that was the case when I was first proposed as a minister. At that time, Phil Gallie objected on behalf of the Conservatives because of the lack of progress on abolishing charges for eye and dental checks. I look forward to the debate on the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill tomorrow, when Phil Gallie and every other Conservative member will have the chance to vote to abolish those charges—we look forward to Phil Gallie and the rest of his team voting in favour of the bill. The second thing that I have noticed is that ambitious and aspiring members have tended to treat such debates a bit like junior question time—they tend to think that they will do better on the attack than their party leader who has spoken before them.

Fiona Hyslop is on shaky territory in speaking about education. As far as I can remember, her main policy is to bring to a halt our school replacement and refurbishment programme, while she goes off with Mr MacAskill to work out whether private companies should be allowed to build new schools in Scotland. If they had their way, 300 new and refurbished schools in Scotland would be blocked by the Scottish National Party.

I had planned to make a lengthy diatribe against the Conservatives, but I will cut that bit, because, in contrast, Bill Aitken made an admirable contribution, the spirit of which was much appreciated throughout the chamber. I say to his leader and to the Conservative back benchers that, on that basis, Bill Aitken is perhaps deserving of consideration for promotion in the future days and weeks.

I thank Euan Robson for the work that he has done for Scotland as Deputy Minister for Education and Young People and previously as Deputy Minister for Parliament. I echo the sincere tribute that the First Minister paid to him. Euan Robson's work, especially on social work and young people, has made Scotland a better place.

Robert Brown brings an exceptional commitment to education from his convenership of the Education Committee. He also brings a wealth of experience from his work in the Parliament on social justice and on housing and, just as important, as a key member of the team that prepared the Executive's partnership agreement.

George Lyon brings a wide range of experience to the Executive, both from inside and outside politics. Members know that he was president of the National Farmers Union Scotland before joining the Parliament. He has contributed with distinction to the work of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee and to the Audit Committee. Members will know that he is always a strong performer in the chamber. With Tavish Scott, Robert Brown and George Lyon as part of the ministerial team, the Parliament can be assured that determined delivery and the radical reforms will continue.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment S2M-3042.1, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, which seeks to amend motion S2M-3042, in the name of Jack McConnell, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 2

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

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 41, Against 65, Abstentions 0.

Amendment disagreed to.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The next question is, that motion S2M-3042, in the name of Jack McConnell, on the appointment of junior Scottish ministers, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Against: Aitken, Bill, Baird, Shiona, Ballard, Mark, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Harvie, Patrick, Johnstone, Alex, McLetchie, David, Mitchell, Margaret, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, John, Tosh, Murray
Abstentions: Adam, Brian, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Rob, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Welsh, Mr Andrew

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 64, Against 17, Abstentions 23.

Motion agreed to.

That the Parliament agrees that George Lyon and Robert Brown be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.