Parliamentary Questions November -December 2007

View the parliamentary questions that Johann has tabled in the period November - December 2007 at :


Speech on Sport and Young People : Scottish Parliament 13th. December 2007

Johann Lamont : The future of sportscotland is important in itself, but it is also critical in showing how the Executive conducts its business.
We in the Labour Party take the view that we need stability in sport at this stage.

We recognise the important role of sportscotland in a range of areas, including the one that Children 1st highlighted in its briefing on child protection.
Others will talk in more detail about the role of sportscotland, but I want to focus on the process of parliamentary and external engagement.
Like any good historian, I intend to refer to primary sources—the words of the minister himself.
On 1 November, in response to a question from Margo MacDonald, the First Minister acknowledged that there was an interesting judgment to be made about where certain functions should lie.

There was a case for agencies to take responsibility in some circumstances and for the Government to take over responsibilities in other circumstances.
That is why he said that the Government was consulting on the proposal.
I asked whether the First Minister would ensure that the consultation was real.
He blithely replied:
"The Minister for Communities ... has already made that commitment ... Of course, a full consultation is being carried out, and the minister needs no encouragement from me to make such a commitment."—[Official Report, 1 November 2007; c 2984.]
I did not wish to be harsh in my expectations of what the consultation might be, so I checked with a credible source—the Scottish Government's website, which said:
"Typically consultations involve a written paper inviting answers to specific questions or more general views about the material presented.

"Written papers are distributed to organisations and individuals with an interest in the area of consultation, and they are also posted under the current consultations section of this website, enabling a wider audience to access the paper and submit their responses."

Off I went to see what was posted. I did a search, and the result was:
"Sorry no results found that match your query 'future of sportscotland'."
I then thought that I should try the minister, so I sought information through a series of parliamentary questions.

"Could the responses to his correspondence be published?
"No, that would be inappropriate.
"Could his letters to organisations that he consulted be published? No, that would be inappropriate.
"Could he perhaps publish an analysis of the responses before a decision was made? No.
"One wonders what the minister had to hide.

"That bizarre reticence was explained in an answer to Patricia Ferguson on 26 November, which said: "The review ... is not a public consultation"
and that the Government would seek permission to publish responses
"once the outcome of the review has been announced."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 26 November 2007; S3W-6487.]
Perhaps someone should advise the First Minister that his confidence that his minister needed no encouragement to have a full consultation was a touch misplaced.
Stewart Maxwell might have been right when he said initially that the review was internal—but then again, perhaps not.

In evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee, planning officials outlined the workings of Scottish planning policy 11, which gives sportscotland a critical role.
They confirmed that the planning directorate had not been consulted and that, even if sportscotland went,
"we would expect the function of getting clear advice from some expert authority on particular proposals to remain."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 21 November 2007; c 248.]
Even if sportscotland went, we would need another body to meet important planning needs in our communities.

No sense of decluttering would be felt and duplication would not be removed.
Perhaps that is why the minister did not have the confidence to consult his planning officials.
For those who are finding it hard to keep up, I will recap.

We have a commitment to a full consultation, but the consultation is not public and is clearly not full. We have an internal review that does not obviously involve internal consultation.
We do not know what was asked in correspondence or what the replies were.
We know that several important sport and community organisations and equality groups such as Children 1st were not consulted, and that the public cannot participate in the consultation.
We do not know what would happen to sportscotland's key functions, because the minister says:
"Until the outcome of the review is known I am unable to comment on who would be responsible for specific areas of sportscotland's work."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 14 November 2007; S3W-6017.]
Call me old-fashioned, but I would have thought that dealing with that was the consultation's role.
I regret that I do not have time to say everything that I wanted to, but I will make one more point.

The minister is the Humpty Dumpty of the Scottish Parliament—words mean what he wants them to mean.
I hope that he will listen to the Parliament's will today, and I look forward to his having the grace to announce a proper timetable to discuss sportscotland's future and the courage to ask genuine questions about the genuine options that are available.

Speech on Woodland and Green Spaces : Scottish Parliament 12th. December 2007

Johann Lamont : I welcome the opportunity to contribute to what I perhaps uncharitably described—when I first heard what was to be debated—as a tree-hugging debate.
Those of a more cynical bent might think that it is a time filler, but given my lack of cynicism and my happy disposition, I am happy to acknowledge that there are important and challenging issues in the debate, both for the Administration and for members.

I say to Rob Gibson that the point about SPP 11 is not a diversion but a central issue.
I am sure that he would have acknowledged that in the past, even though now, in power, he is unable to do so.
My first point is that woodlands and green spaces are particularly important for those in urban areas such as my constituency.

I ask the minister to confirm that the Executive intends to pursue environmental justice and address the anxiety that I have about the decision to merge Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
He will recall that, when the First Minister was asked about the matter, he said that everything would be okay because they would be absorbed into a rural services body. If any communities deserve the protection of SEPA, it is surely those in urban areas that already live with the consequences of industrial development, pollution and dereliction over time.
I would like an answer to that point.
Secondly, I am also sure that the minister will confirm and recognise the importance of green spaces and woodlands in addressing the health needs of people in areas of deprivation.

In my own constituency for example, excellent work has been done on a localised basis to reach out to men who do not address their own health needs.
As well as education, that has included an activity group, including jogging and walking outdoors. Considering such a project, the importance of urban woodland space becomes obvious.
The minister may be aware of serious concerns at a local level about the funding of such projects because of uncertainty in the community regeneration fund and the role of community planning partnerships.

Indeed, I understand that health boards were not consulted on those plans ahead of the budget, and I look for some reassurance on that localised budgeting, which makes such a difference to the community projects that bring together health issues and the environment.
My third point, on SPP 11, is the most important.

I want particularly to appeal to those Scottish National Party back benchers who have a long record of supporting moves to protect green space in urban areas.
I urge them to support our moderate amendment.
It asks them not to take a view, but to agree that there should be further consultation on certain questions.
Let me give members a brief history lesson.

As has been indicated, SPP 11 was put out in draft form for consultation.
Critical elements included timescale for audit and minimum standards within new developments.
Anyone who represents an area where there has been a new development will understand that if open space is not included at the beginning, people will reject it being put beside them at a later stage. If it is really important, it should be done during the development.
I am not clear why the SNP would indicate that that issue is somehow a matter for local government, considering how other planning matters are dealt with.
Another critical element in the consultation was non-sporting green spaces.
Those were tough choices, so it was deeply disappointing that, once consulted on, those critical elements were dropped.

That decision did not correlate with what the consultation found.
The elements were dropped after a redraft was circulated to a number of stakeholders, and it is disappointing that there was not a further opportunity to consider that difficult shift.
I will quote two groups.

The spokesman for Fields in Trust said:
"There is a sense of deep, deep disappointment.

"There was an expectation that we would be one of the best countries in Europe in terms of open space planning but these hopes have been dashed".
The spokesperson for Play Scotland spoke of its "huge disappointment" with the SNP:
"There is huge pressure on local authorities to release land for developers and they have the upper hand at the moment.

"That is not a good situation for Scotland."
The Labour amendment would provide for further consultation.

This week of all weeks we need to give confidence that the planning system seeks to find a balance between development and the protection of the environment.
The draft of SPP 11 that went out for consultation gave that; the filleted version does not.
Our amendment would ensure simply that, by consulting further on the critical elements, people can feel confident that this Administration, like the previous one, understands the balance and is transparent in delivering it. SPP 11 is about a good environment across Scotland, and I urge back benchers to support the Labour amendment on that basis.

Speech on the Lancastria Association of Scotland : Scottish Parliament 5th. December 2007

Johann Lamont : I add my congratulations to Christine Grahame on securing the debate.
I recognise the work that she has done and I commend her on how powerfully she spoke as an advocate on behalf of those who want recognition for the people who died.
In a previous life, I was a deputy minister.
The thing that I was probably most proud of in that post was that I was veterans minister.
It was a huge privilege to be given the critical responsibility, which lies with this Parliament, for the care of veterans.
As minister, I had an important role in participating in and supporting remembrance celebrations, especially around the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war.
At the time, people asked why it was important to look back.
In looking back with respect and gratitude to those who lost their lives fighting to defend our country, we are also able to look forward.
We have an opportunity to shape the future through understanding the past and the sacrifices that were made.
It is critical that we remember those people, but it is also important to give out a strong message to our young people about their history so that they understand what happened and what ordinary people were prepared to do.
It is important to mark and to acknowledge those sacrifices and to remind each new generation of them.
Knowing the price that was paid by those who went to war—they were very often young people—and by those who continued to suffer as a consequence teaches important lessons about the horror of war.
Part of the real tragedy of this story is that families not only had to live with the impact of that huge loss of life, but had to suffer without the comfort of some recognition of the price that was paid.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those people who lived in silence.
As someone of island community stock, I remember the respect that people had for the power of the sea and for any tragedy at sea.
The thought of what people saw that night—as Murdo Fraser said—is very powerful.
I also remember the small graveyard on the island of Tiree where the graves marking out those who lost their lives in the war—perhaps unknown people—came to be respected and revered. That, too, said that we remember and are grateful.
I, too, pay my respects to the members of the Lancastria Association of Scotland, who, like many such campaigners, have sustained their campaign over a long period, with compassion and persistence from which many of us could learn.
Another example is the campaign to grant posthumous pardons to those who were executed in the first world war.
Although it took a very long time, eventually the campaign was successful.
It would be fitting if, as Christine Grahame's motion states, the debate contributed to our supporting : "the calls from the remaining survivors"— how poignant that phrase is—
"and relatives of victims for official recognition of this tragedy."
We owe them nothing less.
Their sacrifice was massive, and they have suffered in silence for a long time.
As Christine Grahame says, the Parliament should acknowledge that sacrifice and support calls for it to be recognised.

Speech on Equality and Diversity : Scottish Parliament 28th. November 2007

Johann Lamont : I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
I also welcome much of what the minister said in his comprehensive capturing of the range of areas in which discrimination and inequality feature in our society.
I am particularly proud to lead for the Labour Party in this debate, because, of course, the Labour Party was founded on an understanding of inequality, injustice and exclusion and a recognition that to tackle those things we need people who are discriminated against to shape the political process.
To tackle inequality and respect diversity, we need to open up the political process to those who most need its protection.
My colleagues will address a range of the critical issues that are part of the equality and diversity agenda.
In speaking to the amendment in my name, I indicate that we are happy to support the motion. However, we believe that, although the sentiments in the motion are easy to express, the challenge is to ensure that the means are willed to deliver on those aspirations.
That is what we seek from the statement to the Parliament that we call for in our amendment. We need properly to assess—and to use the equality impact assessment tool to deliver that assessment—and we need to ensure that rhetoric is matched by resources.
We know that striving for equality and celebrating diversity should be the core of Government business.
A society that seeks to release all the talents and abilities in our communities is a safer, more secure and better society for all.
That is what we are seeking from the Government in a statement.
To state the obvious, for example, a straight budget increase for individual services may, ironically, disproportionately benefit those who are already strong in our communities.
We might therefore want to ask how the budget presented by the Executive, driven as it is by tax cuts, can benefit the most vulnerable and excluded in our communities.
Stewart Maxwell: Will the member give way?
Johann Lamont: I want to make some progress.
I will focus on disability and, more specifically, on children with disability, both as a means of illustrating the challenge of delivering equality through the budget and to raise with the Executive grave concerns about its budgeting priorities.
I have come to the issue most sharply because of the experience of a number of my constituents who have children with disability and special needs, but the issues that they raise are the common experience of many families.
I recognise the courage, persistence and moderation of those parents in pursuing the issues, but the reality for them is that to have a child with a disability is, it seems, always to be engaged in a battle, struggle and fight to secure for their child what they need to thrive.
It is harder to access services, child care, after-school care and holiday clubs and to secure
for their children their independence and happiness in adult life.
As a small example, we know that three out of four blind or visually impaired people are unemployed.
We know, too, that disabled young people make up 8 per cent of all 16 to 34-year-olds, yet in 2005-06 22 per cent of all young Scots who were not in employment, education or training were disabled.
We have concerns about the language of the Executive on regulation.
I ask the minister to reflect that one person's excessive red tape is another person's job opportunity.
When talking about employment, we also have to challenge employers.
I hope that the minister can confirm that any benefits to business that come through the budget will be attached to conditions in relation to those whom businesses seek to employ.
We know that supporting disabled children puts pressure on parents; pressure is also put on siblings and on their parents' capacity to give them the attention that they need.
Members may be aware of the powerful every disabled child matters campaign, which sought to get the UK Government to understand more fully the challenges faced by families and to engage in creating change for them.
As a consequence, a group was set up, chaired by Tom Clarke MP, to review and hear evidence and to make recommendations to the Government.
The group took evidence from across the UK, including Scotland, and the report that the group submitted highlights critical issues for families.
The UK Government responded with the document "Aiming high for disabled children: better support for families" in May 2007.
This may not come as a huge surprise, but the report highlighted the critical need to empower disabled children and their families, provide more responsive services and support, and improve the quality of support.
With the response came a £340 million package, £280 million of which was a grant to cover the cost of delivery of improvements in the provision of short breaks for children, allowing a change of environment for the child and respite for carers and siblings.
As a direct consequential from that funding, the Executive received £34 million.
In response to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, confirmed that the money had been received but that it was for the Scottish Government to determine how it was spent.
Will the Minister for Communities and Sport confirm today that that £34 million will be spent on meeting the needs of disabled children and their families, as outlined in the UK Government's response, with a particular focus on short breaks and respite?
Technically, of course, the Minister for Children and Early Years was correct, but I am
sure that the Minister for Communities and Sport will agree that it would be an outrage if families in Scotland did not benefit from the funding, given the groundbreaking work that was done by the families and campaigning groups to create understanding of the issues and pressure for the funding.
We seek the minister's reassurance that the £34 million is not a windfall that the Government will use to fund its tax-cutting priorities but is recognised as critical funding to change the lives of vulnerable children.
It would be a bitter irony if there were no beneficial consequences to vulnerable children of the hard work of families of disabled children and the support of disability groups.
In the summing-up speech, will the minister commit to making a statement to Parliament, as requested in our amendment, on how the budget, shaped by the equality impact assessment tool, will meet the aspirations in the motion?
Will he guarantee that that statement will identify how the £34 million will be spent to meet disabled children's needs, as identified in "Aiming high for disabled children"?
Will he resist the red-tape argument and ensure that any employability strategy challenges employers as well as employees?
Will he consider how business tax cuts can be a means of creating support in the business community for employing people with disabilities?
Further, will the minister confirm the commitment to localised funding for excluded groups, to address their experience?
They know the problems, but they also know the answers.
Will he meet representatives of disability groups in particular to pursue the agenda of how the fruits of their campaigning labour will be delivered to families with disabled children?
As for local government spending priorities, will the minister guarantee that equality groups will be involved in the development and monitoring of single outcome agreements, to ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our communities do not bear the cost of the new change in funding?
Like all other members, Labour members recognise the broader agenda.
We also recognise the progress that has been made by the former Labour-led Executive and—critically—by the current Labour Government, which is willing to take courageous action on the equality agenda.
We all like warm words, but the people in our communities who are most sharply aware of inequality and discrimination, which pepper and shape their every day and every waking moment, deserve from all of us the Executive's unequivocal commitment to putting its money where its mouth is.
It is a privilege to participate in the debate.
I trust that the minister will respond to some of the sharp points that I have raised.
I move the amendment , to insert at end:
"further recognises that equality impact assessment tools should be used in determining and assessing policy priorities and spending allocations, and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward a statement to the Parliament detailing how the above commitments on equality and diversity will be delivered through the Scottish budget."

Speech on Domestic Abuse : Scottish Parliament 22nd. November 2007

Johann Lamont : As ever, it is an immense privilege to contribute to the
debate, which marks the United Nations 16 days of action on violence against women.
It is always important to remember the violence and fear that women and their children suffer.

We need to recognise the scourge that remains in far too many homes and take the opportunity to reinvigorate our commitment to act at every level of government and in our communities to eradicate the suffering that is the closest companion of too many families.
I appreciate the consensual approach that the minister has taken, but the irony is that domestic violence is a difficult issue—one that has not always gained the recognition or agreement that is often displayed in this place.

We must be alive to the fact that, although we seek consensus, the reality for women is of having to live in a world where they are not respected and where violence against women is a weapon of choice, not a matter of regret.
There was a time when domestic violence was not seen as a matter for politics.

We must commend those who forced the issue on to the political agenda.
We commend the women survivors and others who spoke out, organised, and reached out to other women and children.
We recognise that, far from being lauded for doing that, they were often condemned.
When they spoke, they revealed a dark truth about the nature of the power relationship between men and women, and the nature of power in our society.
It is important to look at the impact of domestic abuse on children, but we need to place that consideration in the context of the nature of domestic abuse, where women are overwhelmingly the victims and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

We also need to place domestic abuse in the context of violence against women in all its forms, including prostitution and trafficking.
Violence against women is the sharpest confirmation of the fact that women remain unequal and that to live as a woman is to have more limited life chances and economic and other opportunities than a man.
We recognise the work of women in engaging in shaping policy at Scotland level.

We salute, too, the women on the front line, whether in the ASSIST project, Women's Aid, Say Women, or the national domestic violence helpline.
All those women work closely with some of the most vulnerable women in our communities, and they do so because they recognise the importance of that work.
They also work with women who are not seen as the victims of first regard.
We have to be conscious of the fact that groups such as Say Women, which have raised funding concerns, fear that the women with whom they work are seen as problematic and not necessarily worthy of sympathy.
The Labour amendment highlights the need "to review the effect of current enforcement measures" that seek to protect women and children.
In particular, it highlights the need for the equalities and justice portfolios to share responsibility rather than pass the buck. In conjunction with the ASSIST project, we need to support the roll-out of domestic abuse courts.
The project provides the critical risk assessment information that makes court decisions part of the solution rather than a means of reinforcing the problem for women and children.
I ask the minister to confirm that the Government recognises the critical value of multi-agency risk assessment work and multi-agency partnerships.
In particular, I ask the minister to respond to the concerns of the women's organisations that have expressed fears that the decision to lift ring fencing at the local level, particularly for supporting people, has the potential to wipe out all local women's aid provision and services.
I ask him to acknowledge—as those groups do—that ring fencing was put in place for a purpose, which is to protect services that are not necessarily popular at times of budget constraint.
Why was there no consultation with Women's Aid and others before the decision to lift ring fencing was taken?

Will women's groups and equalities groups be represented on the monitoring bodies that consider the single outcome agreements?
If the minister could point out the relevant outcome agreement in the concordat, as I have already asked him to do, that would be immensely helpful.
We also seek reassurance in relation to the prostitution legislation.

The challenge is not simply to legislate to support women who are suffering in prostitution, but to provide funding to support women out of prostitution.
What role will Scottish Enterprise and other agencies play in supporting those women's specific needs as they move into employment and in providing them with opportunities to move out of prostitution?
We seek the minister's assurance that the three-pronged approach continues, combining protection, prevention and provision.

I trust—the minister has given us some comfort in this regard—that he will support a review of all the enforcement measures and that justice measures will be seen as part of that process; not as a bonus to the courts in their support to the women, but as a critical means by which women as complainers achieve real access to justice in our courts.
Will the minister immediately address the funding concerns of a range of women's organisations that support vulnerable women?

Will he outline—and confirm—how his budget will deliver services and measures to address the broader issue of equalities and the rights of women across the range of our responsibilities, to ensure that in addressing those inequalities we begin to move the process on so that we can challenge the issues of violence against women, which are the sharpest and most difficult expression of violence in our communities and for vulnerable groups?
As I have said, there is an important debate to be held, but I challenge the minister to recognise that consensus is built through action, and I look forward to hearing about the actions that the Government will take.
I move the amendment, to insert after first "violence against women" :
"acknowledges the need to review the effect of current enforcement measures to tackle violence against women, in order to ensure that women and children receive the protection and security that they require".


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Broken Promises : Johann's speech in the Scottish Parliament 4/10/07

Johann Lamont I am happy to speak in the debate.

I will start with a confession.

At first, I thought that it was rather uncharitable and a bit too critical for us to attack the SNP, which has been in power only since May.

We all recognise the real challenges that the Government faces and the hard decisions that must be made.

However, the problem for the SNP is that it cannot use that defence given its triumphalist, self-regarding and overblown claims about what it is doing.

It is in that context of overclaiming and underdelivering that it is entirely legitimate to focus on the gulf between Executive claims and Executive action.

I say to Patrick Harvie that the SNP has claimed that it is building consensus but it is doing that behind closed doors instead of working through the parliamentary process.

I will comment on the Executive's approach in an area in which I have a particular interest—housing and communities.

As has been mentioned, the motion talks about the first-time buyers grant.

That was an SNP manifesto commitment for which, I do not doubt, people voted.

However, the Executive's position is not clear.

Has it accepted that it is a costly promise that does not differentiate between people who struggle to get on the property ladder and those who do not?

In the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June, Nicola Sturgeon said that she accepts that she is in a minority Government and cannot automatically have her position agreed.

However, if she believes in the policy—I presume that she does, as it was in the SNP's manifesto—it would be reasonable to expect that she might try.

She also said:

"By necessity and by desire, we will have to test all our manifesto commitments in the Parliament."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 27 June 2007; c 22.]

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP cannot use the fact that they are in a minority Government as an alibi; they cannot say, "We would have done this but these bad people won't let us do it."

There have been many examples, over the past eight years, of policy coming to Parliament, being shaped and moulded by Parliament and coming out very different at the end of the process.

Either Nicola Sturgeon should be honest and say that the SNP now does not believe that the policy is credible, or she should test it through the parliamentary process.

If she does neither, our suspicion will be confirmed: like so many other manifesto promises, it was designed to win votes and, having served its purpose, can now be quietly dropped.

The second feature of the SNP Government is its pretending to act.

Members may recall the housing supply task force, which was talked up and lauded—of course, we were criticised last week for wanting to set up a talking shop.

It has now been confirmed by members of that task force, who accepted that their work would be determined by the Executive's housing proposals and the comprehensive spending review, that they were not told to produce a report or asked to comment on the Executive's housing proposals.

They have not been asked even for comments on what the Executive should argue for in the comprehensive spending review or for a view on the future of Communities Scotland as a crucial housing regulator.

Another example is the central heating programme.

We are told that there will be a review of it, but yesterday we learned that there is no remit, timescale or even a funding commitment for the central heating proposals.

Nicola Sturgeon: Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: Let me make my next point.

The third charge for the SNP is that it takes administrative action, safe from parliamentary scrutiny, when it suits it. I will give members one small example: the abolition of Communities Scotland.

I was told in June:

"We will take time to consider the issues properly, consulting both organisations, trade unions and other key stakeholders, including ensuring that the relevant Parliamentary Committee has an input into the process before the final decisions are taken."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 23 July 2007; S3W-1701.]

On 19 September, Stewart Maxwell then said that

"it is imperative that we reach a decision as soon as possible ... If the committee has any other thoughts to tell me about Communities Scotland, I am happy to listen to them and to feed them back into the continuing process."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 19 September 2007; c 74.]

The reality is that the decision to abolish Communities Scotland, like many other Executive decisions, is defended on the grounds that it is a manifesto commitment and will be done precisely because it can be done administratively.

That is the charge: the Executive is behaving like the old Scottish Office. It is, when it can, taking administrative action, unaccountable to Parliament.

The last charge is that the Administration calls itself a Government but will not govern.

On the community regeneration fund—an issue that I have raised in the past—Nicola Sturgeon told the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June:

"The committee will have appropriate involvement, but I will balance that with a clear commitment to people in the areas involved that clarity and certainty will be provided".

She was asked:

"Can we say that you are determined that funding for those projects will continue?"

She replied:

"Yes ... the matter will be a key priority for Stewart Maxwell and me in the summer, so that we can have clarity soon after the recess."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 17 June 2007; c 28-9.]

Can the cabinet secretary perhaps tell us what she is going to do?

Nicola Sturgeon: Let me remind Johann Lamont that the delay in the comprehensive spending review is because of the activities of her party of Government in London. If she is frustrated by the delays—as we are—will she take it up with Gordon Brown?

Johann Lamont: With respect, that is precisely my point: the cabinet secretary should stop looking for alibis and start making decisions.

I know—because we did it—that the Executive could put in transitional arrangements to ensure that projects continue while the comprehensive spending review continues.

Let me also tell Nicola Sturgeon that the comprehensive spending review is not something that is visited upon the Executive but something that it shapes and determines by its priorities.

It told us in June that it could take a decision but it tells us now that it cannot. It should be honest about what it is going to do to communities.

The charges remain: it is disgraceful that the Executive will not take decisions; it is cynical in the decisions that it takes; and ultimately—I say this particularly to Patrick Harvie—it has absolutely no confidence in its rhetoric on consensus.

It will not speak to Parliament about what it wants to do, which is the biggest broken promise of all.

Glasgow Housing Association : Johann's speech in the Scottish Parliament 26/09/07

Johann Lamont : There is no doubt that housing always generates strong feelings and, in certain people, an excessive amount of hyperventilation.

It is a genuinely serious issue for the Parliament and I want to address the issues that are highlighted in the Labour amendment.

The amendment attempts to make a genuine contribution to finding a way forward.

I make no apology for emphasising the significance of the range of housing issues, sometimes conflicting, that matter to communities across Scotland.

Those issues are critical and we expect the Executive to deal with them in a reasonable timescale.

There is a balance to be struck between what we spend on social rented housing and the needs of owner-occupiers.

We must consider how we address low-cost home ownership; the balance of need between rural and urban areas; the challenge of homelessness; and the balance between our spending on bricks and mortar and our support for homeless people.

What do we do about meeting the needs of those who choose to buy a house inappropriately because the way in which we define need, in terms of social rented housing, means that they cannot apply for those houses?

As a consequence of that, too much of our social rented housing has become residual and is not used by mixed communities.

There is something for this Parliament to celebrate in relation to housing, because there has been consensus on a broad range of issues, including the work of the housing improvement task force and the homelessness task force.

We welcomed the creation of the housing supply task force, but I am disappointed that the Local Government and Communities Committee was informed this morning that the task force will not be consulted on the forthcoming green paper, will not comment on the future of Communities Scotland, and will have no opportunity to influence or shape the comprehensive spending review, which will be critical to the delivery of policies.

I ask the Minister for Communities and Sport, in summing up, to commit at least to continue with the previous Executive's proportion of spending on housing—a spending commitment in the 2004 comprehensive spending review that was recognised by the housing coalition that now lobbies on affordable housing as representing significant progress.

We need action on housing.

Some people might be concerned about the debate's narrow focus on the inspection report on GHA.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Will the member take an intervention?

Johann Lamont: The member should let me make some progress.

I acknowledge that wholesale stock transfer has been a controversial topic.

There are serious and legitimate concerns, especially in Glasgow, about the inspection report by Communities Scotland.

Indeed, some people have remarked to me that they were surprised that GHA was graded as a C and not as a D.

There has been action by Communities Scotland to appoint on to the board.

The report is challenging and it highlights serious issues, which concern all of us, about the needs and concerns of the tenants and communities of Glasgow. I do not underestimate the challenge that the report presents.

At the stage of transfer, there were evident tensions and anxieties about the future.

On the one hand, there were those in communities such as the one that I represent who knew that the community-based housing association movement and co-operatives had the power to transform their areas and wanted them to do that.

On the other hand, there were those who had not seen that happen and were anxious about it.

Indeed, one argument for wholesale stock transfer was that it would ensure that nobody was left behind. Partial stock transfer depended on individual communities' capacity to be strong enough to take it forward.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): Does the member still agree with her statement, which she made on 25 May 2006 as the Deputy Minister for Communities, that there is no financial black hole in relation to second-stage transfer?

Johann Lamont: I absolutely agree with that.

There is a challenge for Government back benchers who believe that there is a financial black hole.

The solution is not to say, "There is one, and we're not going to do anything about it." They have to address the matter.

Second-stage transfer was part of the core business of GHA that was identified in the ballot.

When Communities Scotland, GHA and the accountable officer of the Scottish Executive signed off the transfer, they understood that funding had been provided for second-stage transfer.

I do not doubt that Nicola Sturgeon will now understand the power of the official advice—not ministerial direction, but official recognised sign-off—that the finances were correct in that case. That is a significant safeguard.

Nicola Sturgeon: Will Johann Lamont respond directly to the comment in Communities Scotland's report that the previous Government "did not fully consider the practical implications" of second-stage transfer?

Johann Lamont: I do not accept that.

The point that I am trying to make is that, at the stage of transfer, it was important to go at the pace of tenants, to build confidence, and to move on. No one was in any doubt that the finances were in place to deliver second-stage transfer.

What is critical now is the action that is taken in response to the report.

There is a clear message that GHA is failing in its basic responsibilities.

Those who say that there is a choice to fund either refurbishment or changes to local structures, as Alex Neil has said, are entirely missing the point.

The message that has arisen from Glasgow's housing for a long time, which is reinforced by the report, is that investment on its own is not enough.

GHA has huge resources, but it is failing in its core services to tenants and owners.

Indeed, the community-based housing association approach shows that local, rational decision making meets local communities' needs and breaks the cycle of investment in failure that has made Glasgow's tenants suffer for too long.

That cycle is characterised by centralised decision making that meets the needs of the body rather than the people whom it serves.

It was broken by the community-based housing association movement, which has many friends in the Parliament.

That is why second-stage transfer is integral to making investment work throughout Glasgow and is not an added extra.

Otherwise, the absence of second-stage transfer from GHA's current programme would have meant that its other services were being delivered.

We know that that is not the case.

I must ask the minister to rise to the challenge.

In our amendment to the motion, we have given reasonable options for what the minister might want to do. It is not enough to say that it is up to GHA when she is faced by the chief executive of GHA who I understand has said that she is in principle opposed to second-stage transfer; by a report from the Government regulatory body highlighting serious failures in GHA; and by tenants and housing association members across Glasgow who have told me that their needs should not become a cheap political football but should drive the approach in the Parliament.

I understand the temptation of an incoming Administration to blame the outgoing Administration for any problems that it faces.

I know that Government back benchers will be under pressure to disregard the critical issues that are highlighted in our amendment on a way forward in order to secure the entirely partisan political benefit of attacking their political opponents.

I understand that—perhaps I would have done it myself.

However, all members on the Government benches who raised concerns about GHA and who promised tenants, owners and communities that they would do something when they were in power should be mindful of the consequence of supporting the motion.

In effect, the motion lets GHA off the hook, saying that it is not its problem.

It would sign away the opportunity for the 39 local housing organisations that have developed credible cases for transfer, which are now with GHA.

Those cases would be written away with the new model of shared services, which has been around for a long time.

We owe it to those tenants to ensure that the cases are considered.

In particular, I urge those who style themselves friends of the housing association movement—many of whom belong in the Government party, as well as in mine—to reflect on what we have identified as a way forward.

As I said to Alex Neil, if they think that there is a black hole, they need to address it as a Government.

If they recognise, as we do, that there is not a black hole but a failure of commitment, perhaps they can address that.

The amendment is deliberately non-controversial, and I urge the minister first to reconvene the ministerial progress group.

Nicola Sturgeon: It is time to stop setting up groups to talk about progress—it is time to start making progress. One reason why I propose reviewing the grant agreement is that the agreement that Johann Lamont's Government put in place does not give the Government adequate levers to hold GHA to account. That is what needs to be addressed with real action.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Johann Lamont is in her last minute.

Johann Lamont: The ministerial progress group was not a talking shop.

It brought together every bit of expertise and commitment throughout Glasgow to deliver.

It brought together a programme of joint action of a staggered series of proposed transfers across Glasgow. Members should read the joint action report, because it gives us a road map.

Critically, the group brings together people to make a difference—not just a discussion or warm words from the minister.

Secondly, I urge the minister to consider the role of Audit Scotland in exploring the financial issues of concern in the report.

That would include offering Audit Scotland the opportunity to investigate GHA's home improvement programme and its impact on owners.

Again, I was disappointed by the minister's lukewarm words on that.

Thirdly, I urge the minister to explore other legislative and creative options to use a mechanism of community right to buy to allow those who currently manage properties to see how they could take control.

We urge the minister to explore all those options: be creative and think positively about how matters can be taken forward.

There is a challenge in our amendment for the Government, and there are suggestions for action that it cannot justify refusing to consider.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member must finish.

Johann Lamont: The Government motion allows GHA off the hook.

I urge members on the Government back benches and others to consider the options in our amendment and to support it at 5 o'clock.

I move amendment S3M-539.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:
"agrees that housing is an important priority and calls on the Scottish Executive to come forward with proposals for implementing its housing policy within this session of the Parliament; further notes the Communities Scotland inspection report on Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and believes that the Executive should act to ensure that GHA meets its responsibilities to its tenants and to owners in the services it provides; further agrees that the Executive should intervene to drive forward progress of second stage transfer in Glasgow, given the critical role of community engagement and ownership in ensuring that the significant investment available to the GHA secures real and lasting improvements to Glasgow's housing, and believes that progress should be based around the following: (1) re-establishing the ministerial progress group, bringing together the broad spectrum of interests and expertise across Glasgow's communities, along with other key stakeholders, to explore the options available to deliver community ownership, (2) exploring the role of Audit Scotland in tackling the issues identified in the Communities Scotland inspection report and (3) exploring possibilities of community right to buy as a means of delivering community ownership."


Johann's Parliamentary questions Mid September -Mid October 2007


Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive on what date the next meeting of the Ministerial Progress Group on Second Stage Transfers in Glasgow will be held.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (15 October 2007): The Scottish Government has no plans to reconvene the Ministerial Progress Group.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how many meetings of the Ministerial Progress Group on Second Stage Transfers in Glasgow have been held since April 2007.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (15 October 2007): There have been no meetings of the Ministerial Progress Group since April 2007. I understand the group has not met since December 2006.



Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is intended to continue the Cities Growth Fund beyond 2008.

Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): Decisions on the future of the Cities Growth Fund are being considered in the spending review. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the outcome of that review.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive what meetings are planned with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.
Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): No meetings are currently planned with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive what meetings have been held with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.

Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and I have discussed the Cities Growth Fund, amongst other things, with Glasgow City Council in meetings on 2 October and 22 August respectively. Officials from councils in receipt of Cities Growth Fund and the Scottish Government meet periodically to discuss issues around the fund, most recently on 21 August 2007.


Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much was spent between August and December 2006 on publicising the previous administration’s anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): Between August and December 2006, the Scottish Government spent £100,000 on publicising and promoting its work to tackle sectarianism. Activity during this period centred around reconvening the Summit on Sectarianism and the publication of a series of documents, including ones relating to twinning schools, guidance on the new procedures for marches and parades, and tackling football related sectarianism.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much is proposed to be spent between August and December 2007 on publicising its anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): The Scottish Government will spend £106,000 to publicise and promote initiatives to tackle sectarianism during August to December 2007. Activities will include a football weekend of action on 24 to 25 November 2007; an artwork event on 25 September, and a seminar to publicise the £100,000 which we have made available to support anti-sectarianism projects in schools.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much was spent between May and July 2007 on publicising its anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): The Scottish Government is committed to tackling all forms of sectarianism and religious intolerance. £4,000 was spent on promoting the anti-sectarian agenda during May to July 2007. The focal point of activity during this period was the First Minister’s reception on 19 June 2007 which recognised the achievements of those individuals and organisations that have made a positive contribution to tackling sectarianism.

Domestic Abuse

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive when it will confirm the future of the Glasgow Domestic Abuse Court and the Assist support service.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (19 September 2007): I refer the member to the answer to question S3W-1296 on 16 July 2007. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/webapp/wa.search.

I set out then the various factors I would take into account in reaching a view about how the Scottish Government can best support the courts in dealing with domestic abuse cases.
I reaffirmed our commitment to developing a range of complementary and mutually supportive measures, within and beyond the justice system, for combating domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is a serious crime.
The Scottish Government will uphold a zero tolerance policy towards it.
Our criminal justice partners are firmly committed to investigating all allegations of domestic abuse and to bringing all appropriate cases before the courts.
We already have a powerful framework of national policy and operational guidance in place for the pursuit of this crime.
I have carefully considered the evaluation of the domestic abuse pilot court in Glasgow, which was published in the spring.
The court has clearly brought benefits to victims and families.
Yet the research does not recommend replication of the pilot model across Scotland: it proposes that local solutions should be developed to meet local needs.
To this end I propose to take two specific actions.
First, I want to extend our thinking about the range of options for handling domestic abuse cases from the point they enter court until disposal.
We will prepare, consult upon and publish a guide to research and practice across Scotland.
We will put this at the disposal of sheriffs principal and local criminal justice boards in order to support self-assessment and innovation at local level.
I do not expect to see specialist domestic abuse courts in all parts of the country.
I do expect to see criminal justice partners in each area examining their own practice and pursuing new approaches where appropriate.
Secondly, I will take practical steps to further the aim of the sheriff principal for Glasgow and Strathkelvin to ensure the vigorous and sensitive handling of domestic abuse cases across the city.
The current pilot only serves cases arising in G Division of Strathclyde Police.
There is a need for new capacity to deal with the heavy caseload arising across Glasgow.
My officials will convene a short-life working group with relevant interests including the police, Glasgow City Social Work Department and providers of victim support services.
I have asked for a report by January 2008 to enable me to decide how the Scottish Government can best support a domestic abuse court serving the whole of Glasgow.
This is not simply a matter of extending the work of the current pilot.
We will need to develop a new and cost-effective model, including for the provision of support services to victims and witnesses and family members, that is sustainable in the longer term.
In addition, I am keen to use the opportunities of summary justice reform to improve the handling of domestic abuse cases right across the country and irrespective of whether there is a specialist court. Many of the efficiency gains reported in the evaluation of the Glasgow pilot should be attainable across the board as we implement changes to streamline summary business and move cases more quickly through the system.
To provide continuity during the transitional period whilst the Glasgow feasibility study is underway, the government will extend until the end of March 2008 the funding provided to the pilot specialist court.
These initiatives are part of the Scottish Government’s wider programme of work to combat domestic abuse.
We will make further announcements on this in due course.



Johann Lamont To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will ensure that the Housing Supply Task Force makes publicly available details of the land with outline planning permission currently owned by major housebuilding firms.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (18 September 2007): The Housing Supply Task Force is continuing to develop its agenda and will make public its findings at the appropriate time.