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.