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".