Iain Gray's message at Christmas

24 December 2008


On my first Christmas as leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament and I would like to wish all Scots a Merry Christmas.

The season of goodwill is not only a time for family and friends.
It is also a time to look out for those less fortunate: the poor, the sick, the elderly, the homeless and people with disabilities.

But this is something we, as politicians, must concentrate on every day of year.

Labour's core values focus on exactly this.
We believe in working together for a caring, fair society where we look out for each other, protect the vulnerable, work towards ending child poverty and give a hand up to those who need it.

Labour is about protecting public services that ensure we have a first-class health service free at the point of use, where education is always a priority and the economy is secure and stable so business can operate successfully.

However this Christmas many of us may be facing the New Year with some apprehension.
The events of the last few months have had a global impact.

Labour has not stood by.
We have taken decisive action.
We stepped in to save Scottish financial sector by investing £37bn in banks.
Another £2bn has been put into the pockets and purses of Scots to stimulate the Scottish economy. Interest rates and VAT have been cut and protection put in place for those with mortgage difficulties.

Most people appreciate we are all in this together.
Labour has played its part and will continue to do so to protect jobs and services.

There are tough times ahead but with right spirit, right attitude and right policies we can get through 2009 together.

Meanwhile a special thanks from all of us should go to the unsung heroes over the Festive Season.
Those who will keep our hospitals, ambulance and fire services running and will be policing our streets.
True public servants, working hard to ensure a safe and happy Christmas for us all.


Budget Process -Speech in the Scottish Parliament 17th. December 2008

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I confess that I do so with a degree of trepidation, as someone who is not a member of the Finance Committee and is certainly not an economist.

One concern is that the budget is often presented in techie language as a hugely complex and complicated issue.

One is given the feeling that only the high priests of the financial world can comment at a level that is appropriate to the debate.

We should recognise that the budget is about the real world.

We need to talk about the budget in terms of its real-world consequences.

We all find it easy to speak at great length on what we care about and what we believe in, but the test for the Government is not just to say what priorities it cares about but to show how it wills those priorities through its budget process.

A central job of Government is not simply to assert policy commitments or even to elevate some of those to issues of principle; a Government must talk about what it will do when faced with conflicting issues of principle and with a number of things to choose between.

The challenge for the current Government—a challenge to which the previous speaker perhaps failed to rise—is to accept that it cannot simply presume as a self-evident truth that certain things are good because they seem to be good.

The budget process, which is the process of testing the budget, is about moving from assertion and belief to evidence that the proposals will make a difference.

Given that the test for the Government through the budget process is to identify priorities, to make choices and to justify those choices, the budget needs to be transparent and its assumptions need to be tested.

There are real concerns about the capacity of the draft budget to show what priority the Government gives to issues of equalities and social justice.

Last year, there were serious concerns about the lack of commentary in the budget documents on equalities, which was identified as a weakness.

This year's budget is weaker still.

Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission have commented on concerns about the capacity of local government to deliver on, or even to understand, its equality duties.

There is clear evidence that the budget process is not helping by providing certainty and confidence about the Government's priorities.

There is clear evidence that the Scottish Government has made political choices on the issues of the council tax and small business bonus scheme, but the rationale for those choices is missing.

That is where proper equality proofing—and anti-poverty proofing—would do a job.

I understand why people say that equality proofing is very complex and should not necessarily appear in the budget documents.

However, it should be at the heart of the process.

Regardless of the size of the cake, the issue is how the cake is shared out.

Therefore, equality proofing of the budget must be central to the process; it is not a bonus for the days when the sun is shining.

Equality proofing is even more—rather than less—important when budgets are under pressure.

On that basis, I come to the issue of single outcome agreements.

For me, there remains a central conundrum about single outcome agreements that has not been addressed by ministers.

On previous occasions, ministers have said that local authorities have a statutory responsibility to fulfil their equality duties.

However, local authorities say that single outcome agreements do not require equality impact assessments.

We do not know which of those positions is correct.

We need to know that, because otherwise there is a concern that those responsibilities will be deprioritised.

One explanation given is the timescales involved in single outcome agreements, but those timescales are entirely in the hands of the Government.

No guidance has been issued on whether single outcome agreements require equality impact assessments.

In the meantime, resource decisions are being made on the basis of what has been decided in single outcome agreements—not to mention the whole challenge of equal pay, which the Equal Opportunities Committee wants us to consider.

Let me give an example.

According to Scottish Women's Aid's analysis of single outcome agreements, only seven of the 32 agreements mention violence against women.

To be fair to him, in response to an oral question on violence against women, the Minister for Communities and Sport, Stewart Maxwell, said:

"I am sure that that is a priority for all councils throughout Scotland."—[Official Report, 4 December 2008; c 13112.]

However, the issue is not of sufficient priority for a significant number of councils to include it in their single outcome agreements.

What will the Government do?

What is the next stage?

Will the Government say to local government that single outcome agreements require equality impact assessments?

Will it say that issues such as violence against women should be mentioned in single outcome agreements?

When we come to that point, central Government steps back. In my view, that is not good enough.

The reality is that the budget will fail to take an equality impact perspective if, for example, a Scottish Enterprise skills strategy does not recognise the high number of people who have a disability among those within what used to be called the NEET—not in education, employment or training—group; or if modern apprenticeships face a challenge in relation to occupational segregation, which affects economic opportunity; or if the Government does not spend on infrastructure to address the particular needs of groups who are further from the labour force than others.

In such cases, the budget will fail to address equalities and poverty issues.


Forced marriages - speech in the Scottish Parliament 5th. December 2008

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on forced marriages, and I welcome the consultation document that has been issued today.

The minister has outlined why the consultation will be important.

Just last week, the first forced marriage civil protection order was issued in England.

If for no reason other than the fact that the protection offered in other parts of the United Kingdom should be offered in Scotland too, it is essential that we get the consultation right and act accordingly.

I welcome the minister's decision to hold this debate during the 16 days of action against violence against women, thus placing the issue in the broader context of the position of women across the world and the prevalence of violence against women in its many forms.

I always feel rather ambivalent about the Scottish Parliament debate at this time of year, during the 16 days of events.

However, it is of course encouraging to acknowledge that we have made progress, and it is right that we take the time to highlight the positive aspects.

I believe that doing so reflects acceptance—across the chamber and beyond—of the continuing seriousness of the issue, and acceptance of the impact that violence against women has on the life chances, health and wellbeing of, and opportunities for, women and their families.

It is always refreshing to meet people who have been so resilient in their campaigning.

Such people have gathered here today on the issue of there being no recourse to public funds.

I hear what the minister said in that regard, and I urge the Scottish Government and the UK Government to work together to see how creatively they can solve the problem.

Local Women's Aid organisations ought not to be picking up the tab, and it may be that the Scottish Government can offer emergency resources to take the burden off local organisations while work on the bigger picture is sorted out.

The vulnerable women at the centre of these issues must be the focus of our actions.

Such debates always highlight just how much remains to be done to tackle violence against women in its many forms.

There is always a danger that we might be overwhelmed by the challenge and by the ways in which that violence is expressed, including domestic abuse, rape, the trafficking and enslavement of women, prostitution and forced marriage.

Those examples are experienced globally, but progress will be made through local action—step by determined step—to support individual women, families and communities.

The consultation on forced marriage should be placed in that context.

In discussing forced marriage, we continue to bear down on the broader issue of violence against women.

Forced marriage is a distinct problem and it must be challenged, but it is a problem that is shaped by the same attitudes that still mean that—although women can smash all sorts of glass ceilings and can redefine their roles and expectations—even the most talented and pioneering women can be inhibited and controlled.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the member acknowledge that 38 per cent of the victims in forced marriages are male?

Johann Lamont: I absolutely accept that forced marriage is an issue that is not simply for women—although, because of defined roles in communities, it affects more women than men.

However, I do not in any way dismiss the suffering of some young men in such circumstances.

No matter how talented individual women are, they can be scared in their own homes, and threatened and intimidated outside, too.

Experience tells us that—with forced marriage as with other issues—caring is not enough.
Feeling for the survivors will not address the problems.

We need to understand the causes; resource the people who know how to keep women safe; and tackle the causes through education, provision and legislative action.

There is an added dimension to the debate on forced marriage—the fear of causing some kind of cultural offence.

However, as one young Asian Scot said to me, any right-thinking person must believe that it is absolutely unacceptable to force someone into marriage. [Interruption.]

Even if it happens to only one person, that is one too many.

We welcome the consultation, because it is critical to get it right—to act to protect and support women, but without the unintended consequence of forced marriage being driven underground.

However, we hope that whatever action is taken will be kept under close examination, to ensure that it is having the desired effect.

We must not close the door on any options, and we must ensure that protection is afforded to people facing the problem across the whole United Kingdom.

It is essential to have a proper understanding of the pressures on young people who may be forced into marriage—to know how difficult it is to resist forced marriage and how isolated and vulnerable a person can feel.

There is an irony in the fact that young people are sometimes forced into marriage precisely because they are challenging the roles that are expected of them.

In any provision that we make, we must understand the need to protect the individual and give them both the confidence that they will continue to be protected and the knowledge that, if they have the courage to resist, we will support them in doing that.

We must be able to offer safety, advice, the time that is needed and support in the future.

Young people in such situations need trusted intermediaries—people who understand the families' cultural and community sensitivities and who are able to rebut and resist some of the arguments that are put to the young people.

I ask the minister to reflect on how we can consult the most powerful voices—the voices of those who can talk to their own experience, which are often silenced because they do not have the confidence to come forward.

He may wish to think further about how private consultation can be undertaken with some of those who have survived and are living with their experiences.

There is also the question of education in communities that still believe that forced marriage is reasonable.
It is not an issue of religious belief; it is something that can be challenged inside communities.

People can be supported to do that important work.

There is an issue with resources.

Scottish Women's Aid's analysis of single outcome agreements shows that only seven local authorities make any mention of domestic abuse or violence against women as a local outcome.

What reassurance can the minister give that he will act to prevent those issues from being de-prioritised at a local level?

I am not sure whether he is consulting COSLA on that analysis, and I do not think that he is consulting community planning partnerships.

That might be a useful starting point for some of the discussions around the resource implications and the education and support side as well as around the broader legal matters.

When will the advice on equality impact assessments and equality responsibilities in relation to single outcome agreements be issued?
We were promised that advice, but it has not yet appeared.
What has been the role of the national group on violence against women in shaping the consultation?
The group is a powerful forum for such discussions, but I do not know whether it has discussed the issue, and if so when, or whether it plans to discuss it.

That information would be useful to us in forming our view of the consultation. [Interruption.]

What is the group's role in assessing, monitoring and considering the implications of single outcome agreements?

I welcome the debate and recognise the progress that has been made.

I welcome the consultation although, as ever, I regret that it is necessary.

Finally, I congratulate all those in the Parliament and far beyond who ensure that the issues facing survivors of domestic abuse and violence against women and those who are coping with forced marriages are kept in the public eye so that action can be taken.

I urge the minister to sustain the focus on all fronts.


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Iain Gray : A Better Scotland

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Scottish Government's programme Speech in the Scottish Parliament 3 September 2008

I will comment on the Government's programme from the perspective of my party's commitment to our central purpose when we were in power, which was economic growth and social justice.

We regard the two as being absolutely inseparable but, during the summer, the First Minister confirmed his view that it is possible to separate economic policy from its social consequences—that we can somehow separate pit closures from the devastation in mining communities.

The great fear is that because the Government's overarching commitment is to only one priority—sustainable economic growth—it may abdicate its responsibility on social justice or naively presume that social good will inevitably emerge from economic activity, when we know that that cannot be the case.

I am concerned that there appears to be no reference to tackling gender, race or disability inequality and no mention of community regeneration and the deep-rooted inequalities in some communities.

We all know that no advance in equality ever happened by accident, and that it is absolutely critical to scrutinise spend with proper understanding and to use evidence about whom it benefits.

I seek reassurance that the SNP will learn the lessons of its first year in power and equality proof its budget and reflect on its decision to accept single outcome agreements without any evidence of equality impact assessments.

I recently met representatives of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to discuss that very issue.

They were obviously concerned, but they told me that the explanation is that the timetable is too tight to expect local authorities to fulfil that responsibility.

That seems to be a perverse argument, given that the Government established the timetable.

I am gravely concerned that the single outcome agreements, which will determine so much in addressing inequality, will not undergo that impact assessment.

The proposed abolition of council tax makes my case.

It is evident that an equality impact assessment of the proposal would confirm that it would not affect the most disadvantaged people because they do not pay council tax, and that those people would suffer disproportionately as a result of the cuts in services that would necessarily follow as a consequence of the largest tax cut, which was so proudly vaunted earlier.

Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: Let me finish this point.

SNP members can argue for council tax abolition if they wish, but it is unacceptable to assert that it would address inequality, when it would not.

Bill Wilson: I find it remarkable that Johann Lamont seems to be saying that people on low incomes who may be in poverty do not pay council tax.

Johann Lamont: If the member had listened carefully, he would know that I said that "the most disadvantaged people" do not pay council tax.

It is claimed that abolition of the council tax would meet the needs of the most disadvantaged people.

SNP members can support abolition if they will, but they should not use the poor to defend the policy.

There are serious issues in housing for whoever is in power.

I was determined not to be provoked by the response of the Scottish Government to the announcements by the UK Government.

I was depressed, however, by the line that was taken, which was, "They have copied us."

Even if that were true, which it is not, it is hardly an adequate response to the serious issues that we all face.

The £100 million that has been committed by the Government has been welcomed.

I welcomed it because I asked the Government to release it, but all through the summer it refused to do so, then it did so through pressure.

There are hard questions around that £100 million.

The housing minister confirmed that £40 million of it has not yet been agreed.

The Government has to understand the consequences of the anxiety that that creates.

I do not have time to go into all the housing issues, but I urge the Government to listen—if not to me, then to the housing sector, which says that the Government's core approach is damaging.

If the Government has the stature to reverse its decision in "Firm Foundations: The Future of Housing in Scotland", it will have our support.

I return in my last minute to social justice.

The minister might wish to reflect on the article in Third Force News that highlights the anxieties of the voluntary sector about what is happening to the fairer Scotland fund, which has, of course, been cut.

The sector says that it is being squeezed out of the social inclusion process.

We all know how important that process is to housing in particular.

I urge the Scottish Government not just to assert its commitment to equality and social justice, but to show its seriousness, if not in response to me then to the serious people in the sector.

Its budget decisions and programme for government should show that, unlike the First Minister, it understands the absolute centrality of economic and social factors in determining Government action.


Housing, Scottish Parliament, 25 June 2008

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement.
I recognise that there was a lot in it, particularly about people who face repossession and so on, with which we can all agree.
I look forward to further debate in committee on some of the detailed issues of the housing policy, including homelessness, that the statement could not address.
I recognise, as the cabinet secretary said, that "Firm Foundations" secured support for some of its proposals, but ultimately it did not secure support for its key proposals.
The document is troubling because, despite assertions, it did not respond to the coherent opposition to the central proposition around the role of housing associations in particular and developing that agenda.
"Firm Foundations" was unconvincing when it was first published, and the changing context of the current housing circumstances mean that it is now well past its sell-by date.
The current housing circumstances present a huge challenge to the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Administration, to which I hope that the cabinet secretary will rise.
I note in passing that the £2,000 grant for first-time buyers is now officially dead, and that the cabinet secretary has had sufficient sense to back off slightly from the single developer model and will consult further on it.
I urge her to hold on to the option of jettisoning that model altogether.
Regrettably, the key notion of driving efficiencies into housing associations remains, despite the strongly expressed views of housing associations and others that that will expose them to risk in the financial markets, will result in increasing rents and potentially will involve a raid on their reserves, which we all know should be used for the good maintenance of properties and to ensure that they meet the Scottish housing quality standard.
I have three specific questions for the cabinet secretary.
First, she said:
"We will work to ensure that house building is best placed to grow again when market conditions recover."
Does she acknowledge that private sector house builders and housing associations now argue that housing associations have a critical role to play as an anchor for the whole housing sector, in order to sustain the house building sector while conditions remain as they are?
I urge her to reflect on how she might use the housing associations creatively—giving them more resource, not less—in order to provide that anchor.
Secondly, what targets has she set for social rented housing in different areas of Scotland?
Given the fact that home ownership is not now going to be an option, the fact that repossession is a genuine possibility for some, and the level of homelessness, I am interested to know what her targets are.
Thirdly, does the cabinet secretary recognise the disappointment that many housing associations in Glasgow feel because her signalled commitment to independent scrutiny of the Mazars report—which would give confidence to the GHA and to those housing organisations—has not been honoured?
Does she acknowledge the significance of having public confidence in that matter?
Given the role of public moneys in the work of the GHA, will she at least take responsibility by convening the meetings between the GHA and housing associations?
I have said elsewhere that they require supervised contact.
Will she consider convening those meetings to ensure that the progress on which she is insisting is realised?

Speech on Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, Scottish Parliament 18 June 2008

It is important to congratulate groups such as Shelter, the NUS and Citizens Advice Scotland that persist in highlighting a range of issues that they want us to take up—I am grateful for the written and verbal briefings that were provided today.
I also congratulate the constituents who continue to bring cases to us.
As Jim Tolson said, the problem with deposits affects not only students.
The problem is largely invisible, but it can cause great difficulties for vulnerable members of our communities.
It is right that the Government should respond to it in the context of communities issues.
In a previous life, I was a schoolteacher, and I am always looking for object lessons.
The proposal in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 for a mandatory deposit scheme was an object lesson in how the Parliament can work effectively.
We hear a lot of talk about consensus.
There is a huge amount of rewriting of the history of this Parliament, but we built consensus around a number of significant issues.
The proposal was not originally included in the legislation as introduced to Parliament.
It was the work of committees and members of all parties, supported by groups outside the Parliament, that put it on the political agenda.
Members of all parties reflected on the scheme, and Christine Grahame, Tricia Marwick, Lib Dems and Labour members—I cannot remember the Tory position—all pursued the matter with me as the then Deputy Minister for Communities.
They raised it with me not to gain party advantage, but because they believed that it needed to be done.
At stage 2, the decision was taken that the proposal as it had emerged was to be supported. Nobody claimed victory or said that there were U-turns, but a little bit of political business was done to ensure that we could take it forward.
Acting in that way was important, because it gave a message about the importance of the Parliament's walls being breached by those who really understood how policy should be developed.
I hope that Government back benchers will recognise their role in challenging their own front bench members.
If I were still the minister, and if I were operating at the pace of the current Minister for Communities and Sport, I would not wait to be chided by the Opposition to act—Labour's own back benchers have a record of doing that.
It has been said that we need research and consultation, but there is concern about the pace.
I understand that the working group that was set up has met only once since May.
I understand the need for research, but there must be action.
The argument has been made that we already have landlord accreditation and registration, but we cannot be in a position where the argument is that if everything cannot be done, nothing can be done.
Mr Maxwell has my permission to disregard the commitments that I have made and to act more quickly.
Stuart McMillan identified problems with the scheme down south—in that case, other options should be consulted on.
We need a driver and a commitment.
The private sector has an important role to play, particularly in times of credit crunch, in meeting housing needs and homelessness targets.
The landlord sector needs to be open and transparent, and we want the sector itself to recognise the damage that has been done to its reputation.
Good landlords have nothing to fear.
I urge the minister to recognise that simple steps should be taken, such as bringing forward a timetable and committing to a mandatory scheme.
We will ensure that there is consensus in the Parliament in dealing with consultation in parliamentary committees and in our communities.
That will give students and families confidence as they make decisions about their accommodation ahead of the academic year.
The important small step of building consensus in the Parliament will make a difference in our communities.
I urge the minister to make the commitment tonight.

Speech on Small Business Bonus Scheme, Scottish Parliament 11 June 2008

I, too, declare an interest as an unwilling beneficiary of the bonus scheme.
I investigated whether it was possible to leave the money in the public purse, rather than keep it in my office, which was entirely reasonable, no matter how high the quality of the service presided over by my office.
I am concerned by the Government's approach to the small business bonus scheme, which is in sharp contrast to its approach to other areas of expenditure.
I am not anti-business—I am in close contact with businesses in my community—but it is the job of Government to reward good business and not simply to give a blanket reward to all business.
John Swinney recently explained that the small business bonus scheme could help those businesses in Edinburgh that are suffering disruption as a consequence of the Edinburgh tram scheme.
Of course, that proves my point.
It would reward them in the same way that it rewards absolutely every business.
The Government asserts that it is prudent and that it seeks best value and efficiency.
On the evidence, it does not apply any of those qualities to the scheme.
That is in stark contrast to other areas.
Only this morning, in the Local Government and Communities Committee, we heard housing associations' concerns about Government strategy.
Housing associations say that they will be driven out into the private sector.

Gavin Brown: We heard earlier that, according to its 2007 manifesto, the Labour Party was going to double small business rates relief. Would that have been applied in a blanket way?

Johann Lamont: It is clear that any Government expenditure has to be targeted, justified and evaluated if that Government is to be prudent in its approach.
This morning, in the face of those concerns from housing associations, we were told by an official that we need to make money work harder and go further.
Remarkably, that approach is not applied to the small business bonus scheme and we must ask why it is now being honoured in the breach.
Gain is asserted without evidence.
I cannot imagine any business saying that it does not want rates relief, but perhaps we could do other things to support businesses so that they thrive.
The scheme involves no conditions, no driving up of standards and no reward for good practices; all businesses are rewarded the same.
That lets down businesses that are connected and committed to communities, seek to employ local people, provide a safe environment for them to work in, offer good services and engage with the community.
I can understand that there is a debate about the merits of the SNP's approach as against other approaches.
If we were to target support, how would we do it?
If conditions were to be applied, which would they be?
However, it is surely remarkable that the SNP claims that it will evaluate spending for which it has no baseline, for which there are no constraints on whether and how money is spent, and for which there are no targets or goals, simply a remarkable faith that all businesses everywhere will do the right thing.
That faith does not apply to other critical operators in our communities and the Government needs to think about that again.
The reason why I find such laissez-faire largesse so remarkable is the context in which the choice was made.
The Government has actively chosen to spend £305 million on the scheme over three years with no conditions, but a lot of crossing of fingers.
At the same time, it is thirled to cuts in taxes and charges that, by 2010-11, will take £434 million out of the Scottish budget, which will have a cost for our capacity to deliver services.
The bonus scheme is without conditions, which is in stark contrast to our being reminded time and again of the tightness of the budget.
Yesterday, the Minister for Communities and Sport, Stewart Maxwell, said that child poverty is morally unacceptable and claimed that he had to fight poverty with one hand tied behind his back.
It is easy to reduce every challenging policy issue to an opportunity to make a constitutional point, even if it is depressing.
It is another example of government by alibi.
We must assert that ministers should not simply tell us what they cannot do and what powers they would like but must be held accountable for what they do and how they use the powers that they have.
Government back benchers need to seek more justification for how the powers over business rates are being used and what that says about the Government's priorities.
The fairer Scotland fund to tackle deprivation is being cut in real terms; projects to support communities in employment, child care, training and education—the ways in which our poorest people can get into work—are being cut; the Government is pressing down on community planning and local government budgets to improve efficiencies and best value with consequent and often invisible impact on the most vulnerable and claims that we cannot spend money everywhere.
What a contrast it is that that experience in local communities, which goes far beyond tough love, is not matched by any rigour in addressing the needs of business; instead, we are expected to rely on blind faith.
I recognise that members who have expertise on the operation of business say that the scheme might work. It might, but we should apply the same test across the board.
The scheme might be the Government's approach, but it is not a pain-free choice.
The Government must answer the charge that the way in which it treats different parts of its budget is inconsistent and unfair.
It is not good enough to say without any explanation that we need tax cuts and leave other people to live with the consequences.
It is entirely reasonable to ask the Government and its back benchers to justify its choices and be honest about how it can evaluate the scheme in the way in which we expect other organisations that spend public money to justify their spending.


Drugs Strategy Speech in the Scottish Parliament 4th. June 2008

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this serious debate.

It is important to build consensus, but it is simply wrong to suggest that that has not been done in the past, because there is huge evidence that it has been done.

The Minister for Community Safety said in his statement to the Parliament last week that there was a concern because of the terrible health inequalities that afflict Scotland.

Of course, the bigger challenge is the inequalities that exist within Scotland.

We know that many young people experiment with drugs, but the reality is that communities that experience disadvantage and deprivation lose their children to drugs and the accompanying death toll disproportionately.

Those communities understand that.

Yes, we have to have a person-centred approach, but we also have to have a community-centred approach.

We cannot simply say that that is what happens in such communities; we must listen to people in those communities who suffer as a consequence of drugs being taken and we must take account of the impact on the broader community.

Regardless of whether people in those communities take drugs themselves, they see the impact on their schools, health centres and the very fabric of their neighbourhoods.

The life chances of their children can be determined by our inability to address the consequence of drugs.

It is therefore important for the minister to reaffirm that the Scottish index of multiple deprivation will remain a key driver in distributing resources across a range of services in order properly to meet need.

Of course, there are always those who wish to create the impression that the debate around drugs is somehow about opposites—that it is either maintenance or abstinence—but I acknowledge that the minister confirmed that the Government's strategy does not seek to come down on one side or the other in that way.

However, I believe that talking about targets drives action by those who are charged with the responsibility for supporting people who have a drug problem.

In that regard, will the minister consider setting one target in particular, on the level of methadone use?

Does he accept that meeting such a target would indicate the success of the strategy?

There are huge challenges around the issue of hidden harm.

It is a scandal that the torch is shone on the lives that some of our children live only by those who are raising issues about antisocial behaviour in their communities.

Only then do we learn about some of the experiences that too many of our children have, and that is wrong.

We have a strategy for young carers, but we do not say often enough that too many of those young people are caring for adults who have addiction problems and that that is inappropriate.

I urge the minister to confirm that he will place the drug strategy in the broader context of the Administration's policies on education, housing, employment, justice and enforcement.

I know that there are anxieties locally about projects that support people into work and which work by addressing those problems.

I note the strategy document on drugs.

However, if the minister resources families that have experienced a problem with drugs to talk about what needs to be done in our communities to address the broader problems that are faced there, there will be a large return for that effort.

Therefore, I want to know what support there is for family support projects.

Further, I want to know that schools will not only provide education, but will be places in which the teachers and staff identify children who are in need; schools should be the first place in which it is seen that a child is not being nurtured.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has described the skills strategy as demand led—does it still have a place for those with drug and addiction problems, for whom employment is an important bridge?

I ask the minister to respond to the comments that were made about the power of Crimestoppers to use proceeds-of-crime money in the communities in which it was harvested to give people a voice.

I know constituents who whisper on the telephone in case people hear them and think that they are talking to the police.

I urge the minister to support Crimestoppers and other initiatives that give a voice to those who are most intimidated by the consequences of drug problems in our communities.


Speech on Fuel Poverty, Scottish Parliament 22nd. May 2008

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that her statement represents a significant shift in the Scottish Government's approach?
I suspect that a civil servant somewhere might even have described it as "brave".
It appears to fly in the face of the First Minister's commitment when he was challenged last year over whether the universal central heating programme was going to end.
He said that it was not going to end, and that it was going to be enhanced.
Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Government's position is now that the central heating programme and its availability to all pensioners are now at an end?
Although I welcome the establishment of the fuel poverty forum under the wise chairmanship of Graham Blount, will the minister confirm that the forum's job is to consider how to target, that it is for her Government to decide whether it should target, and that that decision has already been made?
The statement tells us about a lot of things that the Government cannot do, but I want to ask about the things that it can do.
Given the difficult circumstances with rising fuel prices, why has the Government flatlined the budget for the central heating and warm deal programmes rather than increasing it?
The Government hands out £165 million per year to small businesses without attaching one condition, so why has it taken the view that the only way to target those who are in fuel poverty is to remove the entitlement from pensioners in general?
Finally, I have to ask about an issue of detail.
Will the cabinet secretary clarify two small points about what happens now with the programme?
What is the difference between a pensioner who is currently on the list and someone whose application is in the post and will be received tomorrow?
What is the difference between a tenant who lives in a private sector flat whose central heating system has finally conked out and someone who does not have a central heating system at all, and what is the difference between how cold those two pensioners will feel?

Speech on Housing Needs, Scottish Parliament 8 May 2008

As ever, it is a privilege for me to open the debate on behalf of the Labour Party.
It follows on from last week's woeful performance by members on the Government front and back benches.
That housing debate was marked by their refusal to answer any of the key questions or to give any indication that they had any awareness of the range and importance of the issues that need to be addressed. [Laughter.]
If the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change finds that amusing, I suspect that he will not find anybody from the housing sector to join him.
The lack of time for that previous debate allowed ministers to equivocate.
It was evident to us that the Government was unwilling to address the issues.
It would not even provide any time to debate the matter, despite the empty, stretching prairie of time—peppered by stopgap debates and marginal issues—that forms the Government's business programme.
We have had three Government debates or statements on housing.
On 21 June 2007, the announcement of the housing supply task force came with a huge fanfare, only for us to discover later that the body will not report; that it was not being consulted on the budget; that, remarkably, it would not even shape planning policy, which is designed to address the relationship between planning and the provision of affordable housing; and that it was not being consulted on the revision of Scottish planning policy 3.
On 26 September 2007, a debate on the Glasgow Housing Association was initiated and important issues about the inspection report were addressed.

The Government indicated that it would progress second-stage transfer.

Nicola Sturgeon said that ministers would
"review the current suite of grant agreements that are in place".—[Official Report, 26 September 2007; c 2089.]
Will the minister say, in summing up, when we will get a report on that?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Nicola Sturgeon): Will Johann Lamont join me in welcoming the fact that, after one year of this Scottish National Party Government, there has been more progress towards second-stage transfer than there was during the entire time when she was housing minister?

Johann Lamont: I hope that the cabinet secretary does not live to regret that.
The issue is really difficult.
I do not support the SNP amendment—although I will be interested to hear the Minister for Communities and Sport speak to it—but I welcome its commitment to scrutinise the Mazars report using an independent process.
I urge that that should be done by people with expertise in valuation and adjudication in order for confidence to be restored.
I am delighted that rent-a-quote Alex Neil's notion of a black hole is refuted by the report.
It is incumbent on ministers to ensure that such issues are scrutinised properly.
On 31 October 2007, we had the spectacle of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing being refused the option of sharing with the Parliament her approach on "Firm Foundations" because, unhappily, she had already shared it with the press.
That has been the Government's approach in a nutshell.
It overclaims and underdelivers; it seeks headlines rather than solutions; and, rather than engaging in consensus building on the big issues, it settles for either silence or playing games.
It is impossible for me to cover the huge number of issues that have been raised, but I will touch on some that I think are significant.
I thank all those people who have taken the time to treat the debate on this subject sufficiently seriously and to provide us with briefings, particularly on the issues around the specialist provision of housing, which I believe merit a debate on their own.
The motion seeks to capture the challenge of any strategy on housing.
Indeed, it could have included more on energy efficiency and building standards.
For me, however, the key lesson that even laying out those issues confirms is that, although housing policy must be about bricks and mortar, it cannot only be about that.
That is why many people are anxious about the Government's approach.
In effect, the Government has boiled down its aspirations to building 35,000 houses without thinking through the range of needs that must be met, with no target for social renting and not even a commitment to build as many homes as we did in the past eight years; with no thought on how to sustain that investment by putting in place and supporting community regeneration; with nothing to say about meeting housing need in a way that goes beyond the house itself—with support for the elderly in the community, for people leaving care, and for those who wish to move on from women's refuges; and with nothing to say about funding decisions, which creates uncertainty at best for those who wish to support, for example, adults with learning disabilities to live independently.
Our history tells us that, although national house building programmes might provide houses, they do not necessarily do the rest.
How will the Government support the delivery of the homelessness target?
How will it protect programmes to prevent homelessness?
What expectations does the Minister for Communities and Sport have of the single outcome agreements?
Are there any compulsory elements in meeting special and particular housing needs and in supporting progress towards the homelessness target?
How will the Government act if there is evidence that supported accommodation, such as that for adults with disabilities, has to end because of the end of ring fencing for supporting people?

Members: Oh!

Johann Lamont: I only ask the question.
The minister has said in the past that, if there were problems, we could always resume ring fencing. How is that being monitored? What action will he take?
We understand the pressure to support first-time buyers, although we are no clearer about what support will be available.
What does the minister have to say not just about new build, but about the raising of standards through the Scottish housing quality standard?
What does he have to say about the need to support people who might face repossession and about emphasising the target for social rent?
What does he have to say about programmes such as ours that were introduced for mortgage to rent?
How will the Government support councils with high levels of debt, which will not be able to take advantage of their tiny share of the tiny £25 million for council house building?
The figure for the money that is being released through stock transfer to housing associations is staggering.
The GHA's investment programme for 2006-07 was £137 million, which is about one third of the total affordable investment programme that the SNP projects for the whole of Scotland for the year ahead.
The provision of GHA new build—6,000 new homes over the next five years—makes a stark comparison with Ms Sturgeon's announcement, which would mean at most 50 houses for Glasgow in the next five years.
Members: In addition.
Johann Lamont: The money is top-sliced off housing association grant, so it is not additional.
It takes a particular kind of cowardice and recklessness for people to encourage others to vote against their own interests when they do not have to live with the consequences.
That is compounded by a Government that refuses to accept its responsibility to find solutions. For the absence of doubt, the Stewart Maxwell solution is to raise rents, sell off assets and seek efficiencies, which could be the very expenditure that protects effective housing management.
I urge the minister to look to his Cabinet colleague John Swinney for guidance on how he should fulfil his responsibilities.
John Swinney, in discussing his decision to be pragmatic in relation to the collection of rates in the context of local loop unbundling—members really do not want to know the detail—said that ministers were operating within a framework in which the Government was constrained in the policy areas that it was able to take forward.
He explained that his pragmatism was justified, because the Government's priority is to maximise the resources that are available to local authorities for delivering front-line services. How much pragmatism should we expect from the Government in acting creatively to access the funding that stock transfer would deliver, when the only other option on offer to tenants is a shrug of the ministerial shoulders?
The Government's only big idea, "Firm Foundations", is significantly flawed, and the objections to it—as argued by a range of organisations—are not so easily silenced as by deleting part of a parliamentary motion.
I urge the minister not to dig himself into a trench on the issue.
There are genuine anxieties that the only real outcome of his approach will be to bring to an end the very things that made our housing policy so effective. [Laughter.]
Does that reaction mean that ministers are mocking the housing associations' record?
They might be interested to know that.
Such an outcome would put at risk the innovative approaches in estate management, the support for tenants and the specialist provision that has been developed by those who need it.
It must be an anxiety for the Government that equality groups did not even respond to its consultation.
The problem with "Firm Foundations" is compounded by the consultation document, "Better value from Housing Association Grant".
The documents reveal a lack of understanding about effective housing provision going beyond build; they lack evidence on efficiencies; and they are predicated on a process that will squeeze out community-based housing associations to the advantage of the asset-rich big boys.
They are also predicated on rent rises, a claim that the minister has denied in the past, although his own documents indicate that the policy depends on rent increases at the level of the retail prices index plus 1 per cent every year for the next 30 years, and that the private finance factor in development must increase from 18.14 per cent to 21.76 per cent, which is a push to the private market at a time of credit crunch.
That is further compounded by the flat-lining of funding on wider action that might support tenants as they go into training or provide money advice, and by the flat-lining of—if not a cut in—community regeneration funding.
It is significant that there was overwhelming support for a national specialist housing function to provide expert support on the range of housing needs.
The peremptory decision to abolish Communities Scotland to meet other political commitments seems to have been counterintuitive and against the addressing of housing need.
On "Firm Foundations", I urge the minister to have the grace to listen to those who understand what needs to be done.
On stock transfer, I urge the minister to stop being in denial and instead to be creative in how that money can be released to transform local communities.
On meeting homelessness and housing needs, I urge him to take responsibility.
The minister should stop outsourcing his responsibilities and tell us what he will do to ensure that the target is met and that the resources are available, not just to ensure supply but to provide the kind of softer-end supports that prevent homelessness in the first place—the kind of things that support people when they come out of care or are in crisis.
Above all, I urge the minister to shift from his year-zero approach and to acknowledge the significance of what has already been achieved—not by the previous Executive alone, but by it being willing to work with people in our communities and in the housing sector who understand how one can transform communities and make real change.
I seek support to secure continuing investment in change—rather than settling for the easy headline that will make no difference to the lives of people across Scotland who deserve to have their needs met.
That should be part of a serious debate on housing and a broader housing strategy.
Last week, we heard the reiteration of marginal, tokenistic—symbolic perhaps for some members—and dishonest claims about what the Government is doing in respect of council housing and right to buy.
Now is the time for the Government to take responsibility and work with members throughout the chamber and beyond to develop a proper housing policy that will bring about change rather than simply make headlines.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the broad range of issues that must be tackled in meeting the diverse housing needs of people across Scotland; confirms that the Scottish Government must act to address these issues, including continued work to prevent and reduce homelessness, the further development of housing to meet particular and specialist need, dealing with the blockages to the supply of housing, providing affordable housing to buy and within the socially rented sector, ensuring higher quality and better managed housing for rent in the private sector, seeking solutions to the problems facing local authorities where tenants voted against stock transfer and recognising the distinctive challenges in rural areas, regeneration areas and areas of high demand; notes that the consultation responses to the Firm Foundations document exposed significant flaws in the Scottish Government's approach; urges the Scottish Government to address these flaws and bring forward a coherent strategy for all of Scotland's housing needs and, in particular, agrees that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing should ensure that the Mazars report into second stage transfer issues in Glasgow Housing Association is subject to open, transparent and independent scrutiny.


Speech on Housing Scottish Parliament 1 May 2005

The intention of my amendment is to get the Government to focus on taking responsibility for its actions and delivering a housing strategy worthy of the name.
It is most unfortunate that the Government makes assertions with no evidence whatsoever.
We should be focusing and developing policy on a huge range of housing issues, such as affordability, homelessness and the needs of disabled people, but we are stuck with a Government that is more interested in spinning headlines than taking action.

Over the past eight years, we built a real consensus around the key issues and built 36,000 houses for social rent, but we now have a minister who will not even tell us what his target is, and who claims that his £25 million will go some way to addressing need.

It is depressing that with this Administration we get assertion rather than action and headlines rather than creative solutions.
Despite being instructed to do so, it cannot even say whether the £2,000 first-time buyers grant is in or out—it cannot say yes or no to that.
Perhaps the minister will address that in his summing up.
What is the Government's strategy? Despite the spin, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the role of housing associations in providing affordable houses, which will remain central.

I am therefore at a loss to understand the distinction that the Government makes between council housing and housing that is built by housing associations and co-operatives.
It is meaningless to say that we built only six council houses, given that we built 36,000 houses of a high standard for social rent.
Despite what the Government says about supporting housing associations, the evidence is that there are going to be significant cuts to HAG.

There is uncertainty in the sector because the minister will not even tell us what the allocations are. Housing associations are fearful of the consequences.
They will have to borrow more at a time of volatility in the private markets, they will have to put up rents, they are unable to plan and they fear that development programmes will be halted.
At the same time, the key strategy of the Government's "Firm Foundations" document, which has been widely criticised, is to drive efficiencies into housing associations—with no evidence about where the inefficiencies are—with a single developer model, which I am sure the minister will acknowledge has been criticised by the people who responded to the consultation.
The minister has managed to create the impression that the sector that has been most successful in terms of housing strategy for the past 30 years has been living off the fat of the land.

The Government is attacking the key element of the housing association movement, which is community ownership.
I understand that the Government needs to address the discomfort of its own back benchers, given that £260 million is going unconditionally to businesses and that the Government is going to drive efficiencies into the housing association sector.

We hear all the nonsense about the £25 million. In the last year of the previous Executive, £501 million was spent on addressing affordable housing issues.
The £25 million is a nonsense.
It cannot go to the local authorities that the SNP urged to vote against stock transfer, because of housing debt.
The money is going to be top-sliced off HAG and redistributed to areas that do not have the greatest housing need.
The reality is that the Government is committed to not addressing the key issues of affordable housing and to keeping its own back benchers sweet.

A moment's scrutiny shows that it is not doing what it is claiming to do on the right to buy.
At the same time, it is flat-lining budgets for community regeneration and wider action.
The Government is paralysed when it comes to making the hard decisions and addressing the real problems.
It is settling for easy headlines that a moment's scrutiny shows to be nonsense.
I move amendment S3M-1812.3, to leave out from "the failure" to end and insert:
"that, following the parliamentary debate on 20 March 2008, ministers have not yet reported to the Parliament on the future of the £2,000 first-time buyers grant, despite the Parliament agreeing that they should, regrets that ministers have not yet reported to the Parliament on how the Scottish Government plans to respond to the consultation on Firm Foundations which identified serious criticisms of the Scottish Government's approach to housing; notes the critical role of housing associations and housing co-operatives in delivering affordable homes for rent; condemns the Minister for Communities and Sport for not yet announcing the allocation of Housing Association Grant, and reaffirms its view that the Scottish Government has no coherent housing strategy."


Trump planning application Speech in the Scottish Parliament 24 April 2008

I shall try and restore some calm to the chamber, because there are significant issues to address.

I shall do that by starting with a concession to the SNP back benchers: the committee does not believe that there is evidence that Alex Salmond should be huckled off to the pokey.

I do not know whether that is a terribly strong position for the Government to be in, but no one is pretending that the law has been broken.

The issue is the quality of the judgment of the ministers involved in the process and the consequences that that has had.

Members can rubbish the debate as much as they wish, but the fact is that serious people outside the chamber regard these matters as being of national significance and as having serious consequences.

We must listen to those people.

It was important for the committee to take on this job.

We know that we have a First Minister who plays the person rather than the ball.

We also know that we have a First Minister who resists answering any questions and is keen to blame everyone else for everything that happens on his watch.

However, it is deeply depressing that that now seems to be elevated to a Government strategy.

The role of committees in scrutinising the work of the Executive is a crucial part of Parliament's work and ought not to be rubbished as a waste of time.

The day may come when SNP back benchers find themselves a spine and discover that a committee is a place to hold the Executive to account, even if it is their own Government.

Can members imagine the hyper-outrage of the SNP if, in previous years, there had been any suggestion that we ought not to ask questions or hold inquiries?

However, that was then, and this is now.

The reality is that the public are interested in the inquiry. Kenny Gibson welcomed it, and who could forget Alex Salmond bouncing into the committee to claim how delighted he was to be there?

He was slightly less delighted when we suggested that perhaps his judgment was being called into question and he is slightly less happy now that he has discovered that he has to respond to a serious report about his behaviour.

The Government likes administrative devolution and hates parliamentary scrutiny; it does what it can without accountability to the Parliament.

It refuses to make statements, even when instructed to do so by the chamber.

Government ministers are serial offenders, but I say to them that accountability goes with the territory.

The performance by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change in responding to a serious report gives me grave cause for concern.

The central charges of the report are that the actions of the First Minister were "unwise and inappropriate" and that the actions of Mr Swinney were in danger of imperilling the development.

Taken together, their actions send out the message to big business that it can have preferential access, that planning is for the little people and that the normal rules do not apply to it.

I will not allow others in the chamber to misrepresent this issue as a divide between those who are pro-development and those who are against it or between those who are pro-business and those who are not.

It is about how our planning system works and how it can support, develop and acknowledge the role of local communities in shaping those developments, which is clearly not easy.

The key issue, which the First Minister himself accepted, is that the action of ministers has to pass the perception test.

The feature of the challenges that the First Minister accepted was about the perception of his role. As has been alluded to already, our former First Minister was challenged on the perception of his role in this development—indeed, he was challenged on the perception of who he chose to go on holiday with.

Everyone accepts that the perception test applies, so let us apply the perception test, as proposed by Nicola Sturgeon in the past.

Imagine a First Minister—who accepts that he has never done such a thing in his life before, and who was not on ministerial business and was not in his constituency—arriving somewhere in a ministerial car to meet, at short notice, following a decision of the local authority, representatives of the Trump Organization.

He discusses matters with them, phones the chief planner and hands the phone over.

A meeting is set up and, subsequently, a one-in-a-million decision is made.

I have to say that, by this point in the imaginative exercise, Nicola Sturgeon would have been in the stratosphere.

However, that was then; this is now.

The First Minister's defence is that he was taking a precautionary approach.

If that is the First Minister being cautious, heaven help us when the day comes when he decides to be reckless.

Everyone on the Government benches says that that is okay, because we are open for business.

However, it is plain that the First Minister was acting without thinking of the consequences and, terrified that Trump was going to walk, pulled out all the stops and helped a group of developers who would not use the powers and routes that were available to them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: One minute.

Johann Lamont: In the past, SNP back benchers chided us for not supporting the third-party right of appeal.

Indeed, Jim Mather chided me during the passage of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill, saying that, by not supporting a third-party right of appeal, we were not supporting communities.

We resisted the third-party right of appeal because of its consequences for development.

However, now we have a Government that thinks that people do not even need to exercise the first-party right of appeal.

How far have we come? Where is the balance now?

John Swinney told us that the issue was of national significance, which was not an argument that was deployed later.

The one thing that he did not do—this man who knew everything about the planning system—was act before the decision was made, when the process that resulted in that decision was on-going.

That would have solved the problem.

Instead, however, he chose to do it later.


Speech on Housing Scottish Parliament 20 March 2008

It is a privilege to lead this housing debate on behalf of the Labour Party.

We in the Labour Party are proud of what was achieved in the first eight years in the Parliament.

Much of that work was recognised as groundbreaking, but we acknowledge that there is much more to do.

It would be foolish for anyone to say that everything that we did was perfect, but it is equally foolish for the current Administration to say that there was no consensus and no agreement and that what we did was a complete disaster, because that is simply not true.

Labour's charge against the Government is that the running thread of our experience of it is that it overclaims and underdelivers, favours spin over substance and, at its very best, produces more broken promises.

If the minister has been effective at anything, it has been at creating the impression of action and perhaps securing some positive headlines.

However, the truth behind the headlines is a little less substantial.

The much heralded housing supply task force will not produce a report or recommendations for action; it was not involved in shaping the budget; it was not part of developing the document "Firm Foundations: The Future of Housing in Scotland"; and at least one member of the minister's group has expressed grave concerns about the budget allocations in relation to the social rented sector.

The Government is consulting on Scottish planning policy 3 on affordable housing at the same time that it has set up a body to consider how to unblock the planning system.

The "Firm Foundations" document does not even mention Scottish planning policy 14, which looks at setting a benchmark for 25 per cent of units in a new development to be affordable housing.

The minister wants the world—or at least his own back benchers—to think that the right to buy has ended, but of course the change that he has introduced has been so narrowly defined that it will affect very few people.

It undermines the balance that was struck in the modernised right to buy, which was supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, which recognised the need for flexibility in regeneration communities, where ownership can make a difference, and suspension of the right to buy in hot spots where there is pressure.

The Minister for Communities and Sport (Stewart Maxwell): Is the member saying that the Labour Party's position is that it is opposed to the abolition of the right to buy on new-build properties?

Johann Lamont: The Labour Party's position is that we recognise the strength of the right to buy and we want to see the difference that the modernised right to buy has made.

That position is supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland.

We are told that local authorities will build council houses, but the reality is that very few of them will be able to do that.

On the other hand, the Administration is completely silent on how it will support those local authorities that have debt and voted against stock transfer on the advice of the Scottish National Party.

On low-cost home ownership, the Administration is following what has already been done, but with no sense that action is needed in areas other than economic hot spots or that there needs to be equitable access to first-time-buyer support.

On what else is the minister silent?

On homelessness, he asserts that he supports the target, but he removes certainty by outsourcing all responsibility to local authorities.

Given that tax cuts are this Administration's one key priority, what pressure will there be on local authorities to provide the bricks and mortar, where possible, while removing or reducing the advice, support and specialist provision that helps prevent homelessness?

What will be demanded of single outcome agreements in relation to homelessness?

The Administration says nothing about the needs of areas of regeneration.

Indeed, Communities Scotland's expertise is to be removed from the community planning partnership table altogether.

There will be no access to community regeneration funding and the wider action budget will be flat-lined—those are the very things on which community housing associations have built their credibility.

The minister is silent on the Scottish housing quality standard when community organisations are telling us that they will have to deliver it by increasing rents.

Then there are the two big ideas of this Administration. Its first target is, "We will build more houses than the last lot did."

Secondly, it claims that it will drive efficiencies into the affordable housing market by opening it to competition.

If there is a spine on the Government back benches, it should prepare to feel a shiver down it now. On 28 November 2007, the minister said:

"My intention is not to be nice to one particular part of the sector or another; it is to ensure that we deliver more homes for people. That is the fundamental point. ... That is why we have suggested some changes and why I think that competition is important. I think that who eventually owns and manages properties is of less importance than the fact that we have them."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 28 November 2007; c 300.]

That flies in the face of every lesson of housing history in Scotland.

Given that we know that community ownership has delivered changes in our communities, it is not credible to say that ownership does not matter.

At a time of turbulence in the housing market and a credit squeeze, is it wise for the Administration to be vague on the proportion of houses for social rent?

Given that the Administration's own figures show that construction inflation has increased by 35 per cent, is it credible to pretend that its target of building 35,000 houses a year by the middle of the next decade is achievable?

The challenge for SNP back benchers is to confront their front-bench's agenda.

The Administration has a strategy on efficiencies—who could be against that—but it is predicated on higher rents, and on the presumptions that bigger is better, that competition delivers change and that building houses is the same as having a housing strategy.

We know from experience that that is not the case.

We know that the Administration is undermining community-controlled housing associations.

Would it not be an irony if the legacy of the SNP was to lure cross-border raids from big, asset-rich, English housing associations to take over the work that local housing organisations have done?

History shows that the disastrous consequence of national building programmes that distribute funding from the centre with no priority for wider action is houses that no one wants to live in and which we have to demolish.

The minister has to understand that asserting his love of the housing association and co-operative movement is not the same as delivering for it and that asserting his commitment on homelessness is not the same as delivering on it.

I turn finally to the first-time buyers grant of £2,000—the great promise.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon, is non-committal on it and would like us to be her alibi for not delivering it.

If she believes in it, she should argue for it. If she does not, she should say why not. The First Minister said:

"The SNP is going to work through all of its manifesto commitments over the four-year term of this Administration."—[Official Report, 6 September 2007; c 1493.]

The Administration should stop dodging and tell us whether the first-time buyers grant of £2,000 is a broken promise, a promise yet to come or a cynical election promise made with the collective fingers of the SNP firmly crossed behind their backs?

We deserve to know. That is why the motion includes a demand for a statement.

The fundamental charge against the Administration is that it spins, rather than recognises, our history.

It should come clean, understand that a housing strategy is about more than building houses and begin to talk about targets for social renting, the needs of the homeless and the role of community organisations as partners in change.

I move,

That the Parliament regrets the SNP government's lack of a coherent housing strategy; notes that the Housing Supply Task Force has no timetable or remit to produce recommendations for action; notes in particular the absence of robust evidence on funding and efficiencies in delivering its housing targets; further notes concerns about the impact of a single regional developer model, as outlined in the Firm Foundations consultation, on community-controlled housing associations and housing co-operatives; agrees that the Scottish Government should make a statement to the Parliament as soon as possible, clarifying its plans for the clear SNP manifesto commitment on a £2,000 first-time buyers' grant, and urges the Scottish Government to act to secure long-term improvements in housing rather than the short-term appearance of change.

Speech on Housing and Regeneration Bill Scottish Parliament 19 March 2008

I welcome the opportunity to raise some issues on this legislative consent motion, which Labour members—who consider LCMs on the basis of the practical measures to which they relate and who judge each LCM on its merits—have decided to support.

We think that it is important that we take the opportunity to illuminate some significant issues for the Parliament—members know that my every instinct is philanthropic.

Members of the Local Government and Communities Committee felt that it was important for all members to receive an explanation from the Scottish National Party of why it is no longer opposed, in principle, to LCMs.

On numerous occasions in the past, SNP members voted against entirely rational and logical LCMs on the basis that it was a point of principle for them to do so.

Of course, that was then and this is now.

We can only surmise that the memory banks of SNP back benchers have been entirely wiped and that that point of principle has been forgotten.

The principle on which we operated was that, whenever possible, we would seek an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to legislate and that we would use the LCM process only if the prospect of new Scottish legislation was not imminent.

The problem for the SNP, of course, is that it appears that the prospect of legislation on anything at all is not imminent. That makes it even more bizarre that the minister claimed to the committee that use of the LCM process was

"a proportionate and efficient use of parliamentary time."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 5 March 2008; c 724.]

He might wish to talk to his business manager about that.

Of course, the broader question is why no suitable legislative vehicle is available.

A big decision has been made to abolish Communities Scotland and yet the bill before us relates to regulation in England.

There is no coherence on the issue of savings for Communities Scotland or how housing and regeneration fit into the community planning framework.

What will happen now that individual housing association grant decisions will be micromanaged from the centre?

How will the regulator fit into all of that?

We have had no discussion of those issues.

Given that we are going in an entirely opposite direction to that taken in England, it would have been nice for the Scottish Parliament to have been given an opportunity—whether in relation to legislation or otherwise—to have had that discussion.

We could have dealt with the issues raised in the LCM in that way.

In order to be helpful, I direct the minister to his own words.

In July last year, I asked him whether abolishing of Communities Scotland "would require legislation".

His reply was:

"Ministers are currently considering the most effective organisational structures for the future delivery of Communities Scotland's functions. That process will involve consideration of any legislation that might be necessary to support the transfer of Communities Scotland's functions, although legislation would not of itself be required to abolish Communities Scotland."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 19 July 2007; S3W-1797.]

Given that we do not need legislation to abolish Communities Scotland, it would have been helpful if the Government had looked for legislative opportunities that would have allowed the Parliament to debate what will now happen to Communities Scotland's functions.

The LCM is an indicator that the SNP has abandoned the principles that it used to apply.

It has not even applied the test that we used to apply.

The Government is unable to explain why it has not brought to the chamber a debate on the future of Communities Scotland.

Perhaps the minister will tell the chamber what other legislation might be necessary and what Communities Scotland's future is.

I welcome his interesting response.

Speech on Fuel Poverty Scottish Parliament 13 March 2008

The aim of our amendment is to reinforce the importance of the role of the voluntary and statutory organisations in giving appropriate advice to those who are in fuel poverty.

For eight years, fuel poverty was a critical issue for the Labour-led Executive and the Parliament.

There is no doubt that the issue was championed by members from across the parties. Sadly, some of them are no longer with us—I think of Margaret Ewing.

Those members kept the issue on the agenda and worked hard to ensure that it did not get lost in the normal day-to-day party-political battles in which some of us are all too happy to engage.
The issues with which we are wrestling are difficult.

The debate is important in building agreement on action.

It is right that it should spur us on in recognising that there are still people who are cold in their homes and who have to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves.

In addition, the consequences of the rise in fuel prices have huge implications for people who are in fuel poverty.

The minister has broader responsibilities, including the important issue of people having quality housing with effective insulation measures.

A broader question needs to be asked about housing policy and how local authorities and housing associations are supported in meeting the housing quality standard.

Many people wanted to vote to get rid of housing debt for just that reason.

In that broader housing debate, it is important that we hear from the minister how the Government plans to address the issue.

Labour strongly supports the fuel poverty forum.

We recognise the potential for developing a one-stop shop.

In the past, things perhaps became overfragmented, which may have led to a lack of understanding.

Critically, the fuel poverty forum recognised that Scotland is blessed with strong voluntary sector organisations.

People such as Norrie Kerr and others are committed to addressing fuel poverty and are creative in developing policy.

They are also robust in challenging Government through their advocacy for those who are in fuel poverty, no matter which party is in government.

The forum could have a key role to play in bringing the power companies to the table to discuss further the development of the social tariff and the rationalisation and harmonisation of programmes to ensure greater reach, and to consider why the poor face disproportionate charges for fuel.

Although I am sure that Alex Neil will not agree with me, I recognise the important strand that energy issues played in yesterday's budget.

We can debate how far the Government has gone in addressing the issues, but in the announcements that were made it recognised that the issue is important to everyone.

Of course it is important to link work on energy efficiency measures and fuel poverty programmes.

We must also recognise the importance of sustained money advice and energy advice, as such advice can reach out to those who are most vulnerable and who suffer most when action is not taken.

Although general energy efficiency issues are critical, we must not lose our focus on the issue of the poor paying disproportionate charges.

I am disappointed that neither the Tories nor the SNP want to consider the notion of tax incentives for microgeneration measures.

Labour's Sarah Boyack has done a huge amount of work on the area—the Government would not have to look far to get advice—and engaged with loads of people in the sector.

I hope that the minister will look further into the work that she has done.

However, the reality is that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has set his face against such tax incentives.

As a consequence, the hands of other ministers are tied.

It is odd that a cabinet secretary who offered accelerated tax cuts to small business with no conditions attached will not support the use of taxation as a means of encouraging positive action on energy efficiency.

Labour members have an agreement with our Liberal Democrat colleagues on the issue, although we may not agree with their position on local taxation.

The motion is moderate in its demands.

It asks the Executive to look at the possibility of a local tax rebate, and it is disappointing that the Government will not countenance that.

Instead of closing down the debate, the Executive could have said that it would include that option in its report to Parliament.

We know the challenges that are involved in eradicating fuel poverty by 2016.

We acknowledge the important work that is being done and the challenging points that energywatch Scotland has raised about the central heating programme.

It is important that the debate progresses.

The minister spoke of an internal review.

I urge him to have the confidence to externalise the review, particularly around the central heating programme.

That would enable the Executive to hear what those who are trying to deliver the programme have to say about the challenges involved and the programme's effectiveness.

In his response to the debate, I hope that the minister will tell the chamber that he recognises the importance of doing that.

Speech on Home Detention Curfew Scottish Parliament 12 March 2008

We are debating a serious issue, so I was disappointed by the previous speaker's tone and by the intemperate approach of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who seems not to want to engage with hard issues and who was reluctant to accept the compromise that was proposed in the Justice Committee.

It does not help to suggest that there is a division between people who are for prison and people who are against prison, because that is false.

The issues are difficult.

The cabinet secretary's failure to understand the importance of building confidence is fundamental.

He claims that he wants to move to greater use of appropriate community sentences.

If he wants communities to sign up to that approach, it is ill advised for him to refuse to agree to a moderate proposal to keep a watch on the issue that we are debating.

It is argued that individual cases make bad law.

However, people's experiences can illuminate a situation and reveal flaws in a policy approach that seems logical in theory.

In that context, I mention my constituent Mr Armstrong, whose case illustrates why people do not have confidence in the system and why ministers should be willing to compromise on HDC.

In brief, Mr Armstrong was convicted of a serious assault and was sentenced to just less than four years in prison.

His family, friends and neighbours have campaigned for proper consideration of the circumstances of the assault for which he was convicted.

Mr Armstrong alleges that the person whom he was convicted of assaulting was threatening him with a 14in knife and smashing the windows of his vehicle, and that there was a history of reported disorder in the community.

The family asserts that Mr Armstrong was a repeat victim who acted in self-defence and who did not have confidence in the police's ability to respond to the circumstances.

Perhaps that is a mark of the failure of earlier intervention to deal with disorder.

The deepest irony is that Mr Armstrong's alleged assailant was tagged for other offences but was free to appear in the vicinity of Mr Armstrong's home and cause alarm while Mr Armstrong was in prison.

Mr MacAskill is fond of talking about keeping "flotsam and jetsam" out of prison.

In the case that I described, who is flotsam and jetsam and who deserves to be in prison?

The crude division that Mr MacAskill likes to present does not apply; the reality is that neither party is flotsam and jetsam.

We must address people's actions and deal with them seriously, but in so doing we must be careful to understand the context of offending, which might involve a person's being a repeat victim. Such matters must be properly taken into account.

I am delighted that Mr MacAskill has agreed to meet me to pursue the issues, and I hope that he will confirm his willingness to accept from the family the massive petition in support of Mr Armstrong.

The issue matters because community safety is paramount.

We need to know that home detention curfew works.

They cannot be used as a crude attempt artificially to keep prisoner numbers low.

We do not want huge prisoner numbers, but we need to know that risk assessments are done on the basis not of keeping numbers down but of ensuring that a person is safe to return to the community.

People do not have that confidence, because the cabinet secretary will not agree to a sunset clause so that there can be proper consideration of the issue when more prison spaces are available.

The cabinet secretary's reluctance to compromise stems from his predetermined view on prisoner numbers.

He cannot confront the challenges to do with funding new prisons, but that is what Governments must do.

He wants to relieve pressure on prisons, but he must not do so at the expense of putting greater pressure on our communities.

I am troubled by his reluctance to compromise and by his willingness to engage in a crude debate rather than accept that he can reduce prisoner numbers only if our communities feel safe and have confidence that the policy is about not reducing numbers but addressing what puts people in prison and keeps them there.

I urge the cabinet secretary to rethink his approach.

Speech of Wheelchair Users ( Human Rights) Scottish Parliament 5 March 2008

Members have already indicated that this is an important debate.

If Mr Carlaw was hesitant about following Trish Godman's speech, he should consider how I feel about having to speak after him—he encapsulated the passion around this issue, which a lot of us share.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

Today, I met people from Quarriers—in particular, one of my constituents, Mr Fraser Wood—and again I recognised the challenge that people face in addressing the question of wheelchair use as wheelchair users themselves.

Like any equalities issue on the agenda for action, this issue is there not because of our good will and because we care about it, but because of the campaign activity, determination and energy of those who experience inequality and of the carers who support them.

Wheelchair users and their carers have driven the agenda on this issue, and I applaud their energy and the energy of the groups and voluntary organisations that have supported them in ensuring that there was a review of wheelchair services and that we are now at the stage where we want to make further progress.

I will not make a party-political point—the points that have been made so far all show that the problem's existence is a reproach to all of us who are in a position to do something about it.

It is also a broader reproach to a society that has allowed the situation to go on for too long.

It is clear that political action should be shaped by those who not only understand the problems, but have the solutions.

I hope that the minister can answer the question whether there is now a disability forum sitting inside the Scottish Government that would bring these groups together.

There was such a body in the past, and I hope that she will commit today to bringing such a group together to pursue these issues, because it could press the right arguments in the right places.

The test of the rhetoric of equality and our commitment to it is an understanding of the practical issues that need to be addressed in order to deliver on that rhetoric.

The wheelchair example is as good as any of the way in which we have to move from a general commitment to equality to addressing the practical issues that provide the barriers.

I hope that there is a proper understanding of the need to deliver in partnership with those who understand the issues best.

The critical issue is that we need to view the wheelchair not as a machine or as a mechanism, but as a straightforward part of someone's care package and as the way in which they manage to maximise their abilities and their potential.

The comparison with hip replacements is a good one.

We do not see hip replacements in the same way—as somehow being a bonus, when in fact they can be critical to the quality of people's lives and their capacity to engage with their families and broader society.

As has been said, we need to look at the person and not the wheelchair, and we should not try to shape the person into what we think their wheelchair should be.

Why should they not have the wheelchair that they need for the kind of disability and needs that they have?

The review was driven by those who understood the issues, and I wonder why the action plan has been delayed—for another year, it seems.

Will the minister at least commit to examining these issues, which could be progressed before the broader action plan recommendations are brought forward?

That would give people confidence that action was being taken.

I note from some of the submissions that we have received that people want a national service.

Wheelchair service provision seems to be irrational and not attached to need within local areas—I ask the minister to consider that issue.

There is a broader issue about social inclusion and human rights, which is encapsulated in the way that we talk about disabled parking spaces.

Somehow people think that someone with a disabled parking space has stolen a march and is getting a privilege.

Some of the debate around wheelchair services is like that—it is as if someone is asking for something extra.

The fact that the matter has been put in the context of human rights is critical.

We should not tolerate the barriers.

I hope that the minister will respond positively to the supportive points that members have made in the debate.