Friday, 15 February 2008

Oh no, another breach - she canna take it cap'n!

On the 20th of December 2007, Leader of the Opposition, Ms Wendy Alexander, for it is she (currently), asked of the First Minister of Scotland:
Ms Alexander: I return to the question whether it is routine for a constituency MSP to bypass the planning directorate, go to the chief planner, and secure a meeting for developers in 12 hours and a call-in within 24 hours. I ask that because I want also to know why Mr Salmond's Government has been refusing since August—a period of more than three months—to meet the developers that are proposing a £1.2 billion development to regenerate the Rosyth naval dockyard.
Verily she did ask thus, and most readily did he answer:
The First Minister: I am just being told that the chief planner is meeting those developers, as he meets other developers in Scotland, which is also part—
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Six months later.
The Presiding Officer: Order.
The First Minister: Wendy Alexander should, just occasionally, check her facts before she asks a question.
I am looking at the ministerial code. Not only in the MSP code of conduct are MSPs encouraged to represent their constituents, but the ministerial code says that, on planning decisions, ministers may write to ministers, may advocate a point of view and may lead deputations—I am sure that Duncan McNeil has led a few deputations in his time. All those things are what effective MSPs do. Wendy Alexander should accept that, as detailed in the letter from the permanent secretary, no official in the Government has acted with anything other than total propriety and that no official has been asked to do anything improper. Will she now accept the words of the permanent secretary?
A right to-do and a barney to boot! As I pointed out recently, Helen Eadie has gone and went and done what Wendy Alexander said couldn't be done and got a meeting with the Chief Planner for a developer with a major development proposal in her area, proving that any MSP can do it and that Helen Eadie is better than Wendy Alexander. Of course, His First Ministership was saying that in chamber in answer to Wee Wendibles (the bit about the meeting, the rest is mine, mine I tell you), but she wasn't listening - as is her wont.

As I pointed out, though, the developer in question here is Scarborough Muir - fine folks I'm told - who have, quite openly and above board, contributed to the Labour party, £1,350 to Gordon Brown's constituency and £2,500 to Scottish Labour.

So what says you, aha says I, thereby hangs a tale -

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct requires that you make an oral declaration of an interest before taking part in any proceedings which affect that interest. Wendy's defence to this is a good one - that the money was given to the Labour party rather than to her so she didn't have to declare it - and I agree with it in spite of the prejudice test coming in strongly on the side of declaring, I think she squeaks this one.

Section 4 of the Code of Conduct, however, precludes paid advocacy, which is defined thusly:

4.1.3 Unlike the provisions of the Act relating to the registration and declaration of interests (which are designed to ensure transparency and do not inhibit Members’ participation in the proceedings of the Parliament), the provisions of the Act relating to paid advocacy provide that a Member may not, in consideration of any payment or benefit in kind, advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person or urge any other Member to advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person.

4.1.4 “Any payment or benefit in kind” means any payment or benefit in kind which the Member receives and which may reasonably be considered to result in some benefit for that Member (except a vote for that Member in an election to the Parliament). This also includes any payments or benefit in kind which the Member’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitant receives and which may reasonably be considered to be provided in connection with the Parliamentary duties of that Member and to benefit that Member in some way.

4.1.5 Section 14(3) of the Act describes the kinds of assistance which Members may receive without being in breach of the paid advocacy provisions. Those provisions do not apply to assistance provided to a Member in the preparation of a Member’s Bill, or assistance with amendments to any Bill, or a debate on subordinate legislation or a legislative consent motion (formerly known as a Sewel motion).

Now one may say that it would be a harsh judgement upon Ms Alexander to have to take such consideration before attacking the First Minister. I would simply remind them that Labour party Members were not slow in calling for David McLetchie's head when he signed a motion about Edinburgh Airport when the legal firm for which he still did some part-time work was representing one of the parties in a dispute.

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