Jackson Carlaw MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) (Con)

There are currently eight council tax bands and six UK property tax bands. I think that the cabinet secretary announced four bands today.

Contrary to how the cabinet secretary might characterise it, there are people living in communities such as East Renfrewshire and elsewhere who are not rolling in it but who find that property values are affected by the reputation of local schools.

Would it not have been possible for the cabinet secretary to introduce a more progressive series of bands between £250,000 and £1 million to ensure that families who find that they live in communities where schooling affects the price of homes, not necessarily their ability to pay, are not being swingeingly taxed on their children’s education?



Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) (Con)

I found the debate particularly difficult to prepare for—so much so that I have come with nothing to say.



Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

I have nothing prepared to say. I thought that I would listen carefully to the arguments that were presented and then comment.

I want to deal with the matter in two ways. I want to deal with the issue at hand in the petition and with the way in which the Lord President responded to it.

I always thought that the petition was rather curious, as it was based on something that might be going to happen in New Zealand. I was never entirely impressed with it, but I thought that, as the issue had been raised, it was perfectly appropriate for the Public Petitions Committee to seek to find out the response of the Scottish Government and the Lord President.

I should say that, among my parliamentary colleagues—I will not name anyone—I have been told quite clearly, “We don’t want any of that.” [Laughter.] However, the minister identified quite ably why we should have confidence in the current process and why I am not persuaded that we need a register of interests. There is the judicial oath, there is the statement of principles of judicial ethics and there is the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. Either we take the view that we appoint the judges and have confidence in the judges whom we appoint, or we do not. I believe that we should.

I think that Graeme Pearson hit on the point that we do not want the whole process of law in the court system being delayed because issues have been raised about whether the judge has an interest that might be regarded as meaning that they ought to recuse themselves from the trial and the whole thing becomes bogged down.

I am not persuaded by the issue, but I thought that the way in which the consideration of the petition developed was less than satisfactory.

We heard from Moi Ali, who said that she did not know why there was not a register, but that

“it has long been the case in this country that particular groups are harder to challenge. In the past, one such group was the medical profession. I had a look at the website of the General Medical Council—the regulator of doctors. Although I think that it would have resisted this strongly in the past, it now publishes registers of interests, records family relationships of its council members and so on.

At one time, it was difficult for politicians to take on that group. It is perhaps difficult to take on the judiciary, because judicial independence is always mentioned. As I said, that is a cornerstone of democracy, but because there has been no separation of accountability and independence, it is easy for the judiciary to say, ‘We are independent, so don’t interfere in that.’ Unless independence and accountability are separated, legislation will continue to include no requirement for more openness and transparency.”—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 17 September 2013; c 1612.]

I thought that that was quite a powerful argument.

The Lord President’s response was essentially, “Get your tanks off my lawn.” It was all very well for the Lord President to send in a written response, but I thought that the best way for him to allow us to explore the issues raised by the petitioner effectively—and, in fact, to give weight to his argument—would have been to have his argument tested by the committee.

From briefings that I have heard from the Law Society of Scotland, it seems that it does not think that the Public Petitions Committee of this Parliament is a grand enough committee to command the Lord President’s attention. The suggestion seemed to be that if it was a subject committee such as the Justice Committee, that would be fair enough, but all manner of petitions could come forward and the Lord President would have to present himself. That is not the way the Public Petitions Committee conducts itself at all. We thought that the petition made a serious argument that ought to be examined.

In language devoid of any colour—which members know that I usually employ—I said at the committee that the impression given was that the Lord President was part of an

“Edwardian-establishment disdain for the right of the hoi polloi—as ... he sees it—to have any understanding of such matters”

and that

“the swish of judicial ermine and velvet should cow into deference the public and the legislature in relation to our right to understand the issues.”—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 17 September 2013; c 1616-17.]

My colleagues on the committee will speak for themselves, but that is what I think many of them found slightly unsettling and unacceptable.

When petitions are lodged that, as Graeme Pearson said, raise the perception of a problem but there is a very cogent argument, which the minister articulated, why there is no need for further action, the best approach is not to suggest private meetings off the record with members of the committee to explore issues within a limited mandate and framework. The appropriate way to proceed would have been for the Lord President to come to the committee and, in a responsible environment, put his case on the record and allow us to test it. In all likelihood, we would have agreed with the principle that he articulated and would have advocated that that is the right approach. However, we were not able to do that, which is why we are having this debate today. That illustrates that, in the modern age, one cannot simply say, “We are part of something that is independent. We are not accountable to the Parliament on these matters and therefore there is no need for us to make a public defence of our argument.” I do not have a problem with the position taken, but I have a big problem with how we have got to the point that we are at today.



Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

I will deal with the contributions that have been made to what has been an interesting debate. Angus MacDonald said that Lord Gill had delivered a snub to the Public Petitions Committee. I think that what he did was more of a snub to the Scottish people. The committee is the Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament. The whole point of it is to allow the petitions that are raised by members of the public to receive a proper airing, and for the arguments to be tested. In a sense, we were not able to test the arguments of the Lord President, because he would not engage.

John Wilson is absolutely right. I have here a copy of the 16-page speech that the Lord President gave in Qatar, incorporating the very issues that we addressed. Had the committee known, we could have applied to the parliamentary authorities to go to Qatar to hear the speech in person and tackle the Lord President there. If he did not come to the committee, the committee could have gone to him.



Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

I shall not stray there, although I am tempted.

Anne McTaggart articulated, as a number of members did, why there is a perfectly balanced argument in favour of a register. David Torrance talked, too, about how they are commonplace. He went on to touch on the subject of the register of recusals, which David Stewart also mentioned. That arose as a result of informal conversations that David Stewart and the committee’s deputy convener had with the Lord President. For that, I suppose that we must be grateful.

David Torrance said, however, that the register does not meet the petitioner’s concerns. I would say to him that the job of the Public Petitions Committee is not necessarily to uphold the petition or the petitioner’s concerns; it is to evaluate the evidence underpinning a petition and then to form a judgment. Again, we have been slightly prevented from our obligations in that respect.

Neil Findlay spoke about the perception of transparency, and he listed various things. Therein lies some of my concern. Were it the case that judges had to register their religion, and if that was thought by people who were appearing before a judge to be a reason to suggest that there might not be impartiality in the proceedings, we would paralyse the court system with endless reasons to object to the appointment of any particular judge.

I hope that she will not find it inexcusable of me, but I found that I agreed almost entirely with the points that Joan McAlpine made in her speech. She talked about the letter that Lord Gill presented, which discussed the practicalities and consequential issues. The consequential issues that he identified were the perfectly legitimate counterargument to the natural assumption that, in the modern age, there should be a register. I again say that, had Lord Gill subjected his reasons to the open test of committee discussion, which would have been perfectly friendly and informed, they would, most likely, have persuaded the committee that, on balance, they represented the correct position.

John Wilson referred to my doing an impression of one of my colleagues. He might suggest that I did that, but I could not possibly recognise it as such.

Stewart Stevenson spoke about the modern argument in all this but then, to my astonishment, I heard this Roman—whoever it was from all those years ago—being quoted for a second day in a row in the Parliament. It was exactly the same quotation. That somewhat brought back the fact that nothing is modern and everything is timeless when we are dealing with such judgments and issues.

I am not, on balance, persuaded that a register is necessary. I refer back to the safeguards that exist. Mind you, I would point out that we, too, swear an oath, but we nonetheless still subscribe to a register. There is a balance, but that balance, that argument and that judgment are much more likely reliably to stand the test of public scrutiny if they are subject to proper public debate, and I feel that we are having this debate today because we have not been able to provide that.

16:40  

Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
19. Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) (Con)

I am somewhat surprised to be able to ask this question.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on independent schools having charitable status. (S4O-03589)



Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

I commend the cabinet secretary and his ministerial team on the efficiency of their responses to questions this afternoon. In that spirit, I ask them what their attitude might be to the extension of charitable status to cover all schools in Scotland.



Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) (Con)

I offer the sympathies of the Conservative Party to the family and friends of Angus Macleod, who died yesterday. He was, for 35 years, an unchanging presence in Scottish politics at The Times in Scotland. I mention him now because on the issue of the constitution, he was an inquisitive, passionate, informed and rigorous journalist and I think that he will be missed by all members on all sides of the chamber. [Applause.]

We will support the Labour motion and we will not support either of the amendments. I congratulate the cabinet secretary on reading out the speech that appeared to have been prepared for him so adroitly, if without his usual passion. However, I wish to talk directly to the Government amendment. First, it says that we recognise

“the result of the independence referendum”.

Does the Scottish Government recognise that result? The Cabinet Secretary for Justice was out in Portobello on Saturday at a yes Scotland campaigning stall, campaigning for independence. I am not quite sure how one recognises the result and then campaigns away for independence as if the referendum were still to take place. Recognising the result means respecting it and moving on to the subsequent agenda.

The amendment then asks us to note

“the response to a recent Panelbase poll”

in the same sentence as the previous phrase. For goodness’ sake! We have just had a vote of 2.6 million people—85 per cent of a 97 per cent registered electorate—and we are asked to give almost equal weight to a Panelbase poll. There is no need to do that when we have had the most decisive political result in living memory, and certainly in my lifetime. There was an 11 per cent difference between yes and no in that poll, which is greater than anything I can recall, and on a huge turnout.

Thirdly, the SNP’s amendment says that we are

“to deliver on the clear promises made to the people of Scotland”.

Well, really. I have here a yes Scotland campaign leaflet, which says:

“Win an iPad”

and

“your chance to win one of 10 iPads.”

I looked up the rules, which said:

“The winners will be selected at random at 10:00 on Thursday 18 September 2014.

The winners will be informed via email within two weeks ... and the names of winners will be available on the Yes Scotland website.”

Three weeks later, the names are not there. The campaign cannot make small promises and not keep them and expect us to look to the Scottish Government and have it honour bigger promises.

We will debate the findings of the Smith commission when we return from recess. I have lodged a written question asking what assurances the Scottish Government will give that civil servants will not be used to support Scottish National Party political representatives in the work of the commission. The SNP is there not as primus inter pares, but on an equal footing with other political parties to contribute to the work of Lord Smith’s commission in the period ahead.

I will deal with two things in my final couple of minutes. First, I will develop something that I said in an earlier debate, which is that we must focus not just on the transfer of powers to this Parliament but on how we discharge those responsibilities and powers when we get them. Although representatives from the various political parties are working with Lord Smith, it is incumbent on this Parliament as a whole, across all parties and members, to prepare for the work of looking at exactly how we will ensure that the Parliament will undertake effective scrutiny and discharge those additional responsibilities effectively.

The worst thing of all would be for those powers to arrive here without us having properly and objectively, and without a party-political focus, considered how we will exercise that responsibility. We need to ensure that the people of Scotland not only see us with those responsibilities, but see us using the powers effectively and well for their benefit.



Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

Finally, I will pick up on the sentiment that underpins Johann Lamont’s contribution to the debate. What her amendment says about acknowledging

“that people on both sides voted for change and that it is now incumbent on this parliament to work together”

is not about powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, but about the Parliament’s mindset.

Johann Lamont spoke about health in particular. A year ago, as the Scottish Conservative health spokesman, I said that we would set aside supporting the changes that we have seen down south coming from both the Blair and coalition Governments in favour of a publicly owned, funded health service here in Scotland. I would like to work with the Labour Party on developing those ideas. I am slightly concerned about simply divesting to a panel of experts the responsibility for the development of health policy, because ultimately we will be accountable for it and will have to deliver it.



Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Jackson Carlaw

However, we as a Parliament should equally be prepared to develop that sentiment in the time that lies ahead. We must now all work to ensure that Lord Smith’s commission works and that the proposals come forward, but as the Parliament we are effectively here to deliver those proposals thereafter.

16:48  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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NoCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116 Johann Lamont: Scotland’s Future—That the Parliament recognises the result of the independ
>> Show more
NoCarried

Amendment 61 moved by Elaine Murray on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bi
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Amendment 62 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Amendment 63 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Amendment 64 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Jackson Carlaw
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11251: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10939: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 08/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10938: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 08/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10898: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10894.1: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10854: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 20/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10743: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10695: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 30/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10692: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 30/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10670: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 28/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Jackson Carlaw
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-22765: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22764: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22766: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22767: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22757: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03589: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22404: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22350: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 12/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03492: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22278: Jackson Carlaw, West Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/08/2014 Show Full Question >>