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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:27 pm on 30th September 1999.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour 12:27 pm, 30th September 1999

I welcome very much Alex Salmond's suggestion that we should not jump to conclusions. I hope that that message will remain vividly in the minds of some of his colleagues. I have experienced what has perhaps been the difficulty of listening to some of the broadcasts of recent days—but enough of that.

I am of course interested in Alex Salmond's comments on the ministerial code of conduct. As he knows, it was published some time ago. It was approved by the Westminster Parliament, as I remember. It is no doubt a document of importance and Alex Salmond, as a busy and effective MP at that time, will have examined it. If he is now saying that it is inadequate, we will of course listen to argument and debate—I do not have a closed mind on the matter.

However, I would certainly not accept the implication that, in some way, the document was carelessly put together or does not cover most of the ground that it ought to. If Alex Salmond has points to make about that, I am perfectly prepared to examine them.

The Standards Committee is certainly entitled to conduct its own affairs, and must take advice from its own advisers, including the clerk, on this matter. I will content myself by saying that, when the committee has taken its decisions on what it wants to do, the Administration will, as we would expect, want to co-operate with it as fully as possible.

I repeat that the key is to look forward; to try to put a framework in place within which PR firms can operate, and which does all that can effectively be done—although there are great difficulties about systems—to ensure that there is not abuse in future.

This has been an unhappy business. I thought that it was right to come to the chamber at an early stage—yesterday. I have seen some biting criticism of the fact that I did not make a statement yesterday. Yesterday, I had not even seen the full transcripts, never mind anything else. I had had to rely on press reports as to what the charges were. I have now had inquiries made, and on that basis I said what I said this afternoon.

I would like to think that what I have said has been welcome to the chamber, irrespective of party loyalties.