Holyrood

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:54 am on 10 May 2001.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 10:54, 10 May 2001

The next item of business is a Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party debate on motion S1M-1918, in the name of David McLetchie, on Holyrood, and two amendments to that motion.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 11:04, 10 May 2001

The motion seeks to reaffirm the resolution passed by the Scottish Parliament on 5 April, which placed a £195 million cost limit on the Holyrood project, and to call on the Scottish Executive—conspicuous by the absence of its members this morning—to confirm that no more public money will be wasted on that project.

It is more than a year since the Parliament debated the subject. In the meantime, there have been numerous reports indicating that the £195 million cash limit may well be breached and that the project will not be completed on schedule by the end of 2002. Indeed, according to Mr David Black—author of "All The First Minister's Men", which was published today—the eventual cost of the Parliament building will not so much breach the £195 million limit, as drive a coach and horses through it. In his book, Mr Black predicts a total cost in the order of £300 million.

What is not in doubt is the duty of the Holyrood progress group, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the Scottish Executive to advise the Parliament whether the £195 million figure is going to be exceeded and, if so, how the cost overrun is to be financed. It is a serious matter. The Scottish public expect the building to be built for that amount. To fail to do so would further undermine the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and public confidence in it.

The last thing that we need is for people to start trying to wriggle out of the £195 million figure by claiming that we should take account of inflation. That is what the amendment in John Home Robertson's name seeks to do. Of course, we are being asked to take account, not of bog-standard inflation with which we are all familiar, but of super inflation, which apparently affects only building projects in Edinburgh and London. Let us not forget that the Spencely report estimate, which informed the decision that the Parliament made in April 2000, included an element of £9.4 million for inflation, covering the period from March 1998 to completion of the tender process.

We must also knock firmly on the head the idea—again to be found in the amendment in Mr Home Robertson's name—that by sticking to the £195 million figure we will somehow end up with a substandard building. That idea should be treated with the contempt that it deserves—it simply reinforces the damaging perception that politicians inhabit a completely different planet from the rest of the population. Nothing has done more to tarnish the reputation of the Scottish Parliament than the handling of the Holyrood project. The chain of deception that has characterised the project from beginning to end has rightly angered people in Scotland. The project has also been characterised by incompetence, mismanagement and misinformation.

In the white paper published before the devolution referendum, less than four years ago, the Scottish people were promised a Parliament for between £10 million and £40 million. Since then, there have been attempts to suggest that the £40 million figure was not realistic. That is not true. In a letter to me, the permanent secretary, Muir Russell, confirms that we could indeed have had a Parliament building for around that figure. He writes:

"The £40m figure related to a new build (at Leith) on a brownfield site to a reasonable modern standard. The costings for this were obviously on a notional basis rather than being built up from detailed design elements, but, having checked our records, I can say that this figure was intended to include not only construction works but also fees, fitting out, furniture, VAT and land acquisition."

As befits our most senior civil servant, Mr Russell is a man who measures his words with care. Would that the same care had been exercised by his political masters.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I want to underline the fact that Mr McLetchie's claim of incompetence stretches back to the very time that he describes, when the original specifications were drawn up. At that time, the assumption was that there would be 250 people working in and around the Parliament. Five months after Parliament opened, however, 1,200 people were working here. The advice tendered to the then Secretary of State for Scotland was wrong and the people who tendered it should have walked.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I could not agree more with those sentiments. That is one adminicle in the case against both the Executive and the Scottish Office ministers who were initially responsible for this misbegotten project.

The £40 million economical option was rejected by the Scottish Office in favour of a new Holyrood Palace and the desire to build a monument to the political egos of the architects of devolution. Ever since, the cost of the project has escalated out of control.

However, instead of doing something about it, the Scottish Executive—and the Labour party in particular—has spent its time trying to evade responsibility. The problem has been exacerbated by the spin and misinformation that has surrounded the project from the beginning. Gaining information about the cost of Holyrood has been like pulling teeth. When the public was told that the cost had gone from £40 million to £50 million, that was accepted at face value.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

However, thanks to Mr Stone's assiduous colleague Donald Gorrie, we established that when the extras were added on, the real cost was going to be £90 million. Before the debate in June 1999, we were told that construction costs had risen to £62 million and that when all the extras were added on the cost was going to be £109 million, a figure to which the Executive committed itself in that debate—a commitment, I remind the chamber, that was given by both the late First Minister and the present one.

In keeping with the misinformation that has clouded discussion of the issue, the figures trotted out at that point excluded landscaping into Holyrood park and the cost of new roads. We now know that those things will cost an additional £14 million—another charge on the taxpayer, another dent in the Scottish block grant. Thanks to the Spencely report, we also know that the £109 million excluded design risks and other costs amounting to £27 million. That information was withheld from the then First Minister, albeit with his retrospective approval.

I have no doubt that the rot finally set in with the decision to transfer responsibility for the project to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. That is not to denigrate the efforts of our colleagues, but it was the moment at which ministers were allowed to pass the buck and evade direct responsibility for the project. Without responsibility there can be no accountability. That lack of accountability is acknowledged, I am pleased to see, in Michael Russell's amendment.

The Parliament has had two opportunities to stop, take stock of the process and look again at the available options. Donald Gorrie's amendment on 17 June 1999 proposed just such a move, but was narrowly rejected by the combined weight of Labour and Liberal Democrat votes, with only a few honourable exceptions, such as Mr Gorrie himself. On 5 April last year, a similar amendment, calling for delay so that we could make an informed choice based on consideration of all the options, was rejected in favour of Gordon Jackson's motion, which was bulldozed through with the votes of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

David McLetchie should be aware that, unlike in his party and the SNP, there was no whip. Jim Wallace made that clear in the debate that day. David McLetchie should acknowledge that fact and accept it.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The Liberal Democrats may not have needed a whip, but they certainly exercised very poor judgment when they voted for Gordon Jackson's motion. They should make a better job of representing the interests of the people of Scotland than they do.

Last April's debate gave some cause for optimism, given the Executive's apparent determination to stick to the new limit of £195 million. It looked as if the Executive had finally acknowledged its responsibility for containing costs, but that hope was short-lived. It soon became clear that the Executive had no intention of putting a minister on the Holyrood progress group, which was established at its own behest, pursuant to Gordon Jackson's motion. We have argued consistently that, without a minister on it, the Holyrood progress group is simply a device to shield the Executive from its responsibility, which is why we have refused to appoint a Conservative minister—

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I meant a Conservative member. Conservative ministers are coming, just wait. We have refused to appoint a Conservative member to the group until the First Minister is prepared to accept the Executive's responsibility as custodians of the public purse and put a minister in charge. Michael Russell's amendment asks us to end our boycott. We will do so, immediately the Scottish Executive ends its boycott and stops abdicating its responsibility.

The Holyrood progress group has suffered from the fact that it keeps losing members. First Tavish Scott, then Lewis Macdonald abandoned ship for the ministerial Mondeo. I used to think that that meant that the progress group was a fast track to the top, but that theory was scuppered by the appointment of John Home Robertson. In fairness to members of the group, they initially determined to work within the new budget figure, but from February onwards warning signals have been sounded and one member, Linda Fabiani, has had the honesty to acknowledge that the final bill could be £250 million. Would that everyone else was so frank and honest.

Frankly, it is about time—if it is not already past time—that the First Minister finally accepted responsibility for the mess that we now find ourselves in. I fear, however, that the chances of that happening are sadly remote. The very least that we have a right to expect from the Scottish Executive is that it spends our money with due care and attention. Instead, money is being thrown around like confetti and the most glaring example of that financial profligacy has been the building of the new Parliament at Holyrood. That fact that, in less than four years, the cost of the Parliament building has increased by nearly six times the original estimate is nothing short of a national scandal. That is money that should have been, and could have been, spent on our hospitals, schools and roads.

My motion urges the Executive finally to get a financial grip on the project. It may not be too keen on taking responsibility for overseeing the project, but let us not forget that it is still entirely responsible for funding it and that every extra pound squandered on Holyrood is a pound less for our public services. The farce of Holyrood has gone on long enough. It is time to put a ceiling on the Holyrood project. It is time to cut our coat according to our cloth. It is time for the Executive to say unequivocally, "Enough is enough; not a penny more." It is about time that the Executive gave us a categorical assurance that it will not pour any more taxpayers' money down the Holyrood money pit, and that no more blank cheques will be written. I invite the Parliament to ensure that that is the case by supporting my motion.

I move,

That the Parliament notes its resolution of 5 April 2000 which approved expenditure of up to £195 million on the Holyrood Project and now calls on the Scottish Executive to advise the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body that this figure is a cash limit within which the building is to be completed and that no further sums of public money will be allocated towards the project.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 11:16, 10 May 2001

One is tempted to say, "Here we are again." This is the third occasion on which the Parliament has debated the Holyrood project in the context of an actual or expected cost overrun. In June 1999, the Parliament came within a few votes—a few Liberal votes—of halting the project and considering, as we should have done, the alternatives to a scheme that was conceived in haste and political panic, and of which we have now to repent at leisure.

At that time, the Parliament was assured that the cost would be £109 million. That was not true. In April 2000, in the light of the Spencely report, the Parliament returned to the project. Gordon Jackson—I am glad that he is here—displaying the eloquence which, according to Scotland on Sunday last week, makes him one of the top earners in the legal profession, persuaded the Parliament, indeed promised the Parliament, that the cost would be no more than £195 million. That also was untrue. I note that in David Davidson's report to the Finance Committee—and I do not often quote Mr Davidson with approval—he says that

"the motion put to and passed by the Scottish Parliament, known as the 'Jackson motion', which was for a fixed cash sum at current prices of £195 million, was somewhat optimistic and, in light of the complexity of the tender and control process ... naïve for such a complicated and indeed unique design."

The Tory motion today is also optimistic and naïve, which is why I seek to amend it.

Now we are told—or rather not told, because at the heart of my amendment is the concern that we do not have the figures—that the final figure will not be £109 million; neither will it be £195 million. Still less will it be the £40 million with which we started, or even the £10 million that was put about before the Scotland Act 1998 was passed, and it will not be less than Spencely's upper estimate of £230 million. David Black has estimated the total cost, including the cost of the Calton hill plan, of all the reports that we have had, of all the consultants, of answering 150 written questions to the Presiding Officer before October 2000—only 100 of which came from Margo MacDonald—of refurbishing the premises that we are in and the knock-on costs on traffic, including traffic circulation in the old town. Members will remember the architect's promise at the beginning of the project that the project would have no effect on the old town, which now turns out to be nonsense. If all those things are taken into account, the cost of the project is certainly £300 million, and is probably rising.

This is a farce. It is also a tragedy, and it would have been easy to avoid if, at the beginning, the Labour party had listened, instead of insisting on getting its own way because it wanted to dish the nats. It could have been avoided if Labour and the Liberals had put reason and common sense to play instead of backing ministerial reputations and if this Parliament, not Westminster, had made the first decisions. As David Black convincingly argues, the root of the problem lies in the way in which the project was conceived and presented from Westminster by Westminster ministers.

Fortunately, we know who was responsible. Parliamentary committees have worked on that. Spencely uncovered some of the information, and David Black has uncovered more. However, the shambles has victims as well as villains. Scottish taxpayers are the victims and will continue to be mugged for cash. The people who are trying to bring some order and probity to the sorry tale will have a heavier and heavier burden. I pay tribute to the progress group, which is trying to bring sense, probity and some vision to a misbegotten project. The reputation of the Parliament is also suffering.

It took something approaching genius from the Government to create the situation. What should have been the most significant public building in Scotland in a century, or certainly in a generation, has become a byword for profligacy, political obduracy and sheer folly.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

That is the fault of those who conceived the project and of the way in which the project was introduced.

It is most tragic that the project affects the reputation of the Parliament and our nation. I pay limited tribute to the Conservatives for bringing the matter to our attention. In typical Tory style, they spoiled a good idea with a silly solution. In April 2000, Mr Jackson persuaded the Parliament that it was possible to cap Holyrood costs at a fixed figure. That was not true then and is not true now. The Tories are trying to fit the same cap to a project that is costing well beyond £195 million. If the Tories succeeded, we would have holes in the ground. Those of us who are old enough to remember Edinburgh under the Tories—which was a long time ago—will remember those holes, which represented buildings that were started and never finished. The Tory motion would result in another useless hole in the ground and would be a wasteful solution. The motion is political posturing and would be awful value for the taxpayer.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

How much more is the SNP prepared to spend on completing the Holyrood project, above the £195 million and above the £14 million on landscaping works?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I will address that issue in just a moment.

My amendment would make the best of a bad job. Reluctantly—and for the first time—I accept that Holyrood will have to be built. To misquote Macbeth, we are now so steeped in debt that to return would be as tedious as to go o'er. My amendment would find the tightest and most responsible way in which the Parliament—the project client—can control events and bring them to fruition.

The amendment asks the Parliament to accept its joint responsibility. All parties—including the Tories—have so far failed to accept that responsibility. The amendment also deals with the fair point that Mr McLetchie made. It says that the Scottish Executive must take its share of responsibility. With the greatest respect to the Minister for Parliament and the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, it is a disgrace that the front bench is not full. It is always full when good news is being trumpeted, but never when problems are being discussed. The Executive should respond to the debate, and a minister should join the progress group. The amendment calls for that.

The amendment would build into the Parliament's structures the proper relationship between the progress group and the Parliament—a direct relationship. The Scotland Act 1998 makes it impossible for the progress group to take ultimate legal responsibility for Holyrood, but nothing stops the corporate body from proposing a small change in standing orders that would allow it to establish a sub-committee to which it could give powers. We should tie the progress group into the Parliament's structures.

The amendment would ensure that the Parliament was fully involved and fully informed and would take decisions relating to cost. To answer Mr McLetchie's question, I say that the difficulty is that the Parliament still does not know the final costs. They must be provided now and the Parliament must debate and decide on them with the progress group.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

We could go further. My SNP colleagues want the corporate body to explore with the Executive the creation of a public service trust to pay for the building. It is daft that an Executive that will not spend capital on schools and hospitals insists on spending capital in short order on the Parliament. A public service trust, as proposed by my friend Mr Wilson, would be ideal for the project.

There were and are better sites for the Parliament. There were and are better designs for the Parliament. I would rather welcome those than buttress the wrong choice, but that is not the real world. In the real world, foolish decisions were made for all the wrong reasons and were tenaciously supported by those who should have known better. Tragically, those people have won a form of victory, but we can still prevent the logical conclusion of their foolishness, which David Black says would be the endless escalation of cost, public opprobrium and the private anguish of many members. If the Parliament tightens control of the project and takes responsibility, if the Executive takes responsibility and the Conservatives join in, we may be able to make a difference. We could act responsibly—and together—to control the project. It should not be in the mess that it is in, but it is not too late. I ask the chamber to support my amendment.

I move amendment S1M-1918.2, to leave out from "and now" to end and insert:

"; expresses considerable concern that this figure is likely to be exceeded and therefore calls upon the Corporate Body to ensure that any revised costs above that figure, as well as any changes to quality standards and completion dates that affect that figure, are laid before the Parliament for debate and approval; further calls upon the Conservatives to cease their boycott of the Holyrood Progress Group so that all the principal parties in the Parliament supervise this Parliamentary project together; asks the Scottish Executive to nominate a Minister to the Group, and expresses the wish that the Progress Group should become a sub-committee of the Corporate Body and that, following such a change, the Progress Group itself should report regularly and directly to formal meetings of the Parliament, rather than to informal meetings of members as at present, thus strengthening direct Parliamentary accountability for the project."

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 11:26, 10 May 2001

Everyone in Scottish politics must have been struck by the finesse of the Tory party's Tesco launch in Edinburgh yesterday. I am afraid—

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Is Mr Home Robertson's amendment from an individual member, a member of the progress group or a member who represents the Executive? I am not clear about why John Home Robertson is moving the amendment.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I invite Mr Home Robertson to respond. Is not the amendment on behalf of the progress group?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I speak as convener of the Holyrood progress group.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

May I have some assistance from the chair? I have not yet started my speech. This is injury time.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Does Mr Home Robertson speak on behalf of the group or as its convener?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I speak as convener of the group.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Thank you. Not on behalf of the group.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am sure that everyone was struck by the Tory party's confusion at yesterday's poster launch, and I am afraid that they have hit the wrong target, at the wrong time, again today. The motion is an attack on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, including the Tories' own John Young. I realise that William Hague has positioned himself on the far, far right, but even he might recognise that the motion suggests a constitutional monstrosity. David McLetchie has proposed that the Scottish Executive should control the Scottish Parliament's budget. I hesitate to lecture him about the basic principles of parliamentary democracy, but briefly, the general idea is that Parliament should control the Executive, not the other way round.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The Executive controls the public purse. The motion simply says that the Executive should tell the corporate body that not a penny more than £195 million should be spent on the project. That is not a constitutional outrage; it is common sense.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am afraid that Mr McLetchie is wrong. The Parliament funds the Executive, not the other way around. However, why let the small matter of parliamentary supremacy get in the way of a good rant against Scotland's new Parliament building? The Tory party has reverted to type. It has always been the principal opponent of democratic devolution in the United Kingdom—it ran the "Vote No" campaign during the 1997 referendum. Tory members told us that they were reformed characters when they took their seats here, but they were never very convincing. Now, they try to rubbish the Holyrood Parliament building project.

The decision to establish the Parliament was taken by a majority of three to one in the 1997 referendum. As Secretary of State for Scotland, before he became our first First Minister, Donald Dewar considered alternative sites and set up the competition to select an architect to design the new Parliament building. That led to the choice of the Holyrood site and of Enric Miralles's design concept. I appreciate that opinions differ about the site and the architect. Mike Russell repeated that today. However, there is nothing to be gained from endless girning and griping by politicians, pundits or even architects about those decisions.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

No, I am short of time.

Scots in general—and Edinburgh people in particular—have an unfortunate habit of talking down their own successes. After 300 years we have at last achieved our Scottish Parliament. We commissioned one of the best architects in Europe to develop a magnificent new Parliament building that is generating hundreds of new jobs and adding to Edinburgh's prestige as a capital city and as a tourist attraction. In any other city on the face of the earth that would be a cause for celebration. Here in Edinburgh, David McLetchie, Margo MacDonald and the Evening News condemn the whole enterprise as a scandal, a conspiracy and a disgrace. I hate to spoil a good moan, but the Holyrood project is very good news for Edinburgh and for the whole of Scotland.

David McLetchie's motion refers to the £195 million figure in the resolution that was passed by the Parliament on 5 April 2000.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

Definitely not, Dorothy.

The Holyrood progress group is determined to achieve good value for money, but we must also live in the real world—a point that Michael Russell acknowledged. In the real world, major construction projects include unpredictable factors such as Historic Scotland and cost inflation in the building industry. We should welcome the fact that most tender packages have come in at or below cost plan. However, one very big package—for the east frame, which includes the main debating chamber of the Parliament—has run £4.5 million over cost plan. Obviously, we are taking that very seriously indeed.

I have not time to depress members with Historic Scotland's eccentric stipulations about the restoration of Queensberry House, but I must say a word about the market environment in the construction industry in this part of Scotland. Building cost inflation is running at over 10 per cent. Contractors can afford to pick and choose which jobs they tender for. There is some evidence that some contractors may have shied away from the noisy, negative publicity that has surrounded Holyrood—we have had some more of that today. Malicious talk costs money. The fact is that this internationally important building will bring great credit to the contractors who build it and I hope that we will see some competition for the remaining construction, engineering and finishing packages.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am sorry, but I have not time.

The Holyrood progress group constantly strives to contain costs. We have authorised savings worth £2.5 million in recent months and we are determined to achieve value for money. David McLetchie's motion could compel us to offset inflation by cutting the specification of the building, either by reducing provision for the public and for people who work in the Parliament, or by leaving out quality materials such as Aberdeenshire granite or Scottish oak, or by making short-term savings that would lead to greater costs in the long run. After 300 years without a Parliament, we would be mad not to make a wise, long-term investment in the new Scottish Parliament building to serve our new democracy into the next century and beyond.

Like you, Presiding Officer, I have spent most of my career in the House of Commons, which is part of the new Palace of Westminster that was constructed 150 years ago. I note that The Times of 18 June 1849 criticised the fact that that project ran 350 per cent over budget and called for substantial savings. Thank God that Mr McLetchie's pound-saving predecessors did not get their way in 1849. If they had, the world would have had to do without Big Ben or some of the other magnificent features of the United Kingdom's Parliament building.

I appreciate that it may be difficult for the Tory party to get anything into perspective nowadays, but I will put it this way: the Holyrood building will be a one-off, once-in-a-century cost of about £40 for every man, woman and child in Scotland. That is the sort of money that I spent at my local garden centre last weekend. It is the sort of price that most of our constituents regularly spend on a night out. For the benefit of David McLetchie, it is equivalent to the cost of two tickets for Scottish premier league games at Tynecastle—which must make Holyrood seem an absolutely excellent investment, not least because it is quite near to Easter Road.

I acknowledge the constructive approach that the nationalist Opposition has taken in today's debate, but I must advise Mike Russell that the Holyrood project must remain the responsibility of the whole Parliament, not of the Executive. That is why I respond to the debate in my capacity as convener of the Holyrood progress group. I pay tribute to Linda Fabiani and Jamie Stone, as well as to our professional colleagues on the group. I also pay tribute to Lewis Macdonald, who was my predecessor as convener. It is a pity that the Conservatives have decided to boycott the group, but that is their problem.

The Holyrood progress group will continue to make regular reports to the corporate body and to the Parliament. We are determined to get this important project completed to the highest possible quality standards, on time, and with the best value for money.

I urge the Parliament to reject the Tory party motion out of hand and I move amendment S1M-1918.1, to leave out from "and now" to end and insert:

"and notes the good progress of the construction of the Holyrood Parliament Building; welcomes the fact that most of the tender packages have come in at prices in line with the cost estimates but recognises the effect of an above-average inflation rate in the construction industry in the Edinburgh area; further notes the identification of possible savings by the Holyrood Progress Group, which has led to unanimous decisions by both the Progress Group and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to authorise savings of £2.5 million, but endorses their firm commitment not to compromise the quality of Scotland's new Parliament Building; acknowledges the rigorous work of the Project Team and the Holyrood Progress Group to achieve good value for money, and directs them to continue to work towards the completion of the construction of the building in December 2002 as an internationally recognised home for our new democracy which will be a source of pride for people throughout Scotland."

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 11:35, 10 May 2001

This is the third non-debate that we have had on the subject. In the two previous debates, it was quite clear that the vast majority of members voted one way or the other out of loyalty or opposition to Mr Dewar. The merits of the case simply did not enter into the heads of most members. That is beyond dispute and is demonstrated by Mike Watson in his excellent book.

Today, we are again having a non-debate. The Conservative motion is premature and foolish and we have just heard from the convener of the group that is meant to be organising the new Parliament building. As I understand it, there will be a shoot-out at the OK Corral—or whatever the right metaphor is—some time in the next month or two. Options will be presented to the Parliament about costs and what we will get for the money and we will then make a decision. We were not promised that by Mr Home Robertson, which I found deeply disappointing, but I understand that that will happen.

It is worrying that, throughout the whole history of this thing, Parliament has been deceived—quite honestly. Go back further. I spent yesterday clearing out my office at Westminster and brought home a lot of old press cuttings. Many of them relate to the project's earlier stages, when it started to go wrong, which was long before the Parliament was set up. The deceit in the answers that were given at that time—I complained officially but was told that there was no deceit—is now absolutely apparent.

The successive figures for the costs that were given during the two previous Parliamentary debates were simply stitched together to ensure that Margo MacDonald and I lost the vote. They had no credibility. I am not sure whether I am allowed to say it, but, frankly, we were lied to—not by individuals, but certainly by the establishment. We were seriously misled on the costs.

Did anyone who gave the matter two minutes' thought reckon that £195 million was in any way a realistic figure? It was not. It was highly optimistic and it was based on crossed fingers and wish-fulfilment. As for the figures before that, one cannot get a public lavatory for £10 million, let alone a Parliament. The £50 million figure was absolutely absurd. The plans that were put out were—to use the favourite Labour phrase—for a bog-standard Parliament building on an alleged site in Leith. Throughout the history of the project, we have consistently been deceived about the figures.

I do not blame the people who are currently grappling with the problem. I differ from the critics in the Tory party, because I think that those people are honest and are genuinely doing their best. However, they are at the mercy of the information that they are given. One gets all sorts of information from other sources, and in my view the official sources of information consistently mislead the members who are trying to put things right. When the facts come out—which must happen sooner or later—if we have been consistently lied to, some people will be in severe trouble.

The Parliament now has a problem. Our ball is in a very deep bunker because of past errors. We cannot get out of that by imposing a £195 million cap. It takes me back to the time when, 20-odd years ago, the Conservative's budget for the City of Edinburgh District Council would have left the council with half a lift.

That is what will happen if we have such arbitrary figures. We will be unable to roof the building, or we will enter it and there will be no desks. An absurd figure in the past was a big mistake, but to hitch a new policy to that figure is even more absurd. We must consider the options and work out what the costs will be.

Mike Russell's amendment tries to be sensible, and, therefore, I will support it. In all honesty, I find Mr John Home Robertson's amendment remarkably complacent.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 11:40, 10 May 2001

It is appropriate that we debate the spending commitment to the Holyrood project because, although—as David Black has made clear—the responsibility for the choice of Holyrood rests with another place, this Parliament is now responsible for the completion of Holyrood.

Holyrood is often described as Scotland's dome, but that is wholly unacceptable—London's dome was a mere financial hiccup compared with the appalling scandal of what has happened here in Edinburgh. As I have often remarked, the story of Holyrood is even worse than that of Sydney Opera House—another conceptual architectural design whose costs escalated well beyond the financial boundaries. At least our Aussie friends have the satisfaction of having the 10th wonder of the world.

The dome was a UK project on behalf of 60 million people, which was funded by voluntary lottery contributions and corporate sponsorship. Labour's Holyrood heresy is a Scottish project on behalf of 5 million people, which is being funded by taxpayers. The cost of the dome rose from £9.66 per person throughout Britain to £12.63 per person; the cost of Holyrood has risen from £8 per Scottish person to £39 per person. While the cost of the dome rose by some 30 per cent, from £580 million to £758 million, the cost of Holyrood rose from an initial £10 million to £20 million, to £40 million and then from £40 million to £195 million. We all know that the cost will continue to grow to anything between £250 million and £300 million. Those are conservative figures—

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Members may misinterpret the meaning of the word conservative. If they look at the Scottish Office documents, they will see that the conservative figures were £10 million, £20 million, £40 million and £195 million. Those are the figures the public understand.

If we compare the original estimate with the worst possible outcome, we would have an overspend of 2,900 per cent. An equivalent overspend on the dome would have meant that the dome cost £17.5 billion. This project is not the dome; it is a Holyrood disaster of our own making.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I appreciate the passion with which Mr Monteith argues about conservative figures, but will he answer a simple question? From what we have heard Mr Home Robertson say, it is possible that, at the end of the day, it will not be possible to cut the figures to £195 million without leaving the roof off or something. In those circumstances, what would we do?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

It is quite clear what we would do: we would put a ceiling on £195 million. [ Laughter. ] There would be no difficulty in reining back the expenditure—if one takes the trouble to look at the designs and the architecture, one can see that that can be achieved. Difficulties with costs are strongly associated with the site. The Parliament did not choose the site, despite the fact that it would have been possible to wait until members were assembled before launching this great folly. We could have met in the Royal High School or gathered here before deciding which site was most appropriate. I have never believed that the Royal High School could have become the Parliament building—its supporting facilities were inadequate—but it would have been sufficient as a stopgap and, eventually, as part of a wider campus.

We could have considered doing Edinburgh a favour by knocking down the St James Centre. We could have taken the Greenside Place plot. There were Haymarket, Leith and—my personal choice—Donaldson's College for the Deaf. It was not to be. As a result of the Labour Government's haste and the aversion of the likes of Tony Blair, Brian Wilson and Donald Dewar to using the Royal High, we were left with only the Holyrood option.

Why it was ever thought that the Royal High was a nationalist shibboleth defeats me. The Royal High produced sons of Scotland who went on to build the British empire. Its foundations were laid following the Scottish enlightenment, which was itself born out of the union. A wee vigil outside its sad gates was not a nationalist demo; it was a non-party, all-party manifestation that haunted Labour, guilty from its failure to deliver devolution in 1979. This new devolution thingie had to be presented as something different, something modern, something new Labour. We are now faced not only with an appalling growth in costs from £40 million to £195 million, but with a debate on whether Parliament should breach that limit.

Did we ever expect the disgrace of a Parliament budget to escalate so much? The Conservatives voted against it; some voted for it. If the motion fails today it will be because Labour MSPs will not vote against the project before or during a general election. Their views will begin to change after that day.

Where is the new politics of Scotland now? Where is the moral high ground now? I will tell members: it is in opposing the growth of this monument to the vanity of the Scottish political establishment.

I support the Conservative motion.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 11:46, 10 May 2001

Given the limited number of opportunities for the Opposition to initiate debates, I find it quite extraordinary that the Conservatives have chosen to debate this topic at this time. On reflection, there could be three reasons for the motion. First, I suppose, the Conservatives had to search for a topic on which they are reasonably united—not an easy task. Secondly, they had to search for a topic on which they take a similar line to the UK Tory party or, as in this case, in which the UK Tory party probably has no interest. Thirdly, the party has to be allowed to plough its own line without too much embarrassment and it will want to score some election points.

I congratulate David Davidson on his interim report to the Finance Committee—at least he is prepared to get involved. The interim report is sober, rational and well balanced. It shows where the project team and the progress group are succeeding, where there are problems, where the outcomes are known and where there are still difficulties. I hope that David Davidson does not support his party's ludicrous motion. It is safe for David McLetchie to lodge the motion—no one will be interested in it south of the border. Brian Monteith made a ridiculous comparison to the dome—the Scots have greater confidence in their future than that.

What about the cost? Well, £195 million is the cost at 1999 prices—Mike Russell acknowledged that. There is the cost of construction inflation.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

No.

The success of the economy and the construction boom in Edinburgh—one has only to look around to see that all the holes in the earth are being filled up—mean that the construction costs will be much greater than the amount allowed for them in the original budget. I hope that we will hear from the progress group about that.

I congratulate the team on the savings that it has achieved without detriment to the design and the building's appearance. Brian Monteith suggests that the solution to our problems is to stop at the ceiling and leave the roof off—that is where the Tories stand on the matter. They have not come up with one serious suggestion about what we should do. We have committed £90 million in costs already—do we leave the site as a sort of folly?

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

No.

I congratulate the team on bringing in the first £50 million of tenders at the predicted cost and on ensuring that Scottish materials, such as Kemnay granite, Caithness slab and Scottish oak, are used. The building has to be a showpiece for Scotland.

I raise a note of caution in relation to Historic Scotland, which John Home Robertson alluded to.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

I do not have much time.

Queensberry House was not such a unique building that it should have been retained. Its state of disrepair when discovered makes it clear that it should have been demolished and replaced by a replica. I am concerned, if the rumours are correct, that there are some serious problems.

I gather that the stump of a tower has been discovered and that Historic Scotland is insisting that it be restored. I gather that it has been discovered that the roof was raised some 200 years ago to make the top floor of greater use and that now, according to Historic Scotland, it must be lowered at great cost and with loss of space. I understand also that Historic Scotland wants the building to be finished with limewash, which went out 150 years ago because the maintenance costs were too high. If those three rumours are correct, Historic Scotland is really hysteric Scotland and should, as a quango, be brought under greater control. I encourage the progress group to take seriously those utter stupidities and to go against Historic Scotland. Let us control costs where we can.

Brian Monteith referred to Sydney Opera House. The same carping by Opposition politicians nearly destroyed the construction of Sydney Opera House. The subsequent costs of refurbishing it are such that they outweigh the original costs of the building, because the politicians cut, curtailed and ate into the internal design. Only now have they apologised to the architect for fiddling around with his original design.

We are creating something that Scotland can be proud of. The Tories should stop carping, come on board and help us to control the costs and to create something of which Scotland can be proud.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 11:51, 10 May 2001

I thank the Tories for putting this motion on the agenda before the general election. If they had not done so, we would have had to wait until the election was out the road before we heard the true cost and state of progress of the building. We owe them that debt of gratitude.

I came here today—even though it is the third time round—in the expectation that a bit more truth would out. After hearing John Home Robertson, I am sadly disappointed. I have heard what are now shibboleths repeated by Richard Simpson, a man whom I respect, who says that Queensberry House should be knocked down—that was the clear implication. It was vandalised after the project started. We should not allow such things to go unrecorded and unreported.

I used to believe that the Parliament had been misled inadvertently. Having heard John Home Robertson, I believe that it is no longer inadvertent; I believe that systematic deception is being practised on this Parliament by the people associated with the project team and I am prepared to back up that claim if anyone asks me to. If I am wrong, let those concerned come to the Parliament today with the true costs to which they are now working. I do not believe that they do not have a bottom-line figure.

I want to know whether it is true that we now expect to pay £15 million for landscaping. If we are, where will the extra £4 million come from? It will have to come from the health, education or local authority budget. We have a duty and a right—on behalf of the people who sent us here and who believed that we were going to spend £195 million on the building—to find out how much more is to be spent.

Let me say to anyone who is interested in the facts that I have never, ever carped about the cost of the building; people can go through the records and will see that. What I have carped about are the aesthetics and the siting of the building and whether it represents value for money. The same is true today, which is why I will not support the Conservatives' motion, although I thank them for bringing it to the Parliament.

The rubicon of £195 million has been passed; we cannot now go back on that. I may be the only person in the chamber who believes that the project need not become a hole in the ground. Michael Russell mentioned that and it is true that there is a history of that happening in Edinburgh. However, the same council that was responsible for such projects is now looking for a new place to roost. Perhaps the City of Edinburgh Council should try Holyrood; Eric Milligan said it was a great site. There are a number of uses to which the site could be put and many millions of pounds could be recouped from the sale of the MSP block, such as it now is.

A number of architects do not concede that we must go forward as planned rather than take another route. However, I accept that I have probably lost that proposition, so there are two things we must get straight today on behalf of the people who have sent us here: how much will the project now cost and does that represent value for money? When will we be told?

We must also establish the principle—perhaps the most important principle of all—that, if the Parliament votes for an amount of money to be spent on its behalf by a minister of the Parliament or a group appointed by the Parliament, that minister or group must come back to the Parliament, if they go above the budget, to explain why they have done so and to seek permission to go ahead. That is what the SNP amendment seeks to establish. I am thankful to see Labour members who agree with what I have just said. Members should support the amendment.

I accept that we are never going to agree on the aesthetics of the building. As far as I am concerned, it will ruin a very beautiful part of Edinburgh. We are never, ever going to hear the admission we should hear that misleading information was given to Parliament about the exact state of Enric Miralles's health. I do not expect ever to have an apology from where I ought to have one, to say that I was right in saying that the poor man would be unable to see his concept fulfilled and that anything following that would be a hotch-potch job.

It is nonsense to say that we have gone down the same route as the politicians in Australia who objected to Sydney Opera House. Sensible people realised that the architect was a signature architect who had been chosen for his vision and that, when he was no longer there to see the project through, that vision should perhaps be reassessed in the light of reality. We were misled.

As this is probably the last chance that I will have to say this, I urge the Parliament, please, to do away with the lies, to do away with the people who have given misleading information to the chamber and to demand to know what the budget now is.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 11:56, 10 May 2001

I begin by reminding Brian Monteith and Michael Russell that today's debate is not David Black's book launch. We are discussing the future of the Scottish Parliament building. I wonder whether Michael Russell has declared his complimentary copy of David Black's book, which he is promoting today, in the register of members' interests.

I want to promote the report of the Auditor General for Scotland, which is an independent report and is not based on promotional or personal interests. It sets out a number of reasons for the way in which the Parliament's costs increased. Page 22 of the report states that one of the reasons for the increase in expenditure was the client's requirement for additional office space. The corporate body raised the issue of all the political parties requesting more space in the building.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Paul Martin is repeating the same deception that Gordon Jackson tried to use in the previous debate. The Conservative party asked for space for one more member, because we had one more member elected—the Labour party has one member fewer. That is the truth.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

It would be helpful if we could clarify that. Perhaps the corporate body could bring its minutes before the Parliament to clarify that point.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I am afraid that I do not have time to hear an intervention. I would like to continue.

The Parliament is about serving the needs of the Scottish people and I will focus on access for the disabled. Ashcraig Secondary School for children with special needs and severe disabilities is in my constituency. I am appalled by the difficulties that the children experience in trying to access the Parliament. If it were not for the security staff, the children would not have the opportunity to be introduced to their local member of the Scottish Parliament and they would not be able to access the chamber. I want a new Scottish Parliament that will be accessible to those children, who take time out of their curriculum to access the Parliament. I am assured by the chief executive, Paul Grice, that the new Parliament will serve the needs of the visually impaired, the hearing impaired and all sections of the community. It is important that we deal with that point.

We must put into perspective the fact that new buildings and capital projects such as this one will always be complicated. John Young and Bill Butler will remember the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, which cost us £30 million and went well over its original budget. Following the concert hall's completion, a Tory conference was held there, despite John Young's opposition to its construction, and many other events have been held there. I do not hear people raising concerns now about the increased costs of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. It is part of our heritage in Glasgow and Glaswegians are proud of it.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I appreciate that members from outside Edinburgh might not be familiar with the number of newer buildings in Edinburgh and how much they have cost. The Scottish Widows building, which has a complicated IT system and is a sophisticated building, cost £60 million. A great number of people have questioned whether what we are about to construct represents value for money.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

This is the new Scottish Parliament: it is a Parliament that will be recognised worldwide. It is not an insurance building; it is our heritage. Future generations will look towards the Parliament as their future.

We must be ambitious; we do not want the Poundstretcher Parliament that David McLetchie has suggested. We do not want a cheap and nasty version that will be the laughing stock of the world.

Some members have allowed their personal aspirations regarding where the Parliament should be located to get in the way. Personally, I would like us to consider Springburn Public Halls, in my constituency, but I appreciate that the whole of Scotland must take the decision. We should get away from parochial issues.

We should reflect on many aspects. We should see that the Holyrood project is creating a good building. I hope that we will portray our ambition for Scotland in the new Scottish Parliament building.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 12:01, 10 May 2001

Notwithstanding the SNP's reservations about the project, which have been so eloquently expressed by my colleagues, we should not forget that the building will be not just a working environment for politicians, but should be an internationally recognised symbol of our new democracy and a source of pride for all the people of Scotland.

I suggest that that could be achieved, to a large extent, by ensuring that the building becomes a showcase for the very best of Scottish materials, Scottish design and Scottish craftsmanship. I welcome the use of Scottish oak and Kemnay granite. I hope that we can go further.

We have not even begun to have the debate about an arts strategy for the building, because we are still tied up in discussion about revised costs, completion dates and the like. I understand that a consultant will be appointed soon to advise on the best use of public spaces in the Parliament and to suggest appropriate pieces of artwork.

My regret is that no budget is currently assigned to that, which might mean that all the artwork in the Parliament will have to be gifted or loaned. Disappointingly, there would then be no opportunity to commission pieces from the vast number of talented artists and craftsmen in Scotland.

Contrast that with the Flemish Parliament, which houses the largest collection of Flemish art, or the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which gives opportunities, on a rotating basis, to each member state to make use of the vast public space to exhibit the best of their talents. We want such opportunities for the Scottish Parliament and I urge the project group to consider making them available.

Many of us will know that artists throughout Scotland have been enthused by the new Parliament and have suggested many varied and imaginative exhibits: from murals to political cartoons to tributes to our late First Minister.

The languages of Scotland also need their rightful place in the building. There should be Scots and Gaelic signage, plaques, poems and whatever would enhance our new Parliament.

The building and its costs currently dominate the discussion. It is right that those issues should be addressed and that the costs should be brought under control. The SNP amendment states that that should be done by enhancing parliamentary accountability for the project.

I suggest that making outstanding examples of Scottish design and talent an integral feature of our new Parliament would have a lasting impact on the people of Scotland and our many visitors. That would give a clear message about our heritage, our identity and our future. We must find ways of making that happen.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 12:04, 10 May 2001

I take the opportunity to say that Irene McGugan's speech was excellent. I agree with most of what she said.

The Holyrood project has been used as a political football from the start and it is about time that that stopped. We all have responsibility for the outcome. It is nonsense to think that we will not all be judged on the final outcome.

As Paul Martin pointed out, future generations will not thank us if we get this wrong. It is nonsense to say that the blame for the situation lies with the coalition Government; all of us will be held responsible and just because they have remained outwith the Holyrood progress group, the Tories will not escape criticism.

A mediocre or temporary home for a Parliament would assist the political outlook of some parties, and—as John Home Robertson mentioned—would serve to undermine the devolution settlement. Unlike David McLetchie, I have been committed to devolution since I was a member of the campaign for a Scottish Parliament. I am not ashamed to say that I want the project to be completed. I want a proper, well-designed and accessible Parliament building that is fit for purpose and that allows ordinary Scots to feel part of the first Scottish Parliament in 300 years.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

No.

There are many legitimate concerns about what has happened to the project in the past two years and there are certain issues that the Parliament rightly demands should be discussed as a matter of democracy and which are not for anyone else to decide. To that extent, I do not disagree, largely, with Margo MacDonald's speech. Labour members were nodding in agreement because we believe that any justified case for lifting the ceiling of £195 million will be brought before Parliament for MSPs to decide.

It does not help to keep looking back with hindsight at the history of the project; at some point, we have to move on. I support the call in Mike Russell's amendment for the Tories to return to the Holyrood progress group and to be part of the project once and for all. We should not allow the Tories to play games with the future of our legislature.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

No.

Mike Russell talks as though we have lost the opportunity to make a great Parliament building. I do not believe that. Indeed, I am not clear about what Mr Russell meant in response to David McLetchie. Is he saying that there is no absolute upper ceiling of £195 million? Perhaps he might want to return to that point.

Although it is only correct for the Parliament to make its views known on the project costs, it is for the SPCB and the Holyrood progress group to make the case. If there is a justified case for a reasonable increase in the budget, we should not dismiss it out of hand.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

No—I do not really have time.

Our job is to ensure that we move out of this temporary home as soon as possible. As Irene McGugan pointed out, we have promised the Scottish people a Parliament with the space to incorporate their needs; we are talking not just about our needs. The current accommodation militates against the democratic process. The lack of committed facilities to allow ordinary people to walk in and see their MSP hinders democracy—I am sure that members of the public, too, have that perception.

Are David McLetchie and others saying that, no matter what, they will not agree to an increase in the £195 million? Are they saying that they will not agree to that increase, even if that means no crèche facility, a smaller public gallery and fewer committee rooms than necessary?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Is the member asking for a blank cheque?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

No one is asking for a blank cheque, but we are asking the Conservatives to think sensibly for once and to be part of the project.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The Tory motion is irresponsible. I honestly believe that the party is out of touch with the public, who want us to oversee a Scottish Parliament fit for the 21 st century. The tables have turned. The members of the public I have spoken to want us to get things right and if we can justify the cost, I know that they will back us.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 12:09, 10 May 2001

I support the amendment in the name of the convener of the Holyrood progress group. Like Richard Simpson, I will begin by supporting the crucial and important work of Linda Fabiani, Jamie Stone and John Home Robertson on this issue. As Pauline McNeill pointed out, the Conservatives should support and take part in that work.

Although last April's motion was less than perfect, the fact is—as the business pages and the Evening News constantly report and as everyone except David McLetchie can accept—that the building trade in Edinburgh is buoyant. There is a Holyrood factor, which has a bearing on tender prices. However, those are points for another day.

Donald Gorrie rightly said that, if the budget requirement is greater than the figure that is stated in the motion, the matter should return to the Parliament. Other members have echoed that suggestion, and that is what should happen at the appropriate time.

There is a different motive for the Conservative's motion, which was not hard to find. On Radio Scotland this morning, Brian Monteith—who has left the chamber—said that this is a general election issue. That sums up the Tory approach to the issue. David McLetchie confirmed that it is not just the building that the Tories oppose, but the philosophical principle behind it. They are against devolution—they always have been—and the Parliament is a manifestation of that, which they take every opportunity to run down. The principle that they would follow—in effect, to leave the roof off—illustrates how they would demean, demean and demean again not just the Holyrood project, but devolution itself.

I imagine that there are moderate, sensible Tory MSPs who would support the project if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the member take an intervention from a moderate, sensible nationalist?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

In two seconds.

However, those members will not be given that opportunity because, as Brian Monteith confirmed, this is a general election issue. The Holyrood progress group has saved money without compromising quality—that was the purpose of the group—but the Tories cannot claim one cost saving. Their petulant and destructive determination to avoid the Holyrood progress group has been predictable. Members will notice that a Tory member, John Young, is a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and receives monthly reports from the Holyrood progress group. The Tories want access to information without responsibility, so that they can engage in sheer, unadulterated political opportunism.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

My question is about responsibility. The Minister for Finance and Local Government may discover that more will have to be paid for the frame for the east wing of the Parliament building—I think that that is what John Home Robertson called it—and that the money for that will have to come from the education budget or the teacher training budget. Should not the Minister for Finance and Local Government therefore be part of the decision-making body that decides the Parliament's priorities? That is what the Tories are trying to establish.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I have every faith that, if the necessity arises, the Holyrood progress group will produce a report for Parliament, via the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, and explain how such matters will be dealt with. That is the way in which Parliament should handle such issues.

As Mike Russell rightly stated, the project has gone too far for it to stop completely. On the radio this morning, John Spencely said that the budget in the brief that was published in June was achievable. It is important to remember that that brief was not confirmed until June. Much has been made of David Black's book, but, as Mr Spencely observed, Mr Black has become very excited by the opportunity to sell it.

Once again, the Parliament has heard nothing constructive from the Tories, just a general election rant—which they need, as they are desperate. Are the Tories seriously saying that the project should be abandoned if unforeseen costs mean that the budget will exceed £195 million? Yes, that is what we heard today. Did they propose closing the millennium dome that they initiated when they were in office? Yes, but only when they were out of office. Was it not the Tories, when they were in office at Westminster, who allowed the building of Portcullis House—the most expensive office space, per square foot, in the UK? Did they ask to put a minister on the parliamentary authorities that were dealing with that building? I do not recollect that.

All that the Tories do is lodge parliamentary questions. This is gesture politics from David McLetchie. There is no Tory member on the Holyrood progress group, and a Tory MSP abdicated responsibility despite being on the corporate body. Even by Tory standards, this is cheap, facile gesture politics at its worst, and the Parliament should have nothing to do with it. We should support a Parliament building for Scotland.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 12:14, 10 May 2001

What a miserable debate, with everyone carping and whingeing about money. I regard that as a disgrace to this Parliament. People from all over Scotland are saying to us, "Get on with it and do it well." The situation is as simple as that.

In The Herald today, Ruth Wishart said that some of those who are involved with the Holyrood progress group have

"huge enthusiasm bordering on real passion for the project".

Perhaps she was talking about me. Each Wednesday, when the Holyrood progress group meets, I take great pleasure in seeing how the project is coming on. To the critics, however, I say that I take my responsibilities seriously. I also resent the accusation that I am a big enough mug to be lied to, misled and deceived. That is a straightforward insult to our hardworking team and it should be withdrawn immediately.

One thing needs to be said loud and clear: I am damned if I will compromise on quality. There will be no rubbishy jerry-building coming from my direction, although that is what David McLetchie and his cowboy outfit on the Opposition benches want. "To be sure, Mr Holyrood Progress Group, we can do it on the cheap"—I can say that in an Irish accent without offending anyone, because I am quarter Irish.

We can be like something out of "Fawlty Towers" and take the Monteith option of having a fresh-air roof, but if we build the Parliament on the cheap, all the walls will fall in at some stage.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

No, I will not.

I will give two examples of precisely the kind of thing that we should not be doing. Members of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will well know what I am on about. One of the money-saving proposals was that we should do away with the solid concrete vaulting in the public foyer of the Parliament and replace it with some sort of cheap alternative using plaster on chicken wire. We considered that seriously, but everyone knows that if David Steel was to lean against a wall that had been built in that way, he would fall through it. That is not the sort of saving that we are going for.

Another suggestion was that we have some kind of prop to support the building that juts out on to the Canongate. That is the kind of saving that David McLetchie wants—a scaffolding structure to hold up the walls of the Parliament. We will not cut corners for the sake of the silly cash limit that the Tories are on about.

People, MSPs and—dare I say it—Governments come and go, but buildings are here for far longer. As John Ruskin put it:

"when we build, let us think that we build forever".

I never thought that the strange life of being a back-bench MSP would lead me to become involved in anything as fulfilling as the Holyrood project. Unlike those who seek to play a negative role, I shall take great pride in taking my children and my grandchildren—if I am spared, as we say in the Highlands—to the building and saying to them that I am proud to have played a small part in the project. The Tories' motion is an electioneering stunt and, like so many of their stunts, it is sadly misguided. Like their stance on asylum seekers and Europe, it is, to coin a phrase, so much tosh.

The Scottish people are in favour of the Parliament and want the best for it. Once again, our Conservative friends have misjudged the mood of the country. As has been pointed out, were it not for the Scottish Parliament, David McLetchie would still be doing a bit of conveyancing down the bottom of the Corstorphine Road. He owes everything to the establishment of this Parliament; without it, he would not exist.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

It is. I think that I am correct in saying that it is not in keeping with the standards of the Parliament, or with the standing orders, for one member's probity to be questioned by another during a debate.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

We have heard a lot about lies and deception, so I will ignore that remark.

Let us keep our eyes on the horizon and raise ourselves above this squalid little debate. Let us see our way to finishing our wonderful new Parliament building.

Recently, somebody went to Enric Miralles's grave in the Igualada cemetery in Barcelona, which he also designed. They found a note on the grave, which read:

"Your building for the Scottish Parliament is growing beautifully. Thank you for your gift".

The note was signed, "Edinburgh students".

The Conservatives have got this one wrong. They are not in keeping with the mood of the Scottish people. I ask them to support the amendment in the name of John Home Robertson.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 12:19, 10 May 2001

I find myself in a strange position today. I am speaking on behalf of my party's amendment, but I also have a certain sympathy with the amendment in the name of John Home Robertson. I have listened carefully to what has been said and have agreed with points on both sides of the argument. I will not reiterate the history of the situation, but I have to say that I also sympathise with the Tory stance on the incompetence and the element of deception at the start of the project to build our new Parliament. I certainly make no apologies for the Scottish Executive or for Westminster in that regard, and I feel that it was a bit disingenuous to pass on all the responsibility to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

Having said that, I also feel strongly that we now have a job to get on with. As Mike Russell said, the Holyrood progress group was established in response to the need to crisis-manage a project that had been badly handled, in political terms, from the beginning. If we had done what the SNP sought to do a year ago and stopped for a period of consolidation, I believe strongly that that would have strengthened the project and saved a lot of what has gone on since then.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I want to ask about three lines in the SNP amendment. It says:

"asks the Scottish Executive to"—

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Excuse me—I will come to the SNP amendment a bit later, if Mike Rumbles does not mind.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Well, all right. I will vote against the amendment in that case; I was thinking of voting for it.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

How childish—but that is what I would expect from Mike Rumbles.

When my party agreed that, despite what had happened during discussion of the project, the important thing for Scotland was to move ahead and get a building worthy of Scotland, I had a certain motivation for accepting a place on the Holyrood progress group. The project has been referred to as the best of a bad job, but my first motivation for accepting the position was that I loved the design of the building. I said that right at the beginning. Even when I agreed—almost two years ago—that we should stop and look again at the whole project, I stated that I loved the design. I still love the design of the building, and believe strongly that design integrity has been maintained. Despite the farce and controversy that has shrouded the project from the beginning—courtesy of, among others, Westminster, the Executive and the Conservative party—I still believe that the uniqueness of the design shines through, and that it must be protected. I feel privileged to be part of the group that has been charged by the Parliament with protecting the integrity of the design and moving forward with the project.

Another reason for my wanting to join the group was that I have some experience of the construction business—albeit on a much smaller scale—and I felt that that would be usefully brought to bear in monitoring the project.

Above all, it is my fundamental belief that honesty, openness and accountability are aims that every one of us who is privileged to be elected to this Parliament should aspire to and uphold in every single project with which we are involved. I am involved with this one.

I thank David McLetchie for saying that he thinks I am an honest person. I am not sure where he got his quotation from—

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The Mail on Sunday in Scotland , on 22 April.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Was it? Yet another misquote—that happens all the time about the Parliament building project.

I assure everybody in the chamber that I am honest and that I believe that, in this project, we must be transparent and honest. There is no doubt that the progress group's full intention was to report to the Parliament if and when we believed that the cost was likely to go over £195 million. Note what I have just said: "if and when we believed that the cost was likely to go over £195 million". The cost has not broken that barrier yet. We are flagging up the fact that we think it is likely to do so. We are doing what is set out in our remit and approaching the corporate body. We fully expect the corporate body then to report to Parliament.

I have never been naive about my position on the progress group. There have been accusations that we just sit there, listen to what we are told, swallow everything that we hear and then report. As well as being very honest, I am not daft, and I know when I am getting fed lines. I will not pretend that I sat down with the civil servants, immediately struck up a rapport with them and believed everything that they told me. I did not. In the beginning, it was fairly difficult to strike a balance between what Parliament and Executive staff thought that we should know and what we felt that we had to know. We have now achieved that balance and the group is working very well.

There appears to be some naivety in the chamber. There are members who think that one can deliver everything, for everybody, all the time. That is impossible. Part of Scotland's growing up through the Parliament lies in recognising that fact and dealing with it. We do so by determining our priorities and deciding what is sustainable and which of all the competing demands is worth fighting to deliver.

It is easy to stand apart from something. It is easy to carp and criticise from a base of limited knowledge and the odd piece of leaked information. All politicians are good at doing that—some are better than others.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I do not pretend for one minute that the politicians on the progress group are running the contract. We are monitoring it. That is very important.

With the Presiding Officer's indulgence, I will respond to what was said about the SNP amendment. The amendment mentions cost concerns, which we always wanted to be reported to the Parliament. It also calls for there to be a Tory member of the progress group; I ask the Conservatives to come on board and play their part—I can cope with that. Having a minister on the group may sound horrendous, but there should be accountability. I do not think that a minister should have a vote on the group, because it is a parliamentary body, but a minister should certainly attend in order to be able to report back and be accountable for what is being spent.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The Parliament will stand as a testament to Scotland. I want a brilliant Parliament building and I think that we will get one. I want it for the independent Scotland that this country will be.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 12:25, 10 May 2001

Today, the Executive has been conspicuous by its absence and, more significant, strangely silent. This has been a lively debate, from which two principles arise, each of which relates to the integrity of parliamentary democracy. The first principle is that people should be told the truth about the costs of building the new Parliament. Secondly, in an area where costs have escalated by leaps and bounds, extra costs should not arise without the full approval of Parliament.

In practice, there has been disinformation. Anybody who knows anything about construction suspected that, even if providing a parliament at a cost of £40 million or £50 million were theoretically possible, it was extremely unlikely on a site outside Leith, but that is what the people of Scotland were asked to believe. We now learn from David Black's book that the eventual cost of the Parliament could conceivably rise not just above £195 million, but to £300 million. Mike Russell described that as a farce and a tragedy. On any view, it is an extremely serious matter, because every time that there is extra capital expenditure on the Parliament, less money is available from the Scottish block for other capital projects, such as improvements to hospitals, extensions to schools, road building, and improvements to public sector houses below tolerable standard.

If the Scottish Executive is to govern in Scotland's best interests, its requirements for capital expenditure should be kept under strict control. That reasoning could also be applied in cutting down the army of special advisers and countless ministers.

I remind Tavish Scott, who seems to be unaware of the fact, that he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is no use for the Executive to try to wash its hands of the issue. I will press the minister on how much extra spending will be involved for road and transport improvements, such as traffic-calming measures, for landscaping, and for Queensberry House. As Margo MacDonald rightly said, the public have a right to know. We have a duty to find out the facts and to see whether they amount to value for money.

Holyrood will be remembered as one of the most glaring cases—if not the most glaring case—of public sector capital costs spiralling out of control, as David McLetchie and Brian Monteith have pointed out. Enough is enough. If a man or woman built a house, they would not allow the cost to escalate by more than five times. We should be no less careful with funds that could greatly benefit the Scots in other ways.

On page 1 of "All The First Minister's Men", David Black wrote that Holyrood even

"eclipses Sydney's notorious Opera House, and might yet turn out to be the building with the highest budget overrun in recorded history".

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Earlier in Lord James's speech, he made a point about the Executive's responsibility. Does he agree with his colleague, Ian Davidson—[MEMBERS: "Who?"]—who compiled the report that is available all members today, that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has responsibility for the project and is the contracting client? Does he agree with the report produced by Ian Davidson—[ Interruption. ] It appears that David Davidson—that Tory person who is sitting over there—produced the report.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

The Executive will provide the funds and therefore it has a duty to be involved in the project. The fact that not one member of the Executive was prepared to stand up and speak in this debate speaks for itself.

It is noteworthy that David Black, on page 105 of his book, refers to

"stitch-up politics, personal ambition and deceit."

Donald Gorrie said in his excellent speech this morning that Parliament has been deceived and that that deceit is now "absolutely apparent". Such obfuscation must cease.

The test that should be applied is that parliamentarians should have sufficient facilities to be of maximum service. Of course we want a good building that is worthy of Scotland, but surreptitious increases, without the knowledge and whole-hearted approval of Parliament, should not and must not take place. Such matters should be for democratic decision in the Parliament.

The Executive's competence is at stake and it is up to parliamentarians to press the Executive to keep the Parliament's capital costs under strict control. John Home Robertson's speech contained nothing that indicated that he would keep those developments under strict control. He mentioned the case of Big Ben, but I remind him that Big Ben was constructed at a time when Britain was arguably the most powerful country in the world. The circumstances today are not identical and it is no use for him to imagine that the circumstances of over 100 years ago could be replicated exactly.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I will not give way to John Home Robertson, because he refused to give way to Dorothy-Grace Elder and Brian Adam. However, I will give way to Jamie Stone.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

How terribly nice to see that very acceptable face of Scottish Conservatism. Does not Lord James realise that we have made savings over the past few months? In view of that fact, is he seriously accusing John Home Robertson and me of being irresponsible over the way in which we oversee the Holyrood project?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

My point is that there have been surreptitious increases and a spiralling of capital expenditure since the beginning of the project and its plans. Those increases must be brought under strict control. That would be in the best interests of the people of Scotland. Jamie Stone must appreciate that the project is taking funds away from other capital projects that could be of the utmost service to the people.

I believe that the electorate will see this issue as a litmus test of our good faith. I support the motion.