Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:35 pm on 1 November 2001.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:35, 1 November 2001

To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to discuss. (S1F-1331)

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

I last met the Prime Minister on 30 October in Cardiff and we have no immediate plans to meet.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Point 1 of the Scottish Executive's ministerial code of conduct says:

"Ministers are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct."

The First Minister indicates that he receives money from the sublet of his Scottish parliamentary office in Glenrothes to a firm of solicitors, Digby Brown, which is well known to have close connections with the Labour party. Will the First Minister explain his personal conduct in agreeing that arrangement? According to the Law Society of Scotland, the Digby Brown office in the First Minister's office has no phone number, no fax number, no e-mail address and—surprisingly, for a firm of lawyers—does not have a registered solicitor. Does it even exist?

In the light of that new information, will the First Minister make a personal statement to Parliament?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

Those are simply outrageous comments, which are made against a background of total ignorance of a company that is operating in the interests of my constituents in Glenrothes.

We have dealt at Westminster with the matter of the subletting of my office to the company involved. That was dealt with over the summer by the fees office and by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Mrs Filkin, and they have both closed the matter.

If John Swinney has any concerns about the operations of Digby Brown in Scotland I suggest that he take them up with it. In my constituency it provides a personal service to many union colleagues who are caught up in, for example, health and safety matters. As a consequence, it provides a full range of solicitor services. Those matters should be taken up.

It is a pity that John Swinney referred to the ministerial code of conduct, which I am holding. I would like him to take the time to go through points 1.1(a) to (i) to identify the particular part that he is talking about that relates to my behaviour over the past few months.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The First Minister says that the matter is closed. He said that last week and then appeared on television to discuss the issue. He gave an interview to the Daily Record on the same subject.

The First Minister seems to be talking about a strange arrangement in which a solicitor's office has no telephone number, no fax number, no e-mail address and no registered solicitor. Does that not make the case for the First Minister doing what one of the country's newspaper editorials said that he should do this morning—respond properly? Unless he does so,

"the rumours will continue to fly and undermine him."

Will he make a personal statement to the Parliament on the issue?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

I am happy to respond to the measured comments that John Swinney has made. You have made the point, Sir David, about opportunities for these matters to be discussed in the Parliament. I do not think that this is a matter about which to make a personal statement because, as in the House of Commons and as has been illustrated in the first two years of the Scottish Parliament, that is done only in an exceptional set of circumstances. Quite simply, I do not think that what has happened over the past three or four months satisfies that criterion. I have today written to my constituency secretary setting out the facts about my office in Glenrothes. That information will be available later.

I should also say that there are mechanisms within the Parliament to tackle my competency, my probity or my commitment to Scotland as First Minister. John Swinney, in a measured way, and David McLetchie, in a ranting way, have the opportunity to use the mechanisms of the Parliament to discuss issues about me and the Executive in relation to my first year as First Minister. I invite them to use their time to have a debate. I would be delighted to defend my record as First Minister. That would allow David McLetchie to stop grubbing around in the gutter and put the questions that he wants to put in the way that he wants to put them.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The First Minister is prepared to answer questions on this issue on the BBC, on Scottish Television and in the Daily Record and he is prepared to send the information to his constituency secretary, but he will not share it with the Parliament in a personal statement. Is it not time that, to ensure that he has the opportunity to brush aside any questions about his probity, integrity or commitment to Scotland, he uses the powers of the Parliament to make a personal statement to clear the air once and for all?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

We have been attempting to answer the questions for some time. [MEMBERS: "We?"]—When I said "we", I meant my party chairman, secretary and councillors in relation to the activities that certain people are currently involved in.

Suffice it to say that I feel calm and collected about this. I challenge John Swinney. If he is interested in the truth and facts, we have given out a great deal of those, but if he is interested in muck-raking, gutter politics and personal character assassination, he will not be satisfied. I tell John Swinney—and David McLetchie, prior to his coming in on this—to have a debate. They should pick the time on one of their supply days and we will be happy to defend our record in my first year as First Minister. I will not run away from answering questions. The Presiding Officer has made a ruling. Let me remind colleagues that if a personal statement is made, no questions can be asked. I am willing to go further than that. I am saying: put up or shut up—pick a debate and let us respond.

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

I should make it clear that all of Mr Swinney's questions were in order, because they were about the ministerial code of conduct.