Cabinet (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 David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:35, 1 November 2001

To ask the First Minister when the Scottish Executive's Cabinet will next meet and what issues will be discussed. (S1F-1330)

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

The Cabinet will next meet on 6 November, when it will discuss matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I thank the First Minister for another of the detailed and informative answers that have become his trademark.

I am sure that the Cabinet will want to discuss the First Minister's proposals—which he announced last Friday—to ensure, if I understood him correctly, that we get best value for every pound of taxpayers money that is spent in Scotland. How can the people of Scotland possibly have confidence that the Cabinet will deliver on that plan when it is to be overseen by a First Minister who cannot even fill in an expenses form properly and has persistently refused to tell us how his sums add up?

On the gauntlet that the First Minister threw down, if he wants to answer questions, a host of people in the media have been asking him questions for the best part of 10 days and he has stubbornly refused to answer a single one of them.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

Mr McLetchie's last comment was simply untrue. With the Presiding Officer's indulgence, I will deal with David McLetchie's role in this tawdry attack.

As First Minister, I remain proud of the fact that we are doing a lot of good work for the people of Scotland. On Monday, the Minister for Health and Community Care and I opened the new £100 million Wishaw general hospital. On Tuesday, I was in Cardiff with the Deputy First Minister to celebrate the first successful year of devolution. Yesterday, I welcomed to this country the vice-president of China, who will soon be one of the most important people on this planet. This morning, I met Mr Panagopulos, who is heading up the ferry company that will start a service from Rosyth. Tomorrow, in Glasgow, I will make the most significant announcement about housing that has ever been made in post-war Scotland.

While I am doing that, David McLetchie has been grubbing around the gutter in a way that I did not think a leader of the Conservative party would. However, I should end by saying that I do not associate the rest of the Conservative members with what he is doing. This is David McLetchie's blackest hour.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The First Minister should not kid himself; it is his blackest hour and, from the way he has conducted himself, everyone in the country knows that.

I shall outline the Henry McLeish defensive strategy. First, there was denial—nothing had happened at all. That was six months ago. Then we received an apology, but no explanation. Then, in relation to the use of the constituency office, we had the defence of ignorance—"I didnae ken; it wisnae me; a big boy did it and ran away". Then we had the sort of smears that we have heard from the First Minister today when he sent out his acolytes to put up a smokescreen. Finally, we have had the complete misrepresentation that we heard from Mr McCabe on television last night when he claimed that the First Minister had been cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards even though he was never even investigated by the commissioner. That is the First Minister's record; it is his blackest hour.

Furthermore, I remind the First Minister that he was the Scottish Office minister who chaired the consultative steering group. The group's report sets out principles to which all MSPs should aspire, such as integrity, honesty, openness, responsibility for decisions and accountability. Can the First Minister look the people of Scotland in the eye and claim that his conduct throughout the whole tawdry affair has lived up to those ideals and is actually worthy of a First Minister of Scotland?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

I will be very willing to face the people of Scotland in 2003. That is one of the benefits of democracy and the ballot box.

I repeat that I have not heard my invitation being taken up by the SNP or the Tories to debate the issue in the chamber. They can either put up or shut up. Furthermore, in a situation in which questions are being asked and answers are being provided, it is thoroughly deplorable that any member of the Parliament—the member I am talking about being Mr McLetchie—should seek to personalise the issue and drag not only me into the gutter—[MEMBERS: "You're already there."] Just in case anyone missed that, Mr McLetchie quipped that I am already there.

That behaviour is deplorable. I have answered question upon question upon question. The important point is that the matter was raised by the Tory MP Dominic Grieve, who is the former shadow secretary of state for Scotland. He asked the House authorities why I had not registered the item. Two days later, the item was registered. Dominic Grieve then moved on to talk about the rent of the office. That issue was taken up with Mrs Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who in turn passed it on to the fees office. The office investigated the matter over the summer—

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

First Minister, you are in danger in straying into the wider world here.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

I will stop, Sir David. Suffice it to say that after the inquiry by the fees office, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has written to say that the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the fees office and the Westminster authorities. It is important to recognise and restate that fact, because the authorities in the House of Commons are tough and I would listen to them far more quickly than I would listen to the leader of the Opposition, David McLetchie.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In light of Mr McLetchie's statements this afternoon that he wants full and informative answers and seeks best value for every pound of the taxpayer's money, will you inform the chamber whether, under rule 13.1 of the Parliament's standing orders, David McLetchie has sought your agreement to make a personal statement regarding his ability to give sufficient time to his duties as an MSP? Would it be in order for Mr McLetchie to explain to the chamber how many hours a month he works for Tods Murray WS, for which he receives an annual remuneration of £24,000? Can he reassure the chamber that he is able to carry out his duties as an MSP, given that remuneration?

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

Order. First, I believe that I was right in asking the Procedures Committee to consider allowing points of order of up to only one minute—it is unfortunate that so much time is being taken up during question time. Secondly, I do not think that the procedure for personal statements that is set out in our standing orders can be used to substitute such statements for debate. That is a very different matter, and I imagine that that rule will be used only rarely. I hope that members will not get into the habit of asking me whether we can have personal statements on this, that or the next thing when that would be a political argument. Let us move on. We are losing members' questions by taking all these points of order.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I apologise for taking up time. Whether we like it or not, the status and integrity of the Parliament is being questioned outside, so this is an important matter. Is it in order for a petitioner to the Parliament, presenting a petition to the Public Petitions Committee, to request the First Minister to make a statement?

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

Anyone can petition the Parliament on anything that they like: that is self-evident. I am anxious to move on to the next question.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Given the number of points of order that we have taken and the amount of time that we have lost in question time, and bearing in mind the fact that the next item of business is unlikely to take up its full allocation of time, will you use your discretion to extend question time to allow more questions to be taken?

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

I would love to do that, but I have no such discretion. The time is set out in the business programme.