Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:09 pm on 12th June 2003.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:09 pm, 12th June 2003

To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to discuss. (S2F-67)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I spoke to the Prime Minister earlier today and we speak regularly on matters of importance to Scotland.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Earlier this afternoon, the First Minister wrote to the Presiding Officer—I assume that that is now a matter of public record—to establish an inquiry into the Holyrood Parliament building project. In that letter the First Minister said:

"Nothing less than an independent investigation, with full access to the facts will suffice."

I very much welcome that remark. Will the inquiry that he has established jointly with the Presiding Officer have the power to compel ministers who were involved in decisions between 1997 and 1999 to give evidence? Will it have the power to secure access to all the relevant Cabinet and other Government papers from that time and will it be held in public?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

For the information of the members who have not yet seen the letter, I clarify that I have written to the Presiding Officer outlining that Lord Fraser of Carmyllie has agreed to head up the independent investigation into the cost of the Holyrood building project. I have said consistently for a number of weeks that this complex situation requires serious thought and preparation. I believe that Lord Fraser is an independent, objective person with a reputation that commands respect from across the political spectrum and throughout Scotland and that he is the right and proper person to head up the inquiry. I hope that he will be assisted in that by the Auditor General for Scotland, who has clear responsibilities to the Parliament and to Scotland in his professional position.

As far as I am concerned, the inquiry should have full access to all the relevant information and I hope that it will also have access to the relevant individuals, although that will not be possible in every case, given the tragic events of the past few years. I certainly intend that Lord Fraser will have available to him any documents, information and advice that he requires relating to the Scottish Executive—or more particularly to the position before 1999. The Auditor General previously had access to that information in the investigation that he carried out, which is why I think that his involvement is a good thing. I hope that, as a result, Lord Fraser will conduct a full and proper investigation that will make public all the evidence, all the information and all the key recommendations to stop such a fiasco ever happening again.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank the First Minister for his answer, but I want to press him for more specific detail on what he is proposing. Has he secured from the Prime Minister a guarantee that the information from the period 1997-99, which is, understandably, the property of the United Kingdom Government, will be available to Lord Fraser of Carmyllie? I noted that the First Minister said that he hoped that that information would be available. Will he confirm that all the information from that critical period 1997-99 that concerns the public will be available to the inquiry and will be made public as well?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I thought I made clear, the Auditor General had access to all that information during his earlier inquiry. He is therefore in an ideal position not only to use the information again as part of the inquiry that Lord Fraser will lead but to make that information available to Lord Fraser if there are no other means by which he can access it.

I have absolutely no doubt that that information could, should and will be available. If that requires me at any time to intervene to talk to anybody, I will do so. I am determined that the investigation into the costs and the delays in the Holyrood building project will be full, open and transparent, that it will get to the bottom of things and that it will get the answers to the questions that the people of Scotland are asking. I am determined that no barriers will be put in the way of Lord Fraser producing a report that can stand the test of time and ensure that what has happened never happens again.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

When the remit for the inquiry is constructed, I am sure that the First Minister's words will be studied very carefully to guarantee that the commitments that have been given to the Parliament today are honoured.

I ask the First Minister for a further commitment. The cost of the Parliament building rose from an original estimate of £40 million to £109 million. The figure rose to £195 million and then to £338 million, and it is now a staggering £375 million. Will the First Minister assure me that he will use all the powers of his office to ensure that not a penny more is spent on the Parliament building project?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

In private and in public, I have made it clear to the Presiding Officer and, through him, to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body that they will have my full support in taking as firm a stance as possible to ensure that last week's predicted cost increase, which was discussed in meetings on Tuesday, is not required in full and that any further increases are avoided, if at all possible. It is ridiculous that, within weeks of the start of the Parliament's second session, we find ourselves discussing even the possibility of a further cost increase, given that, as recently as a few weeks before that, we all received assurances that there would be no such further increase.

It is time that the matter was dealt with firmly and properly. This week, the Presiding Officer has done that exceptionally well. He will have my full support for the actions that he has already taken and for any further actions that he wishes to take on the matter.