Holyrood Building Project

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

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Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour 3:09 pm, 12th June 2003

To ask the First Minister what progress is being made regarding an investigation into the Holyrood building project. (S2F-78)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The prize for the most unfortunate question slot of the week goes to Janis Hughes.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I said earlier, I have today written to the Presiding Officer outlining the latest position in relation to the investigation.

Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour

This may be a difficult slot to be in, after what has gone before, but it is an important one.

I am sure that I speak for most if not all of my Labour back-bench colleagues when I express my outrage at the situation that we find ourselves in. We are the people who repeatedly have to answer our constituents when they complain about the seemingly endless costs of the new building.

I welcome the inquiry that the First Minister has announced today, but can he give me a categorical assurance that the inquiry will be swift and—more important—that it will not lead to any further delays in the completion of the project? Will he tell us today that the inquiry will not add in any significant way to the already excessive costs?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am determined, in bringing about this investigation, to do it properly and with due regard to all the current circumstances. That is why it has taken some time to get to where we are today and why it will take another week or so to finalise the plans.

It is critical that any investigation does not lead to a further increase in costs or to delay. Those factors have to be taken on board. It is also very important that any investigation does not become a substantial cost to the public purse in Scotland. The endless Government and parliamentary inquiries that have been held at Westminster have cost an absolute fortune in both time and resources. I do not want to see that situation repeated in Scotland. Enough money has been spent on the project already without making the situation worse.

It is also the case that we need to have a proper investigation in order for us to learn the right lessons. This morning, I was in a brand-new school in Glasgow—All Saint's Secondary School—which was built under the Glasgow public-private partnership. The school, which is an outstanding facility for teachers and pupils alike, is the sort of building that public money in Scotland should be spent on. I am determined that it is that sort of building that will benefit from public money in Scotland in the future.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I thank the First Minister for copying me in on the letter that he wrote to the Presiding Officer, giving me sight of it before question time today.

I seek two points of clarification, the first of which relates to a paragraph in the letter to which the First Minister referred in reply to an earlier question about the committees to which he would make a full report after the meeting that he is to hold with Lord Fraser of Carmyllie and the Presiding Officer. The paragraph says:

"I envisage that the report ... would be submitted to the appropriate Parliament Committee to allow further additional scrutiny at that stage."

I ask the First Minister not to close his mind to establishing a separate, specialised parliamentary committee. Further scrutiny might well be needed and, under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, such a committee would be able to command evidence. I think that that was the point that was worrying Mr McLetchie.

Secondly, I seek clarification on the position of people who find themselves unable to say all that they know of the project. I refer in particular to past construction managers and project managers such as Bill Armstrong and Alan Ezzi. We need to know that people can blow the whistle on decisions that were taken in the past. We also need to know that people will have an amnesty and that they will be released from some of the promises that they had to make not to speak about contracts.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

On the first matter, it is important that the Parliament retains responsibility not only for the establishment of committees but for the way in which the committees do their business. An earlier draft of my letter included a reference to the Audit Committee, which would seem to be the obvious committee to look at any report that was prepared. The Audit Committee could also call witnesses in public hearings if that was required. Decisions on the issue of committees are most properly in the domain of the Parliament and not of the First Minister. I will make the report available and the Parliament can decide what to do with it.

On the second matter, I think that it is important that anyone who has any information that could help Lord Fraser or the Auditor General in their investigations is able to give the information freely and openly in a way that does not make them feel concerned about their own position.

I intend to make that point clear inside the civil service. I hope and presume that the Presiding Officer will do the same for Parliament staff. I also hope to discuss with Lord Fraser how we can achieve the same result for others from outwith those two staffs.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I shall exceptionally allow a further two questions.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I want to raise two matters with respect to the First Minister's letter. First, the First Minister states that he has invited the Auditor General to examine issues of financial probity. Is the First Minister concerned that there has been a lack of probity?

Secondly, the First Minister states that people in Scotland rightly expect answers to all their questions. We agree with that, but, as the First Minister is aware, before we can get at the truth, we need to have access to all the information. Up until now, that has been denied on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Will those documents be made public? If not, the public will never know what happened.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I stated earlier, Lord Fraser will be able to publish all the evidence that he wishes to publish. I hope that he will have full access to all the information; not only to the information that he wants to see, but to information that members in the chamber want him to see. We will take steps to discuss that matter with him over the next few days.

I stress that I do not want any of the statements in the letter that I submit today to the Presiding Officer to imply a particular perspective on any matter or an acceptance of any accusation. A number of claims and accusations that have been made about the project need to be, and certainly should be, investigated.

The one statement in my letter that is perhaps not objective is that we want to get the matter cleared up once and for all. I am determined to do that, and I hope that this process will lead to that conclusion.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

The Holyrood building is almost complete and will speak for itself as a

"bold statement of Scotland's standing in the world"—[Official Report, 3 June 2003; c 319.]

if I can borrow that phrase. Very serious questions need to be answered; however, does the First Minister agree that this is no time to lose our nerve about completing this important building?

Members of the Holyrood progress group will whole-heartedly welcome an objective inquiry into matters such as the construction management contract and the role of the concept architect. We, too, want answers to those questions. However, will the First Minister endorse our determination to get this excellent building finished as soon as possible and to drive down the fees and charges of contractors and consultants as demanded at the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body meeting on Tuesday?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Again, I think that I am on record as saying that, now that the Parliament has come this far, it would be ludicrous to leave the building unfinished. However, it is also important to do all that we possibly can to support in any way those who are responsible to ensure that costs are capped wherever possible and controlled as much as possible. That remains my objective and I am sure that it remains the Presiding Officer's objective. He has my full support in achieving that.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

That concludes this extended question time

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Will you make a statement on the costs of this fiasco? The leader of the SNP, John Swinney, referred to a figure of £375 million. The First Minister referred to a cut in costs. Will you tell us and the people of Scotland what the project's cost is that will not rise again? Is it £375 million or more than that?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

That is not really a point of order. It is transparent that on Tuesday of this week I went with the earliest possible information and I will continue with that practice. I shall continue to make information available as it becomes so.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In the light of the decision that was announced by the Fire Brigades Union just over an hour ago to agree a deal on the pay settlement, will you through your good offices ensure that time is made available next Wednesday at the earliest for a ministerial statement on the future of the Fire Brigade and the outcome of the current dispute?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

That is of course a matter for the Executive. As of now, I have not received any communication from the Executive on that point. Perhaps you should pursue the matter with the Executive.

Did I understand that there were further points of order? [Interruption.] I am sorry, but members who are leaving the chamber should do so. I am taking points of order and must hear them.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In yesterday's debate on stage 2 amendments to the Education (School Meals) (Scotland) Bill, Tommy Sheridan alleged that, on the issue of swipe cards, I had knowingly picked up Carolyn Leckie's comments wrongly. However, the Official Report shows that Carolyn Leckie clearly stated what I said she had. She said:

"A child who is entitled to a free school meal does not get the same portion".—[Official Report, 11 June 2003; c 591.]

As a result, I ask Mr Sheridan not only to make an apology but to accept and admit when he is wrong. After all, that is what he told other people to do yesterday.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

That is not strictly a point of order; it is a clarification of a previous day's debating point. Undoubtedly, the members referred to will take your points on board.