Cabinet (Priorities)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 22nd January 2004.

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Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 12:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

To ask the First Minister what issues the Scottish Executive's Cabinet will prioritise for discussion and action over the next month. (S2F-558)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As ever, our cabinet will prioritise those issues that will assist us in ensuring higher growth in the Scottish economy, better public services and safer communities throughout Scotland.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The unfair Tory council tax has financially hammered pensioners and low-paid workers for the past 10 years. Today, a major study has revealed that poverty is the main cause of premature death among Scotland's pensioners, who are hammered by council tax bills and are hardly able to heat their homes properly. The council tax has been labelled a "pensioner tax". Does the First Minister agree that the council tax is unfair? Does he accept that the need to tackle the problem is urgent? When will the first meeting of the independent local government review body take place and who will represent Scotland's pensioners on that body?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The remit, timetable and membership of any independent review will be announced when it is agreed, and we will ensure that Parliament is the first to know about that.

However, I want to remind Tommy Sheridan of the view that he expressed in the chamber in November that the central heating programme that was announced, implemented and executed by the devolved Government here in Scotland is one of the best Government initiatives that he has ever seen. That programme and the many other measures that we have supported, both at Westminster through winter fuel grants for pensioners and here in Scotland through central heating and insulation through the warm deal, have enabled us to cut fuel poverty in Scotland by 50 per cent between 1997 and 2003. That is a stride, but only a stride, in the right direction. We have more to do and we will set about doing it.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I say to the First Minister that central heating is no use if people cannot afford to use it. What a shameful neglect of Scotland's poorest citizens: four years and seven months into his Government, he has not even arranged a review of the council tax, let alone its burial. When will he start to stand up for Scotland's pensioners and low-paid workers instead of continuing to pamper and protect the richest and wealthiest members of society? Will the First Minister instruct his finance minister to apologise for deliberately deceiving and misleading the chamber over alternatives to the council tax, or does the First Minister accept, given the practice of his leader, that lying to the public is acceptable and that Mr Kerr can therefore get away with telling lies on the issue?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Order. I think that you should use the word "lies" very cautiously, Mr Sheridan.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I did. I used it very cautiously.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mr Sheridan is well aware that he has received a written apology from Mr Kerr, who acted entirely honourably by quickly correcting the slip of the tongue that he was engaged in not long ago. Mr Sheridan should accept the apology with the grace with which it was offered. He should also accept that by investing money in Scotland in pensioners' central heating, concessionary travel for pensioners and the warm deal to insulate pensioners' homes, and in supporting the United Kingdom Government to invest money in winter fuel payments and other measures, we are doing precisely what he suggests that we should do. We are redirecting resources from those who can afford to pay for them to those who cannot. I am proud to be part of a Government that is doing that. Instead of criticising us and demanding the meeting of committees, Mr Sheridan should back us in supporting Scotland's pensioners.