Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 26 February 2004.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 12:00, 26 February 2004

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet. (S2F-660)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The next meeting of the Cabinet will, as usual, discuss our progress towards implementing the partnership agreement, but I might also let the Cabinet know what I discuss with Mr Blair this evening.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I am sure that that will be a riveting conversation and perhaps we can look forward to exploring it at First Minister's question time next week.

Will the Cabinet have an opportunity next week to consider the Scottish Executive's long-awaited review of higher education funding? The First Minister will recall that Mr Wallace previously said that the review would be with the Executive before the end of February. Will it be published this week, before the end of February, or next week—a little later—or the week after that? What exactly is the timetable for the publication of the review? When will the Executive's conclusions on the review be made known to the public and to the Parliament?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The review will be published in the first half of March and the Deputy First Minister will make a public statement on our initial reaction to it before the end of March.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I thank the First Minister for his answer, which is a little different from what the Scottish Executive's spokesman said to journalists, which was that the review would definitely be published next week.

No doubt there are issues that are still to be resolved and I raise one of those with the First Minister. He will have noticed this week that the new minister for kite flying, Mike Watson, suggested that the graduate endowment should be raised significantly to cover even more of the £70 million cost of student support, which would, in turn, allow the Executive to increase direct funding for universities. When I questioned the First Minister about the matter last month, he refused to rule out such an increase, so I ask again: will the First Minister rule out increasing the graduate endowment by more than the rate of inflation?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I hope that Mr McLetchie was not accusing Mr Watson of being a devious backstabber or anything like that. I think that Mr Watson deserves congratulations from the chamber on his recent marriage to Clare. [ Applause. ]

I welcome Mike Watson's contributions—and the many other contributions from members—to the current debate on higher education funding. We have made no decisions on higher education funding, save for the important and principled decision that we will not introduce tuition fees or top-up fees for Scottish students in Scotland's universities. We will need to consider the higher education review that we receive from the working group that we established last year. We will assess the review and its implications and the Deputy First Minister will make an initial statement in March.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I am sure that the First Minister was as alarmed as I was to hear the shock news last week of the closure of Caithness Glass, which produces the epitome of a quality product, which is recognised all over the world. Every single job in Wick is vital. The news came completely out of the blue—indeed, I understand that the enterprise network was not even warned of it. Will the First Minister give me an assurance that the Scottish Executive will do everything in its power to work with the enterprise network—and whomsoever—to identify a new buyer and to resuscitate that vital, quality firm in my constituency?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I think that we would all agree that Caithness Glass produces a quality product of which all Scotland can be proud. I would certainly be keen to give Jamie Stone the assurance that not only the enterprise networks but the Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department will give every assistance to the local community to secure either alternative employment or an alternative owner to ensure continued production in the Wick area.