Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:03 pm on 9th March 2006.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 12:03 pm, 9th March 2006

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister and what issues they will discuss. (S2F-2155)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I hope to meet the Prime Minister again soon to discuss a range of issues. In particular, I expect to discuss his support for Scotland's bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow. I hope that this weekend I take to Melbourne the whole chamber's support for that bid. Indeed, I will be delighted to pass on to the athletes who are representing us at the games the support of everyone in the chamber for their efforts over the next fortnight.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I assure the First Minister that he has the Scottish National Party's full support in putting forward in Melbourne the case for Glasgow to host the Commonwealth games.

I remind the First Minister that, at a press briefing on Monday, he said that it took nearly five years for the Government to pay Shirley McKie £750,000 in compensation because

"The compensation requested was originally much higher, and that was why we defended the action."

Does he now accept that what he said on Monday was simply untrue?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I do not think that that is the correct link to make between a particular question and answer from the press briefing on Monday. It is the case that, in the discussions on the settlement and the court case over the years, the McKie family were looking for a significantly higher amount of money. It is absolutely their right to do so, and I do not dismiss it at all. However, it was also right that, in such negotiations, we looked after the public purse and ensured that the eventual settlement was just not only to Shirley McKie but to the taxpayers of Scotland.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Several newspapers have precisely quoted the First Minister as saying that the claim was "originally ... higher" than £750,000. However, I have court documents that prove that what he said on Monday was untrue. They show that, over the four years between day one of Shirley McKie's court action and last September, she was claiming £750,000—which is exactly the amount that was eventually paid to her.

Does the First Minister accept that the Government's decision to fight the case not only needlessly put Shirley McKie through the wringer for five years but resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money being wasted on legal costs? The question that the First Minister must answer is why. Now that we know that the explanation that he gave on Monday was false, will he please tell the chamber the real reason why it took the Executive so long to settle the case?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

First of all, I should say that Ms Sturgeon is not accurate. The original claim was for £750,000 plus interest, which is more than £750,000 for any of us who understand money or numbers. However, more fundamental issues are at stake—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Order. We have to hear what the First Minister is saying.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I know that the SNP does not like facts, but facts are important in any discussion. I do not think that that particular fact, although it is a fact, is central to the discussion. What is important is that, when it became clear last year that a settlement was appropriate, the Minister for Justice took the right steps to secure a settlement that was fair to Ms McKie and was also fair to the public purse. That move towards a settlement resulted in a letter from Ms McKie's father to the Minister for Justice thanking her for her approach and welcoming the steps that she was taking. That was a positive indication from the McKie family that they welcomed the approach at the time. The Minister for Justice took the right steps to settle, in the interests of the public purse and of Shirley McKie. The family having accepted that the mistake made by the Scottish Criminal Record Office was without malice, and the Executive having accepted that we have a responsibility to ensure that Ms McKie is compensated for what she has gone through, now is the time to move on.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Is not there an obligation on the First Minister to tell the public the truth? I have a copy of the original court document and the claim was clearly for £750,000. I think that the First Minister should reflect that in the public statements that he makes. Is not it the case that Monday was not the first time that the First Minister has misinformed the public about the McKie case? On 9 February, he told Parliament that everyone concerned accepted that an honest mistake had been made, and that is just not true, is it? Is not it the case that, as we saw on the BBC "Frontline Scotland" programme, no one in fact accepts that it was an honest mistake? The SCRO experts still do not accept that it was a mistake, and the McKie family and a long list of fingerprint experts do not accept that it was an honest one. Who exactly was the First Minister talking about when he said on 9 February that everyone accepted that it was an honest mistake?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We all know that the settlement was, from our perspective, a fair and just settlement for Ms McKie and a just settlement for the public purse. In accepting that settlement and in accepting that the original mistake was without malice, the McKie family took an important position, and that is reflected in the statements that have been made. It is important to recognise not only that we now have a settlement, but that never in the course of recent weeks, in any of the statements from the nationalists, who have tried to politicise what is essentially a legal debate, have we had one question about any of the recommendations from the two independent inquiries that took place. Those inquiries produced recommendations about the future of the fingerprint service, all of which were accepted and implemented. At no time in recent weeks has Ms Sturgeon, Mr Neil or any other SNP member who is involved in the debate accepted that fact or even questioned whether it is true.

What is important is the integrity of the work of the fingerprint service and of the justice system. Those who are now responsible for the fingerprint service are acting in the public interest to ensure that the service has improved and will improve further as a result of the changes that were outlined by the Minister for Justice just two weeks ago.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I suggest that it is the integrity of the Scottish Executive and of the justice system that it is on the line.

I accept that there have been reforms to the SCRO, but we cannot know whether those reforms will sort out what went wrong in the Shirley McKie case, because we do not know what went wrong in that case. I refer the First Minister to a comment by Derek Ogg QC—one of the many non-political advocates of a public inquiry—who says that we need to

"shine a light on how we got here and make sure that where we're going is not beset with the same traps."

Is it not time that the First Minister took his head out of the sand and took some decisive action to restore confidence in the Scottish justice system?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

This is a democratically elected Parliament. Last night, it voted and expressed a clear opinion on behalf of the people of Scotland, whom we represent. I hope that Ms Sturgeon will note that fact, despite her continuing efforts to undermine yesterday's vote, which showed clearly what the will of the Parliament is.

I do not accept that Ms Sturgeon shows an interest in the work of the fingerprint service because at no time in the parliamentary debate, in the questions that followed the statements from the Minister for Justice and the Lord Advocate in recent weeks or at First Minister's question time has she questioned the recommendations that were made by the independent reports into the fingerprint service or the implementation of those recommendations since then. The fundamental point is the action that has been taken. The action that has been taken was based on independent reports from independent investigations. That action has been implemented and, as a result of that, we can now move forward.