Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 28th September 2006.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00 pm, 28th September 2006

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet. (S2F-2458)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

At its next meeting, the Cabinet will of course discuss matters that are important to Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

The First Minister's dismissal of Ms Sturgeon's points is understandable as she is the deputy leader of a party that has turned making extravagant spending promises without costing them into an art form. However, as I am the leader of a party with a somewhat more respectable track record in providing value for money—unlike the nationalist party, my party has been in government—I would be obliged if the First Minister answered my question.

The Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform has ordered that the independent budget review report should be kept under lock and key and my party has lodged a freedom of information request about that report. Will the First Minister shed light on the issue? He is under an obligation to give an explanation. What is in the report? Why has the information not been disclosed? Is the information too trivial or too embarrassing?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I will be absolutely clear yet again. The report was commissioned by ministers for future budgets starting from 2008-09 and it will be published at the start of the Parliament's scrutiny of the budget proposals from this Executive or any future Executive. The Executive will present to Parliament a proper budget bill for deliberation in the most transparent way, as set out by the Executive and agreed to by Parliament back in 1999 and 2000. That is the right way for a budget to be deliberated.

It is entirely proper that a report by a group of experts who have been brought together by ministers—not by the Conservatives or the nationalists, whose spending plans would not stand a day of scrutiny, never mind a year of scrutiny—to help them with their deliberations on next September's budget should be discussed properly in every department of the Executive and taken seriously by ministers and that its recommendations should be decided on one by one, alongside other proposals that may be made inside or outside the Executive during that time. In that way, we will get the right budget for Scotland and will be able to continue with our record of increased employment, reductions in waiting times, improvements in our schools and reductions in crime. Budgets should not be about the sort of trivia that we see from Miss Goldie but should be about results for real people. That is what we are about.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Wriggling, squirming, prevarication—I do not think that the taxpaying public think that the Executive's covert behaviour is trivia. Let us try a simpler question. Last Thursday in the chamber at 10 past 12, when I told the First Minister that he had £76 million of unallocated funds in the health budget, he rubbished his own figures and denied that he had the money. At 1 o'clock, his spin doctors were in a vortex and were waffling to journalists. They admitted that the money existed, but said that it was in the wrong column, because it has been allocated. Here is the interesting part—no one knows to where it has been allocated. Only the Executive could blow 76 million quid in three quarters of an hour and not know where it has gone. Will the First Minister tell us why money is sloshing around that he does not know about, why he is hiding his budget figures from the country and why the Executive seems to have no grip whatever on Scotland's public finances?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It was not the budget document that I rubbished, but the question. The money had been spent—not in the Executive but on the health service. The reason why today the health service has delivered a reduction of 16 per cent in the in-patient day-case waiting list, an increase of 11 per cent in the number of operations, an increase of 256 per cent in the number of angioplasties, an increase of 24 per cent in the workforce of medical and dental staff, an increase of 27 per cent in the number of doctors in training and a host of other improvements is that the money is being spent. Unlike during the Tory years, we have the money and are spending it on improvements in the health service. We are proud of that.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

At 12.12 on 28 September, the First Minister managed to sort of answer a question in the Parliament. For a week, the information that he has just given has apparently been known only to him. The people of Scotland will find it pathetic that it takes pressure from Opposition politicians to elicit any information about a specific item in the First Minister's budget document. That is a shambles.

I go back to the independent report that is lying around in a locked room. Public confidence and trust in politics and politicians are at an all-time low. That is little wonder, given what we have heard from the First Minister today. The Parliament was supposed to be about honesty, integrity and transparency, so let us see some of that. Will the First Minister save the information commissioner some trouble and time by publishing the report and restoring a little bit of faith to the Scottish people?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The fact that I have answered the question in a way that the member does not like does not mean that it has not been answered. The report will be published before the Parliament has to scrutinise or vote on the budgets for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. It is entirely proper that a report that has been prepared for ministers by a group of independent experts should be discussed with ministers and departments, so that we can look seriously at the experts' recommendations.

It is also important that we remember the purpose of the exercise. The reason why we have a budget in the first place is to ensure that money is spent on the health service, to bring down waiting times and to increase the number of staff; on the education service, to increase the number of staff and to improve results in our schools; on growing our economy, so that we have higher employment, more businesses and improvements in research and development and inward investment of the sort that we have seen this week; and on our justice system, so that we have better clear-up rates for and reductions in crime. That is what our budget is all about. It is not about trivia; it is about real people, real services and real results.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I will take two questions from back benchers.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

As the First Minister knows, for three years the Executive has been considering legislative options to close the loophole that was created by the Transco case. Today is the final opportunity for the Executive to announce its position on my proposal for a member's bill to amend the law on culpable homicide and close that loophole. My proposal has attracted support from 68 members of the Scottish Parliament. Will the First Minister assure me that he acknowledges that my proposal is fundamentally different in scope—in relation to the organisations that it would cover and to individual directors' liability—from the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, which the Home Office has introduced?

It is inconceivable that the United Kingdom bill will not impinge on devolved responsibilities, as the Scottish Law Commission highlighted in its submission to the First Minister's expert group on corporate homicide in Scotland, so will the First Minister assure me that even if the Executive decides that the UK bill is its preferred option, the Scottish Parliament's consent will be required? Finally, if the Executive decides to go down the UK route and close down the opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to legislate, and it is proved—as I am sure it will be—that the UK bill will not close the loophole that the Transco case created, will the First Minister commit to coming back to the Parliament with further options for legislation?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We do not take the decision lightly, as Karen Gillon knows. We have taken considerable time to deliberate on the details and the on-going discussions that have been taking place in Whitehall. The Cabinet discussed the matter yesterday, but it did not reach a final conclusion. We hope and intend to do so before the deadline for responding to Karen Gillon's proposal, but we must of course abide by the legal advice that we receive and consider the context in which we work. Legal advice will be central to our decision, so I hope that the decision that we formally present to Karen Gillon later today or tomorrow will be able to stand the test of time.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

The First Minister is aware that a dawn raid was carried out yesterday on the Benai family from Algeria. Oussama Benai, who is 11 years old, attends St Brendan's primary school in my constituency, whose head teacher, Mr Donal Currie, is reported as saying:

"The removal of asylum-seeker children in this way is not only traumatic for them but is also extremely distressing for the rest of the school community."

I agree. Such action is unacceptable.

Given the Parliament's welcome for the negotiated agreement with the Home Office on 30 March, will the First Minister urgently contact the Home Office to ascertain why the terms of the agreement seem to have been completely ignored in this case? Will he use his influence to ensure that the terms of the agreement on health, social work and education input are strictly adhered to in future?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Obviously, we want a report on that specific case so that we can decide whether such representation would be appropriate.

During the past 24 hours, I checked on the status of the agreement and the progress that has been made on the different elements of it. There has been significant progress on the appointment of a regional director for immigration in Scotland and on making improvements to the voluntary removal and deportation processes. There has been significant progress in other areas, for example on independent inspection of the deportation process, which is particularly important. Legislation to allow for such inspection should complete its timetable in Westminster by November and be in place by the end of the year.

One area in which there appears not to have been sufficient progress is the appointment of a lead social services official locally, to ensure that all the appropriate information is available in both directions in advance of any deportation measure being carried out. From my investigations during the past 24 hours, it is not clear whether the delay in making progress on that was avoidable and, if so, whether the responsibility lies with local authorities, the Executive or the Home Office. I intend to get to the bottom of the matter and I will be happy to write to Bill Butler when I do so.