Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:01 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:01 pm, 8th March 2007

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister and what issues they will discuss. (S2F-2762)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I expect to meet the Prime Minister again within the next fortnight. I look forward to discussing a range of issues of importance to Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I doubt that the First Minister will be too keen to discuss the situation on our railways. As has been said, thousands of commuters face misery as they struggle to get to work and back home because of the strike by signalling staff. The First Minister has just said that he spoke to Network Rail this morning. Was that his first intervention?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

That is not what I said, actually. I said that I spoke to Network Rail "again ... this morning". The Minister for Transport and I and our officials have had discussions on the issue.

I will make the same point to Annabel Goldie as I made to Nicola Sturgeon. First, the dispute is between a private company and its employees sp they should resolve it. Secondly, there is no need for the dispute: the discussions could easily continue again this week and for a number of weeks before the new 35-hour week is meant to be introduced. In addition, Network Rail and the management have offered to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The trade union should at the very least be willing to accept that offer. If it is not, it should be round the table this afternoon negotiating with Network Rail rather than striking and putting commuters and other passengers at some disadvantage.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

The First Minister cannot wriggle out of the question so easily. Bob Crow—not a man whom I am given to quoting on any occasion—said that the

"Executive sat on its hands and did nothing to help".

The implications of the strike are far wider than commuters' not being able to get to work. Some of the people who will not get to work on time are doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, policemen and firemen, so not only will the roads be congested and the economy suffer, but lives may be put at risk because Bob Crow has decided that Scotland is a soft touch for disruption. What has the First Minister been doing to tell Mr Crow that Scotland has moved on and that his views belong in the past?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is not I who am agreeing with Bob Crow, although Annabel Goldie is quoting him. We see ridiculous hypocrisy from the Conservatives yet again. The reality is that a deal was agreed between the management of Network Rail and the trade union to avert a strike last year, which involved a significant pay rise and a reduction in the working week to 35 hours. The trade union has agreed implementation of that deal in every other part of the United Kingdom, so it is time it sat down and discussed an agreement for Scotland. There have been discussions every day this week—Network Rail made clear to me again this morning that it would be prepared to sit down this afternoon within an hour to have further discussions on the implementation of the agreement if the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers would call off the second day of the dispute and get round the table, too. It is no wonder that David Mundell thinks that the Scottish Tories are "clueless" when Annabel Goldie comes up with such rubbish and capitulation in the face of a strike.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Perhaps the difference between me and the First Minister is that the internal memos of my party do not end up in Scotland Yard. [Applause.]

The simple fact is that people like Bob Crow belong to an age that is far removed from modern Scotland. Is not it about time the First Minister showed a bit of leadership? Being First Minister is not just about patting oneself on the back when something half decent happens, but about standing up and taking charge when Scotland's rail network is in chaos. Is the First Minister as blasé as his Minister for Transport, Mr Scott, or will he stand up for Scotland's people and take action?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Members of my party have not ended up in jail for telling lies in court.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Mr Gallie, you are getting excited.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mr Gallie can occasionally be excitable, but at least he is entertaining and consistent.

I will be clear: responsibility for the dispute and for resolving it lies with the employers and the employees. However, it seems clear to me—as it was yesterday, the day before and the day before that—that Network Rail is willing to have further discussions, which is why there has been communication every day this week. Network Rail has been reasonable and there is a deal in every other part of the country, so the trade union—the RMT—should accept the offer of discussions this afternoon. Having made its point in the first 24 hours of action, the RMT should call off the action for the second 24 hours. It should allow commuters and passengers who want to enjoy the benefits of improved rail travel in Scotland—whose numbers continue to increase—to get back on the trains so that they can get to work and get home again, too. The trade union should accept Network Rail's offer and I believe that it should do so immediately.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I will take one constituency supplementary this week.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The First Minister will be aware of the loss of jobs that my constituents at Ferguson Shipbuilders Limited's yard in Port Glasgow face. I welcome his decision earlier this week to bring forward the tendering process for the fisheries protection vessel, which I hope will be built at Ferguson's shipyard in my constituency.

However, I urge him to facilitate a meeting between management, shop stewards, Ross Finnie, Nicol Stephen and me so that we can give careful consideration to all the options for work that are open to Ferguson's yard. I also ask him to encourage his Minister for Transport, Tavish Scott, to make an early decision on the Gourock to Dunoon ferry, which would enable Ferguson's to bid for that order.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We are moving quickly on all those issues. In particular, the Cabinet agreed yesterday morning to take immediate action to ensure that the tendering process that is due for the fisheries protection vessel happens within the 90-day period, and agreed to assure Ferguson's that it will be in a position to express an interest in tendering.

I am sure that ministers will be willing to discuss those matters with Trish Godman, but I assure Parliament that Scottish Enterprise, with the encouragement of ministers, has been actively involved in discussions with Ferguson's about diversification, about developing its ability to win contracts in the future and about the work that it could be bidding for.

In addition, the tender process for Caledonian MacBrayne involves more vessels. Ferguson's may be able not only to tender, but perhaps even to win contracts for building them.

Thirdly, ministers have quite rightly ensured that the initial tendering process for a fisheries protection vessel has been properly scrutinised. In our view, there will be a more professional tendering process this time round, which will, we hope, mean that not just Ferguson's but other yards will be able to compete on a fair and consistent basis.