Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00 pm, 22nd March 2007

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister and what issues they will discuss. (S2F-2790)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I expect to meet the Prime Minister again next week, when we will discuss several issues on which the devolved Scottish Government and the UK Government can work together to improve the lives of people in Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I sincerely hope that at the top of the agenda for discussion when the First Minister and the Prime Minister next meet will be how the European convention on human rights has been incorporated into our law.

Stewart Potter is a 43-year-old prisoner who is in jail for assault and robbery—an incident during which he held a knife to a shop assistant's throat. He is aggrieved that when he makes a phone call, the recipient hears a recorded message to warn them that the call comes from a prison. Potter finds that "embarrassing". Should not Potter be embarrassed by how he has wronged society? Is the First Minister embarrassed that, once again, the criminal is coming first and the victim a very poor second?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It would be wrong for me to comment on the case, as the Lord Advocate and her team are considering whether to appeal against the decision. However, I can say that I fully understand why they might consider appealing against the decision that the judge announced earlier this week, given the widespread concerns about it.

I was pleased that the Parliament voted last Thursday to end the unconditional early release of prisoners, which has resulted in some such difficulties over the years. That law was introduced by the Conservatives and the Scottish Parliament has abolished it.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

The public are becoming sick and tired of the First Minister refusing to take any responsibility for what is going on in this country. This contemptible farce is happening on his watch. Prisoners—people who have wounded and scarred our society, including some who have killed—now claim that they should be able to vote. Stewart Potter, who held a knife to a woman's throat, complains about his phone calls. It is pathetic.

I pledge that my party, with my Westminster colleagues, will review the integration of European human rights laws, so that victims, and not criminals, come first. Will the First Minister pledge to do the same?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We have debated automatic early release. Miss Goldie has the luxury of opposition to comment on court cases, but I do not, although I wish I did on this occasion. The Lord Advocate and her team are considering an appeal and it is right and proper for them to do so.

In recent years, we have had several debates in the chamber about automatic and unconditional early release.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The Conservatives introduced that policy, which they now disown.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We have now, in effect, abolished that policy.

I remind Mr Gallie that the Conservative Government signed us up to the ECHR. The Conservatives cannot say that they do not like the decisions that follow from the ECHR when they signed up to it in the first place.

Because of our policies and because of the measures that the Executive and the Parliament are pursuing—tougher sentences, better regimes, community sentences, actions throughout our society to tackle violence in the community, tougher knife laws and tougher air-gun laws—the violent crime rate in Scotland is reducing. It is lower than it was under the Conservatives and even in the Parliament's early years. That is the right course of action for the Parliament—to have proper measures that make a difference by building up our justice system and our police force resources and through sentencing and deterrence, to ensure that fewer crimes are committed.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Was that not just typical of this First Minister? He is Scotland's very own Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of this perverse system—a system that puts prisoners first. Some of us have a bit more courage. Today, my party unveiled a £1 billion assault on crime and drugs—the biggest programme to tackle the issues ever seen in Scotland.

I ask the First Minister, who is running this country—him or the criminals?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Dear oh dear oh dear. We hear this rhetoric from the Conservatives in the chamber, but it does not reflect in any way their record when they were in government—when crime in Scotland was nearly 25 per cent higher than it is today and increasing, and when there were 1,500 fewer police officers in Scotland than there are today.

Nonsense claims about the number of police officers on the beat have again been published by the Conservatives this morning. They claim, ludicrously, that only 140 or so police officers are on the beat at any one time, but they know that, even at five o'clock in the morning, there are several hundred in one part of Scotland alone. They have the proof of that.

Earlier this week, Conservatives were protesting about current bail conditions and laws, but Margaret Mitchell welcomed the provisions relating to bail and remand during the stage 3 debate on the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill. They say one thing in the chamber during question time and something entirely different when voting and when speaking elsewhere. They did something entirely different in the past when they were in government. They have no record or reputation of integrity on this issue. Scotland was a worse country when they were in charge, but it is a better country now.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I will take one back-bench supplementary at this point.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I would like to ask the First Minister whether he will accept this 885-name petition from Lourdes secondary school pupils Cheryl Paterson and Lauren Bendford. It is about their school-friend Grace Waku, who has lived in Glasgow with her family for six years but was subjected to a dawn raid on Monday and incarcerated in Dungavel removal centre.

In light of this week's statement from the Executive on action that it will take on asylum seeker families who live in Scotland, will the First Minister personally intervene to ensure that Grace and her family can go home to Cardonald?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I have said before, it would be entirely inappropriate for a Scottish minister to intervene in an individual case. In the consideration of such cases, there are due processes, involving members of Parliament and the Home Secretary, that are part of the political process as well as part of the legal process. That is the right way for such issues to be tackled.

It is also right that we, in our discussions with the Home Office over the past 18 months, have identified a particular issue in Glasgow. In a number of cases—partly because of delays in the system and partly because of appeals—asylum seekers have been in the country so long that their young boys and girls are, in effect, now Scottish in character and culture. Those individual cases have to be considered one by one by the Home Office, to ensure that the needs of the whole family are considered before a final decision is made.

The position of the Scottish National Party would have just a little more credibility here today if it had had the guts, in the document that it produced on Sunday, highlighting a range of issues about which it wanted to cause disagreement and conflict with the UK Government, to include—

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Of course I will accept the petition.

The SNP should have had the guts to include immigration in its list. In this chamber, the SNP has called over and over again for powers to be devolved to this Parliament and for an independent Scotland, but it does not have the bottle, a few weeks before an election, to mention immigration. It is a disgrace.