First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 28th June 2007.

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Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 12:00 pm, 28th June 2007

Before I ask my question, I congratulate Gordon Brown on his appointment as Prime Minister of our country. He will be a great British Prime Minister. It is a special pleasure to have a Prime Minister from Scotland, and I am sure that Alex Salmond will want to join me in wishing him well. I hope that Alex Salmond will also set aside differences and join me in wishing Tony Blair and his family well in his retirement from the position of Prime Minister and in wishing him success in any job that he might do in the middle east.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I think that I am meant to say that I have a number of engagements, including making a statement on the council of economic advisers.

Of course I congratulate Gordon Brown on becoming Prime Minister; indeed, I did so yesterday. Last night, he told me on the phone that my message of congratulations had reached him before he became Prime Minister. We had a good, friendly conversation. I look forward to co-operating with the new Prime Minister in the Scottish interest, and I gladly wish the former Prime Minister well in his retirement.

There is a serious matter that we should acknowledge. Three British soldiers have been killed by a roadside bomb in the city of Basra and a fourth soldier has been seriously injured. The next of kin have been informed. Two of the soldiers were from the third battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and one was from the second battalion of the Royal Welsh. I am sure that all members will want to send condolences to the families involved.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I associate all Labour members with what the First Minister has said and send our condolences to the families involved.

Last week, in response to a question that Annabel Goldie asked, the First Minister said:

"you turn if you want to; this Administration is not for turning."—[Official Report, 21 June 2007; c 1007.]

Does the First Minister regard John Swinney's statement in the chamber yesterday afternoon as a U-turn on transport policy or as recognition that the Government should respect the will of Parliament?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Jack McConnell will have to make up his mind. At successive First Minister's question times, he has demanded that the Administration accede to the will of Parliament, but when we do so, he seems to complain that we have done so. Which is it? As Mr Swinney said yesterday, a Government cannot always—for obvious reasons—accept parliamentary resolutions. Donald Dewar put that eloquently. However, we decided on the occasion in question that the proper democratic thing to do was to accept the Parliament's wishes to the letter and to the figure.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I warmly welcome that statement, which reinforces John Swinney's statement yesterday afternoon, just as yesterday I warmly welcomed John Swinney's response to the parliamentary vote on Edinburgh trams and the rail link from Edinburgh airport to the Scottish network. Ministers should respect the will of Parliament.

Yesterday, Mr Swinney said:

"on this occasion ... it is appropriate to accede to the will of Parliament."

He said:

"the Government will pursue the terms of the resolution in relation to the Edinburgh airport rail link."—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; c 1192.]

However, he then left the chamber and told the waiting media that the Edinburgh airport rail link project was "dead"—that it had "had it". He increasingly sounded like John Cleese in a "Monty Python" sketch. Will the First Minister tell him that if he continues to mislead Parliament in such a way, his credibility will cease to be? It will expire. It will be no more. It will pass on, and John Swinney will be an ex-minister. Was John Swinney's statement to the Parliament true, or was his statement to the media true?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

There is only one dead parrot in this chamber.

I warmly welcome Jack McConnell's warm welcome for our decision, although it struck me that there wisnae much of a warm welcome in the point of order that Cathy Jamieson raised following John Swinney's statement. However, overnight reflection can sometimes be mature reflection. We shall follow the terms of the resolution on both the Edinburgh trams and the EARL project. That said, I say to Jack McConnell that there must be some reason why the EARL project arrived in such a state of disrepair for this Administration. It would not be fair to place all the blame on Tavish Scott; the then First Minister should take some responsibility as well.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am pleased to hear that clarification from the First Minister. I remind him that the motion called on the Government to deliver the Edinburgh airport rail link—to succeed in delivering it, not to succeed in killing it off.

In recent weeks, we have seen U-turns from the new Government on the council tax, on student debt, on helping students from Northern Ireland and, today, even on changing the name of VisitScotland. However, there is one specific U-turn from the First Minister that we would welcome. As the former Prime Minister resigned yesterday, he said that he believed his constituents should have a full-time member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Will the First Minister similarly respect Parliament and become a full-time MSP by resigning his Banff and Buchan seat so that there will be a by-election?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I shall follow exactly the practice of the late Donald Dewar, who was in exactly the same situation as I am in.

I remind Jack McConnell of the terms of the resolution on EARL that he so enthusiastically supports: they are that EARL is to be brought back to Parliament, and that is exactly what we will do. We will bring it back to Parliament in September.

Given that this is the last question time before the recess—a sort of end-of-term occasion—perhaps I should ask Jack McConnell whether he will be joining Lord George Foulkes in the House of Lords.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I do not want to keep two jobs; it is the First Minister who wants to do that. Although I might not have had as close a friendship with Donald Dewar as my colleague Wendy Alexander had, I can say that the First Minister is no Donald Dewar, and he should remember that.

I accept that today is the end of this stage of the new parliamentary session, as the First Minister said. In the spirit of the rhetoric—if not the actuality, on occasion—of the past month, I tell him that we would welcome immediately after the summer recess a proper legislative programme and programme for government being put to Parliament. If he is willing to be serious in such an intent and ensure that we have a legislative programme to debate, we will work with him over the summer months to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to improve the Scottish education service; to help the poorest pensioners—through, for example, a reduction in water rates; to reduce unemployment and the number of those who are not in education, employment or training; to tackle crime; and to improve our health service. We will work with him if he will work with all of us.

Will the First Minister commit first to putting a legislative programme in front of Parliament in September? Will he also commit to making real efforts to work with all the Opposition parties so that that legislative programme can have some success?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes—to the last bit.

I accept fully that I am no Donald Dewar; the problem for Jack McConnell is that he is no Henry McLeish.

I remind Jack McConnell that he does not have to wait until September to see the achievements of this Administration. All our achievements do not, of course, require legislation, although they were beyond the achievement of the previous Government. I remind him that we have saved the two accident and emergency units at Ayr and Monklands; we have put Scotland at the forefront of the global fight against climate change by proposing a target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent; we have announced how and when the Forth and Tay bridge tolls are to be removed; we have set out a timetable for removing the burden of business rates from tens of thousands of Scottish businesses; we will abolish the graduate endowment fee and reintroduce the principle of free education in Scotland; we have increased nursery entitlement and provided extra funding for another 300 teachers; and we have finally confirmed that there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland.