First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 28th June 2007.
I associate the Liberal Democrats with the congratulations to Gordon Brown, the good wishes to Tony Blair and, of course, the condolences to the families of the soldiers who were tragically killed in Basra.
To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-99)
The Cabinet will discuss a wide range of issues of importance to the Scottish people.
How many civil servants are currently working on the First Minister's white paper on independence?
The small group of civil servants who are working on the white paper are making excellent progress.
I am glad to hear that the First Minister is downplaying the numbers involved and not pandering to the fundamentalists on his back benches, but to have any is to have too many. Does he not agree that those public servants are wasting their time? It is a waste of money and a waste of space in Government offices.
The Scottish National Party does not even know how many teachers it needs to meet its class size promises because the work has not yet been done. It has dumped the policy to write off £2 billion of student debt because the work has not yet been done. Is it not strange that so many of the First Minister's 100-day promises have been torn up but the white paper remains intact? Has he not learned the lesson of his defeat in the Parliament yesterday? There is no point in wasting time on independence when there is no majority for it in Scotland's Parliament.
I remind Nicol Stephen that there are about to be 300 extra teachers and 250 more training places than there were under the previous Administration six weeks ago.
Nicol Stephen will be delighted to know that much of the work on the independence white paper was already at an advanced stage. However, one issue that we will have to struggle with as we launch that white paper is whether to include some of the ideas that the Liberal Democrats put forward during the election campaign.
I heard "Don't bother" from the Conservative benches, but I must say—[ Interruption. ]
I am sorry—I will make the correction. I heard "Don't bother" from the Liberal benches—about their own proposals. Despite that thumbs-down from Mr Rumbles, I think that we should carefully consider the Liberal Democrats' election programme.
We have an important constituency question from Dr Elaine Murray. Before she asks her question, I ask any member who is going to contribute to this part of question time to bear in mind the Parliament's rules on sub judice.
In view of the decision of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi to the High Court for a second appeal, will the First Minister assure the Parliament that all will be done to uphold the reputation of the Scottish judicial system?
Is the First Minister also aware that the Pan Am flight 103 crash is a curse under which my constituents in Lockerbie have lived for almost 19 years and which shows no signs of being lifted? Is he aware that Lockerbie is a pretty Borders town set in the southern uplands, only an hour by train from Glasgow and Edinburgh and linked by the west coast main line and motorway not only to the central belt of Scotland but to London, Birmingham, Bristol and Wales? Will he use his position in this country and overseas to promote the town and community of Lockerbie as more—much more—than just the site of the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil?
I am very aware of the trauma and difficulty for the people of Lockerbie, and I respect and acknowledge Elaine Murray's concerns. I will do my best to accede to her wishes.
With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I would like to say the following. The international agreement that led to the trial and conviction of Mr Al Megrahi made it clear that it would be a process under the systems, procedures and institutions of the Scottish legal system. Prosecution, review and appeal are all important parts of that system. Today's decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is further evidence of the system in action.
The ability to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice is a vital part of our criminal justice system. The commission has an important role to play in examining cases independently and allowing the courts an opportunity to reconsider cases when otherwise there would be no scope for a further appeal.
I have made clear in letters to the former Prime Minister and in my statement to the Scottish Parliament my Government's concerns that talks between the United Kingdom Government and the Libyan authorities could be seen to cloud issues around this high-profile case, in part because due process was not followed in terms of consultation with the Scottish justice system. Today's decision by the commission is part of the due process of law. The business of politics and international relations has no part to play in that.
The commission has reached the view that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. It is in the interests of justice that the case should be referred to the High Court. It will now be for Mr Al Megrahi to present his appeal to the court and for the court to determine whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred. We must allow the independent legal process to take its course.
Let us never forget that 270 men, women and children lost their lives in December 1988. Whatever the eventual outcome of the process, their loss can never be recovered. Our thoughts remain with the families left behind. We owe it to those people to allow the process of justice to reach a just, natural conclusion, free from pressure or interference. As First Minister, that has been and remains my primary consideration.
In light of the appeal court decision to uphold the original ruling to drop criminal charges in relation to the Rosepark nursing home in my constituency, what legal steps does the First Minister intend to take to prevent such a decision from being possible in future and, for the sake of the families who have been affected, to find out as soon as possible why their loved ones perished in that terrible tragedy?
Michael McMahon will understand that those matters are under consideration. I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice writes to him as soon as any further decision has been made.