First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 12:00 pm, 25th October 2007

To ask the First Minister what engagements he has planned for the rest of the day. (S3F-211)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

With the Presiding Officer's permission, I welcome the presence of Aung Moe Zaw to the chamber. He is a senior colleague of the jailed Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. I am sure that the entire chamber will want to welcome the chairperson of the Democratic Party for a New Society. [ Applause. ]

Later today, I will have a number of meetings to take forward the Government's programme for Scotland, including one to consider the potentially serious implications for the Parliament of the House of Lords' Somerville judgment.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I echo the warm welcome that the First Minister has just given to our visitors.

The previous time the First Minister and I met at First Minister's question time, he was asked about his promise to recruit an additional 1,000 police officers. In his answer, he claimed to be quoting directly from the Scottish National Party manifesto when he said:

"We will fulfil our commitment to putting the equivalent of 1,000 extra officers in the communities of Scotland."—[Official Report, 4 October 2007; c 2468.]

However, as Robert Brown has highlighted, the word "equivalent" does not appear in that section of the manifesto, so I will now give the First Minister the opportunity to clarify his earlier statement to the chamber and to confirm that he will meet his actual manifesto promise to deliver an extra 1,000 police officers.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The point I was making was that we said on page 58 of our manifesto that we would set out our plans in our first budget for Scotland. Our first budget for Scotland will be on 14 November. When we set it out, including our plans for recruiting additional police officers, we will realise the commitment of the SNP against the commitment of the Labour Party, which I remind Wendy Alexander was for zero police officer recruitment in Scotland.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I think that we have all now learned that the First Minister's house style is an attack over an answer—every time. Has he read the comments this morning from Les Gray, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation? The First Minister will recall that, earlier this year, during the election campaign, he attended the police federation's annual conference. While there, he explicitly said that the SNP was setting money aside to pay for the extra 1,000 police officers—and that that was new money and extra officers and not a play on words. I ask the First Minister again whether he intends to keep that promise to recruit an extra 1,000 police officers—yes or no.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

A glance at the Business Bulletin will tell Wendy Alexander exactly what the Scottish National Party will do. We

"will deliver an additional 1,000 police officers in our communities through increased recruitment, improved retention and redeployment."

As soon as we recruit the first police officer, that will be one more than the Labour Party promised in the election campaign.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

The First Minister appears to be refusing to honour the promise of 1,000 extra police officers. There is another promise that he seems to be backing away from. In September, he told the chamber that he would deliver class sizes of 18 in primaries 1, 2 and 3 by 2011. This afternoon, his cabinet secretary, John Swinney, is meeting the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I presume that he will ask councils to deliver on that promise.

Will the First Minister assure us that he will at least honour the pledge of reducing class sizes to 18 by 2011 and meet the full costs of doing so? Yes or no.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The outcome agreements that we are seeking with local government are precisely designed to allow the Government to meet the commitments in our manifesto. That is exactly what we are doing.

Let me point out as gently as I possibly can to Wendy Alexander that, as opposed to police numbers, where the announcements in our budget on 14 November will contrast our recruitment against the Labour Party's non-recruitment, we do not have to wait for the budget for teachers: 250 more teachers have been recruited in Scotland than would have been if the Labour and Liberal parties had remained in office.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I think that we have to take that as a no, or at least as just another broken promise. Police numbers, student debt, school buildings, first-time buyers: all broken promises. Let me offer the First Minister one final chance to answer the question. Does his class-size pledge, made in this chamber in September to the pupils and parents of Scotland, still hold, and will John Swinney provide councils with the full funding required? Yes or no.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Let me say in conclusion that the First Minister is boasting to his conference delegates this weekend about a can-do attitude in Scotland because the SNP is in government. Of course, the real truth is that what the SNP can do is make promises; what it cannot do is keep them.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

It is traditional when someone asks for a yes or no answer to stop at that point, not to go on to a longer ramble.

That is exactly what John Swinney will do when he meets COSLA to discuss the outcome agreements. When I speak to delegates at the first SNP conference in history to celebrate an SNP Government in office, I will talk about 160 days of achievement: allowing councils to employ additional teachers already in Scotland; abolishing the Labour-Liberal student fees in the graduate endowment; removing tolls on the Tay and Forth bridges; reversing Labour's plans to close accident and emergency units at Monklands and Ayr hospitals; and, finally, already investing in the prison estate so that we do not leave ourselves vulnerable to judgments such as Somerville, which will cost the Scottish public dear in the next few years.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I point out to members that they always listen to questions reasonably courteously; I ask them to reflect on how they listen to answers.