Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 12:00 pm, 4th December 2008

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-1243)

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

At its next meeting, the Cabinet will discuss issues of importance to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Yesterday, the chief executive of Lloyds TSB, Eric Daniels, toured Government, parliamentary and media offices. I heard nothing yesterday and have read nothing today that says what the impact on jobs, branches and headquarters functions will be as a result of Lloyds TSB's takeover of HBOS. Is the First Minister any better informed than the rest of us about what the specific impact on Scotland will be?

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

I was not privy to what Eric Daniels and Archie Kane said to Tavish Scott, but one aspect that they discussed with me was the formation of a Scottish board structure to be chaired by Archie Kane, which would be an organisational gain on what has gone before. That should be welcomed, but does it mean that we know a great deal more about the potential threat to competition and jobs and the threat of rationalisation? No, but nonetheless we heard something new yesterday that should be welcomed because we should welcome anything in a structure that protects Scottish decision making.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The First Minister will be aware that, next week, there is to be a hearing of the Competition Appeal Tribunal, to consider competition in banking. The Office of Fair Trading's report on the merger makes it plain that Scotland and Scottish business are most at risk from a drop in competition and a rise in bank charges. The Competition Commission should not have been bypassed by ministers on such a substantial takeover. The case has been taken to the tribunal by a group of Scottish businesspeople—the Merger Action Group—who have raised significant sums of money to pay for the appeal.

Is there not a place for the Scottish Government in the process, which is in the interests of Scottish business? We now have small business against big business and big government. The Treasury is threatening to enforce big costs against the challengers. Will the First Minister therefore examine the case for providing legal support for the challenge?

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

The Merger Action Group has gone to the Competition Appeal Tribunal precisely because it exists to allow what are termed aggrieved parties—they could be customers, shareholders or staff members—to progress an appeal against decisions of the secretary of state that they think are improper or hurried or have been prejudiced in any way. I can tell Tavish Scott that, on Tuesday, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth wrote to the hon Mr Justice Barling, the president of the Competition Appeal Tribunal. We did that precisely because we share several of the Merger Action Group's concerns. I will make the letter available to the Parliament.

We have concerns about the impact on competition, which we previously set out in the Government's submission to the Office of Fair Trading. The Office of Fair Trading shared many of those concerns, but they were subsequently ignored or set aside by the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The second aspect that we drew to Mr Justice Barling's attention was the suggestion—I believe that it was from Treasury counsel—that the matter should be settled under English jurisdiction. We thought that that was inappropriate, as both companies are registered in Scotland. I am delighted to say that, whether because of the letter from Mr Swinney or because of submissions from elsewhere, although the hearing will take place in London next week, Mr Justice Barling has settled that the matter will take place under Scottish jurisdiction, with any appeal being made to the Court of Session.

The procedures in the CAT are important and the Merger Action Group is perfectly entitled to exercise them. The matters to which Tavish Scott alludes, about which we are all concerned, are legitimate issues. The heart of the issue is that the Government ministers concerned, whether the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, should deliver the level playing field that we were promised. I think that they have not done so. We will look with interest to see what the CAT decides.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Does the First Minister agree that the announcement by the Herald group in my constituency that 240 journalists and staff will be sacked and invited to reapply for their jobs is a draconian employment practice in a modern Scotland and that it should be widely condemned? Does he agree that, notwithstanding the challenges that the media industry faces, The Herald and its sister papers have an important status in Scottish life and that the dramatic cut in jobs will be universally unwelcome? Given the public interest in the announcement, will the First Minister urge the management to negotiate with the trade unions to aim for a fairer process and a properly negotiated outcome?

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

Yes, I agree with that. It would be better if the management went into negotiations with the unions. This is a difficult time for the Scottish media and press and there is a range of possible redundancies in several outlets, but it would be far better to approach them through negotiation between management and unions.

The owners of The Herald newspaper might wish to reflect on another aspect: if another employer in Scotland did the same—if an entire workforce was made redundant and people were asked to reapply for their jobs—what would be the editorial stance of The Herald, given its traditions? If we imagine, as I do, that, given its traditions, that newspaper would appeal for exactly what Pauline McNeill suggests, the owners of the Herald group should think carefully about the credibility of their newspaper in the light of the actions and style that they have adopted.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I am sure that we all agree that our communities are now much safer as a result of the imprisonment of Peter Tobin for the rest of his life. In light of the fact that DNA played such a crucial role in bringing Peter Tobin and others to justice, will the First Minister assure the chamber that he will keep an open mind on how we can legislate further to give our police officers additional powers in connection with the retention of DNA samples?

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

We have Professor Fraser's report, of course. We always look at such matters with a view to balancing the advantages and disadvantages of public safety.

Although many issues arise from the Tobin conviction that we must think about carefully, one thing that we should do is thank our police and prosecution services for making such an effective job of the trial. Although nothing can be said to temper the tragedy that affects the victims of that evil man, nonetheless the trial in Scotland was extremely satisfactory in its conduct and disposal.