First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 1st July 2010.

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Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour 12:00 pm, 1st July 2010

To ask the First Minister what engagements he has planned for the rest of the day. (S3F-2514)

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

Later today, the leader of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and I will visit the Pennywell and Muirhouse areas of Edinburgh, where I will announce joint Scottish Government and local authority funding of £120 million towards the building of 1,000 new affordable homes across Scotland. That will support about 1,200 housing sector jobs and 700 more in related trades. We are working in a partnership with local government to provide a new generation of council housing. I am delighted to announce the plans for 1,000 new homes across Scotland.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Presiding Officer, for two parliamentary years now, I have asked questions of the First Minister every Thursday. He never answers any of them. Perhaps he will answer Kelly McGee, whose brother Paul was murdered on 25 October 2009. He was stabbed outside the family's home when he went to help someone else. Kelly's question is this: when more people are killed by the use of a sharp instrument than are shot, why is a minimum sentence in place for gun carriers but not for knife carriers?

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

I know that Iain Gray will acknowledge that every person in the chamber has enormous respect for those who have been victims of crime and for the families of victims of crime of whatever kind. Nobody would demean their campaigning efforts. Indeed, we support them. I know that Iain Gray, in fairness, will want to acknowledge that knife crime is down 11 per cent since this Government took office. I believe that that is because police numbers are up by more than 1,000, and therefore detection rates, the use of stop and search and the ability of our police to protect our communities are much greater than they would otherwise have been.

On the difference between knives and guns, one argument that is deployed—I think that a fair amount of reason is attached to it—is that it is difficult in most cases to see what purpose a gun would be put to. With knives, of course, there are many occupational and perfectly innocent reasons why they are in our community.

I hope that Iain Gray will acknowledge in fairness that the Labour Party spent 13 years in office at Westminster and 10 years in the Scotland Office and devolved Government in Scotland, yet at no stage in that entire time did it propose the measures that it supported with the Tories yesterday. That contradiction is one of the major questions that people have about the sincerity of the Labour approach to the issue in Scotland.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I have to tell the First Minister that the families of the victims of knife crime who were here yesterday did not feel respected by all members of the Parliament. In particular, the family of Kelly McGee, whose brother was an Iraq war veteran, felt absolutely disrespected by the contribution that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice made.

I accept that, when in power, we did not introduce minimum sentencing for carrying a knife. We did double the maximum sentence. We acknowledge now, as I have done before, that we did not do enough. Yesterday, when Kelly, John Muir and the other families of knife victims asked me what I would do for them, I promised them that I would not give up and that mandatory minimum knife sentences would be in Labour's manifesto next year. I promised them that I would bring that policy back to the chamber and that we would try again to do the right thing by them. What new action to tackle knife crime will the First Minister have in his manifesto next year?

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

Whatever Iain Gray says and however he wants to misinterpret and misquote people, the fact is that every single member of this Parliament respects the victims of crime and their families.

The way in which Iain Gray put the second part of his question indicates that those who regard the contrast between Labour's track record in office and the arguments that it puts now as a fairly blatant attempt to politicise a serious issue have more than a little justice behind their comments.

In terms of what is done, Iain Gray must realise that, in the current economic environment, additionality in public spending will not be possible for many years to come. Given that this morning's Daily Record says—presumably with figures supplied by the Labour Party—that 7,000 people will not be imprisoned as a result of yesterday's votes, and if we assume that six months' imprisonment costs the public purse £20,000, the policies that he put forward yesterday would have cost £140 million a year. I point out to Iain Gray that £140 million a year is the cost of 3,000 police officers. This Government believes that the additional police who are on the streets of Scotland are protecting our communities. That is why crime is at a 30-year low. That is why detection rates are at a high. That is why public confidence in the police is at an all-time high. That is why knife crime is falling. That is why general crime is falling. If the Labour Party came into office and spent money that involved cutting back on police numbers instead of expanding them, it would be doing a huge disservice to Scotland and all its people.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Well we are going to need extra police on our streets, because the First Minister is going to release 7,000 criminals on to those streets. Those 7,000 criminals currently go to jail. If his purpose in ending three-month sentences was to save money, that should have been said yesterday, but that was not the reason that was given.

Look, we should not be surprised that the Government ends this year by releasing 7,000 criminals from our jails. It started this year by releasing the Lockerbie bomber from jail. In between, the First Minister was found out providing testimony for a drug dealer. His deputy was caught trying to keep a serial fraudster out of jail. Why is it that Alex Salmond is always to be found on the side of the criminals and never on the side of the victims?

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

Yesterday's debate indicated that the new coalition Government south of the border has realised the futility of short-term sentences in tackling crime. It should be remembered, as was mentioned in yesterday's debate, that south of the border among the foremost advocates of the policies that are being pursued by a majority of MSPs north of the border is Cherie Booth, who has some substantial experience in these matters. It should also be remembered that the commission that brought forward the consultation and the arguments that were pursued in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill yesterday was headed by Henry McLeish, who is a former Labour First Minister of Scotland.

When we take into account the arguments from an evidence-based approach and the fact that crime in Scotland is falling as a result of the additional police that this Administration, with the support of a majority in this Parliament, has placed on our streets, and when we recall that the Labour Party proposed no additional police at the previous Scottish election, we see that those achievements of the justice system in Scotland stand in comparison to the lack of ambition of the Labour Party at that election. Also, when we consider that the policies that Labour put forward yesterday would have imposed totally unsustainable costs without any evidence whatever that they would have any effect on crime, and when we see the number of voices raised in support, across the parties, for the policies that are now being pursued, I think that Iain Gray is very foolish indeed to attempt to politicise the issue of criminal justice. On that basis, he will go down to a resounding defeat in the election campaign.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Let us look at what is happening in Scotland; let us look at the achievements. What does Alex Salmond's year add up to? We have seen not just fewer knife criminals going to jail but fewer teachers in our schools and fewer nurses to follow; not one school built, not one hospital completed and the Glasgow airport rail link cancelled; and more jobs lost than anywhere else in Britain, unemployment higher than the rest of the country and economic growth trailing the rest of the country.

Alex Salmond talks about this chamber. What about his alcohol policy? Rejected in this chamber. His climate change targets? Thrown out of this chamber. The First Minister is too scared even to bring his referendum bill to the chamber. Has he got anything planned for his final parliamentary year, or will it be a waste of time as well?

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

I will attempt to answer some of the points in that diverse question, which was delivered using the scatter-gun approach so favoured by Iain Gray. As he is probably well aware, 260 new schools have been built under this Administration—[ Interruption .]

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

I know that Iain Gray will want to acknowledge the 1,000 new council houses that this Administration is announcing today, to add to the thousands that have already been announced, in contrast to the six council houses that were built by the previous Administration, all of which were in Shetland—a tribute to the influence and power of Tavish Scott in that Administration.

As it turns out, despite being a minority Administration and having to appeal for support across the chamber on various votes—appealing for and getting support from the Liberal party on free education and getting support from the Conservative party on putting extra police on our streets; we have had less success in getting any support whatsoever from the Labour Party—the SNP Administration has now met 77 of our 94 election manifesto pledges. That is rather better than the record of Iain Gray's majority Government when he was last in government in this Parliament, which The Sunday Times reported met only half of its pledges.

Just so that Iain Gray remembers, let us have a look at a few of the highlights. The council tax—

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

No, I must ask you to be brief, First Minister. [ Interruption .] We are running out of time.

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

Just a couple more. We have delivered funding for a thousand police officers and abolished Labour's back-door tuition fees.