Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 13th January 2011.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00 pm, 13th January 2011

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S3F-2819)

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Today, we have more than 1,000 more police officers than we had four years ago. Just before the First Minister indulges in selective amnesia, however, I remind him that that was made possible only because of the Scottish Conservatives. If it had been left to Labour, there would not have been any more police officers at all. If it had been left to the SNP, there would have been 500 fewer.

Maintaining the extra 1,000 officers is a political priority for me and for the Scottish Conservatives, not just for this year but for the next four years. That is my commitment and the Scottish Conservatives' commitment. Will the First Minister match it?

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I am delighted by that response. I welcome the First Minister's apparent clarity and I congratulate him on yet again following a Conservative lead. However, I must take his assurance with a pinch of salt: after all, he tried to break the selfsame commitment four years ago. That was naughty and I had to tweak him back.

At least the First Minister made a commitment, which was more than can be said for Labour, which made no commitment then and has none now. Is not it a simple fact that when it comes to keeping Scotland safe and protecting our public, Labour is silent, the SNP is soft and the only people who can be trusted are the Scottish Conservatives?

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

When Annabel Goldie was upbraiding me just then I was thinking that matron definitely knows best what I must and must not do.

I accept that some key commitments that we have been able to achieve have been achieved because we appealed for support across the Parliament. I am perfectly happy to acknowledge the Conservative party's support, which was essential in delivering the 1,000 extra police officers, just as, for example, the Liberal Democrats' support was essential when we removed back-end tuition fees in Scotland. That is the inevitability of minority Government.

Let us look at justice and policing policy in the round. Not only do we have the lowest crime rate in Scotland for 30 years but, for the first time, people's fear of crime in communities is falling. The reason why is precisely that we have those extra officers on the streets. That is the essence of what we should be trying to do and what we have achieved together—at least to some extent—during the past few years.

However, I gently remind Annabel Goldie that she should cast a look at what her colleagues south of the border are doing. It seems to me that on a number of aspects of the approach to crime and punishment Kenneth Clarke is following not Annabel Goldie's prescription and policies but the SNP Government in Scotland's prescription and policies. I think that Kenneth Clarke is wise to say that short sentences have little value compared with alternative forms of punishment. He is wise to follow that line. Of course, that policy was put through the Parliament with the support of not the Conservative party but the Liberal Democrats.

Over the piece, I think that we can say that together we have achieved substantial things in the justice policy of Scotland. What really matters is that having those police on the streets is leading to a 30-year low in recorded crime in Scotland.