Meeting of the Parliament 17 November 2011
Scottish Executive Question Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)
Ruth Davidson: Forty-eight hours ago, Transport Scotland, a finger’s-length organisation of the Scottish National Party Government, published its plans for wrecking our railways by having slower trains, fewer stations, more crowding and longer journeys for passengers up and down the country. However, this morning, we read of a screeching U-turn and the SNP Government’s attempts to run a mile from its own consultation. I see that the first page of the document carries lovely pictures of Alex Neil MSP and Keith Brown MSP. How can anyone have the confidence to invest long-term in Scotland’s future when SNP ministers are talking down our railways?
The First Minister: There is a clue to the document’s status in the reference to “consultation” on the front page. I really am surprised by Ruth Davidson. I point out, for example, that page 6 of the document, which sets out options for sleeper services—which is what, I should add, the document is meant to be doing—suggests that they could be reduced or have increased “financial support”. Understandably, some of our press interpreted that as going only one way. This is a document of options from Transport Scotland; SNP ministers’ view on the railways will be published when the consultation ends at the beginning of March.
However, I say to Ruth Davidson that although the consultation is a very important part of the process and although we will listen to the responses to it, I do not think that we need a crystal ball to see the direction of travel in Scotland’s railways, the past four and a half years of which are laid out in the document. This is a railway with new stations, expanding passenger numbers and dramatic increases in the amount of track and availability of rail services, and that is the course that SNP ministers will continue to set.
Ruth Davidson: I understand very well that this is a Government consultation. Indeed, that is my very point: it is a Government consultation from whose words and terms the Government is now running a mile, saying, “A wee quango did it and ran away.”
We all want Scotland’s railways to be fit for the 21st century and to attract long-term investment. However, as the Neil-Brown document itself admits, there is a cloud hanging over such investment. On page 21, the document suggests that we might get only a short-term deal for our railways because investors could be worried about the unanswered constitutional question. So, there we have it. SNP ministers have come clean and the First Minister should come clean right now. Failing to answer the constitutional question is turning off long-term investment in Scotland. The SNP’s dither and delay on the constitutional question could sabotage long-term investment in Scotland, and this document says so.
The First Minister: What people will look at is the contrast, not just in the past few years but over the next few years, between rail services in Scotland, which have been expanding—and where passenger fares, for example, have been set at retail prices index plus 1 per cent—and the situation in England. I do not know whether Ruth Davidson is aware that the Conservative and Liberal Administration’s position on fares in England is RPI plus 3 per cent. We have an expanding revenue base for the railways rising to £794.7 million in 2013-14.
I am delighted that Ruth Davidson has taken the opportunity to rather quietly repeat some of the nonsense that has been coming from her colleagues in Westminster and the argument about investors being deterred from Scotland. I have read out the substantial list of substantial international companies that are investing in Scotland. I have also noted the lobbying from Conservatives in the north-east of England—the most senior Conservatives, who are lobbying the chancellor because they are jealous of Scotland’s success in job creation.
I hope that Ruth Davidson, at some point in her new leadership, will distance herself from her own party colleagues—lobbying her own chancellor—who are trying to remove jobs from Scotland and take them elsewhere. I hope that the Conservative Party in this Parliament will stick up for Scotland and disassociate itself from the views that are being expressed by the Conservative Party in the north-east of England.
Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP): I refer the First Minister to Lord Carloway’s report, which was published today. In paragraph 32 of the executive summary, Lord Carloway recommends that the High Court should not be able to refuse a referral from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, as it can currently do under the Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detention and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010. He recommends that that provision should be repealed. Is the First Minister minded to accept that recommendation?
The First Minister: We have to consider Lord Carloway’s report in some detail before giving a ministerial response. It is a deeply detailed document with more than 400 pages of detailed assessment and potentially far-reaching implications across the range of our criminal law. Those who have had the opportunity to look at Lord Carloway’s review will recognise that, in a range of areas, he is pointing out that decisions made piecemeal by a number of courts, including the Cadder judgment, have serious implications for Scottish criminal law. Therefore his report was designed—and, I think, fits the task—to set out options for this Parliament to consider. The correct way to proceed is to consider Lord Carloway’s review in detail and then, if necessary—and I think that it will be appropriate—bring to this Parliament the requisite changes that are required to rebalance the judicial process in Scotland.
Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP): The First Minister is aware of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of my constituent Alison Hume in Galston in 2008 and the fatal accident inquiry report that was published yesterday by Sheriff Leslie. In light of Sheriff Leslie’s comments about significant failures in handling the incident by senior officers within Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, will the First Minister assure me that there will be a comprehensive review of the rescue capabilities of that service that puts saving lives first and foremost?
The First Minister: This whole Parliament would want, once again, to join in issuing its condolences to Alison Hume’s family and friends over the circumstances of her death. Sheriff Leslie’s determination is extremely detailed and carries many important lessons and issues. We give our sheriffs in Scotland very substantial powers in fatal accident inquiries—I think that that is the right thing to do. The institution of sheriffs is well recognised and well respected, and therefore the determinations that sheriffs make have to be accepted by all parties. I do not think that they should be second-guessed, and people will be looking for an indication of the action that must now follow.
Sheriff Leslie’s fatal accident inquiry raised important issues surrounding the operational procedures in Strathclyde Fire and Rescue. Under section 44 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, ministers may request that Her Majesty’s chief inspector of fire and rescue authorities conduct an inquiry into the manner in which an authority is carrying out its functions.
Given the serious nature of the determination by Sheriff Leslie, I have asked the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to make such a request of the chief inspector. He will carry out a comprehensive inquiry, and the report will be laid before the Parliament. It will then be for ministers to decide what direction, if any, can be made under the powers provided by the 2005 act. That is the most serious course of action that ministers can take under the legislation, and I believe that the circumstances of the case reflect and require it.
Let me add that, although Sheriff Leslie’s determination laid bare a number of key organisational and procedural points that are of great seriousness and had tragic consequences in this case, there is nothing in the determination that questions the fact that every single one of the firefighters and fire officers on site had the aim and intention of rescuing Alison Hume. There is also nothing in the determination to deflect from the general admiration and support that we give the fire services and our other blue-light services, which do such a fantastic job on Scotland’s behalf.
Teachers (Industrial Action)
Scottish Executive Question Time
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill