Ministers accused being 'uneconomical with the truth' with statements to parliament

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Ministers were accused of being “uneconomical with the truth” and misleading either Holyrood or the House of Commons following First Minister’s Questions.

Ivan McKee, the SNP minister for business, and Lorna Slater, the Green minister for green skills, were the focus of two points of order from Conservative MSPs who criticised the accuracy of answers to questions in the Scottish Parliament.

Ministers faced questions around Ms Slater’s claim ministers were first aware on November 8 that a wind energy statistic was not properly sourced.

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Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative energy spokesperson, raised the fact Michael Matheson told the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee that he first became aware of issues with the statistic in “September”.

The MSP added: "Both statements cannot simultaneously be true. Either Ms Slater has misled this place, or Mr Matheson has misled the House of Commons.”

In response, the First Minister’s official spokesperson pointed to what he characterised as a correction by Mr Matheson during his appearance at the committee, where he said the “figure that was provided by Lorna Slater was correct at the time”.

However, in the answer to the immediate follow-up question, Mr Matheson says “I am, yes” when asked by Douglas Ross whether he was “honestly trying to say that you only knew about it back in September”.

The First Minister’s spokesperson also said it was a matter of “public record” that officials were discussing the “robustness” of the figures months before the government admitted it was incorrect. He said: “It’s there, you’ve got that”.

Liam Kerr, left, and Edward Mountain, right, both made points of order at the end of First Minister's Questions.Liam Kerr, left, and Edward Mountain, right, both made points of order at the end of First Minister's Questions.
Liam Kerr, left, and Edward Mountain, right, both made points of order at the end of First Minister's Questions.

Mr Kerr urged the Presiding Officer to instruct Ms Slater to provide a statement to the chamber on the issue, something Alison Johnstone said was not within her powers.

Conservative MSP Edward Mountain also pressed the government for a response to documents which showed Mr McKee knew there was set to be an increase to the budget for the two ferries, the Glen Sannox and hull 802, being built at Ferguson Marine.

The question, asked on September 6 before the announcement of a further delay and a request for more than £70m in additional funding on September 28, saw the minister reconfirm the existing budget and timelines.

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However, in a freedom of information response, briefing notes for Mr McKee show that he was advised the government was anticipating a “formal request from FMPG in the coming weeks and work will need to commence now on assessing the cost estimates.”.

Mr Mountain said: "I obtained Ivan McKee’s briefing notes that were prepared by staff in order to allow him to answer my question, and I can only assume he read those.

"It was clear in those briefing notes that he was aware of the delay to 801 and 802 and the extension to the cost of the budget.

"I know it is disrespectful and unacceptable to suggest someone has lied or misled the parliament, so I will not, but it is clear in unambiguous evidence that I have got here that his response was at best a misrepresentation of the facts, or worse, plainly untruthful.”

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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