Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time — Prime Minister (Meetings) – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 13 March 2003.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:11, 13 March 2003

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet. (S1F-2582)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mr McLetchie will be surprised to know that we will discuss matters of importance at the Cabinet.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I am not in the least surprised to hear that. That is what the First Minister and the Cabinet are paid to do.

We are all acutely aware that this might be the last First Minister's question time before Scottish servicemen and women are involved in military action in Iraq. We would all agree that they deserve our full backing and support, should action be taken. The First Minister will know that men and women who are on active service abroad are always concerned for their families at home. Would he care to update the Parliament on the security and other measures that are being taken to protect people in Scotland? Is he satisfied that contingency plans are in place and that they are robust?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

There are three issues.

First, the Ministry of Defence takes its responsibilities seriously in ensuring that people who will be worried and concerned at home when members of their families are abroad and potentially facing conflict are looked after properly and given every support. All public authorities in Scotland—either those for which we have some responsibility or those in the hands of our local authorities—should assist the MOD in providing that support. That is the sort of co-ordination that is currently going on.

Secondly, the contingency planning that is necessary in these circumstances has been assiduous. This week again there were meetings and exercises to ensure that, across the board in Scotland, those who are responsible for contingency planning are ready and prepared for any eventuality in any way that it is possible to be prepared for those circumstances.

Thirdly and finally, it is important that we do all that we can to reduce community tensions at this time, particularly in our schools, where I am concerned that children of ethnic minorities in Scotland may be bullied if international tensions rise. We must ensure that, in our schools and elsewhere in the weeks ahead, those who live peacefully in Scotland in our communities—either because they were born here and live here and are part of our community or because they have come here in more recent years—do not become targets for racist abuse.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Having reflected on this morning's debate, does the First Minister agree that no one in the Parliament is pro-war, but that we are all anti-Saddam Hussein? The First Minister mentioned people who are now living in Scotland. Does he agree that we should listen to some of the Iraqis who are living in exile in Scotland, who know that there will be no peace in their homeland until Saddam is removed? We were all shocked to read about the chemical warfare that Saddam Hussein waged against his own people, which was graphically illustrated and described in The Herald newspaper this morning. Does the First Minister agree that, if Saddam Hussein can do that to his own people, he is certainly a threat to the rest of us and that we must be vigilant against the possibility of terrorist activity and reprisals?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I said in this morning's debate, I had personal knowledge of the circumstances in Iraq 20-odd years ago, when Iraqi students in this country needed protection from the Iraqi secret services as they were persecuted and chased around Scotland. That matter is serious, but it is not as serious as the 15 th anniversary on 16 March of Saddam Hussein's horrific gas attack against his own people. That shows the nature not only of the man but—let us not be too personal—of the regime. Whatever our differences on the tactics for other issues of the day, we in this country need to be clear that we should stand united and say that, for him, enough is enough.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Does the First Minister accept that the United Nations must be the forum of international decision making, to ensure that unilateral military action is avoided?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I strongly believe that the United Nations is the right forum for such international decision making. That is why I have said consistently and—I hope—clearly that, should further military action be expected or required, the decision should be made in the United Nations. However, I am not prepared to second-guess what might or might not happen in the next few days.

Nobody should doubt that the Prime Minister's actions are motivated not only by what he believes to be right, but by a desire to represent British public opinion. It is right and proper to say that his actions in the past 48 hours to seek a second resolution that gives Saddam Hussein a further deadline, even though he was given a final deadline back in November, are honourable. I hope that the international community responds positively.