Mountain Rescue

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 Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mountain rescue teams play a vital role in Scotland. On Sunday, I announced that we will be making a contribution of around £300,000 towards the modernisation of their radios. More general funding for mountain rescue teams is currently provided by police forces. We are in discussion with mountain rescue representatives and the police about those arrangements in order to ensure appropriate levels of funding for mountain rescue in the future. On Sunday, I gave a commitment to the Cairngorm mountain rescue team that I would reach a decision on the matter by the autumn, if I am fortunate enough to be in a position to do so.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I welcome the funding that the First Minister has announced. It is worth noting that the request for that funding was made to my colleague Peter Peacock when he was in Inverness as part of the public consultation on the Scottish Executive budget. That shows that the public can influence Scottish Executive funding. I am also pleased that the First Minister will look at revenue funding for the mountain rescue and—

Members:

Question.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I would very much ask him—[ Laughter. ] Will he look sympathetically at the mountain rescue teams' plea? The issue is about safety. If members of mountain rescue teams do not have the equipment that they require when they go into the hills, their lives could be put at risk.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I was not aware that the suggestion had come from the budget meeting in Inverness. If that is the case, it shows the benefit of having such consultations and listening meetings.

I am well aware of the seriousness of the issue and it is regrettable that some members on the nationalist benches think that it is funny. Safety on our Scottish mountains and hills is critical to the tens of thousands who use them every weekend and to our tourism industry. I intend to take up two issues that were raised with me on Sunday. The first is on-going revenue funding, which is about £60,000 a year for Scottish Mountain Rescue. That looks as though it is insufficient. Secondly, mountain safety provisions are required. At the moment, such provisions receive low-level funding from sportscotland without input from any other public agency. We could be doing better on both issues and I look forward to resolving matters in the months ahead.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As someone who served on a mountain rescue team for the best part of two decades, I am aware that not all mountain rescue team members have a radio handset. Will the First Minister undertake to ensure that, when the new frequency comes in, every member of every rescue team in Scotland will be properly equipped with a handset?

From what he has said, the First Minister is aware that the key problem is core funding. Will he acknowledge that we are receiving a magnificent service on the cheap from a group of people who, according to health and safety rules, should be equipped more frequently with new ropes, harnesses and other equipment? That aspect in particular increases the need for a proper level of budgeting for our rescue teams. Will he provide that level of support to our rescue teams in Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am pleased that Mr Ewing takes the matter seriously. I hope that he will criticise his party—the Scottish National Party—for criticising the fact that I visited the Cairngorms and spoke to the rescue team to find out about the subject. Serious issues need to be addressed and the best way of doing so is to talk to the rescue teams. As a result, we now have a better picture of what is involved—

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am afraid that that is simply not true. Yesterday, the SNP issued a statement condemning the fact that I visited Aviemore on Sunday and made an announcement. The mountain rescue teams have welcomed the announcement, which is good for Scotland. If I have to go to Aviemore to make such announcements, I am very happy to do so.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I move to the business motion, I should advise members that the Presiding Officers consider it likely that decision time may take place substantially earlier than 5 o'clock. Everyone should be forewarned.