First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 2nd December 2004.

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Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 12:00 pm, 2nd December 2004

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive is addressing sectarian abuse and violence. (S2F-1260)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Sectarian abuse and violence have absolutely no place in today's Scotland and we will work to eradicate them, wherever they occur. Our review of marches and parades will report in the new year. We are developing an anti-sectarianism education resource for use in schools. With colleagues in various sporting bodies, we are working to tackle sectarianism in sport. We are continuing to provide funding to bodies such as Sense over Sectarianism, the Scottish Inter Faith Council and Nil by Mouth. Last month I outlined a five-point plan to reduce knife crime as part of a wider strategy to tackle violence, including sectarian violence.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

The First Minister has a welcome personal commitment to this issue. Will he use some of that commitment to press the football clubs that are part of the problem to take the lead, along with the police, in imposing on their supporters better standards of behaviour, so that we do not get abuse and violence from sectarian or other motives? Universal condemnation was visited on Spanish fans for jeering at a black English player. We want to create an atmosphere in which the same attitude is taken to people who jeer at players in Scotland for religious or similar reasons. Will the First Minister try to deliver that through the clubs?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I agree absolutely with Donald Gorrie on this matter and admire his long-term commitment to tackling the issue. It is just as unacceptable for white football fans in Scotland to hurl sectarian abuse of an anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant nature at players and other fans inside football grounds as it is for them to jeer black players or to pick on someone on the pitch because they are Jewish or Muslim. We need to make very clear in the Parliament that such behaviour is unacceptable in Scotland today and that we will continue to work to eradicate it.

We do not need exaggerated headlines on what the penalties might be, such as those that we saw earlier this week. However, we need seriously to consider football banning orders and the reasonable action that we can take. After a period of convictions or incidents, there could be more extreme sentences or cautions.

We also need to consider the action that the football clubs can take. Recently, ministers and I met representatives of the football clubs, who have been helpful. I intend to meet representatives of football supporters. I notice that there was an exchange this week between supporters of Rangers and Celtic, in which they both indicated a willingness to discuss the issue. It is time to bring the supporters' representatives on board. I intend to do that early in the new year, and I hope that we can get their full support to help us in our task.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Does the First Minister agree that, abhorrent as this type of behaviour is, it is only part of the wider growth of crime and disorder over which the Executive has presided, and that such behaviour will be deterred only when we have a much stronger, much more visible and much more practical police presence on the streets and in the proximity of football grounds? When will the Executive introduce proposals that will result in a substantial increase in police numbers?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

If they ever rerun that old Askit advert, Bill Aitken would be one of the miseries. He cannot see anything good about Scotland today. We have the lowest level of crime in Scotland for years; we have the highest clear-up rate that there has been in Scotland for decades; and we have the highest number of police officers ever. The police are on the streets more now than they ever were in all the years of Tory Government. They are now supported and complemented by neighbourhood wardens—to which the Conservatives are opposed—who are helping them in the local community. The police have more powers than they ever had before, most of which the Conservatives voted against in this chamber. The police are doing an extremely effective job, and they will do even better with the support of this devolved Government. That is the action that we need to take for Scotland. That is action that we should be praising and supporting, Mr Aitken, instead of coming along here like a misery week after week and condemning the police for what they do.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—