Michael Ferguson, who is a patient at the state hospital at Carstairs, absconded on Monday during unescorted leave. I understand that he is still at liberty. By any standards, he poses a danger to the public, and Strathclyde police have stated that anyone who sees him should contact them immediately.
It is clear that serious questions require to be asked about the decision to allow unescorted leave of that nature. In fact, it has been suggested that, under the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, authorisation for the patient's release would have come directly from ministers. The public of Scotland require to know why that has happened and how it was allowed to happen and need to receive certain reassurances. In the circumstances, an early ministerial statement should be made. My question for the Presiding Officer is whether any request has been received from the Scottish Executive for a minister to make the appropriate statement.
It is important that I inform Parliament of the actions of the Executive in relation to this matter. The First Minister has asked for an urgent report on the circumstances of the Michael Ferguson case and his absconding from unescorted leave. The First Minister has asked Rhona Brankin, the minister who is responsible for mental health matters in Carstairs state hospital, to keep the health spokespeople of all the Opposition parties informed of developments, subject to the requirements of patient confidentiality.
The First Minister and the Executive are well aware of the public concerns about this matter. Although, at this juncture, we do not feel that a ministerial statement is appropriate, we will ensure that Opposition parties are kept up to date.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Members may recall that it was intended that the First Minister would make a statement to Parliament last week on the effects of his presidency of the group of regions with legislative power over the past year and on the Regleg conference that was held in Edinburgh last week. Although it had been scheduled for discussion, that statement was abandoned. Presiding Officer, could you advise me whether the First Minister has sought to bring another debate on the issue to Parliament?
I am obliged to Mr Gallie for having given me advance notice of his point of order. I advise members that an inspired parliamentary question on the matter was lodged on 30 November and was answered on 2 December. There is no proposal before the Parliamentary Bureau to schedule any parliamentary time to discuss the issue. If Mr Gallie wishes to pursue the matter, he will need to do so through his party's representative on the Parliamentary Bureau or through the European and External Relations Committee, if he wants a sustained follow-up. At the moment, we are not going to discuss the matter in Parliament.