Cabinet (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th May 2017.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

3. To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-01303)

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I add my condolences and those of my party to the family, friends and community of Eilidh MacLeod and our most sincere hopes for the recovery of the great many others who may still be fighting for their lives or who are recovering from serious injuries, including Eilidh’s friend Laura MacIntyre.

As the faces of those who have been lost or injured are seen and as we learn the names and something of the life stories of those who have been affected, tears will be shed in communities such as Barra across the United Kingdom and around the world, too.

Election campaigning is due to recommence later. We all have a responsibility to carry out that campaigning in an appropriate tone and, in particular, to reject the division that terrorists and the far right in this country seek to create along the lines of race and religion.

Keeping people safe at home must never prevent us from valuing all life equally. Is the First Minister aware of the tragic deaths of at least 34 people—many were children, including toddlers and even babies—when crossing the Mediterranean on Wednesday from Libya to Italy? Can I seek a continued commitment from the First Minister—and, I hope, from all political leaders—to resist the voices of hostility and xenophobia; to ensure that we look after those who need safe routes to this country and others; and to give such people safety and security as asylum seekers here? Is this an appropriate time to press the UK Government to reverse its decision to scrap the Dubs amendment to protect child refugees?

The First Minister:

I am aware of the dreadful tragedy to which Patrick Harvie referred. Anybody else who has read accounts of that event will, like me, have been distressed and upset to read of children—mainly toddlers—being drowned and killed.

It is important for all of us—I know that we all, as human beings, take this view—to understand that the loss of a child’s life is a tragedy, no matter where that child comes from or what the circumstances in which they grew up were. We should mourn and grieve for any child’s life.

When a child loses their life—whether it is in an attack such as the one in Manchester or in crossing the Mediterranean with their family while fleeing circumstances that we can scarcely imagine in the hope of a better life somewhere else—we should always dedicate ourselves to learning the lessons and doing everything that we can to make the world a better place for our children to grow up in.

The only person who was responsible for what happened in Manchester on Monday night was the man who did what he did and carried out the attack. However, we must all work to resolve the conflicts in the world that people like that individual try to use as an excuse—that is completely without justification, but nevertheless they try—for the heinous acts that they carry out.

There is a lot of injustice in our world right now, and we can sometimes feel helpless in the face of it, but we all have a role to play in addressing that injustice and making our world a better place. One way in which we can do that is by offering a hand of friendship to those who are fleeing conditions elsewhere that we can scarcely imagine. I am proud of the work that local authorities and other agencies across Scotland have done to welcome Syrian refugees and to make them feel at home here in Scotland.

Today is not a day to make party-political statements, but I think that the UK can and should do more in the years ahead. Honouring the Dubs amendment would be one way to give a helping hand to some of the most vulnerable children anywhere on our planet.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am grateful for those words. All our hearts are hurting for those whose names and faces we are learning, but it is important to remember the equal value of every life, including those of people whose faces we will probably never see and whose life stories we will probably never learn about.

I will ask the First Minister about the UK Government’s decision, which I support, to suspend the sharing of intelligence information with the United States following a series of leaks to the media of information that is particularly sensitive and potentially relevant to inquiries. It has been reported that UK officials have expressed anger, disbelief and astonishment at the actions of the US intelligence services in leaking that information.

Does the First Minister share that reaction? Does she agree with the UK Government’s decision to suspend the sharing of such information? What are the implications for the security measures for which the Scottish Government and Police Scotland are responsible if, in the future, we cannot trust the intelligence services of an ally?

The First Minister:

On the first part of Patrick Harvie’s question, as I said earlier, every child is valued and we should mourn the death of every child. I will not be the only person in the chamber, in Scotland or in the UK who finds it difficult to look at the photograph of the wee eight-year-old girl who was killed in Manchester without feeling tearful. We will never see the photographs of many of the children who die in other circumstances, but that does not mean that their lives are any less valuable or that we do not have a responsibility, in working with others, to try to make things better for other children.

The ability of countries to share intelligence confidentially and securely is one of the things that help to keep us safe. The importance of that, and of having trusted arrangements in place such as the five eyes system, cannot be overestimated. I share the UK Government’s anger and disbelief that very sensitive details from an on-going live investigation have been leaked to the media in America. That is completely unacceptable and I think that all of us should make it clear that it is unacceptable and cannot be defended in any way, shape or form.

I know that the UK Government will have taken its decision with regret, but it is right to stop sharing—for a short period, I hope—such intelligence information with the American Government. I know that the UK Government will want to do that for as short a period as possible and that the Prime Minister has said that she will raise the issue with President Trump. I very much hope that the American Government will give assurances that allow a speedy return to the sharing of intelligence, which is such an important part of keeping safe not just the population in the UK but populations around the world.

Let us be in no doubt that what we have read and seen in American newspapers over the past couple of days is completely unacceptable and potentially compromises the investigation that is under way into the atrocity that we saw in Manchester on Monday night.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

If we keep the questions and answers relatively succinct, we will get through a number of supplementary questions.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

In this sad week, people have many concerns and, of course, safety and security are among them. Will the First Minister confirm that the chief constable has the proper resources to deal with the security situation in Scotland as it stands?

The First Minister:

I have had that assurance from the chief constable. We discussed the matter in Parliament yesterday, when I made a statement on the security situation. After that statement, I visited the multi-agency co-ordination centre in Govan police station and spoke again to the chief constable there. As is his responsibility, he has reviewed the security arrangement in Scotland, given the increase in the threat level, and he has made judgments about the level of policing, including armed policing, that is necessary. His judgment at this stage, which he will keep under review, is that the police have the resources within their own resources to provide that level of policing across Scotland, so he does not require at this stage to call on military personnel to help to police the streets or public places in Scotland.

I publicly record my gratitude to the military for their offers of support and for the support that they are providing in other parts of the UK. I spoke yesterday to the brigadier who has responsibility in Scotland and I recorded my gratitude for his offers of support. However, the police here in Scotland have the resources from within Police Scotland to provide the appropriate level of security, and we should be grateful to them for that. The chief constable has the operational responsibility to make such decisions and he will keep the matter under review for as long as the heightened security situation exists.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

This morning, Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee considered the role that Scotland’s libraries, museums and galleries play in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Does the First Minister understand that in this post-Manchester world people of all ages keep asking why this atrocity happened? Will she undertake to co-ordinate the work of the national collections on the understanding and study of Islam and the diversity of religious tolerance and understanding and to co-ordinate the work that goes on across all our agencies to that end?

The First Minister:

I am happy to take that forward and to ask Fiona Hyslop to look at what we can do to support our national galleries, our libraries and others in contributing to the mutual understanding of different cultures and faiths, because that is so important and is at the heart of the issue today. Many conflicts and disputes around the world come from ignorance and misunderstanding—it has to be said that some of that is deliberate misunderstanding and ignorance. The more we encourage people to learn and understand about different faiths and cultures, the more chance we will have of ensuring that people not just in this country but around the world can live together in harmony. Culture, books and art have a hugely important role to play in that, so Tavish Scott’s suggestion is good and I am happy to ask Fiona Hyslop to take it forward and report back to him in due course.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I met the head of the student association at Glasgow Kelvin College in Springburn recently and I understand that, following strike action, colleges’ terms might need to be extended to allow students to achieve course credits. Will the Scottish Government work with colleges to ensure that they are in a position to alleviate any additional student hardship that is caused by that extension, such as hardship from additional childcare or travel costs?

The First Minister:

Shirley-Anne Somerville met Colleges Scotland’s employers association on Tuesday this week to seek reassurance on the contingencies that colleges have in place to minimise any impact on students as a consequence of the recent strike action. A firm assurance was given that contingency measures are in place. However, I am happy to ask her to speak to Colleges Scotland to raise those specific issues.

More generally, I am pleased that agreement was reached last Friday between the unions and the employers to enable further strike action to be called off.