Parsons Green Terror Attack

Yesterday I raised a topical question on the Scottish response to last week’s terrorist incident at Parsons Green in London. Following the raising of the threat level we have seen an increase in the number of armed police throughout the country.

It is right that we thank the emergency services for their quick response and we must also thank the transport staff that were, for many, the first responders on Friday.

With every attack it is vital that we ensure there is continued community cohesion. It is right that authorities, Government and emergency services, are working with our communities to ensure their safety is maintained. The best way to tackle extremism in all its forms, be that terrorist attacks, marches from right wing hate groups, or online abuse, is by working together.

You can read my exchange with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice below.

Topical Question 19th September 2017

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the terrorist incident at Parsons Green in London.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson):

My thoughts are with those who were caught up in Friday’s cowardly terrorist attack in London, particularly those who were injured.

In response to the raised threat level, as a precautionary response Police Scotland increased operations to protect the people of Scotland, businesses and public places. That included increasing the number of armed officers on patrol across the country, who were deployed as part of the measures taken to allow the public to go about their daily lives as normal. Police Scotland reviewed all significant events over the past few days and has reviewed the security footprint as appropriate. Throughout that process, Police Scotland reinforced the key message to our communities that it and its partners have well-rehearsed plans to respond to any major incidents that might have an impact on Scotland. Police Scotland is now gradually scaling back the policing response, in keeping with the threat level.

The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and I were briefed by officials and Police Scotland throughout to gain assurance that what was being proposed was appropriate and proportionate to the threat that we faced. We must not allow terrorism to triumph. People should not be afraid to go about their daily business as usual. However, I urge the public to remain alert and report any suspicious activity. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that Scotland’s law enforcement and other bodies have all the tools they need to tackle terrorism, building on the robust measures that are already in place. Indeed, they are well prepared for that, and the focus has been on ensuring that the required operational measures are in place to ensure the continued safety and security of the public and that they are appropriate and proportionate.

Claire Baker:

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response and associate my party with his remarks. It is right that we praise the reaction of the emergency services, which again responded quickly without fear. It is also right that we thank, and appreciate the reaction of, the staff of London Underground, who in many instances were the first responders for Friday’s attack.

Although I appreciate that a serious investigation is on-going, such attacks raise concerns about risks to community cohesion. What steps can the cabinet secretary take to ensure that the authorities are working with our communities to ensure their safety and that we are all working together to tackle extremism in all its forms?

Michael Matheson:

I welcome the member’s comments, particularly her praise for our emergency services and the way in which they respond when such incidents occur and when there is an increase in the threat level.

The member has made an important point because, although there is an operational response to these matters, what is more important is that we support cohesive and resilient communities to ensure that there is no space for those who wish to peddle the message of extremism or hatred. A range of work is done by a number of agencies, from Police Scotland through to the community-based organisations that we support, to maintain and support community resilience and cohesion. However, particularly during periods of increased threat levels and increasing levels of concern, proactive measures are taken by Police Scotland with organisations at a community level to ensure that any concerns or issues that have been highlighted in the communities are addressed as quickly and effectively as possible. That is a piece of work that is taken forward by the police and other agencies on an on-going basis.

Angela Constance and her colleagues take forward a range of work in support of organisations that tackle extremism and the ways in which the message of hatred can often be peddled. However, key to achieving that is not giving that message any space in our communities in Scotland, which is why the work that we do to create cohesive and resilient communities is key to tackling the type of extremist behaviour that we have seen.

Claire Baker:

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the comment made this week by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that Britain could continue to pay in order to remain a part of Europol, as part of the new security treaty with the European Union. Europol has a vital part to play in our ability to combat terrorism in Scotland and beyond. What discussions have the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government about our continued membership of Europol and ensuring that there is continued international co-operation on security matters in the future?

Michael Matheson:

The member has referred to the paper that the UK Government published on security and criminal and other aspects of law. I am disappointed to tell the chamber that, prior to the publication of that report, despite the fact that it refers to a range of devolved responsibilities, there was no consultation with the Scottish Government on the matter. That is simply unacceptable and demonstrates a serious disregard for the responsibilities of this Parliament in those key areas.

I have raised previously in the chamber the importance of and the value that we get from being a member of Europol; the sharing of information with other European countries, which we benefit from here in Scotland; and the benefit that other countries across Europe gain from the information that we submit to Europol. There is no doubt that we in Scotland benefit disproportionately from the measures that Europol provides, largely because we make greater use of the Europol network.

I assure the member that, as a Government, we are determined to do everything that we can to continue to have access to these important security measures in support of our law enforcement agencies here in Scotland. I wish that the UK Government would show more respect for the responsibilities of this Parliament. Before it publishes any paper of this nature that clearly relates to areas of devolved responsibility, there should be a full engagement and consultation process with the Scottish Government to allow the paper to be informed by its views.

Official crime stats hide true extent of crime in Fife

This week I called for a change in how official Government statistics are collected after it was revealed that the true extent of violent crime in Fife is 8% higher than thought.

Currently the official figures for ‘non-sexual violent crime’ in Fife stands at 410 for 2015/16, a rise of over 22% for the year pervious. However, these figures fail to take into account common assaults which can include, kicking, punching and result in injuries such as broken noses.

Last year there was 4,604 common assaults in Fife, meaning that the true total of violent crime was 5,014 during 2015/16, a twelvefold increase on official figures.

Many people, especially victims, will be shocked to see that the official statistics do not consider assaults that can include punching and kicking as ‘violent.’ Whilst this is down to what is considered a ‘crime’ and what is considered an ‘offence’, there will be thousands of victims throughout Fife living with the aftermath of such assaults. They will be rightly asking why such a distinction is being made and why these attacks are not being classified as the violent crimes they are.

Non-Sexual violent crime already saw a worrying increase in Fife in the past year and if we are to ensure that we can fully address problem areas and increasing crime then we must know the true extent of crime in our communities.

That is why it is only right that we look at how crime statistics are compiled in Scotland and we can understand any trends in crimes across Fife and beyond.

Claire calls for Justice Centre for Kirkcaldy

I can reveal that the number of jury trials in Kirkcaldy have almost doubled in the past 5 years and that is why I have reiterated my calls for a new, state of the art, Justice Centre in the town.

Statistics released to me have revealed the strain been felt by the current court. In the past 5 years, the total number of trails called has increased from 1,196 to 2,060, amongst those the number of jury trails called have increased by almost 100%.

At the same time, there has been a 55% increase in the number of trails adjourned, a quarter of which were adjourned due to a lack of court time in the past year. This is despite an increase in the number of days the court has sat.

In 2012 a consultation document from the Scottish Court Services that led to the closure of local courts across Scotland highlighted the need for change in Kirkcaldy. Continue reading

Claire calls for Charity event to mark bridge opening

With the Queensferry Crossing opening this year I have called for a charity event to celebrate the new bridge and raise vital funds for local and national charities.

The event would follow the success of the ‘M74 bike and hike’ which took place before the opening of the M74 extension in Glasgow in 2011. This event saw around 20,000 participants take part in 2 separate courses; a short 4km route or the longer 14km round trip.

Participants could raise money for the charity of their choice but the event officially recognised 8 main organisations, including SAMH, Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation.

This was a great way to open the M74 extension and simultaneously raise awareness and money for charity and it would be fantastic if such an event could be arranged for the opening of the Queensferry Crossing.

I have no doubt that Fifers would love the opportunity to be amongst the first to cross the bridge and take part in what could be a full day of fun stretching from one side of the Forth to the other.

With great views of the rail and road bridge along with the coast of Fife, the opportunity for people to cross the bridge before it is open to cars should be fully considered. This would be a great initiative to raise money for local charities such as MND Scotland but also for the many local charities across Mid Scotland and Fife that do great work day in day out.

I hope that people across the region can get behind an event to mark the opening of the crossing event and that the Scottish Government will make such an event a reality.

Government must “step up and take action” on quad bikes

I have called for the Scottish Government to step up and take action on the illegal and anti-social use of quad bikes and motorised scooters after they confirmed to me that they were not taking any action to encourage the responsible selling and ownership of such vehicles.

I am disappointed and deeply frustrated that despite a commitment from the previous Minister for Community Safety, the Scottish Government have now decided to hide behind the UK Government rather than take action.

I have been campaigning against such anti-social behaviour for some time and I have organised roundtables, met with the Police, campaigners, and concerned members of the public, and raised the issue many times in Parliament.

The illegal and anti-social behaviour on motorised off-road vehicles, such as quad bikes, continues to blight our local communities and the public rightly want to see as much effort as possible from everyone in tackling this nuisance. Continue reading

Fife commuters cannot be ignored

I’ve called for the Scottish Government to stop ignoring Fife commuters after they have launched a consultation on a Rail Infrastructure Strategy.

The Government are holding workshops across the country but despite the strong case and campaign for Levenmouth rail link, the calls for a train stations at Newburgh, and complaints regarding overcrowding, unfair prices and lack of carriages, one will not take place in Fife.

The Government release states that these workshops will “reflect all distinct routes and markets that Scotland’s railways serve…and understand the needs and priorities of rail customers in those areas.” Fife’s voice must be heard.

Fife has been short changed for far too long and can no longer be ignored by the Government and ScotRail. The irony that locals will have to get a train to go to a workshop will not be lost on commuters.

That is why I have written to the Transport Minister calling for a workshop in Fife. Commuters and campaigners deserve to have their say on the future of rail in Scotland.

Claire backs ScotRail price freeze plan

Today Scottish Labour announced a plan to freeze Scotrail prices.

Passengers across Mid Scotland and Fife are fed up with overpriced, overcrowded and unreliable trains.

Despite this, fares are due to rise in January. That is why Scottish Labour is calling for a fares freeze. After weeks of misery, people across the region deserve a better deal.

If you agree with us and back our plan then you can sign Scottish Labour’s petition below:

Claire backs Freedom From Fear Campaign

With over 300 shopworkers assaulted every day I am pleased to support Usdaw’s campaign to call for an end to abuse in the workplace.

As part of the Freedom From Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse directed at retail staff, Usdaw members came to Parliament to highlight the problems faced by staff during Respect for Shopworkers Week.

Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse whilst serving the public. It is really important we stand together and ask people to keep their cool and respect shopworkers, especially as we approach the busy Christmas shopping period.

No one should have to go to work expecting abuse.

I will continue to campaign with Usdaw to provide shopworkers the support they need and deserve. We must give a clear message that abusing or assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.

Claire raises domestic abuse during FMQs

Last week during First Minister’s Questions, I asked Nicola Sturgeon a question on domestic abuse.

Statistics show that the number of people convicted for a crime with a domestic abuse aggravator is upwards of 80% and in the last 5 years the number of people convicted has increased.

I support the work of Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal Service in tackling this crime . People must have confidence in coming forward and reporting domestic abuse and they must feel they have the full support of the authorities in Scotland.

Domestic Abuse is a violent and psychological crime that can devastate lives. We should be doing all that we can to tackle this abuse in Scotland.

Funding cut to tackle childhood obesity

New figures have revealed that we are seeing year on year decreases in Scottish Government funding for the NHS to tackle childhood obesity. Meanwhile figures show that too many children are going to school at risk of becoming obese or overweight.

Over the past three years, funding for the NHS to tackle childhood obesity has been cut by over £100,000 despite reports that Scotland is still struggling with a childhood obesity problem.

Recent figures show that in 2015, 15% of children aged between 2 and 15 were at risk of suffering from obesity, with a further 13% at risk of being classified as overweight.

ISD Scotland have reported that the number of children in Primary 1 at risk of obesity and overweight in Fife and Tayside exceeds the national average.

Despite this, NHS Fife and NHS Tayside have both seen a cut of almost 7% between 2012 and 2016, whilst NHS Forth Valley has seen a cut of 5.5% over the same period.

Continue reading