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.
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?
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.
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?
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.