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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 24 May 2017

Agenda: Cycle Capacity (Railways), Business Motion, Security, Portfolio Question Time, Cyber-resilience, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, National Parks


Contents


Security

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon on security in Scotland. The First Minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

14:00  

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am grateful for the opportunity to give Parliament a further update following the awful events in Manchester on Monday night. In particular, I thought that it would be appropriate to set out the implications of the decision that was taken last night by the joint terrorism analysis centre—JTAC—to raise the security threat level from severe to critical. I received a briefing last night from the United Kingdom Government’s national security adviser on the reasons behind that decision. Indeed, I have spoken to him again within the past hour.

Clearly, it would not be appropriate to go into the detail of an on-going investigation but, in summary, I will say that the increase in the threat level is due to a concern that the attacker who carried out the atrocity at the Manchester Arena may not have been acting alone and that it is, therefore, possible that a further terrorist attack could be imminent. However, it is important to be very clear that it remains the case that no specific threat to Scotland has been identified.

In the light of the increase in the threat level, I took the decision last night to convene a further meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee. That meeting took place in the early hours of this morning and included the Deputy First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, the Lord Advocate, Police Scotland, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and our regional resilience partnerships. The chief executive of the Scottish Parliament also took part. That meeting was an opportunity for us to discuss the immediate implications for Scotland of the heightened security status.

Clearly, the matter will be kept under on-going review, taking account of any intelligence that is available to the police. As the chief constable indicated this morning, Police Scotland has now established a multi-agency co-ordination centre at Govan police station to lead the response across the country with key partners. I will visit the centre later this afternoon to see its operations for myself and to receive a further briefing about the nature of the response. However, I want to outline as clearly as is possible at this stage what some of the practical consequences for Scotland are likely to be over the next few days and what the public can expect to see.

There has been media discussion in particular about the use of military personnel to support the police in their duties, under what is known as operation temperer. Operation temperer is an established plan for mobilising military support to the police service following a major terrorist attack, and the decision about whether to authorise it is a matter for the UK Government. It has two distinct phases. The first involves deployment of the military to sites that are currently provided with armed policing by Ministry of Defence police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. That frees up additional armed police officers to support police forces across the UK. The second phase involves deployment of military personnel to support the police to guard specific sites, under the control and direction of the police.

It is important to stress that, at present, only the first phase of operation temperer has been authorised. That means that military personnel will be used at civil nuclear and Ministry of Defence sites in Scotland. There is a total of 12 such sites—nine Ministry of Defence sites and three civil nuclear sites. Those sites, which are not accessible to the general public, will be secured by the military as of today. The presence of military personnel at sites of that nature in Scotland and across the UK will free up the armed police who are normally on duty there. Those armed police will create a contingency resource that can be deployed across the UK. Any decision to use that contingency resource in Scotland would be for the chief constable. However, Police Scotland has no plans, at this initial stage, to do so. It has confirmed that it has reviewed security across Scotland to ensure that the right level of policing is in place, and that it can provide that level of policing from within its own resources. That will, of course, be kept under review by Police Scotland.

It is important to point out that Police Scotland has in the past year made significant progress to ensure an increase in armed policing to around 600 trained firearms officers in Scotland. It has also increased the number of firearms officers who are on duty at any one time. As a result of the change in the threat level to critical, Police Scotland has since Monday night effectively doubled the number of armed response vehicles that are on patrol.

It is likely that the public will see more armed police on the streets than usual, particularly at transport hubs and around city centres—although it is maybe worth stressing, given the understandable attention that operation temperer is receiving, that we do not currently envisage that military personnel will be deployed in Scotland on the streets or at other public locations. However, as with all operational matters, that will be kept under review by the chief constable. As I said, it is likely that, for the duration of the increased threat level, the public will see more armed police on the streets than usual, particularly around transport hubs and city centres. I want to be clear that that represents a specific response to the increased threat level following the Manchester attack. The threat level is kept under review and will be kept at that level only for as long as an attack is judged to be imminent. Therefore, it should not indicate a more general or long-term shift to having armed police on regular patrol in Scotland.

As I said yesterday, the police are completing a review of every public event that is due to take place over the next few weeks. That includes a full review, with the Scottish Football Association, of this weekend’s Scottish cup final to ensure that there is appropriate deployment of police and stewards. That work is on-going. The other major events that are being assessed include the visit on Friday of President Obama, the Edinburgh marathon, which is due to take place this weekend, and the Lisbon Lions memorial event in Glasgow. In addition, guidance is being issued to the organisers of all large events.

I stress that the aim of the police is to allow public events to continue, as far as possible, as normal, but the public should expect additional safety measures at those events. The measures may well include full body and bag searches and the presence of armed police. For that reason, as well as urging the public to co-operate with those measures, I urge people to ensure that they leave extra time if they are going to an event or travelling through an airport or a train station. In all this, our very clear aim is to strike a balance between protecting public safety and ensuring that day-to-day life goes on as normal. The enhanced security measures are part of how we aim to do that.

As always, the public have a role to play, as well. My message to the public is that this is clearly a very anxious time, but there is no need to be alarmed. Many of the steps that are being taken now are precautionary. I repeat: there is no intelligence of a specific threat to Scotland, but I ask the public to be vigilant and to report any concerns or suspicions that they may have to the police.

I want to provide a further update to members on the specific impact of Monday night’s awful events. My thoughts and, I am sure, those of everyone in the chamber remain with the families of those who have lost their lives, the victims who were injured, and the people of Manchester more generally. Police Scotland family liaison officers are currently in Manchester providing support to the families of Laura MacIntyre and Eilidh MacLeod from Barra. I am aware that there is significant information in the media about those two young girls, in particular about the condition of Laura, but their families have requested privacy at this extremely difficult time. For that reason, I do not intend to go into further detail today. I simply want to assure Parliament that as much support as possible is being, and will continue to be, provided to them at this unimaginably difficult time. I know that we all want them to know that they are very much in our thoughts.

More widely, we know that, in total, seven people have now presented at hospitals in Scotland. I am pleased to report that all have since been discharged. It is, of course, possible that other people who witnessed the terror attack or its immediate aftermath have returned to Scotland and are feeling distressed or upset. Anyone who has concerns about themselves or their children should contact their general practitioner for support. Information has been reissued to health boards that provides guidance to adults and children who have witnessed traumatic events.

As I mentioned in my statement yesterday, the events of Monday night were upsetting for all of us, but they may have been especially upsetting for young people, so this is a time to ensure that parents and teachers talk to children about any concerns that they have. We remain in contact with Young Scot as well as with Education Scotland and local authorities to provide the guidance and support that they need to help with those conversations.

I know that this is an anxious time for everybody across the UK. However, again, my message is that people should be vigilant but not alarmed. The steps that I have been describing today are precautionary. Most important of all, people should continue, as normal, to go about their day-to-day business. The Scottish Government’s resilience operation will remain active for the foreseeable future to ensure that there is strategic co-ordination of our overall response, and I will continue to update Parliament as required. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will also be happy to speak directly to any member who has concerns or queries.

I end—I am sure on behalf of us all—by again putting on the record my heartfelt thanks to our emergency services. Their bravery and dedication is not news to us, but at times like these it never fails to inspire. We are grateful to each and every one of them.

With those remarks, I am happy to answer questions.

The Presiding Officer

The First Minister will now take questions for the next 20 minutes.

Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

I thank the First Minister for her statement. The defence and security services have been clear about the threat of further attack, which is why the threat level has been raised to critical. In Scotland, that means visible armed policing at key locations, a review of security and hosting at major sporting and entertainment events, and further enhanced security checks to ensure that people are kept safe. We should be vigilant. We should also be patient, because access to certain events and locations will take longer. What we should not be is fearful, nor should we be cowed.

As Chief Superintendent Roddy Irvine of Police Scotland tweeted this morning:

“Worth remembering folks, armed Scottish cops are still just Scottish cops. If you say hello, they’ll say hello back, if you :-) they’ll :-) back.”

As we face down the current threat, I know that the sight of armed police officers and service personnel at key locations may be unsettling. However, there can be no doubt that their response is necessary, and we thank them for their professionalism and bravery. It is vital that the police and the security services have everything necessary to get on with their job in the coming days. As we said yesterday, the terrorists will not win. By meeting their cowardice with calm and implacable defiance, we will show that to be the case. Can the First Minister reassure Parliament that if Police Scotland requires any extra resources over the coming days—particularly this weekend—the Scottish Government will step in to help?

The First Minister

In short, yes—I can give that assurance. I will expand slightly on that. As I have indicated to Parliament, I am in regular discussions right now with the chief constable of Police Scotland. He participated in our meeting last night, I have spoken to him today and I will see him in Glasgow later today. He has assured me that he is able, from within the resources that he has, to provide the enhanced coverage—in particular, the armed police officers—that I have spoken about. I will continue to ensure that I, the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary For Justice and the entire Government liaise closely with the police to ensure that we respond to any need for support and resources that the police request.

There are two points—one that I made in my statement and one that I will add—that we should bear in mind to give us a level of assurance. First, the justice secretary made a statement in Parliament some months ago about the fact that the police have decided to increase the number of armed officers that they have available to them. That has been work in progress throughout the year; as a result, there has been a significant uplift and there are now about 600 armed officers available for deployment by the police. Secondly, as we have discussed many times in Parliament over the past decade, Parliament has ensured that we have, in our budgeting, maintained the number of regular police officers on the streets of Scotland.

Both those moves give our police a level of resources that gives them the confidence that the chief constable is able to give me. However, that does not take away from the enormous pressure that our police officers work under—not just during times like this, but generally. We will continue to do everything that we can to make sure that our brave policemen and policewomen have the support that they deserve.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

In light of the new threat level, extra security is visible in this building and around Westminster, embassies and other civic locations, yet we are all too aware that many of the recent attacks across Europe have been at markets, high streets, music events or sporting occasions. Will the First Minister provide any additional reassurance about what people across Scotland can expect when going about their everyday lives? Separately, are there any practical steps that the public can take to support the police in their work?

The First Minister

I will answer that question in three quick ways. First, not everyone on every street corner in Scotland will see this, but the most obvious visible difference to the general public will be more armed officers on the streets. They will be particularly visible around transport hubs, crowded places and city centres. A lot of people in Scotland who do not normally see armed police will see armed police while the increased threat level is in place.

Secondly, on what the general public can do, they have a key role to play. It is the police’s responsibility to keep the public safe, but we all know that the public’s co-operation is an important part of that. My message, again, to the public is to be vigilant. People should make sure that anything at all that is of concern or which creates suspicion is reported to the police. More generally, they should be co-operative and patient, as I know the vast majority of the public will be.

The public will be inconvenienced over the next few days—or however long the increased threat level lasts. It will take longer for people to get into places that they are visiting and there may be other inconveniences. If people find that it is taking longer for them to get into a sporting or some other event, they should remember that the reason for the delay is their safety.

Thirdly, on events more generally, I said yesterday and I have repeated today that a review of all public events is on-going. I will not go into too much detail but, clearly, a broad spectrum of public events take place, such as football matches that take place in confined spaces over limited time; there are also more open events, such as this weekend’s Edinburgh marathon or the outdoor festivals and markets that people attend. The police have all that under review in their assessment process and, because of the different nature of the events, the responses will vary from one to the other. However, we must have confidence and trust in the police to carry out those assessments and to provide the appropriate level of response. I assure those in the chamber that that work is well under way.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Those who are asked to keep our society safe have a difficult job to do—and they have our support in doing it. We have always accepted that, in the appropriate circumstances, the deployment of armed personnel can be appropriate and necessary, but the judgment is a finely balanced one. The sight of armed personnel, whether police or military, can give reassurance, but it can also increase public anxiety. What criteria would need to apply for the additional deployment of armed personnel under operation temperer to be stood down? Secondly, will the First Minister provide an assurance—or seek one from the UK Government—that the additional deployment will have no impact on the legitimate expression of political or peaceful public protest, including, for example, by the peace movement at MOD sites?

The First Minister

On the deployment of armed police, the balance that Patrick Harvie talks about is very important. I know that the police, too, believe that that balance is important. When we have discussed issues of armed policing in this chamber before, it has sometimes struck me—I take my fair share of the responsibility for this—that we do not always distinguish between two often separate issues. The first issue is the number of armed police that we have trained and able to be deployed. The second issue is the circumstances in which they are deployed. On that first issue, the police have been increasing the numbers of trained armed officers.

It is very important to stress that, outside of periods such as this one, the general policing rule in Scotland is that we do not have armed police routinely patrolling the streets. There are very limited circumstances in which armed police are deployed: firearms incidents and where loss of life is an issue. However, during incidences such as this, we will see armed police deployed more generally on our streets. I was very careful to say today that we should not assume that this is a general move to more routine patrolling by armed police officers; rather, this is a specific response.

How long that response lasts will be very much driven by the decisions that are taken by JTAC. In and of itself, the JTAC decision to increase the threat level did not mean that operation temperer would be invoked, but that decision was also taken last night. The duration of both those things will very much flow from the progress that is made in the investigation that is under way. The threat level has been raised to critical because there is a fear that the attacker was not acting alone and that there is a risk of an imminent attack. It was not my decision to do that, nor will it be my decision to downgrade the threat level again; the decision will be driven by the state of that investigation.

As far as civil liberties and protest are concerned, I think that our police in Scotland do an excellent job in supporting people’s absolute right to peaceful protest, and I would not expect that to be different at this time. However, all of us in all walks of life should be mindful of the additional pressure that our police are under at the moment and should, as part of our contribution to meeting the needs of the present circumstances, be as co-operative as we can be with the police as they go about their task.

Peaceful protest is a fundamental part of our democracy. We should never forget that it is our democracy that the attackers are trying to undermine, and we should not allow them to do that.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am grateful for the First Minister’s statement and for the concern that she has expressed on behalf of us all to the victims, their families and the members of the rescue services, who are still dealing with the aftermath of the horrific incident in Manchester.

I have complete confidence in the painstaking and intelligent work that is being carried out by the security services and the recommendations that they have made. They have to strike a balance: we want our country to be safe and our citizens to have confidence, but we want that to happen without creating a climate of fear. In Edinburgh today, in the railway stations, on the buses and in streets such as the Royal Mile, people are out in numbers, going about their normal lives. That tells me that the balance is right.

How often does the First Minister expect to review those arrangements? How will she judge whether the balance is being maintained?

The First Minister

As I said, all the arrangements are under on-going review. Although I have a significant part to play in the assessments, I stress that, when it comes to security and intelligence and the level of threat here, those decisions will be reviewed and judged on an on-going basis by JTAC; rightly, it will do that independently.

The judgments and assessments about the resources that the police in Scotland deploy will be made on an on-going basis by the police, led by the chief constable, because that is his independent operational responsibility. Through the Scottish Government resilience arrangements, I will make sure that we provide strategic oversight of all that. I will make sure that we understand those judgments, that we give support to the outcomes of them and, of course, that we provide vital accountability to Parliament and the public.

Those judgments and assessments will be made by all the different players on an on-going basis and, as I said in my statement, I undertake to keep Parliament updated and advised of any changes as often as Parliament considers it appropriate.

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

Given that we have the freedom to live in a country that has policing by consent, does the First Minister agree that, in times such as these, it is crucial that we embrace and uphold the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law?

The First Minister

Absolutely. That is fundamental, and it lies at the heart of all this. We know—we discussed this yesterday and we have discussed it in the past—that terrorists’ purpose is to undermine democracy and the rule of law and the values and freedoms that we all hold so dear, and it is vital that we do not allow them to do so.

That question has particular relevance right now, as we are in the middle of a general election campaign. As politicians, all of us will want to strike the right balance between respect for those who have been affected by the atrocity in Manchester and making sure that we do not allow the ultimate expression of democracy—an election—to be undermined. We will all be very mindful of the need to strike the right balance in getting back to the business of the election campaign as quickly, but also as decently, as possible. As we discussed in the aftermath of the Westminster attack, there are many things in the chamber and elsewhere that we disagree on. That is absolutely legitimate, but I think that we can all come together and unite around those core fundamental values and be absolutely resolute in our determination that they will not be undermined.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The First Minister mentioned in her statement President Obama’s planned visit to Scotland later this week. Have there been direct discussions about that with President Obama’s team, and do we expect the visit to go ahead as planned?

The First Minister

First of all, Police Scotland is carrying out a review of all major events, including the one involving President Obama. Obviously, additional security will be provided by Police Scotland for a visit of such a nature and involving somebody in his position. Those discussions are undoubtedly on-going, but I do not think that it would be appropriate to go into any more detail about them.

I am not anticipating anything other than the event going ahead, but I make it very clear that the police are reviewing all these events, and that will lead to their making decisions on them. The aim is to allow not just this visit but all of these events to go ahead. However, I must point out—I do not want to set any hares running; I am not talking about President Obama’s visit here—that it cannot be guaranteed that none will be cancelled over the course of the next couple of weeks. The aim is to put in place arrangements that allow these events to go ahead safely, and I fully expect that to be the case with the visit of President Obama on Friday.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

Attacks such as that in Manchester are sadly an all-too-common occurrence in many countries around the world. What discussions are going on with the Governments of other countries on the security threats that all nations face?

The First Minister

Obviously there are on-going discussions, principally with the intelligence and security services of other countries, to share intelligence and to make sure that that sharing of information gives as much mutual protection as possible. The Scottish Government is kept updated on intelligence or security threats principally through the national security adviser, and we have discussions on a whole range of matters with other Governments on an on-going basis. The principle of intelligence sharing is, I know, very much at the heart of the approach that is taken to intelligence and security in the UK.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Will the First Minister expand on the on-going discussions that are being held with the UK Government on the use of operation temperer? She stresses that there is no specific threat to Scotland, but what advice and reassurance can be given to the many people who will be looking to travel across the UK this holiday weekend?

The First Minister

Operation temperer is an established process that deals with military support for the police after terrorist attacks. It is the UK Government’s decision to invoke it; as I have explained, it has two phases, the first of which was invoked and authorised last night. It is not inevitable that operation temperer is invoked when the threat level goes up, but that is what happened last night.

Its duration is very much a matter for the UK Government, but that will be very much driven by the progress of the investigation. I repeat what I said earlier: the reason for the increase in the threat level is a concern that the individual was not acting alone and that there might be others out there and other imminent attacks. Clearly, as the investigation progresses as we hope it does, with arrests being made and people who might be involved being brought to justice, the risk will, I hope, lessen, but such judgments are informed by the security services and taken by the UK Government.

As for the public overall, I make it very clear as I did yesterday that we have no intelligence of a specific threat in Scotland. That is the case as of now, although it stands to reason that that might change in future. The measures that I am talking about are vital, but precautionary. In many respects, much of what is being done across the UK is precautionary, because of the concern that I have talked about. It is not for me to give these messages on behalf of other parts of the UK, but I think that I can say with some confidence that the message that I am giving in Scotland is the one that is being given by Governments in other parts of the UK: be vigilant, but do not be alarmed. These are precautionary measures in response to the circumstances in Manchester and the progress of the investigation so far. Because they are in place to keep people safe, people should not be alarmed, but they should continue to be vigilant.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

What resources are available to those in Scotland who have been affected by the attack in Manchester?

The First Minister

I touched on some of this in my statement. We have Police Scotland family liaison officers on the ground in Manchester, who are providing specific support to the families of the two girls from Barra, and that support will continue for as long as is necessary.

In addition to that, for people returning home, I outlined yesterday some of the work that Police Scotland is doing in partnership with the British Transport Police to identify any possible witnesses coming back to Scotland, who may have information that is important to the investigation. There will also be, among those people or separately, people who have come back who perhaps did not witness anything but nevertheless are experiencing upset or trauma because of what they have been through, and we are working with the health service to make sure that the appropriate advice and information is available for people in those circumstances.

As I have also said both today and yesterday, I am particularly mindful of the impact on children—not just children who were at the concert, but children who are watching the scenes on the television, who will feel unsettled and scared. We have therefore worked with Education Scotland and councils as well as with Young Scot to make sure that information is available to help with conversations with young people. I recommend that those who have not seen the information that Young Scot distributed yesterday have a look at it, because it is very good. I think that parents, teachers and anybody else who has interaction with young people will find it very useful, as it tries to help with that.

A range of support is in place but, again, as with all aspects of this, we will keep it under review to make sure that anybody who has been affected and who needs support is able to access that support in an appropriate way.

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

This outrage has taken place during a general election campaign. At some point, the parties will decide that it is appropriate to recommence campaigning. However, there may be many small community organisations that have been planning to hold hustings meetings, who will hear what the First Minister has said about public gatherings. Some of those meetings can attract considerable numbers of people, and those organisations will wonder what their responsibility is in these circumstances. I wonder what advice and assurance the First Minister would give.

The First Minister

That is a very good question and a very relevant one given the time that we are in. My general advice would be to go ahead as planned, but I would supplement that by saying that anybody who is organising a local event—not just a local hustings—who has any concerns or just wants some advice and assurance should contact their local police commander to get that. I know that the police will be very happy to provide that advice locally.

That goes to the heart of what I have tried to say throughout. We want people to carry on as normal. We do not want life to grind to a halt or become abnormal. People just have to take sensible precautions. People should carry on as normal, and if they have any concerns, the police are there to try to address those concerns for them.