21 April 2005

(S2F-1584) G8 Summit (Impact on Edinburgh)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what impact the G8 summit will have on access to public facilities in Edinburgh and what the effects of any restrictions may be. (S2F-1584)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The plans for dealing with a large number of people in Edinburgh, as elsewhere, will be a matter for the chief constable in consultation with the local authorities and other relevant agencies. They will be based on the most up-to-date assessment of risks at that time. As ever, the chief constable will have our full support.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the First Minister for his reply. Would he share my concern if people such as us in public life, and their facilities, were in light of an assessed threat to have protection that was denied to people elsewhere in Edinburgh, including commercial premises and ordinary individuals? Does he agree that we should make every effort to ensure that the Parliament building and other public buildings remain open for business as usual during the G8 summit?

The First Minister: The Presiding Officer would be the first to pick me up if I tried to interfere with his role or that of the parliamentary authorities in deciding the opening hours of the Parliament and the arrangements that apply in that regard.

I would not wish to see unnecessarily preferential treatment from the security services for anybody in our society. However, the chief constable and others must make a proper assessment of risk, not just to buildings but to people throughout Edinburgh as well as in the parliamentary complex. When they make that assessment, they must make the decisions that are required. I hope that the Parliament will follow their advice.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): I wish to make the First Minister aware of the genuine concerns of local businesses, community representatives and shopkeepers in the area around the Parliament and throughout the city centre about the potential disruption to their lives and the potential damage to property that they read about in the newspapers on a regular basis. We have already had lessons in disruption to people's lives in this area, including, for example, to pensioners who were not able to access local services, and to bus services when Canongate is closed. Will the First Minister meet me to discuss what we can do to reassure local people that their needs and concerns will be taken into account in the important planning that he has talked about being done by all the authorities? We need to ensure not only that the agencies talk to each other, but that local people also know what is happening.

The First Minister: I want to reassure the people of Edinburgh that the agencies are not only now talking to each other but have been for some considerable time. A considerable amount of planning, not all of which can be made public, is going into ensuring that security in Edinburgh is as strong as it can be around the dates of the summit.

I would be happy to arrange for the Minister for Justice to talk to Sarah Boyack about those plans in more detail than can currently be provided. However, I make it clear that Scotland has one of the best-trained, most highly skilled police forces in the world. On this occasion, we have the benefit of operating jointly with the British security forces. We are well prepared for the summit. We cannot assess every possible outcome, but we can assess the level of risk and are doing so, partly so that we can also concentrate on exploiting the opportunities that the summit gives us. Those opportunities will deliver hundreds of millions of pounds of benefit to the Scottish economy now and in the future. We are preparing for the G8 summit in July by seizing the opportunities at the same time as we assess and deal with the risks.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Lothians) (Con): Will the First Minister ensure that the police have the necessary back-up support, so that if offensive weapons are accumulated beforehand, as has happened at other summits, preventive action can and will be taken?

The First Minister: The police are planning for all eventualities and are working with others to ensure that they have the resources, facilities and back-up support that may be required to deal with whatever may transpire.

Mark Ballard (Lothians) (Green): The First Minister has indicated his support for the police and local authorities. Does he agree that the City of Edinburgh Council should be supported financially to allow it to provide public facilities for those who, at the invitation of Gordon Brown, amongst others, are coming to Edinburgh to exercise their right to peaceful protest, and that the provision of proper public facilities is the best way of avoiding any confrontation in Edinburgh or across Scotland during the G8 summit?

The First Minister: Discussions are taking place on this issue at the moment. We have made it clear that, as well as providing additional finance for the police authorities in Scotland that will be most affected, we will ensure that additional finance is available for local authorities in Scotland that may be affected. The details of that finance must be negotiated—there is no blank cheque to any authority or other organisation. However, we will ensure that resources are provided and that Scotland is prepared.

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