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Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): I join the Secretary of State in acknowledging the task fulfilled by Lord Cullen, and the meticulous and sensitive way in which he conducted the inquiry and prepared this important report on a most awful and tragic event. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute again to staff and the emergency services, many of whom acted well beyond the call of duty.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that Lord Cullen's report should be studied with great care, not only by hon. Members but by the public.

Liberal Democrat Members welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the recommendations. I am sure that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that, in instances in which the Government want to exceed Lord Cullen's recommendations, they are more in line with the submissions made by Liberal Democrat Members to Lord Cullen. I assure the Secretary of State that he will have our co-operation in the necessary legislation.

While the Secretary of State acknowledges that there may be concern in some quarters about legislation on making available access to information on criminals, and perhaps on those who have not been prosecuted, will he consult on the detail of that legislation? We share his view that schools should not become fortresses, and that fortresses are not suitable places for the upbringing and education of children. We welcome the fact that resources will be made available to help schools to implement action plans.

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Although Lord Cullen identifies weaknesses in Central Scotland police in how they processed firearms applications, does the Secretary of State accept that the current law, even without further legislation, allows for a much more rigorous approach to the consideration and granting of firearms applications? Will he tell us what action has already been taken to bring that to the attention of police forces across Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: On the latter point made by the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that there is not a chief constable in Scotland who has not examined this issue very carefully after the event. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in his analysis of the state of the law. Far be it from me as an ordinary mortal to disagree with a lawyer on Scots law.

I agree with the more general observations by the hon. Gentleman. He asked whether I would consult on the specific issue of making available to youth organisations information that the police hold that is other than about criminal records. I realise that this is, of course, a sensitive issue, but in situations in which we are dealing with the protection of children, the balance lies with tilting away from the civil liberties of the individual. I should be happy to discuss with him the criteria that will be applied and how that will operate.

One matter that comes out very clearly from the report and the analysis of Thomas Hamilton's background is that information was not communicated because he had never had a criminal conviction, although there had been several instances in which a prosecution was considered but did not proceed because of a lack of evidence.

That information would be of value to organisations thinking of employing people who would be acting in an unsupervised capacity with young children. I am certainly happy to discuss that with the hon. Gentleman. I greatly welcome his positive approach to the matter and his saying that he will support the Government's proposals for legislation when they are brought before the House.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): Is my right hon. Friend aware that every hon. Member is with him on this difficult day, as he has to make a statement on the appalling event in his constituency? Will he confirm that, when considering the laws affecting the supervision of young people and children, account will be taken of the fact that bodies such as the Scouts, the Boys Brigade and the cadet forces will probably fall within the scope of organisations dealing with children, as they recruit at quite a young age? Will their position and structures and the way in which they do things be taken into account when the law is being formed?

Mr. Forsyth: We shall, of course, consult on the proposals; indeed, the Government's response gives a commitment to do so. It is important that all youth organisations can have access to a database that provides information about individuals across the United Kingdom. That is what we mean to achieve. Of course, if my hon. Friend has any particular suggestions, I should be very pleased to take account of them.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): On behalf of the Scottish all-party group on children, I should like to

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welcome what the Secretary of State said about the regulation of voluntary bodies and the vetting of volunteers. Can he say anything about the regulation of summertime play schemes which tend to be of shorter duration than those of usual bodies? If he cannot comment now, is it something that he will be sure to consider when drawing up his plans?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Lady follows these matters in detail. She will confirm that we said that we would defer further consideration of that matter until we had studied Lord Cullen's report. I have had an opportunity to raise the issue with officials, and we hope to be able to reach a final conclusion, but, in the light of the Cullen report, it is very unlikely that we shall take the deregulatory road that we originally intended.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) on the dignified way in which they have proceeded, especially as this must have been so harrowing for both of them. It was entirely right to set up the Cullen inquiry and that it should have the blessing of the whole House. It was also right that we await the outcome of that inquiry before making judgments. I welcome the attention that my right hon. Friend has given to school security and the vetting of youth workers, but may I express regret that, to an extent, in the run-up to the publication of the report, the wider arguments have been lost to the issue of gun control?

Mr. Forsyth: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that one or two people have questioned whether Lord Cullen's report was necessary; once people have had an opportunity to study it, I think that they will know the answer to that question. Lord Cullen sets out in great detail the facts and the background, and I think that that is the best basis on which to take decisions about the variety of policy issues that have arisen.

Of course gun control is an important aspect of that, but there are other, wider issues that matter to thousands of organisations and literally hundreds of thousands of people across the country. It is right that we approach the matter with a clear and critical analysis of the facts carried out by a man of Lord Cullen's quality. At the end of the day, my hon. Friend is right: it is for the Government to take a decision about what is required, but it is best to do so with the type of report that Lord Cullen has presented.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North): Will my right hon. Friend accept that hon. Members representing constituencies far from Scotland are equally grateful to him for his speedy response to the report placed before us today, and that we are also grateful for the fact that we have had so succinct a report? I have not had a chance to read it in detail.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the essential now is that energy is given to the establishment of clearly defined security procedures for each school and educational institution in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom to provide for the safety and protection of children and of staff, which is a matter of everyday interest and concern?

Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my hon. Friend, but I think that Lord Cullen is right to emphasise the importance of

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individual schools looking at their own circumstances and working out what is required. It is difficult centrally to prescribe particular standards that will apply to every school. Every school, like every child, is different, and the remedies that need to be applied need to be looked at on a school level.

The remedies also need to be proportionate if we are to maintain the quality of schools, and it is for local authorities to work with the schools to achieve that task, and for grant-maintained schools and others to address the matter directly. The specific grant that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and I propose will assist local authorities in that task.

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that Lord Cullen has addressed the issues in a sensible way, and that he has been greatly assisted by the work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the earlier part of this year, much of which is already being implemented.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth and Kinross): I join the Secretary of State in expressing admiration for Lord Cullen, and for all his work over the summer in respect of the inquiry. There are a great many recommendations which will undoubtedly gain widespread support. Notwithstanding the Secretary of State's statement, I must ask whether he personally agrees that the case for a total handgun ban has been made over the summer, and that to fall short of that and to exempt any number of handguns would leave far too many of those weapons in use.


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