28 November 2002

S1M-3641 Drugs Courts

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3641, in the name of Bill Aitken, on drugs courts, and on two amendments to that motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):
"There is more joy in one sinner that repenteth".
Although the Executive came rather later to drugs courts than did the SNP, its arrival is nonetheless doubly welcome. We share the view that drugs courts are the way forward.
I share members' concerns about the possibility of known offenders accessing treatment and support the pleas for further investment to ensure that people who wish to come out of addiction have the opportunity to capitalise on that wish and motivation before it disappears.
Although we are debating drugs courts and therefore addiction to illegal drugs, we should remember that the general addiction to drugs is much wider than we would sometimes care to acknowledge. Even in this relatively sparsely populated chamber, there will be a number of drug addicts and people who are in remission. No, I am not looking at you in particular, Presiding Officer. It is 30 years since I had my last cigarette and I can fairly claim to be in remission. However, temptation is present every day: someone in the pub might pass round a packet of cigarettes and, under certain circumstances, I might unconsciously reach for one. Fortunately, the social norms mean that such an occurrence happens less frequently. We should not cast stones at addicts, because many of us are addicts ourselves.
Mike Rumbles, who is not in the chamber today, has taken a close interest in the subject of alcoholism. I know that he would wish me to remind the chamber that that legal drug has caused serious addiction problems.
However, the debate is about the role of drugs courts in getting people out of addiction and out of crime. Bill Aitken was absolutely wrong to characterise such courts as a "get out of jail" card; they actually represent a "get out of crime" card. The current arrangement of treating addicts in the mainstream court system simply has not worked, and we must try another option. We are testing drugs courts. It is possible that they might fail, although I believe that with a fair wind, proper resources and enthusiastic and committed professionals they will succeed. We must make them succeed, because at the moment there is no other visible option.
In my role as sweeper in this debate, I want to address one or two other issues that have not yet been covered. In its 1999 manifesto, Labour promised to double to 200 the number of police officers in the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. We are still below that figure, and have not heard any plans to increase numbers in early course. Perhaps that will happen next year. However, the Executive is taking a very long time to deliver on an important commitment that was made nearly four years ago.
I want to turn to the difficulties about the Executive's need to work with its colleagues in Government in London. I raise the issue not to make a constitutional point, but to make a practical one. Because legalising drugs is a reserved matter, Home Office debates down south will affect the situation in Scotland. I seek the minister's assurance that he is working closely with colleagues elsewhere. Our views on the matter are well known, and I will not repeat them.
However, I draw particular attention to the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which makes it an offence for property owners knowingly to permit or suffer the use of a controlled drug on their property. Such a provision means that landlords cannot rent property to drug addicts if they know that addicts are likely to permit or suffer the use of controlled drugs on that property. As a result, there is a one third higher prevalence of heroin use among people in hostel accommodation and a 94 per cent higher percentage of heroin use among people of no fixed abode than in other groups. Those people cannot qualify for DTTOs because they are homeless. It is important that we examine other aspects of the system if we seek to minimise the effects of other legislation on drug addicts.
I should also point out that because the number of customs officers has been dramatically reduced, the drugs business continues to be successful and the channels to market remain open.
We must put the drug user at the centre of our concerns. Drug dealers are a different issue, because they volunteer to deal drugs. Once drug users have been exposed, perhaps on a single occasion, to the use of drugs, they cease to have a choice. Their addiction compels them down a path that leads to criminality. I very much welcome the introduction of drugs courts and very much regret that the Tories are unable to see beyond the justice system to provide justice for the community and addicts.

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