08 September 2004

Statement & Debate: Scottish Executive's Programme

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is continuation of the debate on the First Minister's statement on the Scottish Executive's programme.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I want to speak about two aspects of the Executive's programme: justice, which has been discussed this morning, and health. I look forward perhaps to hearing further detail on health issues this afternoon.

First, on justice, we have been discussing the number of prisoners and having a rather unproductive debate about whether we are reducing the number of prisoners by increasing the number of spaces that we are building for them. There is relatively broad consensus that there is not much point in sending people to prison unless they come out of that experience changed by it. There are three Rs in the justice system. The first of them, which the public thinks about a great deal, is restriction of liberty. That is the punishment part of the system. The very act of a person being locked up, having reduced communication with their friends and family and having little opportunity to participate in the economy—they cannae go tae their job in the morning—is the punishment.

The second R, which has been discussed to some extent—and about which we heard nothing in the Executive's programme—is restitution, or restorative justice. There is a great deal of opportunity for members throughout the Parliament to come forward with ideas on that subject. It is a subject that is not yet much developed, and I would like the Executive—and indeed my SNP colleagues—to continue to develop it.

Cathy Jamieson: I am glad that that point has been raised as restorative justice is one of the issues that, because of the lack of time, I had difficulty developing in my speech. I can give the member the assurance that the Executive is absolutely committed to ensuring that we have sentencing programmes in which offenders have to make some reparation in the communities against which they have offended.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister. I am delighted with that, and I am sure that, as sensible proposals come forward, the minister will have a fair wind for them from the SNP. I am equally sure that we shall make our own proposals.

The most important of the three Rs is rehabilitation. Scotland is spending an increasing amount of money on programmes in the prison service—I very much welcome that. However, I have considerable concerns about what I have seen happening in the private sector in prisons. I am not just referring to what is happening in Scotland. I visited a private prison in Wales and found a lamentable failure to engage in a meaningful way in rehabilitating prisoners and ensuring that, when they left prison, they were less likely to reoffend. The figure of 60 per cent reoffending has been mentioned.

I take a considerable interest in the programmes and work of Peterhead prison, in my constituency. I very much welcomed the minister's spending a day with us in the north-east, observing the work of the prison. I hope that she was not too alarmed by the number of prisoners who greeted me by my first name; I can assure her that it is simply because I am their constituency MSP and not for any other, more sinister reason. We have not yet found a way of providing adequate support to what is going on at Peterhead. I recognise that the minister is focused on delivering two new prisons in the central belt for other purposes, but I hope that we will get an early indication that we can get the necessary investment to support, sustain and further develop what happens at Peterhead.

The minister will know, from her meeting with Liberal-independent Aberdeenshire Council, at which I joined her, that there is considerable concern about the proposals for a single correctional agency. The SNP initially took a neutral approach to the proposals, but as we have talked to local authorities in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere, it has become increasingly apparent that local authorities feel that they have a valuable contribution to make through the criminal justice social work system, which they provide and administer. We are in real danger of moving in a centralising way that runs against good practice and effective delivery of the rehabilitation efforts that must take place after prisoners are no longer within prison walls. More generally on that front, there are worrying signs within the Executive. Local authorities have been given the power to promote well-being, but we have seen little change in the Executive's relationship with and empowering of councils.

One of the major issues that will occupy us as we engage with the topic of health is the automation of record keeping in the health service. As we introduce changes in the pattern of out-of-hours care and call centres, more and more of patients' preliminary contact with the health service is with people who have no access to their medical records. That will cause health problems as well as introducing significant inefficiency in the system. In England, substantial amounts of money are being spent to do something about that—I look to England from time to time to learn from what happens there. We will return to that issue.

The First Minister said yesterday that he wanted us to be the best small country in the world. I have more modest ambitions: I want us to be equal to other small countries. I have no grand vision that Scotland is uniquely better than everywhere else, but I think that Scotland is as good as everywhere else. I welcome Mary Scanlon's conversion to the cause of independence—I hope that she moves from advocating independence for charities to advocating independence for Scotland.


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