28 April 2005

S2M-2736 Criminal Justice Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Criminal Justice Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2736, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on supporting safer, stronger communities and the reform of Scotland's criminal justice services.

I think that Cathy Jamieson is just about ready.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In this debate, we find much on which we are prepared to agree with the Executive, certainly on matters of policy. I suspect—because as yet I have heard nothing to the contrary—that the Executive finds much of our amendment acceptable and in line with its thinking. On that basis, I hope that it will extend its intellectual agreement to a voting agreement at 5 o'clock. However, we shall see—that is not the most important thing in the debate.

The minister opened her contribution by talking about safer communities. I am glad to say—although I have a slight suspicion about things that Patrick Harvie said—that no member has suggested that the policy should be that there should be less safe communities. Therefore, we can start with agreement about that.

The minister correctly focused on the scourge of drugs and drug addiction, which are at the heart of much of the crime that blights our communities. She referred to dealing with

"gangs at home and abroad".

I was particularly interested in her mentioning dealing with gangs abroad. Perhaps Hugh Henry—who I understand will sum up—will say at least two sentences about that matter, as I am particularly interested in it.

Many members have referred to knife crime. Like everyone else, I am deeply concerned about the effects of knife crime. However, we must focus on people who commit knife crime, rather than on the weapon itself, because once getting hold of knives has been made more difficult, much knife crime is likely to be committed by people using a knife out of the kitchen drawer, as Gordon Jackson suggested, or a knife that has been obtained by legal means. After all, strenuous efforts to improve gun control have not necessarily reduced the use of guns by criminals, who obtain guns by other means. The issue is a person's state of mind and their preparedness to commit crime.

The minister referred to reoffending, which is a subject that is fraught with difficulties. In the past five days, I have received a couple of parliamentary answers on the matter. I asked a question about reconvictions after two years and after four years—members should note that I said "reconvictions" rather than "reoffending", as there is a difference between the two. The most recent figures for those periods are for 1999. There is a paucity of figures, but I believe that more is being done that may help.

There is an interesting issue that we might consider. For Scotland overall, the reconviction rate within four years is 71 per cent. For crimes of indecency, the figure is 22 per cent. Superficially, that sounds like good news in relation to indecency, but it is particularly difficult to obtain convictions for a number of crimes that come under that heading, both in the first place and in the second place.

For example, another parliamentary answer suggests a conviction rate of only 6 per cent for rape and attempted rape. We must therefore look with caution at a reconviction rate of 22 per cent. If we do a bit of clever arithmetic on the rape and attempted rape conviction figure of 6 per cent, then probably the reoffending rate for people who are guilty of indecency is above that of the average overall. The conviction rates, perhaps not; but the reoffending rates I suggest are above average. The minister could usefully ensure that research is undertaken to help us all—the Executive and the Opposition—to understand better the reality of life on the streets as distinct from the statistics.

The minister graciously referred to improvements that have been made in Fraserburgh and Peterhead as a result of community wardens. However, I caution her not to be drawn into thinking that things are as simple as they have been made out to be. On 9 December 2002, I spent time in a normal policing situation—without the press—with PC Duncan McInnes on the streets of Fraserburgh. I did so at his express invitation and not at the invitation of the sergeant, the inspector, the superintendent or indeed Andrew Brown, who was the chief constable at the time. PC Duncan McInnes had fought the system to be allowed to patrol the streets of Fraserburgh for four hours a day because he believed in a police presence on the streets and his case has been made by changes that have been made there.

On 30 November 2002 I spent five hours, from 11 o'clock on a Saturday night, out with a police van, which was a revelation for someone who had a sheltered boyhood. The real problem is, of course, that community wardens are not tackling some of the problems that come up at weekends and overnight, but yes, they are worth considering and worth having.

I will not say much about sex offenders because Paul Martin's members' business debate after decision time will give us an opportunity to comment. It remains a serious issue.

I got the impression that Patrick Harvie was trying to persuade us that if someone has a drug problem that causes them to offend, they should not go to jail, however serious the offence, because they are not in control of their actions. Addicts are indeed victims of the addiction that has captured them and taken away some of their self control. Nonetheless, addicts only cease to be addicts by taking control of their own lives again. Addicts are not people who have surrendered all control over their own actions.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in his final minute.

Stewart Stevenson: If they were unable to help themselves, the logic of Patrick Harvie's position would mean that we should lock up addicts for their own benefit until they were no longer addicts.

We welcome and support the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. We welcome much of what is in the Executive's proposals and documents, but we want more effort to deliver on the promises that have been made.


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