19 May 2005

S2M-2824 Serious Organised Crime

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 19 May 2005

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

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Serious Organised Crime

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2824, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on tackling serious organised crime and developing strategic partnerships.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the opportunity to debate this important subject. Like Bill Aitken, I welcome the relative consensus that has been reached. The disagreements between and within parties are largely about implementation and detail, rather than broad principles. On that basis, the Scottish National Party will find it perfectly possible to support the Executive motion, while hoping that members of all parties will favour the strengthening of the motion by agreeing to our amendment.

I particularly welcome Elish Angiolini's speech, which touched on the essence of our amendment, because it demonstrated that distinctive and separate contributions must be made by politicians and law officers. It is excellent that law officers make significant contributions to the debate and interact with members of the Parliament, to listen and to inform. Of course, the Scottish law officers and legal system must be maintained at an appropriate distance from political interference. I suspect that any discussion of the matter that we have will be of a minor nature and not of great moment.

I always listen to Bill Aitken with care and interest, although I do not always agree with him.

However, I do agree with his comment that it would be wrong to pretend that there is any great division among members in the debate. I also agree with his call for more co-operation across jurisdictions and police authorities throughout the world. I have a minor disagreement; if Bill Aitken were to search for volunteers in the Parliament and elsewhere to help to return Glasgow to being a city with a pub that has no beer, he might receive some offers of assistance, especially if he is paying.

The work-up approach to which Mr Aitken referred, the Tory amendment's call for a "zero-tolerant attitude" and the references to New York are beguilingly attractive, but the approach might cause genuine difficulties. Zero tolerance had successes when it was implemented in parts of New York, but the difficulty is that, like soap in the bath, crime might simply have been squeezed out, to adjacent parts of the east coast of the United States of America. I do not criticise zero tolerance; I merely put into perspective the inevitable limitations of the approach. However, sacred cows are even now being slaughtered in Delhi, as the authorities in that city try to deal with the serious problems that they cause, so perhaps we should reconsider the things that we hold dear, which might be inhibiting our ability to look afresh at our problems.

It has been suggested that we consider the weed-and-seed approach. I am not staking my personal credibility on the suggestion, but we should think about it, because it offers an interesting way of considering aspects of the criminal justice system.

Clearly, some people must be put in prison. They are so dangerous, and are such significant players in the industry that is criminality, that prison is the only place that allows us to protect society from them.

The view that too many people are in prison is shared. The suggestion has been made that communities could be offered the chance to choose people to take out of prison, who would be accepted into the communities in exchange for the money that it would have cost to keep them in prison. That money would then be spent on community projects. It is an interesting idea. It has the benefit of engaging members of the public in supporting communities and making them safer and clearer of criminality.

Annabel Goldie for the Tories said that we should increase security at our major ports, but that just takes us back to the New York argument. If we make it more difficult for people and things to come into this country through our major ports, they might just come in through our minor ports—or, indeed, through no port at all. A person has only to give one hour's notice, and does not need any permission, before arriving anywhere in Scotland from anywhere in the European Union. That involves only customs; the person does not have to tell immigration. As a private pilot, I can land in any field in Scotland from any country in the European Union without telling immigration first. That is the legal position. I am required only to give customs one hour's notice, which I can give en route. I do not need permission.

Therefore, we cannot solve problems by hermetically sealing boundaries. That approach might lead to improvements, but it will not solve the problems. The key is international cooperation, reaching out beyond our boundaries to work with others of good will who want to tackle international crime.

I have learned something this week. It had slightly puzzled me that hoodies had become a big issue. I knew that farmers were always very concerned about hoodies at this time of year, because they pick out the eyes of newly born lambs and pick over the entrails of dead sheep. To me, a hoodie has always been a variety of crow, but I now realise that hoodies are regarded as a source of serious crime in some urban areas. Therefore, I have become more informed as a result of my preparation for this debate.

The debate reminds us that crime, in economic terms, is a perfect market. In other words, if trading conditions in one part of the criminal industry become more difficult, criminals will simply move to another part. That is why we welcome any efforts to beef up the agencies that deal with the very senior criminals who are responsible for so much misery in society.

Kenny MacAskill said that a lot of manufacturing of drugs takes place in the United States; it is just the raw material that comes from Colombia. I visited Colombia some years ago and it is a quite frightening place to be. I visited a friend who ran a textile manufacturing plant just outside Bogotá. He kept a loaded shotgun behind every door of his house, his wife was not allowed to answer the door on any occasion whatever and he had put barricades at all the corners of the building to prevent ram-raids. He was a person working in a very innocent industry, but his situation typified the fear and difficulties of ordinary people living in a country that has been captured by international crime.

We are capturing increasing amounts of the assets of the wholesalers in the drug industry, and that is welcome. However, if we consider Scottish banks and note that they have a turnover of between £20 trillion and £80 trillion a day but issue just over one thousand million banknotes, we see an obvious difference between the amount of the actual folding stuff that we are all familiar with and the amount of stuff that goes through computers. I raised that issue in an earlier intervention.

Communication is changing in the modern world. When the Greeks sent ships out to their empire, it took three months to get an answer back. The Romans used hilltop signalling; they could exchange a message between London and Rome in a single day. Today we have the internet and we measure communication in milliseconds.

We on the side of good have to be as adept as the criminals at exploiting new technologies. For too long, they have set the agenda; now we must set it. All of us in the chamber must share responsibility and offer support for that.


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