08 December 2005

Subject Debate: Criminal Justice Plan

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 8 December 2005

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

Criminal Justice Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on the first anniversary of the criminal justice plan.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In my remarks, I will focus on Scotland's drug abuse problem. At the outset, I emphasise the obvious fact that I do not bring an eight-minute solution. My speech cannot deliver that, just as the minister said in her speech that the plan is very much a work in progress and that, after 12 months, it is far from complete. The most complex problems—which are precisely what we have in the criminal justice system—cannot be solved by quick fixes, simplistic solutions or political knee-jerk actions.

I welcome the fact that the Solicitor General has done us the courtesy of being with us throughout the debate and listening to what we have said. I know that members who addressed issues about the court system will welcome the fact that the Solicitor General was in the chamber to hear their remarks.

I see that Miss Goldie has, at last, returned and I welcome her back to justice debates and engagement with justice policy. I note that since the beginning of the summer recess she has asked only two questions on criminal justice, compared with 25 questions from her justice spokesperson. My colleague Kenny MacAskill has asked 26 and I have asked 67, so we know where the real action on criminal justice is taking place. Indeed, the minister has answered more than 360 questions on criminal justice during that period. The issue of criminal justice engages people throughout the Parliament—even Tommy Sheridan has asked two questions on it during that period, and his colleague Rosemary Byrne has asked six.

There is much with which we agree in chapter 2 of the criminal justice plan, which was published more than a year ago. There are little chinks of light here and there. Paragraph 2.2 of the plan reported that there were 56,000 injecting heroin users. After a year, that appears to have reduced to 51,000. However, that is perhaps one area in which we seem to have some understanding in a near-vacuum of knowledge in the field. The minister said that the plan was not a 12-month plan and that we should judge the Executive by its actions.

On rebuilding respect and confidence, 84 drugs networks were smashed, which is excellent because it strengthens the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. The minister deserves two gold stars; it is exactly the right thing to be doing.

On the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, it is always welcome to get a penny out of a drug baron's pocket, but I have compared the amount that is being recovered and found that it is less than the fines that have been levied by Aberdeen sheriff court alone, which puts our modest achievements in context. Recovering that money is difficult and more effort is required. More resources for the SDEA will be very welcome and we in the SNP will support that.

In my questions during the past few months, I have asked about a number of issues about which we have a disturbing knowledge vacuum. I will compare and contrast what the Executive says with—it is unusual for me to commend this source—what is coming out of the strategy unit at 10 Downing Street. The strategy unit publishes an annual report of more than 100 pages that explains the situation south of the border and makes some tangential reference to what happens in Scotland.

There is some good news in the answers to my questions. The Executive is, through the Home Office drugs strategy delivery group, working to involve foreign Governments and other organisations to identify ways in which we can reduce the supply of illegal drugs. That is very welcome, difficult, long-term action that illustrates perfectly that drug problems in Scotland do not stand apart from those in the wider world.

Jeremy Purvis: I am sure that the member has seen the HMIC report. Table 12 on page 96 of that report shows the positive effect. In 1996-97, the police recorded 39 offences of illegal importation. In 2004-05, there was one offence.

Stewart Stevenson: Of course that is what the table shows. However, the strategy unit's 2003 estimates show that the annual profits of an importer are, on average, £2.5 million. A distributor will earn £1 million and so it goes on. We can therefore see that there is a very significant problem.

It is also estimated that 34 tonnes of heroin and about 30 tonnes of cocaine are brought into the UK annually. According to the strategy unit, seizures in the UK are at around 10 per cent.

Let us consider the profit margins in the drugs sector. Gucci, a hugely high-margin retailer, has a profit margin of 30 per cent. The strategy unit estimates the profit margin of the drugs industry to be at around 58 per cent.

When compared to the strategy unit's information, the information that we have in Scotland is extremely modest. I asked the Scottish Executive whether it had been contacted by people who are willing to conduct research on the drugs trade. When it came down to it, the answer was "Mebbe aye, but we're nae doin' it."

I asked what contacts we had had with the Home Office to determine the size of the UK drug trade. The answer was, "Yes, it has been in touch," but that was about it.

I asked for an estimate of the size of the illegal drugs trade in Scotland, but there are no current plans to compile one. However, the strategy unit south of the border provides precisely such an estimate: it is approximately £16 billion—the range is £12 billion to £20 billion. In such an information vacuum, we are unlikely to raise the issue up the agenda in the way in which that is required. It must rise up the agenda.

We recognise that about 1,200 youngsters in Scotland are at the root of the antisocial behaviour on which this Parliament has spent so much time. Sceptical as we in the SNP were, we supported the bill on that subject. However, the reality is that there are 50,000 drug users across Scotland, and they are responsible for three quarters of crime. Let us put the drug problem into context. It is much bigger than the problem of antisocial behaviour and touches every community. The size of the industry makes it comparable to, if slightly smaller than, the size of the tourism industry in Scotland. I hope that, over the coming year, we will see someone really engage with that. I say that in an entirely non-partisan way. We will work with the minister. She knows that I can work with her on subjects in which we have a common interest. Everyone in the chamber and everyone in Scotland has a common interest in this subject and we must work together to remove the problem.


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