02 February 2006

S2M-3786 Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 February 2006

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:16]

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Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3786, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): After extensive consultation with my political colleagues, I make an apology and an offer. I apologise for causing confusion by sitting beside the other Stewart in the Parliament and I offer to avoid creating situations in which such difficulty might arise in the future. I hope that that is helpful to Annabel Goldie.

I start with a part of the bill about which I will say absolutely nothing. My father used to play for Ross County 85 years ago and that is my excuse for knowing nothing whatsoever about football; unlike the minister, I will say nothing on the subject.

The bill touches on very serious matters. I am delighted to see that the mainstream parties in the Parliament share a broad consensus and I anticipate a willingness for us all to work together to refine in detail our similar, if not identical, objectives to improve the situation for the people of Scotland.

Although the events of the past week have concerned a single person, namely the young girl involved in the drugs scene in Glasgow, they give us a window or keyhole into a much bigger and more general problem. That is why I am particularly enthusiastic about anything that will beef up our ability to meet the drug barons' economic and organisational firepower with something equivalent in our criminal justice system. For me, and I suspect for many others, the war on drugs is a more immediate, real and bigger threat to us than the war on terror, about which we hear so much—not that I want to dismiss the latter; I only want to see emphasis on the former.

I give my whole-hearted support to the changes in the SDEA. The people in the SDEA, who are drawn from many disciplines—traditional police and others—are precisely the people who can understand how the drugs business operates and how it can be intervened in, disrupted and destroyed. The key, however, will be to get the money off the drug barons. It does not matter how many drug barons we take out of the equation, because as long as it is possible to make £1 billion out of the industry throughout Scotland—that is my estimate; according to some, the sum is five times that—people will come back into it. It is vital that the strategy that is laid down for the new agency addresses the banking system and the way in which lawyers collaborate with the major drug barons. Of course, the problem is not just Scottish but transnational, by which I mean that it is a problem throughout the developed world. It is right, therefore, that there should be incentives for everyone who is involved in our agency to work with as many people as possible.

The bill talks about immunity and incentives—I see a place for those and I know that others do too. However, I am cautious, because it is all too easy for people to try to buy their way out of difficult situations into lesser difficulties by a tissue of invention when the complexities of the interlocking parts of the organised crimes network make it difficult to test the veracity of what is being said. I can see the possibility of people being planted into the system deliberately to mislead and disrupt the efforts of the law enforcers.

Jeremy Purvis: Does the member agree that the aspect of the bill that would allow prosecutors to withdraw offers is a welcome step forward, in contrast to the black and white system that we have at the moment?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree entirely—that is good.

I very much welcome the increased emphasis on special constables. That initiative stems from the work of Pat Shearer, when he was assistant chief constable—he is now deputy chief constable—of Grampian. He is an excellent fellow, who has done some good work there. Of course, constables come from the community and all this will work if there are good attachments to the community.

Section 75 prohibits retesting for drugs when someone is being held. The minister should perhaps reconsider that, simply because drugs can be available inside prisons. There is an issue there that we might want to consider. Section 74 mentions a device for obtaining a record of the skin on a person's fingers, as distinct from a fingerprint. We should confirm whether DNA would be collected by that process. I welcome further attention on sex offenders—the minister knows of my special interest there.

The challenge for us all in the bill is the continuing debate between local decision making and central institutions. We have not resolved that debate; the bill moves it in one direction and, on this occasion, I welcome that. The key issue is that legislation will not solve all the ills. We need to do other things as well.


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