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Sex Offenders (GPS Technology)
First Minister's Question Time
12:00 pm

Photo of James Kelly

James Kelly (Labour)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government's position is on using global positioning satellite technology to monitor sex offenders released into the community. (S3F-2790)

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Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

The Scottish Government takes very seriously the safety of our communities and the management of sex offenders. The multi-agency protection arrangements that are in place in Scotland are among the most robust systems in the world for managing sex offenders.

The satellite tracking pilot in England was not developed further, because of the cost and because the technology could not be made to work effectively underground or in buildings. James Kelly will have seen the report on the satellite tracking pilot from 2004 to 2006. However, we will continue to monitor developments in technology—including satellite tracking—to ensure that we have the most effective methods to help front-line professionals in protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.

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James Kelly (Labour)

The public are right to be concerned about safety in relation to sex offenders. That is demonstrated by the case of the convicted rapist John Daly who, within four months of being released from jail, carried out a sex attack on a teacher in my constituency. Does the First Minister recognise that improvements in GPS tracking technology continue? Does he accept the comment of Mike Nellis, the professor of criminal and community justice in the Glasgow school of social work at the University of Strathclyde, that such technology would increase public confidence? Will the First Minister agree to consider a pilot project that uses the technology?

Photo of Rt Hon Alex Salmond

Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

As James Kelly knows from previous discussions, the pilot project took place in England between 2004 and 2006. I have said that we will continue to monitor improvements in technology, to see whether the difficulties that the pilot project encountered can be overcome. However, given the indications from that pilot and the lack of willingness from the previous Labour Government—and, as far as I know, the present Conservative-Liberal Government—to proceed in England on the evidence from the pilot there, it would not be right to announce a pilot in Scotland. It is far better to monitor developments to see whether the difficulties that the pilot exercise encountered can be overcome and to take action accordingly.

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Nigel Don (Scottish National Party)

I do not wish to trivialise the significant problems that people have when offenders reoffend, but is the First Minister in a position to confirm that the vast majority of those on the sex offenders register comply with their requirements and do not appear to constitute a significant problem to the public?

Photo of Rt Hon Alex Salmond

Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

That is correct, but the ones who do not do so are obviously of particular concern. As Nigel Don and James Kelly know, the Tayside pilot project is being rolled out across Scotland, so as to give further reassurance to communities. That is a welcome development in relation to public information. We tested the ability of that pilot project to answer some of the questions that many people had. It survived that test—it passed that test—hence it is being rolled out across Scotland, as I have said.

It is absolutely correct to say that the multi-agency protection arrangements that we have in place are very robust indeed, but if any sex offender breaks the monitoring conditions, that is a matter of great concern to people, and rightly so.

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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

Does the First Minister agree that the type of individual we are dealing with has a compulsion to reoffend, in some cases, and that they tend to be exceptionally devious personalities? Does he agree that anything that we can do to protect the vulnerable sections of our society should be done?

I refer the First Minister to correspondence that I had with Mr MacAskill in 2007, when the Conservatives were the first to raise the issue. I also welcome Mr Kelly's support today. However, that is inconsistent with the fact that, in 2008, both the Scottish Government and the Labour Opposition voted against our proposals on the matter. Will the First Minister again consider the advisability of having a pilot project under this heading?

Photo of Rt Hon Alex Salmond

Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

There has been a pilot project. I always argue for pursuing Scottish solutions when I believe that it is necessary. However, if limitations in the technology were exposed in the pilot project south of the border, I do not think that they would be overcome because of the project being transferred to Scotland. Technology changes, and improvements can be made. Perhaps the limitations can be overcome—that is why we are monitoring the position.

Bill Aitken would not wish to give the impression that the Parliament has been inactive on these matters. In the previous session, the Justice 2 Committee reported in 2006, making 33 recommendations to strengthen society's protection against sex offenders, and 31 of those recommendations have been implemented. Nine of them were implemented during the previous session, and 22 have been implemented since then. The Parliament has been acting on a range of activities, across the parties, to protect and strengthen Scotland's communities.