First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 9th December 2004.

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Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 12:00 pm, 9th December 2004

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Executive is taking to reduce reoffending. (S2F-1278)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We set out our proposals earlier this week in the "Supporting Safer, Stronger Communities:

Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan", work on which will be taken forward, as appropriate, by ministers in the coming months.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I am particularly pleased that the focus of the proposals is on action to cut reoffending and not on a new, single organisation that would have sucked local expertise to the centre. Will the First Minister affirm that community sentences will not be a so-called soft option but will deliver results in the reduction of reoffending rates? Specifically, will he say when drug treatment and testing orders will be rolled out across the whole of Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Drug treatment and testing orders will be rolled out across Scotland as resources allow and also as we learn from the initial schemes. The provisions for tackling reoffending that were outlined earlier this week are important for Scotland. We know that we have one of the highest reoffending rates in the whole of Europe and that the rate is particularly bad for those who have been in prison.

We know that we need to have not only a better prison regime but tougher community sentences. That will ensure that while someone is serving their sentence, they can rebuild not only their life but their character and their commitment to their local community. That is precisely our intention. At the heart of our proposals is a combination of tougher community sentences and better prison sentences and prison regimes. It is about time that we in Scotland saw some action.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I refer the First Minister to the consultation on reducing reoffending in Scotland, which was commissioned by the Government. The analysis of responses was published in October. Many agencies dealing with reoffenders and groups representing victims made the case that there is a strong link between reoffending and poverty. Does he share that view? If so, what specific measures is the Government taking to tackle the poverty that fuels so many repeat crimes?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

There is a link, but it is not an excusable link. There is a link between crime and poverty, but there are many people in Scotland today who are in poverty but who do not commit crimes. Many people, despite their poverty, are good members of their communities and worthy citizens, who bring up their families well and ensure that their kids follow in their footsteps. We should not badge people in that way.

On tackling poverty, it is important that we continue our many initiatives to improve jobs and job availability, skills, educational opportunities, health and employment opportunities, particularly, for example, for those who are on disability living allowance, so that we can get them back into the system, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced last Thursday that we should do. We have many other measures, including those to tackle child poverty and pensioner poverty. Those people might not be in the job market, but their poverty is just as important for us, and we will ensure that they, too, have those opportunities.

Meeting suspended until 14:00.

On resuming—