– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:27 am on 16th December 2004.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2158, in the name of Annabel Goldie, on justice issues with specific relevance to reoffending, and three amendments to the motion.
I am pleased to bring this debate to the Parliament and to speak to the motion in my name. The debate will enable the Executive's justice proposals to be examined. One might have thought that the Executive would have offered such an opportunity itself, but, of course, the Executive is—regrettably—no stranger to disrespect for the stature of the Parliament. It should come as no surprise at all that on 6 December the Minister for Justice launched Scotland's new criminal justice plan by press release. One might have thought that a plan that was described by the minister as "ambitious and wide-ranging" and that comprises five sections and 23 proposals would have merited at least a ministerial statement in the Parliament or an Executive debate. We all know that the Executive has debated far less important issues in the past, so surely an "ambitious and wide-ranging" plan merited parliamentary attention. Unfortunately, however, Executive arrogance transcends Executive accountability and, of course, parliamentary debates have the tiresome habit of being embarrassing for the Executive, which is certainly not part of the devolved governance game plan. Therefore, the Conservatives are pleased to rectify the Executive's omission and to bring the Executive's proposals to where they should have been brought in the first place—the floor of the chamber.
Of course, we should not be surprised that the Minister for Justice felt impelled to launch her criminal justice plan, but the public could be forgiven for asking where it has been. The Executive's record on crime is appalling. A crime is committed every 78 seconds. Since 1997, violent crime is up 16 per cent, vandalism is up 23 per cent, drug crime is up 38 per cent, figures for handling offensive weapons are up 49 per cent, figures for rape and attempted rape are up 34 per cent and homicide is up 20 per cent. Significant levels of unreported crime must be added to those figures. I am talking about retailers who cannot cope with the hassle of reporting shoplifting and about incidents involving broken windows, dented cars, disorderly behaviour and mindless acts of petty vandalism. Levels of reoffending are also giving cause for concern.
Therefore, an Executive criminal justice plan is overdue. Unfortunately, the plan is indicative of confusion, incoherence and paradox. For example, what is the underpinning strategy of the plan? I do not know and I suggest that no one else knows. However, I will offer a strategy. We should deter people from committing crime, detect them when they commit crime and, on conviction, ensure that the sentence reflects both the public's desire for punishment, protection and deterrence and the rehabilitation needs of the accused.
I have a brief question. What were the reoffending rates for various crimes under the Tories?
It is perfectly obvious from the statistics that I have just given that the overall rate of crime was significantly lower and that visible policing in our communities was significantly greater. There is a clear connection between the two.
I asked what the underpinning strategy should be. Do the five sections and 23 proposals offer implement of the strategy? They do not. We cannot protect communities and prevent crime as long as there are only 140 police officers on the beat at any one time throughout Scotland. Indeed, as more police officers are deployed by the First Minister for duty in our turbulent schools, the beat presence will diminish further. That is why we must prioritise the provision of more police officers, which alone would deter first offenders and repeat offenders from committing crime. Fear of being caught is an effective inhibitor. In addition, when the court considers that prison is the appropriate disposal, the sentence that is imposed should be the sentence that is served. That means an end to automatic early release, which my party has consistently advocated.
It is interesting that something seems to have penetrated the minister's mind. Apparently, she will consider ending automatic early release for prisoners who are convicted of sex offences. That is good, but to pick and mix who gets automatic early release and who does not is incoherent and illogical. If automatic early release should be ended for sex offenders, it should be ended for all offenders.
My party differs from Labour and the Liberal Democrats in that, instinctively, they do not like the concept of prison. They seek to avoid sending offenders to prison and to let those who are in prison out at the earliest opportunity.
I listened carefully to what Miss Goldie said, but what is absent from her speech is any indication of how the Conservatives would try to break the cycle of reoffending through rehabilitation, training
That is not so. If Mr Raffan lets me continue, he will hear what he wants to hear.
The difference between my party and Labour and the Liberal Democrats is that my party regards prison as a sentencing necessity for certain convicted offenders. Where the courts deem that disposal appropriate, we would ensure that the capacity exists and that the full sentence is served. We are not coy about prison being a punishment, a deterrent and a necessary protection for the public, but we are insistent that the rehabilitation of prisoners and the preparation for their return to the community must be vastly improved, as must community support on release.
It is naive and simplistic to say that prison does not work when, under the Labour and Liberal Democrat regime, the full sentence is not served, rehabilitation is ineffectual, community support is frail or non-existent and there are not enough police officers in our communities to stop reoffending. It is true that we have full prisons but, proportionately, Spain sends nearly four times as many offenders to prison and its crime rate is about a quarter of ours. The picture in Ireland is similar.
Given the absence of any understandable drugs policy from the Executive it is no surprise that there is an unacceptably high proportion of prisoners with addictions who are offered no meaningful rehabilitation. My party supports drug testing and treatment orders at district court level, which would do a great deal to assist early intervention and rehabilitation and would reduce the pressure on our prisons.
In conclusion, the Executive's policies on crime have failed to address the fundamentals of deterrence and detection. While the Executive persists with the discredited option of automatic early release and neglects prisoner rehabilitation, unacceptable levels of crime and reoffending will continue.
That the Parliament notes the unacceptable rate of reoffending occurring in Scotland today; accepts that there is a place in our criminal justice system for a range of different sentencing options to address this problem but recognises that when a prison sentence is the appropriate disposal then prison is not simply a punishment but is intended to rehabilitate, deter and protect the public; believes that the way to reduce reoffending and subsequently the prison population is to reduce the overall incidence of crime in Scotland, and therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to increase the police presence in our communities to deter and detect crime and to end automatic early release from our prisons to ensure honesty in sentencing.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer. You took me by surprise. I thought that I was merely speaking at the end of the debate but obviously the arrangements have changed somewhat.
Members may well hear it twice.
I never fail to be astonished at the effrontery and sheer brass neck of the Conservatives when they try to lecture the rest of us on what should or should not be done in our communities. Annabel Goldie talks about police numbers, but does she seriously want us to go back to the level of policing that was available in our communities under the Conservatives? Does she want us to cut the number of officers patrolling the streets so that we reach the level that was established by the Conservatives? The truth is that since the Tories were kicked out of Government we have increased the number of police who are available in our communities—
I will take an intervention in a few minutes. The members should let me get started—I am just warming up.
We have steadily increased police numbers. Since the Executive came to power the partnership has delivered extra police on our streets. We are going further: we have also significantly increased funding for police services. Between 1999-2000 and 2004-05, spending on police increased by 31 per cent—more than twice the rate of inflation—and it will rise by a further 17 per cent in the period to 2007-08. We do not want crocodile tears from the Conservatives or their hypocrisy when they talk about police numbers.
The minister says that there are increased numbers of police, but does he accept that that has not meant more police in our communities? There has been a requirement to recruit more police officers to deal with the greatly expanded office duties in relation to issues such as the Macpherson report, asylum seekers, management of the sex offenders register and dealing with the European convention on human rights. Does the minister accept the Association of
There is a range of complicated issues in Annabel Goldie's comments. We are committed to ensuring that police officers do the job for which we employ them and we are making sure that they are taken away from jobs that can be done more effectively by other people. We want the police to tackle crime and we have a record of commitment in relation to that. It is true that we now live in a more complex society but it is for the chief constables to decide how to use the record resources.
We should reflect on what Audit Scotland said in a recent report on police and fire performance indicators: clear-up rates for recorded crime are at the highest ever level, housebreaking is down, car crime is down and drug seizures continue apace.
I certainly want more seizures of drugs such as heroin and cocaine and we must remain vigilant about our continuing drug problem. However, the number of crimes recorded by the police is at its lowest level for nearly a quarter of a century. We should try to put some perspective—
No, thanks. I have taken two interventions already.
We must put the debate in perspective. It is for that reason that we tried to bring some sensible structure to the debate on what we do on crime, criminality and offending in Scotland, and that is why the Minister for Justice brought forward her proposals to tackle reoffending. We have taken a number of steps in relation to police and enforcement, including consideration of court reform, a comprehensive programme of modernisation of prosecution services, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 and hugely expanded youth justice programmes, but we know that there are other, more complicated issues that we need to address.
Why do so many people in this country go to prison and why do so many people reoffend when they come out? Is there a better way to address the problem? I pay tribute to members of the Justice 1 Committee, who are examining in a detailed manner what can be done to tackle that pernicious problem. It is a cheap shot for Annabel
Does the minister agree that the Conservatives have shown again and again their failure to understand the complexity of drug misuse? The whole point of DTTOs and drugs courts is to get drug addicts into treatment and recovery and so break the cycle of reoffending. That is how we should treat people—unless they are guilty of serious offences—rather than sending them to prison, which is a waste of time.
Keith Raffan probably gives too much credit to the Conservatives. I do not think that they have a clue about what they want to do in relation to criminality and offending.
We believe that prisons are an important part of our judicial system. They are places where people should be punished and the community should be protected by our putting people away, but we must recognise that there is a certain point in a sentence when many people come back out into the community and we need to prepare them appropriately.
I do not have time.
In "Supporting Safer, Stronger Communities: Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan", we unveiled an ambitious and wide-ranging programme to reduce reoffending. We believe that we need to press forward with reforms to protect communities, prevent crime and tackle drug-related crime. We want to continue to reform our courts, and we need effective interventions.
The Minister for Justice is clear that we can start to make a difference: by bringing together different parties and getting the Scottish Prison Service to communicate with local authorities more effectively; by creating new community justice authorities; by getting people to co-operate at a local level; and by having an overarching, strategic national framework with local delivery.
We need to reflect on why people are failing when they come back out of prison. It is right to ensure that someone at a local level takes responsibility. For too long, no one took responsibility: work was done in prisons and in the community, but there was no consistency or continuity and people fell through the gaps. Local community justice authorities will have responsibility for tackling reoffending and ensuring
We have listened carefully to people who told us to leave the staff where they are just now and to leave responsibility with people locally, albeit in some new configurations. We agree with that and will work with people in their local areas. We want to ensure that they engage more effectively with the Scottish Prison Service and that the Scottish Prison Service engages more effectively with them.
I argue that what we have set out in our criminal justice plan is a very radical proposal, and I think that it will be effective. I must say in all honesty—not just to the Conservatives, who prompted the debate, but to other members of the Parliament—that there is no easy solution. We would be doing a disservice to the Parliament, to communities and to the wider public if we thought that we could come forward with a cheap slogan that would solve everything within a couple of months.
Some of the issues that Kenny MacAskill raises in his amendment are the right ones. What is it about our society, in which people drink too much, take drugs and turn to violence, which makes it different from some other societies in Europe and other western countries? We must get behind and address some of those problems. If we do nothing else, we will serve the country well if we encourage a mature and sensible debate.
The Tories are, yet again, scrabbling for some cheap votes with some cheap shots on issues that they do not really understand. Instead, we need a mature debate, which I think should continue for a number of months. I hope that we can reach some consensus in the Parliament on this issue.
Sorry, Presiding Officer. I move amendment S2M-2158.3, to leave out from "unacceptable" to end and insert:
"Criminal Justice Plan's acknowledgement that the rate of reoffending occurring in Scotland today is unacceptable; agrees that prison should be used where prison is the appropriate punishment but notes that prison is also intended to rehabilitate the offender, deter the prospective offender and protect the public; agrees that prison must sit within a range of different sentencing options to address reoffending, and therefore notes the increase in police numbers compared to the numbers delivered by the Conservatives, the establishment of the Sentencing Commission to consider a number of issues including early release, and that the recently published Criminal Justice Plan includes measures to tackle Scotland's high reoffending rates, reduce crime and the fear of crime and strengthen confidence in the country's criminal justice services."
I would have been happy to have moved the Deputy Minister for Justice's amendment as well as my own. We have no real difficulty with its tenor, nor do we have much difficulty with most of the minister's rhetoric. This appears to be an area in which we require to work together, not fall apart.
I fundamentally disagree with one part of Annabel Goldie's speech. Perhaps I picked her up wrongly, but she seemed to say that because sex offenders are dealt with in one particular way, other offenders should be dealt with in the same way. I do not believe that, rationally, it is possible to deliver that. A small number of sexual predators are deeply dangerous and are not capable of the rationalisation that is required. They might not be mentally ill or capable of being treated in prison, but they might be either sociopathic or psychopathic and they need to be dealt with differently from other prisoners. To say that that small handful—thankfully, it is just a small handful—should dictate how everybody else is dealt with is not acceptable.
Does the member agree that, in any criminal justice system, there must be equality of treatment and that honesty in the sentencing of one offender should mean honesty in the sentencing of every offender?
It must depend on the individual. If somebody is incapable of making a rational decision or is deeply dangerous because of some psychological flaw, it is our duty as a Parliament and as a society to deal with that person differently. A handful of people out there—as I said, thankfully, it is only a small handful—are deeply dangerous and we know them to be capable of reoffending if they are released. They are ticking time bombs. To say that somebody who has free will and choice and who has stolen a hunk of meat from a shop should be dealt with in the same way as a dangerous sexual predator is patently not correct. We have to deal with such dangerous people differently. Sadly, they exist and we cannot treat all prisoners in the same way as we treat that deeply dangerous minority.
Is there a role for prison in society? Absolutely. There is clearly a need to deal with dangerous people, from whom we have to be protected. Some offences are of such magnitude and of such gravity that none of the available sentences other than imprisonment is appropriate, even if the offender is not dangerous. However, that necessary role of prison is not one of crime control or prevention; it is the sentence of last resort. Simply imposing prison sentences will not dissuade people from committing crime. We must examine other methods, particularly rehabilitation. There are far too many people in prison, including
I sat in on committee meetings listening to the evidence of Andrew McLellan and others as various questions were being asked. What is it that encourages somebody not to reoffend? Do they have a home to go to? Do they have employment that they can access? Do they have a family? In many instances, people who are locked up for a short sentence lose their employment and their tenancy and break their relationships with their parents, partner and whomever else, and the likelihood of their reoffending escalates. That is why short-term sentences do not work.
Sadly, Scotland is heading towards having the highest per capita prison population in western Europe. There are many European league tables that we should aspire to lead, such as those on economic growth, pension provision for the elderly and social provision for the needy. However, I certainly do not include banging up more people in our society than in any other civilised democratic community in western Europe among those aspirations. The Executive is culpable of doing that at the moment, and the Tories want to escalate the rate of sending people to prison.
Not particularly. The fact is that we are heading towards having the highest per capita prison population. That is something that we cannot take pride in. I agree with the points that Mr Henry made about that.
Our kids are not genetically programmed to commit more crime than youngsters in Dublin, Stockholm or anywhere else. The reasons have to lie elsewhere. There must be other factors, not just with regard to what causes crime but with regard to how other countries address the punishment for the crime. Simply to aim to bang up more people is a counsel of despair. I agree with the minister that there is no one magic bullet or easy solution to curing crime and the social problems that go with it.
Poverty is no excuse as far as causing crime is concerned. Societies that are far poorer than ours have lower crime rates. We had significantly greater poverty in this country in the 1920s and 1930s, yet crime was not at the same levels then. There is still clearly a link, however, and if people deny that link, they deny the obvious solution: we must address mass unemployment, social dislocation, community fragmentation and family fragmentation, all of which have occurred. In the
Does the member accept that many of the people who are entering prison now have no experience of work and that it is possible to introduce them to work in prison, as a result of which their chances of employment are increased, which in turn stops them reoffending?
No, I do not accept that as far as short sentences are concerned. When I met Mr Croft, the governor of Saughton prison, he pointed out that any sentence under six months was useless. The prisoner has a four-week induction period and another four-week period at the end prior to getting out. Most courses last a minimum of 20 weeks. Courtesy of simple arithmetic, unless people are sentenced to at least 28 weeks, there is nothing that the SPS can do with them other than simply control or contain them. Therefore, such short sentences do not work. In fact, they lose people employment prospects, rather than provide people with any skills with which to gain employment.
Although there is no simple solution, we should try to develop some consensus about where we go from here. That will need the Executive to trim a bit, and it will require members of Opposition parties to give a bit more. We cannot have a stop-start approach or keep chopping and changing. We cannot limit ourselves to one method, as there is no simple solution that will work overnight. Drug testing and alcohol rehab will not change our society overnight, because we are dealing with problems that have come about over two or three generations of long-term, deep-seated unemployment, in households where there is no work, no father figure and so on.
We need to work together to achieve a consensus. However, that consensus must not be simply to lock 'em up or hang 'em high. We must be tough on crime and must ensure that individuals take responsibility for their actions, but fundamentally our society and the Parliament that represents it must take responsibility for all our
I move amendment S2M-2158.2, to leave out from "accepts" to end and insert:
"further notes that the causes of crime are manifold, involving social and economic dislocation and family and community fragmentation with drink, drugs and deprivation remaining at the root of much crime and antisocial behaviour; notes with concern that Scotland is heading towards having the highest per capita prison population in western Europe; calls, therefore, for a visible police presence in our communities and for prison to be reserved for serious and dangerous offenders; calls for action to be taken to ensure that community-based disposals are available for minor offences to ensure rehabilitation and best use of public funds; calls, therefore, on the Executive to ensure that it is not only tough on crime but tough on the causes of crime, and recognises that the solutions are multifaceted and require individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and for society to take responsibility for all its communities."
I welcome this debate—[ Interruption. ] The bottles are starting to fly.
I begin by making the point that the number of people whom we send to prison is ultimately a political decision, rather than a judicial decision. In recent years, the prevalent political mood has been to send more and more people to jail for longer and longer. As Kenny MacAskill said, we build more jails and break more records annually for the number of people whom we incarcerate. The Conservative claims that the Scottish Executive does not trust prison and is not serious about sending people there are not backed up by the facts.
It is time to acknowledge that the prevailing political mood has been unhelpful in reducing reoffending levels and has failed to address the deep-seated problems in Scotland that relate to offending and reoffending levels. As the Deputy Minister for Justice knows, many people have said for a long time that sending people to jail for longer does nothing to reduce levels of offending and reoffending in our society. Among them is Professor Jacqueline Tombs of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, who has been proved correct yet again. The prevailing attitude, from which the Executive has done too little to dissuade people, is that prisons are holiday camps and that non-custodial sentences are soft options. Today our courts sentence more people to longer prison sentences than they did 10 years ago.
Colin Fox will have heard Stewart Stevenson's intervention about reoffending levels under the Conservatives. Does he acknowledge that those
I am delighted that we have already secured an admission and an apology from the Tories. I hope that that is not the last one in the debate.
I hope that members will address the attitude that I have mentioned, examine where we are failing and accept that a change in direction is badly needed. As other members have indicated, reoffending rates are immensely disappointing. Eighty per cent of male offenders under 21 reoffend within two years and 82 per cent of all jail terms are for less than six months. The Scottish Prison Service admits that it can do little to alter the offending behaviour of people in that category.
Over the past year, as the Scottish Socialist Party's justice spokesperson, I have taken the opportunity to visit a number of Scotland's prisons. I am repeatedly told by the governors and staff whom I meet that the vast bulk of prisoners in their care ought not to be there. Eighty to 90 per cent of the prisoners in our prisons represent no threat to the public and are there because of a mental health problem or drug or alcohol addiction. Prisons are not the place in which to address the problems of people with those conditions and to rehabilitate them.
To add insult to injury, it is well established that first-time offenders often learn things in prison that ensure that they come out with worse attitudes than those with which they went in. When the Scottish Prison Service forecasts—as it did last month—that, on current trends, the Scottish prison population will reach 10,000 in the next decade, it is surely impetus enough for action and progress on this matter.
We need an altogether more imaginative and determined approach if we are to insist that offenders challenge their offending behaviour and, in return, help them to return to the straight and narrow. The cost per prisoner is £33,800 per annum, which is a costly failure.
I recognise the need for a range of sentencing options, as the minister and others have said. Diversionary activities and action to tackle the roots of the problem are particularly important. All criminal justice professionals agree that the most effective intervention is that which nips the problem in the bud. I support community programmes and restorative justice programmes. I also support the constructs programme to which the Executive referred in the document that it published last week. Those are steps in the right direction, although the constructs programme looks like an admission that strangling the
All members of the Parliament accept that communities throughout Scotland express a strong desire—which Annabel Goldie was right to highlight—for a local community police presence, dedicated to supporting the community's needs and answerable to it. The minister might want to reflect on the fact that, although the number of police has risen, they are not arriving in the communities that desire and need them.
There is a danger in the attitude that the courts currently take to community disposals and the fact that such disposals are being used for lower-end tariffs—to avoid fines, fiscal warnings and so on—rather than as an alternative to jail. We need to put more funding into community options, residential drug and alcohol rehab facilities, supported accommodation, community service orders and other measures. I look forward to resources being made available, so that if we turn in that direction, facilities are properly resourced and managed.
The Sentencing Commission must examine the public's failing confidence in the automatic early-release scheme. As other members have highlighted, it is illogical for an offender who is sentenced for four years to be out in two. The public are showing signs of losing confidence in the system. In principle, good behaviour should be rewarded and there should be earned remission. I am sure that the minister will give a commitment to consider that question.
I move amendment S2M-2158.1, to leave out from "the way" to end and insert:
", since 80% of male and female prisoners represent no danger to the public, non-custodial sentences should be given much greater consideration and support; calls on the Scottish Executive to provide more specially-trained community police officers accountable to the communities that they serve in order to increase public confidence in the justice system, and reaffirms that, in cases where serious crimes have been committed, remission should be earned and fully recognised by both the wider community and the prison population itself."
I agree with much of what Kenny MacAskill and Colin Fox have said, and with much of Kenny's amendment.
Preventing prisoners from reoffending is one of the key jobs of all the agencies that manage the rehabilitation of offenders. I find it amazing that today the Tory party has given us only an hour and a quarter to debate this important issue. It has been debated a number of times during Executive business, but today's debate is too short. That shows that the Tories have little to say on the matter, except that we should scrap early release and lock up people for as long as possible. During
Kenny MacAskill covered extremely well the thorny question of early release for sex offenders and I agree with his comments. The issue is being addressed by the Minister for Justice, and the Sentencing Commission will make its recommendations in due course.
Why are short prison sentences still seen as a solution for small-scale criminals? Although losing their liberty for long periods is the key punishment for those who have committed the most callous crimes, we must accept, as other members have said, that at present 82 per cent of prison sentences are for less than six months and that there is no statutory aftercare or supervision for those sentenced to less then four years. Prison is not working. Twenty per cent of the people in prison are there for fine defaulting, which is clearly ludicrous.
The Executive is tackling the problem with a criminal justice plan. Electronic tagging will become more widespread and more use should be made of it. We will also combine more community and custodial sentences. It is okay for the Tories to pander to the climate of fear that has been created in the United Kingdom and to plan to lock up people for longer, but that is not acceptable. We need to do more to show victims that strong restorative sentences provide the justice that they seek and reduce reoffending.
Restorative justice, with work to reduce reoffending, should be our twin-track approach to dealing with those convicted of a majority of crimes. The current figure of 55 per cent for those sentenced to between three and six months in prison is too high. The figure of 60 per cent for those who reoffend within two years is also too high.
I believe that the Executive has introduced policies that will improve the situation; indeed, the Liberal Democrats have put rehabilitation and restorative justice at the top of the justice agenda. That agenda will end unnecessary custodial sentences while ensuring that those who are convicted of serious crimes get the long sentences and rehabilitation in prison that they deserve and need.
Mr Pringle says that the answer to these difficulties is to divert many more offenders to community-based services. However, "Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan" refers to a proposal to fund 400 front-line police and social workers. Will he indicate how many of those will be social workers, whose burden of responsibility will increase significantly under his proposals, and how many will be police officers?
That has still to be worked out. As members have pointed out, we have put more policemen on the streets and into police services. The Executive is also addressing the fact that we need more social workers and is trying to encourage more and more of them to come through.
People released from prison need a home and a family to go to and must be supported. I recently visited the Fairbridge project, which has had an 80 per cent success rate in its efforts to support young people who are released from prison. In more ways than one, such an approach is far more effective than the draconian policies of the Conservative party, to my right.
I am glad to see that the Executive has listened to the consultation responses and some MSPs and has scrapped its plans for a single correctional agency. Such a move would have sent out the wrong message.
I am sorry, but I do not have the time.
I am pleased that the Executive will make it a statutory requirement for the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities to work together to ensure that they form effective local partnerships. That approach will mean that work will be as joined-up as is necessary to get resources to those who need it most and will allow for things to be done outside traditional council boundaries.
I conclude by sharing with the chamber some of the good practice that is going on through a number of Executive-funded pilot projects to cut youth reoffending. During the Justice 2 Committee's inquiry into youth justice, Marlyn Glen and I visited the Dundee youth justice group, which brings together all the agencies in the city that work with young people and deals with problems such as truancy and exclusion that can lead young people into crime. The group also spearheads a zero-tolerance approach to youth crime in which all young offenders are fast-tracked into the system. That allows people to be dealt with quickly, which is what victims want.
However, the approach is two-pronged. For example, diversionary schemes to stop offending, such as midnight football leagues and other activities, have also been introduced. When we met offenders, they highlighted again and again the same problem of boredom, and we need to prevent first-offending as much as we need to stop reoffending. Crucial to the scheme is the victims of youth crime group, which helps to reduce people's fear of crime in their communities by keeping victims informed of what is going on. I hope that the chamber supports my view that such best practice should be rolled out across the country.
I call on members to support the Executive's amendment today and send out a clear signal that we will not return to the hang 'em and flog 'em policies of the Tories or their vague alternatives, but will work to reduce short-term prison use, provide real justice for victims and ensure that we get the reoffending rate down as quickly as possible.
The Deputy Minister for Justice got off on the wrong foot this morning, but I give him some urgent reassurance. We accept that these matters are complex and that there is no easy solution, but he must accept that time and time again, in arguing against his approach, my colleagues and I have suggested cogent and reasoned solutions that would make for a safer Scotland.
I point out also that the Minister for Justice's announcements last week all centred on keeping people out of jail. The bottom line is that there is a mood abroad in the Executive that no prison sentences should be imposed for summary criminal charges. I know that the Executive holds that view, but it does not have the courage to introduce any such proposals.
We must be allowed to find out how we can make non-custodial alternatives work. For example, the last time that I looked, something like 83 per cent of cases in which a penalty was imposed involved a fine, but the most recent statistics state that the amount of unpaid fines comes to almost £6.5 million. People are simply not paying these penalties because the custodial alternatives are absolutely derisory. As we have said in the past, the answer is simple: fines should be deducted at source, either from salaries or benefits. The Executive refuses to go down that route.
As for other disposals, such as community service orders, the minister was quite right to point out that reoffending is a real problem, particularly for those who serve short prison sentences. However, the reoffending rate for people on community service is only about 2 per cent below the reoffending rate for people who have served prison sentences. The reason for the problem is quite simple: by the time that people go to jail or are subject to a community service order as a direct alternative to custody, they are already quite far down the criminal justice road.
I wonder whether Mr Aitken can provide the source of that information. My information suggests that the reoffending rate for people on community service is two thirds that of the reoffending rate for people who go to prison.
I do not have the figures to hand, but what I have said is my clear recollection of them.
Moving on, I believe that drug treatment and testing orders have their place in the criminal justice system, but why does someone have to be a multiple and repeat offender before they can receive such treatment? What about people such as shoplifters and the street prostitutes in Glasgow, many of whom are anxious to stop committing offences? How do they manage to get drug treatment? The simple answer is that if they want such treatment quickly, they must commit offence after offence until they can access the drugs court.
It is not good enough for Mike Pringle to say that there are more policemen in service and on the streets. Frankly, because of the other duties that the Executive has imposed on them, they are not out there providing reassurance. In fact, the policemen who have been taken off court duties are now part of the support unit patrolling the courts. The Executive has many questions to answer on these matters.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the Tories' debate, not least because their record on crime during their bleak years of power was abysmal. Under the Tories, crime doubled and the number of criminals who were convicted fell by a third; and a future Tory Administration would ensure that UK public spending would be cut by £20 billion.
To be honest, I did not quite know where to start in highlighting Tory double-talk on crime and public spending. On the one hand, the Scottish Tories tell us that they will substantially increase the number of police and procurators fiscal while, on the other, they say that they remain committed to cutting taxes and reducing public spending in the UK by £20 billion. Perhaps they will try to persuade the police and fiscals to offer their services on a purely voluntary basis—or perhaps they are just not serious about their commitments in this Parliament.
In a speech that he made on 4 December, David McLetchie conceded:
"In the longer term, the best way of reducing crime is by strengthening the bonds of what Oliver Letwin ... called the 'Neighbourly Society'".
However, his party believes that communities can be built and strengthened by cutting public spending and services.
Moreover, in his speech to the Conservative party conference on 7 March 2003, Mr McLetchie stated:
"Crime affects all of us to a greater or lesser extent whether we live in urban or rural environments. But, cruelly, it impacts disproportionately on some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the poor, older people, youngsters drawn into drug abuse and many within ... ethnic communities."
Does Mr McLetchie really believe that the way to help those most vulnerable groups is to cut public spending? Does the Tory party really believe that cutting financial support to drug rehabilitation projects, family support projects and the myriad other voluntary and community programmes that help to sustain our communities, in particular our poorest communities, is the best way to help them?
I am obviously reluctant to disturb the trail of fantasy, but I have to ask Karen Whitefield why, after five and a half years of Executive governance at devolved level in Scotland, we are in the position that we are in?
I have to say that I was somewhat taken aback by Annabel Goldie's crocodile tears earlier today when she told us how concerned she was about vandalism and crime in communities. When I sat on the Justice 2 Committee with her, she was not too keen to support our proposals on antisocial behaviour, so I am not too convinced that she is serious about tackling the problems.
A Conservative Government would have real consequences for the people of Scotland. It would mean cuts to services, cuts in support for voluntary organisations and increased pressures on the very communities about which the Tories tell us they are suddenly so concerned. We have only to look at their time in Government to see the reality. Between 1993 and 1997, the back-to-basics Tory Government actually cut police numbers in the UK by 1,132, and between 1979 and 1997, recorded crime rose by 81 per cent.
There is much more that I would like to say about some of the things that the present Government has done, in particular our Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, our youth courts and our greater protection for vulnerable witnesses, to some of which Annabel Goldie was most vociferous in her opposition.
During their disastrous time in office, the Tories proved that they could not be trusted with the economy, they could not be trusted with jobs and they most certainly could not be trusted with our health service. They certainly cannot be trusted with crime, so nothing has changed. The Tories cannot even be trusted to be honest with the electorate in promising cuts in taxes, cuts in spending and, at the same time, increased resources to fight crime. They certainly cannot be allowed to rewrite history, as Annabel Goldie attempted to do today. The people of Scotland
There is at least one thing that most of us will welcome in Annabel Goldie's motion—the recognition that the level of reoffending is, indeed, too high. However, it is clear that people on all sides of the debate recognise that. Hugh Henry's amendment recognises our failure as a society as a whole, which is important, but that recognition comes from all sides. Therefore, I question the tone in which the debate has been presented. It seems as though the Conservatives think that they are the only party with an agenda with any value or meaning.
I would like to make some progress with my speech, and I have only four minutes.
I question some aspects of the Executive's approach, but I come from a completely different angle from Annabel Goldie. I question the idea of prison as a source of retribution and the idea that retribution is a purpose of the criminal justice system. So far, we have had more talk than action on rehabilitation and alternatives to custody.
I am sorry, but I have only four minutes. I hope that Mr Henry will make his point in summing up.
However, I do not think that anyone would argue that the Executive has nothing valuable or meaningful to say in that regard.
I will deal with the motion and amendments. The call has come, as it has so often, for more police officers. It is important for us to recognise that, even though the increased numbers of police officers might not always be getting on to the streets and into the communities where they are needed, the other work that they are doing is not without value. When Annabel Goldie criticises all the other work that the police service does, that undervalues what the police are doing.
I hope that Annabel Goldie will come back to that point in summing up, but I am afraid that, with only four minutes, I have to move on.
The purposes of prison are to punish, to deter, to protect and to rehabilitate, but no one seems to
I also question the idea that prison works. Annabel Goldie wanted to accuse Labour and the Liberal Democrats of instinctively disliking prison, and she expected them to deny the charge. I admit that I instinctively feel uncomfortable with prison. I accept that any society must, from time to time, use prison, but it is an unpleasant duty and we should use it as sparingly as possible. Instinctively, I dislike it and I do not think that it works.
On Kenny MacAskill's amendment, I had a great deal of sympathy with his words, which he spoke with passion. In particular, he argued quite clearly and convincingly that short prison sentences of six months or less have no meaningful potential to rehabilitate or to allow positive interventions. More than that, they disturb, disrupt and destroy existing life circumstances. That is an argument not for longer sentences, of course, but for alternatives to custody. I have a great deal of sympathy with Kenny MacAskill's amendment, as I do with Colin Fox's amendment, which also deserves support. Colin reminded us of the offensive reality that we are locking up, as a form of punishment, people whose behaviour is the result of health problems—more so than the "Prison works" brigade would like us to admit.
We should acknowledge what the Executive is doing, but we should urge it to go further and not to listen to the Tory call for more and longer prison sentences. Victim-offender mediation should be at the core of our sentencing policy. The Executive should end short-term sentences and should transform our prisons into genuinely rehabilitative environments.
I rise to speak with a social justice hat on. As many people say, the causes of crime are manifold and are often rooted in impoverished societies, where people have little opportunity. For that reason, I think that the Tory motion is simplistic. It states the belief that
"the way to reduce reoffending and subsequently the prison population is to reduce the overall incidence of crime in Scotland"— quite, but how is that to be done?—and goes on to say that the Parliament
"therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to increase the police presence".
That will not get rid of reoffending or of the reasons why crimes are committed.
There are well-documented links between poverty and crime, whether someone is the perpetrator or the victim. There is anecdotal evidence and visible evidence. If people live in one of those awfully described sink estates, they are more likely to be victims of crime and perhaps to be criminals themselves. There is nothing to give people ambition and achievement. There are children living on those estates who are born to fail, not just materially but because the educational opportunities and so on are not there for them. The situation has got worse since the post-war period. Post-war, people could move out of those situations; they could move from their council house schemes, but now people are quite often geographically trapped in those areas for generations.
We have to seek serious solutions and have a serious debate about why, five years down the road, we have more people in prison and more crimes. What is being done is obviously wrong in many respects. There are people who must be in prison to protect public safety and sometimes, though not always, property. However, I was on the Justice 1 Committee for four years and I am hearing things said in the chamber today that I heard four years ago. There is not time in prison for the majority of prisoners to undergo any kind of rehabilitation. There is not a substantial throughcare system to prevent prisoners who are released from going straight back into the situations that they were in before.
Statistics for poverty are really quite striking. There are nearly twice as many people in the UK who have relatively low incomes as there were 25 years ago. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's statistics are UK-wide statistics, but they link to Scotland, where we are actually worse off. According to those statistics, one child in five is living in a family that receives means-tested benefits. One child in three in Scotland lives in poverty. As I have said before, they are born to fail—even more so if they live in Glasgow, where there are 28 council wards where more than half of all children are in families receiving out-of-work, means-tested benefits. It is in those areas that we have a culture of drugs and alcoholism. Alcoholism fuels violence and violent crime and drugs fuel the petty crimes of theft, often against people in their own communities who are as poor as the perpetrators themselves are.
What I propose is not a soft option. We are not going soft on crime. We are trying to present substantive solutions. I know that the First Minister and the Minister for Justice have recognised that something must be done. "Supporting Safer, Stronger Communities: Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan" states:
"We know that an important element of reducing crime is
"Prevent individuals or families from falling into poverty."
The First Minister did not take that on the chin when I asked him about it at First Minister's question time last week.
I quote from the Joseph Rowntree report, which states:
"the corrosive effect on society as a whole has become apparent, and tackling disadvantage cannot be seen just as a priority for helping one sectional interest with limited electoral clout."
We sometimes target effort in that way and that is wrong.
It is not easy to get the papers to report a debate in which we say, "The Scottish Parliament has decided to tackle poverty to reduce crime"—that is not very good for the tabloids—but it is a more substantial way forward than to say, "Let us have more police in the communities," which will not solve the problem.
Initially, I was surprised when I read the Tory motion. Until I got to the end of it, I thought that it could not be a Tory motion. I cannot disagree with much of what is said at the beginning; it is all so simple. We should reduce crime by having more police on the street and that, in turn, will reduce the prison population. It is a very simplistic analysis to say that prison works. The number of criminologists and people who study crime as a profession tells us that the issue is complex.
There is a rising prison population for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is the lack of options in which the judiciary has faith, which is one of the matters that "Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan" addresses.
Labour believes in prison—let us get that straight. However, we believe in prison when it is appropriate and when it is the right sanction. There is a serious problem in our prison system. We know from Andrew McLellan's most recent reports that overcrowding is now so serious that it is holding back any real prospect of rehabilitation of our prisoners. Overcrowding means that so much time is spent managing our prisons that there is little time to address other issues. We must also address drug misuse in our prisons to create the time to rehabilitate prisoners.
Rehabilitation is just a word that we use to identify what we can do on society's behalf to support prisoners in an attempt to break the cycle of reoffending. Rehabilitation is not only about
I commend Kenny MacAskill for his speech and I cannot disagree with a word of what he said. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, it is right to change the criminal justice system in its entirety to assess the issues that individual prisoners face. That is why I have a lot of faith in "Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan". For too long we have seen prisoners as a homogeneous group, when in fact there are a range of prisoners with a complex range of needs. We must ensure that we bear that in mind when we discuss the issue.
The logic of the Tory argument is that we will continue to lock up more offenders. If that is the case, we must accept that we will have to build even more prisons, but I have not heard proposals from the Tories on how to do that.
I whole-heartedly support the idea that there should be a single system. The prison system has been isolated from other parts of the criminal justice system for too long. It is obvious that continuity in sentence management is crucial. Many prisoners have previously been on schemes in the community and their participation is disrupted when they go into prison. It is crucial that the new arrangement ensures that we pick up those offenders.
Kenny MacAskill is right to say that there are issues about the rehabilitation of prisoners during short-term sentences; however, I am not in favour of abolishing short-term sentences. We must manage short-term sentences in the same way as we manage long-term sentences. We must do what we can when the person is in prison and recognise that things must also be done outwith prison. Issues relating to the Parole Board for Scotland must be addressed.
Community sentencing is said to be a better alternative to prison. We should stop making broad assumptions. It is clear that a period spent in custody disrupts a person's life, and that it is harder for them to get their life back after they have been in prison. We must see community sentencing as a different option in its own right. We need transparency not only in prison sentencing, but in community sentencing.
The Deputy Minister for Justice said that he hoped we would have a mature and sensible date on what is a complex issue. I believe that a great deal that is of value has been said in the debate.
I share Patrick Harvie's instinctive dislike of
There are contradictory currents in the debate. Annabel Goldie accuses the Executive of not being serious about sending people to prison. My complaint is precisely the opposite. I believe that the Executive is being too serious about sending people to prison. That is why we have record numbers of people in jail—as Kenny MacAskill says, we are close to having the highest per capita prison population in western Europe—and it is why further prison-building programmes are in the pipeline.
The Deputy Minister for Justice will remember that we have discussed the issue before. We are trying to get offenders to address their behaviour to prevent them from reoffending. Thirty eight per cent of prisoners under the age of 21 have been in care and 65 per cent of prisoners, who are in our care, have numeracy and literacy levels of an 11-year-old. On admission to Cornton Vale prison, 90 per cent of the women have drug dependency problems. I remind members that that is the constituency of people with whom we are dealing.
The Deputy Minister for Justice talked about the Executive's plan that was announced last week to establish a national advisory board and to force the Scottish Prison Service and the local authorities to work together to ensure that, as he said, someone takes responsibility for the appalling level of reoffending. I welcome those remarks and the attempt to monitor the situation. However, I cannot help but note that, if we are to solve the problem, we must address issues such as housing, employment and relationships. Support must also be provided to address drug and alcohol problems and mental health issues. When people come out of prison, where is the support for them from the agencies that deal with those matters? We must examine those crucial issues if we are to make any headway.
As Pauline McNeill and others made clear, community programmes offer us evidence that there are alternatives. Community programmes produce a lower reoffending rate than prison does. I admit that that is often because community programmes deal with people who have committed a low level of crime. Nevertheless, the evidence backs up the idea that working in communities to restore damage and to put something back into those communities works for both the offender and the communities.
We have been considering evidence from throughout the world. The Conservatives have
I ask Mike Pringle to close for the Liberal Democrats. Sorry, it is Donald Gorrie; I beg his pardon.
My speech will not be as good. False modesty is one of my characteristics.
We have heard evidence today that service in the community works. All three amendments have been moved cogently, effectively and reasonably, whereas, in the past, we have on occasions had to put up with speeches that were unreasonable and strident, with unacceptable tone and content. That shows that things can be improved.
I will start off in jail and work my way out of jail. In jail, we need an emphasis on education. Figures show that the literacy of reoffenders is poor. I suggested to my colleague Mike Pringle that we could have a policy that nobody was let out of jail until they could read and write, but he said that that was wicked and illiberal and that I could not do it. However, the concept of concentrating on literacy education is important.
Many members have spoken well about support packages in and out of jail for housing and jobs, as well as personal support. The point is not to send people to jail at all if that is not the right thing to do. Pauline McNeill said that we should not abolish short sentences altogether, which may be right, but we have to scrutinise them carefully. We have to persuade judges that there are better alternatives, because a lot of them are not yet convinced that reparation and work in the community are effective.
I agree with Donald Gorrie on persuading the judiciary. If we increase transparency about what goes on in community sentences, that might give the public and, in turn, the judiciary confidence in that type of sentencing.
I fully agree. We have to persuade the public that community sentences work and we must learn more about them.
A great variety of schemes can be used as alternatives to custody or to help people who are in trouble. We are still not very good at identifying them rapidly, maintaining a catalogue of the ones that are available and monitoring and supporting them. I know that the minister has produced big funds, but I am not satisfied that those well-intentioned resources end up supporting the right activities at the sharp end. We have to improve that.
Above all, we have to get stuck in much earlier to create communities in which people do not offend. That raises questions about boredom, which members have mentioned, and school discipline. We should consider providing more interesting activities in school for young people who are not so academic, involving the colleges, for example. That is beginning to happen, but it could happen more. We should provide sport, creative activities and outdoor education, which are challenging and interesting.
We have to attack alcohol and drugs in the community. At several meetings recently, I have been abused—other members probably have been as well—by people saying, "Oh, you're doing something about smoking, but you're not doing enough about alcohol, which is in many ways far more serious." We have to address alcohol seriously.
Above all, we have to stimulate activity within communities. There are good ideas around for helping communities to help themselves, with individuals being active and creating jobs. We must learn from good practice in this country and abroad and do a lot more to create a community in which people do not offend so much.
Let us start with a nice consensual point that can stretch across the Parliament. The title of the motion is relevant and important—"Justice Issues with Specific Relevance to Reoffending"—so no disagreement there.
Donald Gorrie spoke about illiteracy, but perhaps the real issue is innumeracy. On that issue, the Tories will clearly be in the dog-house and in jail for some time, because this morning they have relied on the straw-man approach to debating. Bill Aitken claimed that the rate of reoffending was only 2 per cent less for people on community service orders compared with those who had been in prison, but he could not provide us with any numbers. My numbers are 60 per cent and 42 per cent, which others who have consulted
I asked Annabel Goldie about the figures for reoffending under the Tories, because she was trying to persuade us that it was axiomatic that the figures were better than they are now. However, she could give us no numbers. The reality is that the debate is based around a myth of a golden age under the Tories, which is not supported by any sensible examination of the issue.
I made the point that the incidence of offences after early release went up under the Tories, but only after we introduced automatic remission.
I was going to praise Phil Gallie and I take this opportunity to do so, but one honest Tory on the benches does not an honest Tory party make.
Reference was made to Fairbridge. Like others, I recently visited that project. Only 20 per cent of its graduates appear to reoffend. Such projects are well worth the effort that goes into them. With the Justice 1 Committee, I visited the 218 project in Glasgow, which works with many people who have been involved in prostitution and are in a cycle of incarceration, which it is to be hoped will be broken.
In its response to the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into reoffending, Aberdeenshire Council said:
"By its very nature, the prison environment cannot of itself ... be conductive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending."
The majority of parties in the chamber have reiterated that view today. I quote from the Executive's "Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form" in-street interviews, which go to the nub of what people are saying on the street:
"I think the minimum prison sentences are actually a waste of money. I think prison is a last resort for people who really are a danger to the public."
We welcome moves by the Executive to improve local relationships between criminal justice social workers and the Prison Service. Prison is part of a justice system that must address retribution, reform and rehabilitation, but the greatest of those is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation starts in prison, but must finish in the community. We must have a seamless way of connecting the good work that is done in prisons with the programmes to which offenders will connect once they leave prison. To do otherwise is to spend large sums of money to deliver little. I am happy to say that I will be supporting—as the opportunity arises—the Executive's amendment.
It is certainly not the same, because I had to make up my earlier speech as I went along and I cannot recall it word for word.
Before I talk about the value of the debate, I will deal with the Tories. As Stewart Stevenson said, Annabel Goldie has a problem with figures. We have seen her and Bill Aitken struggle this morning. On her call for more police officers, I remind her that there are more police officers today than ever before—nearly 1,000 more than when the Conservatives were in power. That is clearly having an impact, which is why the number of recorded crimes is down, why the number of house-breakings is down and why the incidence of car crime is down. The record number of police officers means that the police are clearing up more crime than ever before—47 per cent, which is the envy of other parts of the United Kingdom. However, that is only a start, because we recognise that serious issues in relation to violent crime need to be addressed.
Annabel Goldie also seems to have problems with her memory, as Stewart Stevenson pointed out. She made an issue of early release. I remind members that the law dealing with early release was set out in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. Perhaps Annabel Goldie would like to tell us which Government that was under. It was, of course, the Conservative Government.
The Conservatives are clearly hypocritical and inept.
In general, the debate has been good. All parties except the Conservatives believe that we need a mature and serious approach to the issue and they are willing to engage in a serious debate about what we need to do. I admit that there will be differences of emphasis and some small points on which we disagree, but none of the parties except the Conservatives disagrees on crime's links to poverty, deprivation and mental health problems. As Kenny MacAskill and Cathy Jamieson have said, we can agree that poverty is not an excuse for crime, but we can see the links between the two. The parties agree that, as Colin Fox mentioned, we must reflect on early release, which is why the First Minister and Cathy Jamieson have given a commitment to consider the issue in relation to sex offenders. It is right that we should start by considering people who have
We agree that community sentencing must be effective and that the judiciary and the wider public must have confidence in it. We agree that improvements can be made and that more work needs to be done in prison on rehabilitation to ensure that offenders are prepared properly for release and supported when they are back in the community. Many of those points on which we agree can be progressed confidently and positively.
The Conservatives' first point in the debate was to accuse us of having failed to have a debate on our criminal justice plan. We will have a debate on our proposals; we have already had such a debate, but we will give members the opportunity to debate them further, not just in one debate in the Parliament, but in the committees. Members will have an opportunity to engage because the problem that faces the country is far too serious to be swept under the carpet.
Despite what the Deputy Minister for Justice says, we have the opportunity to question and challenge him today only because the Scottish Conservative party used its parliamentary debating time to ensure that this important issue is discussed fully in the Parliament. Karen Whitefield should reflect on that point. It shows disregard for the Parliament—and, by implication, the people of Scotland—for the Executive to inform MSPs of the criminal justice plan via a press release rather than directly through the Parliament.
In section 1 of "Supporting Safer, Stronger Communities: Scotland's Criminal Justice Plan", which is on protecting communities and preventing crime, the Executive's first claim to fame is that its increased funding has led to record numbers of police officers. We readily acknowledge Hugh Henry's laboured point—he made it in both his speeches today—that the police service receives more funding than before, but he failed to point out that the vast majority of the extra police spend most of their time carrying out their new and greatly expanded duties, such as those that relate to the ECHR, the Macpherson report on racism and the maintenance of the sex offenders register, to mention just a few. I grant that those are all necessary activities but, as Colin Fox and other members have pointed out, that means that, at any given time, only 140 officers are available for foot patrol in the entire country, which is hopelessly inadequate.
The December 2002 report "Narrowing the Gap: Police visibility and public reassurance" revealed that 80 per cent of the public agreed that a more enhanced and targeted police presence would make people feel safer and reduce and prevent crime. Given the feeling that a more visible police presence would help to make a safer and stronger community, it beggars belief that the Executive has not addressed that point.
I want to press on.
The second section of the criminal justice plan document is on tackling drugs in our communities. The Scottish Conservative party welcomes the drug treatment and testing orders—a point that Keith Raffan does not appear to understand—but we want the measure to be extended to include offenders who appear before district courts, not just those who have committed more serious offences. However, the positive effect of the policy is likely to be diluted substantially, if not totally negated, by the Executive's disastrous know the score harm-reduction policy, coupled with its decision to downgrade cannabis from a class B drug to a class C one. As I have said previously, members should be under no illusion that cannabis is a soft drug, as the adverse effects that the drug is known to have on the immune, reproductive and central nervous systems, among other effects, all too poignantly prove.
I want to talk briefly about where we have come from rather than where we are. The member will be aware that the mens rea provision for a criminal offence in Scotland is that a crime can be committed intentionally or by wilful recklessness. Does the member accept that the consequences of Thatcherism of mass unemployment and poverty had social implications and that the Conservatives knew, or ought to have known, what those effects would be? Will the Conservatives now acknowledge guilt for the crimes that they perpetrated?
The third section of the criminal justice plan is about the reform of Scotland's courts. It is ironic but entirely typical of the Scottish Executive's muddled thinking that one of the key measures was to scrap Scotland's much-revered 110-day rule in favour of a 140-day rule. As a consequence, offenders—whom the Executive asserts it seeks to keep out of prison—will almost certainly spend longer behind bars in Scotland's overcrowded prisons. In view of that, I can hardly wait for the implementation of the Executive's proposals to make the courts work more efficiently and deliver justice more quickly and visibly. On the Executive's past record, those proposals will almost certainly achieve the opposite result.
In the fourth section of the plan, which is on effective interventions and sentences that fit the crime, the Executive pats itself on the back for piloting youth courts to fast-track offenders into court and gives a commitment to build seven completely new prisons in the decade from 1999. That sounds impressive, but the same Executive gave a commitment to reduce youth offending by ensuring early intervention and then closed Longriggend remand centre, thereby ending the excellent work that was done there to assess offending behaviour and to address it through education as soon as youths were remanded in custody. Pauline McNeill highlighted that important work. The complete absence of strategic and logical thought from the Executive, which used to be indecisive and is now not so sure, means that it regularly ends up working against itself and has to introduce new measures to undo the damage of other measures that it has imposed on the justice system and the nation.
The final section of the plan is on integrated services for managing offenders. The Executive states that it intends to
"merge the Community Justice and SPS accreditation panels in spring 2005 to promote consistency in programmes for offenders in ... the community."
However, the Executive and members such as Mike Pringle appear to be oblivious to the fact that it will not be possible to replicate best practice and deliver continuity of service in rehabilitation and work programmes in Scottish prisons as long as the Executive fails to ensure that adequate resources and contingency plans are in place to cover staff shortages in the Prison Service.
Once again, the Executive's rhetoric falls far short of reality, which is why we will not support its amendment. It is little wonder that the Scottish Executive, in its management of business, is content to schedule repeat debates in order to avoid being held to account on important issues such as reoffending and other justice matters. I have much pleasure in supporting the motion.