Section 11 — Amendment of Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993

Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 3rd November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:30 pm, 3rd November 2005

Group 8 is on the release of certain sex offenders. Amendment 19, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendment 20.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

At stage 2, we delivered on our promise to take action to end the unconditional release of short-term sex offenders. Those offenders will no longer simply be released from prison in a way that allows them, in effect, to drop out of local authorities' control. They will now be supervised and be subject until the end of their sentences to licence conditions that reflect the nature of the risk that they pose and their offending.

Naturally, we want the important new measures to have maximum impact when they come into force. At stage 2, Bill Butler asked whether we could extend the classes of offender to whom the new measures would apply to include not only those who were convicted on or after the new provisions come into force but those who were already serving their sentence at the time. Following some consideration, Scottish ministers have decided that the new measures should be extended to those in custody at the time of commencement. That is the purpose of amendments 19 and 20.

Of course, we cannot say at the moment exactly how many additional offenders will be involved, because we cannot predict how many may be in custody when the new measures come into effect. Whatever the number, the important point, which relates to what Bill Butler said at stage 2, is that more sex offenders will be subject to the new arrangements. I hope that members will agree that that is an encouraging prospect. However, the provision is not about numbers; it is about enhancing public safety. By lodging the amendments, we are ensuring that the valuable new measures have maximum effect from the time of their inception. In so doing, we are contributing once again to our commitment to support stronger, safer communities.

I move amendment 19.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We fully support the amendments in the minister's name. We have been calling for such measures for some time and we welcome their arrival now. However, we seek assurance from the minister on the points that have been raised by the Association of Directors of Social Work, although that organisation's concerns will no doubt have been transmitted directly to him. Clearly, the new measures will have immediate effect and will have significant resource and financial implications, especially for local authorities and, most important, for social work departments. It is clear that the people whom the new measures will deal with will require significant resource management and that that will impinge greatly on social work departments. As has been outlined today, there have been record numbers of vacancies in social work, so we seek an assurance that local authorities will not be further burdened without the provision of the consequent resourcing.

There are difficulties for which everyone in the chamber has to take responsibility. Having given responsibility to local authorities without any consequent additional resourcing, we need to give them some assurance. Given the sensitivities of the great difficulties and recent tragedies that have occurred, we must ensure that we are not simply passing the buck. I trust that the minister will ensure that local authorities are properly provided for in doing what the Executive, to its credit, is asking them to do. We support the measures.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

We need to put the matter in context. We are not talking about huge numbers, so I am not sure that there will be a huge resource implication. However, we also need to remember that we fund criminal justice activities 100 per cent and we will clearly continue to fund the demand that exists and the requirement that we identify in each area. The new community justice authorities must also examine what is happening in their areas and identify whether dealing with the specific group of offenders as proposed will have significant resource implications. That information will be fed back in the normal way and we will look at it. Clearly, we are not going to pass the bill and then find that it cannot be implemented simply because there is a resource issue. I hope that we can retain some perspective, put the amendments into the right context and note that we already fund criminal justice activities 100 per cent.

Amendment 19 agreed to.

Amendment 20 moved—[Hugh Henry]—and agreed to.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Group 9 is on changes to early release of prisoners. Amendment 1, in the name of Annabel Goldie, is grouped with amendment 2.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Amendment 1 brings us back to the issues with automatic early release that I raised in the committee at stage 2.

As members will be aware, prisoners who are currently imprisoned in our Scottish jails can automatically get out early after serving half their sentence if they are short-term prisoners, or two thirds of their sentence if they are long-term prisoners. That is a consequence of Westminster legislation that was introduced by a Conservative Government. The Conservative Government recognised that the system was not working and brought forward legislation to end it, but the incoming Labour Government of 1997 did not bring the legislation into effect, which is why we still have automatic early release.

The purpose of amendment 1 is to reintroduce a topic that I raised at stage 2. When I lodged an amendment on the issue at stage 2, the minister raised some perfectly proper concerns, which I was prepared to address. He expressed concern that it would be unclear whether the change would be retrospective and concern about the effect of the amendment on prison capacity.

From all that has been said—in particular by the First Minister earlier today—it seems to me that it is universally recognised, including by the Executive, that the system of automatically letting prisoners out early is discredited. The difference between us seems to be whether we should do something now to end the system or whether, as the Executive seems minded to do, we simply go on talking about the issue and expressing concern but do not take any specific measure to bring the system to an end.

Amendment 1 would achieve two things. It would end automatic early release and it would reinstate a requirement for prisoners—short-term or long-term—to earn an element of early release, which would be a sixth of the sentence that had been imposed. It is important to emphasise that I have also endeavoured in the amendment to retain home detention curfews. I expressed concern in the committee about the application of home detention curfews under the current regime because if, as the Executive proposes, we do not get rid of automatic early release, the practical consequence of the provision on home detention curfews is that prisoners will get out even earlier. That is a matter of profound concern to the public of Scotland. My amendment is drafted so that it would end automatic early release, insert a provision to allow a prisoner to earn remission of up to a sixth of their sentence and allow home detention curfews to be retained.

To try to answer the concerns that the minister expressed at stage 2, I seek to provide that the change would be in the control of the Executive. Amendment 2 would allow the provision in amendment 1 to be brought into effect by affirmative subordinate legislation. In other words, a Scottish statutory instrument would have to be brought forward before the provision could have effect. That is an attempt to address what I considered were proper concerns expressed by the minister.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

In Miss Goldie's suggested scheme, would every case have to be dealt with by the Parole Board for Scotland? If that is the case, does she realise that that would mean up to 11,000 extra cases being dealt with?

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

It is easy to bandy numbers about, but we must make a serious point about the principle. The point is that the system as it currently operates does not enjoy the confidence of the people of Scotland and no wonder: prisoners are getting out early and very serious crimes are being committed during the period of early release. Mr Butler's point raises an important issue about what is the political priority. I detect that there is a clamour for change, and I do not think that the Executive dissents from that. If that is the case, the Executive must put in place the necessary resources that are consequent on any change to the procedure, and there must be political leadership if the Executive is to change the procedure.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 3rd November 2005

The member raised the issue of capacity, and I wonder whether I may provide some assistance. If 10 more prison places were required, that would require £1 million of capital spending. If 10 prisoners are kept in prison for three years in addition, that requires £1 million of additional revenue spending. Does that help the member to tell us what the capital and revenue implications of her proposals are?

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

No, but it assists me in once again showing the difference between the Executive, the Scottish National Party and my party. We are considering the concerns of the people of Scotland, which are dramatically depicted in the appalling chronicle of crime that is committed when persons are let out of prison early—during the period of early release. That is why the issue hangs on whether the Executive has the political will to take a decision to end the practice.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

No, thank you. If the political will is there, it attracts resource, so the Executive has to be clear that the matter is a fundamental priority and a political imperative. That is the difficulty.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

No. As amendment 1 ensures, the provision would not be retrospective in effect. It would come into effect only when the Scottish Executive so determined.

If the Executive is craven in not being prepared to accept the amendments, that is a stark illustration of what the First Minister was advocating earlier today but does not do. The Executive does not practise what it preaches. Nothing could be clearer if it refuses to back my amendments.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

As a member of the Justice 2 Committee, which may well be losing its convener, I pay tribute to Miss Goldie for her work on that committee during its scrutiny of the bill. Notwithstanding the irony of the heartfelt plea from the new leader of the Conservatives in Scotland for the Parliament to repeal a Conservative measure, Miss Goldie has argued a highly unprincipled and illogical case. She has said in press releases that people who have been released early have committed offences, and that there is therefore an issue of safety for society. If that is what she is arguing, why have any parole at all?

Miss Goldie misses the point. Too many people who are released once their prison sentence has concluded, whether or not that sentence is short or long, commit a second or third offence, not just during the period of their release on licence but within a period of two years. That applies to too many people, particularly to those who committed offences that are subject to short-term sentences. The whole point of the bill is to take an holistic approach to reducing reoffending overall.

We need a system that is capable of reforming offending behaviour. That includes managing releases and the resettlement and rehabilitation of offenders. Miss Goldie argues for a point of principle—to allow prisoners to be released on licence for a sixth of their sentence. If it suits the individual's rehabilitation for that to two sixths or a half instead, that should be considered, so we should have the necessary flexibility to allow that to be done.

The whole thrust of the bill's proposals, as well as the work of the Sentencing Commission for Scotland, starts with much earlier intervention to address the behaviour of individuals. Once someone has offended, we need the right method of punishment so that, with additional effort, offending behaviour as a whole can be reduced. That involves a reduced number of short sentences and more faith being placed in the justice system and in the availability and effectiveness of community disposals that help to address what are, under the surface, the often chaotic lifestyles of offenders. In addition, there must be proper and robust monitoring of more serious offenders on their release.

Looking at one aspect in isolation, as Miss Goldie's amendments seek to do, is not the way forward. I ask her to consider how many witnesses asked us to consider the issue in isolation during the passage of the bill. None did, of course.

This lunchtime, Miss Goldie tasked the First Minister with not building up the hopes of communities. Amendment 1 would do exactly that. With the Sentencing Commission's work and the bill we are moving away from an arbitrary approach. We should not revert to one now.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I extend my congratulations to Miss Goldie on the position that I am sure she will assume on Tuesday and on her early release from the Justice 2 Committee. Notwithstanding that, I will speak against amendment 1, which relates to section 11. The amendment is strikingly similar to the one that Miss Goldie moved at stage 2. Apart from the insertion of a new subsection (1), it is, in effect, the same amendment that was defeated comprehensively at stage 2 and which attracted only the support of its mover. When Miss Goldie moved the amendment, she talked about addressing prison capacity, but she did not do so, which is not helpful to her case.

Given that the amendment is strikingly similar to the one that Miss Goldie moved at stage 2, I hope that she will forgive me for making a strikingly similar contribution this afternoon. I remain wholly unconvinced by the amendment because of its consequences and lack of practicability.

Annabel Goldie talked about having political will. If the Conservatives ever aspire to government in this country, they will need political will, but they will also need to be practical and say where the money will come from, which was markedly missing from Miss Goldie's contribution.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Mr Butler is absolutely right to say that we should know where the money will come from. It is clear from Annabel Goldie's response to Stewart Stevenson that she has not got a clue. Does Mr Butler think that she has cleared the amendment with her deputy leader, Murdo Fraser, who always berates the Executive about public expenditure levels?

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I would not like to presume upon the internal workings of the Conservative party in Scotland, assuming that the Conservatives are talking to one another. I am sure that they are and that they will continue to talk to one another in opposition in the long years ahead.

Of course all members would agree that we want a bill that has public protection at its heart. No one could argue with that, but to achieve that objective, we need workable, practical measures. Unhappily, even though Miss Goldie's amendment is modified in one particular, to which I have referred, it remains deficient in that vital respect.

I believe that if amendment 1 were passed, it would lead inexorably to an increase in the number of prison places. In his evidence at stage 2, the deputy minister mentioned the figure 4,000, which would necessitate up to six new prisons. Perhaps in summing up Miss Goldie will respond to that specific point, which she failed to address in the committee.

There remains the associated question of how long it would take to build the prisons, which perhaps Miss Goldie would address. When we hear the length of time, we will be able to calculate—or at least Stewart Stevenson will—the associated cost per prisoner.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You must finish now, Mr Butler.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I have so much more to say on this, but I will finish by saying to Miss Goldie that we have to take care that the best measures are taken to ensure that a prisoner who is released under condition is not likely to reoffend. The bill is about public safety, but that is the vital other side of the coin. Miss Goldie's amendment 1 would deliver none of the above. It is impractical and deficient and I hope that she will withdraw it. If she does not, I hope that members will roundly defeat it.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

As the lawyers would say, I adopt the comments of Mr Purvis and Mr Butler. As the saying goes, legislate in haste, repent at leisure. We are in fact paying the price for a short-term fix that was carried out many years ago by the Tories to try to reduce the number of prisoners. It is disingenuous of them to come in, as Mr Butler said correctly, to try to provide a solution to that problem when we are trying to deal with another matter.

The issue is of serious concern and Miss Goldie is quite right to raise it. Clearly, people wish transparency in sentencing. They also wish to ensure that those who are a serious danger and threat to our communities are addressed. We need to do that in a manner that will provide a long-term solution and will not create even more problems.

This is not the bill in which the matter should be dealt with. We should have some trust and faith in the Sentencing Commission, which is, after all, made up of people who are distinguished in many fields. We should allow them time and space in which to come forward with a solution that will not simply be aimed at an election campaign, which is obviously gearing up under Miss Goldie and her new deputy, but which will provide a working system for the people of Scotland for years to come.

We have serious problems in our prisons. One of the issues is addressed by Miss Goldie's amendment. However, we have to address a variety of matters. Simply seeking to have short-term and long-term prisoners dealt with in the same way is utterly nonsensical. We should be seeking to get as many short-term prisoners as possible out of incarceration so that we can deal with them in the community, as Jeremy Purvis has said on record on previous occasions.

We need to take a pragmatic and sensible approach. I do not usually concur with the First Minister or adopt what he says, but I thought that his earlier response to Miss Goldie was quite correct: we should allow the Sentencing Commission to come forward with suggestions and, thereafter, let the Executive produce a bill that will cover the entire area of our sentencing policy rather than only the question of how we manage a minority of serious offenders who are released on licence and a few other add-ons.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I congratulate Annabel Goldie on taking on the awesome burden of leading Rag, Tag and Bobtail in the Scottish Parliament. When she was interviewed yesterday, she referred to her vintage. Unfortunately, in relation to the issue that we are discussing, she has a worn 78 that she might want to consider bringing into the 21 st century. She is in a groove in which she is saying nothing new. In the committee and today, she was clearly uncomfortable at having to say things that have no great relevance, effect or contribution to make. She has rightly identified an important issue, however, and she is right to say that, between stages 2 and 3, she has addressed one of the questions that was asked of her, which was to do with when the terms of her amendment would come into force. Today we got an answer, of sorts, to that question. She was quite specific: the provisions will come into force sometime and will apply to offenders after that time. So, as we are obviously clear about that issue, we can move on in the debate.

I am not sure which part of our often-voiced commitments to change the current early-release arrangement is unclear. We have said that retaining the status quo is not an option and that we will introduce reforming legislation next year.

We have also said that any change will be considered within the broader context of our on-going top-to-bottom reform of the criminal justice system. That reform is striving to achieve the overarching objectives of enhancing public safety and reducing reoffending.

We have said that the law that was introduced by the Tories needs to be changed. We also accept that change could have significant resource and financial implications, which is why we need to make the change properly. It is utterly wrong to approach this matter in the way in which the Tories are doing.

Annabel Goldie has not answered any of the questions that she was asked at the committee, although, when she sums up, she might answer some of the questions that were just posed by Bill Butler.

Deputy Presiding Officer, on the question of whether extra prisons will be required, I know that you have asked me about a specific concern that you have about your area. Annabel Goldie needs to answer the question of how many extra prisons will be required—perhaps she could use some of the information that was helpfully provided by Stewart Stevenson when she does so. Where will those prisons be? Deputy Presiding Officer, I cannot give you an assurance in relation to the specific question that you asked me, which was to do with whether there will be a prison on the ex-Royal Ordnance factory site in Bishopton. I do not know; perhaps Annabel Goldie can answer that question for you.

This is a complex area of law and we need to get it right. We have a body of experts considering the issue of early release. We will build on the findings of the Sentencing Commission and bring forward a comprehensive set of proposals for Parliament to consider. That is the right way to go about this, rather than endlessly debating sterile political slogans. I hope that, under Annabel Goldie's leadership, the Conservatives will move on.

Amendment 2 is a rather strange afterthought. Annabel Goldie suggested that it is a way of addressing a problem. However, it would introduce a novel parliamentary procedure, requiring the commencement order bringing the new early-release regime into force to be debated and approved by the Parliament. I do not know whether Annabel Goldie has spoken to the Subordinate Legislation Committee about her suggestion. When looking at the Family Law (Scotland) Bill recently, it agreed that it would not be appropriate to subject a commencement order to parliamentary procedure when Parliament had already agreed that it was content with the proposal in the bill.

Perhaps amendment 2 is a sign that Annabel Goldie is not sure that her proposals are a good idea. Maybe she wants Parliament to have one last chance to stop them coming into force. If we are not sure that the proposals are a good idea, we should not legislate for them now. Far better to follow our approach of having a comprehensive set of proposals for Parliament to consider, based on the Sentencing Commission's work. I hope that Parliament will reject Annabel Goldie's suggestions.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 4:00 pm, 3rd November 2005

I commence on a gracious note and thank those members who made them for their kind remarks.

This has been an interesting debate, because it has laid bare a dichotomy at the heart of the Executive. The First Minister is unambiguous in his condemnation of automatic early release. He is on record condemning it on at least three occasions, and he reaffirmed his sense of opprobrium about the continuance of the system earlier today. However, it is a different picture when his colleagues in government contribute to the debate and offer their own explanations as to why they are unable to support amendment 1.

Mr Purvis's contribution was particularly quaint. He said, "Why pick a sixth of a sentence for remission? It might be that two sixths is appropriate, or whatever." Clearly, Mr Purvis takes the view that a prison sentence is to have no meaning attached to it whatever. That is precisely the lack of clarity that the public are so frustrated with, and it is precisely the inconclusive approach to the issue by the executory—I mean Executive; "executory" is an unfortunate slip—with which the public are becoming impatient.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I want to deal with points raised by Bill Butler. As reaffirmed by the minister, Mr Butler homed in on prison capacity. The contributions by the minister and Mr Butler indicated that they are fending off in every possible way they can think of any suggestion that at this stage we should bring an end to automatic early release, notwithstanding the completely unambiguous commitment of the First Minister to do that. Prison capacity, cost and the possible consequences of changing the law in the way I proposed are material considerations that must be taken into account, but the real material consideration is whether the Executive wants to uphold and implement what it says is a fundamental political principle—it either does or it does not. It is clear to me from this afternoon's speeches that the Executive says one thing about the principle and quite another about its implement.

On capacity, at stage 2 the minister mentioned an estimated figure of 4,000 places, but that assumes that the prison population is a static entity that is unaffected by events. My colleagues and I argue that if we get rid of automatic early release, not only will we respond to the understandable cry of the public that they do not feel safe while the system operates, but we will introduce a deterrent effect by having a system in which the sentence imposed is the sentence served. We could expect to see a reduction in prison population because of that. We have statistical evidence from Spain and Ireland that having a large prison population leads to lower rates of crime.

The other issue that is definitely relevant is that I am certain that the judiciary's attitude to sentencing would alter because, clearly, when they impose a sentence, judges have to take into account for how long they think the person's liberty should be removed.

In the debate, I have witnessed a lot of distraction, a lot of evidence used as a smokescreen and many comments that were intended to fob off my party's attempts, through amendment 1, to do what the public want. I do not intend to withdraw the amendment; I intend to push it to the vote.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There will be a division.

In line with the protocol that I announced at the beginning of this item of business, there will now be a five-minute suspension.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Davidson, Mr David, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John
Against: Adam, Brian, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 14, Against 96, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 disagreed to.