We deplore the activities of illegal moneylenders. Trading standards officers and the police have been working together in the Scottish illegal moneylending unit since 2004 to detect and enforce relevant offences. The unit has brought two cases to justice, while six more are pending.
An evaluation by the Department of Trade and Industry has identified ways in which enforcement could be further improved. In addition, conventional policing over the two years 2005-06 and 2006-07 has resulted in 28 reports to the procurator fiscal, of which 18 have so far resulted in prosecution.
I appreciate that the subject was debated at some length this morning.
Does the minister agree with me and my constituents, who believe that loan sharks are the curse of communities and that credit unions should be supported as much as possible? Will she agree to continue to fund the illegal moneylending unit and to support it to ensure that the full force of the law can be thrown at illegal moneylenders?
I agree with Cathie Craigie's description of illegal moneylenders. There is clear evidence that there are people who are waiting to prey on the most vulnerable people and who understand how to do so in a way that makes those vulnerable people feel that they are somehow responsible for the situation and cannot go to the police or anyone else for support. It is important that we recognise how unacceptable that conduct is. We know that those activities happen inside communities and that the solutions are inside communities, which is why we have given significant support to credit unions to do more than their core business of saving and lending and to be imaginative in the way in which they reach out to people. That is why money advice exists.
We must do more to find ways to educate people and help them move away from moneylenders, but we must also do a great deal more to understand the intricacies and challenges of prosecution and to give people confidence to come forward and talk about what those moneylenders do.
At lunch time, we had a positive round-table discussion at which groups from the prosecution and justice side and from communities talked together. We are committed to doing what we can to support such work, not only through policy but, crucially, to ensure that policy is followed by resources.