Section 50 — Short title and commencement

Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:00 am on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 11:00 am, 15th March 2007

Group 12 is on the commencement of part 2. Amendment 44, in the name of Colin Fox, is the only amendment in the group. I invite Colin Fox to move and speak to amendment 14.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

It is amendment 44, Presiding Officer.

In the course of the evidence taking, it became clear to the Justice 2 Committee that there could be serious consequences for the criminal justice system from the implementation of the bill, such as: the possible addition of 1,100 prisoners, which would increase our record prison population by another 20 per cent; the need for 100 additional prison officers to cope with risk assessment programmes, on top of those needed to staff two new prisons; and a 10 per cent increase in social workers to supervise and support the community part of all sentences at a time when the committee and Parliament recognise that we cannot fill the current vacancies for criminal justice social workers—in any event, it takes four to five years to train them. According to the evidence that the committee took, the costs of that and of implementing the other measures in the bill could be around £250 million.

The evidence of many of our expert and informative witnesses from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, academics, the criminal justice authorities and many more suggested that if there was a willingness to spend that kind of money, there were far more effective ways of reducing reoffending and better serving the public.

Sacro, which I notice has contacted MSPs recently, fears that the bill will lead to an unworkable risk assessment programme, put an entirely unrealistic burden of expectation on the Scottish Prison Service and criminal justice system, reduce the community supervision of some of the most serious offenders, lead to an unmanageable increase in the prison population and worsen the already intolerable overcrowding in our prisons.

With that in mind, I lodged amendment 44, which seeks to put on hold the implementation of part 2 of the bill, on the confinement and release of prisoners, until a full and thorough independent report is drawn up and presented to the Parliament. The report would analyse the costs and benefits of the bill's provisions against levels of reoffending and the impact on the prison population, and it would compare the bill's approach with other approaches.

At stage 2, the minister did not dispute the figures that I mentioned or the bill's cost implications. Rather, she sought to suggest that the provisions would hardly be used by sentencers. I am bound to say that the weight of the evidence that the committee received is against her.

My amendment 44 provides a sensible approach to the bill's objectives. It seriously addresses the issue of reducing reoffending and it would increase rather than reduce public confidence in the criminal justice system.

I move amendment 44.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 11:15 am, 15th March 2007

If amendment 44 is agreed to, we might, at best, save the public purse £150 million in capital spending. The additional prison places that will be required as a consequence of the bill will take the number of prisoners in Scotland to 8,100 or thereabouts. That raises a financial issue in favour of Mr Fox's amendment, but there is a more important issue.

Examining how we deal with locking people up gives us an opportunity to reform the way in which we deal with low-level offenders. There is widespread support—certainly in the SNP—for ensuring that there is proportionate and proper locking up of the most serious offenders. Earlier this morning, we discussed public safety, which is at the heart of locking people up and locking them away from society. However, too many of the flotsam and jetsam—victims of social deprivation, drink and drugs—end up in prison. They come out with their problems unresolved and, frankly, communities are little safer.

Members of various parties want work to be undertaken to redirect low-level offenders away from incarceration and towards rehabilitation and the serving of sentences in the community. Amendment 44 raises the prospect of synchronising such work with the increase in the number of serious offenders in prison that will occur. We are therefore minded to support the amendment, unless someone can persuade us otherwise.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Colin Fox raises an interesting point. The Minister for Parliamentary Business has heard me waxing eloquent, long and often on the fact that the Parliament legislates far too much. Indeed, other members have also heard me speak on that theme.

To be serious, one of the failings in the parliamentary system is that, because of the volume of legislation that is passed, committees and others do not get the opportunity to consider its effectiveness further down the road. The Parliament should set up its own audit system for considering the effectiveness of legislation. However, I have some doubts about whether the approach in amendment 44 is the right way to do that. It proposes that a report be laid before the Parliament within 12 months. No matter how good a piece of legislation is, I do not think that anybody could determine its effectiveness or otherwise in such a short period, so the approach in proposed section 50(2B) is unacceptable.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from amendment 44. We are told that, under the bill, there will be a greatly increased supervision element and there will need to be a corresponding increase in the amount of social work input. Whether provision for that is in place is a separate argument that we might explore this afternoon. It is important for the effect of legislation to be examined once it has operated for some time, but to do that after 12 months is far too early.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

If I have learned one lesson as an elected member of the Parliament, it is that I do not require an audit committee to tell me whether problems exist with the law; my community and my constituents will tell me about the problems and demand change. If we track the significant legislation that the Parliament has passed, we can identify problems that constituents raised and on which they brought pressure to bear on the process. That is how democracy works and it is all the better for it.

To be frank, Colin Fox outlines through his approach his opposition to the bill, or at least to one part of it. A member who opposes the bill should vote against it. A member who supports the balance of the bill's approach should vote for it. There is no way of saying that we will maybe have provisions and that we will think about it—that would be a maybes aye approach to legislation. Members must decide whether they support the bill, act accordingly and ensure that the legislation is monitored.

We are aware of the concerns of the voluntary sector and of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, members of which I have met. I disagree with their conclusions, but I acknowledge their concerns. We must also acknowledge the concerns of people in our communities, who feel that the current system is inadequate and that we must address the lack of supervision when people leave prison and the fact that we have a sentencing regime that people do not understand.

Colin Fox recognised that we have acknowledged that prisoner numbers will increase—we put that in the financial memorandum. We have also said that support must be provided for offenders and that resources need to follow that. We are serious about both parts of custody and community sentences. Colin Fox's proposal gained no support at stage 2, and I hope that members will not support it now.

The custodial sentence measures in the bill deliver the Executive's commitment to end automatic and unconditional early release, and do so in a way that injects into sentence management a structure that provides for punishment and rehabilitation. The proposals are not just about sending people to prison, but about getting offenders to turn their lives around. As we have said, stopping offending is the best way to protect the public. We intend the criminal justice reforms that are in hand and the measures in the bill to make significant inroads into tackling reoffending.

Amendment 44 would require the Scottish ministers to commission an independent report before they made any commencement order for provisions in part 2. I am intrigued by the notion of outsourcing our thinking on such matters. The Scottish Executive—whoever forms the Administration—and the Parliament are in as good a position as others to consider the effectiveness of legislation, particularly if they are open to elected members' representations. The independent report would be expected to consider the custodial sentence measures in isolation and to comment on their impact on offending and reoffending and on the prison population's size. The effectiveness of short-term sentences is recognised as an issue. Considering and addressing that problem are matters for a future Administration.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Does the minister concede that some benefit would be obtained for the public purse and more generally from synchronising the addressing of short-term sentences with the increase in the population with longer-term sentences that will derive from the bill, which we support?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I do not concede whatever the member really says or what I understand him to say. I do not concede that the report that amendment 44 proposes should be made. I am saying that an issue with short-term sentences has been highlighted and any Parliament worth its salt will address it.

Amendment 44 would require the Scottish ministers to publish the report and lay it before Parliament within 12 months of the passing of the bill. That is an arbitrary date. We have experience that having arbitrary dates for such reports has hampered them.

What could such a narrowly prescribed report tell us? It could not reveal the benefits of the structure that was established through the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Act 2005 or the other recent criminal justice system reforms. It could not reflect the fact that the measures in the bill will build on the strong existing structures. It could merely speculate on the likely impact of the bill's measures.

I repeat what I said at stage 2: effective monitoring arrangements are already in place. The SPS board agrees its business plan with ministers. The plan for 2006-08 included, for the first time, an indication of the prison population that might have to be accommodated. The figure is not a target figure, but its use shows the importance that ministers and the SPS attach to considering the level of the prison population and to planning the business to provide for that population. The increases that have recently been reported have been mainly in the remand population, prisoners on short sentences and young offenders, and are completely in line with what the SPS has said publicly for some time.

The SPS keeps a close eye on the prison population, and ministers included full consideration of that population in the financial memorandum's consideration of the bill's impact. The population level is half the story, and the Executive has shared with all relevant parliamentary committees full information about the relationship between population levels and capacity. The capacity levels as indicated by the SPS take account of the current plans for development and redevelopment of the prison estate.

The financial memorandum makes it clear that the Scottish ministers fully accept that adequate and proper resources must be in place before the system commences. The Justice 2 Committee is aware that a high-level group involving all the stakeholders—the very people who will make the bill's provisions work—is working on the detailed implementation plan.

Of course, once the new provisions are in place, it is only right that we evaluate them. Evaluation will be part of the process. In addition to the monitoring plans that I have mentioned, statistics that are produced by the courts, the SPS and local authority criminal justice social work departments will reflect developments once the new system is up and running.

In the meantime, the custodial sentences planning group continues to work on the detailed implementation strategy. It is right that that strategy should be developed by the people who will need to make it work. We aim to implement the measures as soon as is practicable. We are talking about big changes—root-and-branch reform—and it is essential that we take the appropriate time to ensure that the preparation is right and that the proper infrastructure is in place.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

The minister is talking about implementing the legislation. When will implementing the measures in the community be practicable, given the shortage of people with the right training and experience to implement them? Does the minister have a date in mind for when the system will go fully live?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We have said that the custodial sentences planning group is charged with implementing the provisions and giving timescales and clarity to the process. We are clearly committed to such an approach, and we want it to be developed as soon as possible.

Amendment 44 would not add to the scrutiny and monitoring that will be done; rather, it seeks to second-guess significant parts of the legislation. If members support the bill's approach, they should vote for it; if they do not support that approach, they should not vote for it. I urge members to reject amendment 44.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I am struck by the fact that the minister has not disputed any of the possible consequences or costs that I outlined in my initial remarks. She rightly talks about listening to the many people in our constituencies who suffer daily as a result of the current system. I advise her to listen to the many experts who appeared in front of the Justice 2 Committee, many of whom work with her constituents in Glasgow Pollok and with constituents throughout the country every day.

Before I deal with the substance of the minister's objections to amendment 44, I should say that I always feel slightly unnerved when receiving Stewart Stevenson's support. That said, I am absolutely unnerved by receiving Bill Aitken's support. I was glad that he dived for cover on the 12-month rule and got the hell out of it, and that he does not support my amendment.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I trust that Mr Fox recognises that my support for his amendment was highly qualified. Indeed, I said that we could not possibly support it because of the time constraints that would be involved.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I am grateful for the support that a hanging man gets from a rope.

The minister's fundamental objection to an independent report was the same as Bill Aitken's caveat, which is interesting. I was struck by the minister's sanguine attitude to the potential expenditure of £250 million on questionable costs for questionable value. Is she saying that she has something to fear from an independent report, from independent scrutiny by experts and from the evidence being put in front of the Parliament by the Executive? She has not answered that question. Spending £250 million on highly disputed areas is a relatively new phenomenon for the Executive.

The minister was caught out by David Davidson's question. She is unable to tell the Parliament when the bill will be implemented. That is understandable if it is going to take five years to train criminal justice social workers and eight years to build two new prisons.

Amendment 44 is an entirely reasonable and fair amendment for the Parliament to consider. An independent report would consider the cost benefit analysis of the bill and compare it with other strategies that many experts feel are far more likely to work because they will give the public greater confidence and reduce the appalling levels of reoffending in Scotland.

I am not satisfied—I hope that no one in the chamber is satisfied—with the fact that in every year of the Parliament's existence, Scotland's prison population has broken records. The bill suggests that, willy-nilly, we should add another 1,100 people to that population, which is unacceptable. I press amendment 44.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 11:30 am, 15th March 2007

The question is, that amendment 44 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 12

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 27, Against 74, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 44 disagreed to.