Serious and Organised Crime

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 11 March 2010.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:15, 11 March 2010

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5929, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on serious and organised crime. I call Kenny MacAskill to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 2:57, 11 March 2010

Tackling serious organised crime is a priority for the Government, and I welcome this opportunity to update Parliament on the action that we are taking to tackle this blight on our communities. We have established the serious organised crime task force to provide a strategic focus for our work and to promote co-ordinated action. By working together, we have a better chance of putting the criminal networks out of business.

Last June, the task force published its organised crime strategy, "Letting our Communities Flourish", which sets out how we plan to make our communities safer and reduce the impact of serious organised crime. The strategy focuses on four clear objectives. These are the four Ds: divert—how we are going to divert individuals from engaging in or using the products of serious organised crime; disrupt—how we will disrupt the activities of serious organised crime groups; deter—measures to protect communities, businesses and the public sector from serious organised crime; and detect—boosting capacity and improving co-ordination to give serious organised criminals no place to hide.

The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency has a major role to play in implementing the strategy, which is why we are providing it with an additional £4 million in funding over 2009-10 and 2010-11—an increase in funding of more than 27 per cent since April 2007. That additional £4 million is being used to establish a Scottish intelligence and co-ordination unit, which will enable us better to understand the intelligence picture, allow more focused tasking and co-ordination and boost specialist capacity at SCDEA.

The Scottish crime campus at Gartcosh will provide a purpose-built national facility for SCDEA and its partners to facilitate joint tasking and co-ordination, and it will house a purpose-built forensic laboratory. We are making good progress—work is due to start on the first construction contract in the summer, and occupation is scheduled to begin in 2012.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the minister confirm that that will not threaten the forensic lab and fingerprinting service in Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Absolutely. As the member will be aware, the Scottish Police Services Authority is carrying out a review of those services, and we await its report with interest.

The purpose of building Gartcosh is to create the crime campus that has been envisaged for years. A specialist facility will be set up there because the premises that are currently in use at Pitt Street are frankly not fit for purpose.

Mike Rumbles will be aware of a recent incident in the city of Edinburgh that shows that it is necessary for us to ensure that specialist facilities are protected from serious organised crime. I see that Mike Pringle is nodding. Factors such as the security of such premises must be taken into account. We will receive the SPSA's report shortly.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The cabinet secretary now says that the Gartcosh campus is due to open in 2012. Originally, it was 2010, then it was 2011 and now it is 2012. Will he guarantee that the campus will open in 2012?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Everybody knows that the only things that are guaranteed in this world are death and taxes. However, we are moving on apace, and we have got through the planning stage. Elaine Smith should realise that procedures must be followed, but we are committed to the project, and she can rest assured that it will be delivered.

We are determined to improve effectiveness in seizing assets and confiscating profits. More than £27 million has already been recovered, but we can do more. To help to mainstream asset recovery, we have allocated £1.2 million to the Crown Office to allow the recruitment of specialist staff to help to boost recovery, and we have provided £500,000, which has been match-funded by the police service, to recruit 19 financial investigators in Strathclyde, Lothian and Borders and Tayside.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I commend the minister for his comments on seizing assets from criminals. I know that in his statements he has been vigorous in his determination for such seizures to be put into effect. Will he join me in calling for action to be taken to recover the assets of the convicted fraudster Abdul Rauf? If not, will he explain his reasons to the Parliament?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Hugh Henry is well aware that it would be inappropriate for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice—or for a minister for justice, as Mr Henry was—to comment on an individual case, as there may be live proceedings.

We have put resources into not only the police and the specialist investigators who are necessary to follow the paper trail, but the Crown Office, for the operation of the civil recovery unit. Rather than trying to denigrate matters by making cheap political points, we would do better to support the Crown Office and prosecution service in bringing these hoodlums and gangsters to justice.

The majority of the money that has been secured from the proceeds of crime is being reinvested in the cashback for communities scheme, which provides positive opportunities for young people in Scotland's communities. Already, £13 million has been invested in the cashback scheme, from which more than 100,000 Scottish youngsters have benefited.

We are creating four new offences in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill. The package of offences targets the top of the criminal networks right down to the street drug dealer and the professionals who either facilitate such crime or turn a blind eye to it.

Tackling serious organised crime should be a priority, as it is a blight on our communities. If anybody doubted that, our groundbreaking mapping project revealed the presence of more than 350 crime groups, including more than 4,000 individuals, that operate throughout Scotland, from six groups in Dumfries and Galloway to 152 groups in Strathclyde. The top 20 groups impact on all eight forces: more than 92 per cent of crime groups are involved in drug crimes, and more than 40 per cent are involved in serious violence or murder. They are diversifying and are now involved in counterfeiting, human trafficking, e-crime, fraud and money laundering—the list goes on. They will dabble in anything that gives them power and makes them money, and that is a problem for us all. It is not just a problem for Glasgow and Edinburgh, and it does not relate only to drugs.

We should celebrate the many successes that the police and the Crown have had in disrupting supply, in seizing assets and confiscating profits from illicit activity, and in bringing serious criminals to justice. For example, George Buchanan was made bankrupt last year when he could not pay his court costs after a successful case was undertaken by the civil recovery unit, which recovered a number of assets including cash and cars. Operation lockdown targeted an organised crime group in Glasgow that was suspected of attempted murders and large-scale drug dealing. The operation, which ran for 17 months, resulted in the arrest of 146 individuals, including the four main targets. Drugs with a street value of £9 million, and 30 firearms and other weapons, were recovered. All four principal targets pled guilty to dealing cocaine and one pled guilty to money laundering at the Glasgow High Court on 28 October 2009, and they were jailed for a total of 29 years.

On Monday morning, I visited Glasgow and saw at first hand one of the flash vehicles that Strathclyde Police had taken from an organised crime group. I congratulate the police today, as I did on Monday, on their determination to get back at criminals who have laboured under the illusion that they control parts of Glasgow and that they are untouchable. The message is clear: "No, you don't. You are not untouchable. Your ill-gotten gains will be taken from you, and many of you will go to prison to face the penalties that you merit and deserve." Two good examples in which law enforcement agencies worked together with local authority and support agencies are operation Lochnagar in Grampian and operation focus in West Lothian, which targeted street-level drug dealers and related antisocial behaviour.

That shows that the police are embracing the battle at all levels, including in our communities. Recently, the task force heard from a community police officer in Strathclyde who told us how his team is tackling serious organised crime on the ground. Its approach is starting to achieve positive outcomes and he and his officers feel that they are actually making a difference. That is not an isolated example. It is replicated in communities throughout Scotland. However, more needs to be done. The job is not one for the Government and law enforcement alone; it is for everybody.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I agree that more needs to be done. Will the cabinet secretary tell us when the detailed implementation plan that is mentioned in paragraph 75 of the strategy document, which he mentioned earlier, will be published?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Well, it is not a big bang. There is no millennium moment. The work is on-going at a serious organised crime task force level. Under the four Ds, we have various people in charge. Some matters are being driven and directed by the director general of the SCDEA and some by the Lord Advocate. It is a question of working together. I advise the Parliament that we have also invited the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers to come on board and be represented because we recognise the importance of tackling the matter in relation to public sector contracts. It is not a question of publishing one particular document; it is about ensuring that we are on the case and working together to deal with a situation that is ever evolving.

Private businesses, too, need to ensure that they protect themselves against organised crime. Professionals need to ensure that they are not inadvertently facilitating organised crime. Local authorities need to identify and disrupt serious organised criminals through their roles in licensing businesses, as employers, and as regulators. They must ensure that public money does not find its way into the pockets of serious organised criminals.

Legitimate businesses, our downtrodden communities and the public expect us to tackle the disease of serious organised crime and, in doing so, to strip criminals of the assets that they gain from their illegal activities. I am confident that we are meeting the challenge. We will implement the strategy for tackling serious organised crime and encourage all law-abiding citizens to play a role. We will harass and disrupt the overlords of the crime groups and the lieutenants and foot soldiers who carry out despicable crimes that make misery. Organised criminals seek to profit from crime in our communities, to undermine legitimate businesses and to threaten the framework of our democracy. That cannot and will not be tolerated.

We will be unceasing in our efforts to tackle serious organised crime and we will not rest until this blight has been removed. We will create a safer and stronger Scotland. I congratulate all those who have been involved at any level and look forward to hearing members' contributions to the debate. I believe that we have a unity of purpose in the Parliament in seeking to make our communities safer and stronger.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that serious organised crime can have a devastating impact on communities and businesses in Scotland; further recognises that tackling this menace should be a key priority for a Safer and Stronger Scotland; supports the role of the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce in spearheading Scotland's commitment to address this type of crime; supports Scottish law enforcement in implementing the taskforce's serious organised crime strategy, Letting our Communities Flourish, and supports the view that serious organised crime cannot be seen to pay.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 3:09, 11 March 2010

Serious and organised crime has had a devastating impact on communities and families throughout Scotland for too long. All members see the toll that has been taken on people whom we represent as a result of the intimidation, violence and misery that are associated with the drugs trade and the wide spectrum of offences that have been perpetrated by crime gangs and networks. People are tired of seeing in our newspapers day in, day out the same names of individuals and families who are known to be associated with such crimes. Those individuals and families are, apparently, too often able to continue their lives of crime without being brought to justice.

Members have a common cause. We need to do all that we can to take out those criminals and gangs, and we have seen progress on that since devolution. The previous Scottish Executive established the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, first used the proceeds of crime legislation, and established the programme to deliver the crime campus at Gartcosh. However, we must acknowledge the huge challenges that exist in dealing with criminals who are ever-more adept in their efforts to evade justice. That is why we must always look to do more to tackle such crimes and why we support the Scottish Government's motion, the goals of the serious organised crime task force and the areas of work that are highlighted in its strategy.

"Letting our Communities Flourish" identifies the right aims, but we need to be reassured that the right measures are taken and that the right support is given to crime-fighting agencies to achieve what the document sets out to deliver. The mapping exercise to show the breadth of activity of the 367 serious organised crime groups that it identifies has taken place, and the cabinet secretary has highlighted additional work. He has repeatedly said that the gangsters will be hunted and taken down. That commitment is welcome, but questions remain. How many of those groups are still operating? How many of the most-wanted crooks have been caught? We must all accept that it is not enough only to express determination to catch and convict those crooks; the pledge must be delivered on. If that does not happen, criminals will simply be emboldened further. If we want people in communities that have been blighted by these crimes to report them, we need to show them that information will be successfully acted on.

We should all be proud that moneys are being seized from criminals and that funds are being put into communities that have been affected by their crimes. That, rather than incentivisation schemes for police forces, must still be the focus of the recovered funds. However, we cannot wait for those funds to be recovered so that we can invest sufficiently in civil recovery. Investment has to be made up front, as the criminals will certainly employ expert legal advice to protect their ill-gotten gains from seizure. Such issues have been highlighted in the coverage of a number of cases, including that involving Michael Vidouri, who was convicted of a £3 million VAT fraud. Despite court orders, payments have continued to be resisted in high-profile cases.

It is right to celebrate successes, but it is also important to focus on further work that needs to be done. The "Joint Thematic Report on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002" by her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland and the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland contains very good proposals on mainstreaming that work in the police and the prosecution service, appointing champions for it and developing a proceeds of crime strategy. All those steps can be taken now. I hope that the cabinet secretary can tell us whether they will be implemented. Whether we are talking about a Mr Vidouri or a Mr Rauf, we need to be able to seize such profits.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We certainly agree with the recommendation on mainstreaming the proceeds of crime, which is why there will be a conference on 30 March that will bring together 200 practitioners. However, does Richard Baker agree that the cabinet secretary's announcement of the provision of £1.7 million is exactly the right move to tackle Vidouri-type cases, as 19 new financial investigators will be available to the police service to do that work?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Of course we welcome such investment, but we must also acknowledge that resources to fight such cases are available to the serious and organised crime networks and the criminals who lead them. Such investment is welcome, but we must also consider the thematic report to which I referred. I welcome the conference, but would like to know exactly what progress will be made in implementing the reasonable proposals that have been made. If we need to debate the legislation further in order to make it work better, we must do that, too.

The cabinet secretary has also made public commitments to intervene to ensure that there is no place for organised crime in what should be legitimate industries, including, notably, the taxi industry in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The gap is again between the commitment—however laudable—and the delivery. We must ask what steps have been taken as a result of the concerns raised by legitimate taxi firms in Edinburgh, and we know about the concerns over the award of the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde taxi contract to Network Private Hire. That raises the question whether the right work is taking place across Government to ensure that decisions on procurement are acted on when there are clear concerns about the businesses involved. For example, what conversations took place between the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing on the situation involving NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde? I welcome the role that SOLACE is to play in new work on the issue, but we must reinforce the fact that the issue is one for the whole of Government.

Of course, we want to see the Mr Bigs of the crime gangs put away for long sentences, but all too often more minor offending can be linked to serious and organised crime. In that regard, we have only to look at BBC Scotland's investigation into the highly profitable activities of Scottish shoplifting gangs. The cabinet secretary's proposal for a presumption against custodial sentences of six months and under will apply to 95 per cent of those convicted of shoplifting offences. That will do nothing to deter those crime gangs.

Serious and organised crime recognises no national boundaries. Tackling it must be a collaborative effort throughout the United Kingdom and, indeed, Europe and the world. [Interruption.] I hear ministers criticising, from a sedentary position, my comments on shoplifting, but I have outlined the reality of the situation. If ministers think that the proposals regarding custodial sentences of under six months will deter those criminals, they are sadly mistaken.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that a serious organised criminal who carries out a shoplifting offence should get a sentence of significantly longer than six months?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Of course I do, but that criminal would be operating with a gang and many people in the gang will be convicted on a number of occasions for more minor offences and will escape custody entirely under the cabinet secretary's proposals. If he cannot see that, we have a real problem.

We also make no apology for pursuing the issue of the establishment of the crime campus at Gartcosh, which Elaine Smith has taken up as the constituency member. We do not want to see any further delay to the project, because the advantages of bringing together under one roof the key Scottish and UK agencies that are working to tackle serious and organised crime are clear. I pay tribute to the work of Graeme Pearson in pursuing that vision and I also emphasise the key role of Gordon Meldrum and his staff at the SCDEA, because that agency, with its focus and expertise, is vital to a strategic approach in Scotland to preventing and stopping serious and organised crime.

In the previous session of Parliament, the Scottish Executive introduced provisions that would allow the SCDEA to employ officers directly, but, despite its crucial role, the agency is still reliant on secondments from police forces. We must reconsider that issue.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Richard Baker mentioned the strategic approach. Does he agree that it would have been easier to co-ordinate such an approach if the SNP Government had treated the construction of Gartcosh as a priority?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I could not agree more with Elaine Smith, whom I know has taken up the issues as the constituency member.

We will support both the Conservative and Liberal amendments. Robert Brown raises the very important issue of human trafficking and the lack of prosecutions that have taken place even when such crimes have been detected. Human trafficking requires particular attention ahead of the Commonwealth games.

We will also support the Government's motion, because of course we must set out a clear intention to do all that we can to bring down crime bosses, return their ill-gotten gains to the communities that they have plagued and root out serious and organised crime, whatever mask of legitimacy it seeks to put on. However, the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary must realise that expectations that have been raised must now be met and that promises must be turned into delivery. Communities living in fear of serious and organised crime do not need pledges; they need results. Effective action in dealing with those responsible for these heinous crimes will be welcomed throughout the chamber and the country.

I move amendment S3M-5929.2, to insert at end:

"; believes that the Scottish Government should ensure that there are no further delays in the construction of the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh, which was originally due for completion this year but is now not expected to be fully operational until mid-2013; supports the crucial role played by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency in ensuring that there is a co-ordinated strategy to tackling serious and organised crime in Scotland, and also believes that the Scottish Government must make progress in implementing the findings of the Joint Thematic Report on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland and the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland, to ensure that there is greater success in seizing and recovering the assets of those who profit from crime."

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:19, 11 March 2010

It is appropriate to have this debate, if for no other reason than to demonstrate Parliament's clear and unanimous determination to deal with the problem. The activities of serious and organised crime gangs impact on many of Scotland's communities and on every aspect of our society. Sometimes these activities are little less than shocking. The most obvious recent example was the appalling incident in Springburn in Glasgow, when a young man was gunned down in broad daylight outside a supermarket, as many people—some of whom were accompanied by children—were shopping. Such incidents simply cannot be tolerated.

Other incidents are less dramatic but are, arguably, equally corrosive. The importation and sale of drugs is pernicious, and its damaging consequences can be seen on the streets and in hospital wards, courts and prisons throughout Scotland.

There is also the problem of people trafficking. There is clear visual evidence that large number of people are being brought to Glasgow and being exploited for cheap labour, which is clearly unacceptable. The evidence—Robert Brown deals with this in his amendment—that women are being trafficked in large numbers for sexual exploitation is less clear. Having spoken recently to operational police officers, I understand that although there is evidence of foreign women being involved in the sex trade, they do not appear to be doing so in substantial numbers and the evidence seems to suggest that their involvement is voluntary.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I will finish this point first. It cannot be denied that such trafficking is a very serious offence. Where people are convicted of exploiting human misery in that way, society's disapproval should be demonstrated by clear, concise and forceful investigation and lengthy prison sentences.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Bill Aitken said that there is not evidence that many women were being trafficked. Surely one woman being trafficked is enough.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I thought that I made that clear in what I said after Trish Godman asked me to give way. That is why I stopped her—I anticipated her response. Where there is evidence that a person is trafficking women, that person must receive a severe prison sentence, because trafficking is totally unacceptable.

We can identify the problems and there is general consensus as to what we should do about them, but we have to recognise—I think that there would be unanimous recognition of this—that we have not entirely succeeded.

The cohesive approach that is demanded in the joint thematic report to which Richard Baker referred has, to some extent, happened. That particular box can be ticked, although there is still much more work to be done. First, we need an international approach, in the widest terms, to deal with exploitation of women for sexual purposes. We need to work more closely with our European partners and with those outwith Europe in order to ensure that such exploitation does not happen.

We also require a cross-border approach under a number of headings. As has been said, one of the things that we need to do is ensure that those who engage in serious and organised crime do not profit by it, so we must strip them of their assets to the maximum possible extent. If we are honest, we have to recognise that we have not been entirely successful under that heading. We require to think, "What must we do?" Sometimes, there are evidential difficulties and, despite the best possible efforts of all concerned, we run into a brick wall. However, we can involve Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to a greater extent to ensure that, where there are substantial assets that cannot be accounted for, at least taxation is paid on them. That, in itself, would be a way forward. I am not quite sure that that approach, which has been taken in Ireland fairly successfully, has been developed as far as it could be.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I welcome that. HMRC sits on the serious organised crime task force. I look with interest at the Irish model, which is predicated in many ways on taxation. I have invited the Home Secretary to discuss that, but he is unable to make the next meeting. Many of these matters, including taxation, are reserved, so if the Conservatives become the next Administration south of the border, will they seek to work with us, so that we have the powers over taxation that would allow us to act? I can give this assurance: if we had control over taxation, not only would HMRC sit on the serious organised crime task force, but we would exercise that power.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am sure that many of us would not sleep easy in our beds of a night if we thought that Mr MacAskill had universal control of our taxation. I can anticipate neither the result of the next general election nor the result of the various discussions that will take place immediately thereafter.

We have to consider confiscation of assets and we must ensure that every available tool in the box is not only in place but sharpened in readiness to assist the SCDEA and Crown Office in achieving what we all seek to achieve.

I turn to a point that Richard Baker raised and I note the lack of clarity in the cabinet secretary's response. Richard Baker rightly said that the six-month jail sentence that is normally imposed on a shoplifter, for example, could have an adverse effect on what we are trying to do in terms of serious organised crime. The cabinet secretary correctly said that he would expect that serious and organised criminals who are involved in such crime would be charged on indictment and receive much longer sentences. That is perfectly true. However, the worker bees are unlikely to be charged: it is more likely that criminals at the lower end of the food chain are the ones who will be charged. They may be deterred by the possibility of a six-month sentence, or of a lesser sentence. Removing that deterrent aspect prejudices the project to an extent.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am sorry about that.

We need to consider such matters. As Richard Baker said, there is the wider issue of public procurement where the fixing, arranging and placing of contracts has to be looked at. We are all aiming at the same goal. The issue is simply how to make a co-ordinated and measured approach to achieving that.

I move amendment S3M5929.1, to insert at end:

"and asks the Scottish Government to keep the entire issue of serious and organised crime under review in order that any further measures that may be deemed necessary can be considered."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:26, 11 March 2010

We have had many debates in the chamber on crime and criminal justice issues. In terms of the damage that is done, the insidious and corroding effect on communities and the destruction of lives through drugs, trafficking of women or general exploitation, and the consequences of the dominance by serious gangs on certain parts of our national life and economy are in a different league altogether. Today's debate is therefore important. All sides of the chamber are united in trying to ensure that our public response to this scourge is as effective and focused as possible. I think we all support the cabinet secretary's clarion call on the direction of travel.

The Scottish serious organised crime mapping project was a wake-up call. It identified 367 serious organised crime groups that operate across Scotland and some 4,000-plus individuals who are involved in a serious way. The scale of the issue is greater than many of us would have supposed. It is a curious fact that there is more criminal gang activity in the Highlands per head of population than there is in Glasgow. In the debate, we are, of course, talking not about troublesome teenage gangs who disturb the peace of communities but serious professional criminals. The Liberal Democrat amendment concentrates on two issues: the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the challenge of people trafficking, not least as it affects Glasgow, particularly in the lead-up to the Commonwealth games.

I have previously raised the issue of people trafficking and I make no apology for raising it again. It is inevitably a twilight activity—one that hardly interrelates with the lives of most people. However, in a report entitled "Scotland's Slaves: An Amnesty International briefing on trafficking in Scotland", Amnesty estimates that there are 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the United Kingdom at any one time. It says that prostitution and the trafficking of women is the third-highest global black-market income earner after drugs and arms. It appears that the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland believes that Scotland has 13.5 per cent of the human trafficking trade—well above the country's population or crime share. As Bill Aitken rightly said, human trafficking means exploited labour as well as prostitution. Amnesty also estimated that Glasgow has the highest number of sex workers in the UK outside London.

It is, to a degree, bewildering that some members query the existence of the problem. I refer to Bill Aitken's speech in particular. In that context, I welcome the recent announcement from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that it will hold an inquiry into this issue in Scotland. That said, I press the cabinet secretary on the Scottish Government's response. I think that I am right in saying that a multi-agency group is in charge of all aspects of Commonwealth games security, but that no specific funding has been allocated thus far. Research from the 2000 Sydney Olympics found that about 10,000 sex workers had been operating in the area. After the 2004 Athens games, the Greek Government spoke of a 95 per cent increase in the number of human trafficking victims. The Metropolitan Police has a specialist team in place with funding of £600,000 in anticipation of such issues in the lead up to the 2012 games in London.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Robert Brown has anticipated my intervention, in a sense. The Met indeed has an Olympic team, as it is known. The team is in action now because of the building that is going on for the Olympics in London and the fact that people are being trafficked in with that in mind.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

That is an entirely valid point. Trafficking takes place not just for the games themselves, but in the lead-up.

The Scottish Government says, however:

"there is no intelligence to suggest that human trafficking is occurring in association with the 2014 Commonwealth Games".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 24 November 2009; S3W-28988.]

Does the cabinet secretary concede that that was perhaps a little complacent? Why, when there have been 113 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation in England and Wales has there been none—as I understand it—in Scotland? The trafficking awareness-raising alliance—TARA—project in Glasgow supports the victims of trafficking. Since 2005, the project has supported 103 foreign women who have been trafficked into or within the UK. Those people were, I presume, trafficked by somebody. It is safe to assume that that is only the tip of the iceberg, and that is in normal times, before any surge in demand from the games—notwithstanding Trish Godman's point. The question whether the activity of the women who are coming in is voluntary is highly tendentious and is worth a debate in itself.

The problem is an enormously difficult one—I do not disguise it for a minute—and little co-operation can normally be expected from perpetrators or from victims. There must be lessons to be learned from elsewhere. Will the minister, when he winds up the debate, give the Parliament some information on how the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are responding to the challenge? The serious organised gangs that were identified by the survey that was carried out included 19 that were involved in sexual offences and 15 that were involved in immigration crime, including 10 in human trafficking, so we have at least some idea of who these people are and where they are operating.

My second area of focus is the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which is a powerful tool in helping to disrupt serious organised criminals. The joint inspection in October 2009, which has been mentioned, found that more could be done to use the act to its full extent. A Scottish National Party Glasgow councillor was recently reported as criticising progress, referring to one criminal with a £5.6 million confiscation order from six years ago who had paid not a penny to date. That was echoed by a "Panorama" report in March last year, which reported that the civil recovery unit, which is responsible for criminal prosecution, had frozen £60 million of assets but had managed to collect only £6 million of it.

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, which is now with the Justice Committee at stage 2, proposes new provisions, as the minister mentioned, to enable more serious criminals to be arrested and convicted, but I suspect that legal changes of that sort will have significantly less effect than the disruptive potential of hitting criminals in their pockets and stopping them from continuing to operate from jail. I ask the minister how much has been recovered under the scheme each year, whether the Scottish Government has a target level of recovery and what is being done to boost the effectiveness of the arrangements, not least following the inspection report from October last year.

The issues in this debate have been raised seriously and responsibly by members across the chamber. Nobody doubts that they are complex and difficult, but they are among the most vital challenges facing the Scottish Government and law enforcement agencies both here and elsewhere in the UK. They demand the most rigorous and focused attention of Government.

I commend the Liberal Democrat amendment in my name to the Parliament. I move amendment S3M-5929.3, to insert at end:

"; believes that, while good progress has been made on the recovery of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce must ensure that police and prosecutors use the Act to its full extent; notes with concern that there are no current convictions for human trafficking in Scotland, despite Glasgow being considered to be second only to London for the extent of people trafficking, and calls on the Scottish Government to take urgent, concerted and properly resourced action to break the misery of sex trafficking and to identify and support women being trafficked to Scotland, particularly in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014."

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We come now to the open debate. I ask for speeches of six minutes—members should stick to that time to within about a quarter of a minute.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party 3:33, 11 March 2010

I apologise to the Parliament in advance, as I might have to leave before the end of the debate. No discourtesy is intended.

It is vital that we come together as a Parliament this afternoon to show a united front in our determination to tackle serious and organised crime. Our communities expect no less, and people in our most deprived areas face the brunt of the misery that such crime causes. I have spoken in the chamber before about communities and individuals in north Glasgow who have stood up and challenged people who they believe are harming their area. I have regularly met constituents who have asked me to assist them in their cause, and I have done so in cases in which I have been able to assist. In my capacity as an MSP, I have written many letters to the relevant authorities about constituency concerns, and I have highlighted specific legislative gaps in the fight against organised crime in those letters. That is to be expected of an MSP—it is our job.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

On writing to authorities, Mr Doris, like me and other members, has taken up the issue of the Applerow Motors MOT station. Will he join me in congratulating the authorities on taking its licence away yesterday?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I congratulate the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency on taking away that licence, although we should be careful, because I believe that the licensee has 24 hours to appeal the decision. I also note that the licence was taken away for MOT offences. Part of my campaign was to allow VOSA to remove licences because of public safety and links to organised crime, but those were not the criteria on which the licence to which the member refers was revoked. Given that the situation is on-going, it would be inappropriate to talk in any more detail about that case.

Community activists have campaigned vocally on the ground for many years for the good of their local areas. That is quite different from people just doing their jobs. Those activists are invaluable to their communities and deserve our gratitude. So, too, do our police officers, who are the front line and who have to face up to serious and organised criminals daily. Much of their work goes unseen and unrecognised. Often, they are criticised when matters in relation to serious and organised crime are not progressed as quickly as communities understandably demand, or when people feel that individual officers make poor judgment calls on specific matters. However, by and large, our police officers do a fantastic job day in, day out and often tackle serious and organised crime head on. I record my thanks to them.

In the context of communities fighting back against criminals, and of police officers taking the fight directly to them, the Parliament has an overarching duty and obligation to work together constructively and positively. We are getting far better in our fight against serious and organised crime and progress is being made, but there is no room for complacency. Along with other members, I attended the Glasgow crime summit on Monday. I thank the deputy leader of the SNP opposition group in Glasgow City Council, Billy McAllister, for pulling that event together. I also thank Kenny MacAskill, representatives of the SCDEA and the gangs task force, Professor Graeme Pearson and many MSPs and councillors for attending the event.

As a result of attending the summit, I can assure members that our professional crime fighters are focused and proactive and are becoming increasingly intelligent about how to take on the criminals. There is no complacency. There was also no defensiveness about evaluating current performance. Continued self-analysis and best-practice improvement is vital to continued and increased success. I hope that that will be the tone in the Parliament too, so that when there are challenges to improving the performance of our police force, we join together constructively to deal with those challenges. That is what our communities expect from us.

It is important that we do not normalise the activities of organised criminals. That is one reason why it is important that we do everything in our power to prevent them or their associates from winning contracts from the public sector. Such contracts not only normalise criminals' activities, but allow them to cash in at taxpayers' expense and create opportunities for money laundering through their ill-gotten gains. I therefore welcome the Scottish Government directive to ensure that private security operatives must be registered with the Security Industry Authority before they can bid for public contracts. That requirement for registration will ensure that the regulations on the sector squeeze out many of the criminal elements. The measure has led to security contracts for the Commonwealth games being refused. However, a number of my constituents are unhappy that some contracts were awarded before the measure came into force in December 2009.

I have had similar complaints from constituents about the signing of a contract between Network Cars and Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board, after police expressed significant concerns and said that the contract should not be awarded. The board has said that, under European Union law, it had no power to refuse to award the contract. However, I understand that the flexibility of public bodies to refuse procurement contracts can be determined by the way in which the initial tender document is drafted. Get the tender document wrong, and the ability to rule out organised criminals from juicy public contracts can be drastically reduced. Therefore, I ask the cabinet secretary to consider exploring ways of extending best practice and advice on the drawing up of tender documents to ensure that maximum flexibility is given to refuse contracts when there are concerns in relation to organised crime.

Another serious aspect of tackling organised crime is getting more bobbies on the beat. That has been vital, because for so long organised criminals have been challenged by covert surveillance organisations and local community bobbies have backed off. That does not happen any more—local community bobbies are tackling organised criminals head on in every facet of their empire. I am proud of the job that those officers do. I hope that the Parliament unites around the need to take forward the fight against serious and organised crime.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 3:39, 11 March 2010

The report of the serious organised crime mapping project that was produced last year concludes that 4,066 people, representing 367 serious organised crime groups, are impacting on Scotland today. It notes that 40 per cent of such groups impact on the Strathclyde Police area and that 77 per cent of violent incidents occur in Strathclyde. Those are truly alarming statistics.

For those of us who live and work in the north and north-east of Glasgow, it sometimes feels as if all the problems of Strathclyde are concentrated in our communities. Fortunately, most people only read about and never experience the brutal reality that underpins the business empires of the criminal underworld. Nevertheless, many of our constituents experience the awful consequences that the trade in drugs visits on their communities. Some may be trying desperately to help a family member with an addiction, or living in fear that their teenage son or daughter may get involved with the wrong crowd. Perhaps they watch in horror as cars and taxis pull up outside a neighbour's house at all hours of the day and night but are too afraid to do anything about such disturbing activity. The irony is that those law-abiding citizens are the key to any long-term solution, because they know who the local drug dealers are and can provide vital information—the missing piece of the jigsaw that would help the police to make the important arrest and to close down the criminal operation.

Perhaps fear is not the only obstacle. There is evidence that many people think that, even if they pass on information to the police or an elected representative, little will happen. That can lead to a corrosive cynicism that is in no one's interests. As members of Parliament, we must help to find a way of demonstrating that such information is valued and of reassuring people in our communities that it will be used effectively. That does not mean directing or divulging information about police operations—it means finding ways and means of providing reassurance to our constituents that their co-operation is valued and that their involvement is central to the fight against serious and organised crime.

In the past, I have written to the cabinet secretary about the problems that social landlords encounter in securing the eviction of drug dealers. As matters stand, the housing provider must wait for a conviction before proceeding to eviction. The case for eviction often takes many months to get to court. When it does, the fact that the drug dealer has not committed any offences since they were convicted has, on occasion, been cited by the sheriff as a reason not to evict. We must be able to streamline the system to make it easier to evict convicted drug dealers. If we do not, communities will see that as another example of the system letting them down—and they will be right.

The drug dealer on the street is the small fry—often an addict—and is being exploited by the so-called Mr Bigs of the criminal underworld, about whom we read every day. Although few of them live in my constituency, many of them operate there and make money out of the misery of people who were once their neighbours. When the proceeds of crime legislation was passed, all of us hoped that it would help to deter criminals and make it harder for them to operate. Although it has made some difference, in reality criminals have simply employed better lawyers and better accountants to help them to avoid being caught, and have diversified into more seemingly legitimate businesses to help them to do so. The agencies that are working to defeat them must have the best technology, the best forensic accountants and the best support that is available from the Crown Office if they are even to keep up.

At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned that a disproportionate amount of serious and organised crime occurs in Strathclyde, especially in communities in Glasgow. I want to know whether that means that the major proportion of money that is allocated from proceeds of crime confiscations is reinvested in those communities, which are most directly affected by serious and organised crime. If it is not, there needs to be a major Government rethink. I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that serious concern when he sums up.

The relentless pursuit of those who bring misery and terror to innocent people in our constituencies is an approach on which we can all agree. No one could take issue with the objectives that are outlined in "Letting our Communities Flourish", but what is required now, more than ever, is an unswerving implementation of that type of co-ordinated and resourced approach in order to turn those fine words into successful action. The Scottish Government, the police and all elected members must listen to and work with communities to drive these crooks off our streets and into our jails.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 3:45, 11 March 2010

Shortly after my election in 2007, when I was first appointed to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, I proposed a committee inquiry into Scotland's black economy. The case for such an inquiry came out of postgraduate research that my students had undertaken, which was given some publicity in my book "Mending Scotland: Essays in Economic Regionalism". However, the issue was diverted to Scotland's Futures Forum, where there was consensus on the existence of the problem. At a meeting with the forum, the members seemed convinced of my arguments, but nothing further transpired—the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's agenda has also been enough for me to be going on with—although I have been in touch with them and I live in hope.

The problem is not just the bottom-up villainy that goes on but the grey area that has opened up on a huge scale between the sort of wild west that is covered by the Daily Record and The Sun—presumably, The Sun journalists are not at the opera—and the huge disasters that have marked the financial sector. In the 18th century, Adam Smith and his less idealistic friend Adam Ferguson characterised such "luxury and corruption" as a problem to which people were prone in overcommercialised societies, where money talked and the talk was not about fairness or social responsibility.

In the UK's financial collapse, top-down illegalism moved out of the shadows to take centre stage as part of sub-prime lending—often fraudulent—in the shape of what was termed "moral hazard". Dealers, wanting to boost trade volumes and their own bonuses, undertook speculations in the expectation that, if they failed, their banks would be bailed out. Some of that behaviour could be put down to what, back in 1996, Alan Greenspan notoriously called "irrational exuberance", but much was due to a lack of transparency because the boards of prestigious banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, did not know what was happening on the London trading floors and in the tax havens where structured investment vehicles, collateralised debt obligations and CDOs-squared—and those are just the easy ones—were traded.

Those disasters brought about what a University of Glasgow sociologist and a Tübingen criminologist had forecast back in 1975—the year, ironically, in which Gordon Brown published "The Red Paper on Scotland"—which one of the greatest British thriller writers subsequently wrote up in a near-documentary account; John Mack and Hans-Jürgen Kerner's book, "The Crime Industry", seems to have very much influenced Eric Ambler's last novel. They argued that globalisation, computers and tax havens were creating a fog into which could disappear not just tax avoiders but much of the £1.3 trillion of business worldwide that is connected with drug dealing, arms smuggling, people trafficking and counterfeiting. That seems a vast and incredible sum, but an article in The Herald estimated that the Barras alone turned over £2 billion in counterfeit goods each year. All those businesses are united by the faculty of money laundering—so Nick Kochan has argued—and the ability of law to get the manipulators, even when evidently guilty, off the hook. Remember that this trade runs from fraudsters such as Vidaurri to our last heavy industrial firm, BAE Systems, which got off bribery charges on the ground that the wider public interest had to prevail over the rule of law.

The particular impact on Scotland can be seen in our drugs problem—three times greater, proportionate to population, than elsewhere in Europe—which finances a huge black economy where gangs that are big enough, as we have heard, to have their own lawyers and accountants can make money disappear and suck in legal aid. Was it coincidence that Scotland has turned out to be a prime "carousel fraud" country?

How do we combat that? That will be the clue to our future. I acknowledge that 1,000 additional police officers—and another 200 next year—will certainly help to make our communities safer and to deter crime. The establishment of the serious organised crime task force, the research on the scale of organised crime in Scotland that has been published and the additional funding that has been announced are more than welcome. However, our ability to reduce the drug hit—which, as we have seen, extends far into society—is the key. Are we prepared to follow European countries such as Switzerland that control drugs in a much more intrusive fashion in order to reduce the influence of crooks and bullies and the big-car, high-roller glamour that is not restricted to crime but which smears itself over spectator sport, gambling and security firms and contaminates legitimate business and law?

Three years ago, Graeme Pearson, resigning as head of the SCDEA, warned that, if we did not check crime, it would subvert the state. Of course, we have seen many examples of that happening worldwide.

I will end with a statistic that will show just how big that grey area is—it is worth bearing in mind that I speak as a veteran of the Buckingham branch of the Labour Party, which was dominated in my time by Robert Maxwell. According to The Guardian, in 2007, benefit fraud in Britain came to just under £1 billion while tax fraud came in at between £97 billion and £150 billion, which was as much as 12 per cent of the gross domestic product of Britain and twice that of Scotland.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 3:51, 11 March 2010

Organised crime infiltrates societies across the globe, from the yakuza in Japan and the triads in China to the drug barons in South America and the mafia in the United States, and Scotland is not immune to that vicious and deadly trade. Links are worldwide in this global business racket.

It is worth repeating that the serious organised crime mapping project found that, between November 2008 and April 2009, there were 367 serious organised crime groups operating in Scotland, involving just over 4,000 individuals.

Gang members come from various walks of life and backgrounds. Some are lured into gangs as a result of the effects of social deprivation or a lack of proper education and some may become involved in crime because, in a sense, they inherit the family business. For some sad souls, being part of a gang seems to be a natural step and, for the vicious thugs, it is a means of gaining a sense of power and control over others, while making a packet out of people's misery.

Let us be in no doubt, though, that those who become involved in gangs are part of a fraternity of felons whose criminal acts, which extend from shoplifting, drug dealing, extortion through to murder, force us to tackle them with every resource at our disposal.

We know that criminals who are involved at a high level are able to engage the best possible advice. Our people fighting the war against them deserve to be equipped with the best possible tools. They must have the best people, the best technology and the best resources to tackle, aggravate and stop the gangsters' evil trade.

Thankfully, we have an agency whose principal mission is to dismantle serious and organised crime in Scotland. The SCDEA is tasked with protecting Scotland's communities and ensuring that they

"are not blighted by the effect of serious organised crime, drug addiction and supply".

Since its inception in 2001, SCDEA has been tremendously influential in its remit. In recent times, operation Aquarius, a seven-month investigation that was carried out in conjunction with Strathclyde Police, seized controlled drugs including cocaine and heroin worth almost £2 million, disrupting the business of the gangs and keeping their deadly product off the streets.

In my constituency of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, the local police work closely with the SCDEA and have had successes over recent years. Our communities are still blighted, however.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was landmark legislation, which I think had the support of all the political groups in the Scottish Parliament. We need to consider how it is working in practice. If it needs to be tightened up, so that we shift the balance of power from the criminal to the law-abiding citizen, that should happen. Just as our law enforcement officers need to be resourced to take on and get ahead of the criminals, the law must give officers the power to do their job.

It is not acceptable for criminals to set up businesses as a front for criminal activity. The public and the police know that they are fronts, but the criminals get away with it. People see gangsters who have not worked an honest day in their lives driving about in fancy cars, living in large houses, parading about in designer clothes and draped in gold jewellery, with their designer dogs at hand, seeming to snub the police.

To add insult to injury, gangsters win public sector contracts. Surely that cannot be right. The SCDEA is doing an excellent job, but the Government will not support that work unless it takes action now to prevent gangsters from tendering for, let alone winning, public sector contracts. If tackling serious and organised crime is a priority for the Government, the minister should urgently introduce legislation to deal with the matter.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that many of the issues that she raises relate to procurement, which is either EU driven or the responsibility of Lord Mandelson? Will she support me in the offer that I made to Councillor Stephen Curran in Glasgow, when I said that I would be more than happy to make a joint representation to Lord Mandelson, to call for action to tighten up on procurement, because it is wrong that gangsters benefit from public contracts?

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

If I were in the cabinet secretary's position I would be doing everything that I could to close the loophole. We must give the people who fight gangsters on our behalf every tool that they need for the job. If that means that we should work with elected representatives in other Parliaments, the cabinet secretary should do so—that is what I would do if I had the power that he has. I am sure that, if the cabinet secretary introduced a bill in the Scottish Parliament to allow our law officers to do their jobs, it would have cross-party support.

I move on to the proposal to move SCDEA and all the partners who are needed to do the job to the new Scottish crime campus at Gartcosh. In the SCDEA's 2007-08 annual plan, the agency's former director general, Graeme Pearson, said:

"The establishment of a Scottish law enforcement campus sends out a clear message—serious organised crime will face a formidable adversary and will find it increasingly difficult to profit at the expense of Scotland's communities."

It is crucial that we get the Gartcosh campus up and running. I am sure that Elaine Smith will talk about that.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

We must make the changes that are needed, to ensure that we support our law officers in protecting us from serious and organised crime.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 3:58, 11 March 2010

The first organised crime map, which shows the number of serious criminal gangs in each police force area in Scotland, was published last year. The map was compiled by the police and other organisations that are involved in tackling serious and organised crime. It shows that 92 per cent of gangs are involved in drug crime and 22 per cent in money laundering. Some 55 per cent of gangs are estimated to have access to firearms. Every part of Scotland is affected by criminal gangs, but some areas are more affected than others are. It is estimated that 5 per cent of the organised crime groups that operate in Scotland operate in my area, Grampian—as far as I am concerned, that is too many.

One of the most effective ways of addressing the problem is by tackling demand. Do people really understand that buying counterfeit goods and contraband cigarettes, for instance, funds the criminal networks that supply them? Do people really understand and know that? Do they therefore realise that what might seem to them to be victimless crimes are no such thing? I believe that one of the most important things that we can and should do is target consumer groups to reduce the demand for the products of serious and organised crime. By concentrating on getting that message across, we can work to increase awareness and reduce demand—we certainly should not stoke demand.

Frankly, it does not help the situation when the Scottish Government introduces proposals to make things that are currently legal illegal. I am focusing here on the SNP Administration's move to raise the age for purchasing alcohol from 18 to 21. Why 21? Why not 25 or 45? If we set a new and quite arbitrary age limit within the current law, where will that stop and what will the repercussions be? We have already had historical references in the debate. Well, historically, we all know what happened in the USA when it brought in a prohibition on the purchase of alcohol. There was a dramatic and immediate rise in organised and serious crime. It can hardly help to tackle the issue if we go down the route of banning people from activities in which they already legally engage.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

Just as a matter of information, the arrest and sentencing of Al Capone were done under the prohibition legislation, which enabled his financial dealings to be explored and which would not otherwise have been possible.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I think that the member has missed my point. It was the fact that prohibition was introduced in the first place that caused the rise of Mr Capone and all his cronies. That is the point that the member seems to have missed.

I will focus on the issue of working with professional bodies to tackle corruption by, for example, clamping down on accountants and solicitors who attempt to legitimise illegal earnings. It is right that the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill is looking at ways of modernising our laws on corruption and bribery. I will not refer to any particular on-going court case involving solicitors and stolen goods, because to do so would be wrong and would risk affecting the natural course of justice. However, in general terms, we need to accept that corruption takes place involving professionals as well as non-professionals. We need modern, effective laws to ensure that lawbreakers are more easily brought to justice.

High-profile policing is also essential if we are to root out the scourge of serious and organised crime—of course it is. The SNP Government must ensure that the progress that has been made on increasing the number of front-line police officers over the years is not undermined by the funding shortfalls and difficulties that police forces such as Grampian Police face, especially in their pension arrangements.

I cannot speak in this debate without referring to the points that the Conservatives made about the proposed abolition of shorter prison sentences. Bill Aitken asked what would happen to deterrence with the abolition of shorter sentences. In turn, I ask the Conservatives whether they know of any criminals who committed their crimes believing that they would be caught. People committing minor offences should not be jailed; it is no good for them or for society. Criminals committing serious crimes should be put away for serious periods.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

How would Mr Rumbles deal with the shoplifter who has 30 or 40 previous convictions? That is typically the sort of case, where everything has failed, that we get in the summary courts.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It is interesting that the Conservatives automatically assume that courts will hand out lighter sentences and so advocate longer sentences. I am surprised that the Conservatives, from their perspective, do not take the position of advocating longer sentences for serious crimes. If Bill Aitken thinks that his example is about a serious crime because somebody has committed so many offences over the years, surely that is serious. The point is that, if somebody is sent to prison for a shorter period, they cannot get rehabilitated and they are more likely to commit crimes when they come out from what are universities of crime. I am astonished at the position that the Conservatives take on this issue.

We need to recognise that the problem of serious and organised crime affects everyone throughout Scotland. It needs to be tackled in the first instance by taking away the demand for illegal products, not encouraging that demand. As I said, the Scottish Government should not add to the problem by making even more products illegal. We should also support more high-profile policing. In those ways, we can tackle the problem of serious and organised crime, which continues to grow across the country.

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party 4:05, 11 March 2010

I do not imagine that any member is in any doubt about the danger that organised crime presents, or that anyone doubts its ability to corrupt. Legitimate businesses, the police, the judiciary, politicians and the military—no one will fail to find at least one country in which organised crime has corrupted people in one, if not all, of those areas. Therefore, I hope that all members welcome the actions that are being taken to detain criminals and to seize their assets.

I appreciate that there is some debate about whether those assets are being seized quickly enough, but surely the most important point is that they are being frozen and then seized. It is unquestionably satisfying to see the ill-gotten gains of the dregs of society—the so-called Mr Bigs—going to fund youth projects that are aimed at keeping youngsters out of crime.

In Renfrewshire, almost £130,000 has been distributed to organisations such as Moorpark youth centre, Loud 'n' Proud, which teaches rock and roll, and Paisley and District Scout Council. The most recent beneficiaries were Renfrewshire Council antisocial investigation team and the Bridgewater Housing Association. In one manner of speaking, contrary to what the motion says, crime does pay—at least for those organisations.

It is clear that, if we are to be successful in diverting the funds of theft, extortion, prostitution and drug dealing from the crime bosses into youth projects, we must make it as difficult as possible for those funds to be hidden, which means making it as difficult as possible for them to be moved into legitimate businesses. For that reason, I welcome the Government's decision to ensure that all taxi and private hire companies must be licensed. Never again should we have a health board awarding a contract to a company that the police have identified as being connected to organised crime. That is counterintuitive not only from the perspective of tackling crime, but from that of improving our nation's health. After drug addiction or violence has destroyed a person's health, it appears just a tad bizarre to send the victim a taxi that is owned by the same people who caused the damage.

If we welcome the seizure of cash, should we not also welcome the considerable increase in the seizure of drugs? Well, any drug seizures are to be welcomed, but what do they tell us about the so-called war on drugs? What they do not tell us is that there are fewer drugs on the street. We cannot know whether an increase in drug seizures represents an increase in the proportion of drugs that are seized or the same proportion of a higher level of availability. The only way in which we can really know whether drugs are less available is through price. If we assume that demand is relatively constant—as the demand for hard drugs comes from addicts, it tends to be inelastic—a lower price indicates greater drug availability, and a higher price points to lower availability.

The laws of economics provide the information to determine drug availability. However, those same laws—specifically, the law of supply and demand—point to the illogicality of a police-led approach to tackling drug problems. Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that we should not seek to arrest dealers or seize drugs; my point is about the illogicality of attempting to tackle our drug problem through supply-side control. If we seize more drugs and succeed in significantly reducing the availability of drugs, the price goes up. That rise in price encourages others to enter the supply side of the market, thus ensuring a counterbalance to police success.

What is the evidence for that? Over the past 30 years, there have been regular announcements that drug seizures are up, but we still have a significant drug problem. If we really could control the drug problem through justice measures alone—I emphasise the word "alone"—the problem would have been solved a long time ago. I believe that there can be only one way of effectively tackling the drugs trade. We must emphasise the need to tackle the demand side of the equation.

The Scottish Government has taken steps in the correct direction. For example, in June 2008 it announced details of a pilot scheme involving the use of drug treatment and testing orders. The underlying philosophy of a DTTO is that by addressing an offender's drug misuse, it is possible to have a positive impact on the related offending behaviour. In December, the Scottish Government announced the provision of £28.6 million of funding—a record amount—for drug treatment services. That money, which represents a 20 per cent increase in investment in front-line drug services—and therefore the meeting of another pledge—will fund recovery services that are tailored to local needs. I have a vague memory that some political parties said that we would not manage to provide extra treatment funding and extra policemen—perhaps that is just a trick of my memory.

However, I believe that we could be bolder. Work in Switzerland, the Netherlands and England has demonstrated the effectiveness of prescribing heroin to recalcitrant addicts, in combination with other support. The English randomised injectable opiate treatment trial—RIOTT—which compared supervised injectable heroin, supervised injectable methadone and optimised oral methadone treatments, achieved highly positive results, with a significant reduction in, or abstinence from, the use of street heroin, particularly among the injectable heroin treatment group. There was also a dramatic reduction in self-reported crime, and the amount of money that was spent on street drugs was reduced in all three treatment groups. That translates into less money being spent on propping up serious and organised crime. The evidence is there, and I am convinced that the sooner we roll out such programmes in Scotland, the better.

However, in tackling drugs crime, it is vital that we not only reduce demand but reduce the ability of crime bosses to recruit their underlings. There is solid evidence that inequality within society leads to increased crime. The recent book "The Spirit Level" provides an excellent summary of the past 15 to 20 years of evidence. I accept that the number of top crime bosses might not be significantly altered by creating a more equal society, but the number of their recruits at the lower end certainly will be. In "Freakonomics", Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner noted that the overwhelming majority of those who are involved in the drugs trade earned the minimum wage or less. It is only near the top that significant sums begin to be earned. Tackling drugs crime means reducing the number of recruits to the drugs trade, and that means tackling inequality.

The Scottish Government has shown considerable initiative in tackling organised crime, but to tackle crime fundamentally, we must tackle inequality. To do that, we need control over the minimum wage, social security, and all economic levers. To really tackle crime, we need to reshape our society. We need to look at examples of other similar nations, such as Norway or Sweden, and of course we need the powers of independence.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 4:11, 11 March 2010

I agree with much of what the cabinet secretary said this afternoon. Indeed, like most members in the chamber, I can endorse much of what he has said since his appointment on issues of serious and organised crime. When he says, as he did this afternoon, that he is sending out a warning that those who are involved in crime are not untouchable and that their ill-gotten gains will be taken from them, I fully support him. I also fully support the statements made in many Government documents, including that which specifically says:

"Fraud against government reduces the money available to fund services like schools, hospitals and police on the street."

I was, therefore, surprised that when I asked the cabinet secretary whether he would support my call for the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to be used against a convicted fraudster, he said that he could not comment on a specific case as a cabinet minister. Then, strangely enough, he went on to list specific examples to illustrate his support for the use of the proceeds of crime. Of course, his speech was written before I asked the question, so the cabinet secretary was clearly prepared to endorse specific action against some people. I cannot understand why he is so reluctant to be specific in his support for the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to be used against the individual I asked about. I hope that a letter of comfort from a cabinet secretary colleague would not temper his zeal in ensuring that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is properly applied.

I share the views that many members have articulated about the complexity and the significance of the threat facing our society from serious and organised crime. Some of the legislation that has been mentioned has been significant and has had a profound and positive impact. However, like any other legislation, we need to be able to develop it as required. We need to learn from our practice and experience and, where improvements can be made, we need to be prepared to make them. That is why I believe that the time is right to ensure that the impact of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the recovery of assets are strengthened. Where there are weaknesses, we should address them radically. We should not hesitate.

In ensuring that we are able to tackle serious and organised crime, it is not enough just to change the legislation if required. We need to be able to invest to ensure that those criminals are tackled. I commend the additional money that the cabinet secretary has mentioned will be invested. We expect that such a problem will continually demand more resources. It is not enough to say that we are spending more than we did a couple of years ago; that should be taken for granted. The question is whether we are prepared centrally to invest what is required. I hope that the cost of some of the advances that the cabinet secretary mentioned, such as the investment in forensic techniques, is being met from central resources and that we are not using money from recovered assets and the proceeds of crime to fund what should be centrally funded from Government and police board resources. We know that many criminals have access to the best accountants, lawyers and equipment. If we are serious in our determination to match them and beat them, we must ensure that the SCDEA and our police forces equally have access to the best resources. We should not hesitate to provide such investment.

We have been blessed with many talented individuals. Graeme Pearson has been mentioned; I knew Gordon Meldrum, the current director of the SCDEA, in his previous post in the police; and there is also Johnny Gwynne. Those are talented, experienced and dedicated officers who are determined to make a difference and that determination should not be thwarted by any internal wrangling in police forces or arguments about the deployment or secondment of resources. The SCDEA needs the full support of every agency and politician in this country to ensure that it does its job to best effect.

I support what has been said about the need to disrupt the organised criminals and about the need to divert resources. I commend the work that has been done through choices for life, the education programme for primary 7 children throughout Scotland. However, one of the last things that I did before I moved from the justice portfolio was ask for an examination of the impact of that programme. Significant amounts of money have been invested in it and it is possibly right to continue with it, but is it having an impact? Are children at that age being deterred from criminality in their teenage years? There should be some tracking to see whether that investment and effort are having the desired effect. I make no criticism—it is a wonderful programme and I have attended its meetings—but we need to examine whether our investment and what we are doing are having the desired effect.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:17, 11 March 2010

Organised criminals, drug barons, crime lords—call them what we may, they cannot be allowed to run amok, maiming, killing, terrorising and threatening communities. Therefore, I congratulate the Government and previous Governments on their moves against organised crime. The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, cashback for communities, the serious organised crime task force and additional police on the beat all contribute in the fight against the criminals and are proving to be successful. The SCDEA has seized £43.5 million-worth of class A drugs and the community cashback initiative has invested £13 million of seized money in our communities. They are all very good initiatives and are welcomed by not just me, but all members and everyone in our communities. Nevertheless, criminals are still operating throughout Scotland, bidding for and winning lucrative contracts, and that is what I will concentrate on.

Several members, including Richard Baker and Hugh Henry, have mentioned Graeme Pearson. I met him on Monday at the crime summit, along with Patricia Ferguson, Bob Doris and the cabinet secretary. I echo the praise that we have heard for Mr Pearson, who this week said that councils and public authorities face a growing threat of corruption and bribery. We must remember that the public sector has massive spending power, amounting to £8 billion over the whole sector. Various members, including Bill Aitken, have mentioned procurement contracts, which we need to look at carefully, especially those regarding the security industry. When I was a councillor in Paisley—Hugh Henry will remember this, as he was the leader of the council at that time—Renfrewshire Council had a terrible time with a security firm that was run by the Gillespies, called Ferguslie Park Community Business Security. It is not as though such problems have just arisen; they have been happening for a long time, but it is difficult to pin the firms down and sort them out. The Gillespies' firm was eventually sorted out.

I will move on to the contracts that security firms have with other councils—including Glasgow City Council, because I am a Glasgow MSP. It is frightening to hear what has been happening in the security industry in Glasgow. We have all read about it in the newspapers and seen it on television; some of those security firms have been allowed to run amok. We put in extra checks and balances with regard to procurement for the Commonwealth games, but it was unfortunately too late for some of the firms to take part.

One security firm took great umbrage at not being able to get the security contract for the games, and—although the firm denies this, so I use the word "allegedly"—one of the areas was fire bombed. The firm denied all involvement, but it still holds the contract for the velodrome for the Commonwealth games, which I find very worrying.

I hear perfectly well the views of the cabinet secretary and the crime summit on procurement. There is EU law on that, in which Lord Mandelson has a say, and I thank Cathie Craigie for her commitment to join us in writing to Lord Mandelson to try to rectify the situation. However, companies have an obligation to ensure that the public are safe. The situation with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Network Private Hire has already been mentioned—

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I am sorry, I do not have time.

The police told the health board that they would provide evidence against Network Private Hire and go to court, but NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde declined that help. The health board must have some responsibility in such a situation.

When someone goes to a licensing board they are asked whether they are a "fit and proper person". Where does that fit in with the case that I have just mentioned? If the police are providing the evidence on the activities of that cab firm, it is clear that the people who run it are not "fit and proper" persons. Perhaps the cabinet secretary can comment on where we stand with regard to the licensing law's test of whether someone is a "fit and proper person"—it just does not seem to work.

It is known that the security firms that I have mentioned are not "fit and proper" persons, but they still hold the licences for running the security for one of the most prestigious events in not only Glasgow, but Scotland. We need to get real. The council and other public bodies such as health boards—and the BBC, which I have been told has a contract with Network Private Hire—have a responsibility to the public. Public money is funding not only those security firms, but the criminals who are associated with them. It is incumbent on us as MSPs and legislators and on councils to ensure that the people who are awarded contracts are fit and proper persons.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 4:23, 11 March 2010

The debate is important and I join other members in supporting the implementation of the strategy. However, it is not possible to have a debate about tackling serious and organised crime without talking about the lack of progress on the new crime campus at Gartcosh in my constituency.

Gartcosh is, as some members may know, the site of the former steelworks that was shut for no good reason when Margaret Thatcher wreaked devastation on Scottish industry, the trade unions and working-class communities. Gartcosh has been a sad monument to that destruction since its closure in February 1986. I was therefore pleased to hear, under the previous Labour-led Executive, that the site would be developed and I was delighted to join Cathy Jamieson, the then justice minister, in early 2007 as she officially declared it the site for the new police services campus, which would house the SCDEA among other services.

The community in Gartcosh and the surrounding areas was pleased, not only because the site was going to be developed to house such an important number of agencies, but because the development was due to bring 900 quality jobs to the area. Work was supposed to begin in 2008 and completion was scheduled for this year. However, following the election in May 2007 and the change of Government, it soon became apparent that work was not progressing. I asked a question in November of that year, to which I will return.

I was approached by the community council and concerned constituents early the following year and I wrote to Kenny MacAskill in February 2008 to express their concerns. I was assured that the funding had been identified in the spending review and that the work was due to commence, but that the completion date had been pushed back to

2011. In July 2008, Scottish Enterprise assured me at a meeting about Gartcosh that the work would commence early in 2009, but little progress has been made since then.

In November 2007, I asked the minister whether he was aware of the deep frustration that my constituents felt because of the delay. He responded:

"The member can rest assured that we will act expeditiously and efficiently."—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; c 3935.]

I do not think that the new proposed opening date of 2012 is either expeditious or efficient and I know that the community in Gartcosh will not think so either. Jim Diamond of the community council recently said of the delays:

"This is having a detrimental effect on our community."

Obviously, I have a constituency interest in seeing the campus opened, but aside from that, why is it important? Last year, in talking about bringing together key staff at Gartcosh, Kenny MacAskill said:

"This sends out a strong message to the criminal gangs that we will use every means at our disposal to protect our communities from the threat they pose."

What is the threat? As we heard, drug smuggling is one of the main activities, but serious and organised crime also involves guns, money laundering, fraud, counterfeit goods, piracy, prostitution and people trafficking. It infiltrates our communities and ruins lives. It instils fear and fuels other crimes, and it is not victimless. In addition to the obvious victims such as drug addicts and their families, prostituted women and people who are harmed by faulty goods or poisonous alcohol, there are the victims of the car crime, mugging, burglary and so on that come with such crime. It is about money, greed and power. The criminals who are involved in it use extreme violence, intimidation and corruption to protect and sustain their lucrative criminal enterprises. We need to get that message out more widely. I agree with the Government on that point and its aim to do that.

The beginning of the week, 8 March, was international women's day, and trafficking is a major issue of violence against women. According to Stop the Traffik, the trafficking of people is hugely profitable. It generates billions of pounds a year in profit and is second only to the trafficking of drugs. Much of it, of course, involves the enslavement of women into prostitution. This week was also freedom week, during which young people have been encouraged to talk about trafficking and what we can do to help stop it. Serious and organised crime needs halted for many reasons, not least of which is the damage that it does to the people who are bought and sold in to modern-day slavery. It also threatens everybody's safety, destroys lives and the social fabric of communities and harms the legitimate economy.

The SOCA website states:

"The scale, scope and sophistication of serious organised crime in the 21st century demand an equally sophisticated and ambitious response from government to tackle it."

In the new strategy, the section on detection mentions boosting capacity, improving co-ordination and providing better intelligence. The facility at Gartcosh must surely be an integral part of that. Perhaps my frustration at the delay—and the frustration of my constituents, local councillor Joe Shaw and Tom Clarke MP—will be more understandable now that it has been set in the context of today's debate. We are all scunnered by the delay. We are angry at the lack of concrete information and fed up with the Government's procrastination. I hoped that today, at long last, the minister would be honest with us and commit to a date for the opening of the crime campus, but sadly that has not happened. Perhaps he will do that when he sums up. Only when he has done so will he be able to stand up in the chamber and convince us that he is unequivocally committed to delivering on the new strategy and to tackling serious and organised crime in Scotland. He must now prioritise Gartcosh or he will send out entirely the wrong message.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 4:29, 11 March 2010

We have established that serious organised crime is a blight on Scotland's communities. The associated violence, crime and addiction that it causes are devastatingly harmful to many people's lives. As Patricia Ferguson said, that devastation is being inflicted on our communities throughout Scotland by 4,066 people. That is not very many, but it is a definite number. We must know who those 4,066 people are. How can we get them all in prison? I suggest that we do that. They are serious people, and they should be in prison.

The key to tackling serious and organised crime and bringing those 4,066 criminals to justice is having a joined-up and co-ordinated approach that involves our local police forces and national units such as the serious organised crime task force and the Serious Fraud Office. Progress is being made in some areas, although the work is taking time to come to fruition. I accept that the serious organised crime task force strategy in "Letting our Communities Flourish" was launched only last June and that it will take time to have an effect, particularly the preventive measures that it identified.

It is important that the public perception of the effect of crime locally is improving. In turn, that will boost public confidence in reporting organised crime to the police. It is all about the police and the public working together as a team to address the issues, and it is vital that the serious organised crime task force continues to build on that improvement through continued efforts at engagement with both the public and local police forces. As Bob Doris and other members have said, it is vital to get the public on our side in fighting serious and organised crime.

I will give an example of what can be done. Lothian and Borders Police recently launched its new safer neighbourhood team initiative in my constituency of Edinburgh South. The idea behind that initiative is to improve public engagement and increase trust in our local police by letting the community prioritise local matters for the police, which will give it more confidence in what the police are doing. Particular effort is being put into engaging with residents outside the usual channels, through visits to businesses and issue-based local meetings. Although the scheme is not yet fully operational, the officers in charge are already noticing the difference in their relationship with the community and the community is noting the difference in what the police are doing.

Liberal Democrats welcome the partnership working involving the serious organised crime task force, UK-wide agencies and international agencies. That work is vital in combating the often international nature of serious organised crime. I remember a meeting in Glasgow at which Graeme Pearson gave a briefing. I confess that I came away from that briefing on how much international serious organised crime is focused on Scotland and the effect that that is having on levels of crime here with my eyes wide open.

There is definitely room for improvement in some areas. It is notable that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 can be used to greater effect in disrupting serious organised crime groups. As Richard Baker said, we cannot afford to be complacent. I hope that the extra money that the minister mentioned and the staff that it will provide will address a problem that many members have mentioned. The minister gave a good example: he mentioned a car that was confiscated. I saw a picture of that car earlier this week in The Scotsman. It seemed to me that the police's getting that car off a criminal and making good use of it is exactly what should be done.

It has been mentioned several times that Kenny MacAskill has been accused of failing to fulfil his mission of seizing serious criminals' assets. The accuser in question described the 2002 act as a "laughing stock". I do not agree with that assessment. It can be remarkably difficult when, as many members have mentioned, highly qualified lawyers and accountants are doing everything that they possibly can to prevent the Government from seizing assets. Clearly, the answer is that as much money as possible must be spent on preventing that from happening. Perhaps it might be possible for us at some point to tackle the lawyers who are involved in that. However, the serious organised crime task force must improve the effectiveness of the 2002 act and be more robust in ensuring that there are seizures and in enforcing seizure orders. It is vital that the best use is made of such a powerful and visible symbol of the success of law enforcement agencies in tackling crime.

The Government is not performing quite so well in respect of its own performance indicators. Two-year reconviction rates have remained stable at approximately 45 per cent and there has been a failure to reduce overall crime victimisation rates, which have remained at about 20 per cent for the past few years.

In many ways, today's debate carries more urgency than previous debates on the issue because of the upcoming 2014 Commonwealth games. Liberal Democrats have warned that the Commonwealth games will result, before and during the games, in huge numbers of women being trafficked into Glasgow for sex unless the Scottish Government acts now to identify and support women who are being trafficked. My colleague Robert Brown gave some good examples of what happened both in Sydney and at the Athens games. Given the date of the games, it is even more concerning that the timetable for the proposed crime campus at Gartcosh seems to have slipped, although the minister has said that he will open the campus by 2012, which is welcome. To date, there have been no convictions—at least, I am not aware of any—for trafficking offences in Scotland, but I am sure that members all agree that that does not mean it does not occur.

The message must be clear—this kind of crime will not be tolerated in Scotland.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 4:36, 11 March 2010

We are under no illusion about the damaging effects that serious organised crime has on our society. Colleagues from all parties have given us examples of how it impacts on the communities that they represent, but we should remember that such criminal acts affect not only those who are directly involved in them, and not only those in our communities here in Scotland or across the United Kingdom, but people across the world—from the poppy fields in Afghanistan to the drug plantations in Columbia.

Given that 48 per cent of serious organised crime groups in Scotland are involved with the importation and/or distribution of drugs, it is impossible for us to distance ourselves from the atrocities that are carried out in other countries in an attempt to supply illegal drugs in this country. I doubt that many of those from mainstream society who like to snort the occasional line think about their actions as helping to fund the drug cartels in Columbia or consider which groups own the poppy fields in Afghanistan.

There are an estimated 52,000 problem drug users in Scotland and the wider economic and social costs of drug abuse are £2.6 billion. The cost of dealing with drug-related crime is £684 million. We are talking about huge figures. Serious organised crime makes victims out of every single one of us. I am not talking about those who buy the occasional dodgy DVD or a fake handbag—even those who are not directly involved feel the impact. The cost of fraud to every man, woman and child in Scotland is estimated to be £330 per year so, thus far, in my lifetime, it has cost me just under £11,000. There is therefore a responsibility on everyone, at every level, to ensure that they do not involve themselves in such criminality.

The Conservative amendment recognises that there is a need continually to adapt the methods that we use to attack serious and organised crime, just as the criminals adapt their methods. The area is constantly evolving, changing and growing and our deterrents and monitoring must do likewise.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome the strategy that was produced by the serious organised crime task force, and of course we welcome the continued co-operation between the different agencies involved. Serious organised crime is a much more sophisticated type of criminality and it takes many guises. We cannot rely on the police or the SCDEA alone to tackle it; a lot of different agencies need to work together, with a joined-up approach, sharing information and having a common goal. Only when we take a more sophisticated attitude to tackling this type of crime can we hope to make progress.

It is vital that crime is not seen to pay. The problem with serious organised crime is not only that it appears to pay if someone gets away with it, but it pays big bucks. It can be a very tempting road to go down, especially in the current economic climate. We must therefore ensure that people do not see criminality as a viable alternative in order to make ends meet.

Our young people must be at the forefront of our minds when we think about that challenge, because they are the most vulnerable to being influenced when they see known criminals—the Mr Bigs—rolling around in expensive cars, owning a massive home or taking several holidays a year.

Our young people need to see healthy, proper role models who have worked hard and legitimately for their outcomes. I welcome the work that the task force is doing in that area and the recognition that it is about not just targeting the criminals, but preventing people from involving themselves in such pursuits through education and the redirection of energies into more positive pursuits.

We welcome the recent "Joint Report on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002", which was highlighted in the Labour amendment and mentioned by Richard Baker. We have long argued for the quick seizure of assets from those who have funded their lifestyle through their criminality.

We need to send out a consistent message that crime does not pay. I am afraid that the Scottish Government has not always achieved that consistent message. Part of our efforts to tackle serious organised crime should be to deter people from getting involved in crime in the first place. The SNP Government, aided and abetted by its friends in the Liberal Democrats, falls short in that regard, especially in the area of sentencing. An end to automatic early release and a return to honesty in sentencing are vital to reinforce the message that crime does not pay. Only then will we send would-be criminals that consistent message.

It is all well and good to educate people about why crime and serious organised crime is wrong, to share information, to work together and, as the strategy puts it, to divert, disrupt, deter and detect, but unless these people feel the heavy force of the law and are not released on home detention curfew less than halfway through their sentence to continue their activities, I fear that we will not address properly the underlying concerns.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 4:41, 11 March 2010

I am delighted to close the debate on behalf of the Labour Party. As many members have said, this has been an important debate in which a number of serious issues have been raised. Unfortunately, serious and organised crime affects many areas throughout Scotland. Many members quoted the figure that 4,066 individuals and 367 groups are involved in serious organised crime. It is not just the figures but the scale of the havoc that those groups and individuals wreak throughout Scotland that cause concern to many of our constituents—many members have raised those concerns today.

Such crime has a social and economic cost. The cost of drugs misuse totals £2.6 billion a year and the cost of fraud is £330 for every person in Scotland. Those are shocking and serious figures.

I think that everyone in the chamber would agree that we must tackle those issues. They would also agree with many of the sentiments that the cabinet secretary expressed in his opening speech. We agree with the actions that are being taken by the serious organised crime task force on the four Ds—diversion, disruption, deterrence and detection. It is absolutely correct that those actions be taken to tackle the activities of those who are involved in serious organised crime.

The debate has raised some serious questions about how the SNP Government moves forward in certain areas. Richard Baker, Cathie Craigie and others talked about the awarding of public sector contracts to organisations that have links to serious organised crime. A number of things can be done to try to undermine those who try to win contracts who should not be doing so.

The cabinet secretary referred to the strategy document in his opening speech. Under the heading, "Deter", the strategy refers specifically to:

"a new service to ensure public sector contracts are not awarded to companies with links to crime."

We did not hear anything about that new service in the opening speech. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will give us a bit more detail on the progress on that. If we are to address some of the concerns that members have raised during the debate it is essential that he does that.

There is a job to be done in providing advice to public authorities on good practice to ensure that contracts do not get into the wrong hands. Information and intelligence could be shared with authorities so that they are aware of the background of those who bid for contracts.

It is clear that local authorities have a big part to play in all this. I am thinking in particular of licensing. There must be close working with local authorities to ensure that we get the best out of the current arrangements.

If we are to tackle the many issues that have been raised in the debate, it is crucial that the appropriate resources are put in place. The mapping project outlined the scale of the task that we face. It is important that all our agencies pull together and that they are fully resourced. Central to that must be the timeous establishment of the crime campus at Gartcosh. The cabinet secretary said that the current site at Pitt Street is not fit for purpose. A timetable needs to be put in place as soon as possible for the crime campus to be up and operational at Gartcosh. Elaine Smith made some important points in that regard and pressed the cabinet secretary firmly on the matter.

As other members have said, it is important that we congratulate the SCDEA on its work. I welcome the additional moneys that the cabinet secretary announced today. That said, I note in the SCDEA's 2009-10 annual plan that 2 per cent cashable efficiency savings are to be made. I am not against efficiencies, but if they are cashable and result in cuts in budget lines, the matter is of concern.

If we are to support those who are at the front-line in such activities, a detailed implementation plan will be needed to back up the strategy document. I understand that the cabinet secretary might not want to publish the plan—obviously, he does not want to reveal the detail to the forces of crime—but we need to know how the plan is being taken forward.

Bill Aitken and other members raised serious points on the confiscation of the assets of those who are found guilty of such crimes. Recent figures illustrate that, of the £60 million that was frozen in the past three years, only £6 million was confiscated. On Sunday, SNP councillor Billy McAllister was quoted as criticising the lack of progress in that area.

When the legislation was introduced, it was cited as an example of good working between Westminster and Holyrood. We need to look again at the legislation to examine whether it needs to be fine tuned or amended in any way. We need to ensure that we have more success in confiscating frozen assets and redistributing them through the cashback for communities scheme. I agree with Hugh Henry that we must ensure that the money goes to areas that have been affected by crime. If 77 per cent of the 161 groups that are involved in violence and murder are in the Strathclyde area, funding must go to the areas that are most affected in Strathclyde.

As Patricia Ferguson said, a job has to be done to instil confidence in people. We need to ensure that the public are confident enough to come forward and act as witnesses. Patricia Ferguson described that as

"the missing piece in the jigsaw".

Many proponents of serious and organised crime try to dominate areas by bullying and intimidating people. We must ensure that our police forces are visible, in order to give communities greater confidence, so that they are better prepared to stand up to the criminals.

This has been an important debate, and there is much that we agree on. However, the cabinet secretary needs to address a number of points of detail. If those points are dealt with, and the Parliament unites, we can silence and defeat the forces of organised crime.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:50, 11 March 2010

The debate has clearly demonstrated that all of us, in all parties, are wholly committed to the objective of tackling and disrupting serious organised crime, of jailing the Mr Bigs and of stripping them of their assets. Those objectives are entirely shared across the Parliament, and later in my speech I will describe some of the work that I believe is contributing to success in meeting them.

In the time that is available, I will respond to some of the points that members have made in the course of this interesting debate. Many members spoke about the importance of boosting asset recovery. Robert Brown asked how much money has been recovered. My information is that under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 more than £27 million has already been recovered from organised criminals.

It is salutary to think of the view that Gordon Meldrum has expressed on many occasions: that the serious organised criminals—the Mr Bigs—should of course go to jail with severe sentences. That is self-evidently true, and we all agree on that. However, it is not going to jail and doing the time that those Mr Bigs worry about. They worry about having their assets stripped from them. Although we must ensure that they do, indeed, go to jail for a long time, we should bear it in mind that the real prize is to strip them of their assets. To that end, the cabinet secretary outlined some specific, concrete and good measures in his opening speech—measures that have not, as far as I have seen, really attracted any criticism, per se. We have allocated £1.2 million to the Crown Office over three years, and specialist staff have been recruited. We have provided £500,000 to Lothian and Borders Police, Strathclyde Police and Tayside Police to finance financial investigators, and that has been match-funded.

The work that is required to strip the Mr Bigs of their assets is not the work of the politician. It is not, if I may say so—I am not saying that I am a particular culprit—about framing windy rhetoric. It is part of the task of forensic precision in analysis of financial records; going back through many years of records such as the bank accounts, property affairs and title deeds of the Mr Bigs. That task has to be carried out in painstaking detail, which is why the actions that the cabinet secretary is taking have been welcomed on all sides of the chamber.

Many members raised the next point. I am pleased to respond to the question, "What else are we doing?" by saying that we plan to extend the list of criminal lifestyle offences under the 2002 act and to reduce the criminal benefit amount from £5,000 to £1,000. Furthermore, the cabinet secretary has written to the Home Secretary to seek his agreement to make—in order to help boost asset recovery—a number of legislative changes that fall within reserved competence.

Robert Brown raised a number of points about human trafficking, which was also mentioned by Elaine Smith, Richard Baker and a number of other members. The cabinet secretary indicated in a written answer on 24 November last year:

"During Pentameter 2, a police-led operation aimed at disrupting trafficking for sexual exploitation which ran between October 2007 and March 2008, there were a total of 35 arrests made ... there were 22 prosecutions, resulting in 18 convictions for offences including trading in prostitution".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 24 November 2009; S3W-28989.]

Robert Brown said that there have been no convictions for the specific offence of human trafficking. Plainly, it is for the Lord Advocate and procurators fiscal to decide on the offences and what charges to bring. The decision by the appropriate parties—not by Government, but by the independent law officers—was to bring charges in relation to prostitution and immigration offences. I am sure that that was the right decision and it has led to convictions being sustained. The issue is a concern to all parties: we are wholly united in our horror and abhorrence of the vile crimes of human trafficking and we will do everything that we can in that respect.

We are grateful for Bill Aitken's positive suggestion to engage HM Revenue and Customs in our work. I am pleased to report that, prior to that suggestion being kindly proffered, we had already done that.

Richard Baker raised points about the joint inspection report into asset recovery. I am pleased to say that we accept recommendation 1, which is why there on 30 March will be a conference that will bring together 200 practitioners. We also accept recommendation 2—in fact, we already had a strategy. Recommendation 3 is done and recommendation 4 is also agreed to.

Elaine Smith raised points about the Gartcosh crime campus. We recognise that the issue is extremely serious and Elaine Smith is right to raise it as the constituency member, although I hope that the issue transcends party politics. It is absolutely clear that we are committed to the principles that members throughout the Parliament have espoused. The site was not developed prior to our taking office, but it is being developed now. We expect the first agency to move into the campus in 2012, with full occupancy by mid 2013. That takes account of the fact that some agencies do not wish to move into the campus until after the Olympic games in 2012. That is a partial response to the points that Elaine Smith raised.

Hugh Henry rightly praised the choices for life project and asked whether it has been evaluated. Bill Wilson and John Lamont also rightly mentioned the problem of drugs. We want to deter young people from taking drugs and we are united in that. I wholly share Hugh Henry's view that the choices for life programme is entirely excellent. I attended a choices for life event in my constituency in Inverness, along with 1,000 primary 6 and 7 children. It was an extremely embarrassing moment for me, as I had to participate in some public dancing activity, which is not really my métier. However, six weeks later, in a Nairn primary school, I found that pupils who had attended even remembered the names of the people in the play that charted the fall of children who became involved in drug taking, as well as the point of the play. We must think carefully about evaluation, but the Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance use survey—SALSUS—figures show that the number of young people taking drugs is reducing, although slightly and not by enough. That is good work that we all wish to be built on, and I appreciate the support of Hugh Henry in that.

We must reduce the demand for drugs and counterfeit goods. I would never wish to disappoint Christopher Harvie or Bill Wilson, but we have no plans to legalise drugs and we do not plan to legalise cannabis.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

No, I will not. I will not be the minister who explains to parents whose children have died after having taken drugs that we are planning to legalise them. We will consider carefully pilot projects throughout the land.

I praise the work of the police and the SCDEA throughout Scotland. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am sorry, minister. I ask for a little less conversational noise from members.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We should consider the success of the police and the SCDEA in combating cannabis cultivation. More than 111,000 cannabis plants, with a value of £34 million, have been seized. Consider the success of operation lockdown in Glasgow, which resulted in the arrest of 146 individuals, including four of the principals, as well as recovery of drugs with a street value of £8.8 million. Further, an unconnected murder in the Strathclyde area was detected as a result of that inquiry, which was designed to focus on drugs. Consider the success of operation Lochnagar in Grampian, in which 155 arrests were made under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and there were 48 main targets. I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation on operation focus in Lothian and Borders, which involved hundreds of people in dawn raids on drug dealers' homes. Hundreds of people knew about it, but not one word leaked out to the criminals who were arrested on that day.

The operations that I have mentioned are among the most successful police operations in the history of Scotland. I hope that those members who have asked today about the effectiveness of our efforts will acknowledge the excellent work that is done by those who bring law and order to our country. We are mightily grateful to every one of them for their efforts.