It is also fair to acknowledge that the Government opposed changes to those powers. What we have had is six years of promises. At last we are seeing some action.
Scrapping early release would also be a good move, but Mr MacAskill’s bill is aimed at a very tiny proportion of offenders and is simply not enough. I have a letter from the Scottish Prison Service to a victim’s family, indicating that the family is not entitled to be informed on every occasion on which a prisoner is released into the community and that the Prison Service has—rightly—a duty to treat prisoners humanely. It is time that this Government faced up to its duty to treat victims and witnesses with the same sense of duty. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the current proposals meet that criterion.
In the scrap metal licensing proposals, there is no mention of the need to ensure that cash transactions are banned, which would remove the profit motive for thieves and vandals. In their current state, the proposals are half a solution, even though both the cabinet secretary and the Lord Advocate have spoken warmly of the need to deal with the problem. The fact is that it took three days of commuter disruption in Aberdeen to finally produce from Mr MacAskill a half-baked response that just does not cut it.
What could Mr MacAskill have done? I have some suggestions. We could have had better asset recovery legislation and legislation on human trafficking. Regulation of the security industry, which is important ahead of the Commonwealth games, has been delayed since 2007. There could have been new lobbying legislation to prevent corruption in politics, efforts to tackle alcohol abuse, reform of criminal verdicts, and the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. Tackling those issues will help to protect those in our society who are most at risk, but they have all been ignored as the Government fails to provide real substance. Where is the vision for today’s Scotland among the First Minister’s promises of mañana tomorrow?
I have said that the proposals look tired. In fact, the cabinet secretary's bag of promises looks empty and it seems the seven-year itch is just around the corner. The proposed licensing bill might improve and extend some local authority powers with regard to taxis and private hire cars and lap-dancing clubs, but the false assertion that the First Minister's Government has stabilised the prison population and is on course to reduce it flies in the face of reality. As we speak, the prison population is up to 8,100 and the Government’s own forecasts indicate that it will rise further to 9,500 by 2020. The Government is not taking action to deal with the real problems of reoffending and meaningful activity in prison; Audit Scotland has identified that very problem, saying that reoffending, which is stuck at around 30 per cent, should be dealt with. We know what improvements are necessary. A strategy was set out in 2006, and it needs to be delivered.
What about major improvements that have been implemented in the justice system? There has been a significant backlog of cases in our dedicated domestic abuse courts, a rise in the number of sex crimes, a risk of further court delays through closures, and growing demand for better protection for witnesses.
A tired Government is running out of time and, evidently, out of ideas. Scottish Labour will provide the evidence in support of our union of nations, but we will also continue to challenge this myopic Government and force it to address people’s real needs.