9 December 2004

(S2F-1272) Fresh Talent Initiative

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what contribution the fresh talent initiative is making to Scotland. (S2F-1272)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Fresh talent is a long-term initiative that aims to retain more Scots in Scotland and to attract skilled people from the rest of the United Kingdom and from around the world to come and live and work in Scotland in order to address our population decline. However, I assure Stewart Stevenson that if anyone from London wishes to come and take the job of anybody in Scotland, the fresh talent initiative will not encourage them to do so.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that my nephews and nieces who work in England will be extremely grateful to hear that.

Is the First Minister confident that his scheme, which requires fresh talent coming from abroad to stay in Scotland, will deliver that result? When will it start delivering and with what net effect on the Scottish economy?

The First Minister: The fresh talent initiative, which we launched earlier this year, is already delivering. It has delivered a profile for Scotland and for this issue at home and abroad—indeed, it is attracting interest across the world. Our relocation advisory service, which went operational in October but which we have not yet formally marketed, has already—by virtue of being available and accessible through the fresh talent website—received more than 600 inquiries from many countries all over the world.

In fact, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, who is just back from supporting Scotland's team at the Commonwealth youth games, managed to pick up a fresh talent leaflet in Bendigo, Victoria, during her travels in Australia. The promotion of Scotland is happening throughout the world. People are interested in coming to Scotland because we have some of the best universities and companies in the world. We also have a growing economy with the second-highest employment rate in the European Union. We have fantastic countryside in our national parks and elsewhere and fantastically vibrant cities. That is why Scotland is doing so well and why people want to come and live here.

Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South) (Lab): Does the First Minister believe that the initiative offers the unique opportunity to harness the language skills of native speakers so that Scotland can become a more competitive and dynamic economy? Will he take the opportunity during his meeting this afternoon with the chairman of the British Council, Neil Kinnock, to look at how the Executive could work in partnership with the British Council to progress the agenda to maximise language use and language learning in Scotland?

The First Minister: I hope that we can do that in partnership with the British Council, companies and education authorities. There are many good examples in Scotland, not least of which is the IBM call centre in Greenock, where languages are used for the good of our economy and to create jobs for individuals from Scotland and abroad.

We will continue to work in partnership with the British Council not only to attract great international conferences like the one that is taking place in Scotland this week, with delegates from 53 countries, but in our work abroad to promote Scotland and to help people elsewhere in the world who need to develop their education systems and skills.

18 November 2004

(S2O-4049) Prisoner Programme Requests

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what proportion of prisoner programme requests cannot be met due to resource constraints. (S2O-4049)

The Minister for Justice (Cathy Jamieson): All prisoner programme requests require to be assessed for suitability on criteria such as level of need, motivation and whether an appropriate point in sentence has been reached. The Scottish Prison Service has advised me that no prisoner programme requests are currently being turned down due to resource constraints and, indeed, that there was a significant increase in sex offender programme places in 2003-04.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the implicit news that programmes are increasing in number. However, during a visit to Glenochil prison last week, I received very different information. Only the people with the greatest need and the people who could derive the greatest benefit were able to go on programmes. The majority of prisoners who applied were not able to do so. Will the minister investigate the difference between the information that I have and the answer that she has given and revert to me when she has done so?

Cathy Jamieson: I am always happy to provide further information to members. It is important to recognise that there may well be instances in which prisoners make requests to attend programmes but an assessment is made that the programme is not the correct one to meet their needs or that the timing, at that point in the sentence, is not the best for the prisoner.

The Executive has made available two new prisoner programmes. As I indicated, one programme deals with sex offenders—in particular, adult male prisoners whose sentences are of less than four years. That is a new programme, which was originally developed by Canadian psychologists. Earlier this year, the Scottish Prison Service introduced it into Peterhead, Edinburgh and Barlinnie prisons.

The Executive is also piloting a new violence-prevention programme of some 200 hours in length. The programme is designed for male prisoners for whom there is a high risk of violent reoffending. Again, it was developed by the Correctional Service of Canada and we have introduced it into the SPS.

Those two new programmes show the Executive's commitment to ensuring that the correct types of programme are in place to deal with serious and violent offenders. We will evaluate what works and ensure that that type of programme is rolled out in our prisons.

24 June 2004

(S2F-949) Scottish Prison Service (Senior Management)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Executive has confidence in the senior management of the Scottish Prison Service. (S2F-949)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Ministers expect a high level of performance to meet our objectives of public safety and reduced reoffending. I am confident that the Scottish Prison Service can meet its responsibilities in contribution to those objectives.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the First Minister think that a higher level of performance is needed? It is intolerable that the SPS management has sat for four years on a proposal to address slopping out at HMP Peterhead. Is the First Minister aware that, in 2002, Richard Simpson was told by the SPS that permission to visit a French prison could not be obtained while simultaneously I—an Opposition back bencher—obtained such permission, including permission for the then Deputy Minister for Justice to visit that French prison? Does the First Minister agree that it is entirely unacceptable that the head of the Scottish Prison Service could not answer entirely predictable questions from the justice committees in 2002 and is learning nothing in 2004? Is he aware that my concerns are shared across Parliament and that progress cannot be made in the prison service without effective management?

The First Minister: Over recent months, we have made it perfectly clear that we expect improvements in, for example, the handling of the prisoner escort services contract, which has been the subject of much debate in the chamber and elsewhere. Responsibility for those improvements lies with SPS management just as much as it does with the company concerned. That is also true for other areas.

I am determined that we will have the highest levels of performance in the management of all our agencies and departments, and the Scottish Prison Service should be no different from the others.

Miss Annabel Goldie (West of Scotland) (Con): In relation to that prisoner escort contract, the First Minister will be aware that the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service recently confirmed to the Justice 2 Committee that the contract between Scottish ministers and Reliance was not signed off by Scottish ministers, who we now know knew nothing whatever about what was going on. The contract was signed off not even by the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, but by an anonymous and unknown director of finance within the Scottish Prison Service. Presumably, if she had been around, the Scottish Prison Service tea lady might have signed the contract. Is the First Minister satisfied that that is an acceptable and responsible discharge of Scottish ministerial responsibility?

The First Minister: As the Minister for Justice made clear at the committee, the arrangements for decisions on contracts are being reviewed by the Executive. That is happening in response to this incident and to other concerns that have been expressed by ministers and Parliament during recent years. It is entirely appropriate that we should do that. Circumstances that might have seemed to be appropriate when the Scottish Government was run by Whitehall might not necessarily be appropriate for the post-devolution period. The Parliament and Executive operate in a much more transparent and accountable way than ever existed before. That is one of the primary reasons why the relationships and involvement of ministers in the agreement of contracts, the knowledge about contractual decisions, the negotiations that have taken place and the implementation and monitoring of contracts have to be reviewed, and that is being done.

Colin Fox (Lothians) (SSP): Mr Tony Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, describes the SPS as

"an arm's length agency of the Scottish Executive".

Who is responsible—Tony Cameron or the First Minister—for the record numbers of prisoners in our overcrowded jails, for the fiasco that is the privatised prisoner escort service and, above all, for the wretched record on slopping out that has blackened Scotland's international name and record on human rights and which means that we might have to endure another decade of this procedure in our jails? Is it not the case that the First Minister's policy failures are at the root of the Scottish Prison Service's problems?

The First Minister: The management of the Scottish Prison Service is responsible for management and operational matters, but ministers are responsible for policy matters and the judiciary is responsible for sentencing. On Mr Fox's first point, the judiciary is responsible for the sentencing of those who become prisoners in our jails. Ministers are responsible for the prisoner escort contract, because we are determined to get more police officers out of the courtrooms, away from such duties and back out on the beat, working in communities. In relation to slopping out, past Governments of all colours in Scotland have to take some responsibility for where we are. It is worth recording that when the Conservative Government decided to end slopping out in England in the 1990s, and allocated the resources to do that, the Conservative Scottish Office did not do so. That is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.

Mr Keith Raffan (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD): Is the First Minister aware that certain parliamentary committees have not had a happy experience in dealing with the Scottish Prison Service? That was particularly the case when the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee in the previous parliamentary session, under the convenership of Ms Curran, undertook an inquiry into drug misuse and deprived communities. Will the First Minister ensure that the SPS is far more open and transparent in its dealings with parliamentarians?

Will the First Minister also ensure that drug treatment in prisons is stepped up? We need to learn far more about what prisons are up to, because such treatment is crucial in breaking the cycle of reoffending and in helping drug addicts into recovery.

The First Minister: I want to make it clear that I expect all Executive and agency officials who appear in front of parliamentary committees to be as helpful and informative as possible.

It is important that we have good and improving drug treatment facilities both in our prisons and in the community. Part of our problem is that, although drug treatment facilities in Scotland's prisons have improved, the improvements that have taken place in such facilities in the community have not happened fast enough to ensure that those who come out of prison and those who could perhaps avoid going to prison in the first place are able to receive treatment in the community and thereby avoid entering a cycle of crime and reoffending. Improving that must be our objective and we hope to make further announcements on that soon.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): As a member of the Justice 2 Committee, I, too, have had an interesting experience with the Scottish Prison Service. In the light of that, does the First Minister agree that the framework document covering the relationship between the Scottish Prison Service and the Executive needs to be the subject of a fundamental review, which must go beyond contractual arrangements and consider wider governance issues?

The First Minister: I am interested to hear that Jackie Baillie has had an interesting experience with the Scottish Prison Service—I hope that she was not detained for too long.

The framework document will be reviewed within the next 12 months. Parliament will be kept informed of progress.

18 March 2004

(S2F-736) White-fish Industry

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister when changes in the regulation of the white-fish industry will be announced. (S2F-736)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): I expect to see a formal Commission proposal amending December's total allowable catch and quota regulations later this month. It will give effect to the delayed agreement with Norway on certain quotas, on the haddock management changes that we have requested and on possible changes to the effort control regime.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the First Minister aware that many fishermen with quotas in the main haddock grounds have, because of the current bizarre system, exhausted those quotas in the three months that have passed, in the face of a 30-year high in the stocks of haddock? I welcome the news that Allan Wilson will travel to Europe to engage directly on our behalf in an attempt to change the rules. However, what happens until we get a revision? Currently, men are tied up against the wall. Do those who are going to sea have to keep dumping good haddocks and scarce cod, which the regulations were meant to protect? Fishermen are forced to dump their future over the side. When will we hear, what will we hear and what happens meantime?

The First Minister: What members will hear from us is that we are making a continued effort, at the European level and elsewhere, to secure the changes that are important to improving not only the viability and sustainability of the individual fishing boats in Scotland, but the sustainability of stocks in the North sea.

The changes that we have sought to secure—with good co-operation from the industry, I have to say—are important for the coming year and will have an impact, if we can get agreement. However, the other side of the matter is the responsibility that is on the individual fishing boats. It is important that people in the industry take the regime seriously and, for example, use the permits that are available. There must be a two-pronged effort. First, the Government must make the effort to secure the changes that are required for the coming year and, secondly, those in the industry must take their responsibilities seriously, use the permits and ensure that they are not put in the position that Stewart Stevenson has outlined.

Mr Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Does the First Minister accept the findings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's inquiry into the scientific regulation of the white-fish industry? Ministers have always claimed that cuts in quotas are imposed only after the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. Will the First Minister accept that the methods used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea as a means of calculating cod stocks is "subject to error", as the Royal Society of Edinburgh scientists claim, and will he ensure that the views of the industry as well as those of fishery scientists are taken into account in future stock analysis?

The First Minister: The points that the Royal Society of Edinburgh made were very interesting. We have said that we support the general thrust and direction of what was stated in the report. I hope that the Conservatives in the Parliament will also listen to what was said in that report, which makes it clear that there is a need for a common fisheries policy in Europe and that that common fisheries policy should have the active engagement of Scotland. I hope that Mr Brocklebank will listen to his good advice to me and take it himself.

8 January 2004

(S2O-1045) Breath Test Equipment

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether portable breath testing equipment used by police forces is calibrated to detect 9 micrograms or more of alcohol in 100ml of breath as well as being able to detect 35 micrograms or more in 100ml. (S2O-1045)

The Minister for Justice (Cathy Jamieson): There is no current requirement for equipment to have that capability. However, steps are being taken to ensure that equipment is calibrated and test approved in time for the implementation of new United Kingdom legislation later this year.

Stewart Stevenson: The minister will be aware of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, which introduces breath testing for pilots. I am sure that she shares my distress that there have been a number of instances where pilots have been unfit for duty because of alcohol. When will the police stationed at Scotland's airports have the necessary equipment to test at 9 micrograms and thus be in a position to enforce the valuable new legislation?

Cathy Jamieson: I share the member's concern. I am aware of the provisions of the 2003 act; although it is on a reserved subject, it relates to a number of issues in Scotland. I am told that all our airports, including the smaller rural airfields, will have access to hand-held, portable breath testing equipment. It should be on site and available in time for when the legislation comes into force. That will mean that people will not be required to be taken away from the premises. Were they to fail the test, that would of course have to be followed up. I am sure that the member will also be interested to know that the 2003 act applies to private as well as commercial aviation personnel.

Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Does the minister share my concern about the increase in drink-driving figures over the Christmas and new year period? I am ashamed to say that the worst part of the country in this regard seems to have been the Northern constabulary area, where the increase was well over 50 per cent. Has she any plans to research why there is a continuing increase in drink-driving cases? Is she considering increasing penalties for drink-driving or employing some other sanction, so that we can stop this worrying upward trend?

Cathy Jamieson: Again, I share the member's concern. It is vital that we continue to adopt a very high profile on drink-driving so as to ensure the safety of people in our communities. I am sure that other members will, like me, have received letters from families whose lives have been devastated because of the consequences of drink-driving. I would want to work with the police, the Minister for Transport and others to consider how we make progress on the matter.

There is a very clear message here: to drink and drive is simply not acceptable. It is far too dangerous, it is far too serious and, tragically, far too many lives have been lost.

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