29 September 2005

(S2F-1838) Drug Dealers (Convictions)

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how many drug dealers were convicted in 2004. (S2F-1838)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The latest available statistics are for 2003, when there were 1,639 convictions for illegal supply or trafficking of drugs in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the First Minister aware that senior police officers now suggest that several families in Scotland have built up cumulative assets in excess of £100 million and that the overall turnover of the drugs industry in Scotland is in the range of £3 billion to £5 billion? That suggests that between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of Scottish gross domestic product is in the illegal drugs industry. Will the First Minister seek to retain for Scottish benefit all the moneys that are retrieved from drug dealing—which are currently capped at £17 million a year—rather than allowing them to be a tax on Scotland that is taken south?

The First Minister: Dear oh dear. I thought that "It's Scotland's oil" was a poor old slogan that the nationalists had dragged back from 30 years ago, but to start saying "It's Scotland's drugs" is going a bit too far.

The reality is that those of us who have to deal with such matters rather than simply come up with silly simplistic slogans and ideas are now catching drug dealers at a rate. I will give Mr Stevenson an example of that. In 2002, the number of crimes related to drug dealing that the police in Scotland recorded was 10,139. In 2003, that number had gone down to 8,807. In 2002, the number of convictions was 1,353, but in 2003 it had gone up to 1,639. I hope that Mr Stevenson will agree that we are being effective in reducing the number of recorded instances of such crimes and that we are being highly effective in convicting those who are responsible for them.

One of the reasons for that is that we work in partnership with the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, our police forces and the many UK agencies—including HM Customs and Excise and the immigration authorities—that work closely with our drug enforcement agency. Those agencies have to be paid for from somewhere, so it is appropriate that we should share the proceeds and then join together to catch drug dealers. It is appropriate that, rather than getting involved in silly nationalist arguments about where the money is going or whose tax it is, we are effective at catching drug dealers in Scotland and getting drugs off Scotland's streets.

Margo MacDonald (Lothians) (Ind): I wonder whether I could focus the First Minister's mind on the definition of "drug dealer". The figures that he gave in good faith mean very little. Many of the people who are convicted of dealing drugs are users, who are simply selling on drugs to feed their habits. Yesterday I chaired a conference on aspects of drugs policy. Many such aspects need to be considered afresh and we need new measurements of success—if we can classify it as that—and an assessment of which methods and policies have been failing. I speak as someone who was chairman of the Scottish Drugs Forum nearly 20 years ago and I can assure the First Minister that nothing has improved.

The First Minister: Unlike other party leaders, I welcome Margo MacDonald's right to express her opinion on such matters. However, in this case I do not agree with her. Since the establishment of the Parliament there has been the creation of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency and the passage through the UK Parliament of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. We have taken measures to work in partnership with other agencies to increase the number of convictions for drug dealing, and we have introduced drug treatment and testing orders in our courts.

We should ensure that we do not just tackle the people who are dealing, but that measures are put in place for addicts. Increased resources have been announced again this summer for drug rehabilitation across Scotland, which will help people to get off drugs, thereby reducing demand as well as supply. In all those different areas in Scotland today, far more is taking place far more effectively than was the case pre-devolution. Parliament has a good record so far, although it recognises that we still have a long way to go.

2 June 2005

(S2F-1689) Identity Cards

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what discussions have taken place about the use of data originating from Scottish Executive departments and agencies in relation to the planned introduction of ID cards and biometric passports. (S2F-1689)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): We have maintained regular contact with the Home Office on the development of plans for identity cards, including provisions around the verification of information.

Stewart Stevenson: The First Minister will be aware of the serious and growing concern about the cost of the identity tax surrounding the proposals. Of equal concern is the important issue of whether data that are transferred from Scottish Executive sources will be treated in a secure way. Does the First Minister share my concern that the technical standards that will be used will allow any commercial organisation to retrieve data from a biometric passport or ID card, without the person even being aware that that is taking place?

The First Minister: Mr Stevenson puts a bit of a hole in his own argument by mentioning biometric passports. He has tried to make a political point about identity cards by making a technical point that goes far wider than the issue of identity cards. I will be happy to respond to him on that issue in due course.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I draw the First Minister's attention to the identity tax that Stewart Stevenson touched on. According to the Home Office, the figure for the cost of an ID card has risen to £93 but, according to independent researchers, those costs will rise further, to up to £300. Does the First Minister agree that even those members of his party who are untroubled by the civil liberties implications of ID cards should be deeply troubled by the social justice impact that such a high cost will have on the poorest individuals in society?

The Presiding Officer: This is about the implications for devolved matters.

The First Minister: The Presiding Officer and members in the chamber will understand that the two parties in the Executive do not share a common view on the introduction of identity cards—

Stewart Stevenson: The First Minister is on his own.

The First Minister: No, Mr Stevenson. As First Minister, I believe in doing these things reasonably and fairly, so it would be inappropriate for me to defend the Government's scheme in detail today.

I will say that, in the debates that we have on such issues, it is important that we are accurate and that we refer to the costs accurately. Many of the costs relate to the introduction of biometric passports, rather than to identity cards, and it is wrong to distort the debate in a way that implies something other than that. If Mr Harvie wants to ask me about the implications for devolved matters of the UK Government's bill, I will be happy to address that issue. I am sure that Mr McCabe will address it in the statement that he is due to make to the Parliament.

21 April 2005

(S2F-1584) G8 Summit (Impact on Edinburgh)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what impact the G8 summit will have on access to public facilities in Edinburgh and what the effects of any restrictions may be. (S2F-1584)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The plans for dealing with a large number of people in Edinburgh, as elsewhere, will be a matter for the chief constable in consultation with the local authorities and other relevant agencies. They will be based on the most up-to-date assessment of risks at that time. As ever, the chief constable will have our full support.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the First Minister for his reply. Would he share my concern if people such as us in public life, and their facilities, were in light of an assessed threat to have protection that was denied to people elsewhere in Edinburgh, including commercial premises and ordinary individuals? Does he agree that we should make every effort to ensure that the Parliament building and other public buildings remain open for business as usual during the G8 summit?

The First Minister: The Presiding Officer would be the first to pick me up if I tried to interfere with his role or that of the parliamentary authorities in deciding the opening hours of the Parliament and the arrangements that apply in that regard.

I would not wish to see unnecessarily preferential treatment from the security services for anybody in our society. However, the chief constable and others must make a proper assessment of risk, not just to buildings but to people throughout Edinburgh as well as in the parliamentary complex. When they make that assessment, they must make the decisions that are required. I hope that the Parliament will follow their advice.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): I wish to make the First Minister aware of the genuine concerns of local businesses, community representatives and shopkeepers in the area around the Parliament and throughout the city centre about the potential disruption to their lives and the potential damage to property that they read about in the newspapers on a regular basis. We have already had lessons in disruption to people's lives in this area, including, for example, to pensioners who were not able to access local services, and to bus services when Canongate is closed. Will the First Minister meet me to discuss what we can do to reassure local people that their needs and concerns will be taken into account in the important planning that he has talked about being done by all the authorities? We need to ensure not only that the agencies talk to each other, but that local people also know what is happening.

The First Minister: I want to reassure the people of Edinburgh that the agencies are not only now talking to each other but have been for some considerable time. A considerable amount of planning, not all of which can be made public, is going into ensuring that security in Edinburgh is as strong as it can be around the dates of the summit.

I would be happy to arrange for the Minister for Justice to talk to Sarah Boyack about those plans in more detail than can currently be provided. However, I make it clear that Scotland has one of the best-trained, most highly skilled police forces in the world. On this occasion, we have the benefit of operating jointly with the British security forces. We are well prepared for the summit. We cannot assess every possible outcome, but we can assess the level of risk and are doing so, partly so that we can also concentrate on exploiting the opportunities that the summit gives us. Those opportunities will deliver hundreds of millions of pounds of benefit to the Scottish economy now and in the future. We are preparing for the G8 summit in July by seizing the opportunities at the same time as we assess and deal with the risks.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Lothians) (Con): Will the First Minister ensure that the police have the necessary back-up support, so that if offensive weapons are accumulated beforehand, as has happened at other summits, preventive action can and will be taken?

The First Minister: The police are planning for all eventualities and are working with others to ensure that they have the resources, facilities and back-up support that may be required to deal with whatever may transpire.

Mark Ballard (Lothians) (Green): The First Minister has indicated his support for the police and local authorities. Does he agree that the City of Edinburgh Council should be supported financially to allow it to provide public facilities for those who, at the invitation of Gordon Brown, amongst others, are coming to Edinburgh to exercise their right to peaceful protest, and that the provision of proper public facilities is the best way of avoiding any confrontation in Edinburgh or across Scotland during the G8 summit?

The First Minister: Discussions are taking place on this issue at the moment. We have made it clear that, as well as providing additional finance for the police authorities in Scotland that will be most affected, we will ensure that additional finance is available for local authorities in Scotland that may be affected. The details of that finance must be negotiated—there is no blank cheque to any authority or other organisation. However, we will ensure that resources are provided and that Scotland is prepared.

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