14 December 2006

(S2O-11478) Scottish Criminal Record Office Fingerprint Experts

2. Mr Kenneth Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to ensure that fingerprint experts at the Scottish Criminal Record Office will be treated in a fair manner when the organisation becomes part of the Scottish forensic science service in April 2007. (S2O-11478)

The Minister for Justice (Cathy Jamieson): We expect all public servants to be treated fairly. That is the responsibility of their managers and employers. In this case, the Scottish police services authority will be responsible for the Scottish fingerprint service from April 2007.

Mr Macintosh: Does the minister accept that it was her former Cabinet colleague, the previous Lord Advocate, who decided that four fingerprint officers should not be returned to the expert witness list? That decision, I may add, was taken publicly, at a meeting, with the four officers sitting behind the Lord Advocate but without their being given advance notice of the decision. Does she accept that the person whom she appointed as the interim chief executive of the new service has made it clear to six SCRO officers that they have no future in the service despite their long and unblemished record in the SCRO and the fact that their professionalism was upheld by successive inquiries? Does she believe that those Executive decisions have had no effect on the welfare or future well-being of the SCRO officers and that the Executive has no responsibility to ensure that fair play exists in public services?

Cathy Jamieson: It is important to clarify that the Executive works on the policy direction—it will ensure that the SPSA is set up properly and is able to take over the Scottish fingerprint service—but that it is for the Lord Advocate to decide who is used in the courts as an expert witness.

I have been at pains to stress—and I stress it again today—that there is a process that involves the employers, the trade unions and the individuals concerned. I do not believe that it would be right and proper to discuss the detail of that in the chamber while the negotiations are continuing. However, I stress the important point that everyone has employment rights that must be upheld. I expect that to happen whoever the employer is, and in this case I certainly expect the fingerprint service to look at that.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): There should be increased confidence in the future of the service now that Mr Mulhern is in charge of it. Does the minister agree that the challenges for the service include ensuring that future employees have the opportunity to learn from the experience of other bureaux; that employees have adequate management support in doing the job that they have to do; and that we do not return to the position in which members of staff are hung out to dry by wholly inadequate management?

Cathy Jamieson: I know that the member is familiar with "The Scottish Fingerprint Service Action Plan for Excellence". That plan will require a number of actions to be taken. It will ensure that the appropriate professional development is provided and that management systems are appropriate and fit for the job that people are required to do. I look forward with interest to any comments or recommendations that the committee that has been considering the issue will make in due course.

16 November 2006

(S2O-11074) Road Fatalities

7. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what proportion of road fatalities in rural Scotland in the past two years took place between sunset and sunrise. (S2O-11074)

The Minister for Transport (Tavish Scott): In 2004 and 2005, 166 fatalities out of a total of 418—that is, 40 per cent of deaths—due to accidents on non-built-up roads were reported as having occurred in darkness.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister for his answer and for his comments in response to Gordon Jackson's question. Is he aware that the overwhelming majority of recent fatalities in the Grampian police area have occurred as a result of accidents at night and that the police said that driver skill—or lack of it—was a significant factor in all but one case? Will he therefore consider promoting more strongly, and giving financial support to, the pass plus scheme, which provides training on driving at night?

Tavish Scott: I acknowledge the points that Stewart Stevenson made. I am well aware of the circumstances and of the police analysis of the causes of the accidents that he mentioned. I will certainly look again at the pass plus scheme. The member knows that most of the resources that we channel into the area are channelled through Road Safety Scotland's programme, which is proven to have lasting benefits. However, I am happy to consider alternative or additional approaches that could demonstrably assist in the prevention of tragic accidents.

2 November 2006

(S2F-2519) Methadone Programme

4. Mr Duncan McNeil (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Executive will review the operation of the methadone programme. (S2F-2519)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The Scottish Executive is reviewing the place of methadone in drug treatment programmes and we expect a report by the end of the year. The report will include new information from health boards about the level of use and how it is monitored. All treatment and rehabilitation programmes should help people to be free from drugs and to live productive and fulfilling lives with the support that they need.

Mr McNeil: It is certainly time for a review. Given the latest research by Professor Neil McKeganey, which finds that the methadone programme helps fewer than 4 per cent of addicts to kick their habit, does the First Minister agree that we need to review the methadone programme and drug treatment services in general and to ask hard questions about both? Is it not time to replace the open-ended and one-sided commitment that the taxpayer makes to addicts with some form of social contract with a clear programme for drug cessation? Would that challenge the prevailing view that drug treatment services are merely about stabilising addicts? Would it spell out our ambition to move addicts on, not to another form of dependence, but to a drug-free life?

The First Minister: It is important to record the progress that has been made. In recent times, the number of residential services that treat people who have problems with drugs or alcohol has increased by 50 per cent. In 2004-05, we had 33 services, which was up from 22 just three years before; and we had 4,000 admissions to those services, up from just over 1,000. The number of residential beds has doubled from 244 to almost 500. The number of places and the number of times that those residential services are used have been a priority, have increased and are making a difference.

I met Professor McKeganey earlier this week to discuss his research and to learn about how residential services seem to be much more effective in producing drug-free lives for people who are on those programmes. We believe absolutely that everybody who is on a programme should have an end point in sight and should agree to move from a drug-dependent lifestyle to a drug-free lifestyle. That is why the review is taking place. The Minister for Justice will report to the Parliament on the review when we have received the report and analysed its conclusions. I hope that, throughout Scotland, we can move not only to a drug treatment system in which there are more residential places, but in which people who are on drug treatment programmes—even in the community—move quickly and directly away from drug dependency and towards drug-free lifestyles.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the fact that the Executive has commissioned a report. Its publication will be a helpful contribution to the debate. If only all Executive reports were published.
It has been revealed that England is 10 times more successful than Scotland in treating people on methadone. Will the review that is under way reveal why that is so? The First Minister said that he wants there to be more residential places. Will the review reveal why the existing residential places are not being used?

The First Minister: Stewart Stevenson knows that decisions about who should be placed in residential places are primarily for clinicians and local agencies. A key task is ensuring that local agencies use those places more regularly.

An issue that is raised by the treatment of drug addicts in Scotland is the apparent inconsistency in the approaches of local authorities and health agencies at the local level and of individual practices and treatment programmes. Getting greater consistency throughout Scotland in the treatment of individuals is an issue. Every individual needs an individual programme, but agencies, medical practices and drug programmes should be more consistent and have the clear objective in sight of encouraging people to have a drug-free lifestyle. They should aim to use the residential places in which we have invested a lot of money.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con): It is almost a year since the tragic death of Derek Doran from a methadone overdose. Derek was two years old. When will the review of guidelines to pharmacists that are issued by NHS Education for Scotland on aspects of methadone prescribing—which were promised for autumn 2006—be published? Are any new measures being implemented, such as a re-evaluation of the assessment criteria that allow addicts to take home three days' worth of prescribed methadone, to ensure that such a terrible accident never happens again?

The First Minister: The review is work in progress. I am certain that I can tell Margaret Mitchell in writing when she can expect the new guidelines to be published. I am also certain that, as part of the review of programmes that I referred to in my first answer on the topic, the guidance that is given and the consistency of the distribution of methadone will be considered.

I think that every member—indeed, everybody in Scotland—was shocked by the death of Derek Doran. We do not know how many families come close to such things happening and are lucky that they have not happened. We need to be clear about what should happen and there needs to consistency throughout Scotland. There should be clear guidelines for people who are responsible for prescribing methadone and on the safety measures that should be in place for families so that children are not put in danger.

26 October 2006

(S2F-2500) Prisoners (Home Leave)

4. Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the First Minister what guarantees can be given that public safety will not be compromised by the proposed home leave for inmates of open prisons at Christmas. (S2F-2500)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): All prisoners in open prisons must have been assessed as presenting a low risk to the public before being transferred there. Almost all will have some entitlement to home leave throughout the year as part of their rehabilitation programme. However, no one will be allowed home leave without a rigorous safety assessment.

Marlyn Glen: I thank the First Minister for his reassurance. Does he agree that all political parties should be consistent in supporting that policy, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to misleading press reports?

The First Minister: I agree absolutely. There are members who claim to support systems for rehabilitation but who are quick to criticise them as soon as there is an opportunity to get themselves in the headlines. I would hope that all members would desist from such practices.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am sure that the First Minister agrees that one of the most important elements of rehabilitation that the prison service can deliver relates to drug abuse, which takes the majority of prisoners into prison.

The Presiding Officer: Is this a question about home leave, Mr Stevenson?

Stewart Stevenson: In that context, in relation to open prisons, does the First Minister support my view that prisoners who are being released for home leave should be tested for drug abuse before they leave and after they return, to ensure continuity of rehabilitation from drug abuse?

The First Minister: If we were to implement the Scottish National Party's policy on prisons, that would be difficult to achieve. The SNP published its policy proposals, entitled "Our policies for a safer Scotland", in which it says clearly that it would introduce new sentencing options, including weekend prisons. For Mr MacAskill, who is Mr Stevenson's boss, to say last week that society has deemed that those people should be punished but that they are not being punished over the festive period because a limited number of prisoners are being allowed home, when, in fact, the SNP wants many more prisoners to be allowed home every single week of the year, is sheer hypocrisy. The Scottish National Party's policies would have more credibility if it was consistent and did not jump from having one policy statement in its policy document to grabbing headlines on another occasion.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Does the First Minister agree that the home leave system is an important part of rehabilitation services, but that there are flaws with regard to services that begin in prison—open prisons in particular—but do not carry on in the community? Will he develop the proposal to establish in the community setting the equivalent of link centres in prisons, which are designed to co-ordinate and ensure that rehabilitation services are properly administered, given that there is currently a gap in such services in the community?

The First Minister: I understand that that matter is being considered by justice services and I am sure that the Minister for Justice would be happy to provide details as discussions progress and reach conclusions.

28 September 2006

(S2O-10704) Drug Rehabilitation (North-east Scotland)

8. Mrs Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what the average waits are for drug rehabilitation and to enter a methadone programme in north-east Scotland. (S2O-10704)

The Deputy Minister for Justice (Hugh Henry): Average waiting times are not regarded as a particularly effective measure of the accessibility of drug treatment services. However, the most recent figures from the waiting times framework show that, in the north-east, more than 80 per cent of clients entered prescribed drug treatment within 14 days of being considered ready for that intervention. The figures for rehabilitation show that 79 per cent of those who entered rehabilitation did so within 14 days.

Mrs Milne: That is perhaps progress, but not enough. What action is being taken to improve the figures? Will the minister give a commitment to introduce an easily accessible online central directory of rehabilitation places like the one that is in use south of the border?

Hugh Henry: I suppose that grudging praise from the Tories is better than no praise at all. I am pleased that, despite her mean words, Nanette Milne admits that progress is being made. However, we have much more to do.

The issue of the central register has been raised on several occasions, and answers have been given on it. We are seeking to get as much information as we can about the facilities that are available throughout Scotland. Nonetheless, a much broader range of initiatives is required. We are trying to get behind the figures, and we need to ensure that there is better integration of services. Yesterday, along with Lewis Macdonald, I launched an initiative on improvements in quality standards. Better integration and understanding of services, better communication and better information all have a part to play.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I know that the minister shares my deep concern about drug problems in Scotland. Will he give further consideration to ensuring that residential places that draw people out of addiction in the long term—methadone is generally merely a method of parking the problem—are stepped up as a key part of the strategy? Will he ensure that places are not left vacant in too many parts of Scotland, given that, according to Professor Neil McKeganey, more than half of addicts want to get off drugs rather than go through harm reduction?

Hugh Henry: Stewart Stevenson has raised a more complex issue. In fact, in suggesting that we expand the number of places while at the same time pointing out that some of the existing places are lying vacant, he has highlighted one of the contradictions at the heart of the matter. One problem is that the decision about when to send an addict to residential rehabilitation must lie with the professionals who are responsible for that individual. They assess the person's needs at the time and decide on the most appropriate course of action.

We must ensure that when someone is offered the opportunity of residential rehabilitation not only are they ready for it but the support facilities are available when they come back out. Some of the stories that my officials have heard on this matter are heartbreaking. For example, one individual had been in residential rehabilitation seven times, which clearly indicates that, in their case, it had failed. Indeed, it is a very expensive failure, and that use of resources probably means that other people were denied the opportunity of treatment. I have even spoken to people in Stewart Stevenson's constituency who have been in residential rehabilitation two or three times. It is clear that other aspects of this very complex problem need to be taken into consideration.

(S2F-2459) Scottish Prison Service (Budget)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Prison Service's budget represents good value for money. (S2F-2459)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): The budget allows the Scottish Prison Service to meet its performance targets and to invest some £1.5 million each week on the modernisation of the prison estate. The Prison Service also contributes to the Executive's efficient government programme and the cost per prisoner place has fallen from more than £32,000 in 2003-04 to just over £30,000 in 2005-06.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the slopping-out claims settlement offer that has recently been made, which will reduce the £80 million provision in the budget to a mere £40 million, which represents some 15 per cent of the operational budget.

I remind the First Minister that this disgraceful situation sprang from the £13.5 million budget cut that was made on 21 October 1999. When the convener of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee asked whether the cut would delay an end to slopping out, she was told by Jim Wallace:

"It is one of the results."—[Official Report, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, 14 December 1999; c 518.]

In Monday's edition of The Herald, Jim Wallace said:

"I cannot recall being advised ... that this ... would jeopardise the timetable for ending slopping out."
Was the Liberal minister wrong in 1999, was he wrong on Monday or was it the Minister for Finance—in other words, Jack McConnell—who was at the bottom of things?

The First Minister: I agreed with Jim Wallace when he said this week that that is a myth and that the position has been completely misrepresented since that time. The reality of course is that a positive choice was made back then to ensure that the money that was in the budget was spent on tackling drugs and drug crime in Scotland. The result of that is record levels of drug seizures; record numbers of drug criminals caught; more criminals having the proceeds of their crimes taken from them and reinvested in the community; and a drug enforcement agency that is the admiration of the rest of Britain. That is the proud record of the devolved Government. The Scottish National Party might have disagreed with the choice, but it was wrong and we were right.
Categories [Justice]

14 September 2006

(S2O-10506) Oral Question - Central Heating Programme

5. Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive how many homes in the FK postcode area and in Scotland have had central heating installed in each year since the introduction of the central heating programme; whether more detailed information and monitoring of the programme will be undertaken, and whether, now that the programme is to be administered by Scottish Gas, any additional safeguards are to be introduced to protect the public. (S2O-10506)

The Deputy Minister for Communities (Johann Lamont): Since 2001, the central heating programme has installed 1,600 systems in the FK postcode area as part of a total Scottish figure of over 51,000 installations. In the interests of brevity and, if the member is content, I shall write to her with the detailed breakdown of the number of installations in each year since 2001 and place a copy of that information in the Scottish Parliament information centre.

As regards the new managing agency contract, performance will be monitored independently with monthly reports to Communities Scotland. The contract also sets improved standards for the level of service provided to applicants.

Cathy Peattie: I would welcome that written report. Will the minister tell me how many applicants will be prioritised to ensure that the greatest need is met first? We know that there is a long waiting list for the service. Will the minister assure me that assessments will cover all needs, and that people will not be subjected to demands for additional money before the work starts, as happened to one of my elderly constituents who was asked for £150 upfront because the contractor felt that she needed another radiator?

Johann Lamont: We should welcome the central heating programme as a good news story; £62.5 million is being spent from October 2006 to March 2008. It is a good example of the partnership working between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Scottish Executive that is committed to addressing fuel poverty.
There have been challenges as the programme has progressed. Written into the contract with Scottish Gas is an expectation of improvement in customer care. We are mindful of that and have drilled into its importance with the support of members from across the chamber who have raised the challenges experienced by vulnerable people. The purpose of the programme is to protect vulnerable people. That is the challenge to Scottish Gas, and I am confident that our targets will be met.

We are looking at targeting those with greater needs but, by definition, the whole group at whom the initiative is aimed is vulnerable. We must be careful that we do not prioritise inappropriately, as we recognise that the group as a whole is in great need.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): The minister will be aware that funding has not been available to the central heating programme since the spring. Can she assure the chamber that sufficient funding is now in place to allow Scottish Gas to deal with the backlog and waiting lists that have built up since the spring, especially in my constituency, to allow those who are eligible for the scheme to have new central heating systems in place before the winter sets in?

Johann Lamont: It is entirely reasonable that we should seek to get the best benefit from the huge investment that has been made in the programme. There was not no money from March this year. A target was given to Eaga Group for 6,000 central heating systems to be installed, and the new managing agent is charged with the responsibility of installing an equivalent number in the next period. There has been no break, although we recognise that there is a backlog. We reckon that, when we go into the assessment, that will reduce by 30 per cent. We are on target to meet the overall target that we have set for the year. There have been some challenges in the interim, and we are addressing those. We want to ensure that we get the maximum benefit from this significant investment for the people who need it most.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister will be aware that, even at the current high prices, gas is one of the most cost-effective fuels with which people can heat their homes. In the light of the appointment of Scottish Gas as the managing agent, has the Executive encouraged that company to supply gas to the many rural towns and villages that currently have no access to it even though, in my constituency, they are within a few hundred metres of gas mains?

Johann Lamont: The contract that we have with Scottish Gas is to deliver our highly popular, hugely invested-in programme. We know what the challenges are around that, and those are issues that Stewart Stevenson can address with Scottish Gas. The core business between Scottish Gas and the Executive is the central heating programme, not addressing the other issues that exist. It is critical that Scottish Gas takes on the responsibility of delivering that huge benefit to people throughout Scotland.

John Swinburne (Central Scotland) (SSCUP): Is the minister aware that there has not been a smooth handover from Eaga Group to Scottish Gas and that the Executive's excellent free central heating scheme has been held back? If a person needs a repair, they are told to wait six months. Six months from now, they could be a statistic in the figures for winter-related deaths.

Johann Lamont: Let me make it clear that the purpose of the programme is to improve the central heating infrastructure of people's homes; it is not intended to be a substitute for measures to assist people in crisis with specific heating needs. Those problems are not addressed through the programme. It is a general programme, and members across the Parliament agreed that it should be a general programme rather than a targeted one, given the needs of the people whom we are talking about.

We have charged the managing agent to consider the particular issues of people with health needs to determine whether there are ways in which the programme can be accelerated. However, as I have said, there are challenges in that, given the nature of the group that we are discussing. We recognised that the transition would cause some problems, but we will meet our overall target as we have met it in the past. Indeed, in the past year, we overreached our target by 1,000 installations, with 14,000 systems installed. That is clearly a good news story despite the challenges that individual constituents face.

Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab): I agree that it is a great programme. An awful lot of people in my constituency have benefited from it.

I am pleased that the Executive has taken on board some of the management issues that members have raised in the past. I visited a constituent earlier this week, and I was appalled to see the state of the central heating system that a company had installed. Can the minister assure me that, under the new contract, the managing agent will inspect work before it pays the contractors?

Johann Lamont: There is an inspection regime. People in my constituency have raised with me their experiences of central heating installations, which have not been what we would expect. We have to challenge that. The fact that the programme is free to the person who receives the system does not mean that it is free. It is an active political decision by the Executive to deliver funds to the programme, and those who install the systems should show those customers the same respect that they would show anyone else.

The fact is that the programme has given a boost not only to elderly people, but to the people who run businesses installing central heating. They should take this opportunity with both hands and prove that they can carry out quality work. I am glad that many have done so; however, I feel that individuals should not have to suffer the disappointment that Cathie Craigie has described. The critical point is that this is a good programme for individuals and the challenge for those who get the opportunity to carry out such work is to prove that they can deliver work of the highest quality.

7 September 2006

(S2O-10465) Bail Supervision

1. John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether there are any plans to extend bail supervision throughout Scotland. (S2O-10465)

The Minister for Justice (Cathy Jamieson): All local authorities are provided with Executive funding for bail information and supervision schemes. In order to improve the way in which such schemes work, we will undertake a short review of those who do not currently provide a full bail supervision service. That will be completed by the end of the year.

John Farquhar Munro: The minister will agree that bail supervision could play an increasingly valid role in providing courts with a robust and cost-effective alternative to remand, as well as reducing overcrowding in our prisons. Will the minister consider increasing the use of bail supervision throughout Scotland, in particular for those who are accused of minor offences?

Cathy Jamieson: It is important that we have a range of options. In the interests of public safety, it is important that some people who have committed serious offences are remanded. However, we have increased the funding that is available to local authorities for the provision of bail information and supervision schemes from just over £300,000 in 1999—when the schemes were first piloted—to around £1.1 million in this financial year. It is important that we look at how those schemes are working.

I want to ensure that we have a range of options in place. Of course, bail can never completely replace custody. As I have mentioned, there are some instances in which remand is necessary. Nonetheless, it is important that we consider how such schemes operate and that we have them in place across Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In advance of next week's debate on the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill, will the minister tell us whether she is minded to ensure that people who breach bail are seen to be punished for breach of bail? She will recognise that there is widespread public concern about the current operation of the bail system.

Cathy Jamieson: It is important that anyone who is subject to bail conditions—whether the standard conditions or specific conditions that have been imposed by a court—recognises that they have been put in a position of trust by the court. They have a responsibility to stick to the conditions of the scheme. It is for the courts to decide what such conditions are and what would be an appropriate action to be taken if there was breach of bail. However, I am on record on several occasions as supporting strongly the notion that we cannot increase confidence in our justice system if people feel that they can break bail and flout the conditions of the court because nothing will happen to them. It is, nonetheless, for the court to make those decisions.

8 June 2006

(S2F-2342) Scottish Criminal Record Office Inquiry

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Executive will take to give effect to motions S2M-4485 and S2M-4486, agreed without dissent by the Justice 1 Committee on 1 June 2006. (S2F-2342)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Motion S2M-4485 concerns a report that was provided as part of a criminal investigation; as such, it is a matter for the Lord Advocate. Motion S2M-4486 is being considered by the Minister for Justice. We will try to find a way forward that will assist the committee while preserving the important legal principles that the Minister for Justice has previously set out.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the First Minister will accept that there is common cause to reinstate confidence in the fingerprint system in Scotland—which, of course, is why the motions were passed by a unanimous vote in the committee.

The First Minister mentioned the Lord Advocate. The report that is being sought is, in essence, in the public domain, but the detail behind it is not yet in the public domain. It would be of very great assistance if the First Minister could assure us that further efforts will be made. I hope that the First Minister is able to assure Parliament—and I invite him to do so—that the discussions that are currently taking place with the Minister for Justice will be rapidly concluded. The investigation by the committee is well under way and we have little time left.

The First Minister: In some of the sessions of the Justice 1 Committee this week, we have seen the difficulties in this case and the difficulties in ensuring that a conclusion can be reached that will help to rebuild confidence in the justice system—not only in the fingerprint service but in other aspects of the system too. I absolutely agree with Stewart Stevenson if he is genuine about seeking common cause to restore that confidence. I welcome that indication and I hope that in the work and in the conclusions of the committee, we will see that that objective is clear.

It is my sincere belief that matters relating to reports commissioned by the prosecution in Scotland are not matters for politicians and I hope that the committee will take that into account. I believe that such matters are matters for the Lord Advocate, which need to be handled properly to ensure that our legal system is not put in a difficult position in the future by any precedents that would be set.

In relation to matters that affect the Executive and reports commissioned by us for legal advice in advance of cases in which we are defending the public interest, there are important issues to be considered. The Minister for Justice is happy to discuss those issues in detail with representatives of the Justice 1 Committee. A meeting has already taken place between the convener of the committee and the Minister for Justice. I understand that this week's meeting was a helpful initial attempt at finding a way forward. We are determined to assist the committee as much as we can.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): The First Minister has alluded to the meeting that I had with the Minister for Justice this week at which, as the committee's representative, I set out the case for the committee to have access to both MacLeod reports and the Mike Pass report.

Does the First Minister acknowledge the cross-party efforts that the Justice 1 Committee has made to give an extremely important issue a public airing? Does he accept assurances from me as the committee's convener that we have no desire either to override the important issues that must be taken into account when the release of the reports in question is considered or to set a precedent? Does he agree that it is in the interest of the public and of the Parliament to ensure that we obtain all the information that is relevant to our important inquiry into the McKie case and the Scottish fingerprint service, so that we can make our findings?

The First Minister: It is important that the information that is made available, the advice that we give and the assistance that we provide help the committee to conduct itself in a way that is helpful to ensuring that we restore confidence in the fingerprint service and the system as a whole. I welcome the fact that committee members from different parties have indicated that that is their objective. I simply counsel that there are important principles to do with the independence of the prosecution from politicians that the committee needs to heed in the work that it undertakes.

I believe that the committee has done a good job so far. It will be important for it to take further evidence—I understand that that is its intention. I hope that we can reach a conclusion on the issue speedily and that we can ensure that the committee's recommendations and the actions of ministers work together to ensure that people in Scotland can have faith in the system and can believe that, in spite of the disagreements that may exist among experts about individual fingerprints or anything else, the system as a whole is robust and that the principles of the Scottish legal system will be maintained.

23 March 2006

(S2F-2202) Honours (Recommendations)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how many recommendations for honours have been made by the Scottish Executive since 2003. (S2F-2202)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): One thousand seven hundred and forty-six names have been recommended to be considered for the biannual honours lists since 2003.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the First Minister aware of a written answer that was given to me by Mr Tom McCabe in answer to a question about the honours recommendations process? It states:

"Details of this process are confidential."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 29 July 2005; S2W-17373.]

The First Minister talked about the job of politicians. Is it not the case that a key part of politicians' jobs in this Parliament is to be open and accountable to the people of Scotland? Is it time for the First Minister to retract the statement by Tom McCabe and to change the Executive's approach to the honours system?

The First Minister: Not at all. I can think of few things that would be more foolish in relation to the honours system. The vast majority of the 1,746 people who were put forward for honours were nominated by others in their local community. They were not all successful, because of the balance that is struck in the list between different backgrounds, geographical areas, interests and types of voluntary organisation. It would be entirely wrong for us to remove confidentiality from the process, because of the embarrassment that might be caused to those who were not successful.

Stewart Stevenson: Ah—the embarrassment.

The First Minister: Mr Stevenson shouts about the issue, but a school cleaner who is nominated without their knowledge for a national honour but does not make it on to the list on that occasion does not want to be the subject of a national media story. It was not their choice to be nominated and it would be foolish to put them in that position.

The 1,746 names to which I referred included names of people whom I approved for nomination, who were successful in the national system for determining honours but who chose for a reason not to accept the honour. We should not embarrass those who want to do that confidentially. There is a very good reason for the names being confidential. People do not want to be embarrassed in the way that I have described. Mr Stevenson should rethink his attitude to the issue, which is very wrong.

2 February 2006

(S2F-2103) Drug Use (Children)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Executive has undertaken in response to the findings published in 2003 by Professor McKeganey, which examined the extent of drug use and exposure in 10 to 12-year-olds. (S2F-2103)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): I have every sympathy with Stewart Stevenson. He has a record of raising these issues and today he has had to follow on from earlier questions. I acknowledge the particular problem in his constituency and his interest in the issues. I hope that we can continue to work together on them.

As I said earlier, we are taking action on a number of fronts. We are ensuring that there is drugs education available in all schools; a national public information campaign; early intervention and diversionary programmes for youngsters and families; and improved treatment for those with acute problems.

Stewart Stevenson: I take the opportunity of saying that the First Minister will have a faithful friend for any sensible initiatives to which we can all sign up. However, the signs are not encouraging. I have been asking questions for around three months about what we know of these issues. The First Minister will know that Professor McKeganey's report was commissioned not in Scotland but by the Home Office—it was not a Scottish report.

In written answers on 3 November and 18 November, I was told that we do not know the size of the drugs trade and that we do not work with the Home Office. We do not have a report such as the one produced annually in London that gives information on the size of the drugs trade south of the border, on how many people are using different drugs, and on what the impact of those drugs is. Is it not time that we had quality research into factual ways of determining policy in Scotland—research that is at least as good as what is available south of the border?

The First Minister: It is vital that our approach covers all the different areas in which we must have an impact through policy, funding and the other decisions that we make. We do that not by reference to the Home Office but by reference to what is happening here in Scotland.

If Mr Stevenson indeed watches the matter carefully, he will see that in certain areas the Home Office and the United Kingdom Government are learning from what is happening in Scotland. That is good, and such an approach helps us because drug dealers do not exist in either Scotland or England but move across the border.

Aside from Professor McKeganey's report, the report entitled "Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users", on which an action plan will be published this spring, was also produced in 2003. We know from that report, and from the widespread consultations that are important if we want to bring together everyone who works in the drugs field, that we need to improve drugs education in every school in Scotland and that not only the police but—critically—our Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency must take certain educational and enforcement measures. Indeed, the Parliament will debate this afternoon the creation of an agency with wider powers, among other issues. Furthermore, we need to ensure that the money that we retrieve from dealers through convictions is reinvested in the community to tackle any damage that has been caused.

Evidence has shown that those actions must be taken, and the changes and adaptations in policy, the new laws that have been created and the new funding that has been allocated in recent years have all been based on that reality. We will continue to do those things and more.

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