13 Jun 2010

Speech on Serious and Organised Crime 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.