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House of Commons

Tuesday 4 November 1997

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Criminal Justice System

1. Mr. Laurence Robertson: What are his priorities for the Scottish criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. [12038]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar): Our overriding priority is to enable the people of Scotland to live in safety under the protection of the law. We are taking measures to prevent crime, detect offenders, deal with cases quickly and efficiently, assist witnesses and victims of crime and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Mr. Robertson: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. I am sure that he will want to confirm that it is his intention that the Scottish criminal justice system should be seen to be independent and free from political manoeuvres. If so, will he explain the context of the transfer of Jason Campbell from a Scottish prison to the Maze in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Dewar: The application by Jason Campbell was made under the Criminal Justice Act 1961. Requests for transfers in the prison system are not uncommon and there is a normal route by which they are dealt with. I naturally regret the fact that, on this occasion, wider considerations meant that consideration of the details of the application was not perhaps as thorough as it might have been. We have instituted a very thorough review of the circumstances and exactly what happened. As a result of that, we are ensuring that there will be ministerial consideration of all transfers between prisons jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. That will, I hope, ensure that there are no difficulties in future.

I should take this opportunity to say that I have enormous respect for the dignity and restraint that was shown by the victim's family in this case. It must have been a very difficult time for them, as I think everyone in the House will appreciate.

Mr. Godman: In our criminal justice system, the definition of a vulnerable person includes both a child and a person with learning disabilities. Does my right

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hon. Friend agree that, when such a person or someone with a mental health problem is being interviewed by police officers, he or she should have the right to be accompanied by an appropriate adult? Does he agree that that ought to be one of his priorities?

Mr. Dewar: I certainly have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. I recognise that he has a long and proven track record of interest in such matters, especially the way in which children and young people are dealt with in the judicial system. I accept entirely that their protection is very important. They must not be put in a position where pressure can--perhaps inadvertently--be brought to bear on them. I am certainly happy to discuss with my hon. Friend how we can improve on present performance.

Mr. Wallace: The Secretary of State may recall that, in the dying days of the previous Parliament, my hon. Friends and I persuaded his predecessor to include in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 provisions which would improve the criminal justice system in Scotland by setting up a criminal cases review authority. Given that there have been much-trailed announcements that that might be about to become reality, is the Secretary of State in a position to make an announcement to the House today?

Mr. Dewar: I liked the judicious use of the words "persuaded my predecessor" of the value of the proposition. I do not want to be coy, but I do not want to steal anyone else's thunder. If the hon. Gentleman looks at Question 13, he will see that it is of direct relevance to the matter. He has not long to contain his curiosity.

Mr. Ancram: Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), does the Secretary of State consider that the Scottish criminal justice system was well served by the shoddy Jason Campbell transfer affair? Will he explain why he has been able only to give a holding answer to the 11 simple, factual questions on the matter that I tabled for priority answer more than a week ago? Will he come clean about who took the original decision to transfer Campbell and whether at any stage he consented to that transfer? Does he realise that failure to come clean merely serves to heighten the stench of cover-up and political manipulation that permeates the incident and can only damage the integrity of the Scottish criminal justice system, which he has a duty to protect?

Mr. Dewar: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should take that rather indignant line. In a previous political incarnation, he had much experience of prison transfers and of the wider implications for the Northern Ireland peace process. We will answer his questions, of course, but he should recognise that everyone acted in good faith in this matter. I have made that clear continually. I take responsibility for what happened and I have made that clear also.

Welfare to Work

2. Mrs. McKenna: What arrangements are in place to ensure high-quality training for young people in the welfare-to-work scheme. [12039]

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The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): Quality will be built into all aspects of the new deal. Rigid monitoring will ensure that standards are maintained in training and in every other aspect of the welfare-to-work programme.

Mrs. McKenna: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of quality training for young people in the welfare-to-work programme. It is vital that young people feel comfortable with what is on offer and that they can acquire skills for the future. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to discuss with employers the best approach? I had a meeting with the major employers in my constituency, who were positive about the proposals. They wanted to be involved and supported what was on offer. They were happy that they were being consulted and that their expertise was being used to address any problems. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to carry out proper pilots and to involve all the young people and the employers, including local authorities, which are major employers in Scotland?

Mr. Wilson: I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. It is essential for the credibility of the welfare-to-work programme that everybody agrees that quality is the watchword. Young people are understandably sceptical, because they have seen various schemes come and go without much improvement in their prospects. It is essential to transcend the credibility gap if the welfare-to-work programme is to be a success. The watchword for that is co-operation and we are consulting widely with everybody who will be party to the programme, including local authorities.

Mr. Rowe: Does the Minister accept that a high proportion of the young people who need most help will enter the scheme well behind many of the other applicants? My inquiries in England show that the scheme makes no serious provision for lengthening the training for backward young people. Will he look into that problem?

Mr. Wilson: I have established a rule in Scotland--although I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to know about it--that we do not call the welfare-to-work programme a scheme. Incidentally, we also do not call people backward. An extensive programme is built into the gateway, which is crucial to getting everybody working by advising individual clients of the best possible option for them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants that to succeed. For people with special difficulties in finding employment, we have a further education option to enhance their employability. Leaving aside his terminology, the hon. Gentleman is right to address the problems that such people face and we will address them through the new deal. I should be delighted to give him further information if he requires it.

Mr. Ernie Ross: My hon. Friend will know that Tayside is a pilot area and that the local authorities, the chamber of commerce and local employers have all been involved. More important, the young people who will be part of the new deal have also been involved. The report card for Tayside shows that Bob Alexander and his Employment Service team have done a marvellous job.

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This week, they will go out to pre-tendering and will have pre-contract meetings with commissioning bodies. We look forward to successful pathfinding for the new deal in Tayside.

Mr. Wilson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend not only for his comments, but for the hard work that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) are putting into this programme. The pilot areas are crucial to getting things right under welfare to work. In Tayside, as in the pilot areas in the south, the genuine problems and challenges that exist can be ironed out. We must get it right. The private sector is fully involved in Tayside, as is the local enterprise company and all the partners involved in delivering welfare to work with the Employment Service. There is a real opportunity and the Government are putting more than £300 million into the programme in Scotland alone--an indication of how seriously we take it. If we all work together, we have a one-off chance to break the curse of long-term unemployment once and for all.

Mr. Kirkwood: Does the Minister accept that high-quality training opportunities should be made available also to young people in rural areas? Will he assure the House that the £300 million programme--which is welcome for a scheme that we support so far as it goes--[Hon. Members: "Not 'scheme.'"] Not a scheme--a programme. Will he assure the House that that £300 million will not be sucked into the central industrial belt? Since there are sanctions in the programme, which worry some of us, will he give an absolute guarantee that people in rural areas will not have those sanctions applied where transport costs are the only thing that makes them turn down opportunities which otherwise would be available to them?

Mr. Wilson: We are alert to the particular needs of people in rural areas. Some 400 people are eligible for the 18-to-25 aspect of the new deal in the borders and, by definition, they are spread out among a large number of communities. It is therefore entirely right that the hon. Gentleman should ask for the provision to be tailored to those individuals and to the characteristics of the area. Transport is important and should be built into the programme; one of the reasons for choosing Tayside as a pathfinder area is that it encompasses urban and rural areas.

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