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House of Commons

Tuesday 15 March 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read. To be read a Second Time on Tuesday 22 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Flexible Working Time

1. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the take-up of flexible working time parental rights in Scotland. [221051]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): National statistics show that more than 490,000 employees in Scotland work flexibly. Seventy-nine thousand of them have children under the age of six.

Ann McKechin: I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, will welcome the recent consultation paper that the Department of Trade and Industry issued. It proposes to extend parental rights to parents of older children and, just as important, carers of adults. What steps will the Department take to consult people, especially Scottish employers, to persuade them that the proposal will assist not only families but the Scottish economy through productivity and our skills base?

Mrs. McGuire: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Like her, I welcome the recent consultation document from the Department of Trade and Industry. It highlights the fact that flexible working has been good not only for parents and children but for businesses. If proof were needed, perhaps hon. Members would like to examine some of the case studies that the document outlines. For example, the Central Scotland Forest Trust has a flexible working arrangement and has experienced a twofold increase in the number of applicants for vacancies, a 9 per cent. reduction in training costs, a 16 per cent. reduction in recruitment
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costs, and staff turnover has also been reduced by 49 per cent. We are showing the way: flexible working is good for people and for businesses.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): Parental rights such as those that we are considering are important in constituencies like mine, especially for women who are so often the breadwinners in those areas. They enable them to work and look after their children. I want to follow up one of the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin): will the Under-Secretary do all she can to persuade colleagues to extend flexible working rights to other sorts of family care such as caring for adult and aged relatives and friends? Such carers are often prevented from seeking and obtaining employment because of their other responsibilities. Flexible working time would be ideal for many people in that position.

Mrs. McGuire: Many of us recognise that the position of people with responsibilities for sick or disabled relatives is different from that of those with responsibilities for children. We make matters clear in the consultation document, in which we have outlined five options for discussion to examine ways in which flexible working time can be extended. We also recognise that employers' needs must be taken into account. In doing that, we are committed to ensuring that the law continues to use a light touch on those matters. However, the basic principle exists and I hope that hon. Members will respond to the consultation document and encourage businesses and individuals in their constituencies to do so.

Drug Dealers' Profits

2. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on progress in seizing the illicit profits of drug dealers in Scotland. [221052]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): That is a matter for the Scottish Executive. However, I am pleased to note the considerable progress that is being made on the confiscation and forfeiture of criminal assets in Scotland.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the success of the "shop a dealer" campaign, which is funded from the proceeds of crime and, in little more than three weeks, has already resulted in more than 1,000 extra tip-offs to the Crimestoppers Scotland hotline? Will he take the opportunity of urging the public who have information about drug dealing in their communities to make an anonymous call to the hotline? In view of the success of the hotline and the campaign to date, will he discuss with his colleagues the possibility of using more of the recovered proceeds of crime to extend the campaign beyond 31 March, when it is due to end?

Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend says, the line has been funded by money confiscated from drug dealers. If it is a success—initial signs are that it has been a great success—I hope that the Scottish Executive will
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continue with it. My hon. Friend knows from representing Leith that many people have suffered because of the problems that arise from drug abuse. That applies not only to Leith but other parts of the country. He is right to emphasise what is possible through a specially dedicated hotline and encouraging people to phone, backed up by record amounts of money for policing. Police officers are of course necessary to bring people to justice. Investment in public services and the dedicated hotline are therefore both necessary.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): The Secretary of State will be aware that the Scottish Executive are allowed to retain only 50 per cent. of the criminal assets seized in Scotland. However, making available additional resources to the police will make a key difference in the fight against drugs. Why, then, cannot Scotland retain 100 per cent. of the criminal assets seized there?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Lady might want to reflect on the fact that Scotland is getting additional resources for policing and for other public services because of the strength of the United Kingdom economy, from which Scotland benefits immensely. If the hon. Lady were to have her way, and to separate Scotland from England, Scotland would be worse off and public services would lose out as a result.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): I welcome the success of the measures being taken against drug dealers. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending the measures being deployed against those who profit from the evil trade of people trafficking, which is an equally vile crime—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman is going beyond the scope of the question.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Seizing illicit profits is an important tool in the fight against drug dealers. When the Secretary of State discusses these matters with his colleagues, will he also discuss the amalgamation of Customs and Excise with the Inland Revenue? Will he ensure that sufficient officers remain to cover Scotland's coastline, bearing in mind that Scotland has 67 per cent. of the UK's coastline but only 6 per cent. of its customs officers?

Mr. Darling: I am quite sure that, when the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise goes through, they will ensure that enforcement is kept at the front of their minds, particularly in relation to drugs. Yes, Scotland does have a very long coastline, but it is also important to focus on our efforts based on intelligence and on the risks that we know about. Customs and Excise has been particularly successful in seizing assets, not least in Dumfries and Galloway, where my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) has been at the forefront of a campaign to encourage such activity. I am sure that Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and the police will continue to work together, as people would expect.
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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending Andrew Cameron and the police service in the Central region for their Operation Overlord against drug dealers? I particularly commend him for locking up McBride—a character whose case I have been raising for a number of years, and who has been building an empire in Falkirk; he has now got five years—and the baron who wanted to take over from him. Will my right hon. Friend lend the weight of his office to the efforts of the Scottish Executive to seize the apartments that this person has accumulated over many years of drug dealing, because at the moment there seem to be difficulties in getting to the property owned by drug dealers?

Mr. Darling: I am not familiar with this particular case, and it was not clear from what my hon. Friend was saying whether due process is continuing. Just in case it is, I had better not say anything further on that specific matter. My hon. Friend makes a good point, however. It has sometimes been difficult to get hold of certain assets owned by drug dealers, and that is something that we and the Scottish Executive will keep under review. Because of the changes to the law that we have introduced, however, it is now possible to get money off these people once they have been convicted. That never happened in the past, but if we can do more in the future, we certainly should.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): I welcome any progress being made on seizing the illegal profits of drug dealers in Scotland, not least in Stranraer in my constituency. However, I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is equally important for the Government to minimise the risk of these dangerous criminals striking again. Is he proud of the fact that these prisoners will be entitled to automatic early release after serving only a fraction of their sentences?

Mr. Darling: First, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the efforts of the police and others to bring to justice the people convicted of drug dealing are to be commended. I am also glad that he welcomes the legislation that we passed to make that possible, because my recollection is that it did not always have universal support in both Houses. The management of prisoners is a matter that successive Governments have dealt with. We need to ensure that, when people are sentenced, the punishment fits the crime. We also have to prepare people for their eventual release and, we hope, their rehabilitation.

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