When the public see known criminals and drug dealers touring our streets in fancy cars with private number plates and living lavish lifestyles it is a source of much frustration and they are entitled to think crime really does pay. In recent weeks a number of East Renfrewshire's law abiding citizens have lobbied me with suggestions as to how to ensure crime does not pay, with some very interesting policy ideas having been put forward.
One of the most interesting suggestions arose as a result of one elderly relative having been required to use their assets to help pay for elements of their care. The suggestion put forward is that criminals with assets should pay the State for their board and lodgings while they serve a prison sentence. In other words the law abiding majority should not have to pay to keep a criminal minority who can afford to pay this cost for themselves.
On the basis that with rights we all assume responsibilities, I am minded to support this type of financial penalty on criminals convicted to a prison sentence and intend to pursue this suggestion through our policy development team.
Another East Renfrewshire constituent suggested that any positive equity gained on assets during a prison sentence should be the property of the State. This arose after one criminal could not have the proceeds of their crime taken from them because the police could not prove they were the direct proceeds of the crime for which they were convicted. During their prison stay their house appreciated by more than £60,000 and on their release they sold this asset and benefited financially from their assets increase in value over the period of their prison sentence.
While this is slightly more problematic, I do see the sense in using the prospect of financial loss as a deterrent to criminals and would support moves to ensure criminals are not profiting from their assets while they are serving a custodial sentence.
So, the message I receive from the people of East Renfrewshire is clear - we are sick of the UK being a soft touch on crime, (particularly in terms of punishment), and we are no longer prepared to allow our government to hide behind the European Convention on Human Rights as the reason why they cannot act to hammer those committing crimes in our community. I am determined that East Renfrewshire should have a strong voice in the fight against crime and to ensure there is no hiding place for local and national politicians who cannot be bothered to stand up to those terrorising our communities.