Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7 June 2007.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00, 7 June 2007

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-28)

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I hope that those vital issues will include sentencing. The Scottish Executive plans to replace jail sentences of less than six months with community sentences. Is the First Minister really telling us that people who pose a risk to the public, such as muggers, housebreakers and violent individuals who assault and terrify their partners, will not get the punishment that would give their victims justice?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

No, that is not what the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is proposing. I take the view that

"There are too many people now in our prisons who shouldn't be. We must ensure they are not full of less serious offenders whose behaviour could be better addressed through tough community sentences.

Reducing this churn of short-term prisoners will ensure time and resources can be better focused on tackling more serious offenders."

Those were the words of the previous Minister for Justice, Cathy Jamieson, on 31 October 2006. For many people across politics, across society and across political parties, that is sound common sense, and this Administration will seek to implement it in a way that the previous Administration failed to do.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

As to who should be in our prisons, I prefer to leave that to our judges, not to the opinion of the First Minister. The First Minister cannot ignore the legitimate concerns of victims and their entitlement to justice. They want prisoners in prison, not convicts in the community. The First Minister will be aware that the Scottish Conservatives have consistently appealed for the end of early release. The Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007 replaces the old system of early release with a new system of early release, whereby short-term and long-term prisoners may be released from prison halfway through their sentences. If the First Minister takes steps to end that absurd system for good, the Scottish Conservatives will back him. Will he do that?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

We hope to make progress in the direction of sentencing, and I will try to take Annabel Goldie with me for as much of that argument as possible. Regarding the argument that there are currently people in prison despite there being no public utility in having them in prison, I cannot think of anything more dramatic than the statistics from Barlinnie, which were released by HM prisons inspectorate for Scotland. In August 2006, 10 per cent of the population of Barlinnie, one of our major jails, were fine defaulters for sums of less than £300. Given that it costs £700 a week to keep somebody in prison, I cannot believe that there is public utility in holding within the prison system people who clearly and evidently should not be there.