First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7th June 2007.
A range of vital issues for the future of Scotland.
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?
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.
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?
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