Speech in the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill 30 June 2010

Stewart Maxwell said that we should not have a straw-man argument or debate positions that are not being put, and should instead reflect seriously on what people are saying in the chamber today. I am therefore surprised that Robert Brown chose to describe those who oppose the proposal as "doomsayers". I do not think that we should call Scottish Women's Aid doomsayers. I think that we should reflect on the fact that, over the years, women's organisations have managed to persuade the legal establishment that the way that things are done does not work in the interests of victims.
The Scottish Government's position is that short-term sentences do not work and that we should use community sentences instead. The logic of that position is that, if community sentences are put in place, short-term sentences will wither on the vine. However, what is being proposed is that the presumption against short-term sentences will be put in place, leaving victims—not the people in this Parliament—to face the risk that that approach will not work.
In the short time that I have, I will not appeal to the minister, as his complacency and arrogance are evident to us all. However, I will appeal to his back benchers, who listen to women's organisations, to listen to what Women's Aid has said. It believes that the criminal behaviour of perpetrators of domestic abuse does not fall into the category of people with chaotic lifestyles, for whom prison is a revolving door, and that a presumption against the use of prison
"will only serve to increase the risks to safety for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse"
and will undermine the work that is done within the criminal justice system to address the issues of domestic abuse, and that
"It would be disastrous if the proposals were to foster an attitude amongst abusers that their behaviour was no longer being taken seriously in terms of sentencing".
I know that there are people on the Scottish National Party back benches who are concerned about the issues of women, children and victims of domestic abuse. Do not allow this debate to be characterised as an academic theoretical debate between people who hold different views on prison sentencing. Listen to people on the ground who say that the Government's proposal will put people at risk. If the Government wants to prove that short sentences do not work, it should put money into community payback and let short sentences wither on the vine; it should not do it in the way that is proposed, which is short-term political expediency dressed up as a strategy. Listen to the women's organisations and oppose this proposal. The SNP listens to women's organisations on some issues; it should listen to them on this one, too.