Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Thursday, 3 February 2011

First ministers questions

Alex Salmond defended the community justice system during first minister's questions on 3 February 2011.

A new law came into force across Scotland this week which means low-level criminals can be ordered to do manual labour instead of serving time in jail.

From now on, courts will be encouraged to consider imposing a Community Payback Order as an alternative to jail terms of less than three months.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said about 6,000 people would "escape" jail under the decision to limit short sentences, which passed with support from the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Gray said "Does the first minister understand that it is the law-abiding public that are being treated like daft laddies by him?"

The first minister hit back and contrasted Mr Gray's position with that of former Labour first minister Henry McLeish, whose commission on justice reforms recommended a presumption against short sentences.

Mr Salmond accused his opponent of adopting a "knee-jerk" position on the issue, with "nothing constructive to offer".

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie also questioned the Community Payback Orders and said: "Can I ask the First Minister, is 30 days knitting a tough community sentence?"

The first minister said: "What I believe is the reality of a 30-year low in recorded crime in Scotland.

"I believe that the reforms passed by this Parliament, by majority, are going to further improve the criminal justice situation in Scotland."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott attacked plans to bring social workers under the direction of the NHS, create a single national fire service and cut the number of police forces.

"Will the First Minister tell us if there are any other areas of responsibility he plans to remove from local government?" asked Mr Scott.

Mr Salmond said he did not have a "predisposition" to big government and insisted that the government judged these matters in terms of effective government.

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