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James Douglas-Hamilton: The protection of the public must be a paramount priority

Speech to Scottish Conservative Spring Conference

It is no secret that we want a very much tougher approach to Law and Order than that presented by the Executive.

We have forced the Executive to complete 3 u-turns recently, to abandon their ridiculous proposals to ban all smacking of children under three, to refer 16 and 17 year olds offenders to Children's Panels and to reform the Law on Bail so that Granny Murderers will no longer roam the streets.

We will continue our good work and if elected we will encourage, therefore, a zero tolerance approach to policing in Scotland. To do this we will be providing £45 million to help provide better protection for our neighbourhoods, £25 million of which will be additional spending for the police. To deliver zero tolerance policing it will be our policy to require all police boards, through their Chief Constables, to prepare a Neighbourhood Protection Plan designed to deliver a zero tolerance approach to community policing, in consultation with Councils in the Board area. Furthermore, we would introduce a system whereby local police statistics were published to improve public accountability.

As has often been pointed out it is no use having police officers if the criminals escape justice due to backlogs in our courts. To tackle this we would propose an increase in the number of Procurators Fiscal as well as weekend and evening sittings of courts. We would also want to increase the sentencing power of sheriffs. This was a sensible move, which was unfortunately rejected by all other parties during the passing of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The protection of the public must be a paramount priority. That is why we believe in honesty in sentencing, so that sentences mean what they say. Automatic early release is viewed by the public as difficult to understand or justify and has led to an increase in cynicism and distrust of the system. This was a sensible move which we tried to do during the Criminal Justice Bill, but was rejected by all other parties.

Drugs threaten the very fabric of society, yet serial criminals are being able to use the fact that they have a drug habit to escape prison through drug courts and drug treatment and testing orders. We believe that such opportunities should be given to first or second time offenders, with serial offenders going to prison. We also believe that there must be a strict zero tolerance approach to drugs in prisons, it is ridiculous that the Executive is following a retox programme in Scottish Prison.

Youth Justice is also in a state of disarray. We believe that there needs to be a wider range of disposals for children's hearings including weekend and evening detention, tagging, community service orders, supervised attendance orders, drug treatment and testing orders as well as a substantial increase in secure accommodation. We have also argued that the 16 and 17 year olds should remain in the adult courts, that 12, 13, 14 and 15 year olds could be diverted to youth courts, thus freeing up more time for the "at risk" children

I recommend these policies as being in tune with the wishes of the electorate and we will keep fighting their corner.

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