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Live Reporting

By Ailsa Brown and Craig Hutchison

All times stated are UK

Good night

And that concludes our live coverage from the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 2 April 2015.


Remember you can watch all the video from today's business at

BBC Scotland's Democracy Live.

We'll be back on Tuesday 21 April after MSPs return from the recess, until then have a lovely Easter.

Decision time and Easter recess

The general principles of the

Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill have been approved, with 70 MSPs backing it and with 10 abstentions.

Decision time

Presiding Officer says she hopes the sun shines on MSPs and that they manage to get some rest.

Decision time

We now move to decision time.

Debate ends

The justice secretary concludes says he cannot understand why the Conservative party will not support the end of automatic early release for the most serious prisoners, he says the logic is beyond him.

Mr Matheson says the message is that the Conservatives want to maintain automatic early release for these prisoners by abstaining at decision time.


Mr Matheson says there will be an independent review delivered within the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) estate.

The minister says a very significant amount of resource goes to short term offenders.

If members are serious about more effective resourcing of rehabilitation of prisoners they have to be serious about dealing with the churn of short term offenders.

Over-egging criticism

Mr Matheson says Mr Henry is over-egging his criticism slightly.

He says the government is bringing forward amendments at Stage 2 and he fully expects the Justice Committee to take more evidence.

'Mature, reasonable way'

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson says he fully recognises the detailed scrutiny the justice committee has given to this legislation.

Mr Matheson says he is a little confused at some of the suggestions that what the government is doing is wrong.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

He says he is trying to respond to some of the concerns and issues raised by the committee and witnesses.

That is a mature, reasonable way to conduct this debate, he says.


Mr Henry says he has every confidence in Christine Grahame and her Justice Committee, but that doesn't excuse the failure of Scottish government to bring something coherent to us today.

We don't know what the detail is we're voting on, he says.

'Severe and significant reservations'

Mr Henry says we're having a debate about Stage 1 of a bill when we know when considered at Stage 2 will be completely different.

The Labour MSP says the bill is not fit for purpose.

He says Labour will support the general principles of the bill with severe and significant reservations.

'Bad way to make legislation'

Labour MSP Hugh Henry says this is a bad way to make legislation and it undermines the credibility of the parliament.

Labour MSP Hugh Henry
Labour MSP Hugh Henry

'Tiny percentage of prisoners'

Ms Goldie says you either have automatic early release or you don't.

This bill is just automatic early release for a for a "tiny percentage of prisoners" - which is not good enough, she says.

The Tory MSP says this bill, even with the government's proposed flourishes, does not end automatic early release.

She says her party will abstain at decision time.

'Partial and heavily qualified abolition'

Scottish Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie says her party at Holyrood has consistently opposed automatic early release.

Ms Goldie says since 1999 she has spoken frequently in debates against automatic early release.

Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie
Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie

She says in both its 2007 and 2011 manifestos the SNP said they wanted to see an end to automatic early release.

Ms Goldie says it is disappointing the SNP are now bringing forward partial and heavily qualified abolition of automatic early release.

'Fundamentally flawed'

Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes says to end automatic early release the government must prioritise public safety and guarantee supervision.

The bill as drafted fails both these tests and is fundamentally flawed.

Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes
Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes

Ms McInnes says the proposed amendments suggested by Mr Matheson would allow her party to back the general principles of the bill.

Automatic early release

Ms Mitchell says the bill as introduced would affect less than 1% of the prisoners in Scotland.

The Scottish Conservative MSP says she welcomed the justice secretary's extending the abolition of automatic early release to all prisoners with sentences over four years.

However that leaves 97% of prisoners who will still be automatically early released.

'Dog's breakfast'

Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell says the bill as drafted, and even with proposed Stage 2 amendments, has been proposed in such a way is "nothing short of a dogs breakfast".

Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell
Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell

Human rights concerns

Ms Murray says there are also significant concerns about human rights in relation to the bill.

Public safety

Ms Murray says the Scottish government says the bill will improve public safety, but she says, as drafted, it could increase the danger to the public.

The justice secretary is therefore to be commended for proposing amendments to end all automatic early release for those with four year sentences or more.


Labour MSP Elaine Murray says Section 1 of the bill does not end automatic early release, even if amended at stage 2 as indicated, it will only affect 3% of prisoners.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray
Labour MSP Elaine Murray

Convener conclusion

Ms Grahame says the overwhelming majority of the committee welcomes the general principles of the bill, but some concerns remain.

Parole board

Ms Grahame says the parole board has written to the committee with potential concerns and she calls for the board to be properly resourced.

Justice Committee

Justice Committee convener Christine Grahame says she welcomes the cabinet secretary for listening to evidence at stage 1, detailed in the

committee's report.

Justice Committee Convener Christine Grahame
Justice Committee Convener Christine Grahame

However there are still concerns, she says.


Experts have raised concerns about prisoners being released "cold" after serving all of their sentence in prison, rather than spending some of it supervised on licence in the community.

However, the first minister announced a guaranteed period of supervision for prisoners guilty of serious offences coming out of custody.


Ms Sturgeon said the provisions of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, would be tightened to ensure that no prisoners serving time for serious offences would be automatically released on licence after two thirds of their sentence.

For non-sexual offenders, the bill currently applies only to prisoners sentenced to ten years or more.

'Best of both worlds'

Mr Matheson concludes saying his bill will improve the system of early release, ensuring dangerous prisoners do not get released automatically and long term prisoners receive supervision on release.

He says this will be the "best of both worlds".

Mandatory control period

Mr Matheson says the mandatory control period in the community should be part of the sentence.

The period of a mandatory control period should be consistent from sentences of four years to ten years, he says.

The justice secretary says he thinks the minimum period for a mandatory control period should be six months.


The bill was introduced in the Parliament on 14 August 2014 and contains the following provisions relating to the release of offenders serving custodial sentences:

  • restriction of automatic early release - seeking to end automatic early release for sex offenders receiving determinate custodial sentences of four years or more and other offenders receiving determinate custodial sentences of ten years or more
Inside jail
  • early release for community reintegration - allowing the Scottish Prison Service to release sentenced prisoners up to two days early where this would help facilitate community reintegration.

'Cold release'

The justice secretary says his government has addressed the concerns about "cold release" of long term prisoners and will provide supervision.

Long term prisoners

Mr Matheson says if parliament agrees his amendment at stage 2 then all long term prisoners will no longer be eligible for automatic release.

This would include all prisoners with sentences over four years.

Parole board

The justice secretary says the rate of reoffending for automatic early release is seven times higher than prisoners released by parole board discretionary early release.

We think we are right to trust the parole board with this enhanced role, he says.

Current situation

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson says it is difficult to explain why dangerous prisoners have to be released currently after two thirds of their sentence.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson


Justice Secretary Michael Matheson apologises for being late to the chamber and says it is entirely his responsibility.

We're off

Deputy presiding officer Elaine Smith says Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was late which she says was a discourtesy.

Debate delayed

An unusual delay here before the debate gets going, the presiding officer has yet to appear.


The Scottish government announced in February it is

ending automatic early release for prisoners jailed for more than four years.

Prisoners are currently eligible to apply for parole after serving half of their sentence.

Prisoner looking through bars
Getty Images

They are released automatically after two-thirds of their jail term.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that in future no-one will get automatic release.

Welcome back

Welcome back to

BBC Scotland Democracy Live's coverage of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 2 April 2015.


And that's lunch

And that concludes the member's debate on Greenock Morton Community Trust.


We will be back at 2.30pm with the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill debate.

Debate ends

The minister concludes by thanking the hundreds of communities for their magnificent efforts on climate change, demonstrated by the Greenock Morton Community Trust.

Community support

Climate Change Minister Aileen McLeod says she wishes the trust every success in what they are doing.

Ms McLeod goes on to says there will be a review of community support to learn how best to go forward.

Minister closing

Climate Change Minister Aileen McLeod says this has been an important debate and that she is delighted to add her own congratulations to the trust.

Climate Change Minister Aileen McLeod
Climate Change Minister Aileen McLeod

BACKGROUND: Greenock Morton Community Trust

What is the Greenock Morton Community Trust?

According to its website, the

Greenock Morton Community Trust is a registered charity, bringing together Greenock Morton Football Club and Greenock Morton Supporters' Trust, with the aim of using the Morton brand to deliver quality community coaching and social inclusion programmes to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds across the Inverclyde area.

The Community Trust was the initiative of Morton's consultant for club development, Warren Hawke, who explained:

Greenock Morton Community Trust
Greenock Morton Community Trust

"We want to reach out to our local community and ensure that there is an interaction between the club and the people that goes beyond watching or supporting the club on a matchday. We want to help address social issues and give something back to the people of Inverclyde."

In order accomplish this, Warren invited representatives of both Morton and the Supporters' Trust to act as Trustees, tasked with ensuring that the Community Trust does just that.