The SNP Government has come under fire recently for having had to drop a number of key policy proposals, leaving the Scottish Parliament with little legislation to work on. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill, published today, will go some way to redressing that balance.

Many of the measures have been well trailed.

We are to have sentencing principles set out in statute, and a Sentencing Council to set out guidelines, which may also relate among other things to sentencing principles and purposes (it appears at first sight that these are to take precedence over the statutory list).

There are extensive provisions relating to community payback orders, for once appearing without the adjectives "tough new". These will take quite a long hard look to assess whether they are likely to live up to their promised effect.

A much briefer section implements the principle that sentences of less that six months should only be passed where the court considers that no other disposal is appropriate. However we can expect much debate to be generated by these few lines, obviously intended to run in conjunction with the payback proposals just mentioned. The Government is investing considerable political capital in the belief that there are better alternatives to prison; this could well be true but these will have to be well resourced if they are to work properly, and the timescale for implementation could be a lengthy one.

Other topics covered range from indecent images to serious and organised crime, from disclosure of evidence to Crown appeals against acquittals, and the bill itself can be found via this link to the Scottish Parliament website. It will keep MSPs busy for quite a while.

There is more on the licensing front, including the modified provisions for restricting sales to under-21s from off-licences. Having argued previously for a measure of local discretion, it is gratifying to see this principle adopted to an extent. But is there the correct  focus of the proposed "detrimental impact statement" that a licensing board must make, relating it to sales to under-21s? Surely the problem is consumption rather than sale, and often by those too young to make a legal purchase. Unless the bill identifies the right target, it is likely to fail in its objective.