Electronic Tagging (Children)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 26th June 2003.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 3:10 pm, 26th June 2003

To ask the First Minister whether he intends to restrict electronic tagging of children to those children who might otherwise be placed in secure accommodation. (S2F-136)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As members are aware, we are committed to combating antisocial behaviour in our communities, particularly by a minority of young persistent offenders. The consultation document published earlier today includes possible options on tagging young people who might otherwise be placed in secure accommodation.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Does the First Minister agree that electronic tagging has a range of possibilities? It could be a way of preventing those young people who might otherwise be in secure accommodation from being away from their communities. Furthermore, electronic tagging could provide protection for some victims of crime, as offenders can be monitored electronically. However, will the First Minister assure me that he will not take it for granted that, because tagging has been a successful measure for adults, it will necessarily be successful for young people? Will he also assure me that the proposal will be properly monitored and assessed? I am sure that he will agree that, whatever Parliament does, tagging can be only part of an overall solution.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Yes, I agree with Pauline McNeill's comments. We should not close our minds to the possible solutions in tackling antisocial behaviour. Today's consultation paper contains a number of open-ended questions to which I hope people will take the chance to respond. We want to pursue a number of immediate actions, not least the limited use of electronic tagging that was proposed in the partnership agreement and again today in the consultation document, although it is important to ensure that there is a range of other services and opportunities for young people.

Antisocial behaviour is carried out by a minority of young people in Scotland; the vast majority of young people deserve our support, our encouragement and the creation of opportunities to allow them to fulfil their lives. One of those opportunities is the chance to use their streets, parks and leisure facilities in peace and safety. In tackling antisocial behaviour, we will be enabling them to do just that.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am encouraged by the First Minister's answer. Does he agree that, although electronic tagging has a role to play in tackling youth offending, it is not the only solution? Given the current shortage of secure unit accommodation and social workers, will the First Minister give an assurance that electronic tagging will not be used as a cheap alternative to detention, where that is more appropriate, or to the kind of intensive support measures that have been applied to many young offenders, which not only control their offending behaviour, but tackle the underlying causes of it?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am absolutely determined that the various sanctions, penalties and other measures that we propose today should be used only in appropriate circumstances. I am pleased that the SNP has in some ways changed its policy on the issue and now takes a more comprehensive approach—in the past, it focused solely on secure accommodation.

It is important that we recognise that we are dealing with a deep-rooted problem that requires a variety of actions to tackle it. My personal view is that it is not appropriate to give antisocial behaviour orders to, or electronically tag, eight-year-olds in Scotland, but we must recognise that some eight, nine and 10-year-old children in Scotland—and even some six and seven-year-olds—behave appallingly in their communities. This morning we heard of the stoning of building workers on a site and, on Monday, I heard that a pregnant woman was stoned by eight-year-olds in my constituency. Antisocial behaviour orders might not be appropriate for such children, but their parents must be held to account and appropriate action must be taken. That is why we must and will produce a comprehensive set of measures.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

When will the promised additional 29 secure accommodation places be available? Does the First Minister agree that, if a children's panel decides that a child should be sent to a secure accommodation unit, that is what should be done and we should not rely on the next-best option?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I hope that that would always be the case. The changes in secure accommodation will take place as quickly as possible. Those changes include not only the additional places, but the reconfiguration of secure accommodation to ensure that it is appropriate and in the right locations and that it provides the right services for young men and women and boys and girls.