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After section 14A

Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:00 am on 17th June 2004.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 11:00 am, 17th June 2004

Group 6 is on research in relation to antisocial behaviour orders and the dispersal of groups. Amendment 95, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, is grouped with amendments 96 and 164.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

We come, in this group and the next, to one of the key points of the legislation, which is dispersal. It is an issue that has sharply divided opinion, but we should start by painting some of the background, where I think that there is no real division. It is acknowledged that there is a very real problem, which the powers of dispersal in the bill seek to address. The Communities Committee travelled the length and breadth of Scotland to hear from communities. Every electoral region in Scotland received a visit from members of the committee. In every visit that we made we heard the problems of groups, which differed quite dramatically from region to region. It would be fair to say, without stigmatising in any way, that Glasgow and the west of Scotland had a different character and experienced a more severe impact of the problems. Even in relatively leafy areas such as Lossiemouth, though, people brought real problems to the committee. If members diverge from the solutions that the minister and the Executive propose in the bill, it is certainly not because there is any difference between us in the recognition of the problem.

I have argued from the outset that the dispersal powers will make no difference. However, I do not feel strongly that if we introduce the powers Armageddon will come upon us, social cohesion will break down, the rule of law will be compromised and the whole structure of the Scottish legal system will fall into disrepute, because that will not be so.

Whether or not the powers are introduced, the challenge for the Executive is to demonstrate to people in Scotland that it has taken steps that solve the problem. My amendments 95, 96 and 164 challenge the Executive to show, once the bill's provisions are implemented, that it is solving the problem. We have adopted this tactic in relation to other bills in order to seek greater review of legislation in operation, and I hope that it will find favour on this occasion. The Executive is confident that its proposals will address the problem and it will therefore have no difficulty in gathering evidence in a study to prove that to us.

However, proving to 129 people in the Parliament that the problem has been solved stands a distant second to proving to people in communities throughout Scotland that the problem has been solved. When the minister talks about dispersal powers in relation to group 6, and indeed group 7, I want to hear her state firmly that legislation is not the only thing that ministers are thinking about. Legislation without resources will leave us not one whit better off.

The minister has spoken to police forces. The police have been vociferous at all levels in their formal responses to the Parliament and its committees and they say that the proposed powers are a waste of time because they already have the powers. Indeed, in some parts of Scotland the police have exercised powers of dispersal within the existing legal framework and it has been possible for agencies and the criminal justice system to collaborate to deliver the results that other parts of Scotland desire so earnestly.

If powers of dispersal are to be introduced, at least let the minister be prepared to test their implementation to see whether they deliver what she claims—that is the objective of my amendments. In the first instance, the amendments refer to research on ASBOs, although I have spent most of my time talking about amendment 96, which refers to dispersal. Amendment 164 is essentially technical—it allows the preparation for research to start when the bill is enacted, before the sections that relate to ASBOs and dispersal powers are brought into force. I am relatively relaxed about the Parliament's attitude to amendment 164, but I will press amendments 95 and 96 with vigour.

I move amendment 95.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

We listened with interest to what Mr Stevenson said but, frankly, we think that his amendments are unnecessary. Research might be useful and in some circumstances it might be welcome, but the Executive is able to carry out such research without legislation on the matter. It seems that the matter could comfortably be dealt with by parliamentary committees at the appropriate time. We see no merit in the amendments and we will vote against them.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I was going to call Tommy Sheridan, but he is not here, so I call Nicola Sturgeon.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Well, there we go—posted missing.

I support Stewart Stevenson's amendments. Aspects of the bill—in particular, parts 2 and 3—have caused considerable controversy, but it is important to reflect on the fact that much of that controversy has centred on differing views about the likely effectiveness of the provisions. That is not an academic debate. Expectation about the difference that the provisions can make is high in communities around Scotland. As legislators, we have a duty to ensure that what we pass is effective and that people's expectations are not being raised falsely because what we pass cannot live up to their expectations.

As Stewart Stevenson said, there is no disagreement about the objective behind the provisions in part 3 to give the police dispersal powers, for example. Taking action to deal with large or small groups of people who are making life a misery for decent, law-abiding citizens in communities around Scotland is an honourable objective and is the right objective. My problem with what is proposed is that I remain to be convinced that the provisions will be effective, for reasons that we have heard at every stage of the bill from a range of interested parties, such as the police, voluntary groups and politicians. I am sure that we will consider such arguments in relation to the next group of amendments.

My uncertainty about the effectiveness gives me grave reservations about going ahead regardless and passing the provisions. If the Executive carries the day, it will be smart government to build into the legislation not only the possibility of testing whether the provisions are effective, but an obligation to do so and to return to Parliament to account not only to us, but to the people of Scotland. I ask the Executive to think carefully about its response to the amendments. Agreement to the amendments might allow those of us who continue to have reservations about part 3 to reserve judgment and to allow the proof of the pudding to be in the eating.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I apologise for not being present earlier—I was called out of the chamber at an inappropriate moment.

The thrust of the discussion must be about what works. It is not about what we think will work or about who can sound the best and the most sincere about the problems that confront communities throughout Scotland. Those who are at the coalface of dealing with the problems say that the dispersal powers are inappropriate and unnecessary. I hope that the Executive will begin to accept that just because groups of individuals, parties or lobby associations oppose those powers, that does not mean that those groups are less sincerely concerned about the problems that confront communities.

We believe that what is proposed is clearly not the way forward in Scotland. We should not restrict rights or allow young people to be stigmatised, which would allow all young people to be tarred with the same brush when they do not deserve that. For those reasons, I hope that Stewart Stevenson's amendments will be given the maximum support.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 11:15 am, 17th June 2004

I welcome Tommy Sheridan's comments, because the debate has shifted considerably in the past year. I was given responsibility for the bill a year ago, when my primary task was to persuade people that antisocial behaviour existed and was a problem. I am glad that the situation has changed. Mr McLetchie's reaction to the First Minister's legislative programme was that the debate was phoney, but I suggest that he would not say that now—certainly not in Broomhouse, unless he was a brave man.

I turn to Stewart Stevenson's amendments and offer the reassurance that the member is seeking. We have never suggested that the proposals are about just legislation. In fact, we have always emphasised that the opposite is the case. No one measure can deal with the problem of antisocial behaviour. A comprehensive approach is required, as I am sure Stewart Stevenson recognises. Assessment of the effectiveness of the range of measures that we are introducing is critical and essential to what we are trying to do. Bill Aitken had a point when he said that we would conduct such an assessment in any event—we research ASBOs currently. There was a debate in the committee about ASBOs and the fact that they are applied unevenly throughout Scotland and we need to understand why that is the case. I am keen to know why some local authorities perform extraordinarily well in tackling antisocial behaviour through the use of ASBOs, but others do not. There are issues to be considered.

It is critically important that we monitor and evaluate the exercise of the dispersal power. Normally, the Executive's response would be to say that it is doing that in any event and that such provision does not need to be made on the face of the bill. However, given the Parliament's desire to ensure that we analyse appropriately, publish research and engage appropriately with the Parliament—Stewart Stevenson spoke about testing the effectiveness of the power and examining the detail of its use—I am happy to support amendment 95. I hope that that gives the member the reassurance that he was seeking.

We will not support amendment 164, because we argue that some flexibility is needed in the commencement of the provision. That is just proper business management.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I invite Mr Stevenson to wind up with a quick lap of honour.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

That is very kind. It does the minister great credit that at stage 3, when she has her army behind her, she has recognised the force of an argument put by members from other parties. I thank her for that. I remind the minister that the real report card will be delivered in 2007. Our opinion will not matter one whit if she has failed outside the chamber.

I take on board entirely what the minister said about amendment 164. When the time comes, I will not move that amendment.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 95 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 4

For: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Against: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, MacDonald, Margo, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 104, Against 16, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 95 agreed to.