Section 16 — Authorisations

Part of Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:15 am on 17th June 2004.

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

Tommy Sheridan should learn to listen to arguments instead of always shouting at people. We are obliged in this Parliament to listen to different arguments that are proposed to us.

Section 17 ensures that, before an authorisation can be made, reasonable steps must be taken by the police to inform those people in and around the area of their intention. For example, the police must say how long the period of authorisation will last and indicate any specified times in that period; they must also be clear about the area to be covered by that authorisation.

Once the authorisation is in place, sections 18 and 19 will enable the constable to give the group or any member of it a direction to disperse only if he or she is satisfied that their presence or behaviour is likely to result in members of the public being alarmed or distressed. The powers cannot be used simply to move people on who are doing nothing wrong and presenting no risk to others; they may be used if in the constable's professional judgment there is a real possibility that alarm or distress is likely to be caused and that giving a direction would reduce that possibility. He or she can act in a pre-emptive way rather than waiting—as some members would have it—until an offence is committed. Such a preventive measure is not currently available to the police. An individual's refusal to comply with the constable's direction would become an offence under section 19.

Section 20 provides for the issuing of guidance to which the police must have regard when they implement the powers under part 3. Over recent months, my officials have worked closely with the police associations and others to develop practical guidance on the implementation of the provisions. I am grateful for the police's support in ensuring the operational effectiveness of the dispersal powers. We will draw on that work to prepare draft guidance for consultation during this summer.

I want to make it clear again—I hope that I do not offend Patrick Harvie in saying this—that the provisions in part 3 neither provide sweeping new powers nor do they add anything to existing powers. Rather, they offer an additional tool for dealing with the specific problems that are caused by the behaviour of groups in areas that are blighted by persistent disorder. That said, I have listened to genuine concerns. I believe that amendments 51 to 53 will further deflect any criticism by ensuring that the powers can be exercised only in a measured, proportionate and time-limited way.

Amendment 51 seeks to put beyond doubt in what kind of situations the powers could come into effect. As the bill stands, the dispersal powers can be exercised only if a senior police officer is satisfied that antisocial behaviour has been an on-going problem that is having a significantly adverse effect on the area. Amendment 51 will add "serious" to the tests of "persistent" and "significant". The amendment will thereby further increase the gravity of the antisocial behaviour problems that would need to be present before an area could be authorised.

Amendment 53 seeks to provide that the constable must consider whether dispersing the group would have the effect of causing less alarm and distress to members of the public in that area. In addition, amendment 53 seeks to clarify that, whether or not there is any current or likely risk of distress or alarm being caused, past behaviour alone can be a basis for the constable's exercising the power.

Amendment 52 is consequential to amendment 53.

Amendments 51 to 53 will further tighten the conditions under which dispersal directions can be given. As such, I hope that they will provide sufficient reassurance that the powers will not be able to be used as a quick fix for some isolated incident of low-level disorder and will not be deployed indiscriminately against those who are lawfully going about their daily life.

I acknowledge that part 3 has been the subject of some debate and controversy. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that the provisions that will now be contained in the bill demonstrate that we have listened to both sides of the debate.

Despite the scorn of those who have argued otherwise, communities have pleaded for the powers in part 3. We owe it to them to give them the respite that the powers will afford. We cannot afford to let them down today. I hope that the Parliament will approve amendments 51 to 53 and reject amendments 1 to 6.

I move amendment 51.