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 Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:15 am, 17th June 2004

As the minister has obviously anticipated, the effect of amendments 1 to 6 would be to remove part 3 in its entirety. To our mind, the wide-ranging powers in part 3 are, as I have said before, both unnecessary and illiberal. Again, the existing law has been totally disregarded.

When a group of persons congregates in a particular location and causes a nuisance, such nuisance is almost invariably accompanied by noise and/or by threats to local residents. Those are the classic ingredients for a charge of breach of the peace. Quite frankly, the law can deal with those situations.

The problem is that the Minister for Justice and the Executive have manifestly failed to enforce the existing law by issuing the appropriate protection for members of the public. I fully accept that the minister is concerned to provide that protection for the public, but the fact is that our police are under- resourced. Moreover, our prosecution service has traditionally been under-resourced and the Executive has shown a total lack of willingness to grasp that particular thistle firmly.

Basically, the minister's amendment 53 would mean that, if the police considered that exercising the powers of dispersal would be likely to cause more trouble than it was worth, they could decide not to exercise the powers. That being the case, we must ask why it is necessary to give the police those powers anyway, given that they can already charge the offender with a breach of the peace or with breaching one of the various offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and other legislation. Why must the Executive always seek to legislate when it already has the existing powers and has simply lacked the courage or determination to use those powers to ease the problems that they have quite properly identified?