Section 16 — Authorisations

Part of Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:30 am on 17th June 2004.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:30 am, 17th June 2004

I would point out to the residents of Broomhouse why the existing law is totally adequate to cope with the problems that they have to face day by day. I would also ask them why they are not asking the Executive why it has manifestly failed to support them in the seven years that Labour has been in power. Labour Governments have simply not been able to cope with problems of disorder and have shown, until comparatively recently, a total reluctance to stand up to the minority of people who make life a misery for the vast majority of decent people. Only now, largely as a result of the clamour from its own back benches, has the Executive been prepared to take any action whatsoever. It is to the Executive's eternal shame that that is the position.

If we look at the technicalities of the bill, we see that some of it is, frankly, disgraceful. Is it not objectionable that as few as two persons can be considered a group? The proposals smack of "Nineteen Eighty-four". How can any police officer, or anyone else for that matter, anticipate the conduct of any individual or group? If there is a pattern of behaviour in a certain area or if certain individuals, particularly young people, look terrifying or as if they might frighten the horses, that does not necessarily mean that the conduct of those people is likely to be of a type that results in police action. I would have thought that a cogent reason for assuming that they are going to cause trouble is what they actually do, not what they might do. The law must, of course, be brought heavily to bear on those who are prepared to make life a misery for other people, but that must be in response to what they have actually done, not what it is anticipated that they might do.

The police themselves are extremely unhappy about much of the bill. They feel that they do not require the powers and, as I have illustrated, they are quite correct, because the powers already exist. Not only will the legislation not work, but it will succeed in alienating part of our community, namely young people. Scots law has always and rightly proceeded on a presumption of innocence. What the minister is asking us to do is to proceed on an assumption of guilt. There is a restriction of movement and of assembly that is more reminiscent of the South African pass laws than of the type of legislation that a democratic Parliament should be passing.

It would be regrettable if the minister's fairly cack-handed attempt to buy off the Liberal Democrats by the use of amendment 51 succeeded. I would have thought that even the Liberal Democrats would have demanded a somewhat higher price. The bill's repressive nature is unprecedented in Scotland and it should be resisted by the Parliament as a whole.