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 Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 11:30 am, 17th June 2004

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this aspect of the bill. Some of the opposition to it has been overblown, overstated and unhelpful. It is reasonable to talk about giving young people something better to do, but some things are going on in our communities that are simply unacceptable. We should not try to make excuses for that behaviour, no matter how bored people are.

I agree with Tommy Sheridan that we need to consider what works, but we should not squeeze our views on what is happening in our communities into a preset view of the world. When I first became an MSP, I was stunned to discover that the police found it difficult to police this kind of problem. We have to confront that issue and consider how to make progress.

The problem is that groups gather and cause serious and persistent problems in communities. We are not talking about young people who gather and do nothing wrong and we are not talking about a problem that is exaggerated by intolerant older people. We are not being anti-young. Indeed, the people who have come to me on this issue are mums, dads, grans and granddads, all of whom are committed to giving children a better chance. People talk about stigmatising young people, but we ought not to stigmatise people in our communities who have the courage to raise their voices and say that there is a problem.

People are intimidated, silenced and in fear. I accept that such things do not happen throughout the country, but in some places in Scotland we have, in effect, outdoor youth clubs. It is part of the youth culture for people to gather there. They gather in places that are near youth facilities and they do so after they have used those facilities. The reality is that current powers are insufficient and cannot deal with the kind of group disorder that is occasionally generated.

Tommy Sheridan says that the police should simply clear those young people away. I have asked the police why they do not do that and they say, "But we can't stop them coming back." We therefore end up in a cycle with the young people going round and round.

The Tories tell us that we already have breach of the peace provisions. However, the groups to my left in the chamber are uncomfortable with the use of such provisions because they do not regard those provisions as being specific enough or as offering enough protection. In addition, the provisions do not deal with the particular issue of group disorder. The police have told me of the problem of not being able to get witnesses. They say that it is difficult for them to identify the individuals responsible. The cumulative group effect leads to particular problems. That is why we are talking about a specific power to deal with group disorder.

The Tories also say that there are not enough police. I will fight hard to get sufficient policing into my community to enforce these measures. However, the police tell me that even when they target an area and send in lots of police, they still cannot deal with problems. The difficulty is not just to do with police numbers but to do with the structures under which the police operate.

We are saying that enough is enough. The measure that is being introduced is preventive: it will warn people to keep away, giving communities some respite; it will prevent poor behaviour from escalating into something more serious; and it will prevent the exploitation of some young women who are drawn into groups. Do not imagine that if groups gather, there are not some predatory people round about them. We have to send out the message that harassment is unacceptable. Even if behaviour is defended under the guise of youth culture, we do not want to live in a Scotland where young men in particular are encouraged to believe that gang culture is in any way acceptable. In some communities, we are seeing a move from one culture to the other.

We have to strive at all times for a balance of rights in our communities. None of us has an absolute right to do whatever we want. I am comfortable with putting the argument to the young people in my constituency that we may have to restrict them a little if we are to protect people elsewhere.

The approach that is being taken is a modest one. The bottom line is that it allows communities a clear point of negotiation with the police and other agencies. Where there is a problem, it allows the community to say to the police and other agencies, "There is a power. Can we now work together to deal with the problem?"