It has been said that, given that the power to disperse will not be used, opposition to it is unnecessary. That argument is indefensible. What self-respecting Parliament would introduce legislation on the basis that it will not be used? I
Last year, in a debate in the Westminster Parliament, MPs examined a similar power to disperse. Simon Hughes lodged an amendment to remove the power from the UK Government's Anti-social Behaviour Bill. The Conservatives at Westminster supported the power to disperse and voted against the Liberal Democrat amendment, but I am pleased that the Scottish Conservatives have not adopted the stance that was taken by their Westminster colleagues.
I can do no better than to quote what Simon Hughes said when he was trying to have the power to disperse removed from the Westminster bill. He said:
"I will not sign up to legislation that allows the perception of one person, the views of one person or the reaction of a group of people to determine who shall be on our streets, in our parks or at our bus shelters. The reality is that the provision will most often be used ... by groups of adults who do not like young people hanging around outside somewhere near them. Sometimes they may go further than that. They may use it because of prejudice, because of the hairstyles of a group of people, or because of what they do, or because of their colour ... it would be unacceptable, in a country that prides itself on civil liberties ... to legislate to prevent people from being present in our public places if their presence alone causes distress to someone else."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 24 June 2003; Vol 407, c 931.]