Section 16 — Authorisations

Part of Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:45 am on 17th June 2004.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 11:45 am, 17th June 2004

Bill Aitken said that the provisions smack of "1984". I reassure him that none of us wants to return to the time when the most illiberal Prime Minister of modern times was in office.

Part 3 contains the most controversial elements of the bill. I made it clear earlier that the SNP does not take issue with the objective of the provisions. It is absolutely right that more should be done to prevent groups of people—whether large groups or small—from making life a misery for law-abiding people who live peacefully in their communities, but we have doubts about the likely effectiveness of the proposals in part 3. We have a duty to raise those concerns and bring them to the attention of Parliament to have them fully aired.

There is a concern, not just in the Parliament but elsewhere in Scotland, that the provisions promise much more than they can deliver. My concerns throughout the process have been two-fold. First, although I do not agree with everything that Mike Rumbles said, like him I am concerned that the provisions will be counterproductive. In effect, the bill will give the police an additional power to disperse groups of people. The police already have the power to move on people who are committing an offence, but if the proposals are passed, the police will be able to move people on simply because they are gathering in a designated area. The concern is that a power that allows the police to disperse people who are committing no offence will undermine valuable and essential relationships between the police and young people.

My second concern, which I touched on in the debate on the previous group of amendments, is that the powers may be ineffective. We all want the police to deal more effectively with groups of people who make other people's lives a misery, but the police themselves—to whom we should listen—have said that they need not extra powers but the resources that will allow them to use their existing powers more effectively. That means more police officers on our streets, not more powers that they will be unable to use because they do not have enough police officers to use them. That is what the police are saying.

The SNP remains to be persuaded that part 3 will have the desired effect, but we are not the only ones. The weight of evidence to the Justice 2 Committee at stage 1 was sceptical. The important point—which every single one of us has a duty to reflect on—is that who is right and who is wrong in the debate will not be decided by politicians talking to one another in the chamber today; it will be determined in the months and years to come in the communities that the bill is designed to help.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, which is why amendments 95 and 96, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, are so important. In accepting them, the Executive has at long last recognised the legitimate concerns of many people. Those amendments will place a duty on the Executive to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposals, which is extremely important.

I said earlier that if those amendments are passed we will reserve judgment and I stand by that. If the Executive really believes that the bill's provisions will make a difference and will not be counterproductive, and if communities want them to be given a chance—and I accept that there is some evidence that that is the case—it would be wrong to deny the Executive the opportunity to put the provisions to the test. Johann Lamont is right that we should never allow preset views to stand in the way of gathering the evidence that will test the arguments, which is why we have said what we have said today. However, I make it clear that if the Executive is wrong, it will be held to account.