Community Safety

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:54 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 2:54 pm, 21st February 2007

All residents of Scotland want to live in safety—that is for sure—and to have privacy, free from harassment and nuisance. All parties that are represented in the chamber will recognise that we need to try to achieve that. The question of how we do that, however, is not about who can sound the toughest or who can demonise our young people the most. What we need is a set of policies that invest in young people, reduce reoffending and put more police on the streets to tackle criminal and antisocial behaviour by people of all ages.

Let me answer some of the nonsense that is put about concerning the Liberal Democrats' position on antisocial behaviour. Parties represented in this chamber that produce literature with phrases such as

"soft on thugs, soft on drugs" should, frankly, be ashamed of themselves. I absolutely reject that sort of pathetic name-calling approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. To tackle antisocial behaviour, the police and local communities need politicians who work together in communities, rather than politicians who resort to point scoring.

This Executive, with the Lib Dems at its heart, has delivered a record number of police, with more police officers now than ever before—up 31 per cent since 1999. The Tories cut the number of police to 14,323 in 1995, compared with the 16,175 that we have now. We now have record clear-up rates, up from 31 per cent in 1993 to 46 per cent in 2006. There has been a fall in crime: the total number of crimes recorded by the police decreased by 5 per cent between 2004-05 and 2005-06.

We have taken action to improve the rights of victims by rolling out the victim information and advice service across the courts and introducing the victim notification scheme for victims of serious crime. Annual youth justice funding has been increased from £3.5 million in 2000 to £63 million in 2005. We have increased the criminal justice social work budget: we have increased funding for criminal justice social work services from £44 million in 2000 to £88 million in 2005.

I will highlight two superb examples of community safety partnerships, which the Executive created, working extremely well in my constituency. First, the local partnership funded a police youth action team, which works with young people in the south of the Edinburgh, trying to turn kids away from what is termed antisocial behaviour. The partnership runs a superb games club at Moredun library, which has been hugely successful in reducing the number of reports of antisocial behaviour. I held a surgery in the area yesterday, and quite a number of people mentioned how much quieter the area was since the games club had been set up.

The second example is an excellent bottle-marking initiative. It was started in the Borders, and I persuaded the police to trial it in south Edinburgh. The initiative involves the police working with local shopkeepers to mark with ultraviolet pen drinks that are usually bought by or for young people. The police can confiscate any alcohol that they find and trace it back to the shop. They have discovered that, mainly, it is not the young people who buy the alcohol, but irresponsible adults who buy it for them. Those are the people who we must crack down on.

Turning to the Scottish National Party amendment, I am pleased that the SNP has now adopted one of the five points of the Lib Dem action plan—only days after we announced it—by promising to recruit 1,000 extra police officers. I add that Alex Salmond himself has condemned Executive achievements in increasing police numbers to record levels.

The motion recognises the work that has been done by the Executive in tackling crime and the perception of crime in our communities. We need to go further, however, and as well as having 1,000 extra police, we want tougher community sentences to reduce reoffending, a crackdown on knife crime, with seven-year maximum sentences, and the involvement of young people in local youth panels so that they can change their behaviour and that of their peers.

The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has supported our acceptable behaviour contract plans; in Lib Dem-controlled Islington, he said that they were better than antisocial behaviour orders. We need to encourage our young people; we do not need curfew orders for everyone under 15, as is the policy of members of the Labour Party—talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

In our party, we are proud of the role that our young people play in society. Yes, there are problems, and early intervention and working with those young people is crucial. In the end, that is what will make our communities safer.