Perhaps this debate is generating more heat than light not only because we are so close to an election. It is understandable that debates on the prevalence of crime and antisocial behaviour and the resources that are available for policing always result in the kind of arguments among the main parties that we have heard.
Whatever our policy differences, we should all accept the part that social and environmental changes play when we consider the prevalence of crime and antisocial behaviour in society. We should consider not only the party politics of the current Government or previous Governments. All Governments will find such problems difficult to solve. When it came to power in 1997, the Labour Party recognised in its early rhetoric the difficulty of solving those problems when it used the slogan,
In the past four years, there have been times when I have felt that Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby are still with us. The arguments that have been used have boiled down to the old chestnut: "Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it." I say to the minister that politicians of all parties too often give in to their instinct for a knee-jerk authoritarian response, which may be good for headlines but will not be tough on the causes of crime. Many of the new measures fail to address those causes. Indeed, the tools that can successfully address the causes of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime were already available before the new legislation, although more resources were needed.
What was principally needed was not new enforcement. For example, the Executive's target to reduce the number of persistent young offenders has not been met; indeed, we have seen an increase. We need to recognise the impact not just of legislation, but of the social and environmental factors that prevent success.
Kenny MacAskill mentioned poverty and deprivation. Like him, I argue that although those factors should not be seen as excuses for bad behaviour, there are clear connections. I refer members to the words of Kathleen Marshall, the commissioner for children and young people in Scotland, in talking about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to the convention, children and young people have a right to
"a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development."
Social exclusion by reason of poverty militates against that. If our society does not provide free or affordable facilities for the development of children and young people, we will pay more in the end financially and socially. We should all recognise that.