Community Safety

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:30 pm, 21st February 2007

The Deputy Minister for Justice started her speech with the good news that crime is falling, and it is, under certain headings. However, when there is a 5.7 per cent increase in drug offences and a massive increase in the number of sexual assaults, no one can relax.

The minister claims—correctly—that witness appearances are well down, but prosecutions are well down, too. The message seems clear: police funding has increased, but there are still serious problems when we require the police, as I found out a couple of weeks ago when it took the police 16 minutes to answer a 999 call in the course of a violent incident.

There is not a lot of joy around. What has the Executive done about it? It introduced antisocial behaviour orders in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, which the Conservatives supported. As I recollect, we disputed only one section of the bill—that which allowed the police to move people out of an area.

In 2004-05—the most recent year for which statistics are available—169 ASBOs were issued. Those who were convicted of breach of ASBOs in the sheriff courts that year numbered 158. Fair conclusions can be drawn from that.

There is nothing wrong with the principle of ASBOs—far from it—but I recollect that it was recently reported that an ASBO was issued only after 33 incidents were reported at a house in Blairgowrie. Serious questions need to be asked when somebody is not locked up long before that amount of trouble occurs. Although ASBOs have a role, where people misbehave themselves consistently, the full rigour of the law should be brought to bear on them instead of the halfway house that is the ASBO.

I am frequently astonished by some of the contributions that are made in debates. I listened to Margaret Jamieson, who said that people who are doing community service should be made visible by wearing dayglo outfits. As Phil Gallie said correctly, when Michael Forsyth made the same suggestion about 12 years ago he was howled down in derision by the people on the Labour benches.

Paul Martin's suggestion of enlisting the help of the Army has some merit. Although we should consider it, I do not know whether it is practical or politically acceptable. However, I know this: had I suggested that idea a year or so ago, I would have been called all the fascist swine of the day. It is amazing how times change.