Gang-related Violence

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:01 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 12:01 pm, 8th March 2007

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive is working to tackle gang-related violence. (S2F-2773)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Gang violence has a devastating impact on communities, which is why the Executive has taken unprecedented action to tackle the problem. There are tougher sentences for knife crime and new laws to tackle antisocial behaviour, and there has been action on alcohol, violence and drugs.

In addition to tougher enforcement, longer-term work is under way, which is aimed at changing the attitudes and behaviour of young people who are involved in gangs by providing opportunities for education, training and employment that offer real alternatives to crime and violence.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I welcome the First Minister's reply. He is aware that there are about 100 gangs spread across Glasgow, which range from handfuls of young men to long-established groups of between 50 and 100 members.

I warmly welcome the fact that last year there were 1,000 fewer victims of serious crime than there were when Parliament was established—the figure is at its lowest. However, Inspector Tom Halbert, from the violence reduction unit, said:

"The 'typical' murder on the streets of Glasgow will be committed by a young man aged 15 to 21; he will carry a lock knife, which he claims is for his own protection."

Does the First Minister agree that youth panels in New York, which involve young people directly and give them leadership in reducing gang culture, have been successful and effective? Does he also agree that we need to look afresh at the sentencing regime? There is a case for longer, seven-year-maximum combined custody and community sentences. An approach that addresses the underlying reasons for violent behaviour would be effective and help to save lives.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

There is a case for longer sentences, which is why we legislated for longer sentences for people who are convicted of knife crime. Lessons can be learned from New York, which is why the Minister for Justice visited that city. We can take on board good practice elsewhere to ensure that justice is faster and more effective locally—I am sure that there will be debates about that during the coming weeks.

In addition to ensuring that we have tougher sentences for people who carry out knife crime, and that we have better enforcement of the law—through, for example, our investment in the machinery that is currently helping to detect knives and other weapons—it will be important to work relentlessly to divert young people away from such lifestyles and into far more productive activity and hope. That is why we are also investing time and effort in providing opportunities for young people in education, training and leisure that will give them alternatives to gangland or weapon-related lifestyles.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The First Minister will be aware that gang violence all too often involves knives, and that only between a quarter and a half of people who are victims of knife attacks and have to go to hospital ever report the attacks to the police. For some time now, I have been calling for the mandatory reporting of the details of knife-crime incidents to the police by hospitals. I was therefore very pleased when two pilots to do just that were started at Glasgow royal infirmary and the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley. The Minister for Justice hailed those pilots when they began. Can the First Minister tell me why one of those pilots has now been scrapped, and can he tell me when the results from the second will be published? If the results replicate the success of such schemes elsewhere, will the First Minister commit to rolling out such schemes across Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I will be happy to speak to either Strathclyde police or the local health board, whichever has been responsible for the pilots, and to provide Stewart Maxwell with a detailed reply.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Given the worrying incidence of gang violence in Scotland, is not it now time for the First Minister and his Government to take the lead in addressing the issue, and to put into practice the coalition's rhetoric on early intervention and curbing persistent youth offending by introducing youth courts for 14 and 15-year-old persistent offenders and by establishing a sentencing regime that is a real deterrent to repeat offenders, with the introduction of an additional tariff for anyone who faces a third custodial sentence?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am sure that we will have debates on sentencing in the coming weeks, but I make the point to Margaret Mitchell that we already have a youth court in Scotland. More youth courts are being established. They are, from all the evidence, effective, which is why we support them and are making them happen.