Antisocial Behaviour

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 11:40 am, 29th March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will outline the next steps in its efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour. (S2O-12528)

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We have given tackling antisocial behaviour a very high priority because it is one of the main problems facing communities across Scotland. We have made significant progress by bringing in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, setting up community warden services and providing support for victims and witnesses, all of which are vital for delivering better quality of life for those in our hardest-pressed communities.

We recognise, however, that more still needs to be done. We are now rolling out police fixed-penalty notices, considering the wider use of community wardens and determining how best to maintain the pressure on local agencies to implement the 2004 act by, for example, using parenting orders and antisocial behaviour orders for under-16s. We will ensure that community safety partnerships act decisively in tackling not just antisocial behaviour but the wider range of community safety issues, including knife crime.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I thank the minister for her answer.

It is perhaps an appropriate day on which to pay tribute to her personal role, first as a back bencher, then as a committee convener and subsequently as a minister, in driving forward the agenda of tackling antisocial behaviour.

In that context, can she comment on the need to put tackling underage drinking at the heart of the agenda to create safer communities, and on the need to develop a stronger sense of self-respect among young people and for communities as a whole to take more responsibility for tackling underage drinking and excessive alcohol consumption among our young people, with all the risks and dangers that it brings?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I thank Wendy Alexander for her kind words. On antisocial behaviour, we should acknowledge the members of our communities who imposed their will on Parliament and who insisted that we act on their behalf to address such problems.

I hear what the member says about alcohol. We are rolling out test purchasing and are working closely with the police on the enforcement of appropriate behaviour by licensed premises. Alongside that, there is the education programme in our schools and our efforts to challenge parents on how they work with young people to address alcohol abuse and how they ensure that young people do more purposeful things with their lives than getting involved in underage drinking, which has an impact on communities.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Given that, to date, no parenting orders have been issued, will the minister outline how she intends to encourage use of that provision, which will undoubtedly make parents take responsibility for supervision of their children and which will, crucially, ensure that vulnerable children at not at risk?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We are disappointed by the lack of use of parenting orders, which are a support for, rather than a threat to, parents. Crucially, they are also a support for children in vulnerable households. It would be most disturbing if there were any suggestion that there is a blanket refusal to use the powers in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. We want to challenge our young people and our families, to work with them and to get the best out of them, rather than to tolerate behaviour that is unacceptable to communities and deeply damaging to the children concerned. I hope that agencies will reflect on that and use the powers when to do so is deemed to be appropriate.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

Does the minister agree that prevention is always better than cure and that politicians of all parties should take heed of the words of the head of Scotland's violence reduction unit, who said that early years investment in health visitors, social workers and teachers is every bit as important as—and sometimes more important than—investment in more police on our streets? Does she also agree that, as well as taking the action that is necessary to address short-term problems, it is vital that we continue to invest in the next generation to achieve change in the long term?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I pay tribute to Susan Deacon's crucial contribution to Parliament's creation and to making it the successful institution that it has become. [ Applause. ]

I fully acknowledge her point about the importance of prevention and of working with families at an early stage to ensure that issues are dealt with before they become serious problems. That has underpinned our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. We understand that if matters are not addressed at an early stage, communities and lives end up being destroyed and people end up having no future.

We are talking about two parts of the same important picture. To realise the potential of our young people and to give us safe communities, not only must we challenge—rather than tolerate—problem behaviour, we must also work with the families in the most difficult circumstances. We should not write anyone off, nor should we shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done. Underpinning our strategy on antisocial behaviour is a commitment to, and an understanding of, the potential of all our young people and of all our communities to be safe and thriving places for people to live.