Antisocial Behaviour Framework

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 2 April 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 2:15, 2 April 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3849, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the antisocial behaviour framework.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 2:56, 2 April 2009

I am delighted to open this debate on antisocial behaviour. Two weeks ago, Councillor Harry McGuigan of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and I published our shared vision for preventing antisocial behaviour. We have united national and local government to deliver a framework that has been devised not by what we might call armchair experts, but by local service providers—the police, councils and the fire service, among others. It is therefore a framework from the front line. Councillor McGuigan and I set aside party politics, which was not really a challenge to either of us, and united in a belief that communities are best served by not having to experience antisocial behaviour in the first place and that prevention through meaningful community engagement offers the best hope of success.

Our new framework is supported by COSLA, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, the Association of Directors of Social Work, the Judicial Studies Committee, the centre for regional economic and social research, Victim Support Scotland, Sacro, YouthLink Scotland, Action for Children Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament and our communities. It therefore truly is a partnership document. I thank each and every one of those organisations for the huge amount of work that they did to produce the framework document. It is not therefore purely supported by the Scottish Government; it is supported by the practitioners whose job is to tackle antisocial behaviour and who are therefore best placed to inform the task of how we do so in future.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I am delighted that practitioners support the new framework and strategy. The minister said that the strategy is also supported by communities. Will he list for our attention the communities that have indicated their support for the strategy?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have personally engaged with several communities that have been supportive of our approach. For example, I recently visited Penicuik crime prevention panel. Harry McGuigan has emphasised the importance of engaging with communities, perhaps as his key point. If I call Harry McGuigan long in the tooth, he will not take undue offence, so if someone with his experience in local government—as a result of which he is now a spokesperson for COSLA—says that he has engaged with communities, that is good enough for me.

Our framework is called "Promoting Positive Outcomes". That is significant for three reasons. First, we are promoting; we are not dictating from the centre what should be done. There is no compulsion and no micromanagement. We have removed the 83 ring-fenced funding streams to allow local government to make local decisions about local solutions.

Secondly, we are focusing on the positive, not the negative. We are championing good practice, promoting good behaviour, selling success stories and helping people to fulfil their potential.

Thirdly, we are judging success on outcomes for communities, not on how many antisocial behaviour orders are served. Communities want long-term solutions, not short-term fixes.

There is a role for the Government, but, equally, there is plainly a role for parents. I fully support that and I accept the part of the Labour amendment that acknowledges that. Many people in Scotland are rightly concerned about the lack of supervision that a minority of parents give their children. We all want all parents to recognise their social responsibility to keep their children safe and, sometimes—such as late at night—indoors and to ensure that their children behave appropriately. It is not for Government to abrogate the role of parents. I am sure that we can all unite in the sentiments that I have expressed.

Promoting strong families and good parenting is vital. This Government is committed to providing early support to families to promote positive parenting skills. We should not take such skills for granted. I had the pleasure of meeting John Carnochan again this week in St Andrews. He reminded us that we cannot take the basics of parenting for granted. That is why the work that local authorities and others do to promote parenting skills is so appreciated.

Our framework signals a new direction. We are placing prevention and early intervention at the very centre. I will give three examples of projects that typify our approach. The first is street base in South Lanarkshire, which I visited on 21 October last year. The project recognises that alcohol abuse causes antisocial behaviour and works with young people to address their drinking. Through education and diversion and through going out on to the streets to speak to children who were passing the time by glugging the Buckfast or whatever, the programme has diverted children from that habitat and into more positive outcomes. That project has reduced street drinking by 67 per cent and vandalism by 63 per cent. That is what I call a successful outcome.

The second example is operation youth advantage, which is run by the police and the Army in my constituency. The programme provides discipline and education on issues such as drugs and builds confidence and team working through physical activity. I know that it, too, has been very successful in preventing young people—boys and girls—from reoffending and in encouraging them to make positive choices. That is what I call successful intervention and diversion.

The third example is twilight basketball, which is one of the cashback projects in which we use money confiscated from drug dealers and other criminals to provide young people with things to do. Twilight basketball uses positive role models and mentors to engage with and inspire young people from deprived communities. They provide educational time-out sessions on healthy living and good citizenship. I encourage everyone to read the profiles of Stefan Caldwell and Rob Yanders—the captain of Scottish Rocks basketball team—in our framework, to see what a difference such projects can make to people's lives. One child from Easterhouse could have ended up on the ropes, but, instead, he is undertaking a scholarship in the United States of America, thanks to the project.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The minister might be interested to know that twilight basketball was described as a gimmick by Andrew MacKintosh, the Scottish Labour Party candidate in the Inverness West by-election for Highland Council. Does he agree that twilight basketball and other such things are gimmicks?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I did not see that particular comment, but any comment of that nature would be unfortunate. I met the professional basketball players who are giving their time freely and without charge to help young people. They told me, "We are not parachuting in and out. We are here to stay. The work we're doing is not here today, gone tomorrow. It's work that we're doing for all time." They are determined to help young people. They have had advantages; they want young people to have them, too. We want to get away from the approach that any negative remark represents.

I mentioned several projects that are aimed at young people, but I want to dispel a couple of myths. First, "antisocial behaviour" is not a synonym for "youth". Not all antisocial behaviour is by young people, although that is the insidious myth that a stigmatising media perpetrates, unfortunately. Not all young people are tearaways, running wild in our communities. Only a tiny minority misbehave. It is about time that someone stood up for all the young people who make a positive contribution to their communities. It is a strange and dark country that chooses to demonise its next generation. We want no part of that.

Instead, we want to give people more choices and more chances. Things to do are at the top of the list for the young people whom we have spoken to and consulted. That is why we are investing more than £12 million in cashback for communities schemes for young people.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I was heartened to hear what the minister just said about not demonising young people. Do the Scottish Government's proposals to ban 18 to 21-year-olds from buying alcohol demonise those young people?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

That is not my understanding of demonising, but perhaps that is a Liberal Democrat construction of the word—I will have to check my dictionary later. We want to promote messages about the sensible use of alcohol. The evidence shows that the pilot schemes in places not far from here had a significant, positive and welcome impact on our young people.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Not if it looks like the last one.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

It is the minister's fault for mentioning cashback for communities. I welcome such investment in communities, but how are communities selected for a share of that money?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Communities are selected fairly; YouthLink Scotland plays a key role. It is plain that spreading money evenly around the country is difficult. We have not reached everywhere yet. I look forward to working with Cathie Craigie to extend the scheme so that it is even more successful in the future.

On 17 June 2004, the Parliament united to vote overwhelmingly in favour of the bill that became the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. That was an important step. Media coverage has suggested that we will scrap parts of that act. We will not. The measures in that act will remain tools in the box that local authorities are free to choose when appropriate. However, they will not be ordered to choose them or told to use them. We will leave that to their judgment, which is the appropriate way forward.

I hope that the Parliament can unite today to recognise that we need to tackle the causes of the problems and not just the symptoms. We recognise that antisocial behaviour blights communities and blights some people's lives—particularly those of vulnerable and elderly people. None of us forgets that for one moment. Serious criminal behaviour should be dealt with seriously.

The framework provides the way forward for dealing with antisocial behaviour. Harry McGuigan and I are united in our belief that the framework takes the right approach for Scotland. We realise that it will not be easy and will take time to deliver, but it will work for the benefit of people throughout Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the publication of the new Antisocial Behaviour Framework, Promoting Positive Outcomes: Working Together to Prevent Antisocial Behaviour in Scotland, which has been developed in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and other national partners; further notes that it builds on the success achieved since the Parliament introduced the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004; agrees that antisocial behaviour blights the quality of people's lives and should not be tolerated but believes that prevention is better than cure when it comes to protecting communities from disorder; values the cross-party and cross-organisational input and support that the framework has received; appreciates the wealth of good practice across Scotland and the importance of replicating it as widely as possible, and embraces the framework's commitment through enhanced prevention, integration, community engagement and communication to making our communities safer and stronger.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 3:08, 2 April 2009

Our amendment makes it clear that although we note the framework—particularly its references to projects that were delivered in the Labour years, which we recognise—we must express our dismay that, after 18 months of review, the Government has provided little vision or leadership on how best to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities throughout Scotland.

Of course we want to prevent antisocial behaviour. That is why, when we were in government, we did not just talk a good game; we put money on the table for local authorities to spend on projects. That is why youthbuild and the clean Glasgow campaign were introduced, and that is why twilight basketball was introduced in the Labour years. Twilight basketball is an excellent project that has operated in my constituency and in other constituencies throughout Scotland. During the Labour years, we did not hide behind the so-called historic concordat—we took a direct interest in ensuring that diversionary activities were in place.

What is invisible in the document is any reference to the fact that sometimes we must use legal remedies to give our communities respite from the individuals who blight them. We should make no excuses for taking such actions. It is all very well for members, from the comfort of the chamber, to talk a good game about prevention, integration and all the other buzz words that appear in the document, and to launch nice, glossy documents with carefully orchestrated photographs.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I will do so in a moment.

People who live in communities such as Blackhill that are blighted by antisocial behaviour do not benefit from that comfort zone and look to their local politicians to be on their side. Perhaps Mr Thompson would like to respond to that point.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The member mentioned the fact that twilight basketball was introduced by the Labour Government. Does he condemn Andrew James MacKintosh, the Scottish Labour party candidate in the Inverness West by-election, who says that twilight basketball is a gimmick?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Too many people, including the Government, are quick to make excuses for the tiny minority who perpetrate antisocial behaviour. It is a pity that such haste is not afforded to the majority of people in our communities, who want politicians genuinely to understand their plight and not to patronise them with warm words and glossy documents; we have heard such warm words in the chamber on many occasions.

We want our communities to be safer and stronger and to feel confident and reassured that, when they report antisocial behaviour, we will follow through on their concerns in a concise and concentrated manner by taking action, where appropriate. We also want to give local communities the power to take action. That is why today we propose that they should be able to apply directly for antisocial behaviour orders. Our communities are best placed to stand up to the antisocial behaviour that they encounter, so they should be empowered to do so.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Paul Martin understand that some people object to the approach that he is setting out not because it emphasises legal remedies, which are important, but because it fails to emphasise the need to deal with the causes of the problem? That is our problem with Labour's position on these matters.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Labour members have made clear that they want to do both—it is a pity that other parties do not.

We call on the Government to consider the proposal that constituted community groups be given the power to apply for antisocial behaviour orders. All too often our communities must depend on others to pursue their concerns. Our proposal is a creative opportunity to give communities a real say in making their area a safer place in which to live.

The Scottish Labour Party has said on many occasions—I make the point on the record again today—that the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour are not all young people. That was confirmed by closed-circuit television images that I saw when a dispersal order was being considered in my constituency. There is evidence that the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour have a number of different age profiles. However, we cannot move away from the fact both that young people are victims of the antisocial behaviour and that such behaviour is perpetrated by a tiny minority of young people.

I welcome the minister's commitment to dealing with the issue of greater parental responsibility, which the chamber should not avoid. A minority of parents simply fail to take responsibility for their children's actions. Many of the young people who are involved in unacceptable behaviour are influenced by their parents, who lack parenting skills. All too often I hear from police officers who report that, when they return children to their homes, the parents are more concerned about missing an episode of "Eastenders" or the football than about dealing with their and their children's responsibilities.

There is no God-given right to be a parent. Parenthood should be valued—members should frequently affirm that notion. We accept that families sometimes face difficulties and need support. That is why the 2004 act introduced parenting orders, which provide opportunities to address concerns.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

How many parenting orders have been issued?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I will come on to exactly that point. I am glad that the member raised the issue.

Parenting orders provide opportunities to ensure that a young person is attending school and completing their homework and is at home and under supervision at certain times of night—that matter has been raised with members on a number of occasions. Anyone who attends meetings of community organisations will be aware of anecdotal evidence that many young people are unsupervised late in the evening, which is unacceptable. We should take action by imposing parenting orders, which we should regard as a positive intervention.

I say in response to Mr Lamont that I think that local authorities are not implementing parenting orders because of what I call the database of excuses. Officers who do not live in the community that is blighted by the antisocial behaviour think that the issue is not their problem.

The Government talks about the cost of implementing antisocial behaviour orders for under-16s. I am sure that Mr Fergus Ewing will mention that, but I ask him to consider the cost of repairing my constituent's car, which had battery acid poured over it after she spoke out against antisocial behaviour. There are many such stories throughout Scotland. A bus company spent £1 million in one year on repairing 8,000 broken windows. Dundee City Council paid out more than £800,000 on repairs as a result of vandalism. Those are the costs to people of antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Is the member suggesting that if ASBOs had been served on the individuals involved that behaviour would not have arisen?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

We should ensure that we stand up for communities, which should not be left by the Government to stand alone. We will be on the side of the majority of constituents throughout Scotland. We will stand up to unacceptable behaviour. We will make no excuses for the tiny minority who engage in such behaviour. We will ensure that all possible opportunities are provided for such people, but we will stand up not just to young people who engage in antisocial behaviour but to anyone whose behaviour is unacceptable and should be challenged.

The majority of people in our communities want to live constructive and peaceful lives. We should encourage them to do so and make them aware that we will take action to deal with people who cross the line. I ask members to support the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S3M-3849.2, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"believes that too many communities in Scotland are still blighted by antisocial behaviour and recognises that the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 was a response to these concerns; further believes that there should not be reduced use of legal remedies, which have been effective in providing individuals and communities with relief from the selfish activities of a minority; recognises that while the Antisocial Behaviour Framework is right to highlight good practice and preventative measures, such initiatives must be properly resourced; acknowledges that, while only a small minority of young people engage in antisocial behaviour, parental responsibility is crucial in addressing this problem, and believes in widening access to legal remedies for communities that wish to tackle problems of antisocial behaviour in their areas."

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:18, 2 April 2009

Like the minister, I am in a conciliatory mood. I will not mention that the Government's policies are inconsistent in many respects. I could refer to the soft-touch Scotland approach that is so beloved of Mr MacAskill, but I will eschew the opportunity to do so. I could talk about the measures that the Government has failed to take, the few ASBOs that have been issued or how the Government seems to have walked away from confronting bad behaviour, but I will not do so.

I will concentrate instead on the "Promoting Positive Outcomes" document, which consists of 95 pages of psychobabble and social-workspeak. When the document is translated phrase by phrase we find that it says little. Indeed, it is difficult to disagree with what it says: we all believe that prevention is better than cure, in every walk of life. Let me start by considering prevention, because there are things that we can do and things in the document that are worth while.

The minister and Paul Martin said that the vast majority of young people are not problematical and make a positive contribution. I sincerely endorse those remarks, but some young people do not make a positive contribution, and we must consider how we prevent them from causing problems.

We should first concentrate on the activities that young people could undertake. There was a classic example last week: under the aegis of Bill Butler, we met a group of table tennis players from Drumchapel table tennis club, through which something like 4,000 young table tennis players have passed over many years. They were nice kids, and it was clear that they were interested in what they were doing. As a consequence of that activity, the level of disorder, vandalism and so on in that area has fallen.

There is a shortage of recreational facilities for young people. Although schools are there 24/7, 365 days a year, they are frequently locked at night. The playgrounds could be opened, and miniature goalposts could be put up and balls thrown out so that kids could play football. That would have an effect on disorder in particular areas.

Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Scottish National Party

Does Mr Aitken agree that one restriction on youth clubs and other organisations using many of the available school facilities is the cost of hiring them under the public-private partnership and private finance initiative schemes?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I will not enter into an economic argument during this debate—that is for another occasion.

I underline the principle, which we should fully endorse, that more recreational facilities should be available for children. However, I part company quite radically with the report in relation to its implication on page 62 and thereabouts that the problem is perhaps not as bad as we think. It contains a slight degree of criticism of people for overreacting to bad behaviour within their areas. In fact—as we state in our amendment—when there is a problem, it should be reported and that report should be acted on. We should remember that there is a clear duty on all members of the community to report bad behaviour and on the police and other authorities to take the appropriate action.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Does the member agree that a fundamental problem is that the behaviour, vandalism and aggression of a small minority towards other young people constrict the ability of those young people to participate in the diversions that are available? Unless we tackle the aggressive group seriously, the others will not be released to fulfil their aspirations.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The member's point is well made. Indeed, Paul Martin underlined in his speech that many young people are themselves the victims of crime, and many are deterred from participating in activities that are available to them because of fear of their peers. It is not a comfortable situation in which we find ourselves.

The report—glossy as it is—contains certain aspects that are worthy of support, but we must recognise that much of the 2004 act has not been properly enacted and built on. We must also acknowledge—and my colleague John Lamont will deal with—the fact that, although there have been successes, such as in the Borders, there has not been the same level of success in Glasgow, for example. We need to address the differing results in different parts of Scotland.

With regard to the statistics, it could be argued that the 2004 act is not currently being used to a great degree by the authorities. Fixed-penalty notices for antisocial behaviour are fairly substantial, but one wonders how many of them have been paid. A total of 107 ASBOs have been issued, but, as I pointed out in 2004, they are simply one tool in the box. They were not my preferred option, but I thought that it would be worth while for them to be on the statute book. On the basis of the figures that I have before me, it would appear that very limited use has been made of them.

By all means let us work together in a happy-clappy, consensual atmosphere, as outlined in the nice glossy booklet. I am sure that Harry McGuigan's contributions were worthy, and a lot of the report makes sense. However, it is time that we stopped talking about what we all agree on and taking action somewhere down the road and started to make some of those things happen.

I move amendment S3M-3849.1, to leave out from "it builds" to end and insert:

"the success of the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 has not been universal; agrees that antisocial behaviour blights the quality of people's lives and should not be tolerated but believes that prevention is better than cure when it comes to protecting communities from disorder and encourages communities to report all incidents of crime and disorder so that they can be properly addressed, and appreciates the wealth of good practice followed in some areas of Scotland and the importance of replicating it as widely as possible."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:24, 2 April 2009

There is something about debates on crime and law and order that brings out the real nature of political parties. I think that we have seen that today.

The framework for tackling antisocial behaviour is a serious document for a serious issue. Unusually for me, I commend the Scottish Government on publishing the document, which strikes exactly the right balance on what is a challenging and complex issue. Although sometimes described as low-level crime, antisocial behaviour can be frightening to individuals of all ages and highly destructive of the cohesion and confidence of local communities, as members from all parties have pointed out. As the minister said, the strategy tries to build on our previous work in providing legal remedies, social remedies and the panoply of other mechanisms that are in place to deal with such behaviour.

One of the strengths of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 is the requirement that it places on local authorities and chief constables to produce antisocial behaviour strategies. Such strategies look to tackle both the incidence of the problem and the services—both for adults and for under-16s—that are designed to tackle it.

Crime and disorder figures can be notoriously elusive. An increase in stop and search by the police can give the wrong impression that the number of people who carry knives is going up; the carrying of knives is a problem, but whether the numbers doing so are going up is more difficult to get at. We all support the provision of more community officers in local communities—including the famous 1,000 extra police officers, however they are defined—but that might also produce more public confidence in reporting offences and more police officers to witness them. Again, that can lead to erroneous impressions in the statistics.

Across the board, overall recorded crime rates appear to be declining. The numbers of recorded cases of vandalism, minor assault and breach of the peace have all decreased. According to the Scottish crime and victimisation survey of 2006, 91 per cent of people regarded antisocial behaviour as a problem but a much smaller number—22 per cent—were likely to be the victim of any crime.

I do not underrate the significance of that 22 per cent in any shape or form, but all of us who have worked in the community as local councillors, activists, lawyers or teachers know that a large part of the trouble in any area is caused by a small number of individuals or families. Often such families have an intergenerational history of bad or irresponsible parenting—as Paul Martin mentioned—and of drug or, more often, alcohol abuse, as well as lack of skills, unemployment and possibly mental health and other problems. Around those individuals, there congregate others who can be either drawn into the trouble or diverted into more positive things. The potential for endemic problems is aggravated by multiple deprivation, alienation and lack of community confidence.

From the start of the new Labour project, the Labour Party has successfully positioned itself to the right of everyone else on crime issues—at least, I thought that until I heard Bill Aitken's speech. Labour was right to recognise that local communities need to feel a sense of control over the abusive, intimidatory and vandalistic behaviour that plagues many areas, and we all accept that a speedy and effective policing response is required. Paul Martin talked about the need for vision and leadership, but somewhere along the line the Labour Party seems to have lost its belief that any other remedies can be effective.

It is perhaps odd that I as a lawyer recognise the limits of the ability of the law to effect social change, whereas Paul Martin as a non-lawyer has an almost touching belief in the power of legal remedies. The issue is a matter of emphasis, given that we all want effective action on antisocial behaviour and we all recognise that that involves a variety of approaches. Nevertheless, there is a fairly stark divide between those whose default position is always to wield a big stick and to talk tough on enforcement, sanctions and police and court procedures and those whose instinct is to tackle the problem at its root by giving people—not least young people—positive options that divert them from the destructive reliance on booze and drugs and give them employment skills so that we can start to break the intergenerational cycle.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Does Robert Brown accept that some individuals will not respond to the diversion activities that we delivered in coalition Government? That is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life so such individuals need to be dealt with via a legal remedy. That is the only option left.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Yes, I accept that entirely. I recently met some young people like that when I visited Polmont. I could see very clearly by the aggression and the alienation that came from them that the chance of dealing with them by using more positive remedies was very much for the long term. However, that does not undermine the point that, when it is possible to do so—and I think that it is possible in many more cases—we should try to divert young people from crime into more positive activities.

The Government rightly proposes a change of emphasis from enforcement to prevention—to the PIER model of prevention, intervention, enforcement and rehabilitation. All the evidence and measurements of the extent to which it reduces crime suggest that that is a more effective approach.

Paul Martin will know—because it is in Petershill in his constituency—the effects of operation reclaim. It is based on the motivational power of football, and it claims to have reduced crime in the area by 35 per cent. A series of other projects throughout the country have had similar success, such as the one in South Lanarkshire to which the minister referred. The Renfrewshire primary support project, which works with children aged five to 11 with behavioural issues, aggression and lack of self-esteem, has made a positive difference. Action for Children's youthbuild was touched on in the debate, and there are many others, such as the football project in South Lanarkshire.

I take some of the figures with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, it is clear that projects such as those ones—properly organised, properly targeted and persistent—can make a substantial impact both by reducing the trouble and fear caused in local communities and by vastly improving the life chances of young people who are otherwise almost certainly doomed to fail.

I am pleased that there is a commitment to an annual report to Parliament, but it would be helpful if the minister were to give us an idea of how the Government believes success can be measured. This is a serious issue. Most people do not harass their neighbours, gather in drunken crowds or throw things at windows, so we need to focus on what works with the small minority who think differently. I hope that members will use the opportunity presented by the debate not only to discuss these matters in depth but to support the Government's approach to antisocial behaviour, with the addition of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

I move amendment S3M-3849.3, to insert at end:

"; welcomes the framework's emphasis on addressing the causes of antisocial behaviour, such as drug and alcohol addiction and deprivation, and on improving life chances; supports the promotion of the new prevention, early intervention, enforcement and rehabilitation (PIER) model, including the use of acceptable behaviour contracts pioneered by Liberal Democrats in Islington, and regards increased community involvement and empowerment as vital components of success in action to tackle antisocial behaviour."

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 3:31, 2 April 2009

It is a pleasure to follow such a positive and thoughtful speech from Robert Brown. Prevention—[ Interruption. ] Sorry, I was interrupted by Mr Rumbles, being rumbustious as usual. Prevention is better than cure, and it is essential that, rather than control problems after the fact, we use tools to stop lives being blighted by ASB in the first place. As Johann Lamont rightly said in June 2004:

"If one confronts a problem in one's local community, one owes it to the community to implement solutions in a logical manner. One should examine the problems rather than address them from a pre-determined set of views that one brings to them. One should work with the local community to see what the solutions are."—[Official Report, 10 March 2004; c 6455.]

The framework tries to do exactly that. In case anyone has got the wrong impression, enforcement powers in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 will be enhanced in the areas of premises, closure orders and vehicle seizure orders. We are building on the work of the 2004 act rather than detracting from it.

As we have heard in previous debates, the SNP is recruiting more than 1,000 additional police officers in order to tackle antisocial behaviour directly. Labour promised no extra police in its manifesto, and it is the party, if any, that is the soft touch—if one wants to use that phraseology on law and order.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Let us be clear: Labour promised year-on-year increases in police numbers. Members have represented that correctly in their speeches.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

There was no mention in the Labour manifesto of any additional police; the manifesto made it clear that any additional expenditure would go on education. Mr Baker cannot have it all ways.

The Tory line today is a slap in the face of the experts who drew up the strategy, including the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, Victim Support Scotland, the Crown Office and the Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland. The ASB framework recognises the fundamental problem of prevention. The Tories failed to suggest any constructive alternatives, and I was disappointed that Bill Aitken's contribution was all rhetoric. I expected a lot more from him.

Let us consider the people who support the framework. We have heard about Harry McGuigan, COSLA's spokesperson for community wellbeing and safety. He said:

"I wholeheartedly endorse this new Antisocial Behaviour Framework—it's a valuable resource, which underpins a positive new approach, supported by successful practice from around Scotland and further afield."

Labour MSPs might want to discuss that issue more with their council colleagues, given what seems to be a gulf in approach between them.

Chief constable Norma Graham of ACPOS and Fife constabulary said:

"I welcome this new Framework."

She went on to say that its adoption

"will help deliver long-term, sustainable solutions. Prevention rather than cure."

David McKenna, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said:

"We very much welcome this modern strategy towards better, safer communities throughout Scotland. Together, and it is together, we can rid Scotland of the blight of anti-social behaviour."

David Hume, SOLACE community safety spokesperson and chief executive of Scottish Borders Council, said:

"I am delighted to endorse this Antisocial Behaviour Framework ... The evolution of the Framework benefited hugely from the active contribution of practitioners, policy makers and experts working in the public, private, community and voluntary sectors."

There is more, colleagues. Neil Turnbull of the Chief Fire Officers Association Scotland said:

"The Chief Fire Officers Association (Scotland) are fully supportive of the Governments review of antisocial behaviour ... The inclusive nature of the consultation adopted in creating this new strategy ... will undoubtedly lead the way for other government and multi agency reviews in the future."

Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, said:

"It is with pleasure that I endorse this new Antisocial Behaviour Framework."

He went on to say that it

"will help us reduce antisocial behaviour and counteract the demonisation of young people ... I commend this approach to you."

Andrew Girvan of Action for Children Scotland said:

"We welcome the publication of the Review of Anti Social Behaviour legislation. The review process has been inclusive, robust and evidence based. We fully support the greater emphasis on approaches based on early intervention and prevention ... We also welcome the intention to ensure that when enforcement measures are used, support measures will also be put in place."

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

I just make a general inquiry to see whether your researcher has been on holiday. You seem to be using everyone else's words instead of your own.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Before Mr Gibson starts again, I urge members not to use the second person. They should address their remarks through the chair.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I realise that, in using these quotations, I might put some of my colleagues who follow me at a disadvantage, as they will not wish to repeat them all. The point of quoting those people is to emphasise that the framework is not just something that the Scottish Government has cobbled together—working with the Liberal Democrats or others. It represents the genuine view of many organisations that have to work at the coalface.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Before I let in Cathie Craigie, I will quote what she said in 2004:

"The Communities Committee highlights the need for community involvement and discussion and sees mediation and youth work as being necessary options for communities. I agree totally with that, as do local authorities."—[Official Report, 10 March 2004; c 6464.]

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I thank the member for reminding me of that quotation. I still agree with it, although there is always the need for sanctions when other options do not work.

Will the member accept this quotation? I will change the name to keep my constituent's confidentiality, but Mrs Blair from Kilsyth said, "I'm at the end of my tether, and I can take no more of this." What is the SNP Government going to do to ensure that local authorities are using the powers that they already have?

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

One might ask what the Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council is doing about it, but I will tell the Parliament about some of the things that the Government is doing: there is £11 million from the cashback for communities initiative; there is £1.6 million to support the community initiative to reduce violence, which will target 55 gangs that are prone to violence and knife crime in Glasgow's east end; and the Government is spending £120 million on tackling alcohol misuse. As we know, alcohol plays a significant role in violence in many of our communities.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 3:37, 2 April 2009

Throughout my time in the Parliament, I have had to do a lot of thinking about antisocial behaviour. I have had to deal with the issue in one part of my constituency or another on a permanent basis since 1999. My constituency takes in two local authority areas, South and North Lanarkshire, which have different attitudes to dealing with antisocial behaviour. Much has been made of South Lanarkshire Council's initiatives regarding young people, but is it not striking that that council, which is held up as an example, has actually used the measures that are available in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 more often than North Lanarkshire Council?

North Lanarkshire Council's strategy was introduced in 2005 and was entitled, "Building Better Neighbourhoods". The main aim of the strategy was to make North Lanarkshire a place where people want to live, choose to work, do business and have a fair chance in life; a place where children and young people are safe, respected, responsible and included. If we compare that strategy with the SNP Government's framework, we note that the Government has set out a similar objective. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Councillor Harry McGuigan, COSLA spokesperson for community wellbeing and safety, said:

"I wholeheartedly endorse this new Antisocial Behaviour Framework", given that he is a councillor in North Lanarkshire. For me, the key word in that quotation from Councillor McGuigan is that he believes the Government's framework to be a positive "new" approach, but it cannot be new if the council that he serves was marked out for the antisocial behaviour pilot in 2004. It had the same objectives then as the SNP-COSLA alliance want to con us with now.

I know only too well the plight that antisocial behaviour can cause my constituents, and I understand their frustration at what can often be a lack of progress when they try to persuade the local authority to use the existing antisocial behaviour legislation. The minister spoke about Councillor McGuigan listening to local communities. I well recall the meeting at which almost 100 residents of the Jewel scheme in Bellshill pleaded for support from the local authority and the police to take action to end the blight of antisocial behaviour in their area. On that occasion, I shared a platform with Councillor McGuigan. If he heard the same message that I heard that night, I am surprised that he could put his name to the Government's document.

The difficulty of securing ASBOs is no reason not to use them. I know that Kenny MacAskill believes that youths in our community treat ASBOs like a badge of honour, but how can he explain his comment when, up until March 2008, only 14 ASBOs had been issued on young people between the ages of 12 and 15? On that evidence, ASBOs do not appear to be as popular a symbol as he would suggest. If they were de rigueur, surely more young people would seek to have them.

A great deal of work is done with young people to prevent the need for an ASBO to be served, so the fact that only a small number of them have been used is more of an indicator of the success of intervention than of a failure in the use of ASBOs. It would be a failure to serve ASBOs on hundreds of young people whose behaviour had not been corrected.

That conclusion does not sit well with the soft-touch attitude of this Government. ASBOs relate to the prohibition of an individual and are intended to prevent further antisocial acts. They are an intervention and are not designed to be implemented as a criminal punishment. The SNP complains that ASBOs are costly, but the cost to a victim of antisocial behaviour goes way beyond the financial. The justice ministers in this cynical Administration clearly know the cost of justice but not its value: to victims, a few thousand pounds is a small price to pay in exchange for an ASBO if it goes all, or some, of the way to positively affecting someone's offending behaviour.

Until now, people on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour could rely on an ASBO to go some way towards stopping that behaviour. Any person or group that has been on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour will realise only too well how frightening and distressing it can be.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We have made it clear that the measures in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, including ASBOs, will still be available. The member said that "until now" local authorities could apply for ASBOs, but they will still be able to apply for ASBOs. If ASBOs are the key to success, why is there still antisocial behaviour in England, where huge numbers of ASBOs have been used?

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

We have not tried to use ASBOs to the extent that is required. The reality of the situation is that the SNP does not want to use ASBOs; it is trying to take the soft option and to cut costs, which will not serve our communities. The members of those communities can be forgiven for feeling that someone who inflicts antisocial behaviour on them or their community deserves more than they will get as a result of the soft-touch approach that the SNP-COSLA alliance is to adopt.

The launch of the Scottish Government's framework, which is supported by its COSLA partners in the nexus of neglect, has got me thinking about how I will tell my constituents that, unlike the previous Labour-led Executive, this Administration simply does not care about them or about how antisocial behaviour impacts on their lives. I look forward to the SNP being held to account for its abandonment of our communities when the time comes.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 3:43, 2 April 2009

I believe that most members recognise that antisocial behaviour is caused by a small minority of people in our communities. Even so, it is one of the biggest problems that our communities face. Whether it is caused by antisocial neighbours playing their music too loudly during the night, youngsters drinking in parkland, or groups of young people hanging around the shops and verbally abusing those who pass by, it is a regular source of complaint from my constituents. I recognise that much of that behaviour does not register as serious on the scale of criminality, but it erodes and undermines the quality of life that people expect to have in the communities that we represent.

I recognise—as I am sure other members do—that there is no single route to tackling what is a complex problem, and it would be naive in the extreme to think that we could legislate our way through the problem. Nevertheless, legislation has a place, which is why I supported the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill when it was before the Parliament. During the bill's passage through Parliament, there was a public expectation that it would do much more than it has been able to do. The act still has a role to play today and will have a role to play tomorrow, but the new framework is a step forward in adding to the work that has already been done.

It is grossly misleading to suggest that we are taking a soft approach—the "soft-touch Scotland" approach. Today, there appears to be a competition between the Tories and the Labour Party to see who can be the most right-wing, punitive party in dealing with the issues. It is not about that or about hugging a hoodie; it is about being realistic about how we can deal with the issues in a much smarter and more effective way.

I find it reassuring that a range of organisations have been party to the development of the framework, from the police to Victim Support Scotland and from young people's organisations to front-line antisocial behaviour officers who work on the issue day in, day out. A wide range of different experts and organisations have been involved in developing the framework.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I respect many of the points that Michael Matheson is making in a considered way, but I ask him to name one community organisation that is mentioned in the document.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The minister made such a reference when he was intervened on. The document shows that a number of different groups in different communities were engaged in the process, and local authorities were consulted extensively, including elected members who represent their communities. There has been a fair level of community involvement, and in attacking the organisations that have helped to form the framework we do them a disservice. It is clear that they put a considerable amount of energy and work into developing a framework that they believe will improve the strategy for dealing with antisocial behaviour.

The framework seeks to build on the 2004 act. In my constituency, there was an issue with car cruisers. At certain points, we had almost 1,000 car cruisers congregating in Falkirk town centre once a month, causing havoc in the local community and a considerable disturbance to local residents. The police sought to address the issue largely by containing it until they were pressed to take a more robust approach because of community concerns. They turned to the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, but one of the failings of the act is the fact that it can address antisocial behaviour by someone in a vehicle only if the vehicle happens to be moving at the time. If the vehicle is stationary, the act is unable to assist the police in any way. I therefore welcome the minister's willingness, expressed in the document, to amend the 2004 act to allow us to deal with the problem of antisocial behaviour that is associated with stationary vehicles. I hope that his visit to my constituency, on which he witnessed the problems that we are experiencing, has played a part in ensuring that the issue will be effectively addressed.

The framework is an important step towards our taking a more preventive approach alongside the legislative approach as and when that is necessary. Alcohol is often one of the biggest contributing factors to antisocial behaviour, which is why, if we are to gain the maximum benefit from the legislation and framework, it is crucial that we have an effective alcohol strategy that deals with the flow of alcohol in our communities. If we do not stem that problem, some of the real benefits that could come out of the strategy will, sadly, be undermined.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 3:49, 2 April 2009

There was much in what Michael Matheson said with which I can agree. It certainly would be naive to try to legislate away the problem and I do not think for a moment that anyone was suggesting that we should. He is right to say that we should learn from the experience of implementing the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 and, where it is found wanting, strengthen and develop it. That is how we should approach all legislation—building on reason and experience and improving where necessary. Nobody in the Parliament would suggest that because something had been passed a few years ago, it should remain sacrosanct for ever and a day.

I agreed with much of what the minister said. Yes, prevention is certainly preferable to taking action. We would all agree that resolving a problem by cutting it out is much better than trying to resolve it once lives have been affected or blighted. I agree with him that we should not judge success on the basis of ASBO numbers, vehicle seizures or anything else; we should judge success on outcomes and the impact of legislation and preventive measures.

I was pleased that the minister pointed to many of the initiatives that were started by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in the previous Administration. Those initiatives are proving to be worthy and could be developed even further. He spoke about giving early support to families to promote good parenting skills, which is exactly what sure start and other initiatives were intended to do. He spoke about the twilight basketball initiative, which was started previously. I was involved personally with many of the initiatives involving the Scottish Rocks basketball team. We could also refer to the twilight football leagues that operate throughout Scotland with the involvement of local police and the support of the Bank of Scotland.

Prevention has always been at the heart of what we have tried to do—trying to stop a problem before it starts or, where we identify a problem, resolve it through good commonsense, effective measures. However, Paul Martin and others are right to say that, although we are trying to prevent problems from developing, where one has already developed beyond what it is reasonable to accept, it is right that we take action to deal with it. I was pleased to see that the document recognised that

"The tools provided by the 2004 Act have clearly made a difference to the lives of people across Scotland: they empowered local agencies and communities to take a stand against ASB and provided those who had suffered in silence for too long with some much-needed respite."

That was at the heart of the 2004 act and it should be at the heart of anything that we attempt to do now.

Without suggesting for a moment that we are looking only at numbers, I think that we cannot close our eyes to the fact that measures have been taken over several years throughout Scotland in council areas run by different political parties, which have seen the local value of what is on offer. For example, in 2007-08, Aberdeen City Council saw the need to effect 30 adult ASBOs and there were 18 in Edinburgh, 33 in Fife, 13 in Stirling, and 14 in West Lothian. Those councils recognised that other measures had failed in their areas and that it was therefore right to use the tools available.

Michael Matheson rightly mentioned issues to do with vehicle seizures. If measures to close premises are to be strengthened and improved, I would welcome it. My constituents and I find it frustrating that many people in our part of Strathclyde put up with month after month of intolerable abuse. For whatever reason, the police are not willing to use closure orders, despite the fact that such orders have been shown to be effective elsewhere.

I remember visiting a block of high flats in Aberdeen when I was a minister. The residents told me that they had been queueing up to get out because of the behaviour of one bad tenant. However, because the police applied for, and received, a closure order leading to that individual being removed, the residents' lives were transformed and they were proud and happy to stay where they were. That one individual ruining their lives had been the only reason why they had wanted to get out.

We should not close our eyes to the positive impact that enforcement can have when we use the powers at our disposal, and we should not tolerate professionals, in whatever agency, who are not prepared to use their powers to improve the quality of life of the people whom we represent. Paul Martin raised another relevant issue. Many of the professionals, and many politicians, do not live in the areas that are worst affected by antisocial behaviour. We should not accept or tolerate behaviour in the areas where the people whom we represent live if we would not accept or tolerate it in the areas where we live ourselves.

There has to be a balance between enforcement and prevention, but let us not turn our backs on the people whose lives are blighted.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:56, 2 April 2009

It will come as no great surprise to anyone that, like my colleague Robert Brown, I am generally supportive of the direction of travel in the new framework.

Many of the contributions this afternoon—especially those from Labour members—have rung a bell with me not only because of my constituents' experience but because of my own. I live in one of the areas to which Hugh Henry alluded, in Cumbernauld, and I know at first hand the trouble and difficulties that can be caused.

The early intervention scheme is one of the key elements in prevention. We have to remember that, for many of the young people who hang about our streets—not just the small number who are guilty of antisocial behaviour—the streets are the safest place for them to be because their homes are not safe for them. We cannot say that every youngster who is on our streets is causing chaos. In his opening remarks, the minister made that point strongly and he is to be congratulated on that.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I accept the member's point about the harm that a young person can encounter even in their own home, but does he accept that the use of parenting orders and legal interventions can sometimes be the very thing that will change that young person's life for the better?

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

I do not think that I said that I did not support that point of view. I admit that I read the executive summary of the framework document, rather than the whole document, but my understanding is that none of the measures that were previously available under the 2004 act will be removed—and I see that the minister is nodding his head. The existing range of tools will still be available, which is to be welcomed.

There are some issues in the Government's framework to which I take exception. The minister has readily acknowledged that some of the young people who are out there are from vulnerable sections of our society, and the early intervention strategy is acknowledged in the framework. However, what concerns me is that, given the stated position in the criminal justice framework, many of the young people who will be at risk are being excluded from a number of diversionary measures and courses that could have a positive effect on their employability and life skills. That is what will happen as a result of, for example, changes to the getting ready for work guidelines. As a result of those changes, which were imposed by Skills Development Scotland—presumably at the behest of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning—about a third of the young people who might cause antisocial behaviour will be at even more of a loose end.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

In order to know whether more people will be affected, we need to know the numbers that are involved. Does the member accept that it is regrettable that the minister has indicated that the Government is no longer prepared to compile statistics on persistent young offenders, which means that we do not know how many young offenders there are in Scotland?

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

The compilation of relevant and valid statistics is always a useful exercise. I was not aware of the minister's position in that regard, and I look forward to hearing him respond to that point in summing up.

A number of organisations in Scotland, such as Includem, Right Track and Springboard, are extremely worried about the changes in the getting ready for work framework. I want someone to examine what Skills Development Scotland is doing on that issue.

I should add that the distribution of European strategic and priority funds by the east of Scotland European partnership—ESEP—is running considerably late, which places more pressure on those organisations as they try to deliver courses and materials to the very people who we are talking about in the debate.

Regardless of Councillor McGuigan signing up to the document, I am concerned about the questionable priority that some local authorities give to antisocial behaviour and solutions to it. I understand that South Lanarkshire Council in my region has only one antisocial behaviour team member for the whole of Hamilton. To put it mildly, that hardly seems adequate. Reasonable people will buy into the Government's proposal, but only if they see the warm words being followed by solid action by all the parties that are involved.

It is quite disappointing but, according to the statistics that I have seen, perceptions of antisocial behaviour are strongest in our most deprived communities. I hesitate to do so, but I must point out that many of those deprived communities have been under Labour control for long and weary years. Perhaps those attitudes are connected to the fact that, although we have spent lots of money in those communities over the years, that money has been accompanied by troops of experts who do things to the communities rather than do things with them. That needs to change. I have seen some movement in that direction, even before the current Administration came to power. However, I keep hearing people talking about community representatives. I do not know who those representatives are, other than the elected members and members of the community council. I can talk about individual constituents, but I am not sure who people are talking about when they talk about these undefined community representatives. It is bad enough when we hear about the hassle that constituents have, but I am not sure where we are in relation to that.

It takes a long time to eradicate problems such as the ones that we are discussing. Warm words have to be matched with firm action, but not draconian action.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party 4:04, 2 April 2009

Antisocial behaviour comes in many forms, from noise to nastiness, from litter to layabouts, from fly-tipping to foul language. It can be perpetrated by all sorts of people of all ages. Often, drink is the root of the problem, and cheap drink at that. Steve McCabe of the Portree medical centre recently highlighted the problem in a letter to his local paper. A supermarket was selling cans of lager at less than 14p per 100ml, while Irn-Bru was on sale at 17.8p per 100ml. At those prices, an adult could consume their entire week's safe limit of 21 units for much less than £10. Steve McCabe believes that such irresponsible promotions are a major factor in our spiralling problem of alcohol misuse in Scotland. I wonder why some people still cannot see that the problem of cheap alcohol is one of the main causes of our problems today.

I am sure that we all know of many instances of antisocial behaviour in our own constituencies and many of us may well have personal experience of it. Antisocial behaviour needs to be dealt with so that we can restore a sense of wellbeing to our communities, improve everyone's lives and lift people's spirits.

Although antisocial behaviour is having a debilitating effect on many individuals and communities, I sometimes despair, like the minister, at the perceived wisdom that only the young are guilty and that nothing can be done apart from imposing draconian sanctions on them. In some cases, draconian sanctions might well be necessary, but I am much more in favour of prevention of the problem in the first place. That is why I welcome the Government's antisocial behaviour framework, "Promoting Positive Outcomes: Working Together to Prevent Antisocial Behaviour in Scotland", which was developed in partnership with a host of bodies that have experience of the problem.

Many good things are going on throughout the country that help to prevent antisocial behaviour—twilight basketball, for instance. I note that Paul Martin was unable to answer my point that his Labour colleague in Inverness thinks that that is a gimmick. Mr Martin has stolen the Liberals' clothes by saying one thing down here in Edinburgh while his colleague says the exact opposite in Inverness.

Some good things are done by volunteers in the local community, such as the spotlight cafe that is run by my church, which I help out with, when I can, on a Friday night. Other projects are developed by bodies such as councils, but they do not all get an easy ride. One such initiative in Inverness is the Charleston youth shelter, which has just started. I hope that I will be able to come back to the Parliament in a few months' time to let members know that the project has been a great success. It has been championed by a colleague, local SNP councillor Pauline Munro, who has pursued the issue with vigour in spite of some local opposition.

The progress of the Charleston youth shelter illustrates just how tricky it can be to do anything positive because, unfortunately, new ideas and developments always seem to attract opposition. In November 2007, the first youth forum was held for pupils at Charleston academy. The idea was to engage with the young people to find out what they felt about their local area and what they wanted done to improve it for them. That engagement with young folk is crucial. A presentation from secondary 1 and 2 pupils resulted in an altruistic suggestion from them for improvements to play equipment in the area, but the presentation from the secondary 4 and 5 pupils tackled the issue of antisocial behaviour and the need for somewhere they can go without, in their words, "intimidating people". The young people were fully engaged in the project. Both groups consulted their peers, and they also consulted the primary bairns at Muirtown and Kinmylies about the play equipment.

The provision of play equipment was straightforward, but the youth shelter proved to be more problematic, not least because Charleston had no dedicated youth worker. If a youth shelter is to be effective, it is essential for youth workers to work from it and engage further with the young people. The problem was that Highland Council, which is run by Labour and the Liberals, had axed a number of community learning and development officer posts and frozen some youth worker posts, which I thought was short-sighted. Eventually, however, the council made a commitment that youth workers would be ready to work from the youth shelter, albeit only at the weekends, once the shelter was in place.

The young people came up with the idea of a venue outside the Charleston shops, where they already congregated. The community councils were generally supportive, although the management committee of the nearby Charleston community complex was not as keen, and negative rumours about what was being planned were rife within the community. It was not easy to get agreement but, with the help of the police and others, Councillor Munro managed to convince everyone. Agreement was eventually reached to trial the shelter, which will now be reviewed quarterly.

My point is that positive preventive action is hard work that needs vision, dedication and perseverance. It is much more challenging than simply locking up the vandals and throwing the key away; much more challenging than shouting populist slogans; and much more challenging than rubbishing any new idea that comes forward.

Your SNP government is up for that challenge—are you?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 4:10, 2 April 2009

In my speech, I will focus first on the difference that the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 has made to constituents of mine who have had to suffer horrendous antisocial behaviour; and secondly on areas where the 2004 act does not go far enough and on the current loophole involving party flats and short-term lets in Edinburgh.

Like other MSPs, I have had countless numbers of people asking for my help and wanting to know what I can do about antisocial behaviour. Before the 2004 act came into force, all I could do was refer them to the police and hope that the behaviour would become so appalling that the police would arrive within 10 minutes, see what was happening and accept that it needed to be legally challenged. As we know, before the act was passed, there were no powers and therefore no ability to ensure that action was taken.

I agree in principle with many colleagues that not only is prevention the best option, it should indeed be the first option. However, such an approach is not a great deal of help to many of my constituents—and their families and communities—who are already experiencing antisocial behaviour. This is not a choice between tackling antisocial behaviour and tackling deep-rooted social problems; the challenge is working out how to tackle both problems without letting either side down.

By the time people get in touch with us, they have quite often experienced not just months but years of harassment, abuse and intimidating behaviour. We cannot just tell them that someone else will sort out the matter; it is our job to use the legislation and work with our councils and a whole range of agencies to get action. There are countless stories of all-night parties every night of the week; disturbance from 24-hour lifestyles; loud noise from laminated flooring; repeated vandalism and far worse goings-on in people's communal areas and stairwells; and harassment and intimidation. We cannot sit back and let such unacceptable behaviour happen.

However, individuals cannot take preventive measures. Of course, I would always encourage mediation, but what if the two parties involved simply cannot agree? I have found that the provisions of the 2004 act tend to concentrate the minds of those who perpetrate this kind of behaviour. Those people do not always know that they are engaged in antisocial behaviour and sometimes the situation can be resolved when they are challenged. However, in many, many cases, it is simply not enough to challenge people, and they need to know that their actions will have consequences. The threat of eviction or an ASBO can be very powerful in changing behaviour; of course, the behaviour will probably not change automatically or overnight, but such threats can concentrate people's minds and send a message that their behaviour must be addressed.

Fergus Ewing's comment—repeated, I have to say, in the framework document—that we on this side are in favour of simple, quick fixes shows a complete misunderstanding of people's experience. The provisions in the 2004 act are certainly not simple or quick to implement; they do not provide a long-term fix in every case, but they at least allow some of the issues to be resolved. In some cases, the police have become involved, and privately owned houses that were used for drug activities have been boarded up. It took months—in fact, years—to get such a resolution, but it happened as a result of the very powerful antisocial behaviour legislation.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Does the member agree that individuals who were being harassed were very often not even believed, which made it very difficult to establish the problem itself?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

That is partly why the process takes months or years. I always advise people to keep diaries and talk to their neighbours. I receive letters that have been signed by every person in a stairwell apart from those in the one tenancy that is causing the problem. People are not believed. They are told that the noise that they are experiencing is not that bad or that the intimidation and abuse are not really happening to them.

Last week, I was contacted by someone who has experienced mental health issues and received fantastic support from agencies in the city, but who is being intimidated and harassed by two tenants in his stairwell. I cannot tell him that that is not important, that I am not interested or that those other people need to be sorted out first. I have to deal with his issue. I must ensure that the council lives up to its responsibilities and deals with his issue, as well as providing support for the people in the stairwell who are causing him a problem. He has been successful in tackling his mental health issues, but he is being set back because he is intimidated and afraid where he lives, which is the one place that should be his safe harbour and where he should be able to shut the door and know that he can live safely. He knows that that is not the case, which is not acceptable. Such people need support, so we must focus on providing it.

My second point is about short-term party lets, which is a big issue in Edinburgh. I asked Alex Neil about that at question time this morning and was disappointed by his response. The landlords are not required to register their property with the council, which makes it difficult for antisocial behaviour to be tackled or for residents to complain to the right person. There is also a loophole in the licensing process for houses in multiple occupation as a result of which irresponsible landlords can have short-term lets without an HMO licence. That leads to overcrowding and repeated bad behaviour, which is happening in countless flats throughout the city. I had to explain the situation to a colleague, who just did not believe me. If members Google it, they will see how many flats are up for rent. My constituents who have a petition on the issue need support from us now. They do not need to be told that simple short-term quick fixes are not required; they need a fix and they need our support. Rather than say that the legislation is irrelevant, we must consider how it can help them.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party 4:17, 2 April 2009

As a constituency member, the debate is timely for me because, last night, I had the good fortune of attending a public meeting in Ladywell in Livingston. Recently, the community there was once again touched and hurt by a serious offence against a young man. Although I do not want to confuse criminal behaviour with antisocial behaviour, the backdrop to the difficulties was a lot of gang-related antisocial behaviour. The community faced the type of difficulties that can either make or break a community. However, people contacted their councillor Peter Johnston and said, "Enough is enough. We want to reclaim our community." That chimes with much of what is in the antisocial behaviour framework. The community demanded and successfully negotiated a package of measures, including an increased police presence and a commitment to provide a facility for older children to hang out in, for want of a better expression. Leisure activities are provided free to young people on Friday afternoons, when they leave school after lunch time and there are facilities such as a drop-in cafe on a Friday afternoon at which young people are fed and can socialise before they, dare I say it, go out binge drinking at the weekend. Although that might sound like happy-clappy social work psychobabble, it is what communities want and, at the end of the day, it works. The community has successfully negotiated services and a package of measures for all their children and young people.

I have lost count of the number of times over the years that I have heard parents and concerned members of the community lament the fact that all our energy is often targeted only at those who misbehave or offend and that resources and services are often provided only for those who are in difficulty. The cry has been, "What about the children who don't misbehave? What about the children and young people who are not causing difficulties?" The complaint is that those children are overlooked.

The antisocial behaviour framework is absolutely right in not just punishing bad behaviour but rewarding good behaviour. As well as providing disincentives to transgressors, we must provide incentives and encouragement for good behaviour. As the minister said, we must take a more balanced approach. We need the carrot as well as the stick, and we must get serious about prevention.

The research on public opinion that has underlined the strategy is interesting, although I suspect that it confirms what we already knew. Yes, people want those who blight their lives to be dealt with and punished proportionately—quite right, too, because the legislative framework remains. Of course, the SNP supported the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. As an MSP, most weeks I am involved in making representations by phone or letter or by attending case conferences to encourage the local authority or housing associations to use the powers that they have under the act. I see the antisocial behaviour framework as a logical extension of—and logical progress on—the legislative framework that has already been put in place.

The other point to make about the research on public opinion is that it demonstrates clearly that communities want the underlying causes of antisocial behaviour to be addressed; they want long-term solutions. Our message to our communities is that we are in this for the long haul. We do our constituents a disservice when we resort to political, knee-jerk soundbites. People understand that, often, there are no quick fixes. Communities understand and know all too well what the underlying causes of antisocial behaviour are.

The issue that we, on behalf of our communities, cannot duck is the impact of alcohol abuse. Later this year, we as a Parliament will debate the proposed health bill. I know from speaking to individuals and community groups in my constituency that when it comes to addressing the nation's alcohol problem, they do not want us to duck the issue. They do not want more of the same; they are looking for bold measures. They are looking for us not to shy away from making difficult decisions. I fear that the comments about soft-touch Scotland might come back to haunt those who made them if they duck the issue of alcohol abuse.

Finally, I will say a brief word about parenting. Like Paul Martin, I accept that parenting is the hardest and most important job and that we do not have the God-given right to be a parent. I cannot help but observe the issue of unsupervised children in the village where I live and the community that I represent. However, that is a complex issue and I suggest that to address it we need more than an antisocial behaviour framework. It is also a child protection issue, which we must take seriously.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 4:23, 2 April 2009

I am pleased that the Scottish Government recognises that antisocial behaviour blights the quality of people's lives and should not be tolerated. However, I am deeply disturbed that the Government is content simply to act in the media, rehash what we already have and stand by while police and local authorities are allowed to take their foot off the pedal when it comes to taking legal action to protect our communities. I am amazed that the SNP back benchers and our Liberal friends have been duped into believing that there is anything new in the framework—they are easily fooled.

Two main proposals in the annex to the framework are to set up a database of good practice to share ideas on how to tackle antisocial behaviour throughout Scotland and to establish a media and communication network to look for ways to sell local stories. That should be happening already. From what I have heard today, I fear that the database of excuses that Paul Martin spoke about is going to develop.

The Scottish Government makes no proposals in the framework for deterring antisocial behaviour effectively through sanctions. My constituency office in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth regularly receives complaints from families, young people and pensioners who are at the end of their tether because of a few individuals' selfish behaviour.

Does the minister truly believe that through the promotion of positive behaviour and the work of role models and mentors, the young family in my constituency who are eager to enjoy the first few months of their new baby's life will obtain any peace from the noisy neighbour whom they must put up with nightly? The framework may seek to

"punish bad behaviour in an appropriate, proportionate and timely manner", but I do not see how advising agencies to take enforcement action

"dependent on support and education measures ... tailored to meet the needs of both individuals and communities" will provide the immediate relief that that young family needs. What about the victims of antisocial behaviour? The SNP downgrades victims' needs.

Only today, I heard from pupils at Holy Cross primary school in my constituency. Without knowing that we would debate antisocial behaviour this afternoon, they asked me in a question-and-answer session what the Parliament could do to help them to access their local play area, which was provided to help divert young people into other pursuits. In that community, play areas are being taken over by neds—those are the words of the young people and not of me.

I know that the police and local authorities have the power to deal with such situations. They could work with young people and, ultimately, apply for a dispersal order if people were causing harm and problems. Facilities for young people in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth exist. My colleague Hugh O'Donnell mentioned problems in the community where he lives, but I know that facilities have been provided by my community for my community. However, young people complain to me that they cannot access those facilities because of the people who hang about at them, who are not all young—they might be over 25 and should know better. Activities are available. Why does the Government not send the message to the police and to councils that they should use their legal powers and give back community facilities to the communities for which they were intended?

The Scottish Government makes no new proposals for punishing those who cause havoc and disruption to their neighbours. There might be merit in the Government empowering communities to address antisocial behaviour by involving people in identifying local problems. The Government should listen to Paul Martin's suggestion and give communities the power to do that.

Ministers fail to understand that communities in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth are well aware of local problems. The minister and other SNP members were quick to roll out a list of organisations and public bodies that support the framework, but what about the people who live in the affected communities? Who speaks for them? They rely on democratically elected MSPs and councillors to speak for them, so the Government should listen to us.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I do not know the position in Cumbernauld, so I cannot answer for that. Why does Cathie Craigie think that the police, the area's Labour local authority and others are not taking the action for which she asks, given that they have the toolbox? What is the explanation for not using that toolbox? That would be helpful.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I truly believe that the emphasis has been taken off such action. Everybody knows that a toolbox of measures to deal with antisocial behaviour is available—Robert Brown and other Liberal colleagues were part of the debate when we realised that. We all acknowledge that if antisocial behaviour orders or parenting orders are issued, that means that the system has failed at some point. However, Government direction is needed to drive a policy. The Government is allowing agencies and other organisations to take their foot off the pedal.

My constituents already have to put up with vandalism and graffiti by a small minority of people. When going about their daily or nightly business—going to the shops or catching the bus—they already have to walk past those who are loitering and carrying on. They already see all too often that individuals are able to laugh at and disregard the people who are there to help them to address their problems, at great public expense. They are all too familiar with scenarios in which noise and antisocial behaviour gets worse if it becomes known that they have made a complaint—an issue that Paul Martin highlighted.

Does the minister not realise that, by focusing on diversionary activities, the Government will simply send the message to communities that it wants to reward offenders and to leave victims powerless? Does he not agree that, although prevention is necessary, so is punishment? The antisocial behaviour framework offers no help to communities that need strong measures to compel change in those whose behaviour is unacceptable.

The SNP may not seek to repeal the measures in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, but I find scant promise in the motion and in the Government's comments today that those measures will continue to be used. For ASBOs to exist in law but not to be put into practice when they should be is a dereliction of the Government's duties to local communities. The same goes for parenting orders, dispersal orders and closure orders. I warn the minister that, without the use of the effective sanctions that were included in Labour's 2004 act, his database of good practice will be hollow and his media campaign will be defunct and a waste of public resources.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 4:31, 2 April 2009

In many ways, the new framework signals a welcome change in emphasis—a move away from focusing on short-term enforcement measures towards tackling the root causes of crime and antisocial behaviour.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have long advocated a more positive approach to tackling antisocial behaviour among young people. I was glad to hear from the minister, Robert Brown and others about the extremely good work that is being done in that regard where initiatives have been put in place. In government, we were instrumental in introducing the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, which was backed by £130 million of Executive funding over four years. Vitally, the act tied funding to antisocial behaviour outcome agreements to deliver tangible improvements for local communities, not to the number of ASBOs that were handed out or to other numerical targets for specific measures.

Since the inception of the 2004 act, crime rates in Scotland have fallen. The total number of crimes reported to the police decreased by 8 per cent between 2006 and 2008. The number of crimes that are often termed as antisocial behaviour fell during the same period. Recorded cases of vandalism decreased by 9 per cent, cases of minor assault decreased by 6 per cent and recorded instances of breach of the peace decreased by 3 per cent.

That is not to say that much more cannot be done. Our 2007 manifesto outlined our view that our approach to tackling youth crime should be based on a culture of early intervention, so I welcome the fact that prevention has taken its rightful place as the first of the four pillars that the Government will use to support the new framework. I hope that the Parliament will work with the Government on moving forward.

Now that the framework is in place, we must consider its practical implications. I welcome the change in emphasis that the framework signals and stress the need for such a change. I was shocked but not surprised to read recently that YouGov research has found that 49 per cent of people believe that children are increasingly a danger to one another and to adults, and that 43 per cent agree that something must be done to protect us from children. I do not take away from the fears of those who feel genuinely threatened by children and young people; those figures serve merely to illustrate the size of the task that is at hand.

If Scotland's Government, law enforcement, local authorities and communities wish to engage with young people to prevent antisocial behaviour, it is vital that the trend towards demonising them as dangerous or as criminals ends. As my colleague Mike Rumbles pointed out in an intervention, it is somewhat ironic that the Government has released a progressive framework that calls for an end to the stereotyping of young people as criminals but that it remains intent on demonising a generation of 18 to 20-year-olds by legislating to require local authorities to consider raising from 18 to 21 the minimum age for purchasing alcohol from off-sales. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice may want to reflect on the mixed messages that that sends.

On enforcement, there is a need to overhaul the often-ineffectual antisocial behaviour order system. In The Herald recently, Paul Martin pointed to a perceived lack of provision in the new framework for adequate sanctions for offenders. Criminal activity should never be tolerated at any price, but I question whether further top-down sanctions would be effective in reducing antisocial behaviour.

We need a more positive, preventive approach, in which progressive sanctions are used to nip problems in the bud. The acceptable behaviour contracts model, which Liberal Democrats developed in Islington, has proved successful throughout the country, not least because it is based on gaining commitment from the person concerned and does not just involve imposing something from the outside. The idea that we can change culture through peer group activity, mentoring and action on personal responsibility is powerful and dynamic and remains to be developed.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I ask the member the question that I put to Robert Brown. If every avenue has been exhausted, should a penalty order such as an ASBO be served?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

We must use everything, if we get to the end of the line. Sarah Boyack made a good point about what happened when someone in her constituency reached the end of their tether. I am not saying that antisocial behaviour orders are not a way forward. However, during the period in which I have been the member for Edinburgh South, the police in my constituency have never required an ASBO to be imposed, because of the efforts that they make with the community, the local authority and everyone else.

As many members said, antisocial behaviour is often a symptom of wider social problems or deprivation. It cannot be stamped out through top-down legislation; it can be prevented only by engagement with young people and communities to tackle the underlying problems that cause it. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have always said that the vast majority of young people are assets to their communities. The vast majority of young people who engage in antisocial behaviour also have the potential to be assets to their communities, if they are given the many opportunities that members talked about.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 4:37, 2 April 2009

The Scottish Government's framework on antisocial behaviour is full of key points, outcomes, recommendations, actions and strategic aims, but it is hard not to get lost in the sea of rhetoric and warm, fuzzy words.

It is also hard to discern from the document what the Scottish Government needs to do to improve the operation of antisocial behaviour legislation. Of course we want to prevent antisocial behaviour in the first place. Of course we want better integration of agencies, to ensure that they are better at sharing information and resources. Of course we want our communities to be made more aware of, and involved in, the process. It goes without saying that better communication through the media and the ending of stereotyping are needed, and that we must make the public more aware of antisocial behaviour and share success stories so that best practice can be copied, where it is needed.

However, the Scottish Government has failed to consider aspects of the antisocial behaviour legislation that are not working, and to re-examine the process in order to ascertain how it can be improved. For example, we know that by March 2008 no parenting orders had been issued. I had hoped that the report would explore why. Do authorities think that parenting orders are not suitable disposals? If so, why? What can be done to improve parenting orders, or should they be scrapped? I do not understand the Labour Party's obsession with parenting orders, given that there is no evidence that they are successful.

Of course we need to focus on preventing antisocial behaviour—we welcome that approach—but we should be addressing the causes of crime and antisocial behaviour in an attempt to prevent people from ending up on a one-way street to pain and misery. There is a need to ensure that young people's energies are focused on positive activities and diverted from the negative influences that can easily lead people into lives of crime and disorder.

The previous Executive's approach to antisocial behaviour was about window dressing and did not tackle the underlying issues. Despite Paul Martin's right-wing rhetoric, which would have made many a Tory proud, Labour in Government was soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. If, during eight years in office, Labour had effectively addressed the problems that cause antisocial behaviour and crime, we would not be debating the matter today. Meanwhile, the SNP Government has taken "soft-touch Scotland"—that well-known Tory catchphrase—to a whole new level, through its policies to scrap six-month sentences and extend home detention curfews.

We welcome the strategic aims, which are intended to create better communication between agencies. It is important that all relevant agencies are able to share information, and that they have a clearer and wider idea of what is happening in the communities that they serve. We should look to the local authority areas that already have joined-up services—such as my constituency, which is the Scottish Borders—to see what can be learned.

It is likely that the people who cause antisocial behaviour have problems of their own that need to be addressed, which might include drug or alcohol abuse, or family problems.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does John Lamont wish to comment on the position that has been taken by Sheriff Kevin Drummond in the Borders? He made it clear that almost 80 per cent of the cases that came before him involved alcohol-fuelled incidents. Do the Tories care to reflect on that?

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I do not think that anyone disputes the connection between alcohol abuse and crime, but the approach to tackling irresponsible drinking is a matter for another debate—indeed, we debated it only last week.

We will be able to deal with and stop the type of behaviour that is blighting the lives of so many of our constituents only when we take a joined-up approach. We agree that there is a need to inspire young people with positive role models and mentors. All too often we are faced in the media with images of drunken or drugged celebrities falling out of nightclubs, and it is becoming increasingly common that those celebrities are involved in some kind of antisocial behaviour. We need to move the focus away from the celebration of that type of behaviour.

We need to ensure that our young people are not always demonised as the offenders in cases of disorderly behaviour. Most of Scotland's young people—I can certainly think of a number in my constituency—are involved in positive activities. There is an imbalance in reporting: when we get it right, and good practices are identified, we need to be much more ready and willing to discuss and share those experiences. Positive examples need to be talked about and reported. The media are powerful tools that can be used to encourage and empower rather than just to scaremonger. The balance needs to be redressed.

Four pillars have been created in the framework for dealing with antisocial behaviour, but one seems to be missing: enforcement. We cannot ignore the fact that antisocial behaviour is happening. As MSPs, we get letters from beleaguered constituents—as a number of members have mentioned—who live in daily fear. As the Government's report points out, there is limited interest among the public in applying for sanctions because of the fear of retribution, but no one should be fearful of standing up for wanting to live in a safe and harmonious community.

The further 1,000 extra police officers that the Scottish Conservatives secured in the budget are vital to all our communities. People need to regain confidence in our criminal justice system. We can start that process by having a visible deterrent force of community police officers.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, stated in a previous debate on community safety that

"the fundamental way of bringing about the level of community safety that our people want is to have a visible police presence that will deter crime and reassure our citizens."

Alongside that, people need to know that if they carry out criminal or antisocial behaviour, their actions will have consequences. Those consequences must be swift, efficient and—most important—effective.

Kenny MacAskill said during the same debate that

"If someone does something, they must face the consequences of their action and understand that, frankly, we will not be satisfied with hearing some excuse about what provoked or caused it."—[Official Report, 21 February 2007; c 32272.]

We disagree with Mr MacAskill on that—we care about the causes of such behaviour, because it is only by considering those underlying issues that we can address the problem.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 4:44, 2 April 2009

We must take from the framework and the debate the message that there can be no let-up in tackling antisocial behaviour in our communities.

As Labour members, we are proud of our record in Government in empowering people whose lives had been blighted by antisocial behaviour. They wanted their right to a peaceful and better quality of life to be protected. We listened to them, and, as Labour members have made clear during the debate, the new legislation has been used to great effect in communities throughout Scotland.

I do not disagree that, five years on, it is right to refresh the strategy; and that in doing that, it is right for the Government to bring together key stakeholders on such a crucial issue—I acknowledge the important role that they play in tackling antisocial behaviour. However, the Government must ensure that the final overall approach is right, and members on the Labour side of the chamber believe that it is not.

We make no apology for our belief that the first priority must always be the victims of crime and antisocial behaviour. We cannot endorse the Government's new approach, which seeks to reduce enforcement and to abandon the use of powers that have made a difference. That approach would abandon the people, families and communities who are the victims of antisocial behaviour. We should be on their side rather than telling them that they are on their own.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Richard Baker agree that people are best served by reduction in crime? Projects such as operation reclaim, which reduced crime in its local area by 35 per cent, make a big contribution. Are they not relevant to this debate?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

We have said that throughout today's debate, but we need to strike the right balance.

The best thing that the Government's framework can say about our groundbreaking legislation on antisocial behaviour is that it will not be repealed, but it is made clear that the previous Administration's approach is being abandoned. However, the framework admits that antisocial behaviour is still a major problem and the statistics that I have seen show no reduction in the use of the new powers. There is still a need and a desire for those powers to be used, so there can be no room for complacency. People whom I meet who are directly affected by antisocial behaviour want those powers to be used more, not less.

Other members have also referred to the experiences of their constituents. The framework appears to identify the problem as being that people's expectations are too great in relation to what should be done to tackle antisocial behaviour—as if the problem was how to educate them about that. Richard Simpson was entirely right on that point. Surely, rather than ask people to manage their expectations, we should directly respond to their problems. That is why we do not want to restrict the opportunities for enforcement. Instead, we should address the frustration of those who believe that enforcement is not being used enough.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does Richard Baker accept that, we have from the beginning and repeatedly made it absolutely clear that we are not restricting opportunities for enforcement. Why does he persist with that false premise, which virtually every Labour member in today's debate has sought to make?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

That is a false premise. The framework document makes it clear again and again that the Government wants to move away from enforcement measures, which are referred to on page 1 as "simplistic quick-fixes". The framework states that councils should put in place a "support package" for a perpetrator before they can even apply for an ASBO. The tone of the document is clear and is why we oppose the motion.

We want new avenues to be opened up for the victims of antisocial behaviour and we want action to be taken against such behaviour. That is why Paul Martin made it clear that we want community organisations, such as community councils and resident groups, to be given a clear role and process for applying for use of enforcement measures. The framework says that communities should be involved more in dealing with antisocial behaviour—we believe that our proposals would be an effective way in which to achieve that. I find it extraordinary that some of the successes of antisocial behaviour orders and of other, wider enforcement measures are not referred to in the document.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Can Richard Baker tell us how many successful dispersal orders have been implemented in the region that he represents since the 2004 act came into force?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I refer Mike Rumbles to the success of the dispersal order in Aberdeen—I know that Mr Rumbles did not support that, but I did—which is one just one of the many examples that we have heard about from across the country. For years, Beach Boulevard in Aberdeen had been plagued by so-called boy racers—mostly guys aged about 40—until the introduction of the dispersal zone, which was a huge success and was widely welcomed by local residents because it also applied to stationary cars. Dispersal orders can provide a good framework.

I do not say that the framework is wrong to highlight other interventions and preventive measures, but we need to strike the right balance. Indeed, I understand that the families project in Dundee, which is run by Action for Children Scotland and is mentioned in the framework, was started by Dundee City Council under the leadership of Kate Maclean. As Hugh Henry said in his excellent speech, midnight football schemes were rolled out across Scotland in the previous parliamentary session. Labour supports such measures, but there must also be a strong role for enforcement in when other approaches are not successful.

It is right that good practice should be shared, but the framework says that no new funding is available for the strategy. The document talks about "record levels of investment" in local government to help to implement the strategy, but we dispute that. We know that many organisations that are currently doing great work in helping to reduce antisocial behaviour are facing budget cuts.

Of course we want to see positive role models for young people and positive images of young people, which is why we have expressed our disappointment that the Government failed to support the ProjectScotland initiative, which furthered exactly that goal during the previous parliamentary session. The Government engages in a lot of talk but does not provide the funding. That is the bottom line.

I am bewildered by the framework's tone on enforcement, because members of the Government have not been slow in demanding tough action when they have been confronted by antisocial behaviour problems in their own areas. In February 2007, Kenny MacAskill was questioned about young people in Edinburgh signing antisocial behaviour contracts—I think that that was some time before young people in London were doing so. The framework refers often to the measure. He said then:

"We need to tackle the problem at its source and make youngsters and their parents responsible for their actions. If they breach acceptable standards of behaviour in society, there must be consequences for them rather than just a slap on the wrist."

That tone is very different from what is in the framework. If that approach was right in that situation, why does the Government not believe that it is right for every community in Scotland? We need to use every tool at our disposal to tackle antisocial behaviour—not leave half the tools in the box. We agree that parental responsibility is important, which is why we do not believe that the fact that parenting orders have not been used is a matter for celebration. We think that answers should be given about why they have not been used.

In government, we listened to communities that wanted tough and effective action to be taken to tackle antisocial behaviour. We are not confident that the approach in the framework will move that work forward, which is why we cannot endorse the framework. However, we will continue to make the case in Parliament and in the communities that we represent that more must be done to tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour. That is what communities throughout Scotland want: they deserve no less.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 4:51, 2 April 2009

The debate has been wide ranging. Members of all parties have talked about antisocial behaviour problems in their constituencies. We must get things into context. On a lovely day such as today, we must recognise that huge areas of Scotland are a delight to visit and live in, but some areas are blighted by serious crime and violence. Before I came to the chamber I met John Muir, whose son was, sadly, slain. That shows the problems that we face in some areas.

We get lectures about "soft-touch Scotland", but the Government is taking action against serious and organised crime. No other Government has taken the action that we are taking against such crime. The Government is enforcing bail conditions much more strictly, ensuring that our communities are protected, and expanding the use of fixed-penalty notices to ensure that even low-level criminal behaviour is addressed and will not be accepted.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Is it not the case that the Government is presiding over a ludicrous situation in which only around 50 per cent of those penalties are being paid?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The level of recovery is significantly greater now than it was previously. We have introduced fines enforcement officers and have done a variety of other things that were not even thought of under the Tories.

We have seen the unedifying spectacle today of Labour and Tory members trying to outposture each other and prove who is the most macho and right wing. I will leave them to flex their muscles, bare their chests and do whatever else they want to do; the rest of us will get on and tackle antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

There are various types of antisocial behaviour. Serious and low-level problems have been mentioned and Michael Matheson mentioned antisocial behaviour that is associated with stationary vehicles. Such behaviour is antisocial; it is ignorant and unacceptable. I also know about the problems that Sarah Boyack mentioned because I have similar problems in my constituency, in Lochend and other areas. Those problems need to be addressed.

There are even antisocial behaviour problems with parking. A significant concern at Queen Margaret University and Jewel and Esk Valley College is people parking in an ignorant manner. Disabled people and people who are going to work cannot get in or out of parking places there. That is simply unacceptable and ignorant. Action is not necessarily enforceable under the criminal law, but action must be taken.

Other problems surprised me.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

The cabinet secretary is addressing various issues. An issue that has not been raised is the high hedges problem that residents throughout Scotland have experienced. Will that issue be covered under the national framework for antisocial behaviour or under separate legislation?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

As Dr Simpson was speaking earlier, my colleague the minister was meeting representatives of organisations. Actions are being looked into and matters are being addressed.

Mr Martin mentioned that he represents Blackhill, and he gave narrations about incidents including acid being poured over vehicles, with substantial damage being done. I, too, represent areas of urban deprivation, such as Craigmillar and Niddrie. If such incidents happen in my area, I will not seek to enforce an ASBO; I will be speaking to the chief superintendent to ask why action is not being taken to enforce the criminal law. Such acts are serious and wanton vandalism and are simply unacceptable. This Government will not abrogate the responsibility to enforce the criminal law and criminal sanctions by passing such acts off simply as antisocial behaviour. That will not be our approach. We recognise that antisocial behaviour comes in a variety of forms. In some instances, mediation is important, but in others, ASBOs remain the necessary tool. In other areas, responsibility lies, and will always lie, with the criminal law being enforced. We will simply not accept that sort of hooliganism and behaviour.

The tenor of the debate, starting with Mr Martin's speech and concluding with Mr Baker, seemed to indicate that Labour members are vehemently despondent that we, in Government, have not sought to repeal the 2004 act. It would have made their day if we were to do so. We remind them that we supported them when we were the Opposition, because we said that it was appropriate that action be taken. As a Government, we maintain the powers and repeal nothing.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Does the minister support dispersal orders as a possible last resort in any community in Scotland?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

There are far too many conversations going on. If it is so important, take it outside the chamber.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Those are operational matters for the police, and we will support them where the police feel that they are necessary.

Turning to what is unacceptable, I come to Michael McMahon's criticism of Harry McGuigan. I am not a member of the same political party as Mr McGuigan, and I disagree with him on the constitutional status of our country, but I think that he is a genuinely committed individual—and that I actually have a higher regard for North Lanarkshire's Labour council than Mr McMahon does. Perhaps he should hang his head in shame.

Also unacceptable was Cathie Craigie's criticism of the police and local authorities. It seems that, for Labour Party members it is the fault of the police or of the local authority if antisocial behaviour is continuing, it. No—it is not. It is the fault of the perpetrators.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

If the cabinet secretary was listening correctly—he will perhaps read the Official Report tomorrow—my criticism was directed at the Government, which has taken the foot off the pedal and is not directing the police and local government to use the full force of the law. What does he say to my constituent who had three months' respite from a person living above her who was engaging in antisocial behaviour if he is telling us that the Government is going to bar judges from giving out sentences of less than six months?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I would have thought that, after almost 10 years in Parliament, Ms Craigie would, as a member of the Justice Committee, be aware of the constitutional impropriety of a Cabinet Secretary for Justice of any political party, directing the police. That practice does not and will not exist under our Government.

As I said, we will not abrogate our responsibility and blame police officers—even more of whom we are putting on the street. We think that our police do a good job and we will back them. We think that local authorities, whether they are run by a Labour administration or are of an alternative hue, are doing good jobs, and we will support them.

I conclude by saying what action we are taking. We will strengthen the 2004 act and we will improve guidance for local bodies. We will undertake research into intensive family support and other forms of prevention and early intervention, and we will expand the cashback scheme to give our youngsters more opportunities and chances. Also, as was mentioned throughout the debate—in particular by Dave Thompson and Angela Constance, I think—we seek to tackle pocket-money prices. The abuse of alcohol and the availability of cheap alcohol to our youngsters causes so much blight in our communities.

We will revamp central support services for local bodies and we will gather and share good practice. We are going to develop the pilot on community engagement in order to allow communities to help direct local funding, and we are going to develop new ways of measuring success based on all the action that is taken—not just ASBOs. We will enforce the law. We will work with the police and local authorities. Together, taking action on alcohol, we will ensure that this country is safer and stronger. I commend the motion.