Antisocial Behaviour Framework

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:55 pm on 16th December 2010.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:55 pm, 16th December 2010

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7605, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the antisocial behaviour framework.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:32 pm, 16th December 2010

In March 2009, we published our antisocial behaviour framework, "Promoting Positive Outcomes", which followed a review of national antisocial behaviour policy. The framework recognised that prevention and early and effective intervention and diversion should be at the heart of our approach. In April 2009, Parliament agreed with that; parliamentarians agreed that to tackle successfully the blight of antisocial behaviour in Scotland we must focus more on preventing it from happening in the first place, on intervening early when it does happen and on diverting those who have behaved antisocially.

I very much welcome the measure of cross-party support that was given to the approach. Parliament agreed that we need to address the causes of antisocial behaviour, including drink, drugs and deprivation, and to improve life chances for individuals, but Parliament also recognised the need to punish bad behaviour in a proportionate, appropriate and timely fashion because—let us be in no doubt—antisocial behaviour can, in some cases, blight and sour the daily lives of its victims.

I wish to update Parliament on the progress that has been made so far on implementing the framework. I was able to update a number of members earlier this month when I invited members to a briefing session in the Parliament, although I know that the weather worked against us and only a few could attend. I also want to highlight and acknowledge a range of initiatives that are contributing to a safer, stronger Scotland.

Prevention is better than cure, and long-term positive outcomes will be delivered only if we tackle the causes of antisocial behaviour, rather than focus only on its symptoms. We can promote positive behaviour by creating more choices and chances. However, we recognise, equally, that focusing solely on punishment will not prevent offending.

Working together as partners is key to our approach and our success. We must—and, indeed, do—work together with local authorities, the police, fire and rescue services and the third sector. We must—and do—work with and for the communities whom we serve. We are more successful when we share resources, information and outcomes and when we reassure, support and empower our communities. Much progress has been made but, of course, much more remains to be made.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

As the minister said, the framework was launched in April 2009 and now, 20 months later, we have the annual report. Why is it going to take until 2012 to fully evaluate the framework?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

It was always intended to present this work 12 months from round about last autumn. In fact, this debate would have taken place earlier had the Parliamentary Bureau not agreed to hold a debate on another issue at the request of, among others, the Labour Party. I had hoped to have this debate slightly earlier, but that has not happened. Be that as it may, we are on track to evaluate the progress of our work.

We must use evidence to communicate positive messages and measure success. All members in the chamber will recognise that—understandably, perhaps—media reporting all too often portrays a negative picture, which can fuel an entirely false and unfair image of our young people. The vast majority of children in Scotland are a credit to themselves, their parents, their schools and their communities and it is absolutely right that I as minister underscore and emphasise that.

At the end of November, we published the first annual report on our progress in implementing the framework. In this, the first year of a two-year implementation, we have concentrated on providing direct practical support to the front line. For example, we have provided funding for the community wellbeing champions initiative, which is a series of projects that provide communities with real decision-making powers over how resources are used locally. We have laid the foundations for sustained future support by developing the safer communities programme to support partners and practitioners working on the ground and we have commenced the development of a knowledge hub, which we are delivering in partnership with the Scottish community safety network. As we move into the second year of implementation, we will continue the good work, endorsed by Parliament, of those who are tackling antisocial behaviour.

However, the causes of antisocial behaviour are not only being dealt with through the implementation of promoting positive outcomes. We are also funding programmes to divert young people from antisocial behaviour and are working with others including the police, the fire service and the Army on extending their excellent diversionary work. I have seen many examples of that work, which has been effective in diverting many young people away from a life of crime and antisocial behaviour. Initiatives across Government complement that approach and support the aim of achieving a safer, stronger Scotland for all.

We have also, as members might be aware, delivered more bobbies on the beat and are working across the political spectrum to deliver the road to recovery drugs strategy. I also suggest that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who is sitting beside me, could not have given a stronger lead in the efforts to tackle alcohol abuse in our country.

We have committed a £20 million investment in our communities through the cashback for communities initiative, which will provide free activities for around 300,000 young people to divert them from becoming involved in antisocial behaviour. This year, we are investing a further £400,000 in our safer streets campaign to ensure that all members of our communities feel safer when they are out and about enjoying themselves We are working towards draft legislation on high hedges, which some people view as a form of antisocial behaviour. Many members will be aware of that; in September I held a briefing for members that many either attended or were represented at. I was very pleased with the evident consensus on my proposals across all the parties that were represented.

As we all know, in these financially frugal times there is a temptation for partners to defend budgets and retrench. We recognise that changes will be needed to deliver savings and maintain services. We are confident that the focus on prevention, intervention and diversion is right.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

There is time to take an intervention if the minister wishes to do so.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

There has certainly been good progress on partnership working in my constituency, with the Inverclyde initiative, which the minister will know well. There has been significant investment in that initiative, which has reduced by 50 per cent calls to the police about antisocial behaviour. However, we should not be complacent—I know that the minister is not—about there being fewer calls to the police; there are still 800 a month about antisocial behaviour. Does the minister share my concern and that of the sheriff, police and other agencies that that option is not a cheap option and that cuts in investment and the money that is available to the Inverclyde initiative will mean that the gains that we have made will be lost in future years?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I certainly agree that progress has been made in Inverclyde, as it has been throughout Scotland. For example, according to official Strathclyde statistics, knife carrying in Inverclyde reduced by 35 per cent from June 2009 to October 2010, and the handling of offensive weapons in Scotland has been reduced by 30 per cent. I mention that because I am aware of the close interest that Mr McNeil rightly takes in those issues—I think that all members are aware of his close interest in them.

As he invited me to respond to his question, I should say that cuts have had to be made because of the package with which the Westminster Government presented us. There are deep cuts and difficult decisions to make, which is why I hope that Duncan McNeil will support our excellent budget proposals, which Mr Swinney has so prudently brought forward.

As I said, we are confident that the focus on prevention, intervention and diversion is right, and that working with partners effectively is the right way to address antisocial behaviour successfully. However, we are not now and never shall be complacent about these matters, because we are acutely aware of how some types of antisocial behaviour can ruin and blight the lives of too many people throughout Scotland. I think that all members would agree that that is entirely unacceptable.

I very much look forward to the debate, which will, I am sure, be a positive one with constructive contributions from all members.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the publication of the first annual report of progress made in implementing the antisocial behaviour framework, Promoting Positive Outcomes: Working Together to Prevent Antisocial Behaviour in Scotland, which shifts the emphasis onto prevention and early, effective intervention while recognising that enforcement measures are appropriate in some circumstances; welcomes the support for this approach from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), the Chief Fire Officers Association in Scotland (CFOAS), the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA), the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), Youthlink, the Judicial Studies Committee, Victim Support Scotland, Safeguarding Communities Reducing Offending (SACRO), the Scottish Youth Parliament, academia and the third sector; further welcomes the £20 million being invested in Scotland's communities through the Cashback for Communities initiative, which provides free activities for young people, and further notes the progress made across a range of areas in improving community safety.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 3:42 pm, 16th December 2010

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate.

There is no doubt that antisocial behaviour blights the lives of too many people. According to the Scottish policing performance report, 240,000 antisocial behaviour offences have been committed in Scotland in the past year. The number of antisocial behaviour fixed-penalty notices has increased from 49,000 to 61,000. That demonstrates the extent to which antisocial behaviour impacts on many people in Scotland. It is not just about the statistics; it is also about the way that antisocial behaviour has impacted on and blighted the lives of many people throughout Scotland.

I pay tribute to the good practice in different areas. In recent days, thanks to powers under the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, police have been able to introduce dispersal orders to take action against rowdy gangs in the north of Glasgow.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the member welcomes, as I do, the successful introduction of fixed-penalty notices, and whether he has been out with the police, as I have been. Five years ago, when I was out with the police, an incident took two hours to deal with; such an incident can now be dealt with in 10 minutes. Does he think that that is a useful advance?

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

Of course I welcome anything that speeds up the justice process, but the figures demonstrate the scale of the challenge that we still face in relation to antisocial behaviour.

I pay tribute to the campaigns that have taken place throughout Scotland to combat antisocial behaviour, such as the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland's national anti-violence campaign. I compliment the work to combat antisocial behaviour that takes place in the Overton scheme in my constituency, which is highlighted in the annual report. I know the scheme well, as I grew up in the area next to Overton and I work closely with the Middlestown and Overton tenants and residents association to fight against the blight of antisocial behaviour. It is absolutely appropriate that we pay tribute to those who are involved at the sharp end.

In my opinion, however, the Scottish National Party Government's attitude on the issue has been complacent. To an extent, there is a read-over from the weather issues that occurred last week. At least Stewart Stevenson could see the snow when he looked out of the window at St Andrew's house, but when I look at the annual report, I wonder whether Fergus Ewing can adequately view the ravages of the antisocial behaviour that is taking place in communities throughout Scotland.

I welcome the debate, but I regret the fact that it has been 20 months since our previous debate on antisocial behaviour. In that time, we have debated many justice issues. We had full afternoon debates on the sheriff and jury procedure and on the tribunal system. Those are obviously important matters, but the minister will remember that, in the tribunal debate, for the last 35 minutes, he and I had to talk the debate out until 5 o'clock. It is therefore regrettable that this important debate, which is on an issue that affects many people throughout Scotland, is being squeezed into the final hour and a half of parliamentary time this week.

The minister's motion quotes a lot of endorsers and there are a lot of letters to back that up, but large parts of "Promoting Positive Outcomes" speak the language of chief executives and senior managers and not the language of those on the ground and at the sharp end of antisocial behaviour. The document reminds me of ones that I used to come across in my previous occupation before I became an MSP. Companies would employ consultants, who would write up an approach and fill the pages and then hand over the bill at the end of the day. Large parts of the document do not speak properly and appropriately to the people of Scotland. Terms such as "vision" and "strategic direction" might be okay round the Cabinet table, but what sort of language is that to use to a residents group or community council?

The minister did not answer the question that I asked in my earlier intervention. Why is it that the framework was launched in 2009 and it has taken 20 months to get an annual report, which now tells us on page 36 that it will be 2012 before the work is fully evaluated?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am interested in what the member has to say, but will he tell us whether he thinks antisocial behaviour is getting better or worse and, whichever way he thinks it is going, what the contributory factors are? That is the central issue.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I cite to the member freedom of information requests that the Labour Party has submitted and which have shown that complaints to local authorities have risen to 219,000. That shows that the problem is growing. Several measures are required to tackle that, but the point that I was making is that we need direct leadership from the SNP Government, and in my opinion that is not happening.

The document talks about a communication strategy and a knowledge database that is being set up only now, 20 months after the framework was launched. However, we should not be surprised about that, given other aspects of how the SNP has tackled crime, such as the introduction in February next year of the presumption against sentences of three months or less. South Lanarkshire Council's antisocial behaviour strategy, which is quoted in the report, tells us that it believes that domestic housebreaking and minor assaults are elements of antisocial behaviour, but those who are guilty of those crimes will be freed under SNP plans that are to be introduced next year.

For the stressed-out pensioner, the model citizen who has been threatened with a gun for reporting incidents to the police and those who have young families, the answers are not coming from the SNP. What is required is for it to listen to what is happening on the ground, and that is why the Labour Party conducted a tour of major cities in Scotland during the summer. We were not closeted in St Andrew's house; we were out listening to people in their communities. What is required is leadership and direction, and there is a need to give a voice to communities. That is why we support a policy of giving community councils and properly constituted residents groups the right to apply—

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I am sorry, but I am running out of time.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You can take the intervention if you wish, Mr Kelly.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

On that last point, is it Labour policy that community councils and properly constituted residents groups should have the power to require a local authority to apply an antisocial behaviour order? How much will that cost?

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

They would not have the power to require the local authority to apply an ASBO. They would have the power to make an application, and so I do not expect that the costs involved would be high.

This debate is a wake-up call for the SNP. Antisocial behaviour is unacceptable. The SNP is standing by and letting our communities down. It is time to stand up and be counted. Enough of the SNP dithering—it is time for action.

I move amendment S3M-7605.3, to leave out from "which shifts" to end and insert:

"; regrets, however, that it has taken 20 months to publish the report and that it will be 2012 before a proper evaluation of the framework is complete; believes that this demonstrates a complacent attitude on the part of the Scottish Government toward antisocial behaviour; recognises that antisocial behaviour continues to blight the lives of many throughout Scotland, as witnessed by the 240,696 antisocial behaviour offences recorded in the Scottish Policing Performance Framework annual report of 2009-10; regrets that the number of antisocial behaviour orders (ASBO) granted fell from 437 in 2006-07 to 249 in 2009-10 despite the number of complaints increasing, and calls on the Scottish Government to adopt a more proactive attitude in tackling antisocial behaviour and to listen to the views of local people and support a policy of giving community councils and properly constituted residents groups the power to apply to local authorities for an ASBO."

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 3:52 pm, 16th December 2010

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Government's first annual report on the antisocial behaviour framework. It is undoubtedly a good thing that the Government is required to report annually on progress on implementing the framework as it provides a regular opportunity to hold the Government to account on its progress.

It is important to make it clear that the Scottish Conservatives supported the legislation in 2004, in committee and at stages 1 and 3. We did that with some reservations, particularly about the use of dispersal orders, as we believed—and still believe—that the police already have enough powers at their disposal to deal with such problems.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I want to make some progress.

Nevertheless, on balance, we supported the legislation as we believe that communities should not be blighted by antisocial behaviour and crime.

I turn to the report. The principle of regular reporting to the Parliament on progress is a good one because it allows more and better accountability. The principles that are espoused in the report are also good. Prevention, integration, engagement and communication are all important in ensuring that we tackle crime and antisocial behaviour as effectively as possible. As James Kelly pointed out, the problem is that it is too easy to get lost in a sea of platitudes, fuzzy rhetoric and local government buzzwords, and to lose sight of any meaningful progress that has been or is being made.

The psychobabble and socialworkspeak stand in contrast to the commonsense approach that the SNP took in opposition. Indeed, its 2007 election manifesto stated:

"Labour say vandalism is anti-social behaviour, we believe it is a crime. We believe anti-social behaviour orders should not be used when the criminal justice system is a more appropriate way of dealing with offenders."

I agree. If a crime has been committed, the police should be involved and criminals should face the full force of the law. Anything less does a disservice to our communities and sends the wrong message about what is acceptable behaviour.

The SNP manifesto went on to say:

"Putting more police into local communities and our new focus on tough community punishments will help move the focus more effectively onto police deterrence and strong action against low level criminal activities that reduce the quality of life for too many people across Scotland."

I am pleased that the SNP, however reluctantly, was persuaded to make good its pledge on police numbers. However, it is a pity that the commonsense approach that it took while it was in opposition has been abandoned since it got into government. Despite the tough talk in its manifesto, for three years the SNP has eroded confidence in our criminal justice system. It has called for six-month sentences to be all but abolished, extended home detention curfews and increased the number of offences for which fixed-penalty fines can be issued.

Although we want to avoid people ending up on the path of crime, those who blight our communities with antisocial behaviour should face up to the consequences of their actions. Fines must be enforced, community service must be swift, effective and efficient, and those who are sentenced to prison must serve the sentence that the judge passes down.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

When I lodged amendment 95 to the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill in June 2004, which added reporting to the bill, the Tories were the only party that opposed it. Do they regret that now? The member should ask Mr Aitken, as he was the one who did it.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

As the member will recall, I was not present in the Parliament in 2004. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report that we are debating today.

I welcome the areas of success that the report highlights. For example, Scottish Borders Council is praised for the work of its safer communities team in effective prevention and early intervention approaches to antisocial behaviour. I know from experience that the team works well because of the effective partnership between council staff and local police officers. As a constituency member in the Borders, I have regular dealings with the team and know that it works extremely hard to do what it can to find solutions to local problems of antisocial behaviour. Scottish Borders Council is recognised as an example of best practice. That is demonstrated by the fact that it has seen a marked reduction in complaints about, and reported incidents of, antisocial behaviour.

The four pillars for dealing with antisocial behaviour are helpful. However, as I said when we last debated the framework, another pillar—that of enforcement—seems to be missing. We cannot ignore the fact that antisocial behaviour is happening. I am sure that all MSPs get letters from beleaguered constituents who live in daily fear of such behaviour. When measures are taken, they must be robustly enforced or they are pointless.

Therein lies the heart of the matter. We should do what we can to encourage people not to engage in crime and antisocial behaviour. Unfortunately, some people will inevitably choose to break the rules, so preventive measures will achieve only so much. As in other areas of the criminal justice system, we need effective means of redress when there are problems, and we need protection for victims, punishment for wrongdoers and help to ensure that they are rehabilitated in order to minimise the risk of reoffending.

I move amendment S3M-7605.1, to leave out from "the progress made" to end and insert:

"that, while progress is being made across a range of areas in improving community safety, the public must continue to be encouraged to report antisocial behaviour and that where examples of good practice exist these should be replicated as widely as possible."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:58 pm, 16th December 2010

I begin by stating what should be obvious: there is no simple solution to the challenge of antisocial behaviour. It is a complex phenomenon that is deeply rooted in fractured cultural attitudes, alienation, lack of motivation, family and community breakdown and issues of personal responsibility. In many ways, levels of antisocial behaviour are an indication of the coherence and direction of wider society in our country.

Liberal Democrats have long advocated a positive approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. When we were in Government, we insisted that the Antisocial Behaviour Act etc (Scotland) 2004 be backed up by £130 million of support for the legislation and for community safety. Visible, effective and targeted community policing is important. I warmly support the realignment of police resources to the community, which has led to a major enhancement of community policing in my home area of Rutherglen and Cambuslang and, more broadly, across Strathclyde.

One must concede that there is a certain tone of psychobabble in the document. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government's antisocial behaviour framework provides for an important shift of emphasis away from short-term enforcement measures towards tackling the root causes of crime and antisocial behaviour. I am glad that the gist of today's motion supports that, even if the rhetoric from other parties is often at odds with it.

Labour's obsession with antisocial behaviour orders is unhelpful. Richard Baker and Paul Martin roundly condemned the antisocial behaviour strategy when it was originally launched. ASBOs are certainly a tool in the toolbox, but Labour should leave councils to decide what is right for their areas. James Kelly gave the game away on Labour's new policy of allowing communities to make decisions when he said that what would be involved was not a requirement but only a request. That admission is important to the debate.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

With the best will in the world, Robert Brown has misunderstood. He knows full well that local authorities and registered social landlords have the right to apply to a court. Labour suggests that community councils should be able to ask local authorities to act as a conduit for an application, on which it would be up to the court to decide. Does he agree with that?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Yes—I agree entirely. However, the point is that that can be done already—it does not require legislation or formal rights to make that happen. If formal rights have no substance, make no difference and cannot be enforced, the activity is a pointless, simplistic and tokenistic waste of time.

Research evidence suggests that the acceptable behaviour contracts that Liberal Democrats have piloted in Islington are a more flexible, satisfactory and successful approach in many instances, and that measures to remotivate young people and divert them from antisocial behaviour are much more fundamental.

The work that has been done under the antisocial behaviour framework is beginning to bear fruit. One key aspect is building on the wealth of good practice and encouraging the best models throughout Scotland. The policy area has sometimes suffered from too many pilots, too many initiatives and too few consistent approaches that are rolled out nationwide based on what it has been established works. The knowledge database, the safer communities programme, the developments on the back of the Inverclyde initiative—to which Duncan McNeil was right to refer—and the cashback for communities initiative, together with the personal development partnership project to widen choices and chances for young people, all have parts to play.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I had better make a little progress, if Duncan McNeil does not mind.

I return to community policing, which is seriously threatened by the ill-developed proposals for a single Scottish police force that are emerging from the sustainable policing project, which is backed and chaired by the Scottish Government. The Scottish policing board last met on 6 December, when it had before it a report that said in effect that moving to a single police force was a jolly good idea that would save up to £197 million a year. However, the report, its basis of reference and its lack of analytical rigour were all roundly condemned by people across the board who range from the highly respected chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, a variety of police board conveners and the Improvement Service. That has an important link with antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Government has not decided on its position on a national police force. However, even if half the £200 million could be saved and diverted to pay for police on the front line, would not it be sensible to explore the proposal thoroughly?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

That would be the position, if that were the case. However, I will try to demonstrate that it is highly dubious whether that is the case.

COSLA asked how structure options could be considered without examining what the 21st century police service should look like and the outcomes that it should deliver. It said that the caveats to the report and the claimed savings meant that the project team was not confident that the figures were "reliable or valid". It pointed out that half the claimed savings came from a reduction in "local policing costs" and that the cost of change had not been considered. It said that there was a

"lack of consideration of how local communities will be able to engage in functions that will be withdrawn from local policing eg roads, anti-social behaviour", and it pointed to the unhelpful experience of the Scottish Police Services Agency, not least on information technology.

Chief Constable Strang described the statement that a single police force was the best option for efficiency and effectiveness as being

"irresponsibly misleading and ... not supported by the evidence in the paper".

Colin Mair of the Improvement Service said that the supporting evidence for the savings claim was

"caveated almost to the point of parody".

He pointed out that the move to consider a single police force had been driven by unrealistic planning for cuts of 9 per cent in 2011-12, as opposed to the actual 2.7 per cent.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am sorry—I cannot do so at this point.

In any event, any change in structure could not be legislated on or implemented before 2013. Colin Mair talked about

"an obsession with cost and structural reform and almost no interest at all in the future purpose and role of policing in Scotland."

He said that there was

"not a shred of evidence" that reorganisation would obtain rapid cost savings and that the claims for democratic accountability in the new structure—that goes back to the antisocial behaviour issue—were confused and not thought through. He said that the most important failing was the

"utterly premature and flawed attempt to provide indicative evidence of the benefits behind options."

I have so far omitted to mention that the documents also say that similar work in England concluded:

"no compulsory mergers should take place as it was not better value for money and British policing works best when it is strongly grounded at a local level."

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I will try to be helpful and get the member back on to the motion that we are debating. In relation to antisocial behaviour, does he believe that his party's support for the presumption against three-month sentences has undermined the fight against antisocial behaviour, by allowing people who would currently go to prison under such sentences to be freed into the community?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

James Kelly knows well that I do not accept that for a minute. That approach focuses the attention of the criminal justice system on effective remedies, not populistic and tokenistic approaches to criminal justice that are backed up by no evidence.

The issue around the policing report and policing reforms is fundamental, given the linkages back to community policing. I have seldom, if ever, seen such a comprehensive assault on and destruction of a government case through official papers. My question to the minister is to ask where all this is going—whether he can give us some assurance on that and whether he perhaps now feels that the whole process of moving towards a single police force, given its effects not least on community policing and on the antisocial behaviour strategy, should now be binned and begun again from a different perspective.

I make no apology for focusing on this issue during a debate on antisocial behaviour strategy. It is clear that the hard-won progress on community policing, which is evidenced day by day in all our communities, is put at risk by an obsession with structural reform; that local democratic accountability and engagement will be undermined; that the financial savings that are prayed in aid are, to put it mildly, unreliable; and that the proposal for a single police force remains ill-digested and half-baked. Richard Baker and James Kelly will clearly need their Alka-Seltzers.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I do not need an Alka-Seltzer right now—perhaps a bit later, or next week.

If we are unnecessarily investing in structures, which we believe to be the case at the moment, investment is not going to front-line policing or to protection of the models of community policing that the member is right to discuss. Surely that should be a priority for investment—not maintaining unnecessary structures.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The priority has to be a focus on the effective fighting of crime and community policing. If the structures serve that, well and good, but the indications from all the evidence that I have been putting before the chamber are that they do not. I hope that the justice secretary will change his mind on all of that.

I move the Liberal Democrat amendment S3M-7605.2, to insert at end:

"; believes that local policing is key to community safety; notes the work underway through the Sustainable Policing Project on protecting frontline policing and the delivery of outcomes for communities, and believes that community safety is unlikely to benefit from the establishment of a single Scottish police force."

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

We now move to the open debate, with speeches of up to seven minutes.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 4:07 pm, 16th December 2010

I am grateful that we have a little bit of time for a change, and that we can consider things a bit more widely.

I start by going back to the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004; I will look at one or two of the issues that emerge from it, and consider the successes and the not-so-much successes. The 2004 act starts, in section 1, by looking for strategies. Although strategies tend to cover bits of paper with words unnecessarily, I will not complain about somebody thinking about what strategies should be. That is surely the preliminary to doing anything. I am therefore grateful that the Government has actually pursued a strategy, which is progress from the 2004 act—for better or worse. It has considered the difference between carrots and sticks—and that might turn out to be the theme of what I have to say.

Antisocial behaviour orders come under part 2. Clearly they are relevant, they have their place and they have had some achievements, but they are not the answer to every question. I notice that noise nuisance was enthusiastically pursued by local communities. As a local councillor, I put a noise team into the west of Dundee, and those provisions were widely used and widely respected.

I endorse the view that Robert Brown has spoken about, on acceptable behaviour contracts. Those have been derived from the legislation, and they certainly have a place and a value.

Part 9 contains provision for parenting orders. I have asked the question and, as far as I can establish, we have no evidence that any parenting order has ever been applied for or made. I do not particularly hold that against anyone although, if we had looked through the bill—members will appreciate that I was not here at the time—I would have thought that some research would have indicated that they were unlikely to be effective, or perhaps there needed to be a model beforehand. Everything in the bill was not quite perfect.

Part 11 concerns fixed-penalty notices, which have been discussed. They have been a huge success, and they have saved a vast amount of police time. They were an extremely good thing. In two phrases, I have come across one thing that turned out to be a complete waste of time—although I am not blaming anybody for it—and something that was a wonderfully good idea, on which we can build. The other part of the message needs to be: let us work with what is good and live with the realities of what is bad.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Does Nigel Don not agree that, if a mechanism has not been applied for or put to the test, we cannot decide whether it is successful? It must be used before we can make that judgment.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

That is a view, but I am not sure that many people will see it that way, to be honest.

I will put the rest of my remarks in the current context. In my days as a councillor, I thought that the introduction of community wardens was an extremely good idea and I commend their use for the future.

We have seen—possibly as a result of a Justice Committee inquiry, but possibly not—a huge move towards community policing, which the Government has encouraged. It has made a significant difference on our streets and required no legislation. It simply required people to think about what the strategy was and to implement it.

The net result, attribute it as members will, is that crime figures are at a 32-year low. Knife crime is falling, which is wonderful, and offence referrals to the children's panels have dropped 40 per cent in the past four years. We can give credit for that in any direction that members like, but some things are clearly going in the right direction.

What I like and commend about the strategy is that it is not the Government telling people what to do; it is built from the ideas of experts and stakeholders. It is about finding things that will really work, not grabbing headlines.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

On his point about finding things that will work effectively, does Nigel Don not think that it is somewhat remiss that it will take until 2012—three years after its publication—to evaluate the strategy's effectiveness?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

To be honest, it is not at all surprising. I do not expect anything to be evaluated quickly because we are talking about changes in attitudes. We are probably looking for annual statistics and we need several sets of them to be able to work out properly what is going on. We cannot simply come along with a strategy that says what we will do now, expect everything to turn and off we go. It just does not work like that outside the military.

I am, actually, surprised that we think that we can get anything meaningful out of an evaluation on the timescale proposed. I am not sure that many researchers would be terribly excited by that.

We have a long-term attitude towards, and strategy on, alcohol. I find it disappointing that we failed to take the recent opportunity to sort out minimum pricing, because that would have been a step in the right direction. I regret that that failed.

I hope that members have seen the Scottish social attitudes survey that was published recently, although, of course, the figures are for 2009. The survey points out that most people are aware of litter and rubbish as an issue but, generally speaking, do not have other problems—although some people have many problems, of course. The interesting point that emerged from the survey is that a major determinant of people's perceptions is what they see in the media rather than with their own eyes. The Government has to work on that—as, indeed, do we all—because, if we are putting out the wrong messages, people may be listening to them, which would be a mistake.

I commend the cashback for communities scheme, which has been a hugely significant way of putting money into the right places. Small sums of money going to organisations can do great things. Just up the road, in Forfar, the Drugs Initiative Group Forfar's Pitstop youth cafe has made a significant difference and did not cost a fortune.

A couple of years ago, I visited the Grampian Fire and Rescue Service in Aberdeen, which is where I stay, and talked to the people there about their work with the local community on the Gramps, which will mean something up there but will probably not mean anything to anybody else. There were major difficulties with youth fire raising on open ground, all of which have been brought under some kind of control by a serious education intervention. That is precisely the kind of thing that we need to do.

I also commend the Dundee co-ordinated anti-crime network—DUNCAN—project in Dundee. As a city councillor, I was well aware of that project, which considerably improved what was going on in the city centre.

Grampian Police's operation Whalsay reminds us that an awful lot of antisocial behaviour when we are out can be avoided by the way in which we behave. I hesitate to mention it all, but one way of summarising what they are reminding folk is a good idea, particularly at this time of the year, would be: on nights out, plan what you are up to, stay together, look after your property, think about what you are doing and do not drink too much.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 4:15 pm, 16th December 2010

I rise to support the amendment in the name of my colleague James Kelly, on a serious issue that is of great importance to people across Scotland.

Every member in the chamber recognises that the antisocial behaviour of a small minority of people of all ages and all backgrounds can, and does, make the daily lives of a significant percentage of Scotland's citizens a misery. That is why I was content to support the passage of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. I did so in the full knowledge that its provisions did not constitute a panacea, but that they were important nonetheless as part of the then Scottish Executive's package of measures to support communities and create neighbourhoods that are free from fear and harassment. Unhappily, antisocial behaviour remains a significant issue for many of our constituents across Scotland. Robert Brown was right to say that this is a complex problem. That is a truism.

I regret the fact that it has taken so long for the Government to publish the first annual report of progress made on the implementation of the antisocial behaviour framework. I would have hoped that Parliament could have seen the finished report before now. Delay in matters of such significance is never a good thing. I must also record my unhappiness that a proper evaluation of the framework will not be complete until 2012. That is far too long an interval; these matters need to be addressed and improvements need to be developed and implemented sooner rather than later.

Lest I am accused of being overly partisan, let me welcome the fact that ASB offences that relate to environmental damage are down 15 per cent in the period 2008-09 to 2009-10. Again, during that period, there was a fall in ASB offences that relate to misuse of public space of 25 per cent. The figures are taken directly from the "Scottish Policing Performance Framework: Annual Report, 2009-10". For completeness, I should say that I also recognise the continued investment in communities across Scotland via the cashback for communities initiative. That is a good thing. The Government has rightly continued the programme. That is a recognition of the solid worth of that imaginative policy, which the previous Labour-led Executive initiated.

Having said all that, I am very concerned that the same evidence-based report highlights clearly some very worrying trends. Antisocial behaviour that is classified as

"Disregard for community and personal wellbeing" is down by only 4 per cent. Even more troubling is the fact that antisocial behaviour that is euphemistically characterised as "Acts directed at people" rose by an alarming 7.26 per cent. That is entirely unacceptable. It shows that there is no room for complacency or self-congratulation. Much more work needs to be done to ensure that the existing legislation is used more widely and effectively and that further measures are developed as a matter of urgency to strengthen the 2004 act.

It cannot be right that, according to a freedom of information request that Scottish Labour made to all local authorities, the number of ASB complaints in 2009-10 was 219,689 and yet the number of ASBOs that were made was 249. That is equivalent to a mere 0.1 per cent of complaints resulting in an order. Clearly, that points to significant weakness in the appropriate enforcement of the existing provisions of the act. That needs to be tackled soon.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not accept the member's line of argument. How many ASBOs does the Labour Party think should be issued? In 2006-07, 437 ASBOs were issued. If there were more than 200,000 episodes, is Labour suggesting that 100,000 or 200,000 ASBOs should have been issued? What exactly is the member's prescription?

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

It is statistically worrying that such a significant number of episodes led to only 0.1 per cent of ASBOs. I will not say what number would be most appropriate; as the minister well knows, that is up to the courts. The figure of 0.1 per cent should set alarm bells ringing. I think that most sensible people would agree on that.

As to further measures, the SNP promised on page 60 of its 2007 manifesto to

"consult on giving revamped community councils a greater role in the process of applying for anti-social behaviour orders."

Mr Stevenson will recall that. However, as far as I am aware, with only a few months of the Scottish National Party's tenure of office left, little, if anything, has been done to put the idea into practice. That is a real pity and a real disappointment, because the idea is sensible.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

I will always wait for the electorate's verdict—I am old-fashioned that way, minister.

Scottish Labour is committed to putting that imaginative idea into practice. We will give community councils and formally constituted residents groups the right to apply to local authorities for an ASBO, which local authorities will deal with via the courts. That is the proper process. The proposal is a logical development that shows a real desire to engage with communities effectively. Giving community councils and properly constituted residents groups that additional responsibility will enable them to play a more direct and central role in the creation of safer neighbourhoods. What is wrong with that?

I point out to Robert Brown that no one is saying that planning applications should not be considered by community councils. It is a bottom-up process. We are talking about real localism that will offer communities that are frustrated by a lack of action another way in which to deal with local problems.

In conclusion, the SNP's record, although not one of unremitting failure, is patchy and lacking in an appropriate sense of urgency. What the people of Scotland need is not self-congratulatory motions from the SNP but positive action and imaginative policies to improve their communities. If the people will it in May, Labour stands ready to serve.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:22 pm, 16th December 2010

It is a very great pleasure to return to a subject in which I was closely involved during the passage of what became the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. In the stage 3 debate on the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, which I opened for the Opposition, I stated that there was

"a real problem and ... a real casus belli underlying the Executive's determination to pass the bill", but I also said that there were continuing disagreements about

"whether the remedies that the bill proposes are proportionate and appropriate."—[Official Report, 17 June 2004; c 9369.]

An issue on which the then minister, Margaret Curran, and I agreed—I always agree to recognise the wisdom of someone who accepts an amendment from me—was that research and reporting post hoc would be important to inform future generations of legislators as to whether certain provisions about which we disagreed were or were not effective in practice. It is self-evident that some of those provisions have contributed much less than the Labour Party suggested that they would in 2004.

Let me lighten Nigel Don's darkness. In an answer to me in March 2007, Robert Brown said that there had been no parenting orders. In response to the questions that he asked in spring and autumn 2008, John Lamont received the same answer.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The member stresses the importance of reporting and monitoring. Does he share my concern that page 36 of the report that is before us outlines the fact that there will no longer be any requirement for reporting at national level and that monitoring will take place only at local level? Surely that undermines the ability of national Government to assess the statistics on antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

One of the clear lessons that emerged from the then Communities Committee's travels around every police area in Scotland was that success in engaging with antisocial behaviour depended on local action. Such engagement was successful when local action was taken.

On the subject of reporting, I identify for members that my amendments 95 and 96 to the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, which sought to introduce sections after sections 14A and 20, both specified a reporting period of three years. In accepting an amendment from me, Margaret Curran recognised that three years was an appropriate period to assess what was going on.

Of course, there are still differences between members and parties in the chamber. With some disappointment, I heard Mr Butler suggest that an ASBO being granted is a measure of success in dealing with antisocial behaviour. I take a fundamentally different view. The issuing of an ASBO is a measure of failure to deal with antisocial behaviour. I worked very closely with Donald Gorrie, a previous member of the Liberal Democrats, and he took the same view.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

An ASBO is simply a court's recognition that an offence has been committed. Does the member not agree?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

That is fundamentally correct, but that it should get to the point at which the last and only remedy available is a court intervention is a measure of possible failure in the process. I do not regard the figure of 0.1 per cent of complaints leading to ASBOs as necessarily a sign of failure. I take a different view and other members will do that, too.

It is worth saying that we have seen the courts make a range of interventions that we regard as helpful. For example, the length of sentences for knife crime has doubled in five years, from an average of 118 days in 2005-06 to 263 days now. Of course the courts have an important role to play in that area, as they do in dealing with the criminal and the antisocial lout. It is important that the courts clearly address the needs of each individual case. I quote Chief Constable David Strang:

"Each offender has a personal background and I think it's absolutely proper that the court, having heard all the circumstances of the offence and of the offender's circumstances, can impose a sentence that is appropriate."

I trust the courts. I might not always agree with them, but they have an expertise that I do not necessarily have.

Robert Brown said that there is no simple solution, and I am happy to agree with him.

Labour's obsession with ASBOs is simply unhelpful, and as it turns out, I agree that Labour's proposal is pointless, simplistic and a waste of time.

James Kelly said that I could look out of St Andrews house and see the snow. My office was actually at Victoria Quay, but we should not quibble about that.

In the past week, I have been delighted to receive, as I often do, an e-mail from a constituent; they welcomed the resolution of a local problem in one area of my constituency as a result of something that I described in a similar way at stage 1 of the bill. I said:

"The councillor had the initiative and the guts—as councillors and members of the Parliament should have—to bring community groups together, to hold public meetings"—[Official Report, 10 March 2004; c 6472.]

and to ensure that solutions were obtained. By the way, I was describing and commending the work of an Edinburgh Labour councillor. Everyone in politics has a shared duty to their constituents.

I close by making an observation about Labour's approach to the debate. There was a glimpse of a proposal from the Labour members, but we now know that it is toothless and it will simply lead to more bumping of gums. There is never a proposal of substance from Labour, never a suggestion for action, never a way forward and nothing but girn and gripe.

If that sounds like an empty phrase from me, I have found a way to measure it. It occurred to me that a word in Labour's amendment sounded familiar. I refer to the first word, which is "regrets". Labour members are no fans, then, of Edith Piaf's "Je ne regrette rien", but serial offenders. There are currently 16 motions before Parliament that contain the word "regrets"; 11 are from Labour, three are from the Green Party, and there is one each from the SNP and Liberal Democrats. There is regret among the Labour members; action is entirely absent.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 4:29 pm, 16th December 2010

I rise to support the amendment in the name of my colleague Robert Brown.

Last year, Liberal Democrats welcomed the change in emphasis that the new framework signalled. We believe that a move away from focusing on short-term enforcement measures towards tackling the root causes of crime and antisocial behaviour is a much more positive and effective approach.

The framework and the annual report highlight many examples of great work that is being done with young people to provide them with opportunities and support. I entirely agree with the minister that the vast majority of young people in Scotland are a credit to themselves, their families and all of us. In this debate, we are dealing with very few young people.

I well remember, when I was elected in 2003, my first meeting with the local chief inspector in the southern half of my constituency. I talked to him about the problems in the area and different things. When we turned to young people and antisocial behaviour, I asked how many of the thousands of young people in the area caused him trouble at any one time. He said, "Twenty-two. We know them all very well, and a lot of them, when they get to 16, will get into more serious trouble than they are already in." That is a very small percentage of young people.

The approach has been particularly effective when it is led at local level, such as through community wellbeing champions initiatives, which have proved that when communities get together to support local young people real change is possible.

I was delighted this morning to speak to my local police inspector in my constituency of Edinburgh South. I asked him about antisocial behaviour and what is happening. He said that antisocial behaviour in Lothian and Borders in general is on the decline and has been for some time, but he was particularly proud to say that the decline in Edinburgh South is even greater than elsewhere. Antisocial behaviour complaints may be going up in James Kelly's area, but that is not happening in my constituency and in Lothian.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I am told by the minister that complaints are going down everywhere. I congratulate Lothian and Borders Police—it is doing a great job.

Let me turn to antisocial behaviour orders, because I asked my inspector about them, too. He said, "Actually, Mike, we don't have too many antisocial behaviour orders in Edinburgh South. We have precious few—and I can't remember the last time we initiated one." Most of the antisocial behaviour orders are initiated and pursued by the council because they relate to a housing issue that is causing a problem to tenants. Other police forces may pursue more antisocial behaviour orders than my police do in my constituency, but they have clearly realised that, as Stewart Stevenson said, if they get to the point at which they have lost the young person and have to apply for an antisocial behaviour order, they have failed.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

When we toured Scotland during the summer, we held a meeting in the member's constituency. One of the first comments that a member of the public made was that ASBOs work because they give respite to neighbours in the community that are under stress. Does the member not agree with that?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I just said that the successful antisocial behaviour orders are almost inevitably those that are initiated through the council's housing department, because they relate to a neighbourhood in which somebody is causing antisocial behaviour. I said that those ASBOs have been successful; as I have also said, I do not think that the police need to pursue ASBOs.

There is currently a wealth of good practice in tackling antisocial behaviour; the challenge is to make that standard practice across Scotland. The key to doing that is allocating resources correctly, which is why I am strongly opposed to a single centralised police force for Scotland.

I have two primary concerns about a centralised police force. First, there is a risk that a police force with a central base will no longer reflect local circumstances. Young people in rural areas and small towns are among the most vulnerable in Scotland, simply because of the lack of ready opportunities available to them locally—all too often, sadly, that leads to problems of antisocial behaviour.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I note Mr Pringle's concerns about the proposal for a single police force and the issue of local accountability and meeting the needs of local communities. Does he agree with the coalition Government at Westminster that the way in which to address that is by having elected police commissioners represent the views of local communities?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

Absolutely not. I do not agree with that at all. It is a bad move to have elected police commissioners. Policing is the responsibility of the police, not of people who are elected by us to take on that responsibility. I wonder whether John Lamont agrees with David Cameron, who asks,

"do we benefit from lots and lots of very short sentences? I think it would be better if we could improve community sentences so that they were tough."

Maybe Bill Butler can answer that question when he sums up.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We know that Mike Pringle and Robert Brown are opposed to having a single national police force. Do the Liberal Democrats believe that there should continue to be eight police forces in Scotland?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

There is an on-going discussion about that. My personal view is that we should continue with the number of police forces that we currently have.

The antisocial behaviour framework has the potential to represent a massive step forward—an end to the soundbite justice policies of the Scottish Conservatives and the Labour Party, which make for good headlines but do not make our communities any safer. We must now ensure that we finish what has been started and not allow structural changes or budget cuts to jeopardise that.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:36 pm, 16th December 2010

This has been an interesting debate with, predictably, some interesting speeches. Antisocial behaviour is a serious issue that may come in many forms. It may be simply a noisy party such as most of us have been to in our time, which most of us would regard as an irritant, but it can be constant disorder, sometimes conducted on a group basis, that blights the lives of many people, especially in our inner cities.

The perpetrators come from all groups, from the tiny terrors who vandalise property to the teenagers who indulge in gang fights and those who are old enough to know better who play loud music at all hours of the day and night. Nevertheless, the minister and Mike Pringle—I always remember his name—did the right thing in underlining the fact that the vast majority of youngsters are not in the least problematical, are highly agreeable and are positive contributors to our society.

Harsh words may follow, but I think that the Government is entitled to claim some credit for the way in which the diversionary schemes that have been brought into play, sometimes using the drugs money that has been seized from those who cause so much damage in communities, have greatly benefited society and contributed to a reduction in antisocial behaviour. Kids have a lot of energy and, as my old granny used to say, the devil will find mischief for idle hands to do. It is amazing what a couple of portable goalposts on a bit of spare ground away from everyone can do to use up that energy in a reasonably constructive way.

There can also be no doubt that the Government is due credit, to some extent, for ensuring that there are 1,000 additional police officers on the streets. Its arm was forced firmly up its back by the Conservatives three years ago, but it produced those additional police officers and is entitled to limited credit for that. We have seen the positive impact of that policy everywhere. The fact that there are communities in Scotland—particularly in my city, Glasgow, as other members will acknowledge—where we are seeing police officers in areas where police officers have not actively patrolled for years has had a very positive impact.

I am particularly pleased to see my old mucker Stewart Stevenson back here in action. He quoted Édith Piaf but, rather than "Non, je ne regrette rien", the words of Frank Sinatra might be more apposite in his case. Regrets? He certainly has a few. Nevertheless, his speech this afternoon was very able and elegant, and I look forward to crossing swords with him frequently, as I did in the past.

Let us examine the problems with the 2004 act. First, ASBOs are a toothless tiger. It is sometimes not realised in the Parliament that the law of Scotland is very wide and that the common law of Scotland is there to be utilised in its widest form. If an individual is subject to an antisocial behaviour order, that person can be charged with a common- law breach of the peace and dealt with by the courts. The unnecessary hassle and bureaucracy that are required in order to achieve one of these orders are a negative aspect of the process, and I can quite understand why local authorities have been reluctant to use that tool.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Bill Aitken will be aware of the use of fixed-penalty notices, the number of which increased from 49,000 in 2008 to 62,000 in 2009. Does he agree that that is a more effective and speedier method of dealing with many types of antisocial behaviour?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I agree that that is the case, when the fixed penalties are paid. That has been the problem with them. The local neddery, in Glasgow in particular, seems to be remarkably reluctant to part with the money that the police officers, no doubt perfectly correctly, seek. I am reminded of the contribution that was made on this issue by the Labour Party a number of years ago, when Tony Blair suggested that those who were guilty of antisocial behaviour should be frogmarched to an ATM so that they could take out the £50 contribution to public funds. Apart from anything else, the vast majority of the people in question do not have bank accounts, and Mr Blair's comment served only to demonstrate his total lack of realism, under a number of headings.

Where the Government is open to condemnation is in the soft-touch approach that it has imposed on the people of Scotland, in which the wrong message has been sent out time and again. The fact is that the average prisoner now spends only a fraction of his sentence in prison. I think that Stewart Stevenson raised the issue of knife crime and the increase in the number of days spent in prison. Whether that increase is gross or net is unknown, because the sentences that are imposed by sheriffs and High Court judges never end up being the same as the time that is served. That must be remedied also.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The Government has made some progress, but an awful lot more progress is necessary before the next report will be received with universal acclamation.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 4:43 pm, 16th December 2010

This has been a good debate. I warmed to Bill Aitken's contribution towards the end. However, I would say to him that the powers for ASBOs were brought in because, all too often, communities and individuals were being told that the police could not act against the kinds of antisocial behaviour being exhibited. That is what people were telling us, and the legislation was our response. We believe that those powers are not being used enough and that more needs to be done to tackle the problem as it exists today.

I acknowledge that, on this occasion, the Labour Party is taking a different approach from other parties, and I also acknowledge that the minister has sought to discuss the issues with other parties' justice spokespeople in an effort to seek broad agreement. However, it does not serve the interests of debate in the Parliament or of wider engagement to pretend that there is a consensus where there is not one.

One point of agreement is on the importance of community policing in dealing with a wide range of antisocial behaviour and crime. I hope that Robert Brown will accept that, although we might disagree with some of the analysis and there will need to be further debate on how the structure should be changed—we have a view on a single police force, and there will need to be a wider debate on the mechanisms that might form that—the intention of examining the structure of policing is to protect police on the beat and community policing.

In producing the framework, the minister has quite correctly sought to engage with local authorities and the agencies that are involved in dealing with antisocial behaviour, so that, at the end of the process, we have a document that they have endorsed. However, although it is important to give due consideration to the views of those important stakeholders, it is incumbent on us to take seriously the views of the wider community as well. Labour members have sought to give voice to the experiences of that community, as we hear these problems day after day. We are finding that people are still frustrated by problems of noise, selfish behaviour that intimidates and the actions of individuals that make their lives a misery. We all know of such instances. I know that all of us have to deal with those complaints, but what separates us in the chamber today is our analysis of the action that is required.

It is right that the framework document highlights many projects that engage in prevention and diversionary activities, and we commend those. I note from the document that the Scottish Government has stepped back from introducing a requirement that, at the time of applying for an antisocial behaviour order, local authorities and registered social landlords must demonstrate that an adequate support package has been offered to the offender. We did not believe that that was realistic—it is not undesirable, but it is unrealistic—because, although we should seek to introduce support packages, they can be extremely costly.

The challenge in this financial climate will be to maintain investment in some of the excellent projects to which the report refers and in schemes such as the Greenock initiative that Duncan McNeil mentioned in his intervention. The report focuses on activities for young people, but I agree with Mike Pringle, Bill Aitken and the minister that the vast, overwhelming majority of young people play a hugely important and constructive role in our society.

We are talking about tiny minorities in any event, and we should not focus excessively on young people in these strategies. The legislation is often described as targeting young people's antisocial behaviour but, in my experience, there have been far more instances in which complaints have been about adults. It is those types of issues that the legislation was designed to address.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Richard Baker commends, as I would, local initiatives and projects. Does he believe, as I do, that they offer better value for money and a surer outcome in terms of reducing reoffending than the alternative of locking people up?

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

The evidence on that is very mixed, to say the least. The emphasis must always be on protecting the community either from antisocial behaviour or from crime.

I welcome Stewart Stevenson in making his first contribution from the back benches during this session of Parliament, and doing so in a positive spirit; I hope that he accepts my welcome in the way that it is intended. We look forward to hearing interesting contributions from him on a range of issues, with which I will not always agree.

On this point, we are, unfortunately, not entirely in agreement. In response to the points that Stewart Stevenson made in his speech, I point out that the figures that we seek to highlight show that there have been an increasing number of complaints about antisocial behaviour, and a declining number of instances in which the orders have been used. That signals a trend, which we are very concerned about. We believe that it fails those communities from which those rising numbers of complaints are coming if we do not respond with the increased use of the powers that are there to be used. Those whom I meet who are suffering from antisocial behaviour do not want the powers to be used less frequently; they want them to be used more often.

That is certainly true of the constituents whom I meet in Aberdeen. Too often I hear from residents—particularly those in the city's high rises, where there was once a peaceful environment—who are finding that their lives are blighted by just a few new tenants who are coming in and behaving antisocially. More needs to be done with those problem tenants. It is true that, sometimes, problems will have arisen because those people have simply been given a tenancy with no support, and without some of the root causes of their antisocial behaviour being addressed, so that needs to be changed. However, we need to change a situation in which local authorities are not taking action where they should.

That is not just something that we are saying—we are hearing it from people in the community. In Aberdeen, complaints about antisocial behaviour increased last year by more than 30 per cent to nearly 4,000, but Aberdeen City Council has no record of how many antisocial behaviour orders have been implemented. That is simply not good enough for people suffering from such problems. We believe that there needs to be more transparency and more accountability for local authorities in respect of how they deal with complaints of antisocial behaviour. That is why we want a new, formal process to give community councils and formally constituted residents groups the right to apply to local authorities for an ASBO—not simply a meeting or a letter from an MSP or someone else. They should have the right to make a formal request and therefore to receive a clear explanation from the local authority, as part of a formal structure, if it decides not to pursue the request. That is why we make that proposal.

We need to build on the success of the programmes that help to prevent and divert but, important as they are, they can be only part of the approach. We need to use all the tools in the toolbox and, at the moment, we are not doing so. Rather than the current situation, in which authorities are not seeking to use the powers that are there to be used, we need to go further and take more action on antisocial behaviour, because that is what the communities of Scotland need and want in order to improve their lives.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:51 pm, 16th December 2010

The debate has been a useful one and interesting contributions have been made by members throughout the chamber. A fairly strong element of consensus has joined us together. I am particularly pleased that all parties have emphasised that it is wrong to suggest that all children are a problem for Scotland and that, in fact, it is only a tiny minority who get into serious trouble and a minority of that minority who present the most serious problems to our society. That starting point is very much to be welcomed and it is right to acknowledge that.

As members know, I always seek that—to coin a phrase—where there is discord, I bring harmony. It is good when there is an element of consensus. Lurking beneath occasional rhetorical flourishes from members, whom I will not name, there was the realisation that we must tackle the causes of crime and antisocial behaviour.

The most fundamental point that has emerged from the debate, which has focused largely on the use of, and the place of, the ASBO, is that it is very difficult to see how getting a piece of paper can prevent someone from committing antisocial behaviour and crime when the cause of that behaviour or crime is essentially abuse of alcohol or misuse of drugs. If someone is involved in serious, problematic drug misuse, that person has an addiction to drugs. Getting a letter through the post from the courts will not change that. In fact, I would be surprised if the letter was opened.

Before I return to the ASBO, I will correct some incorrect information that Mr Baker—no doubt inadvertently—gave us. He suggested that the number of complaints in Scotland about antisocial behaviour is increasing. The "Scottish Policing Performance Framework", from which members have quoted, records that there has been a decline of 28,500 antisocial behaviour crimes and offences over the last year for which statistics are available. It further tells us that

"all forces in Scotland reported a reduction in the number of ASB community crimes and offences being recorded by police in the last year ... resulting in the figure for Scotland showing a reduction of almost 11 per cent."

Labour wanted a report and it has got a report: antisocial behaviour and crime are down by 11 per cent.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The figures that the minister has quoted still demonstrate that there are almost 250,000 offences of antisocial behaviour in Scotland, which shows the scale of the problem. In addition, the number of complaints to local authorities is rising, whereas the number of ASBOs is falling.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have read out the factual position, which is that there has been a reduction in ASB and crime. Incidentally, we also know that crime is now at its lowest level for 32 years. I do not claim credit for that, although we have implemented certain decisions and programmes. However, I strongly praise the 1,000 extra police and their colleagues who have brought about that result. I presume that it is just an extraordinary omission, but I have heard no Labour member say, "Don't you recognise what a great thing it is that Scotland's police force has seen crime at its lowest level for 32 years?" Should we not all welcome that?

Moving back, however, to the consensual aspects of this debate, I point out that the Scottish household survey, which was published in August, showed Scottish perceptions of most neighbourhood problems to be at their lowest level for 10 years. In a characteristically thoughtful contribution, most of which I understood, Mr Don pointed out the difference between the perception and the reality of serious crime and antisocial behaviour. As we will all accept, that has been fuelled by negative stereotyping by some of the wilder fringes of the tabloid world.

As for ASBOs—which, although the main issue in this debate, are not, of course, the main part of the approach that I outlined in my opening speech—I think that they can play a role; are a tool in the box; and can, where appropriate, be used by local authorities. On my visit to Stornoway, I found that ASBOs are not actually issued—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. There are too many conversations going on, particularly at the back of the chamber.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am surprised that members are not listening more closely because, if they do, they will learn that, on my visit to Stornoway, I found that the authorities, cunningly, did not bother to apply to the court for an ASBO. That would require an investigation and take up a lot of time and money that could be more usefully spent on other things. Instead, they sent a letter saying, "If you don't improve your behaviour, we will apply for an ASBO." They believed that, rather like a lawyer's debt letter, that sort of threatening letter had, when used with other measures, some benefit.

The revelation in the debate has been that Labour's new flagship policy will never really leave the harbour. Over the summer, it said in the press that its policy was for community councils—and now, it seems, registered residents groups—to be able to force local authorities to get an ASBO. Now we learn that its policy is for community councils to be able to ask local authorities to apply for an ASBO. However, they can do that at the moment. If that is the case, where is Labour's policy?

I listened very carefully to Mr Baker's closing speech, because there was something that Labour has not made absolutely clear in the debate. He said that community councils could make a formal request. Well, they can do that at the moment. Anyone can—an MSP can. However, what do local authorities have to do when they receive that formal request? Are they obliged to carry out an investigation, or are they required to do nothing whatever? The bad news for the Labour Party—and Mr Butler tried to develop this argument as best he could—is that local authorities and COSLA do not want to go down this road. In fact, COSLA says:

"If community councils and other community groups were to be able to apply for ASBOs it could lead to a potential proliferation of expensive enforcement measures that councils ... would find ... unaffordable to implement."

Not one Labour member has said anything about the cost of this measure, but COSLA has already made it clear that it would be "unaffordable". When will we hear how much this measure will cost Scotland? I will give way to anyone who wishes to answer. We simply do not know, because Labour has not told us.

I know that ASBOs have been used for some strange purposes. A 60-year-old man from Northampton was banned from dressing as a schoolgirl; a bid to ban an 18-year-old from wearing low-slung trousers was dropped earlier this year; and, in Peterhead, a slightly deaf man who had a habit of playing Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash throughout the day was given an ASBO for tormenting his neighbours, as well he might. I am not denying that there is some use for ASBOs.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Perhaps Johann Lamont is a Dolly Parton fan—I do not know.

I commend the approach that is supported by the police, the fire service, social workers, youth representatives and just about every other group in society in Scotland, except our friends in the Labour Party. I commend the motion.