02 October 2003

Subject Debate: Antisocial Behaviour

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on antisocial behaviour, which will be concluded without any question being put.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister asked why we think that the Executive is trying to stigmatise children. There are 72 pages in "Putting Our communities first: A Strategy for tackling Anti-Social Behaviour", but we need to read only the 21 bullet points on the first three pages to find 12 direct or indirect references to children's being the source of the problem. No other issue approaches that level of comment and that is why we think that the Executive is picking on our youngsters and why we will attack it for doing so. The problem ain't that simple.
Rhona Brankin: Is the member aware of statistics that show who the main victims of crime are?
Stewart Stevenson: The main victims of crime are young people.
Rhona Brankin: And who are the perpetrators of that crime?
Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for making clear the fact that the problem is not just to do with children. Children are victims; they are also a cause of crime, but not the extent that we should pick on them as "Putting Our Communities First" does.
I pose the question, "What is antisocial behaviour?" because that theme has run through the debate. In response to Paul Martin, I accept that the minister's evidence was correct when she outlined many examples of antisocial behaviour and I accept unreservedly that the experiences that she described are valid, that the behaviour to which she and Paul Martin referred is antisocial and that we need to fix the problem. Section 19(1)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines antisocial conduct as that which
"caused or is likely to cause alarm or distress ... to one or more persons not of the same household".
We face difficulties if we begin to compile lists of what we think are examples of antisocial behaviour. When we try to define the phrase, we find that different age groups have different views. We find that circumstances have to be coupled with behaviour before it becomes antisocial behaviour. I visited Lossiemouth on Tuesday with other members of the Communities Committee. We found that almost universally the people of Lossiemouth think that the major cause of antisocial behaviour is drink. However, agreement broke down over what form of post-drinking behaviour was antisocial.
Last night I was in Fiona Hyslop's home town, having a social drink in the Four Marys in Linlithgow. Incidentally, the verb social drink declines thus: I have a social drink; you have had enough; they're guttered oot their skulls. When we drink is not it always someone else's problem? Four young lads, who had their arms round each other's shoulders, passed noisily by in the other direction. There were snatches of songs and loud conversation, but they made no attempt to engage or harm anyone outside their group. Was I alarmed or disturbed? I was certainly not alarmed, but I was perhaps mildly disturbed. On the other hand, if I lived on Linlithgow High Street and such a noise occurred every night just after I had fallen into a well-deserved sleep, I would probably think that that was antisocial behaviour. There is a grey zone, where the context as well as the behaviour is important.
However, an assault—verbal or physical—on a private citizen or public servant is clearly the dark side of society and alcohol is a key factor in that. When that is established as a regular pattern of behaviour it becomes a clear case of antisocial behaviour. Could antisocial behaviour really be fully defined in law, as is perhaps being considered by the Executive, or is that a surrogate for creating criminals when there is not criminal evidence? If so, it would drive a coach and horses through civil liberties.
I gained insight in Lossiemouth this week into one part of the problem. Youngsters told me that although a decade ago there were five places that they could go to sit in, today there is one, despite the population's having grown in the period. To move on youngsters who do not have somewhere to go from one street corner so that they congregate in another will not make a difference. I agree with Donald Gorrie that more facilities must be provided for youths.
We also need to give the police the facility to deal with the problem. A couple of years ago in Lossiemouth there was a serious problem with a group of youngsters, nicknamed the "Lossie Posse". The problem was not solved by changing the law; it was solved by directing resources, under the existing laws that were available to the police and others, into that community. The perpetrators were tried and found guilty; if they were youngsters they were put into the appropriate accommodation.
The Minister for Communities will have to work hard to justify her belief that changing the law rather than upping the resources is the way to solve the problem. Get off the backs of our young people—they are our future and they deserve and demand our support. I say to the minister that we put our communities first when we provide resources that support them. Persecution of one category of our society—youth—is no substitute for prosecution of offenders. It is necessary to give society and society's defenders the tools that will enable them to do the job.

Stewart Stevenson
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