10 March 2004

S2M-532 Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 10 March 2004
[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
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Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-532, in the name of Margaret Curran, on the general principles of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, and two amendments to the motion. As we are now behind the clock, I ask members to stick to their speaking times.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Time is running out not only for the debate but—more crucially—for the many communities throughout Scotland that suffer from the effects of antisocial behaviour and, ultimately, for the Executive if its nostrums fail to fix the problems that we have all heard about and recognise. However, we all know that and we are in suspense only about whether what is proposed will deliver the remedies that are sought.
It is my belief and my personal experience that no member of the Communities Committee, of which I am a member, has remained unchanged by the experience of visiting communities in eight regions, hearing evidence of people's concerns and tapping into their experience. For me in particular, as someone from the north-east and a traditional east coaster, visiting west coast communities with particular problems, especially in Glasgow, left me in no doubt that the comments that Johann Lamont has long expressed on the subject of antisocial behaviour draw on a deep and legitimate well of concern. I entirely accept that.
The divergence that there may be between my colleagues and me and the Executive parties is not in the analysis but in the prescriptions that follow from that. We are briefly discussing today what is a large bill, consisting of 13 parts and 112 sections. There are parts of the bill about which we have said nothing. Part 1 of the bill is about having a strategy, which is an excellent idea and I am happy to support it. Part 2, which relates to ASBOs, is fine as far as it goes. I will return to that point. Part 3 has been exercised considerably.
At this point it is appropriate to refer to the experience that reporters to the Communities Committee had when they visited Gilmerton and the Inch in Edinburgh. We found that there were significant problems there, including physical intimidation and assault; attacks on pensioners at bus stops; alcohol and drugs; public sex; under-age drinking—which was a major problem; and ball games to the early hours in an open area adjacent to housing. When people complained, the situation escalated into verbal and physical threats. Those are precisely the problems that the bill seeks to address.
However, the interesting thing there is not the description of the problem but the response of that community and its leaders to the problem. Before I describe the attempts to fix the problem, I should say that they were led by a Labour councillor—so I make no partisan points on behalf of anyone in my party. 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 and to ensure that interim ASBOs were sought and obtained. The community is also working on a ban on alcohol and nicotine products. Through multiagency meetings, the community has shared information and put in place acceptable behaviour contracts. It has received some money from City of Edinburgh Council—£90,000—which has helped. It has also changed the physical appearance of the area and painted shops with anti-vandal paint. It has found somewhere for the kids to congregate—unlike Karen Whitefield, I think that hanging out is perfectly acceptable and indeed appropriate behaviour for youngsters.
Mike Rumbles observes that there is nothing in the partnership agreement that requires him to support the proposal to give the police powers to disperse groups. I imagine—although I did not read this—that the partnership agreement must contain something about blank cheques and require him to support measures that the Government comes along with at a later date. Perhaps he will explain that, although there is not enough time for him to do so just now.
Part 4 is on the closure of premises. There is a danger that areas will be stigmatised in the long term, so an attempt to deal with the few will be to the disbenefit of the many. Part 5, on noise, is fine. Part 6, is on the environment. I think that litter problems in rural areas will be addressed at stage 2.
Part 7 is on housing and antisocial behaviour. Karen Whitefield and others had considerable concerns about linking antisocial behaviour orders to tenure. The extended powers in the bill will exacerbate problems and will, of course, leave private owners entirely outside the sanctions that will be applied to tenants. That is intrinsically unfair and unreasonable and is likely to lead to problems in due course.
I will skip ahead to part 10. Landlords, too, want reform and support registration, because they want to get rid of the cowboys in their business, as we all do. We must make rapid progress on that. On part 13, the minister should consider who is a "relevant authority".
I conclude by saying that I think that the Executive's policy is based on weedkiller—the attitude is, "Let's spray it on the problems." Perhaps we also need a little Baby Bio to support the parts that will benefit us in the future.

Stewart Stevenson
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