02 June 2005

S2M-2893 Antisocial Behaviour

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 June 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Antisocial Behaviour

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2893, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on antisocial behaviour.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I would like to start with something quite obvious and something with which I hope we will all agree, which is to congratulate children throughout Scotland on their contribution to society, their engagement in the issues in our society and their articulation of issues. On all those fronts, today's children do much better than children did in my day—we were a repressed and inarticulate minority when I was a child.

Hugh Henry: Stewart Stevenson is making up for lost time.

Stewart Stevenson: That is a kind remark from the minister, who is obviously impressed by my ability to articulate and engage. However, he will have his chance to follow up that remark later.

At the core of the matter is an extremely important point: our kids do us proud, but a few blot the copybook for the overwhelming majority. I know that all members who are present agree with that, so we should keep it at the core of our debate, which has brought to the Parliament a variety of experience from many different communities throughout Scotland. We must hold that variety and the need for a variety of responses close to us as we seek to understand the way forward.

There are no simple answers and there is no single answer. The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, which the Scottish National Party had reservations about but supported, makes a contribution to equipping communities and organisations to deal with the problems that many of our communities experience. I welcome the fact that, when we were dealing with the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, Margaret Curran accepted amendments in my name that mean that, in due course, the Parliament will formally hear of the progress that is being made.

I have a word of caution for the minister. We must not conflate crime with antisocial behaviour in a way that confuses and blurs the message. In her opening remarks, there was a danger of the minister doing that when she discussed drug dealers, who are criminals of the first order, in the same context as antisocial behaviour. Of course, all crime is antisocial—we have defined it to be so by its very nature—but we must be cautious.

After the minister made remarks commending the work of community wardens in my constituency on a previous occasion, I extracted those remarks from the Official Report and delivered them to the community wardens in my constituency. They welcomed the minister's support, which was much deserved, but they are already saying that resources are a problem. We have made a start on a journey, but there is much more to do. As the minister said, strategies must aid prevention and we must promote early intervention. That is an important point.

The debate has been one of the scariest for a long time. I am very worried about the fact that my colleague Kenny MacAskill agreed with the Prime Minister, adopted his language and supported his social attitudes. However, does that not touch on the fact that we share common concerns? Therefore, let us share common solutions.

Annabel Goldie once again articulated the benefits of zero tolerance. I will sound a note of caution on that. In New York, the crimes on which the police focused—which were largely crimes of violence and street crime—certainly disappeared from the areas where zero tolerance was exercised. However, beyond those areas, the levels of crime rose. Not only that, but in the areas in which zero tolerance was, quite reasonably, being imposed, there was a transfer from overt, violent street crime to more subtle forms of crime, partly commercial and retail crime.

Margaret Mitchell: Is Stewart Stevenson against a zero-tolerance policy?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not against zero tolerance; I am saying only that we should be cautious about the value that it can deliver.

Richard Baker made a slightly unusual speech. I was not aware that there were any personal residences on the Beach Boulevard in Aberdeen, but there was an issue there nonetheless. However, where are the boys, girls, men and women who previously gathered with their cars at the Beach Boulevard? If we were to ask the people in Torry and Nigg, we might get an answer. It is like squeezing the soap in the bath: we have simply sent them 3 miles down the road.

It was scary to discover that Stewart Maxwell once scared people with his motorcycle helmet. I confess to the Parliament that, when I was a nascent Teddy boy, my fluorescent socks used to alarm my parents and others.

Margaret Jamieson made the valid point that ASBOs should be a last resort. There is some danger that, in some parts of the debate, we might be suggesting that they are actually an early intervention and I hope that, in his closing speech, the minister will clarify that that is not the intention. Margaret Jamieson also highlighted the complexity of human behaviour and, indeed, misbehaviour.

I bring back to the Parliament a phrase from another time: tough love. We have to love the antisocial offenders. We must love them to death to move them into the main body of our society and away from a path that leads to criminality and incarceration. We must also help communities to help themselves and empower people who feel disempowered. If the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 and the funding from the Executive achieve that, they will have been worth while.


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