16 December 2010

S3M-7605 Antisocial Behaviour Framework

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Antisocial Behaviour Framework

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7605, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the antisocial behaviour framework.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

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.

James Kelly: 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.

Stewart Stevenson: 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.

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

Stewart Stevenson: 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.


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