9 Apr 2009

Anti-Social Behaviour : Scottish Parliament speech 2 April 2009

There was much in what Michael Matheson said with which I can agree.
It certainly would be naive to try to legislate away the problem and I do not think for a moment that anyone was suggesting that we should.
He is right to say that we should learn from the experience of implementing the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 and, where it is found wanting, strengthen and develop it.
That is how we should approach all legislation—building on reason and experience and improving where necessary. Nobody in the Parliament would suggest that because something had been passed a few years ago, it should remain sacrosanct for ever and a day.
I agreed with much of what the minister said.
Yes, prevention is certainly preferable to taking action.
We would all agree that resolving a problem by cutting it out is much better than trying to resolve it once lives have been affected or blighted.
I agree with him that we should not judge success on the basis of ASBO numbers, vehicle seizures or anything else; we should judge success on outcomes and the impact of legislation and preventive measures.
I was pleased that the minister pointed to many of the initiatives that were started by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in the previous Administration.
Those initiatives are proving to be worthy and could be developed even further.
He spoke about giving early support to families to promote good parenting skills, which is exactly what sure start and other initiatives were intended to do.
He spoke about the twilight basketball initiative, which was started previously.
I was involved personally with many of the initiatives involving the Scottish Rocks basketball team.
We could also refer to the twilight football leagues that operate throughout Scotland with the involvement of local police and the support of the Bank of Scotland.
Prevention has always been at the heart of what we have tried to do—trying to stop a problem before it starts or, where we identify a problem, resolve it through good commonsense, effective measures.
However, Paul Martin and others are right to say that, although we are trying to prevent problems from developing, where one has already developed beyond what it is reasonable to accept, it is right that we take action to deal with it. I was pleased to see that the document recognised that
"The tools provided by the 2004 Act have clearly made a difference to the lives of people across Scotland: they empowered local agencies and communities to take a stand against ASB and provided those who had suffered in silence for too long with some much-needed respite."
That was at the heart of the 2004 act and it should be at the heart of anything that we attempt to do now.
Without suggesting for a moment that we are looking only at numbers, I think that we cannot close our eyes to the fact that measures have been taken over several years throughout Scotland in council areas run by different political parties, which have seen the local value of what is on offer.
For example, in 2007-08, Aberdeen City Council saw the need to effect 30 adult ASBOs and there were 18 in Edinburgh, 33 in Fife, 13 in Stirling, and 14 in West Lothian
Those councils recognised that other measures had failed in their areas and that it was therefore right to use the tools available.
Michael Matheson rightly mentioned issues to do with vehicle seizures.
If measures to close premises are to be strengthened and improved, I would welcome it.
My constituents and I find it frustrating that many people in our part of Strathclyde put up with month after month of intolerable abuse.
For whatever reason, the police are not willing to use closure orders, despite the fact that such orders have been shown to be effective elsewhere.
I remember visiting a block of high flats in Aberdeen when I was a minister.
The residents told me that they had been queueing up to get out because of the behaviour of one bad tenant. However, because the police applied for, and received, a closure order leading to that individual being removed, the residents' lives were transformed and they were proud and happy to stay where they were.
That one individual ruining their lives had been the only reason why they had wanted to get out.
We should not close our eyes to the positive impact that enforcement can have when we use the powers at our disposal, and we should not tolerate professionals, in whatever agency, who are not prepared to use their powers to improve the quality of life of the people whom we represent. Paul Martin raised another relevant issue.
Many of the professionals, and many politicians, do not live in the areas that are worst affected by antisocial behaviour.
We should not accept or tolerate behaviour in the areas where the people whom we represent live if we would not accept or tolerate it in the areas where we live ourselves.
There has to be a balance between enforcement and prevention, but let us not turn our backs on the people whose lives are blighted.