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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 15:26 GMT
McConnell clash with police chief
Teenagers - generic
Plans for dispersing gangs were criticised
Scotland's first minister has clashed with a police chief in his constituency about proposals for cracking down on anti-social behaviour.

Chief Superintendent Tom Buchan, who is divisional commander for Motherwell and Wishaw, said plans to disperse groups of youths were unnecessary.

But speaking in the Scottish Parliament Mr McConnell said Mr Buchan's comments were "regrettable".

The dispersal proposals form part of the new anti-social behaviour bill.

Community confidence

MSPs approved the general principles of the bill on Wednesday and it will now be scrutinised by a backbench Holyrood committee.

Defending his plans and responding to Mr Buchan's remarks, Mr McConnell said the new powers would create a safer Scotland.

He said: "I think it's vitally important the police in that area, as well as other parts of Scotland, reinforce confidence in local communities in their actions.

"I think the best way to do that would be to deal with anti-social behaviour rather than standing up against the powers local people want him and his officers to have."

No need

Mr Buchan attacked Mr McConnell's plans during an interview on BBC Radio Scotland.

He said: "We didn't ask for the legislation, don't feel there is a need.

"I would think long and hard before I would put it in use. It is not addressing the issue."

Opposition parties have also joined in the policeman's criticism of the Labour leader's plans.

And the controversy surrounding them dominated Wednesday's parliamentary debate.

Political debate

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles claimed the proposed dispersal powers were "draconian".

He said: "Many people are specifically concerned our hard-won right to peaceful assembly is under threat here and I've seen no reasons so far in the debate why we should be supporting what many people consider to be very draconian measures."

Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon added: "A power that allows the police to disperse groups that are committing no offences will do little to help build relationships between the police and young people."

Colin Fox, justice spokesman for the Scottish Socialist Party, said: "Young people have the right to freedom of association and this Executive should not take it away from them."

BBC Scotland's Glenn Campbell
"There is no sign of an executive cilmb-down on the crackdown"

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