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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Crime plans 'stigmatise' children
Junior tagging and anti-social orders are planned
Plans for cracking down on anti-social behaviour will stigmatise young people, according to opposition parties.

The Scottish Executive proposals include the electronic tagging of offenders under 16 and increased powers for police to disperse groups of young people.

Scottish National Party (SNP) justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said the executive was running the risk of "alienating a whole generation" of youngsters.

Ms Sturgeon's accusations drew a furious response from ministers and Labour backbenchers as the plans were debated in Holyrood.

We must not stigmatise, either deliberately or just as the result of lazy, over-generalisation, all young people for the behaviour of a minority
Nicola Sturgeon
She said that while she and her party backed many of the executive measures, she did not agree with the way the plans had been presented.

She said: "We must not stigmatise, either deliberately or just as the result of lazy, over-generalisation, all young people for the behaviour of a minority.

"If we do we run the risk of alienating a whole generation from the society that we want them to play a responsible and constructive part in."

But Communities Minister Margaret Curran - who is in charge of getting the executive's plans through parliament - reacted with fury to Ms Sturgeon's accusations.

As Labour MSPs cheered her on, Ms Curran demanded to know which of the executive's proposals "stigmatised" young Scots.

Police call

Ms Sturgeon replied: "Your rhetoric over the past few weeks has stigmatised young people."

Earlier, Ms Curran had insisted that ordinary Scots were crying out for something to be done to tackle anti-social behaviour.

She said: "The clear message from our communities is that anti-social behaviour is one of the biggest blights they face."

The emphasis on youngsters came under fire from Scottish Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie, who urged ministers to focus on providing enough police on the beat and resources to the prosecution services to enforce the existing law.

People need hope and in many communities they don't have hope
Donald Gorrie
Communities spokesman
She agreed that not all youngsters were "law-abiding little angels", but insisted: "Neither do I accept that the predominant perpetrators of anti-social behaviour are such young people."

She told ministers: "Before you clutter up the statute book with new laws, burdening all the agencies with new responsibilities and obligations - all requiring more resources from the executive - the executive must carry out a radical assessment of what laws are currently available, which are not being used and consider how the existing agencies can better be used."

The Lib Dems' communities spokesman, Donald Gorrie, urged ministers not to follow the less "enlightened" policies of the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and emphasised the need to prevent youngsters from getting into trouble through boredom.

"People need hope and in many communities they don't have hope," he added.

'Brutal and uncivilised'

The Scottish Greens' Glasgow list MSP Patrick Harvie said there was broad agreement that anti-social behaviour could have a "profoundly damaging effect on communities and individuals", and had to be tackled.

But he said: "The measures which will work are measures designed to support people to change unacceptable behaviour, rather than stigmatising and even brutalising them.

Graffiti on a housing estate
The executive has pledged to target anti-social behaviour
"The measures which will do more in the long term will be those designed to get to the root of the problem."

Scottish Socialist Party justice spokesman Colin Fox described the proposals to tag child offenders as a "brutal and uncivilised" measure, claiming the anti-social behaviour debate had the "stamp of Mrs Thatcher all over it".

"This has the stamp of somebody who believed there wasn't any such thing as communities of any such things as society, and unfortunately her legacy here continues," he added, insisting his views were not simply the views of a "bleeding heart liberal".

Tory MSP Bill Aitken mocked the executive for what he claimed was its late conversion to the law and order cause.

"Not since Saul's celebrated journey to Damascus has there been such a change of mind, change of view, and such a change of attitude," he said.

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