HC Deb 16 May 1958 vol 588 cc809-14

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I would thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the help and advice which he gave to the House during the Second Reading debate and in Committee.

The previous Bill, to which we have just given a Third Reading, affected arrangements which were made nearly a hundred years ago. This Bill concerns things which were fixed 120 years ago. It is time a change were made. The Bill touches a specific matter, threatening and insulting behaviour, concerning which a penalty of 40s. was fixed for the Metropolitan Area 120 years ago, a sum which seems inadequate when judged by modern standards.

I was glad to have the assurance of the Joint Under-Secretary of State on Second Reading that, possibly as a result of the introduction of the Bill, the whole question of penalties for offences specified in Section LIV of the 1839 Act was being reconsidered by the Home Office. Those offences range widely, from persons accused of the offence that they did expose for Show or Sale (except in a Market lawfully appointed for that Purpose,) or feed or fodder any Horse or other Animal, down to every person who shall fly any Kite or play al any Game to Annoyance of the Inhabitants or Passengers. Those are occupations with which hon. Members of the House are not now familiar, but which were evidently regarded as dangerous then.

The Bill is small, but it has wide implications. It has been welcomed from both sides of the House and I hope that the House will this afternoon give it a unanimous Third Reading.

12.39 p.m.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

I beg to second the Motion.

I believe that in doing so I have the support of the vast majority of people in the country, who are extremely perturbed at the goings on of Teddy boy gangs. These gangs disturb the peace of the country, not only by their bad crimes but by their insulting behaviour. I hope that this Bill will curb their activities.

When we talk about punishment, what do we really mean? We do not punish people just for the sake of it. We punish for one reason, and that reason is to produce a deterrent. If a punishment does deter people from committing crimes or from recommitting crimes—and there are many who are recommitting crimes—it is a step in the right direction. For a punishment to be a deterrent it must be felt.

At the present, we see increased wage claims being made throughout the country to bring people's pay up to the value of the £ at present. In exactly the same way fines, if they are to be a deterrent, should be increased. For example, if when these penalties were first brought in it was intended that they should take two or three weeks' wages to pay them, it makes a mockery of the whole system if the amounts of the fines can be earned in a few hours. I think it is perfectly right that these fines should be increased.

However, there is one question which worries me, and it is this. How can we be certain that the youths I am referring to who commit these crimes really pay the fines themselves? I raised this subject in this House quite recently. I believe it is true that in many cases the parents pay these fines. I believe it is also true that in many cases the parents are themselves to blame. The fact remains, however, that the perpetrators of the crimes themselves should be made to pay and to suffer the punishment.

I wonder whether, when this Bill goes to another place, that question will be considered. I wonder whether it would be possible to have the amount of the fines stopped from the pay packets of the offenders. I hope some method could be found to ensure that these fines are paid by the criminals themselves. Would it be possible to impound the Teddy boys' suits until they do pay the fines?—because they are pretty revolting at the present moment. Further to that, I wonder if it would be possible to cut off the Teddy boys' curls and to continue cutting them off until the Teddy boys pay their fines.

I believe it was Gilbert in the "Mikardo" who said Make the punishment fit the crime. I believe that is just what we have to do at the present moment. I am quite certain that much of the punishment at present is far too lenient. I suggest to magistrates that if we were to have a little less binding over and a little more bending over we might get a certain amount of improvement in their behaviour and a more effective deterrent for these young, stupid men.

I support the Bill because I think it goes a certain way to strengthen the deterrent against crime. I do not think it goes far enough, and I hope that when it goes to another place these few points I have put forward will be seriously considered.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I intervene for only a moment to speak in support of this Bill. I agree with all that has been said about the desirability of bringing up to date the punishments for the offences which are so rife today, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friends in what they have said about the desirability of bringing the fines more in line with the modern earning capacity of some of those who are guilty of this insulting and gross behaviour.

I am, however, forced, in the interests of my constituency, to utter just one word of warning. As I understand it, this Bill applies only to the Metropolitan Police area. Apparently, those who commit these acts of insulting behaviour in the Metropolitan Police area will, when the Bill becomes law, be subjected to heavier fines for such behaviour than they would if they were to commit that same insulting behaviour outside the Metropolitan Police District.

Mr. Stevens

Outside the Metropolitan Police area the maximum fines are fixed by the local authorities, and local authorities outside the Metropolitan Police area have authority to inflict penalties up to £100. If they have not done so, I think it is largely due to the fact that in London, the centre of the United Kingdom, the maximum has been 40s., and for that reason in the provinces the fines have tended to be rather on the low side. It is my hope, of course, that when the provinces see what London is now doing, as I hope it will do today, they may be encouraged to increase the penalties accordingly.

Mr. McAdden

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that is something which ought to be brought out in consideration of this Bill. I imagine that a number of the local authorities are not aware of this power they have. Alternatively, they have not chosen to act upon it. It gives me some consolation to know that they can.

I must confess that when I first heard that the penalties for this insulting behaviour were to be increased in London I had some fear, in view of the fact that I represent a constituency quite close to London, that there might be some migration of the lads who are indulging in this insulting behaviour from London to my constituency in the hope that they might get away with that behaviour there on the cheap. I am glad to hear that that is not the case.

I hope that the Council of the County Borough of Southend, if it is the body responsible for the administration of fines for offences of this character, will take heart from the fact that the House of Commons has decided, as I hope it is about to do, that these penalties shall be increased in the Metropolitan Police area, and I hope it will be encouraged to take quite drastic action to increase the fines for similar offences there, should they ever occur there, although, of course, that is unlikely in normal circumstances, for riotous and insulting behaviour is unlikely at Southend, which is well known to be one of the leading and best conducted seaside resorts of this country.

However, were this Measure to result in driving the perpetrators of these offences from London to Southend in the hope of committing their offences more cheapily it might have serious consequences. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that local authorities outside London have power to forestall them. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the Bill, and I am sure the people of Southend will be, also.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who, I hope, will intervene in the debate, will make it clear that the attention of local authorities outside London will be drawn to the power which they possess with a view to securing that there shall be some uniformity in practice throughout the whole of the country in this matter.

12.47 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

If I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) rightly, he was suggesting that a Government circular might be sent to local authorities, other than those in the Metropolitan Police area, suggesting that they should bring their byelaws into line with the provisions of the Bill. I speak without having had the opportunity of considering the point, but I think it is a matter which might be attended by certain difficulties. However, I will at least consider it and will write to my hon. Friend about it.

I am sure the House and all who live in the Metropolitan area are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lang-stone (Mr. Stevens) for his initiative in introducing the Bill, which, although very narrow in its terms, does cover an important point. Teddy boys have been mentioned, but they are not the only people against whom the police have to proceed in the Metropolitan area for using insulting words and behaviour.

Let it not be thought that this Bill will prevent serious crime, but it will assist the police very greatly indeed to be able to prosecute people who are a nuisance, or exhibitionists, and who sometimes move on from that condition into being criminals, in the knowledge that the courts will have power to award sufficiently large fines to affect the offenders' pockets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) asked whether these fines really are paid. I have not the figures with me, although I produced them for the House on another occasion recently. It is interesting to note that an extremely large percentage of all the fines awarded in this country are paid. There are very few ultimate bad debts, and the percentage of people who have to be sent to prison in default of payment of fine is in these days very small.

The question whether the offenders themselves, if they are Teddy boys, will pay the fines, or whether their parents will do so, was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. It is a difficult question to answer and, candidly, in the case of very young offenders I do not think it is a terribly important one. As my hon. Friend himself rightly pointed out, the parents have some responsibility in this matter, and the good conduct of the youths must be to some extent a matter of proper control and understanding by the parents of their children. The great thing, however, is that if young people indulge in insulting words and behaviour they can now be more heavily fined, and either they or their parents, or both, will feel the consequences more severely.

I might be out of order if I attempted to answer the various other interesting points that have been raised, but we shall not forget them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.