HC Deb 02 April 1965 vol 709 cc2093-5

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)

I beg to move, That this House, recognising the widespread concern which has arisen as a result of the increase in juvenile delinquency, urges Her Majesty's Government to assist and encourage the widest possible research into both its causes and its prevention. No one can doubt that juvenile delinquency is one of the major social problems which confront us today. A great deal of time and effort have been devoted to attempting to reduce its incidence, but, despite all these efforts, the figures for juvenile crime increase, and it is clear that we are confronted here with a problem which has not yet been solved. It may well be that we have failed because we have concentrated on shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, because we have concentrated on considering methods of punishment after the offence has been committed, and that we would be rewarded if we were, instead, to devote more study to the reasons which prompt people to become juvenile delinquents and to the ways of preventing such a tendency from developing.

I do not believe that there is any one simple or single prescription for the prevention of juvenile crime. The causes may lie in some cases in social factors. We know, for instance, that juvenile crime is largely an urban problem. It is a big city problem, and the vast majority of those prosecuted come from lower income families living in poor and overcrowded housing conditions, and educated in overcrowded classes and out-of-date school buildings. We know, too, that in those households where there is a high proportion of mental illness, where there are higher than average figures for cruelty and child neglect, the statistics of juvenile crime are likely to be higher as well.

Researches have shown us that in such areas a sub-culture evolves with its own standards, customs and attitudes, which may often diverge very sharply from those of society as a whole. Among such groups, and particularly among the young people, the borderline between anti-social action and criminal offence is not so clearly drawn as it is for the rest of the population. Ways of showing daring or skill in order to earn the prestige of the other members of the group may begin with trespassing on private land or lorry hopping, and gradually degenerate into petty larceny, receiving, and breaking and entering. The young people concerned—and this is an important point—are not psychological misfits; they are conforming to the standards of the society in which they live, no less than those who have the fortune to be born in a different strata of society conform to theirs, and often receive our approval for it.

Looked at from this aspect—and I stress that I do not believe that social factors are the only factors involved in juvenile crime—our problem is an educational rather than a criminal one. The society which was responsible for the creation of these social conditions must take responsibility for eradicating them.

The Children and Young Persons' Act of 1963 lays on local authorities the duty of providing advice, guidance, and assistance to families in order to reduce the need for children to be taken into the care of the local authority. Why should not this excellent principle be extended to cover those who are potential or actual delinquents? Is it always easy to determine where the need for care and protection ends, and criminal offence begins? The social weakness which creates the former is all too often the progenitor of the latter as well. Why should not both be treated in the same way?

I suggest that it might well benefit us if we were to look again at the Report of the Kilbranden Committee on the future of young persons courts in Scotland. I believe that that Report contains lessons for England as well. It is proposed there to treat juvenile crime by taking juvenile courts out of the criminal jurisdiction altogether and setting up in their place panels of citizens to arrange for the treatment of all children under school leaving age whose actions make it necessary, and establishing a new department of social education within the present educational system which could co-ordinate the various services to help young persons, ranging from approved schools to existing local authority special care, and from residential training away from home to regular supervision within the community.

Is not there a case for combining all the local authority humanitarian services into a comprehensive single family service along the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Longford, has proposed? At the moment the different local authority departments are all too often ill co-ordinated, and a comprehensive family service would surely enable a big step forward to be made both towards eradicating many of the social evils to which I have referred and towards dealing with juvenile delinquency at its source as well.

Time does not allow me to develop this theme. I believe that there is a great need for research into the causes of juvenile delinquency, and from the discovery of those causes we can move on towards its prevention. This is the positive approach which I am sure the Government are already adopting, and my purpose in raising this matter today is to encourage the Government in their efforts in this direction so that we can at last move towards a solution of one of the major social problems of the second half of this century.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, recognising the widespread concern which has arisen as a result of the increase in juvenile delinquency, urges Her Majesty's Government to assist and encourage the widest possible research into both its causes and its prevention.