HC Deb 26 March 1975 vol 889 cc465-7
10. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the nature of his reply to the representations he received on behalf of 1,000 persons from Coatbridge and Airdrie which called for legislation providing for longer sentences on those convicted in courts; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

Penalties are a matter for the courts and there is no reason to suppose that their maximum powers are inadequate. A reply to the Editor of theAirdrie and Coatbridge Advertiserwas sent on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 14th March and by me today. These discussed measures which, if taken by the services and, indeed, the citizens in the local community, could help to reduce the problem.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 1,000 persons wrote to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiserasking that tougher measures should be taken against those who flood high schools, repeatedly burn beautiful new primary schools, destroy industrial premises and even poison the guard dogs, and attack and brutally beat up innocent persons who are thus reduced almost to vegetables? Will my hon. Friend con- sider widening the court sentences to include useful community work under the prison service supervision where no labour force exists now, not forgetting the possibility of restoring corporal punishment for these persistent sophisticated thugs?

Mr. Ewing

It is important to get this question in its proper perspective. TheAirdrie and Coatbridge Advertiserissued about 10,000 forms, of which 1,000 were returned. The forms contained a question which the people answered. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish to mislead the House into believing that 1,000 people actually wrote to the newspaper, because that is not the position.

I assure my hon. Friend that longer and more severe sentences are now being imposed. In 1963, 8 per cent. of those convicted for vandalism were given custodial sentences, whereas in 1973 the figure was 13 per cent.

Consideration is being given to the possibility of introducing some form of community service for those convicted of vandalism. But I think that my hon. Friend has a duty to be consistent. I know that he does not favour corporal punishment in schools, for instance—

Mr. Dempsey

No. The Minister is wrong.

Mr. Ewing

It is important that we should get the question of corporal punishment clear in our minds.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Under-Secretary agree that vandalism is a serious and worsening problem? What does he mean by his new initiative, and does he envisage a situation in which those who perpetrate acts of vandalism would, where practicable, be made to make good the damage they have done?

Mr. Ewing

Any person convicted of an act of vandalism can be sued in a civil action for the costs of putting right the vandalism committed. The new initiative to which I referred relates to community service. We are looking at this matter, and when we are in a position to say something to the House that will be done.

Mr. Gourlay

In his travels throughout Scotland, has the Minister noticed the andalism being perpetrated by the SNP election propaganda which is still being displayed? I refer particularly to the horrible desecration of an important building in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that custodial sentences are imposed upon those concerned?

Mr. Ewing

I have noticed that most of our road signs are still seriously disfigured with SNP election propaganda. This is a serious point which I trust the SNP will take seriously. Political parties have a responsibility to clear up that type of vandalism. I appeal to the SNP to take steps to have our road signs restored to their original form, to clear up the type of vandalism to which my hon. Friend rightly referred.

Mr. Fairbairn

Does the Minister appreciate that, having with great difficulty got the District Courts (Scotland) Bill through the House in its present form, he has thus excluded the thousand burghers of Coatbridge and Airdrie, who might have imposed the sentences in the courts?

Mr. Ewing

I appreciate that what we have done with the Bill, without the hon. Gentleman's help, is to introduce a system of courts that will be very acceptable and will perform a very good service within the law of Scotland.