HC Deb 20 December 1976 vol 923 cc216-40

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

I make no apology for raising this subject again at this hour and following upon the last debate. It has to do with the defence of the realm, albeit against vandals within the journey rather than attackers from outside. Vandalism is an evil, expensive and all-pervading problem which seems to have the ability to increase with prosperity and to go on increasing in adversity. It has now reached the staggering cost to the nation of over £100 million. By coincidence, that is almost the same sum as the defence cuts we have just debated. It is a sorry thought that the wave of vandalism we face may have in some way contributed to the invidious cuts in the defence expenditure.

Vandalism is of deep concern to all thinking people. That is why I am glad to raise the problem again, to reestablish its size and nature as well as its cost, to attempt to identify where possible the extent of juvenile vandalism, to propose some avenues of investigation aid to ask questions about future plans.

This subject has been raised more than once in the past year. It was raised in an Adjournment debate a year ago yesterday by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). It was raised in an Adjournment debate with regard to Scotland by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen). It was mentioned by the Prime Minister in the debate on the Queen's Speech, when he said: Levels of crime are a cause for serious concern, especially offences committed by young people. There is a disturbing increase in vandalism, especially among teenagers."—[Official Report, 24th November 1976; Vol. 920, c. 30.] It was mentioned also by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), supported by me, in Questions to the Secretary of State for Education and Science only a few days ago.

I believe that the number of times the subject has been raised illustrates the continuing concern and the breadth of the concern in geographic terms. Also, it is a problem of enormous breadth in its variety and types. It can vary from daubing and writing, carvings on wood, paintings with aerosol cans—some in loving terms and some in the crudest of language—to casual vandalism such as broken windows, ripped-up benches, destroyed sporting facilities, pulled-up or cut-down trees, ripped-off car aerials, damage to parks and recreational facilities, and even, sadly damage to cemeteries. It can culminate sometimes in organised vandalism by gangs in trains and damage to people and property as such gangs arrive and depart.

It is difficult to differentiate between these types when assessing extent and cause. On present statistics, that is virtually impossible. But one point is clear—the number of people under the age of 17 who are vandals has increased dramatically in recent years. Those proceeded against for malicious damage and criminal damage increased in numbers by one-quarter from 7,412 in 1971 to 9,205 in 1975, compared to an increase of only 8 per cent. for the period of six years between 1965 and 1971. Between 1971 and 1975, the number of young girls in this overall group of young people almost doubled.

Those who were cautioned as an alternative to prosecution more than doubled in number from 1971 to 1975, from 2,982 to 6,108, and the number of girls cautioned rose by more than four and a half times. This does not include all offences, because not all are reported, and it does not include those involving property worth less than £20. The Home Office report last year said in paragraph 5.2: We have little doubt that unrecorded minor damage of a value in each case of less than £20 has increased correspondingly; this is the kind of damage to which the younger age groups are particularly prone. Therefore, applying that sort of increase, one can almost double the extent of vandalism as a whole.

These statistics, dramatic though they are, are only the tip of the iceberg. A Home Office survey was conducted in Liverpool some time last year. We were told on 19th December: Early findings of the study among 600 Liverpool schoolboys confirm that vandalism is prevalent among 11- to 15-year old boys in the city and that police records represent only the tip of the iceberg."—[Official Report, 19th December 1976; Vol. 902, c. 1954–5.] So this country sadly faces an avalanche of wanton destruction, from Scotland to the English Channel. In my own area of East and West Sussex, vandalism for the 10 months to October 1976—probably the most up-to-date figures in the country—is up by 45 per cent. over a whole 12-month period three years earlier. This again applies to vandalism of property worth more than £20. That, Sussex police confirm, is almost entirely vandalism by juveniles. I guess that there is not a city, town, village or even hamlet untouched by this offensive, distressing and costly destruction.

I must stress the cost, although it is difficult to assess. I would substantiate my belief that it is gargantuan by picking up first the costs of the random selection of 13 authorities reported in the Home Office report "Protection against vandalism" and applying a very restrained inflation factor to allow for increases in costs since 1971–72 when these measurements were made, but making no allowance for the increased incidence of vandalism. Vandalism to lighting and transport would now be costing £233,000, to street furniture and parks £165,000, to housing £237,000 and to libraries and schools £362,000. The total cost for those 13 authorities would now total £1,050,000.

Another instance is fires in schools, reported in the Department of Education and Science report "Fire and the design of schools". This shows that fires measured as being caused by malicious ignition—which is a way of describing arson—rose from 53 in 1962 to 398 in 1973. Half as many fires are caused by malicious arson as by heating and cooking processes or by the operation of heating and cooking appliances. The cost in 1973 of all fires causing total damage of more than £10,000 was £4,470,000. Even that estimate pales into insignificance beside the estimate in The Times on 11th January 1975 that total school fire costs were £9 million in 1974, which would be £12½ million at today's prices.

My next illustration is one cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) but reported last December that the city of Manchester faced damage by vandals to the average value of a horrifying £10,000 a day. He also cited a report from London Transport that vandals were costing them £200,000 per annum. Only last November, in a debate on vandalism in Scotland, mention was made of an equally horrifying figure for that part of the United Kingdom—a total cost of £12 million per annum. The Home Office report "Protection against vandalism" also said that vandalism had cost British Rail £1 million per annum and the Post Office £426,000 for damage to kiosks alone.

Taking all these figures together, leaving out figures which might overlap and implying an incerase in costs to allow for inflation—but not to allow for the increased incidence of acts of vandalism, since that might tend to inflate the results—I arrive at the horrifying minimum estimate of vandalism in England, Wales and Scotland of £114,327,000. Since juvenile vandalism accounted for 22 per cent. of total proceedings for offences involving more than £20 reported in 1975, the juvenile share of that total at the lowest projection is over £25 million.

With costs of that gargantuan proportion, vandalism must be a prime area for the application of cost-benefit analysis when considering what counteraction might be mounted and what costs might be involved. Action to counter this destructive and costly avalanche of vandalism was never more necessary than now, as the Government cut building and maintenance projects and local authority programmes particularly are squeezed.

All actions, however, minor, require increased expenditure, but, if that expenditure can of itself erode in any small way that horrible figure of £114 million, cost-benefit analysis will clearly show how that increased expenditure will reduce costs, to the benefit of all. I would suggest five areas of action for inclusion in the Home Secretary's plans for next year.

First, the Home Office has said that the gathering of information should be encouraged and that people should be encouraged to report occasions of vandalism, without fear of complicated process or reprisals. The Home Office report last year suggested that this could be arranged very simply and encouraged relatively easily. What has the Minister to report on that front?

Also under this head, local authorities and local police forces need to be encouraged to identify types of vandalism more accurately, particularly to separate deliberate vandalism from genuinely accidental breakage and to identify age and characteristics of vandals, where possible. I am glad that—according to the Home Office—the Sussex police will be reporting age categories from the beginning of next year. Cannot others be encouraged to follow? What lead is the Home Office giving.

Also under this head, cannot the Home Office establish a reasonable national nomenclature for vandalism, so that reports from different sources can be coordinated and combined and, what is perhaps even more important, compared? Should not some measurement of vandalism costing under £20 now be made? Until such measurement is made, it will not be possible to reflect properly in the budgets of different Departments the cost they are having to bear for vandalism under their own heads. Lastly, should not the Home Office establish a central information source, where records of counteractions, both successful and unsuccessful, can be available as source material for others to study? I should appreciate answers from the Minister to all these points.

The second area in which I suggest the Home Office should instigate action is in terms of applying more persuasion to all those who have some point of influence on this horrible problem. For children—and here liaison with the Department of Education is crucial—clear standards of behaviour need to be set. I refer not to dictatorial rules but to useful yardsticks against which children and adults can compare and measure children's behaviour. If children are allowed to behave exactly as they like, it is a disservice to them and to their parents, because it leads almost inevitably to lower-quality child behaviour levels, or levels which are of the lowest quality possible.

I suggest to the Home Secretary that persuasion can be applied much more strongly to teachers, magistrates, parents and grandparents, because a greater knowledge of the immense proportions of the problem of vandalism—what it is and what should be done to combat it—cannot but lead to better, and better-directed, counter-actions. Publicity can play an important part. In the same way as the Government are at the moment about to mount a campaign to draw people's attention to the dangers of drink and driving, could not a campaign be mounted by the Home Office at the beginning of school terms?

The third area in which I suggest action should be mounted is in the study of statistics concerned with the causes of vandalism. It has been reported that the Home Secretary was planning to call a special conference next month to study all the aspects of vandalism, its causes and methods of control. Can the Minister make any report on that plan? What further research projects have been undertaken by the Home Office Research Unit since its last report in June 1975? What further study has been made in conjunction with the Department of the Environment on ways of designing out vandalism when erecting public buildings without dehumanising the architecture within which we wish humans to behave more humanely?

There can be few areas of national expenditure in which greater benefit could be expected from a careful study of cause and effect and where different approaches to containment and deterrence can be tried, measured, improved, changed and tried again. I shall be grateful to have the Minister's comments on this aspect of the problem.

The fourth area in which I wish to make suggestions is that of policing and the prevention of vandalism. Prevention must be the first call on police and local government resources. I would advocate the installation of alarm systems and the institution of dog patrol schemes and the like. It is also interesting that East Sussex County Council has reported that buildings such as school assembly halls that are used on a more continuous basis than their prime function requires seem likely to receive less than their fair share of damage from vandalism. Surely it is better for local authorities to organise more extra-mural use of their buildings, even if it costs extra in terms of heating and supervisory time, than to have to pay the same or greater cost that destruction by vandals entails.

When vandals strike, it is imperative that they are caught after the first misbehaviour for maximum beneficial effect on themselves and for maximum deterrent effect on others. This requires a fully-manned and properly motivated police force. I hope that the Home Secretary's review of police negotiating machinery and the full meeting that he has promised between his own advisers and the Police Federation will lead to reconsideration of the honest claim of the police for a £6-a-week wage increase. Parliament must not and cannot take for granted the forces of law to preserve order in our community. In the end police and parents must co-operate, but the police must be in a position to give a lead.

The fifth area in which, I suggest, there is room for greater action than at present lies in establishing responsibility for vandals' actions and in punishing them. Cannot the Minister do more to ensure that the vandals pay more towards the cost of repairing their vandalism, either by cash or by community service? Is not more action required by the Home Office to encourage magistrates to impose such penalties?

Why is it that parents or guardians are liable under civil law for the actions of their children only in exceptional circumstances such as when they actually instigate the act? Why should adults have greater responsibility in law for their dogs than they have for their children? Should not the Home Secretary examine yet again whether the law should be changed as it pertains to parental responsibility for the actions of their children?

When such huge sums of money are involved, it is unsatisfactory to claim, as the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science claimed recently, that if the problem were as large as I have made it out to be proposals to deal with it would have been put before the House long ago if such proposals were possible. Surely that cannot be so.

I appreciate that this is a complicated area in which to legislate. The role of foster-parents, adoptive parents or those acting in loco parentis requires particular consideration. I hope that the Minister will take another look at the problem and will not stand pat on his most recent statement, which he made to me in a letter earlier this month. He said in his closing sentence: This matter has been carefully considered but we can at present see no equitable way in which parental responsibility might be further extended. If we want our younger generation to behave kindly and treat our goods gently and carefully, we must show consideration for them and their ways. One mark of consideration is to have proper rules, to encourage people to abide by them and to encourage people to apply them fairly. In this effort, the Home Office and the Home Secretary can provide the genesis for improvement.

I hope that this debate, in contributing to a better understanding of the ghastly extent of vandalism in our country, particularly among those under 17, and even more particularly among young girls, will reinvigorate the Home Office in its catalytic role among Government Departments, local authorities, the police, teachers, professionals in child psychology, civic groups, parent groups and all interested and worried individuals, so as to encourage all these to reappraise vandalism and bend their energies to reduce it in the fture. If it achieves that in some measure, even at this early hour of the morning the debate will have been worthwhile.

12.55 a.m.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) has done the House a fine service by so ably discussing the important subject of juvenile vandalism. It is a deeply disturbing national problem and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the research he has done into its size, scope and cost. I found his figures quite staggering.

There are, I believe, no easy answers or simple solutions to the problems, especially at a time in our society which could, perhaps, be labelled in common parlance as the era of "Public apathy rules—OK." I hope that this debate is a small step towards countering that apathy and in expressing Parliament's growing concern about lawlessness and vandalism. Concern is certainly deeply felt among our constituents. Time and again one hears such questions as "Are children and young offenders above the law? Can the police cope with the problem any longer? Do the courts have the powers to punish them when these young offenders are caught? Does Parliament have the will to support the courts and the police in a drive to fight this evil cancer which is growing in our society?"

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes mentioned the question of parental responsibility in this matter. I believe that the roots of juvenile vandalism are to be found in the increasing indiscipline and breaking down of family life in today's society. We have reached a stage when we should make families more responsible for acts of vandalism committed by their children. I believe, too, that parents should be made to foot the bill when children go on the rampage. It is not enough just to make parents responsible for nonpayment of fines. Under civil law they should be compelled to pay at least some of the cost of the repairs made necessary by acts of vandalism and violence.

There is the special problem of vandalism in schools. It is, I suppose, a truism that a school which has created an atmosphere of good discipline and school pride and spirit will see far less vandalism among its pupils than will one which has been neglected by the authorities, by the teachers or by parents. I think I can illustrate that by reference to two schools in my constituency. I refer, first, to the Conynghame School at Ramsgate, a modern comprehensive school. When it was first built—and especially when it was under construction—there was a serious problem of both truancy and vandalism, to such an extent that many parents of children in the area even went so far as to refuse to send their children to that school. Once the builders were out of the way, however, and the school had settled down, once it was able to take pride in its new facilities and all the excellent equipment, the truancy rate fell and the vandalism rate dropped to almost nil. Today it is one of the finest and most respected schools in the area.

Another school in the constituency, called Hereson School, also in Ramsgate, is rather neglected by the authorities, at any rate in financial terms, and the facilities are well below par. It has a high truancy rate, and it is believed that some of the vandalism in the neighbourhood is by truants. But on recent visits to the school I learnt that, although the truancy rate is high for most of the classes, it falls almost to zero in the craft classes—carpentry, engineering and so on.

The school is in particular trouble, however, because the plant—as it might be described—in the craft classrooms is seriously under-utilised. Because of the lack of one craft teacher, one of the major craft classrooms is used for only six periods out of 40 a week. As the craft classes appear to produce a nil truancy rate, as in many other schools throughout the country, the Department of Education and Science could profit- ably consider the allocation of resources to make sure that those parts of school life which have that result should be helped by the provision of adequate numbers of teachers.

I turn to the subject of football hooliganism, perhaps the nearest thing in our society to primitive ritualistic tribal warfare. We welcome the Government's indications of concern, as shown in the Queen's Speech, in which higher penalties were promised. But they will not be enough. Magistrates and judges must become tougher in using the existing powers. It is surprising how rarely magistrates order a convicted soccer hooligan to attend an attendance centre on Saturday afternoons for the duration of the soccer season. If it is said that there are too few attendance centres for the purpose, the Home Office might consider prescribing certain practice grounds and training areas of League soccer clubs as attendance centres under the Criminal Justice Act. In that way, soccer could put its own house in order.

My hon. Friend was right to stress the role of the police in combating the rise of juvenile vandalism. Prevention is, of course, better than cure. Such areas as can still afford the manpower for the traditional beat policing methods have higher success rates than metropolitan areas which lack the manpower. We still need more police. The Thin blue line is far too thin. I am glad that it is my party's policy to make the police an exception to our general rule of reducing public expenditure. We have promises that we shall spend the extra money to increase police manpower generally.

I deplore the Government's Scrooge-like attitude to the present police pay claim. It is a complicated matter, but an overwhelming majority of policemen and, I believe, of the public find it difficult to understand the Government's curious double standards. These allowed them to settle swiftly, almost embarrassingly swiftly, the seamen's pay claim, which was on all fours with the police pay claim, by devices within the fringe benefit arrangements, but the Government have not so far been able to make any such fringe benefit arrangements available to the police, who have a far better claim that the seamen had. This neglect of the police pay claim will have the sad consequence of driving the Police Federation into the hands of the militants. I urge the Government to be extremely careful in the steps they take and to reconsider their so far rather unsympathetic handling of the claim.

In passing, I make reference to the Special Constabulary. I have constantly urged the need to strengthen and expand the constabulary, because the presence of special constables on the beat is as good a way as any of preventing juvenile vandalism from occurring. I believe that the Home Office has recently published the working party's report on the Special Constabulary. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to comment on the Government's attitude.

Lastly, I refer to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, which has been an almost unmitigated disaster in terms of the courts' powers to control juvenile vandalism. Undoubtedly the authority of society as a whole has been sadly eroded as a result of the Act's abolition of approved school and fit person orders. It has managed to confuse the children in need of care and protection with young delinquents who need stiffer penalties. There is a desperate need for more secure places for juvenile offenders of a certain category.

Recently at one of my constituency surgeries I was visited by a probation officer from Broadstairs, who told me that on his patch alone there are two or three young male offenders in the 15–16 age bracket who definitely need to be in secure places and who, because of the inability and impotence of the courts to sentence them to secure places of custody, are out on the streets and almost certainly practising their criminal habits. The alternatives of sending them to prison or abusing unruliness certificates are unacceptable, and as a result, in one area alone—there are 80 such areas in Kent—there are two or three young offenders out on the streets who should be in secure places.

The Government's belated White Paper recognises that there are serious defects in the Act but sets out half-hearted half-measures and completely fails to propose any adequate powers for the courts to make secure care orders. I am pleased that a report has been produced by eminent members of my party, including my hon. and learned Friends the Members for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) and Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). Under their authorship an admirable report has been produced which suggests much-needed reforms. It suggests that there should be provision for the juvenile courts to make new orders, including residential care orders ad short says in detention centres. It suggests a number of other amendments to the Act. The Government should turn their minds urgently to these much-needed reforms.

There are no easy answers to these probelms. Whether it is law reform, stiffer penalties, more money spent on the police or improvements in schools or in the hearts of families, there are no simple solutions. But at least the House has now spent a few moments, thanks to the initiative of my hron. Friend the Member for Lewes, in seriously discussing this problem. I hope that the Government, including the Minister, will take the reigns firmly in hand and will do something to pull in this serious and growing disurbing problem of juvenile vandalism.

1.9 a.m.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rath-bone) for performing a very valuable service in raising, with some very vivid illustrations, one of the two issues which, probably more than any others, concern ordinary people who do not generally take much interest in the affairs of the House. The two issues are vandalism and hooliganism.

The extent of the concern in the country about these matters is well illustrated by the fact that in various parts of the country people of no particular political persuasion but worried about these matters have got together to form an organisation called HAVAC—Hooliganism and Vandalism Action Campaign. Members of the Yorkshire branch of this organisation have sent a number of hon. Members a circular describing their concern and putting forward their suggestions for dealing with the problem. The extent of their worry is demonstrated by the fact that they came to Westminster at their own expense and sought to meet hon. Members from both sides of the House.

I believe that the Government share this concern. I should greatly like to hear the Government say so tonight. It was depressing a few days ago to hear a Minister at the Department of Education and Science argue at the Dispatch Box that there is not widespread vandalism in schools. Every hon. Member knows that, unhappily, there is.

The worrying aspect is the mindlessness of the hooligans and the vandals. They display a complete lack of respect for other people and other people's property. Some acts of vandalism—for example, the wrecking of telephone meters—may have an aim: there is something to be gained from them. But most cases of vandalism, such as defacing a wall, wrecking the windows of a bus shelter, or wrecking an occupied council flat, are purposeless.

Why do vandals do these things? Perhaps it gives them some momentary satisfaction, the same sort of feeling as some of us experience when smashing china at a side show at a garden fete. It is difficult to find any other explanation for some of the behaviour which goes on in such a widespread fashion.

Some of the responsibility must lie with the home and the school. Do parents teach respect for property and persons? Do they even exercise such respect themselves? Do some of them show concern for their children? We frequently read of children brought before the courts for such offences and the parents not knowing where the children were. Some schools teach and maintain the proper standards. Others, alas, seem to regard self-expression as more important than self-discipline.

Part of the answer must lie in the attitude of the community as a whole. All of us individually as parents and as teachers, but also collectively, should look after community property just as we would look after our own property. It some times takes courage to wade in and stop a crowd of lads from doing damage, but we should all be able to feel that we can do so and that in doing it all our fellow citizens would support us, but, unhappily, we are inclined to think that if we "have a go" on the most modest scale we shall get very little support.

If children are inclined to vandalism, we can at least make it a little more difficult for them. This should be taken into account in the design of buildings—in the type of materials used—and in the layout of estates. A large council estate in East London has no public convenience. As one resident said, is it surprising that visitors use the lifts as lavatories?

God forbid that we should be obliged to live in jungles made of rough concrete, but surely there is some scope for a degree of vandal-proof architecture. As was suggested, the real deterrent to vandalism would be more police patrolling, preferably on foot or even in a car, but rather more frequently than passing one spot once a night. After all, the possibility that a copper will come round the corner at any moment is likely to put off any vandal. The trouble is that at the moment there are just not sufficient police.

I do not propose to embark on a lengthy discussion of the position of the police, but I remind the House that our police forces up and down the country are still well under strength. There are no more police in metropolitan London now than there were in the 1920s. I share the hope expressed by my hon. Friends that the Home Secretary will give the most sympathetic consideration to the pay claim at present being made by the police. Their hours and their conditions surely merit every possible consideration so that we can reward them adequately for the very onerous work they do, and in that way also add to the happily improving flow of recruits.

If a child cannot be educated or brought up to eschew vandalism or to be deterred from it, he will have to be dealt with when he perpetrates vandalism and is caught. Here we come, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East said, to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. As the House will know, a Select Committee of this House, the Expenditure Committee, very carefully examined the working of the Act. Although it was a Committee which included people with a wide spectrum of political views and attitudes on these matters, it produced a unanimous report in September 1975. Unfortunately, it was not until May of this year that the Government felt able to produce their White Paper giving their observations on that report.

There were 40 recommendations in the original report but, unhappily, there has been remarkably little action on any of them. I shall refer to a few of the outstanding matters. First, there is the need to restore to the juvenile courts the power to place the sort of child who is evidently a young criminal in some sort of secure accommodation under the secure care order, to which reference was made.

This is a matter which the Government have not faced. The Expenditure Committee urged that such an order be instituted. The Magistrates' Association has constantly supported this view. The study group has urged it again after having looked at it from many points of view, yet the Government will not accept the need to restore this important power to the courts.

Then there is the desirability of short sentences. The trouble is that at the moment a court can send a juvenile to a detention centre for only three months. Many magistrates feel that a much shorter sentence would be extremely useful, particularly for this sort of offence, but the Home Office seems reluctant to grant such powers to the magistrates' courts.

It is rather curious that at the annual meeting of the Magistrates' Association a couple of months ago the Lord Chancellor was actually urging magistrates to think very seriously about much shorter prison sentences for adults, yet in regard to the juvenile equivalent, the detention centres, the Government appear unwilling to agree that the courts should be enabled to make shorter sentences. These can quite obviously be very effective in certain circumstances. There is a strong case for strengthening supervision orders, which have now replaced probation orders for juveniles. But the point about a probation order is that the lad or girl had to agree to go on probation and there were certain conditions attached to an order. If these conditions were not complied with, the delinquent could be brought back to court. There are no such conditions attached to a supervision order, and the child who is the subject of such an order can do virtually what it likes, because the supervisor has no power other than to bring the child back to the court, when the court either renews the supervision order, which makes bringing him back seem rather pointless, or makes a care order to bring the child into care. It may well be using a hammer to crack a nut. As far as that recommendation—that conditions should be attached to supervision orders—is concerned, the Government have indicated that they are seeking views. I hope that the Minister will tell us what progress has been made.

Reference has been made already to the desirability of fining vandals. However, the trouble at present is that a vandal can be fined in a juvenile court but there is no means whatever of getting the money out of him. He knows that if he cares not to pay, nothing can be done until he is 17. Clearly this is ridiculous, and it brings the law into disrepute. There are very strong arguments for introducing some form of sanction for non-payment of fines, not only against the child, but against the parent. Also, there is a case for not just a fine, but compensation. There are some proposals in the Criminal Law Bill which go part of the way towards this, and I hope that we can go further.

The Minister told me recently in an answer to a question that there were at present 60 attendance centres. There has been no increase for some years, and there are no immediate plans for any increase. There are parts of the country where there are no attendance centres at all. Although a juvenile court may have a vandal or delinquent who is particularly suitable for a centre, if there is no centre available, there is nothing the court can do.

These centres are places—usually schools—where the lads are required to work out their 12 or 24-hour sentences in two-hour stints on Saturday afternoons. While they lose their liberty, they do not lose their schooling, or lose time from their jobs. They must turn up, well presented, and do a couple of hours of physical training, or some suitable activity. This is an acceptable way of dealing with offenders, and a pretty effective one in many cases.

Plenty of premises are available in schools all over the country, and plenty of staff are available. There are many police officers who are perfectly willing, for a modest remuneration, to give up part of their spare time to work with these lads on Saturday afternoons. There are many handcraft teachers also willing to do so.

I urge the Minister to think again about plans for increasing the number of attendance centres. Of course it will involve some expenditure, and one knows the constraints, but we must balance this against the cost of vandalism. A police chief in the West Midlands said that vandalism cost about £9 a minute. Although it is difficult to calculate any accurate figure, the cost of vandalism is likely to be about £100 million a year, or not far off. Against that we must balance the relatively modest expenditure on attendance centers—a very valuable investment.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will accept that vandalism among juveniles worries many of our fellow citizens. They look to the Government to do something about it. I hope that the Minister will display a greater sense of urgency than his Department has shown hitherto, and that he will give us not words, but actions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Before calling the Minister to reply I remind hon. Members that in any debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill it is not in order to advocate legislation, for example, as a means of suggesting how a problem should be solved by amending the law. That is strictly out of order. Hon. Members must restrict themselves to matters of pure administration.

Mr. Rathbone

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If there is a direct relationship between the change in the law and a reduction in the expenditure on which we vote within the Consolidated Fund, is it in order to refer to it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would not be in order. Strictly speaking, anything which requires legislation is out of order.

1.25 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

I hope that I shall keep within your guidelines, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not propose new legislation but I shall refer to legislation.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) for the opportunity to underline that the Government view the vandalism problem seriously. In his otherwise constructive and moderate speech, the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) suggested that the Government lack determination to deal with the problem. I assure him that they do not. We may disagree about the remedies, but the Government acknowledge juvenile vandalism as a problem.

The hon. Member for Lewes acknowledged that statistical information about the monetary value of damage attributable to vandalism is not reliable. I acknowledge that the total amount of damage may well exceed £100 million annually. That is not all caused by juveniles, although they cause a significant proportion.

I have no doubt that responsible parents should not only be instilling into their children a responsibility towards property which belongs to another person but should encourage young people to look at publicly owned property in a different light. Too often people regard publicly owned property as no one's property. That is a fallacy and is the source of many wrong attitudes towards public telephone kiosks and bowling greens, for instance.

If the sheer amount of damage done in financial terms is not enough to convince people, they should weigh the cost in terms of deprivation of enjoyment. There is, for example, the deprivation of a person who wants to play bowls when the green is marked, or the anguish of a person who wants to phone a doctor in an emergency but who has to walk a mile or more to another kiosk because of vandals. Such anti-social acts should be taken seriously by those who have responsibility for young people in our society.

The problem has neither a ready solution nor a ready and easily identifiable cause. In penal policy, if the causes of this type of offence were easily identifiable and if the deterrence of them were a mere function of harshness of penalty, clearly criminal reform and penology would he a very simple subject. However, it is an extremely complex subject. It is a matter of understanding it better and of gradually completing our knowledge, or making it rather fuller, of the causes of this type of offence before we pronounce with certainty upon policies which may do good but may do as much harm as good.

Let me deal with publicity in this context. We are studying whether publicity in itself and programmes of publicity would be desirable. However, the hon. Gentleman must recognise, as we do, that publicity could be counter-productive. It could provoke people instead of turning them away from vandalism. That is why when we study publicity we study the types that are not themselves likely to be counter-productive. That does not admit of quick dramatic gestures, but it means that when action is taken, it is taken in full knowledge of the consequences and the likely harm as well as good that might arise from a measure.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been studying the problem of vandalism with considerable care. It is a matter that has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is clearly something that affects many constituents of all of us. My right hon. Friend has already met chief officers of police to discuss the problem. He is to hold a conference in the new year. The hon. Gentleman almost seemed to ask whether I could give the result of the conference before it was held. It is to be held in the new year. It will be taken seriously.

It will be based upon a number of factors which have become available. For example, the Home Office has recently finished a number of inter-related studies in co-operation with some local authorities that had shown interest in measures to combat vandalism. The extent and causes of particular types of vandalism will have been studied.

However, the results, at any rate in publishable form, will not be available until the middle of next year. Some of the studies are coming towards fruition. Before too long we should see their results becoming apparent and available so that they can inform the debate on this subject which must continue.

Great point was made about the incompleteness of the statistics. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman—the hon. Member for Chislehurst also mentioned this matter—that concerning the readiness of the report, police forces have designed special report forms on this type of incident. They now record all acts of vandalism that are reported to them, irrespective of the amount of money involved, so the arbitrary £20 limit has been removed. That should give us a much clearer and more complete picture of the total cost of vandalism in the future.

Mr. Rathbone

I welcome that piece of information. As to the conference in the new year, am I right in understanding the Minister to say that that conference will take place in the knowledge of the reports of those local authorities? If not, what will be the conference agenda and what will be its point? I was not trying to anticipate the conclusions. I wanted rather to seek information about the direction.

Mr. John

It will clearly be fashioned by the information which is steadily, and to a growing extent, becoming available. Obviously, the inter-related studies of the causes and extent of vandalism are just some of the data that becoming available. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the booklet "Protection against vandalism." I intend to deal with that in a little more detail.

That is just some of the information that is becoming available, and I think that at the meeting the causes and other matters will be discussed. I have no doubt that some of the practical matters that have been adumbrated here about buildings and so on will be considered. I shall return to that matter later.

The argument about prevention being better than cure takes us only so far, because we must acknowledge the certainty that not everyone will be prevented from being a vandal by good example or better teaching. My view—and it has never materially shifted—is that the greatest deterrent against crime is not necessarily the harshness of the punishment when caught, but the probability of detection. That is the greatest deterrent against crime, and that view has commanded fairly general support. Following the publication of the booklet the police have formed anti-vandal squads. They have undertaken anti-vandal and anti-vandalism campaigns in various areas to bring home to members of the public the point about the cost and the sheer misery that is created by this sort of crime.

I do not want to be thought to be complacent about police strengths, but I am happy to inform the House that the net strength of the police has risen by nearly 2,000 in the past year, and that the strength of the Metropolitan Police has risen by nearly 1,000. The hon. Member for Chislehurst may say that that is only taking us back to the position in the 1920s, but that improvement represents a step in the right direction and I believe that it is a welcome sign.

I return to the booklet "Protection against vandalism". It is not merely a factual study. In the appendices it sets out measures that can be taken in the design of buildings to make the vandal's task much more difficult. I can tell the House that 18,000 copies of the booklet have been circulated to interested bodies, including the Royal Institute of British Architects, the CBI, the TUC, and so on. It has been distributed to those who may form opinion and those who may lead discussions, and I believe that the information in the booklet will prove extremely valuable in that context.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned police pay. My right lion. Friend has made clear the Government's attitude on the matter. He does not believe—nor do I—that the seamen's case is at all comparable. I do not think that in a delicate situation such as this we help the situation by engaging in controversy, particularly if the matter arises tangentially out of a debate on a different subject. My right hon. Friend has made certain proposals to the police, and those who know my right hon. Friend realise that he is sincere about those proposals and would welcome discussion of them.

I propose to deal now with the problem of the law. I detect a number of points that arise out of the discussion on the part that the law plays in combating juvenile vandalism. It is no part of the Government's duty to tell the courts what penalties they must impose. That is right and essential to the independence of the legal process. It is tempting at times to say "We must tell them to be stiffer in their penalties", but we do not see individual cases, and if there is a hallmark of our justice it is that the penalty imposed is not a procrustean measure but one designed to fit the case and the needs of the individual. We should with the greatest difficulty enter that course without endangering the independence of the courts which we value so much.

What is done in the courts is not a matter of ministerial control, and I would not wish, and never do in correspondence, to comment on decisions in individual cases. But the House has a duty to ensure that a wide range of measures is available to magistrates, measures appropriate to the particular case, so that if they choose they may impose a sentence which best fits the needs of the case.

Despite the strictures against the Children and Young Persons Act, but one must remember that it was introduced in response to the failure of the previous policy, with the approved school system built in, significantly to halt the rise in juvenile crime. So when we talk about the Act, we are not talking about something which was replacing a successful and tried and true measure but something completely untried. It was a response which, in its inception and idea, was designed not only to fit the needs of the individual and, where appropriate and possible, to keep him out of the criminal court process, but to place emphasis, parentally and socially, upon the need for care and control where that, too, was appropriate.

The response of the Government to detailed recommendations then was appropriate. We would all at times wish that responses were quicker to particular issues, but I think that we tried to meet this situation by our own suggestions and by our response to others. By so doing, we have helped to instil a rebirth, if one accepts the terms used by the hon. Member for Chislehurst, of magistrates' courts working under the present system.

We have completed our consultations with the bodies involved and have concluded that it would be feasible to add certain requirements which courts might impose in addition to those already available under the 1969 Act. We have provided sanctions which might be administered by the courts in the event of breach of a supervision order. In the light of these consultations, we hope soon to be in a position to make positive proposals. Here we have not only commented but moved towards action. I hope that hon. Members will agree that that is a constructive move towards a solution of the problem.

The third strand of the matter is that of parental responsibility. There has been a slight duality of advocacy on this matter. If we took too literally and seriously the doctrine that the parents were automatically to be responsible for what the child did, however hard they had tried themselves. it would be imposing a very heavy burden. It would breed resentment and could lead to a breakdown in the confidence which we need to build up among all sections of the community so that parents feel it right, in their interests and in the interests of society, to inculcate into young people values and behaviour that take account of the need to concern themselves with the welfare of others in their actions. We shall not do that best by imposing a code that is obviously unfair, and any code that automatically made parents responsible for the default of their children would be unfair.

The courts have significant powers to make parents responsible for fines and compensation awards incurred by juveniles. This is included in Section 55 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. I know of the objection that a person can always prove that he did not conduce to the default.

The 1969 Act provides that in care and criminal proceedings, parents may be required to enter into a recognisance to take proper care of the child and to exercise proper control of it. The maximum sum in which parents can be bound will be increased from £50 to £200 by the Criminal Law Bill which is now in another place.

I think that the hon. Member for Chislehurst spoke about the law as it is rather than how it will be. If he will consider Clause 35—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman gave an assurance earlier in his speech. He is now straying from it and getting on to legislation.

Mr. John

My assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was that I would not get on to new legislation. However, I have mentioned the clause number and hon. Mem- bers who look it up will see that the position is more reassuring than they have sought to suggest to the House.

The tackling of juvenile crime, particularly vandalism, is a combination of social awareness and social responsibility on the part of parents and children. It is a function of the police through their strength and the probability of their detecting crimes. It is, in part, legislation and, in part, greater understanding by us all of what prompts this sort of activity and the cost and misery it can wreak on a community.

It is because I believe that the debate has furthered consideration of these matters and has, perhaps, highlighted them that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes for initiating it. I hope that he will accept my assurance that we are no less concerned than he and his hon. Friends to tackle the problem.

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