HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc375-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]

11.12 p.m.

Mr. J. M. Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

During the Summer Recess the Government initiated a campaign against vandalism in Scotland. If the campaign is to earn the kind of public support that will be necessary to combat this serious social problem it will have to be more than a mere campaign of posters and television commercials.

The Home Office report on Protection against Vandalism, which was published at the end of last year, said that The cost of vandalism to the community is far greater than is generally suspected. Most of us do not need statistics to tell us how much is being lost to the public purse as a result of damage to community property.

When the Scottish Office was launching the campaign I think the figure of £12 million was mentioned. Within the past day or so Strathclyde Regional Council has talked of about £8 million worth of damage to community property within the region during the year.

These are times when money is short. In a way we could have a bonus to public expenditure if we could contain the amount of money lost to the ratepayers and taxpayers by reducing the incidence of vandalism. I need hardly tell the Minister how intolerable the lives of some people living in housing estates and other urban areas have become as a result of the activities of many of these vandals and hooligans, nor of the fear felt by many older people who are now afraid to go out and about during the evenings, or of the harassment which many small shopkeepers experience. I am sure that the Minister recognises the disillusionment felt by many people in public service, such as local authority staff working in parks departments or building departments, as well as janitors and headmasters. Even our hospitals do not seem to be immune from the activities of the vandals.

We know only too well that our public transport services are harassed by their activities. We know of the problems facing train drivers and other railway personnel, as well as the difficulties facing bus drivers in the course of their duty. Sociologists can argue until the cows come home about the causes of vandalism, but the fact remains that the public at large has to bear the brunt of the activities of the vandals.

Family life has taken a considerable knock in the last decade or so, and many people feel that self-discipline and, perhaps more important, respect for other people is no longer evident in our society. It is clearly necessary for parents to take a far greater share of responsibility and not simply to shrug the problems on to teachers and policemen. In his capacity as Under-Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) has taken what I regard as an important initiative in calling together Church leaders in Scotland to see whether church congregations can play a community role in tackling some of the social problems. He will have already received a letter from me saying that I am expecting some co-operation with regard to a certain local initiative.

I would, however, ask the Minister what the Scottish Social Work Services Group does. Some cynics have the impression that it issues circulars and that its people are busy attending conferences and giving various kinds of counsel. But at the end of the day we have no money to give the various bodies which are trying to do something, particularly voluntary bodies.

As the Minister knows, new problems are arising, such as glue sniffing, which is becoming a serious problem throughout the country and not simply in parts of Scotland.

My hon. Friend will recognise how important it is to have the co-operation of the police. In a reply which he sent me some months ago about this problem I felt he was placing too much emphasis on the idea of health education. This is something which will have to involve parents. As I think the Minister knows, I am trying to get something done in my own area with regard to the establishment of a local clinic which would give advice and assistance to young people who have become addicted.

The Home Office report felt there should be a concentration on strengthening family life in the country. It also, and significantly, called for greater police surveillance. In the negotiations which have been going on with local authorities over the rate support grant I hope that we shall not find police manpower in any way reduced. There is an even greater need for more policemen on the beat, to establish a community presence.

Another major point in the work done by the Home Office is the recognition that substantial penalties will be required against detected offenders and/or their parents. Our laws will have to recognise that the punishment should fit the crime much more.

Our police forces have particular problems in dealing with young persons in the 10 to 16 age group, who in some areas account for 50 per cent, of cases dealt with by the police. The most worrying feature is that those young people are our citizens of tomorrow. One wonders what society will be like 10 years from now if we do not look afresh at the treatment of young offenders.

At the end of the sixties there were high hopes for the development of the children's panels, with emphasis on treatment rather than punishment, but public confidence in their operation is waning. The police have never been convinced of their effectiveness. Many culprits regard the panels as a bit of a joke. That may be unfair to the work which lay panel members are doing in Scotland. One must appreciate the amount of work which many of those people do. I should be interested to know whether there is a sufficient spread of social background among those who serve on the panels; the Minister may have some figures.

The most alarming question is: do we have enough support services? With the present constraints on local authority expenditure, local authorities may be obliged to break the law simply because they do not have the resources actually to implement the laws laid down by Parliament. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland recently suggesting that the time had come to review the system of treatment of juvenile offenders, and to give it teeth by introducing a greater element of reform and restitution.

There is a kind of trench warfare among the professionals on the question whether the List D schools should come under the educationists or the social workers. I do not think that the majority of people are all that worried about this demarcation. What they are concerned with is the success rate, or lack of it, of these schools compared to the system which they superseded. There is a growing backlog in the preparation of background reports and delays in cases coming before the courts, with young people sometimes going home because no residential care is available. Some of us regret the passing of the probation service from Scotland—something which was retained in England, albeit for career reasons among the probation workers.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us how soon the Pack Committee on Truancy and Indiscipline in Schools is likely to report. There is growing feeling about the number of young people who are walking about during the day when they should be at school. That is almost an argument for bringing back the old school attendance service.

I recognise only too well that there is no simple solution to combating what has become a serious and complex social problem. There is no doubt in my mind that one necessity will be a greater community of identity within some of our cities, especially some of our housing schemes. One of the greatest problems is the aimlessness of society. There is a need to involve more young people in shaping their own destinies, and, equally, to recognise that there are a great many young people who are making a positive contribution to society

The problem is that it is often the un organised and the "unclubbable"—those who cannot involve themselves in existing organisations—who create most of the difficulties for the communities in which they live. The stage is almost being reached when if two or three people are gathered together we may well have a vandal among them. It is essential that the support the Government give to local authorities, and the legislation, be sufficient to encourage the public to play their part.

The Home Office report referred to the wide use of vandal-resistant and vandal-proof materials. We know only too well of the damage that is done to telephone kiosks, fencing and windows, and to public and private properties generally. It would be helpful if the Scottish Office could encourage local authorities to demolish derelict buildings more quickly. I do not know whether it is always a problem that lies with the demolishes or whether our present legal arrangements are obstacles to the earlier demolition of derelict properties.

I know that my hon. Friend has a special interest in the problem of football hooliganism. We are living in an age when we need to divert more of our youthful energies into positive pursuits. The most alarming aspect of football hooliganism is that, apart from the havoc that is often caused locally, such rowdyism chases away decent supporters from football matches.

Another problem that we have to face is the fact that vandalism is undoing some of the efforts of the recreation departments of local authorities. It is a great pity that in the latest circular that went out to local authorities about local authority expenditure, once again leisure and recreation seem to be at the tail end of our priorities, at a time when we need a much more positive and imaginative approach.

I could speak for a considerable time on this problem, but in conclusion I say to my hon. Friend that vandalism has become one of our major social problems. I should like to see the campaign and which is currently being operated by the Scottish Office, which I welcome, become really effective.

Unless the Government are prepared to be sufficiently flexible and look afresh at the treatment of offenders, particularly juvenile offenders, who feel that the law cannot touch them, there will be a considerable demand for the re-introduction of corporal punishment. This would seem to be turning the clock back. But if the signs are not recognised now I suggest that the demand for restoration of corporal punishment will be irresistible.


The Undersecretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) has raised an important subject tonight. I am sure that the House would want to note that so important is this debate considered that there are a fair number of Scottish Ministers on the Front Bench and that the Conservative Opposition is represented by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). It is a pity that the other political parties represented in Scotland should not have seen fit to attend this debate.

My hon. Friend began by saying that during the recent recess we introduced a campaign aimed at preventing vandalism. He said that the campaign would have to be more than just a poster campaign supplemented by television advertisements if it were to be a success. The campaign is indeed more than that. We were conscious of the fact that one of the problems in detecting vandalism was that those who reported acts of vandalism were apprehensive about the possibility of having to appear in court as witnesses.

Part of our campaign involves an agreement with the chief police officers in Scotland through the Police Federation and the Superintendents' Association—who have been most co-operative—that those reporting acts of vandalism will not have to give their names and addresses. We hope that this will lead to a vast increase in the number of acts of vandalism that are reported.

This brings me to the strength of the police force in Scotland and the action that the police can take against vandalism. It has to be said that we now have more policemen in Scotland than ever before. There is, however, little point in building up a police force and providing it with sophisticated techniques and high-speed cars if acts of vandalism are not reported. One of the greatest problems lies in the failure of the people, who must see these acts being committed, to report them to the police. One of the aims of the anti-vandalism campaign is to encourage people to report such acts without the need to give their names and addresses, thus avoiding the necessity for them to appear in court as witnesses.

I agree that sociologists will argue for a long time about the causes of vandalism. I am on record as saying, at least three or four times, that it is attributable to a breakdown in family life in Scotland and a disregard for people and their property. Once we have restored the concept of family life as a basis in our society and restored respect for people and their property we shall begin to come to grips with the costly problem of vandalism. I noted with interest the story in today's Glasgow Herald to the effect that Strathclyde was claiming that the cost of vandalism in the region was of the order of £8 million. I am not in a position to confirm that figure, but it is very high, as are the figures for the rest of Scotland, and vandalism is probably the greatest waste of money that Scotland sees from day to day. When I am asked whether it is possible to provide health centres or some other social need, I often wish that people would appreciate that if only some of the resources devoted to countering vandalism were free for other purposes, we could probably look more sympathetically at some of these other social needs.

The problem of the List D schools is giving the Government serious concern. It is not a problem that lends itself to being easily resolved, but we are looking closely at it. We are anxious to receive any suggestions that will lend themselves to a solution. However, we shall keep it under the closest consideration.

The 10 to 16-year-old age group is a problem, because it is in that group that we have the highest number of vandals. It is worth noting that many of the acts of vandalism—this seems to me to defeat the argument by sociologists on the question of deprivation—are committed by youngsters having a night out and having spent quite a lot of money.

In the Government's view the children's panels are doing an excellent job. They are doing their best. They have committed more children to List D schools than the old juvenile court system did. While we are considering the range of treatment available to the panels, it behoves us all to give them more support than they have received hitherto, because every time someone makes a speech saying that they are defective, the children who have the misfortune to appear before them may have a little more strength to feel that there is nothing for them to fear, when, on the contrary, there is a great deal for such children to be apprehensive about in appearing before the children's panels. We should give the panels and their members the greatest possible support.

It is worth noting that the Government are spending almost double the amount of money on social work compared with what was being spent five years ago. If there has been a growth in public expenditure, it has certainly been on social work.

My hon. Friend asked when the Pack Committee will report. I understand that it may do so next spring. I agree that there is need to involve more young people in deciding their own destiny. For every vandal there are perhaps 20 youngsters making an excellent contribution to society, and we should do something to encourage them, by their example, to try to influence people of their own age group to understand that acts of vandalism mean damaging themselves and their parents financially. That is the best hope we have for coming to terms with the problems of vandalism.

My hon. Friend referred to football hooliganism. I agree that youngsters are chasing youngsters of their own age away from the game through their conduct both on and off the terracing, inside and outside the ground. There can be no doubt that the game will die if this sort of thing is not stopped.

With regard to leisure and recreation, I know that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Scottish Education Department understands that proposals are in hand for the purchase of the Methodist church hall in my hon. Friend's constituency, under the urban aid programme.

Mr. Craigen

The Methodist church hall is in fact in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), but I am none the less pleased to hear about this development.

Mr. Ewing

There is obviously a difficulty about postal addresses. The address was given to me as Maryhill, and perhaps it was an assumption on my part to suggest that takes in my hon. Friend's constituency Maryhill. The hall is to cost about £35,000, and it will be used as a community centre. The Strathclyde Regional Council is supporting the scheme.

That is only one example, but time prohibits me from giving many more. We have to encourage both local authorities and other organisations to do something to help provide facilities for youngsters, to attempt to keep them off the street and make them more community-conscious. I have a hope, also, that when the new community councils come into being they will provide a service in this respect and will help to make the youngsters more community-conscious.

I end where my hon. Friend finished his remarks. The campaign that we have launched against vandalism has really got to be a success. I believe that we are on the point of a break-through in this field, and I am hoping that the campaign we have launched will give a stimulus to the public in reporting these incidents and therefore increase the detection rate of the police, who do a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances.

In my time as Minister responsible for the police I have stood four-square behind them in all that they seek to do, and I pay eloquent tribute to their work in this field. The campaign, the police and the public—all three put together—could lead to a major breakthrough in our fight against vandalism—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at eighteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.