HC Deb 06 April 1978 vol 947 cc613-5
5. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the percentage increase in juvenile crime in 1975, 1976, and 1977, compared with 1974; and what action is proposed to deal with the problem.

Dr. Summerskill

I am glad to say that my hon. Friend's assumptions are mistaken. In 1975 there was not an increase but a 5 per cent. decrease, compared with the 1974 figure, in the number of juveniles found guilty of or cautioned for indictable offences per 100,000 of the population in the relevant age group. There was a further 4 per cent. decrease in 1976. Figures for 1977 are not yet available. The Government's policies for dealing with the problem of juvenile crime were set out in some detail during the law and order debate on 27th February.

Mr. Evans

I thank my hon. Friend for those interesting statistics which, at a time when so much is being said about increasing crime, show that there is a reduction in juvenile crime. Does she agree that magistrates' courts should be encouraged to use community service orders rather than to award custodial sentences, as that would be a method of keeping young people away from a life of crime?

Dr. Summerskill

I assure my hon. Friend that magistrates' courts are being encouraged to do so, and there is evidence that they are using an increasing number of community service orders.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Has not the time come when the Government must decide to adopt positive and effective methods of dealing with juvenile crime on the lines of the recommendations of the all-party Expenditure Committee and the Conservative Committee on Juvenile Crime? Is it not essential that there should be amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act, so that the juvenile courts can be given the powers they so sorely need to deal with the growing band of persistent offenders?

Dr. Summerskill

There is no evidence to suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals would necessarily lead to any improvement in the situation beyond that achieved by the measures which are now available to the courts which are extremely extensive, especially in view of the provisions of the recent Criminal Law Act.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is comforting to note the reduction shown by her figures? Does she not think, however, that those figures are still unnaturally high as a result of harassment by the police of young people in many parts of the country—young people who are merely showing a certain amount of exuberance but who in some cases are being victimised by exuberance on the part of the police?

Dr. Summerskill

My hon. Friend has made a generalised statement. If he has any specific cases in mind perhaps he will let my right hon. Friend and myself have them, so that we may look into them.

Mr. David Howell

The Minister says that there is no evidence to show that restoration of powers to magistrates would help solve the problem of juvenile crime, but is that correct? Is there not evidence coming to her, as it is coming to many of us, from magistrates all over the country that they believe that some of the principles of the 1969 Act were wrong and that the time has come to amend it at least to give magistrates power to make secure care orders in line with the expansion of secure accommodation, which we all believe is necessary?

Dr. Summerskill

I am sure that the hon. Member would agree that in such a complicated matter as the causes and prevention of crime no one would claim that he had any positive evidence that a particular proposal was the right remedy. I can only say that what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is a belief; it is by no means a certainty.