HC Deb 02 February 1978 vol 943 cc675-7
10. Mr. Mates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that magistrates' courts have adequate facilities at their disposal to enable them to deal with offences involving hooliganism and vandalism.

Mr. John

Yes, Sir. The courts have a wide range of sentencing options available to them in such cases.

Mr. Mates

Is the Minister aware that there is growing dissatisfaction among magistrates at the lack of options open to them in dealing with these types of offender? Attendance centres have been set up. Why are there about 60 for those under 17 and only two for those between 17 and 21, in view of the hon. Gentleman's desire to encourage non-custodial options? Will he do something urgently to put that matter right and provide more of these cheap and effective means of dealing non-custodially with hooligans and vandals?

Mr. John

Junior attendance centres number 61. One more has recently been opened, and further centres are to be opened, The problem about senior attendance centres is that the advisory council that looked into the matter thought that it was an inappropriate type of disposition for people of that age, and the Government agree. Nevertheless, as magistrates believe that there is some value in the existing tool, I have deferred the closure of those attendance centres. As for other methods of non-custodial disposition, we are pressing on quickly with the extension of community service orders.

Mr. Lipton

Is it not the case that although magistrates have adequate facilities at their disposal they are not making use of those facilities and in many cases are imposing inadequate sentences?

Mr. John

As my hon. Friend will know, decisions in individual cases are for the magistrates. However, the Court of Appeal gave some guidance last week about the seriousness with which it views this category of case. I hope that hon. Members will study that guidance.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that magistrates receive sufficient feedback on the effect of the sentences that they impose on juveniles who are found guilty of crimes, or are they merely left to impose various sentences from within the short range at their disposal with not the slightest idea which are the most effective in which circumstances?

Mr. John

The problem in any penal policy is to monitor and assess accurately the effectiveness of any particular disposition. I have no doubt that in many cases magistrates suffer from an absence of information on their disposition. One of the measures is the incidence of re-offence.

Mr. David Howell

Will the Minister of State tell us why senior attendance centres are not appropriate?

Mr. John

I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the advisory council report for more detail. The sort of regime that is successful for young people does not have an effect at the senior range. What is appropriate for juniors would be wholly inappropriate for seniors.