HC Deb 25 January 1979 vol 961 cc668-9
13. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the present powers of juvenile courts.

Mr. John

Yes. These powers were strengthened by the Criminal Law Act 1977, and we are satisfied that they are adequate.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Is the Minister sufficiently aware of the simple fact that there are no courts in this country which inspire less apprehension among their customers and potential customers than the juvenile courts? Is he aware also that this situation will not be remedied until there is some power of custodial sentencing? In addition to custodial sentencing, there must be the power to set some sort of custodial alternatives to fines. At the moment juvenile courts are quite impotent in that simple area.

Mr. John

I believe that at that age it is not right to inspire fear. This does not necessarily give adequate results. I believe that the ability to deal flexibly, sensibly and adequately with people who appear before the court is a much better weapon.

Mr. Sims

Is the Minister aware that, if the juvenile court wants to send a child to a junior detention centre, and if that court carries out the wishes of the Home Office, it must make inquiries about availability? Quite often it finds that no places are available. Is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient accommodation available?

Mr. John


Mr. Edward Gardner

Will the Minister bear in mind the firm views of magistrates who have to deal with juvenile offenders? They feel that they need, and should be given as a matter of urgency, new powers to deal with persistent juvenile offenders. Is he aware that without these powers magistrates feel that they cannot possibly be expected to meet the rising tide of juvenile crime?

Mr. John

Over recent years there have been decreasing numbers of juvenile crimes. The hon. and learned Gentleman's primary error is that he is thinking of magistrates as having to deal only with juveniles. Under any system, the local authorities have a very great part to play in the disposition of juvenile offenders. They and the magistrates together have to work on a code of conduct which, while it does not wholly satisfy the Magistrates Association, does go a long way to resolving these positions. If the hon. and learned Gentleman paid more attention to encouraging these positive contributions instead of constantly carping about the rising tide of crime and the inadequacy of society to deal with it he would be doing the House a greater service.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Is it not pointless to ask for extra flowers for the juvenile courts when there is virtually no accommodation in which to put juveniles? Surely these questions are meaningless? They approach the problem from the wrong angle.

Mr. John

Under the Children and Young Persons Act, those who have to deal with the future of young offenders so that they will not offend again should have the say in where the disposition occurs. If the magistrates were to be given a concurrent power with the local authorities it would divide responsibility and add to confusion.