HC Deb 26 March 1982 vol 20 cc1189-218 9.34 am
Mr. John Lee (Nelson and Colne)

I beg to move, That this House, conscious of the rise in juvenile crime, believes that consideration should be given to the creation of community cadets to assist both the police and the voluntary sector, primarily in a community and preventive role. I am sure that the House shares with the vast majority of people a deep concern about crime levels in the United Kingdom. Statistics recently announced point to a significant rise in street crimes and burglary, especially in the inner cities. It is depressing when one reads comments such as those of a South London police chief superintendent: Everyone must now face up to the fact that the police have run out of ideas on how to solve these massive crime increases. We no longer have solutions. What must cause us all considerable heart searching, especially those who are interested in young people, is the extent of increasing juvenile crime in the 10 to 16 age group. Statistics show that over 30 per cent. of crime is committed by that category. In my county of Lancashire, detected juvenile crime rose from 28 per cent. of all detected crime in 1979 to 34 per cent. in 1980. Those are horrifying figures which bode ill for the future cohesion and stability of Britain. It is surely beholden on our generation, especially those of us in Parliament who have the responsibility for stewarding the nation's affairs, to come up with new solutions. To a great extent, the buck stops with us.

The purpose of my motion is to offer a constructive suggestion to a seemingly intractable problem. Community cadets will be no panacea but they may make a contribution. It is common ground that in recent years an increasing divide has developed between the police and young people. It is even more pronounced between the police and young members of the ethnic minority communities. It serves no useful purpose to dwell too much on past mistakes, especially the reduction of policemen on the beat and the increase in panda policemen. Happily, that approach has been reversed and community policing is back in vogue. We must police by consent in a democracy and it is vital that society puts out the hand of friendship to our disaffected and increasingly alienated young people.

I suggest that the more youngsters that we can enlist, in a metaphorical sense, on the side of law enforcement both formally and informally, the greater will be society's gain. The idea of involving young people with the police is not new. We are all aware of police cadets used as a recruiting ground for the senior force. That is full-time paid work that has played a useful role in the past. However, of late, with police forces being almost up to strength and with few recruiting problems, the need for full-time police cadets has diminished.

It is perhaps not so widely known that a small number of police forces have for some time operated volunteer cadet corps. Sussex and Gloucestershire were the first forces to adopt them in 1967, with Cleveland and Northumbria now participating. The precise approach varies from force to force, but the common characteristics are that the age range is usually from 15 to 18 years and uniforms are identical to the regular cadets except that the shoulder flash has the words "volunteer cadet". There is a steady flow of applicants with little need to advertise. Volunteers are required to have a good general build and to be reasonably fit. They should be of good standing and conduct and school recommendations are important. The units are administered on a county basis by a volunteer cadet committee of regular officers.

The units are self-financing with subscriptions of lop collected from cadets. Station facilities and regular cadet equipment are used whenever and wherever possible. Activities of the volunteer cadets include orienteering, sailing, rock climbing, talks on aspects of the police service, first aid, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and sometimes target shooting. The choice is to some extent dependent on the skills and interests of the unit leaders, with the general emphasis on good citizenship and an understanding of the police. Participation in local charities and voluntary community service is actively encouraged. Cadets may also assist in special circumstances such as searches, but I understand that they do not accompany regular officers in operational patrol duties.

The objectives of the volunteer cadets are perhaps best summed up by those of the Northumbria force—to create a firm and viable link between the force and young people who are interested in the police service, and to involve young people with the police service to make them aware of the role of the police in society and to give them an opportunity to broaden their horizons. In total, there appear at present to be several hundred volunteer cadets in those four forces.

My suggestion for community cadets would not be too dissimilar from volunteer cadets. I am thinking of young men and women between the ages of 16 and 21 with uniforms provided free—at a probable cost of between £40 and £100—on a voluntary, part-time basis, although I would not be against a small honorarium perhaps on the lines of the Territorial Army. They would be under the control of, say, a community cadet liaison committee made up of the police and community leaders but operating from a police station base.

I turn to the type of activity that I envisage for community cadets. After an initial period of training, I should like to see them mixing and participating with other youngsters, going back into schools—perhaps those at which they themselves were educated—participating in youth club activities, joining in sports competitions and weekend camps and organising and leading them. I should also like to see them in a role more visible to the wider community. They could perhaps do a limited amount of patrolling in parks where vandals have been active or near old people's homes or council estates where youngsters have been making a nuisance of themselves. They might try to get closer to young people who participate in undesirable activities such as glue sniffing to try to discourage them and wean them away from such activities.

They could encourage greater proficiency and care by motor cyclists. From time to time, they might support local community policemen. I gather that in Wembley recently sixth-formers were taken out on the beat with a community policeman. Community cadets might also be seen at bus stations and on the tube.

I make it absolutely clear that it would not be my intention to involve these youngsters at the sharp end of policing or to bring them into confrontation with adult criminals. I do not wish them to have additional powers of arrest over and above the normal power of citizen's arrest that we all have, but I envisage them liaising with and communicating information to the police. Looking out for stolen car numbers might be a possibility.

I believe that if a community cadet force were created there would be no shortage of volunteers. Young people today are continually looking for opportunities and challenges, particularly at this time of high youth unemployment. Naturally, careful vetting would be needed. No one would wish to encourage the politically extreme to participate and we must be careful in that respect. I would certainly not exclude, however, those who may have committed minor misdemeanours in the past. Indeed, they may be the kind of young people who would benefit most.

I see my scheme as a means of bridging the divide that I have mentioned between young people and the police. The National Youth Bureau, of which I am chairman, said in its evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure: We recommend that training for all ranks in the police force should be examined to ascertain the relevance of the content appertaining to young people and should be extended where appropriate…We believe that a number of steps need to be taken, in conjunction with other agencies, to improve relations between the police and the local community, especially its young people.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

How much time would be involved in the cadetship? Would it be a part-time, full-time or evening activity? Will there be an element of probation between joining the force and becoming an established member of it? Will there be a rank structure? No doubt my hon. Friend will come to these matters. If so, perhaps he will pass them by now and return to them later.

Mr. Lee

A probationary period is an interesting idea. Young cadets could perhaps be taken on for an initial period of two or three months. With regard to the time commitment, I think that the scheme would operate best on a part-time rather than a full-time basis. Youngsters might give up two or three afternoons per week, perhaps two or three evenings per week and one or two days at weekends to play their part, but I do not wish to be over-rigid in this respect.

I turn to the relationship between the police and the ethnic minority communities. We all accept that, despite the acknowledged efforts of the police and of the Home Office, the level of coloured recruitment to the police has been derisory. In reply to questions that I put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in May 1980 and April 1981, I was told that in February 1980 and February 1981 membership of the force from the ethnic minority communities was 268 and 297 respectively, or just over 0.2 per cent. of the total force. By 1982, only very limited further progress had been made, reaching a figure of 343, or 0.28 per cent., of whom 141 are in the Metropolitan force.

Lord Scarman in his report talked of the need for greater recruitment from coloured minority communities. In his summary of findings, part V, page 128, on the question of recruitment, he said: Vigorous efforts are required to recruit more black people into the police…Other ways of involving black people into the police—such as the cadet scheme and the Special Constabulary must also be considered. It is my submission that second and third generation members of the minority communities would be much more likely initially to participate as community cadets, perhaps as a half-way house to ultimately joining the main force or at least accepting and understanding it.

In the course of my researches, I have looked overseas to see what other countries are doing. An article in The Guardian in September last year talked of proposals by South Africa, which I accept may not be the best example, to establish a junior police reserve force, open to boys of 16 and over, with limited powers of arrest.

A more interesting scheme involving "Red Caps" on New York subways was started four years ago on Manhattan island. This involves red-bereted young people, aged 18 to 22, predominantly black, organised into groups who travel the underground keeping the peace. Apparently, and understandably, at first there was considerable opposition from the police, but they are now becoming accepted and it is acknowledged that they have had a significant effect on reducing the level of late night crime in New York.

Closer to home, I read in The Times on Tuesday that in Belgium schoolchildren are being encouraged to adopt a phone box to stop it from being vandalised. Apparently, this is also being done by one of the Welsh forces in the United Kingdom.

I shall now try to play Devil's advocate and anticipate possible doubts and criticisms of the community cadet concept. There will be those who say that decisions must be left to individual local and police authorities. That is certainly true, but I hope that the House and the Home Office can give a lead. There are those who will say that the money resources would be better employed on the main force itself. I cannot accept that it is an "either/or" question. In 1981–82—the Minister may have more up-to-date figures—Home Office spending on the police totalled about £1,640 million at 1979 prices. The extra cost of the community cadet operation would be minute—hardly even petty cash—in relation to that total.

With police forces up to strength nationally in almost every area and hardly any recruiting problems, it may be asked why we need any form of cadets. I emphasise that I do not regard potential recruitment to the main force as the prime or even a secondary aim of my community cadet concept. It would be a purely peripheral benefit.

Some may say that the organisation, direction and support required from police officers would distract them from their real work and that pressures on police time and manpower are bad enough without imposing any additional burdens. That is certainly an argument to be considered, but in view of the seeming inability of the police to control juvenile crime I suggest that the pluses of a community cadet corps would outweigh the minuses in this respect.

Criticism might be levelled on the basis that youngsters would effectively become spies or informers on their own generation and might even be physically abused. Apart from the occasional isolated case, that would be an emotive and exaggerated reaction. The majority of us do not regard police or traffic wardens in that light, and in performing their duties they are certainly not shunned or ostracised by the public or by their friends and neighbours.

A potential criticism that I considered carefully relates to the wearing of uniform. I accept the argument that it might be easier for the cadets to fraternise with and be accepted by young people if they did not wear uniform, but against that I feel that the extra status and authority which emanate from the wearing of uniform, coupled with the increasing reassurance which the sight of a uniformed cadet would give to the wider community, especially the elderly, more than makes up for that. On balance, therefore, I come down on the side of a uniform.

It would have been easy this morning to allow myself to be sidetracked and to have gone deeper into the reasons for juvenile criminality—whether youth unemployment, lack of discipline at home or at school, the influence of television, or a combination of all those factors. However, I resisted that temptation. I have not attempted to dot every "i" and cross every "t." I look forward to the contributions of other right hon. and hon. Members.

I am trying to project the concept of inviting young people, a generation of whom we should all be proud and of whom the vast majority are law abiding, to join in partnership with the wider community, working with the police and voluntary agencies to help to prevent and deter the criminality of a minority. I emphasise again that I do not see a cadet operation primarily as a recruiting ground for the senior force, but I hope that the police would view it as an adjunct to their operations. I cannot believe that it would overburden the authorities. Indeed, I like to think that they would welcome it.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Before my hon. Friend reaches his conclusion, I should like to put to him one important matter. Would the community cadet force, like the Terriers, be something that the Government, through the Home Secretary, would ensure was set up? There are suggestions for a totally voluntary cadet force in different areas. Does he feel that it should be set up by the Home Office, county by county, as in the case of the TA? Does he further envisage that there should be a separate budget to provide for the training of the cadet force, so that there would be a Home Office budget for that purpose? Lastly, does he believe that, as in the case of the TA, those who join should do so for a definable time—say, 12 months or 2 years—to ensure continuity?

Mr. Lee

I thank my hon. and learned Friend. I was coming to the end of my speech. Let me answer his questions. I should like the Home Office to give more than a positive lead in this respect and endeavour to set up something on a national basis—in the nicest way, almost over and above local police authorities. A national lead is needed because of the national seriousness of the problem.

In answer to what my hon. and learned Friend said about the budget, I emphasise that the total cost of the scheme would be minute—indeed, peripheral. However, if cost is raised as an objection by local police authorities and county councils, I hope that the Home Office would persuade the Treasury to provide small additional funds for what I believe would be an extremely important contribution to reducing overall crime.

In some respects it would be necessary to go along with what my hon. and learned Friend said about the time. There should be a minimum period. However, I do not want to tie down youngsters. There would be nothing worse than forcing youngsters who joined on a voluntary basis and who were fairly young to complete a certain period because they had signed a form in their initial enthusiasm. That would probably be a mistake. I should not want to go too far in that regard.

As I was saying, the police themselves must be as worried as we were about juvenile crime. I hope that the Minister will give my cadet scheme serious consideration, and I sincerely believe that it would be practicable, cost-effective, attractive to young people and reassuring to an increasingly concerned population.

9.54 am
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. Lee) in moving the motion, particularly as his aim is to tackle the terrible problem of juvenile crime, about which we have heard a great deal this week, both on the Floor of the House and in the Committee considering the Criminal Justice Bill, of which I am a member. The more that we can discuss the problem and try to find a solution, the better.

We agree that there is a serious problem and that we must tackle it, and I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's motives, which clearly are well intentioned, but there are many questions to be answered about the way in which he wishes to deal with the problem.

We are faced with the twin problems affecting young people of massive unemployment and rising crime figures, particularly for robbery, burglary and theft. The hon. Gentleman gave statistics about the types of offenders and the characteristics of young offenders. The evidence shows that most young offenders are male, and that the most likely age for offending is between 14 and 17. A particularly worrying figure is that the under-21-year-olds make up about 30 per cent. of the sentenced population in our penal establishments.

During this week many reasons have been giver, for why young people turn to crime. Explanations have been given about why they feel alienated and why many of them feel that crime provides a way of bringing them to the notice of authority. They complain that they have lost their identity. I do not believe that unemployment is the main cause, but it is certainly a contributory factor. Obviously we have to consider the role of parents—or the lack of the role of parents—

Mr. Rees-Davies

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but I do not believe that unemployment is the cause of any crime. The reason is that, at a time when a person is not occupied with a job during the day, there appears to be no way of ensuring that he has other sporting and recreational activities. Is it not true that the community cadet scheme would fulfil that role?

Dr. Summerskill

I agree with the first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention that it is due not to unemployment, but to a lack of occupation. It would help if young people were occupied, instead of wandering round the streets with nothing to do. I shall come to the need to provide leisure facilities or facilities of some kind for young people. The community cadet scheme would not necessarily give young people an occupation during the day. The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a different point.

If the police are to operate effectively, they need to do two things: first, they must act as a deterrent to crime, and the greatest deterrent to crime is the fear of being caught and punished; secondly, they must find those who are guilty of crimes and see that they are brought to justice. To achieve those objectives the police need the positive support and co-operation of the public, and especially of young people. As has been said, we must try to get rid of any alienation that may exist between young people and the police in order to achieve a greater degree of understanding and to create links between them. In that way they can coexist within the community and feel that they are on the same side.

How we break down the alienation—which is often created by ignorance or prejudice, or both—is the problem which I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to tackle. He feels that community cadets will bridge the gap. The vast majority of young people are not law breakers and never will be. They can be a positive influence for good upon the minority who have committed criminal offences or who may do so.

As well as bridging the gap, we must use young people in the prevention of crime by ensuring that they have a public conscience about crime—that applies to adults as well—and by encouraging them to report crimes, which the police are always asking people to do. At the same time, we must encourage them to show the police that they have their co-operation. Policing by consent was rightly emphasised by the hon. Gentleman.

The proposals that we are discussing concern 16 to 21-year-olds. The motion says that they will assist both the police and the voluntary sector". I should have thought that the best way to do that was to set up a body—if a body is to be set up—which is not directly associated with either. From what the hon. Gentleman said, it would appear that his community cadets have quite strong links with the police, although they are not of the police. He did not so much emphasise the links, if any, with the voluntary sector. Therefore, it seems to me that they will be identified in the public mind and in practice with the police. The hon. Gentleman said that the cadets would operate from a police station base, and presumably their activities would have to be supervised by the police.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a whole range of activities in which the cadets would be involved. I cannot see how they would differ from the existing volunteer police cadets, who, he says, already exist in four areas. He said that such cadets would ultimately encourage young people to join the main force.

Mr. Lee

With respect, I sought to emphasise the fact that I did not see the creation of a community cadet corps primarily as a means of recruiting into the main force, or even as a secondary means. I think that I said that I regard that as a possible peripheral benefit. It may have a slightly greater application among minority communities. There is a certain potential recruiting-plus there. However, for the majority of the community, I tried to make the point that the recruitment aspect would be very much down the list of priorities.

Dr. Summerskill

I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I still do not see the real distinction between volunteer police cadets and the community cadets that the hon. Gentleman is proposing. I should like to place more emphasis on the voluntary organisation aspect of the motion, which was not emphasised so much by the hon. Gentleman. Voluntary organisations and the police, each in their own and different ways, can play a community and preventive role in tackling juvenile crime.

We have been told that the Home Office would not have to provide much money for the scheme. However, as Government finance is so hard to come by I should prefer to see the scarce resources that they have being given to the police, to police cadets, to existing volunteer police cadets, and to voluntary organisations. They can all influence-young people very strongly in their different ways to reject crime and to respect the forces of law and order. They can exert an influence to channel the energy and enthusiasm of many young people into undertaking either voluntary activity within a voluntary organisation, or to join the volunteer police cadets if they are in their area, or the police cadets, or, at the age of 18½, the special constabulary.

The hon. Gentleman's motion refers to 16 to 21-yearolds. It is worth mentioning that at the age of 18½ there is the special constabulary for those who want to be part-time policemen. It had its 150th anniversary last year. I regret that the number of officers in it is falling, but it seems to be an ideal way to introduce more police on to the beat within the community. They will be policemen whom the local residents and young people will know.

Very young special constables would be an asset to liaison between the full-time police force and the young people in a community. Perhaps the Government could consider lowering the recruitment age to 18, or even below that, in order to recruit more special constables with the emphasis on young people. The retirement age has been lowered, and it would be appropriate to lower the age at the other end.

I know that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) feels strongly about the special constabulary and has often spoken on the matter in the House. It embodies the spirit of voluntary service and therefore provides a link between voluntary service and the police.

The special constabulary has the advantage of not being a national force. It is based on individual police forces and people are recruited locally. Increased liaison between the police authorities and the police is something about which Labour Members have said a great deal during the last week. We think that there should be greater accountability by the police to police authorities. Police authorities can also serve to link the police with voluntary organisations in the community. Many of them are local councillors who have links with voluntary organisations.

We want to see the police visiting schools, youth clubs and colleges of further education, where they will have direct links with young people.

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the gravest causes of juvenile crime is the high truancy rate, particularly among young teenagers? Does she see an increasing role for the police—and perhaps other people, such as educational welfare officers—in seeking to cut down truancy? That should have a significant effect on the amount of juvenile crime.

Dr. Summerskill

I should have thought that parents were primarily concerned with truancy. I think that their role is often underestimated in preventing it. I am not sure that the police should spend their time looking for children who have not gone to school. As far as I know, the child does not commit a criminal offence by playing truant. Perhaps it is thought that cadets could roam the streets looking for truant children but we should be concerned with those children only if they commit street crimes. I accept that many juvenile criminals play truant from school.

Mr. Lyell

The hon. Lady probably knows that the Metropolitan Police carried out a truancy sweep in one area, which resulted in a drop in crime in that area of no less than 36 per cent.

Dr. Summerskill

I agree that the emphasis should be placed on tackling juvenile crime. It so happens that those involved in such crimes are often those who play truant.

Many police forces are becoming actively involved in the community. In my constituency the police visit schools, youth clubs and colleges and mix with the young socially in their normal activities. That can create only good will between the two groups. The Minister may be aware that in areas such as Exeter, Handsworth, part of Liverpool and Grimsby, the local police have made particular efforts to enter into the normal leisure activities of the young. If the Home Office decides to provide more financial or manpower resources to tackle juvenile crime, it should be channelled into the Voluntary Services Unit of the Home Office to support and stimulate voluntary effort.

At present, more than £3 million is available for grants to voluntary organisations that are active in the community. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Service and the National Association of Youth Clubs are the two specific national organisations involved with the young. They are the two main umbrella organisations for voluntary agencies providing youth services. Once or twice a year the Minister is presented with a list of organisations that would like some money from the Voluntary Services Unit. He has to weigh one against the other, and that is a difficult task, because they all seem deserving. However, this debate will serve to remind him of the problems of juvenile crime and of the part that those organisations can play in combating it.

The National Council for Voluntary Youth Service and the National Association of Youth Clubs were asked about the most appropriate ways in which the Government could finance an extension of constructive youth activities. Their reply was that the Government could usefully finance people employed at a regional and local level and charged with the responsibility of setting up voluntarily managed youth services and helping to improve and co-ordinate existing services. They say that a precedent for that is the scouts' field commissioners, who cover two or three counties and who are paid for by the Department of Education and Science. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Service considers that it would be valuable if other national and local youth organisations had such employees financed by the Government, with a view to stimulating appropriate forms of youth work If the Home Office has not received a request for funds for that purpose, it will no doubt do so in due course.

The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West mentioned youth clubs and leisure facilities. I accept that if we must have vast numbers of young people unemployed, it is better that they should do something rather than do nothing. However, we are up against local authority cuts. I shall not become too party political, but in my constituency the amenities and recreation department, and all the other departments, have suffered severe cuts. Therefore, we must look to the voluntary organisations, in the hope that they can provide the facilities which the rate support grant can no longer adequately supply.

If we are to tackle the problem, everyone must be involved, including parents, teachers, youth club leaders, voluntary organisations, volunteer police cadets. police cadets, the special constabulary and the police. I am reluctant to add yet another body. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne seemed to suggest that there should be an extra element, but if all those bodies worked together and tried to exercise their influence over the young whenever they met them they could put across an effective message.

I am not certain that the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is very different in character from that of the existing volunteer police cadets. Although they exist in only a few areas, they could be extended to others. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees with that assessment.

10.16 am
Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

I am glad to have an opportunity to take part in the debate and. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) on initiating it. He has put forward the idea of creating cadres of young people to assist the police. That is a sensible idea that deserves to be pursued. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider it sympathetically.

I should like to widen that concept and to explore its implications not only for policing but for other community aspects, particularly education, which ties in closely with the problems of truancy in juvenile crime. First, I should like to consider the wider spectrum. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) rightly raised the problems of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. Those problems are in the minds of all hon. Members, whatever parties they may represent. Happily, unemployment has fallen to just under 3 million. However, any sensible hon. Member, irrespective of party, would realise that for deep and fundamental reasons, which have nothing to do with the Government's wise policies, the figure is unlikely to fall in the near future. In the medium term, unemployment will remain substantial as we gradually pull ourselves round.

I have done some research. My figures relate to July 1981, when there were 2,850,000 out of work. Those under the age of 24 accounted for 1,116,000 of the total. Those under the age of 19 accounted for 638,000. Going back to the period under this Government and under 'he previous Government when the number of unemployed was 1.5 million, one finds that the number out of work under the age of 24 was still a formidable 550,000. I take an intermediate date when there were 2.5 million Unemployed—a figure to which all hon. Members would like to see us gradually pull back. At that time, there were 920,000 people under the age of 24 out of work.

Between 800,000 and 900,000 young people a year are now reaching the age of 18. Throughout this decade, more than 800,000 young people each year will reach the age of 18. All are likely to be faced with a significant problem of unemployment. The situation is not unique to this country. It is seen increasingly in other countries in Europe where the unemployment rate is rising faster than ours. We have to ask ourselves seriously how the problem should be tackled. The principal reason for high unemployment in this country and, indeed, in other countries is that goods and services are not produced at a price that can be afforded by the world at large. We are, in a sense, paying ourselves too much and producing too little. To make the transition back to working for our living at a rate that the world can pay us is difficult.

There are two possible routes. One is somehow to enforce upon ourselves the view that all of us, at every age, but particularly young people, must accept much lower rates of pay. The other—this is what I want to explore—is to re-adopt and revitalise the concept of service to the community. I am not talking about National Service in the old sense, and I hope that I shall not be interpreted by the newspapers as doing so. Since the ending of National Service in 1960—it was finally phased out in 1962—there has been no form of service to the community. That makes us unique in Europe, with the exception of Eire, which has followed our example. Every other country in Western Europe has some form of service to the community in quasi-military defence—home defence, civil defence and wider fields. We should now begin to explore seriously the idea of instituting a broad system of national and community service with a home and defence option.

This subject produced an interesting study a couple of years ago in the London School of Economics by an academic called Enrico Collombato working under the direction of Professor Ralf Dahrendorf. He worked out a scheme whereby all young people, girls as well as young men—I know that the hon. Member for Halifax will be glad to hear me say that—would find an opportunity to serve their community. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has referred to the concept particularly in the context of policing. That is imaginative and helpful. But opportunities also arise in education, health, child care, care of the elderly and in conservation within the city and the environment generally. Mr. Collombato identifies in his study between 600,000 and 1.4 million jobs a year that could be helpfully done in these civilian spheres. After initial training young people would have the opportunity to work directly with professionals.

Even though today is Friday, there is no opportunity and it would not be right for me to elaborate on all these individual schemes. I should, however, like to illustrate what could happen in education. It ties in closely with the community cadet policing idea of my hon. Friend. I wish to mention also the importance of the opportunity for a home defence and civil defence option. When hon. embers mention this topic, other than on a Friday—the Opposition Benches today, with the worthy exception of the hon. Lady, are empty—they tend to be shouted at as if they were militarists or Fascists. I am not, happily, faced with that direct confrontation today. If such shouts had been directed at me, I would have replied that in every other country in Europe this kind of service is being provided by young people.

No one would describe Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland or Denmark as militarist countries, but all have what they avowedly call a concept of total defence. This means that every person in the community is involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in the potential defence of the country. All young men, and in Sweden all young women, are trained to play a part in the event that their country might ever be attacked. I am talking about a wholly defensive concept. In consequence, in the event of anything like that happening or being threatened—God forbid that it should—all the people know the role they would play and what they would have to do.

I have the highest praise for our Armed Forces. It is serious that our community is almost entirely uninvolved. In saying that, I have the backing, I know, of no less a person than Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Neil Cameron, who made this point specifically in his impressive lecture to the Royal Society of Arts as long ago as April 1980. It is extremely important—I say this seriously to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who will be listening on behalf of his fellow Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew)—to emphasise the need for everyone in the country to understand that, if there were an emergency, they would have a part to play and what that part should be.

I strongly support the independent nuclear deterrent. However, the concept of a great defensive engine lurking in some distant ocean being adequately able to defend a nation which is wholly unprepared psychologically has one or two flaws. Therefore, it is important that the whole nation should be involved in its defence and have a part to play in an emergency. That brings me back to the concept of service, how it might be implemented and the interesting initiative in my hon. Friend's motion.

I have outlined a number of aspects in which such work could be done and I shall now concentrate on education, particularly in the context of policing. Yesterday's interesting debate on law and order was deliberately designed to concentrate on methods of policing and the relation between police and the community. It is not widely enough recognised how much of today's crime is committed by young people. I do not mean only the 50 per cent. of crime committed by people under 21 years of age. At least 25 per cent. of all crime in the metropolis is estimated to be committed—these figures are drawn from the convictions which are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg—by people under the age of 16. By definition, that means that crime is committed by those of school age. Burglaries in London last year—burglaries alone and London alone—numbered 75,000. Only 1 per cent. of those burglaries could be cleared up.

However, among the offenders apprehended by police—in that low-rate clear up—no less than 2,500 were children and young people, who ought to have been at school and who were playing truant. The unanswerable link is that large numbers of children are playing truant and that that has a close link with the level of juvenile crime.

Dr. Summerskill

Has the hon. and learned Gentleman any suggestions on how to stop truancy from schools?

Mr. Lyell

I have indeed, and I shall deal with that aspect shortly.

The overall truancy figures are 2.2 per cent., which sounds awfully little. However, one must remember that that is children aged 5 to 16. Truancy among the young is, of course, very low. Such young children do not wander off by themselves nearly as much as children of 12 or in their early teens, where the average truancy figure in some places is about 10 to 15 per cent. It is sad, but we all understand why, that among single-parent families it is not uncommon in many areas for children to be at school for only 50 per cent. of the year during days of attendance.

High truancy rates simply must be tackled because they undoubtedly reflect in the crime figures. The hon. Member for Halifax asked how we should tackle that problem. She knows from her experience in the Home Office of the beneficial intermediate treatment schemes carried out, still somewhat on an experimental basis. I particularly refer to those devised at the university of Lancaster under the aegis of Professor Norman Tutt and Mr. David Thorpe. However, the schemes have concentrated for short periods on ensuring, among other things, that young people remain at school. That simply illustrates that if one can direct the attention of a third party to the problem and deal with young persons individually they can be persuaded to go to school. That leads me to my hon. Friend's suggestion about community cadets.

The outgoing Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir David McNee, has, according to the newspapers, been urging the Government to give the police greater powers to round up children who play truant. Community cadets could play a significant role in that. It seems nonsense that, when it is compulsory for children to attend school, their non-attendance should not he an offence and that the matter should simply be left to the parent.

A child ought to know—children are well capable of understanding this from the age of 10 upwards—that it is wrong for them to play truant. There is no reason why they should not be brought before juvenile courts for doing so. It would make much more sense if, instead of their parents being brought alone before the courts, they could be made to appear as well. It is important that somebody should be out and rounding them up. The shorthand expression used is "truancy sweeps", which slightly discredits the notion. However, during police campaigns in particular London areas, large numbers of children were rounded up when wandering around and getting into mischief and were sent back to school, often to the astonishment of the schools which, in certain cases, had not seen the children for months. The amount of juvenile crime fell substantially during those campaigns. It is not just the negative approach of preventing juvenile crime. The positive point is that a child is sent back into school.

I recognise that this presents a problem for schools. These children are often the difficult ones. However, if we are serious about tackling the problems of juvenile crime—which leads into adult crime—we must tackle truancy much more vigorously. The police should be entitled to carry out truancy sweeps. My hon. Friend suggested that community cadets, particularly those who have left school, should help to ensure that children playing truant were brought back into school. That would have a beneficial effect, although it is negative in the sense that it stops things happening. However, it will bring children back into school.

The positive side is the way that other young people can help the education system. I know the importance of ancillary staff in schools in my constituency. Of course, they are substantially professionals. I do not wish to decry their professionalism in any way. However, because of economies, which are sad but necessary because Britain has been so grossly overspending for years, we have fewer ancillary staff and the schools notice that. However, in primary, nursery and to some extent secondary levels, young people who left school and were performing a year of service could be of real value to the educational system. They could help teachers on an individual basis. Of course, when more young people returned into schools as a result of the truancy sweep—tying these two aspects together—the staff would be available to provide more help on an individual basis. The two aspects would be mutually beneficial.

That brings me to another important matter that is before Parliament, although we have not heard so much of it for a month or two, as the idea is being worked out. The Government are to be greatly congratulated on their new training initiative for young people who are leaving school but not going on to further formal or higher education. Such a provision has been greatly lacking over a generation. It is something that other countries do better than we do, although my further studies show me that they do not do it as perfectly as we sometimes assume. I am thinking of West Germany. The experience that young people might gain, for example, in education could be made to tie in closely and sensibly with the Government's new training initiative for those who might go into education as part of their full-time career.

I have had the opportunity to explain in detail a number of matters that relate to my hon. Friend's motion and to take it a little wider. I hope that the Government will look seriously at the detail of his motion and ideas. I hope that the proposal will become a pilot scheme or at least a signal lamp for the direction in which we shall be moving more broadly.

10.41 am
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I was very interested in the eloquent speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) on bringing the matter before the House. He, too, did so most eloquently. He brought before the House four of the most important political and social conundrums with which we are faced.

First, his proposals have ramifications for the dreadful problem of the great number of young people who are unemployed and for whom we are concerned to devise the most appropriate programmes and remedies. Secondly, in his projected ideas he provided a partial solution to the problem of the alienation between our young people in inner city areas and the police force. It is a growing problem which is causing grave concern.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend dealt with the problem of rising crime, about which we are all concerned. His proposals would go some way towards reversing the appalling crime figures. They would employ the good will and support of young people in bringing that about. Fourthly, by implication, if not directly, he touched on the potential problem of the fissures in our society where one ethnic group divides from another, which could have grave consequences for the future. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, as the whole House should be.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) is with us to put the Labour Party's view. She did so sympathetically and effectively, although I do not agree with everything that she said.

I am a nice chap and should be happy to congratulate the right hon. Member for Glasgow, "Claret" on his victory last night, but in an important debate dealing with topics which have great implications for the future, and for which we should devise solutions and on which we should concentrate above all else, I am concerned that not one Member of the SDP or the Liberal Party is in the Chamber.

The House should take particular note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne says because of his great experience. He is chairman of the National Youth Bureau. Last year I had the good fortune, with my hon. Friend, to visit the imaginative programmes being put forward and encouraged by the Manpower Services Commission. I know at first hand of his understanding of the issues.

An attitude has grown, like Topsy. For years our young people have expected to leave school and take up work. The probability was that they would take the first job that arose in their community or locality. Sadly, but in some eventual respects perhaps advantageously, that is not the case now. Particularly in inner city areas, the jobs are not there. Perforce, that is making us consider afresh, and almost from first principles, programmes for our young people to prepare them for the future.

I imagine that we can all remember what it was like to be 16, 17 or 18. It can be wonderful, but frightening and confusing. One feels grown up, but uncertain. One wishes to assert oneself, but may be nervous and unsure. One wants to do something, but does not know what. One wishes to get on with something, but does not have the experience to know what it should be.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has set up the new youth training scheme and proposed to put the immense sum of £1,000 million into it. It will be money well spent. He is now devising a comprehensive, imaginative and radical scheme to provide a bridge from childhood to adolescence to prepare young people for their working and, I hope, social and total life.

Civil servants sometimes get the rough edge of hon. Members' tongues, as often as not unjustifiably. One civil servant, Geoffrey Holland, has performed miracles, with his staff, to devise exciting and challenging programmes for young people. I am excited over the fact that, with others, he is moving forward my right hon. Friend's scheme for young people.

The new youth training scheme must have variety. All young people are different. There are differences between various parts of the country. Some areas within their own resources can devise good youth training schemes, with good work experience and vocational training. Some young people will wish to take advantage of them, but others will be uncertain. Other areas may not have the resources and facilities to develop the better schemes.

My hon. Friend's proposal is excellent. Others will bring forward other proposals which may be every bit as excellent. We must promote and increase the range of alternatives so that there is something with which every young person can identify and wish to do to give himself the relevant experience for his life.

I have put forward a scheme for voluntary national community service, but today we are debating my hon. Friend's scheme. There is one feature which could be common to both as we are moving forward with and developing schemes in this area. It is important to give young people three opportunities fairly quickly after they leave school. They should have the opportunity to go to another environment, away from home, and start to stand on their own feet with some residential experience. They should have the opportunity to prove themselves against tasks and projects and against the environment. They should have the opportunity to work with other groups of young people in a common cause and with a common endeavour to achieve common objectives.

As a precursor to my hon. Friend's scheme, and linked in with any other schemes that might be developed, I should like to see, under the new youth training scheme, the setting up of a number of residential centres where people embarking on the new youth opportunities training scheme could spend, say, the first three or four weeks doing a certain amount of outward bound training and some vocational training, working and living with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the country and with different aspirations. That would enable them to begin at this very important formative stage of their lives to understand not just themselves but other people, the problems of society and the world into which they are about to move.

I have it in mind to take them away from their home environment—I say "take" but, of course, it should be voluntary; there is no question of forcing anyone to go away. Let them get away from their home environment so that they can look at it from outside. Let them meet people with different attitudes and problems. They can learn a great deal from mixing with people with different attitudes and problems. Let them work with people who perhaps have done nothing really positive in their lives. Let them get a sense of achievement. Even after only three or four weeks—and I hope that the period might be extended later—let them join other schemes that have been suggested, such as the one proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. My hon. Friend will probably agree that three weeks on a mountain side or on our rivers and lakes would be an excellent start to the cadetship that he suggests.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has put forward his imaginative proposal, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will do all that he can to see that it is implemented. As my hon. Friend said, the resources required are minimal. The benefits are magnificent, and the potential rewards are great. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let people bring forward ideas. Let them all be linked into one great scheme so that young people coming on to the scheme can choose, get a variety of experiences, look round and decide what they want to do, understand the world, society and themselves before deciding the eventual jobs that they want to do. In that way they will have the background and the experience. They will be square pegs in square holes. They will be motivated, positive people. They will be the new generation of parents. They will be the new Britons. What an exciting future we can have.

10.54 am
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the country's youth. I have listened with great interest to the contributions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We agree that a scheme along the lines of that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) is to be welcomed.

There are already many opportunities for young people to get involved in community activities of one sort or another. The scouting movement has a long and distinguished history and was probably one of the first to involve young people in seeing what community life was about and to provide them with some basic discipline outside the school environment. The Boys' Brigade and the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade have also had their role to play.

In more recent years, the Army, sea and air cadet forces have made major contributions, and they have provided the incentive to young people to join both the Territorial Army and the Regular Forces. The proposed home defence service will also help to bridge the gap, because it will provide an opportunity for those who are too young to enter the Territorial Army, as well as those who are too old, to make their contribution.

The Services generally do not get the credit which they deserve for their contribution to the education of the nation. Many people tend to look upon the defence budget as purely and simply a military contribution, whereas, as those of us who had the good fortune to participate in National Service know, there is an important educational role here. Very few people went through National Service without gaining enormous maturity and a great respect for their fellow human beings. It broadened their outlook considerably because they came in touch with people from different levels and walks of life whom they would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet with the close contact that was provided in this way.

The Territorial Army has made a major contribution in this regard. Throughout my own experience and service, on a great many occasions I have been asked to take in young people who were in difficulty and involved with the probation service. When given the right environment, these young people responded magnificently and played a major role in the unit, as well as rehabilitating themselves as useful and valuable members of society. They faced up to the challenge offered them and grasped it with both hands.

It is important that we should explore every possible opportunity of involving young people. We know, for example, that the St. John Ambulance Brigade and the Salvation Army are anxious to encourage young people to get involved in their activities at an early age, because, if they were not entitled to enrol until they were 18 or more, many of these young people would have acquired other interests and would have been lost to those valuable causes. We cannot over-emphasise the magnificent role that both organisations play in our society not only in their contributions to the welfare of other people but also in character-forming among the young.

There are a number of other organisations, some of which—the Samaritans, for example—are for older people with experience who are able to give advice and guidance to people in difficulty when they need help and support. They are of great value in lightening the burden on Members of Parliament now that people give less of their time to church activities, with the result that those in trouble do not have the advice and guidance that membership of such a community gives.

There is of course a multiplicity of sports clubs, and further opportunities are provided through the extremely useful Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for young people to give of their best and to make their contribution. However, there are still people who do not fall into any of these categories and who would welcome the opportunity to learn more about police work and perhaps even the fire brigade and civil defence. My hon. Friend's motion helps to fill that gap. It provides another option which is of major interest to many young people. We cannot afford to turn down any of these opportunities.

I should like to see set up an organisation on the lines proposed by my hon. Friend. It should be backed and supported nationally. I do not believe that the education authorities should shun such an arrangement. It has a positive contribution to make towards the education of the young. I think that the police would welcome the opportunity of getting at the hearts and minds of young people at an early date so that they can save themselves a lot of time and trouble later on. I am sure that the police would wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity that such a scheme would afford.

I believe that it should be a uniformed organisation. I would not, however, like to see any payment made, as that would detract from the other volunteer bodies which are already doing so much valuable work. The Army cadet force makes a contribution by way of uniform and instructors but involvement in the force does not carry any bounty or financial benefit. It is not until people are committed in a much wider sense and join the Territorial Army at 18 that they can look for some financial reimbursement.

It would also be wrong to offer such a scheme as is proposed on the basis that it was an alternative to a job. There is no alternative to being a properly and fully employed member of the community. However, the character formation that would be involved in, such a scheme would help young people to create the right attitude of mind and would be an additional factor in their favour, because employers take these matters into account when looking at a potential employee.

Many young people do not realise the importance that employers place on the character formation of young people. Employers are interested in what young people are involved in outside the hours of business activity. Those young people who are committed to membership of the Salvation Army and the St. John Ambulance Brigade tend, in my own experience, to be the ones who get the jobs that are available. They are much more likely to get them, because they show motivation, than are those who wander around doing little or nothing in their leisure hours.

Opportunities would be afforded for the acquisition of additional skills which in turn give young people confidence and, as some of my hon. Friends have said, help to develop the maturity that is so important for young people when they are trying to establish themselves within the community.

I welcome the opportunity to support the motion and I wish my hon. Friend every success in the promotion of the scheme.

11.3 am

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

We are indeed indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) for tabling the motion. It is to be noted that when somebody turns to the purely constructive side and says what he wants to do about law and order and crime there is an empty House. On the other hand, there is always a packed House if anybody talks about the death penalty, about how the police should be strengthened, or about flogging.

Today's debate, which follows naturally from yesterday's debate, is dealing with only two aspects of the problem. The first is the rise in juvenile crime, which is the main part of my hon. Friend's thesis. The other aspect is the formation of a community cadet service. I shall deal first with the community cadet service and then with the problems of juvenile crime.

I have a certain amount of experience in this area. As long ago as 1966 I was the co-author, under the chairmanship of Peter Thorneycroft, of "Crime knows no boundaries", and, in 1970, of the Conservative pamphlet "The conquest of crime". I mention that because, when dealing with juvenile crime, I shall refer to one or two of the recommendations which, although adopted by the Conservative Party at the time, have never to this day been implemented. It is fairly well known that I have spent the whole of my professional life in defending or prosecuting criminals and in being generally associated with the problems of crime and criminals.

With regard to the question of community cadets, it is interesting to note what is said by the Kent probation officers: It may not be widely known that throughout Kent each weekend over 500 people who might have gone to prison, borstal or detention centre are, under the supervision of the Probation Service, decorating village halls, working in hospitals, clearing land (or more recently snow), sawing logs for the elderly and various other useful tasks. This has been going on for the past eight years. As a result of that work, among those 500 people there are practically no examples of trouble.

The essential question rising from the motion is: what are the best measures to take in order to secure the full-time or reasonable part-time occupation of those who are likely to get into trouble? Those who say—as many Labour Members have said—that unemployment causes crime talk complete and absolute nonsense. Unemployment has hever caused anything at all. One of the causes of juvenile crime is that young people are not provided with an occupation which takes up their leisure time and gives them an interest.

Practically all the modern movement of criminologists—away from the question of custodial sentences—depends on two features. The first is that the criminal must repay the fruits of his crime. The second is that in doing so he should also make sure that he is fully occupied in his leisure time. If he is unemployed, he should make sure that he has something to do during the day as well as in the evening. Many of us in the House believe that it is infinitely better to give jobs to young people and to insist that they take them, under the threat of not receiving supplementary benefit if they refuse. Obviously it is better for them to have some occupation than none at all.

I hope that the guarantee of the Government that next year every young person will have the opportunity and ability to maintain a job will be upheld. If it is, I am sure that we shall begin to see a fall in the level of juvenile crime.

Over 50 per cent.—precise figures are not kept by the Home Office—of all crime, including serious crime, is committed by those between the ages of 16 and 25. The serious aspect of the rising crime rate in recent times is that most of the offences are committed by young people breaking and entering. There is an immeasurable increase in that offence compared with the position 10 years ago.

How are we to deal with the problem? First, we must ensure that people make every effort to protect their own homes. Although many of us made the suggestion over 10 years ago, there is still not a firm Home Office or Government policy to ensure that people are given every encouragement to protect their own homes. Grants, or, at least, tax allowances, should be provided for the purchase of the necessary devices. That is part of the concept that the community will protect its own homes.

Many cases of breaking and entering are not planned by the young people who carry them out. How and why do they come about? The first reason is that many of those young people have nothing to do. Their leisure time is not enjoyable or pleasant and they get into trouble. They get caught easily, because they usually have no idea of how to get rid of the goods that they have stolen.

More sophisticated criminals have ways of getting rid of the goods that they steal and the detection and conviction rate for those criminals is not high. The greatest deterrent to any form of crime is detection and conviction.

Two questions arise in any consideration of juvenile crime: how can we marshal the forces of youth so that they can be fully occupied? How can we encourage the police to get a far greater understanding of youth and a more effective supervision and control over young people?

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne suggests a community cadet force. I agree with the idea, but the problem is how such a corps should be set up. It is easy to say that it is a good idea, but there are many different ways of achieving it.

It would not be a good idea for the corps to be a police cadet force. I want it to be a community force. It should include men and women and boys and girls from the age of 16 onwards and should operate like the TA. Recruits should join for at least one year and the force should have camps in disused Army huts or other places where members could be trained.

The purpose of the force would not be only to combat crime. It could help the aged and do other necessary community projects. My fear is that members of the corps could be identified with the police. If they are thought of merely as young policemen they will not be trusted by the community.

Dr. Summerskill

The hon. and learned Gentleman has made an important point. The proposed force will be based at local police stations and its activities will, presumably, be supervised by the police.

Mr. Rees-Davies

That is the point that we must debate. The public are concerned about law and order and everyone is floundering around making suggestions. Many start by calling for the return of the death penalty. I remind the House, in passing, that in 1956 I initiated 38 debates on amendments in defence of the death penalty. They went on for hour after hour and I was fighting against Mr.

Sydney Silverman. We debated every conceivable aspect of the matter, but anyone who suggests that the death penalty is relevant to a reduction in serious crime is talking nonsense—and I speak as the most fervent hanger in the country. I should like to see a return of the death penalty, but it is certainly not relevant to this debate or to the increase in juvenile crime. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne is feeling his way on the arguments, as we all are. I am convinced that the cadet force must not be identified as a police force. I want to see in Toxteth, Kent and other parts of the country youth clubs, Scouts and other youth forces getting together in a cadet corps, which would be responsible in a civilian sense for many of the things that the TA does in a military sense.

One of the major problems of juvenile crime is the loss of community understanding. Let me give a recent example. A boy of about 17 or 18 threw a brick through the window of a house in a village. The brick just missed a baby and shot past his granny's head. The boy was arrested. The point is that he did not know the community. He lived in the town and not in the village that he was passing through. If he had known that there were a baby and a granny in that house he would not have thrown the brick.

A community cadet force should be set up locally by voluntary effort. That does not mean that the Home Office could not play an effective role. It can ensure that opportunities are provided for the setting up of local forces and that bases are provided. The force will need old Army huts or other places for its summer camps. It is crucial that young people should be able to get to know each other and the local community.

Members of the cadet force could look after the security of the aged and, subject to a probation officer being attached to a corps, young people who have engaged in crime and are under supervision orders could also join the force and mix with those who are unassociated with crime.

Many of those ideas and others are being suggested by the Home Office, probation officers and others. Many other ideas, including supervised activity orders, are being considered in our discussions on the Criminal Justice Bill. Those are all sound ideas and they are the right approach.

In recent years there has been a serious increase in juvenile crime. Unless action is taken it will increase further. What can we do to stop serious crimes, which include breaking and entering, mugging, robbery and vandalism? There is a public order aspect to vandalism and terrorism. Other serious crimes involve property.

The structure of the police force is not right for it to deal with the problem of serious crime. If we are to defeat serious crime, we must have the right structure for our police. There are two ways in which the problem can be dealt with, but having watch committees is not one of them.

There is nothing like sufficient integration between the work in each area and that of the Home Office. In 1966 Peter Thorneycroft and many others believed that a national strategy directed from the Home Office was needed. I see no reason to reform that view. If such an idea was pursued, we would have to alter the present structure of the police forces. The structure of local committees should be altered. We should set up new types of local committees so that each contains a Home Office representative and a police representative as well as local councillors.

More important than that, there should be central control of an overall strategy for criminal investigation. Years ago the detective force wanted a separate, national CID. Over and over again the Police Federation, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the chief constables have said that that would involve a separate corps d'élite of detectives with separate recruitment and that such a force would lose touch with the ordinary county forces. I do not share that view. I believe that the only way to meet serious crime by young people and others is to have a national strategy so that criminal investigation of serious crime is conducted on a national basis under the aegis of the Home Office.

That could not be done quickly and easily, but we could ensure a much closer liaison. A true story illustrates what I mean. On the day of the famous train robbery I was with Joe Jackson in his office at Scotland Yard. At 9 am the telephone rang. Jackson picked it up and went white in the face. He said "Good God. They have just got away with over £6 million." The person reporting the robbery was the chief constable of Hertfordshire. That was at 9 am. The crime occurred at 3.30 am. All hell was let loose and detectives came rushing in.

The idea of a national detective force was first mooted by Reggie Maudling when he was Home Secretary. He said that the chief constables were split on the issue. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the Police Federation were wholly against the idea, largely because it would create an elite. As the years went by, problems among the detective forces delayed consideration of the idea.

If we are to deal with serious juvenile crime, we must ensure that there is a totally new outlook by the committees. I do not advocate the Livingstone approach, but we must ensure that such committees are non-party political and that those serving on them have the assistance of the Home Office and others so that they receive the best advice. The committees should encourage the police in their work in the community.

In the last few months a policeman at Deal has been teaching football to youngsters on five evenings a week. He spends all his spare time doing that. His work is known widely, and of course he is popular. This got back to the chief superintendent, who sent for the young policeman. He thought that he was to be put on the mat. The chief superintendent told him "I hear that you teach in the evenings. I wish that you had told me, because I should like to give you some time off. There is no reason why you should do this work entirely in your own time." The police force is anxious to encourage our young policemen to mix with young people and to teach them. What could be better than for the police to engage in sporting activities with young people, many of whom might be able to give information and some of whom might even commit crimes themselves?

We should encourage the police to give time off to constables to engage in social and recreational activities with young people. That could create the change of attitude that is essential if we are to combat crime. Youth can fight crime by other young people. They are in the best position to understand. Young police officers should have the opportunity to mix and teach young people. In that way they will better understand young people's problems. They can create the togetherness—a horrible word—that youth will understand

Things are changing in crime as in other areas. Many of my constituents call for longer custodial sentences.

Heavy sentences are not what is needed for young people. We must ensure that their time is fully occupied. There is some new thinking. A person breaks and enters a home because he has heard that it would be empty, steals a few things, and is soon caught. That young person should be made to repay every penny.

That may take some time, and in the meantime we must ensure his absolute supervision. He must be found a job so that he can repay the victim, and he must also repay the community. We must ensure that there is a supervision order on him so that, instead of going out at the weekends, he must work for the community. Of course, the community work at the weekend can be partly recreational. That will be a much better method. We must also encourage more effective work by those who are serving custodial sentences.

The difficulty is that one can talk about the subject at great length. I have spoken for a little while, because we have an opportunity to do so this morning, as there is rather a paucity of Members in attendance. As the thinking goes ahead now, let us ensure that it is on firm foundations. The first foundation is the police force. To ensure that it is well organised for the task of upholding law and order will need a careful examination of local structures.

Secondly, we must consider using modern weapons in the fight against advanced crime. That means a national strategy for the CID. For example, we need a new sort of policeman in the fraud squad. Fraud cases now run for three or four months and there is a shortage of first-class accountants and of experts with a knowledge of how to combat fraud. The computer crimes of today and tomorrow will require highly skilled investigators. Not enough university graduates enter the force, because they do not wish to be a constable on the beat. They wish to go into criminal investigation. The sort of person who makes a good criminal investigator is different from the sort of guardsman who makes a good local constable on the beat.

We must also ensure that the police have every opportunity to get to know Britain's youth in every possible way. In doing that they can teach and speak to the community cadet corps. We must also ensure that there is every opportunity for youngsters to get together and to know the people in the local community, because in that way we can restrain the outbreaks of crime.

Many people would regard education as the most serious aspect. We must ensure that schools have more strict and better disciplinary control in many areas than they have today. That opens a further and separate subject, but it is an integral part of the causes of crime, because where parental control is effective very few young criminals come from those homes. I used to examine the crime figures, and I found that almost all of the young criminals aged from 16 to 19 years came from bad homes and from centres of crime. There are some black spots in London—I shall not name them—which have a solid bedrock of crime. Those are all areas where there is an absence of proper community and recreational control.

I hope that those matters can be taken into consideration by the Home Office as it pursues its path towards trying to control serious crime.

11.35 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

It has been said that today's debate is inevitably an epilogue to yesterday's debate. In a way, that is true, but the debate has been characterised by the best features of an epilogue. It has been quiet and remarkably thoughtful. I wish to pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) for introducing the debate but to my other hon. Friends who have spoken. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) made a valuable contribution, based on his great experience of such matters. My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) have all raised many points upon which we should reflect. We have also heard from the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill).

When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead was talking about the possible use of police cadets to pursue truants, I could not help wondering whether the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party might have employed police cadets this morning to pursue absent Members. It has been sad and slightly deplorable that, apart from the hon. Member for Halifax, to whom I pay tribute, the Opposition parties have been conspicuously absent.

We have had a worthwhile discussion and we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne for giving us the opportunity to discuss how we can encourage greater community participation, especially by youngsters, in combating juvenile crime. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West talked about using young people to deal with crime among young people, and there is no doubt that we must think about that very hard.

In his capacity as chairman of the National Youth Bureau, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne is closely in touch with organisations and groups that are working with young people on training, on work experience, and in counselling the anxieties and uncertainties that have always affected young people and which are perhaps increased by the complexities of modern life. The House was interested in his proposals. I listened with great care to what he said and we shall certainly reflect carefully on his ideas. Everyone knows that we have become increasingly aware of the disturbing involvement of children and young people in crime. We know the statistics and the facts, about which we talked yesterday. We know how extensively young people feature in the crime figures. It was equally of concern that too many of those arrested during last summer's riots were aged between 10 and 20. Those are signals that we must all consider carefully.

The police are in the front line in the fight against crime, but they cannot go it alone. There must be a partnership with the community—with other agencies, voluntary groups and every law-abiding member of the public. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that the strategy which must be followed is to combine further enforcement of the law with a campaign to make a reality of community involvement in curbing crime. We have an old tradition of policing by consent in Britain and for that tradition to be kept alive young people must be among those who give their consent and must work with the police rather than against them.

We must ensure that our young people grow up with a proper understanding of right and wrong and a sense of social responsibility. That begins in the home, and parents are in the key position of influence. One of the measures we have introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill will bring home to parents and guardians their responsibilities for children by strengthening and clarifying the existing law. When a child or young person is ordered to pay a fine or compensation, it must be paid by the parents unless the court is satisfied that would be unreasonable. This is part of a package of measures designed to strengthen and extend the courts' powers to deal with young offenders.

The Bill will strengthen supervision orders, extend community service down to 16-year-olds, and permit very short custodial sentences with a minimum of three weeks. Adequate powers for the courts to deal with young offenders will certainly be welcomed, but we would all agree that it is even more important to divert youngsters from the first steps on the path to a life of crime.

My hon. Friend has drawn special attention to the concepts of volunteer cadet schemes and the contribution that they can make to preventing juvenile crime. My hon. Friend talked about a national scheme of community cadets, and the hon. Member for Halifax asked how different his scheme was from the existing volunteer cadet schemes. I suppose that in a sense that is a question for my hon. Friend rather than for me. If he has another opportunity to speak at the end of the debate, he may develop that. We all know that there are similarities. My hon. Friend is anxious to extend the scale and to develop this in new ways, but, as I understand it, what he has in mind is fairly similar in many ways to the volunteer cadet schemes which already exist, particularly in the three forces of Gloucestershire, Northumbria and Sussex, the last-named having been on the go since 1967. Those schemes aim to provide boys and girls aged 15 to 18—a slightly different age range from that envisaged by my hon. Friend—with an outlet for their energy in a forum where they will learn good citizenship, and to create a firm and viable link between the police and young people in a way which will give these youngsters a better understanding of the role of the police and an opportunity to broaden their horizons. Some of the youngsters have committed minor offences or have personality problems. They develop a more positive outlook and gain in self-confidence as volunteer cadets.

Two of the schemes put the youngsters in uniform. In the other, they are more informally dressed, in jeans and tee shirts—with a special badge. Sometimes I think that jeans and tee shirts have become a modern uniform, but that is another matter.

There are weekly training sessions, which may include drill, first-aid and life-saving instruction. They also have talks on police topics and other issues of interest to young people. The youngsters are encouraged to become involved in service to the local community, such as helping in hospitals or homes for the handicapped, or raising money for charity through sponsored walks and the like. They have a good deal of fun, too, with sporting activities, expeditions and camping trips. There is great enthusiasm locally for these schemes. We fully support them and have commended these examples to chief constables and police authorities. We would certainly welcome more initiatives on the same lines where chief constables and police authorities believe this would serve local needs and be practicable within the resources available to them.

I am not sure that I can say at this stage that we would go along with my hon. Friend's idea of a national scheme. Indeed, he himself gave reasons why one might have doubts about that. We must face the fact that, apart from anything else, there are resource implications. There are the demands for supervision on the two or three evenings a week that my hon. Friend has in mind. We all know that this is not a time when resources are anything other than tight. It is therefore right that local police authorities and chief constables must make up their own minds whether to use their resources for this kind of scheme. Nevertheless, I repeat that where such schemes exist we believe that they do a valuable job and we have drawn the attention of chief constables and police authorities generally to them.

The House will know that volunteer cadets are quite different from regular police cadets. Regular cadets work full time. They are taken for training with a view to becoming members of the force. Regular cadets cannot be engaged in law enforcement duties, which only a constable with police powers can carry out. Volunteer cadets also cannot be involved directly in police work, but they take part in special events such as police station open days. I think that it would be misconceived to suggest that volunteer cadets could be some sort of junior police force sent out on patrol to tackle juvenile crime, arresting people and so on. I do not think that that is what my hon. Friend has in mind. One would also have some reservations about volunteer cadets patrolling parks, for example. I think that that comes rather near to the concept of vigilantes, which has never been encouraged in this country. The suggestion about rounding up truants would also require very careful thinking before one could contemplate taking it any further. It must be remembered that there are specialised aspects to this work and one would not wish to spoil a good concept by involving cadets in activities which may not be suitable.

Although volunteer cadets cannot be involved directly in police work, the concept undoubtedly has potential for widening the links between the police and the community, including the ethnic minorities—a point that has been stressed more than once in the debate—and I am sure that many more youngsters would be interested in activities on these lines.

There is a lot more going on involving young people with the police which does not carry the label of "volunteer cadet scheme". One scheme launched by the Metropolitan Police recently made the national news. Sixth-formers from a London school went out on patrol for a week with home beat officers. They could see for themselves what the police did and form their own opinion. That is an imaginative way of educating young people and building better understanding. It is often said that young people today have no respect for authority. I think that it is rather that they are more questioning, more critical and, sometimes, certainly—we have to face this—ambivalent in their attitudes towards the police. The police invest a lot of time working in schools with youngsters and their teachers. Some schools in Greater Manchester, for example, have a "police week" when a whole range of activities are laid on involving all age groups with demonstrations, debates and entertainments. This is not only an exercise in imparting knowledge. It develops closer fellowship with the police, a greater and more sympathetic understanding of their role and a deeper knowledge of what they are doing. Equally, many police forces have the kind of contact about which we have heard, providing pleasure for youngsters through organising football tournaments and other sports activities.

Another dimension is added by voluntary schemes associated with the police. One example is the Lancashire juvenile liaison association. This supports joint activity with the police such as adventure weekends for youngsters. One scheme which has attracted a good deal of press interest, and which seems to have had some practical effect, is the junior police and community club—the so-called "Kiddie-Cops"—initiated and run by a constable in Clovelly, Devon. Some 100 young people aged 14 to 15 take part. The idea is that members should report information to the police and the aim is to develop mutual trust and friendship between the police and young people. Among the current activities organised by the police are canoeing and archery. It seems that vandalism, theft and petty crimes committed by young people have all but disappeared in the neighbourhood.

A specialised contribution has been made by the voluntary agency NACRO, which is running many pilot projects on community approaches to crime prevention, assisted by Government funds, focusing particularly on run-down housing estates. The close involvement of residents, teachers and school children has improved the quality of life and seems to have reduced the level of vandalism. It could be that these projects have engendered more positive feeling towards the locality—a shared interest in looking after their own neighbourhood.

The voluntary sector itself also makes a contribution. A great deal of voluntary sector provision plays its part in this, but in certain parts of the country voluntary agencies provide facilities which have the specific objective of helping youngsters who are thought to be at risk of offending. These facilities, which were touched on by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, are generally referred to as preventive intermediate treatment, or preventive IT. The Government gave grants to voluntary organisations for IT provision totalling £500,000 in 1981–82. Voluntary organisations may also apply for grants from the intermediate treatment fund, to which the Government contributed £340,000 during the same year. We very much applaud those efforts.

The special contribution of the voluntary sector is that facilities are often run by local people who are aware of the needs of the locality and of the attitudes and aspirations of the youngsters. The youngsters see them as ordinary people rather than as representatives of officialdom, and this can make it much easier to ensure their co-operation and commitment. However, we would not necessarily want to see voluntary sector provision going it alone. Provision within a locality often needs to be jointly planned and co-ordinated in order to ensure that all needs are met in the right way, with the right balance between statutory and voluntary sectors. Some system of interagency co-operation at local level is the best way of ensuring that provision is properly co-ordinated, and in the Home Office we are considering ways in which this can be encouraged.

The Government will continue to encourage efforts to make a reality of community involvement in crime prevention. Local discussions are taking place at present between the Home Office, the police and other statutory agencies and voluntary groups on Lord Scarman's recommendation for police community consultation. Development of local liaison committees will, we believe, bring about better mutual understanding and full support which is so essential. We hope, too, that local liaison committees will explore practical ways of helping to prevent crime and initiatives with youngsters in the neighbourhood. We shall certainly look at this in drawing up procedures for the best method of consultation.

Mr. Lyell

Does my right hon. Friend accept what I said about the significance of truancy in juvenile crime? Can he dovetail that into what he is now saying? I congratulate the Home Office on its efforts with intermediate treatment and on its community involvement.

Mr. Raison

No one could deny that truancy can contribute to crime. There is no question about that. The main burden for dealing with truancy in the immediate sense lies with the education services, rather than those services for which the Home Office is responsible—the education welfare services, and so on, which are the modern version of the truancy officers. I cannot speak on that subject. We should all realise that we cannot tackle this serious problem unless the police service, the local education services and welfare services get together. Common sense tells' us that if 15-year-olds are not at school but are hanging around all day, they are extremely liable to get into trouble. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead was quite right to raise the matter in the context of this debate.

My hon. and learned Friend and others, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South and Northampton, North talked about different forms of national service, in some cases with a defence element, and in other cases relating to national community service. I shall not speak at length on the subject, because this debate has a more narrow focus than that, and it is a subject which has been discussed at length in recent months.

However, perhaps I should remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has now proposed his youth adventure training scheme, from which I understand that about 6,000 to 7,000 16 to 18-year-olds are intended to benefit. I believe that the two-week courses under that scheme are likely to begin soon. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that the concept that has been applied to policing and defence might also be applied to fire and civil defence. That topic has not cropped up in the discussions. It is an interesting thought and one that we should ponder. I am glad that my hon. Friends raised a matter which I know concerns them closely and which attracts a good deal of sympathy in many parts of the country.

The kinds of activities that I have mentioned are only a small sample of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the many groups who are involved with youngsters, and which share the common aim of channeling the energy of these young people into rewarding activity and deflecting them from crime and delinquency.

Voluntary schemes run by the police are but one excellent example. It is fair to say that this country has always been rich in opportunities for voluntary activity, not least for young people, and it is not necessarily true that we have to create elaborate new organisations when valuable organisations already exist which could often do with a little more support and more membership. We believe that police volunteer cadet schemes should be locally organised, and only chief constables and police authorities can determine whether such a scheme is practicable and suited to the circumstances in their own areas. The Government will continue to support the efforts of the police to strengthen the fellowship with young people which can do a great deal to help to prevent juvenile crime. I, like the rest of the House, am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us this opportunity to explore these matters and to state our position.

11.55 am
Mr. Lee

We have had a useful and fascinating debate. Although there have been only a few contributors, we have embarked on a fairly wide trip. We have taken in the independent nuclear deterrent, the death penalty, the great train robbery, and even last night's by-election.

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate, especially the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), representing the Opposition, who stayed with us all morning in splendid isolation. I am grateful for her encouraging words. I thank her for the way in which she accepted the idea of the voluntary cadet scheme and for having considered a form of junior specials.

It has been suggested that perhaps I have placed too much emphasis on the police and police stations. I stress that overall control of the community cadet scheme would be under some form of liaison group, made up of the police and community leaders.

My hon. Friends covered a range of topics. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, in his usual robust and enthusiastic way has done a great deal of work in this area and produced a number of papers and pamphlets on the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) brought in the wide-ranging voluntary groups, including the scouts, the Boys' Brigade, the Samaritans, and the civil defence. He talked particularly about the possibility of my scheme developing the character of young people.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) widened the debate by talking about unemployment. He emphasised the service to the community, brought in the subject of truancy, and queried whether my community cadet scheme could help to bring truants back into the fold of the schools.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), with his extensive legal background, talked about the work being done in Kent by the probation service. He said that he did not want the community cadet scheme to be too identified with the police. I thank him for his extensive contribution.

In particular, I place on record my appreciation of the presence and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. By raising this subject, I am not sure whether I have done him a favour. I have perhaps given him a respite from the well-known immigration trolleys that normally face him, to which I contribute, as a Member of Parliament with a substantial minority community. Perhaps I have ruined his weekend by forcing him to take home with him this weekend rather more work than he otherwise would.

I thank my right hon. Friend for being with us this morning and for being so sympathetic to what I have said. He emphasised that we should work in partnership and that policing has to be by consent, and he put Home Office support very much behind the voluntary cadet scheme. One thing that has emerged this morning is that this is perhaps the first occasion on which the whole concept of a voluntary cadet force has been discussed on the Floor of the House. I venture to suggest that the subject has not been brought up before. My right hon. Friend also drew attention to a number of new voluntary activities that are being undertaken in different parts of the country, of which I and many other right hon. and hon. Members were unaware.

I am grateful for the indulgence of the House in giving me the time to move my motion. I am glad that the Home Office is prepared in principle to consider the idea.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House, conscious of the rise in juvenile crime, believes that consideration should be given to the creation of community cadets to assist both the police and the voluntary sector, primarily in a community and preventive role.
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