HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1198-9
9. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to reduce the level of juvenile and youth crime.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The Government have several programmes to divert young people from crime. Some safer cities schemes focus on alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour. Some youth crime prevention panels aim specifically at reducing vandalism and graffiti. We are also working with the Department of Education and Science on its measures to deal with truancy. Several police forces organise activities for young people in the summer holidays. However, some parents could do more to influence their children's behaviour and the emphasis on parental responsibility in the Criminal Justice Bill will encourage them to do so.

Mr. Greenway

With those under 21 responsible for half Britain's crime and with young people so often being the victims of crime, must we not involve our youngsters more in crime prevention measures, so that they understand their responsibilities in society and are encouraged to believe that they can play an active role in combating crime, making for a safer society? Against that background, will my right hon. Friend warmly welcome the youth crime prevention scheme launched last week by Crime Concern and give youth crime prevention his full support?

Mr. Baker

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The rise in crime committed by young people is very disturbing. It is a long-term trend. One has to do everything that one can to combat it. As he rightly says, one of the best ways is to engage young people to help to solve the problem rather than being part of it. The scheme that he mentioned—youth crime prevention panels—and the work of Crime Concern are important. During Crime Prevention Week last week, there were literally thousands of schemes involving young people in fighting crime.

Mr. Hood

Last week's statement by the Secretary of State that a third of all crime is committed by under 17-year-olds will have shocked many who are trying to come to terms with such a statistic. Will the Secretary of State support tomorrow my Bill on under-age drinking, which will make it an offence to drink alcohol under the age of 18 and will give law enforcement officers powers to enforce some discipline in our play parks and housing estates, to stop the dreaded anti-social behaviour of young kids who become involved in alcohol abuse?

Mr. Baker

Alcohol abuse is a serious aspect of criminality for young people and for people of all ages. I shall certainly look at the terms of his Bill, although I cannot say whether I shall support it. Anything that can be done to get the dangers of alcohol abuse over to young people is to be welcomed and some crime prevention panels do that. In some city centres efforts are being made to ensure that there is no open drinking of lager—it has now been banned in the city of Coventry—as very many young people were doing so. One must use efforts of that sort to try to reduce the attraction of alcohol to youngsters.

Mr. Favell

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) mentioned that 50 per cent. of all crime is now carried out by juveniles. Is not it apparent that the soft approach that has been advocated by the so-called experts for years has patently failed, that the day that we abolished approved schools and borstals was a sad one for this country arid that we should look back to it?

Mr. Baker

Let me make it clear that some juveniles certainly have to be held in custody because of the nature of their crimes, their inherent violence and the threat that they pose to society. In the past four or five years the number of juveniles—14 to 16-year-olds—held in custody each year has declined from about 6,000 to 2,000 because we believe that it is easier to help them grow out of crime if they are kept out of custody. I assure my hon. Friend that the different alternative sentences now available must be administered in a tough and realistic way. They must not be seen as a soft option. Those young people who have to be locked up should certainly continue to be locked up.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Home Secretary confirm that a large proportion of the crimes committed by juveniles is associated with motor cars? In the light of that, why will not the Government limit the sale of duplicate and skeleton keys to those who can demonstrate a legitimate use for them?

Mr. Baker

First, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said. It is true that a large amount of juvenile crime, especially among young males, is associated with motor cars. Indeed, the motor car is involved in some 24 per cent. of all crimes. The evidence that we have from a wide survey is that there is little use of skeleton keys in breaking into, and stealing, cars. The youngsters who get up to these practices have simpler tools and have become experienced in breaking into cars. That is one of the reasons why yesterday I met the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Next week, I am seeing the car manufacturers to encourage them to design cars in a way that makes them safer and more secure.