§ 5. Mr. Jacques Arnold
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures his Department has taken to make parents more accountable for the behaviour of their children.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
From 1 October last year, courts have new powers to bind over the parents of offenders under the age of 16, order parents to attend court with their children and to pay their children's fines.
§ Mr. Arnold
Is it not wrong that a tiny minority of parents allow their children to run riot, to the detriment of their neighbours and of other victims? Is not punishing the parents for the crimes of their children a deterrent and a way of making them face up to their responsibilities? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that describing these measures as "punishing the innocent" as the Opposition did when voting against them, is wholly wrong?
§ Mr. Clarke
I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, many parents are decent people who do their best with their children but, for one reason or another, they cannot retain control of a child that becomes delinquent. The courts will not impose penalties on such parents. There are also parents, however, who neglect the behaviour of their 926 children and just assume that it is up to the police and the courts to protect the public from them. I therefore think that one of the best features of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, about which I shall be making a statement in a few moments, was the fact that it gave these powers to the courts. It is indeed ridiculous that this was about the only part of the Act that the Opposition chose to oppose.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Would the Home Secretary take time to familiarise himself with the Scottish system for dealing with offenders which, through the children's panels, involves parents closely from the beginning of a case and appears to have rather greater success than the English juvenile courts system in preventing recidivism?
§ Mr. Clarke
I was in Scotland yesterday afternoon and evening, and overnight until this morning. I took the opportunity of doing a little public sounding of my own among the Scotsmen and women whom I met. I apologise for the fact that my sample was not fully politically representative; but the Scottish children's panels have met a rather more mixed reaction than I would have expected. Not everyone agreed that the situation in Scotland is nearer perfection than it is here.