HL Deb 13 July 1964 vol 260 cc55-63

5.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I announced the Government's intention to introduce this Bill when, on June 4, I repeated a Statement which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had made in another place about the hooliganism at seaside resorts during the Whitsun holiday. Although the Bill itself has a very limited purpose, it has therefore to be seen in the context of that very wide and serious problem.

There are two things about the recent hooliganism about which I think everybody is agreed. The first is that it is quite intolerable that our seaside resorts, or any other places, should suffer invasions such as occurred at Clacton, Brighton and Margate, and that public holidays should be spoilt for the great majority by the antics of the comparative few. The second is that these outbreaks raise fundamental questions about the upbringing and social attitudes of some of our young people, and that the remedy to this behaviour cannot be found merely by prosecuting offences, by stiffening penalties or making other alterations of the law. There is no doubt that, in the long run, our energies must concentrate upon reaching a deeper understanding of the causes of delinquent behaviour, so that we are better able to remove them or to mitigate their effects. The present Bill, however, does not set out to do more than widen and strengthen the powers of the courts in one limited but important respect in which the Government have seen a need for immediate action.

As the law stands, an offender who commits malicious damage may be dealt with under one of two statutes: the Malicious Damage Act, 1861, or the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914. The 1861 Act creates a number of offences and penalties, of which the most relevant for present purposes is Section 51, under which a person committing malicious damage to property which exceeds £5 in value is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for up to two years if the offence was committed by day, and up to five years if it was committed by night. Those are already very severe penalties, and this Bill does not seek to alter them.

The offence under Section 51 may be tried summarily with the consent of the accused, but specific provision for summary trial is made by Section 14 of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, and it is that section which this Bill seeks to amend. As the section now stands, a magistrates' court may deal under it with any case of malicious damage in which the amount of the damage does not, in the opinion of the court, exceed £20. If the court convicts the offender, it has power, if the damage exceeded £5, to imprison him for up to three months and to fine him up to £20; and, if the damage was £5 or less, to imprison him for up to two months or fine him up to £5. The court has the additional power to order the offender to pay compensation to the aggrieved party, but, as it can deal only with cases in which the damage does not exceed £20, it follows that the compensation cannot exceed £20. This £20 limit, my Lords, is clearly now out-dated by the fall in the value of money since 1914, and it is equally clear that the power to order payment of compensation is a salutary one in its application to "Mods" and "Rockers", although, of course, it does not apply only to them.

I can think of no better way than hitting at their pockets, to make these hooligans see sense. The Bill proposes, therefore, first, to extend the jurisdiction of magistrates' courts under Section 14 to cases where the damage does not exceed £100; secondly—a consequence which flows from that extension of jurisdiction—to increase to £100 the amount of compensation that may be ordered; and, thirdly, to increase from £20 to £100 the maximum fine which can be imposed. These changes, the need for which has been represented to my right honourable friend by a number of the resorts which have suffered, or fear, disturbance by hooligans, will, I believe, add a very useful weapon to the armoury of the courts in dealing with any further outbreaks, and it is the Government's intention that the Bill, if approved, shall come into effect as soon as it receives the Royal Assent, so that its powers may be available before the August Bank Holiday.

Finally, my Lords, a word about the new proposed compensation limit of £100. The noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough (who is not in his place at the moment), suggested, when I announced on June 4 the intention to introduce the Bill, that even that limit was too low, and that a gang of youths collectively may do damage much exceeding £100. That, of course, is perfectly true; and the noble Earl thought—and I quote him [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 258 (No. 78) col. 602]: it should be possible for them all to be mulcted and made responsible for providing the total cost of the damage caused". On that, I should like to make two points. First, we are concerned here with cases to be dealt with summarily, and some limit must be imposed on the gravity of the cases which can be dealt with in that way, rather than by a jury. I think that the £100 limit is about right, and that it will, in practice, catch the great majority of hooligan offenders—that is to say, the youths who smash shop windows and deckchairs, and do damage of that kind.

Secondly, I cannot at the moment see how it would be practicable, if that was what the noble Earl was suggesting, to impose on a group of youths collectively an obligation to pay compensation. For the compensation to be enforceable—and it is enforceable in the same way as a fine—it would have to be clear what the precise obligation of each youth was. The noble Earl would not, I imagine, suggest that that obligation should be fixed arbitrarily, without regard to the precise part played by the individual: it would have to be related to evidence of malicious damage committed by him which had led to a conviction. But if there were such evidence, and the damage for which he was responsible was less than £100, he would, in any event, be within the terms of this Bill.

Finally, I should like to mention a further point, not directly connected with the purposes of the Bill as it stands, which has arisen on Section 14(1) of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, and on which the Government have it in mind to bring forward an Amendment in Committee. If noble Lords will look at the subsection (it is reproduced, with the Amendments proposed by the Bill, in the Schedule on the back page of the Bill) they will see that there are alternative sets of penalties, according to whether or not the damage exceeded £5; and then the subsection goes on to say that "in either case" the offender is liable to pay "such further amount" of compensation as the court thinks reasonable. Since the Bill was introduced, the Government have learnt that the word "further" has led some courts to feel uncertain about their precise powers under the subsection. On one view, the word "further" simply makes it clear that, if a fine has been imposed, there may be a payment of compensation in addition; it does not in any way prevent the court from ordering payment of compensation in addition to imprisonment. This interpretation is supported by as good an authority as Stone's Justices' Manual.

On another view, however, the effect of the reference to a "further" amount is that the provision for payment of compensation bites only if an "amount" in the form of a fine has already been paid, so that compensation cannot accompany imprisonment. My advice is that the point cannot be regarded as free from doubt, and clearly it ought to be clarified. Equally clearly, I think, the courts ought, in appropriate cases, to be able to make an offender pay compensation, as well as imprisoning him, although they must of course take into account that the effect of imprisonment may be to reduce the offender's capacity to pay. The Government therefore propose to bring forward an Amendment in Committee—I am giving notice of it now, and I think it need be no more than the deletion of the word "further"—to make the position clear. With the exception of that small Amendment, I believe that the Bill, which has been generally welcomed, is right as it stands. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Derwent.)

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, having regard to the very clear explanation of the terms of the Bill by the noble Lord, I do not think it necessary for me on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House to say very much. I think this Bill can be justified simply on the grounds of inflation since 1914. It so happens that the value of money has decreased by 500 per cent. since 1914. I think that is roughly the figure. Therefore, what was £20 in 1914 would to-day be £100. The noble Lord was not content with that and seemed to feel that this Bill had to be justified on the score of hooliganism. I would hate to think that this was being introduced as a more or less panic measure. I agree that we must deal with hooliganism if it arises, and that we must be more prepared to deal with it. I assume that it is believed that if the penalties are increased this may act as a deterrent. Well, we shall see; but I myself would rather have justified it on the score of the change in the value of money than on particular incidents that have happened in the last few months and which one hopes are quite exceptional.

The noble Lord referred to the question of the causes of delinquency, the causes why hooliganism arises. I hope that we shall have a very useful discussion on Wednesday on this. It is material to our discussion then. One of our difficulties, as will be emphasised on Wednesday, is that the information we have is so (shall I put it?) unreliable; that the figures do not really give us the information we need. They can lead to the superficial conclusion that there is an increase of crime; on the other hand, it would not be difficult to establish that really there was no increase of crime, except among certain sections of the community. I hope that we shall have a good deal to say on this question of getting more reliable information when the time comes on Wednesday.

My Lords, there is one other thing which if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth were here I am sure he also would want to say. I feel as he does about it. It is no use laying down penalties in an Act of Parliament unless they are enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, feels particularly about traffic offences. He feels that although the penalties for traffic offences have been greatly increased the magistrates have been very slow to take advantage of these increased penalties. I think if we are going to increase penalties we should ensure that the magistrates realise that they must take a different view of the offences from that taken in the past; although that is really begging the question of deterrents, which I hope we shall discuss on Wednesday.

The noble Lord opposite rather assumed that increasing the fine will have the effect of reducing the amount of malicious damage. I am not sure. I am not disputing it, but I should not like to be certain on the subject. But the one thing that is certain is that if we are going to "put our money", so to speak, on deterrents by increasing the penalties, we ought to be certain that they will in fact be imposed if the occasion arises. I therefore hope that the noble Lord and his right honourable friend will ensure that that is made abundantly clear to the magistrates when this Bill is passed.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say only a word or two about this Bill. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the power of magistrates to award compensation was a salutary power. I am sure it is, not only because the owners of private property which is damaged certainly deserve to be compensated; but also because I think that making a young hooligan pay compensation makes him look foolish in the eyes of his companions—more foolish than in the case of a mere fine. I would say that the sooner young hooligans are made to look foolish in the eyes of their companions, the sooner will they grow out of hooliganism.

I understand that some benches of magistrates use their power to award compensation more than others do. I do not know why there is not complete uniformity in this matter; but it occurs to me that some benches of magistrates may possibly take the view that if, for instance, a small shopkeeper has his window broken that is obviously a case for compensation if the hooligan can afford it; but, on the other hand, if it is Harrods and they are insured, there is not much point in awarding compensation. I should have thought that there was. I should have thought that a hooligan would look sillier still in the eyes of his companions if he were made to compensate Harrods. I wonder therefore whether the occasion might not be taken when this Bill comes into law for the Home Secretary to circularise benches of magistrates encouraging them to award compensation in almost all cases, and encouraging them to achieve uniformity in this matter. For I should have thought that this was a matter on which benches of magistrates could achieve uniformity.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support this Bill I should also like to draw attention to the great stride this Bill makes, inasmuch as the wrongdoer is going to have to pay for the damage he does. I think that is a very important point in the evolution of the law as regards crime. I have had a certain amount of experience of boys' clubs. I have for several years been on the executive of the Kent County branch of the National Association of Boys' Clubs. I am, in fact, the Treasurer of that organisation as regards the county of Kent. While I welcome this Bill most heartily, how much more satisfactory would it be if we could eradicate the causes of this hooliganism out of our society. This Bill is a deterrent; but whether it is going to prove to be a sufficient deterrent, only time can tell. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has just spoken about making these young people feel foolish. I personally think, though I agree it is unfashionable, that if you were to give them a mild caning it would make them feel even more foolish. I am going by my personal experience; and I can assure your Lordships that it was a great deterrent to me. I am sure that quite a few of your Lordships have had this deterrent; but I agree it is unfashionable and I apologise to the Benches opposite.

The other point I should like to make is that the "tin gods" of these young people are their motor-cycles; and if we take away their licences, or even their motor-cycles, for three months or for a certain period, that would be a great deterrent. We have a duty to the public here, and if this Bill does not prove a sufficient deterrent we must have a greater deterrent. Finally, I should like to say a word about the parents. There has been a great deal of criticism of the parents. It has been said that they are to blame. I think it is unfair to blame parents, because a great many of these young people have far more cash than their parents. It was easy for parents to control young people before the war, because they could always control the purse strings, but it is quite impossible for parents to do so to-day.

We have to do all we can to eradicate the causes of this hooliganism and one of the things I should like the Government to do is to provide more money for bona fide clubs, particularly boys clubs, to help young people. We are asking a tremendous amount of young people to-day. They go straight from school to a job, where they earn these enormous wages, and they have tremendous temptations put before them, with the television and films glamourising crime and every form of bestiality. If the Government and local authorities would spend more money on the promotion of clubs, I think that this would go a long way to eradicating the problem. I heartily support the Bill.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have given a general welcome to this Bill. I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that we have heard from various sources that our present powers are inadequate to deal, not only with "Mods" and "Rockers", but with the others, as well. A Bill of this sort would have had to be brought in at some time and it is being brought forward now because this is an immediate problem.

I have noted the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. It is not the Home Secretary's job to circularise magistrates and tell them what penalties they should impose. We cannot expect uniformity in sentences until we get uniformity in crimes. Every single person who comes before a court differs in the degree of his offence and in the circumstances of it, and it must really be left to the magistrates. I think that uniformity would be a very unfortunate thing. I am afraid that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard were outside the terms of the Bill. They would be more appropriate next Wednesday, and perhaps we shall hear from my noble friend then. Again, I would thank noble Lords for welcoming the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.