HL Deb 04 June 1964 vol 258 cc596-605

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, with your permission, I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice an Answer which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made in another place in reply to a number of Questions arising out of the hooliganism at seaside resorts at the Whitsun weekend. I will use his own words:

"In comparison with the millions of young people who enjoyed that fine holiday weekend in sensible ways, the total numbers involved are not large, but their behaviour was thoroughly foolish and irresponsible, and they spoilt the holiday for many others. The situation was kept in hand by skilful and well organised action on the part of the police forces, and I am certain that if further outbreaks occur the police will be equal to dealing with them. Effective machinery exists for mutual assistance between police forces, where necessary; I am keeping in close touch myself with the plans now being concerted between the chief constables most likely to be concerned, for coping with any recurrences of seaside hooliganism. It would not be wise to disclose these plans in geographical detail, but I give the assurance that the importance of being able to muster large forces of police quickly wherever trouble threatens is thoroughly recognised by all. I feel certain the House would wish to join with me in paying tribute to the admirable behaviour of the police, in difficult circumstances, in the areas affected at Whitsun.

"The courts have in general taken a stern view of those who have come before them charged with hooligan offences in holiday places, and I have no doubt of the salutary deterrent effect of sharp sentences in such cases.

"As a nation we have to try all the harder to probe deep into the causes of feckless behaviour by young people, and remedy or eradicate them. More and more systematic study and genuine research are needed into the true reasons why groups of boys and girls break away into selfish behaviour that is offensive to the mass of ordinary, decent people. The Advisory Committee on Juvenile Delinquency which, with the Secretary of State for Scotland, I recently appointed to consider and advise on delinquency and on measures for its reduction will, I hope, have a significant contribution to make.

"There is evidence that a great number of the young people who contributed to the Whitsun troubles at Brighton and Margate went there in the first instance as spectators rather than with the intention of doing any harm. It is easy for older people to condemn the whole lot of these young people out of hand. I would not do that, but we are entitled to ask them all to remember that behaviour which may seem amusing to them can develop into an unfair and intolerable intrusion upon the pleasures of other people, and therefore they ought to cease to encourage the perhaps few black sheep among them. We shall all do well to remember that there are exhibitionists and troublemakers who thrive on publicity.

"I have given consideration to all the suggestions that have been made for providing the courts with new powers for dealing with these hooligans, for example, by confiscating their vehicles or by disqualifying them from driving or by reintroducing corporal punishment. I do not think that any of these provides the answer. There would be formidable difficulties, for instance, in relating offences to the vehicles which offenders have used to come to the area concerned. It is not the case that the courts lack powers to deal with hooligans. There is a variety of offences with which they may be charged, and some of the recent sentences have shown that the courts can deal with them severely.

"There is one respect in which I want to ask Parliament to widen and strengthen the powers of the courts. Section 14 of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914, empowers magistrates' courts dealing with cases of malicious damage to order the offender to pay compensation up to the amount of the damage, but use cannot be made of that section if the damage exceeds £20. I propose that the £20 limit should be raised to £100, and that the maximum fine which can in addition be imposed under the section should also be raised from £20 to £100.

"I believe that the principle of exacting restitution for damage done, along with the possibility of a substantial fine, is very important, and that this will help to reassure the public as well as to deter the hooligans. The necessary legislation will be introduced forthwith."

My Lords, that is my right honourable friend's statement.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be obliged to the Minister of State for the statement he has made on behalf of the Home Secretary. We shall all, I think, agree with the tribute paid to the police. Their patience under conditions of considerable provocation is wonderful; indeed, it is another demonstration of the fact that our policemen are wonderful. It must be that quite a number of them lost their week-end's leave over this kind of activity. I agree with the Home Secretary that the existing possibilities of cooperation between police forces are adequate to deal with this kind of difficulty. Further, I ask the House to accept my assurance that we agree that the great bulk of our young people are good and decent young people. But this minority are bringing the nation into disrepute, and it is damaging not only their own happiness, and sometimes their own bodies, but also other people's, and ruining people's holidays.

May I put it to the Minister of State that really this statement does not get us very much further? It is a pretty poor thing. There is to be more research, and whether the Advisory Committee—poor things!—will know any more about it than the rest of us when they come to examine it, I do not know. But that is not good enough. The increase from £20 to £100 in the maximum compensation payable for damage is a very modest affair. As regards the motor-bicycle element of the "Rockers" and the "Mods", if I am not mistaken there is no question of suspending their licences. I do ask the Minister of State whether, in view of the gravity of this matter which may go on, he will indicate to the Home Secretary that it is somewhat disappointing that this statement indicates practically no development in finding remedies.


My Lords, I should rather like to take off a little of the cold water which the noble Lord who has just spoken has thrown on this statement. It seems to me that it is a balanced and moderate statement; and it is constructive. I think that the raising of the limit of penalty in the way proposed is probably very useful. I am glad that the Home Secretary has not taken a violent and sudden decision, in reply to the rather hysterical criticisms in the Press and elsewhere, which of course are justified by the unpleasant things that have happened. All I would ask the Minister is this. Can he tell us when this Advisory Committee is likely to deliver its report, and when it will be available for us to read?


My Lords, may I first answer the noble Lord, Lord Rea, on the last point he raised? I think that the Advisory Committee will make a series of reports over a long time. I do not think one can give a final date—it is a little early yet—because the sub-committees have only just started work, and it is the sub-committees which will produce the initial facts. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for what he said; and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for the first part of his remarks.

May I just say this? Any more complicated legislation, which may or may not be found to be necessary, would take a considerable time to formulate. My right honourable friend did not want to rush into Draconian methods without considerable thought; and then, of course, there is this question of how the law may be amended. What has happened here is that the legislation we are introducing is something which we can introduce quickly, and which will strengthen the hands of the courts. If other measures are necessary later they will take considerably more thought and more working out. But this is a perfectly simple step, and we believe it will help, and that is why it is being introduced. I am extremely grateful for the noble Lord's earlier remarks, and, if I may say so, as I have seen a lot of them lately, may I say that I am extremely grateful for the remarks he has made about the police?


My Lords, may I join in the welcome to this statement as far as it goes, but offer one criticism or suggestion? The noble Lord spoke as if the sole problem were what happened at the Easter and Whitsun week-ends. That is not the case. There is a continuous stream, a constant occurrence, of hooliganism not only at the seaside, but from youths or small groups of people who go by motor-bicycle to some village not far from where they live, smash up dances and do things of that kind. Many workers who have done a great deal to further the interests of young people have reached the conclusion that nothing would be more effective in these cases than to order the confiscation of the vehicles used to bring these young people to these places where they commit these offences. I hope that the Home Secretary will carefully consider whether it is not desirable to empower the courts to order, certainly the confiscation, and possibly the destruction, of the vehicles used by these people which aid them in going to places to commit these offences. This would have two admirable consequences. It would deprive them both of their means of mobility and of a valued status symbol.


My Lords, could the Minister state whether the courts have powers—or, if they do not now have powers, whether powers will be given them—to require young people who are guilty of acts of hooliganism to report back to the police at weekends, at the place where they committed those acts of hooliganism, for a stated period? They could there be under the direction of the police to pick up litter or do such useful things, to show that they could be useful citizens, as a form of punishment for their hooliganism; and one would hope that in the future such means of deterrent would turn these young people into useful citizens, instead of being a nuisance to the rest of the populace.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister one question? Would he not agree that, if we had not done away with National Service and it were still operative in this country to-day, we should not have these "Mods" and "Rockers"?


My Lords, may I answer the noble and gallant Viscount first? In the days when we had conscription we did not have "Mods" and "Rockers"; we had what I think were called "Teddy boys". But I think that is really quite outside the scope of this statement, if I may say so. The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, asked me whether the police had the rather sweeping, power to make these boys and girls go back on following weekends to the place of their crime, as it were. They do not have that power. There are other powers, which the courts can exercise, but the police cannot make them go back. As to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Conesford, I am well aware of the issue he has raised, which has been considered and will be considered further. However, we do not believe he is quite correct, particularly when he talks about breaking up dance halls. A lot of those who go breaking up dance halls travel by bus or Tube and on their feet, and we really cannot confiscate their feet. From the information we have had from the police so far, I think he is rather exaggerating the effect of these motor-bicycles. They do make these young people more mobile—but, then, so do trains. I think this is a little outside the statement I have made, but, of course, these matters are being and will be considered.


My Lords, may I put just this point to the Minister? He says that an Advisory Committee is to be set up. Looking at the varying circumstances which have come to light in the last two months or more, I should have thought that, if there were anything confusing in the situation, it would be as confusing to the Advisory Committee as it is to the Government. In the meantime, there is the question of urgency. There are the three outstanding cases of Clacton, Margate and Brighton, but these have now been added to by incidents at numerous places in different parts of the country where, as the Minister says, these people do not all arrive by motor transport. Something ought to be done about this situation now. Surely that is an immediate responsibility of the Home Office, and of those who have to serve under it, to keep the peace.

The other thing I would say (although it is perhaps better to leave it until we deal with the urgent Bill we have been promised) is on the question of increasing the amount of compensation allowed to be levied by a court. That we can deal with when the Bill comes up, but I hope there will be nothing in any Money Resolution in the other place which will prevent a Motion in this House being passed to increase the amount, because in some cases, taking the collective effect of the conduct of a body of youths, the damage caused may cost very much more than the amount provided, and it should be possible for them all to be mulcted and made responsible for providing the total cost of the damage caused.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his remarks. I am afraid I cannot answer "off the cuff" the question about a Money Bill, but I shall bring it to the immediate attention of my right honourable friend, because clearly we want to be able to deal with this Bill here. I am afraid I cannot answer him straight away, as he will realise. Of course, it is the responsibility of the forces of law and order, which include the Home Office, to see that these hooligans are dealt with and stopped, and that is in fact happening. I think it is clear that the police are doing a very good job. On the noble Earl's other point, the Advisory Committee will advise, but, of course, as is already shown by the fact that this small Bill is coming forward, that will not stop the Government from introducing such measures as they may find necessary, although they do not intend to introduce Bills which they are not certain are necessary.


My Lords, is the noble Lord fully satisfied that the police resources on the South coast are adequate to deal with this problem? It was obvious that at Brighton they were fully stretched to deal with the situation. You had the problem at Brighton, Bournemouth and Margate, and one could name many other resorts concerned quite nearby. Is the noble Lord fully satisfied that there are adequate reserves available at holiday times to deal with the position? I will give him one instance. I am reliably informed that there is only one police car to deal with the problem at Seaford.


My Lords, co-operation between police forces is very close these days, but there have been further conferences over this particular problem, and we are satisfied. I would just add that at Brighton there was, I think, very little, if any, advance warning, and a lot of the police, the East Sussex police, were at Goodwood. I think that matters of that kind have now been tidied up. The chief constables have informed us that they are all quite satisfied that they can call on and move in other bodies of police to help their neighbours; and they are satisfied they can deal with the matter quite adequately.


But, my Lords, do Her Majesty's Government seriously imagine that these latest measures are going to make very much difference, and that some wretched seaside town is not going to "cop it on August bank holiday?


I certainly do not say that no seaside town is going to "cop it" on August bank holiday, but what I do say is that hooligans will be pretty adequately dealt with if they do try to cause trouble.


My Lords, the noble Lord, in quoting the reply of the Home Secretary in another place, referred, I think, to "exhibitionists". May I remind your Lordships that any exhibitionists involved in this kind of activity are enjoying, or will enjoy with the co-operation of the Press, a splendid platform in the prolongation of this debate in your Lordships' House?


I do not know whether I am meant to answer that question, but I take the noble Lady's point. May I add one thing? The job of the police would be very much easier, and the publicity given to these hooligans would be very much less, if other members of the public who are not involved did not stand about and watch. That has caused considerable trouble to the police.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? While agreeing wholeheartedly that the police forces involved are doing a very fine job of work, and are being very restrained in their attitude, I would point out that they are at times placed in a rather uncomfortable position—perhaps having their helmets knocked off—and often find themselves in a humiliating situation. Could they not act with a little less reserve? And could they perhaps be issued with the longer truncheons which the police on horseback have, and which could possibly be used in effective deterrent action?


My Lords, may I say that the chief constables are, I understand, entirely satisfied with the weapons they have, and the amount of force used is just sufficient to do what the police have to do. I would remind my noble friend, on his comment about helmets being knocked off, that of course, a policeman's lot is not always a happy one.


My Lords, could the Minister say what is our duty, as members of the public, if we see this sort of thing going on? Should we turn our backs and walk away, or should we join in and help the police? It really is rather a difficult situation.


Of course, it is difficult for me to give advice, but I would suggest that if somebody wishes to help and not to walk away he might ask the police whether they need his help. But if they do not need his help, he should walk away.


My Lords, might I ask the Minister of State whether he would be good enough to call the Home Secretary's attention to the fact that there are so many petty crimes going on all over the country, as well as at Clacton by "Mods" and "Rockers"? Where I live, in Hertfordshire, last Friday night the "Best-kept Village" sign which was won by Old Welwyn in the "Best-kept Village" competition was sawn through and crashed to the ground. Large quantities of "purple heart" pills have also been stolen from the factory at Welwyn Garden City, where they are produced. Things of this sort continue all the time, yet when these boys come up they are fined such very small amounts that I believe they have a reserve fund to pay their weekly fines. It really is getting quite a farce. I hope that the Home Secretary will not concentrate merely on Clacton and other places that have been mentioned.


My Lords, all these matters are constantly in the mind of my right honourable friend, but I do not think that my noble friend's particular remarks apply to the statement I made.

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