HL Deb 12 July 1979 vol 401 cc1096-122

7.36 p.m.

Baroness PHILLIPS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action has been reported on the Home Office Circular 211/1978, Juveniles Co-operation between Police and other Agencies. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. If one says that one is for crime prevention it means that one is against sin. This is what a Home Office research bulletin writer has underlined. To take positive action in an attempt to achieve crime prevention must surely receive universal approval. Whether one adopts the moral or the social angle—which I prefer to do—or the economic angle, it is always cheaper to prevent crime than to spend energy, time and money upon trying to pick up the pieces after the event.

Juvenile crime has risen dramatically in the last few years. I will give just a few examples. A group of shopkeepers, police and security officers in Croydon set up a special project to deal with theft from shops and from people during a particularly busy period—in other words, at Christmas. Out of 672 apprehensions, 50 per cent., or well over 350, were under 17 years of age. The chief superintendent of the community relations branch of the Metropolitan Police said recently that one-quarter of all suspected criminals arrested in London were children. He also mentioned that even 10-year-olds were now being arrested.

A Hampshire study of theft carried out between January and November 1978 showed that 3,300 offenders were between the ages of 12 and 21, compared with 600 between the ages of 22 and 31 and 70 over the age of 62 years. That, incidentally, disposes of the suggestion put forward by a member of another place that these crimes are committed by confused old ladies.

Bearing in mind these statistics, of which I have given noble Lords only a sample, it was good to read in a reply to a Question asked by a Member of another place that an interdepartmental circular had been sent out in December 1978 on the subject of juveniles and co-operation between the police and other agencies. The kernel of the circular is to be found in the first sentence: The prevention of juvenile delinquency is not the prerogative of any single agency. A concerted approach can avoid misunderstanding, apparent clashes of interest and a wasteful duplication of effort". This circular, from four Government departments—which I felt must surely be unusual—was sent to all chief officers of police, to chief officers of education, to chief officers of social services, to chief probation officers and to all county councils, local authorities and clerks to the justices—indeed, to any group which was likely to be concerned with schemes to prevent juvenile delinquency.

Since the chief constables were asked to write to the Home Office within six months—and I have given them six months—about the joint activities, I wrote as a member of the Standing Committee on Crime Prevention, to inquire what had happened so far and I offered assistance if they needed it. So far I have had replies from Greater Manchester, Humberside, North Wales, where they have some very imaginative truancy schemes; Norfolk, West Yorkshire, Kent, Thames Valley, Leicestershire, Devon and Cornwall, Hertfordshire, North Yorkshire and Cheshire. That, my Lords, leaves quite a number of chief constables who have not had the courtesy to reply to me. Perhaps I am not important enough. So I am hoping tonight that the Minister will be able to tell me that all the chief constables have replied to him within the prescribed six months, and I know that we are going to hear about some exciting and inspiring schemes.

I should now like to refer to another document, which presents some idea of why we have this problem. This is called Day Care for School Children; it was prepared by the Equal Opportunities Commission and published in September 1978. Here we have a picture of 1 million children with working mothers in 1971, and the figure must be considerably higher now because that is eight years ago. Obviously these are not all unsupervised but with the increasing number of one-parent families the report suggests that, on the basis of available evidence, approximately one-quarter of the 11–15 year olds will be left alone during the school holidays and before school and after school. In other words, if we estimate a conservative figure it is something like 375,000 children who are at risk.

What are the consequences of children being left alone? Obviously there is boredom, there is lack of adult company; some children will be in actual physical danger and some will get into serious trouble. We do not have very up-to-date figures. One of the curious things that one finds when doing research is that it is rarely possible to find figures that are up to date. In 1975, 24,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were involved in road accidents and 8,000 were seriously injured or killed. In 1974 over 36,000 children were admitted to hospital because of accidents in the home and in 1975 24,000 children under 14 were found guilty of indictable offences.

Only yesterday in the Daily Telegraph I read: British Rail is preparing for a surge in child vandalism. It costs £4 million annually". That is only British Rail. Special trains patrolling hundreds of miles on 'at risk' tracks are to be used in the fight against attacks on the trains and British Rail property. One official explained that bored children easily get into mischief on the long summer evenings and as a result British Rail has stepped up efforts to warn children on the dangers of trespassing and asking parents 'Do you know where your child is playing?'". Today I have given the prizes at a little school in Poplar where the teachers are doing a magnificent job with physically handicapped children. They fight a constant battle against broken windows, broken equipment and vandalism of the most appalling kind, committed in the main by the young. Now we have to look at the fact that the long summer holidays are approaching, so what sort of provision exists? The noble Lord who is to reply may not have the answer to this, but I think it is so much part of the endeavour to prevent juvenile delinquency. First I think we have to recall the powers and the obligations. The 1944 Education Act states: It shall he the duty of every local authority to secure that facilities for primary, secondary and further education are provided for their area, including adequate facilities for recreation, social and physical training, and for that purpose a local education authority may establish, maintain and manage, camps, holiday classes, playing fields, play centres and so on". Then again Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 is concerned with preventing children from going into care, and the powers are there.

What actually is provided? The Commission wrote to a number of authorities—and of course, again, a number did not reply. One wonders whether it is discourtesy, inefficiency or whether we actually pay some of our officials more than they deserve to receive. Out of 47 county councils that replied, 37 had schemes. What about the other 10? Out of 52 metropolitan boroughs in London, 49 had schemes. What about the other three? Of 12 Scottish authorities, nine had schemes. The National Playing Fields Association have 3,000 play schemes in England and Wales and about 100 of those are in London alone. That suggests to me that there are many towns with no schemes of any kind at all.

The report of the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that the provision was very patchy, with no regular returns and no real overall concern. What can be provided? Play centres, adventure playgrounds, camps, children's houses, support for the many voluntary schemes, whether the formal ones like the scouts or the cadets, or the informal ones. The Silver Jubilee Trust Fund, the president of which is His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, is set up for youth to provide service for others, and a large sum of money is available for this purpose. This can be fun as well as taking up energy.

I thought it interesting that the head of the crime prevention department of the Netherlands Department of Justice gave two reasons why he considered that action against crimes committed by juveniles was particularly important, and they are worth our taking note of. First, in the short term preventive measures are likely to have a greater impact on youngsters than on older criminals. Secondly, there is a long-term gain to be made by adjusting incipient criminal careers to responsible citizenship.

So by now the Minister will have realised that I am not just asking what action has been taken already, but also what further action can be spurred on by this debate. This is the Year of the Child and it is not unreasonable to ask that all authorities provide proper care for the children in their area. This is not to pass any judgment, whether moral or otherwise, on whether or not the mothers have to work. This is to state the facts as we know them. Full publicity must be given to where the facilities are. Just try to find out where all the facilities are—and if there are not sufficient, then we must have the playgrounds open and all the other great public buildings open.

It is curious that the facilities for recreation are actually closed for more hours in the year than they are open. The parents must make certain that they know where their children will be and what they are doing before and after school and during the holidays. Why not encourage these children to join voluntary groups? Let us have some advertising on television and radio about the dangers of this behaviour, but also about the opportunities for fun and adventure that exist as a sensible alternative. As usual, we fall lamentably behind France, Holland, Belgium and Germany, to say nothing of the Scandinavian countries, where provision of all kinds is made for children and youths. If I am going to be told that it costs too much —and I hate to talk of money—then I would remind the House that in 1976 there were 82,000 children of school age in care at an average cost of £3,500 per child. In his speech to the Police Federation conference the Minister, whom we shall have the pleasure of hearing tonight, said, in relation to juveniles: Care and control are two sides of the coin. Unless young people can be shown that their own happiness and the future of our society rests in large part upon their consideration for the feelings of others as well as themselves, we cannot be said to be truly caring or concerned with their welfare". My Lords, I applaud and I endorse his words. I ask tonight what action Her Majesty's Government will take in the matter of preventing juvenile delinquency?

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, I was delighted to note the intention of my noble friend, if I may so refer to her, to ask the Government about the developments since that most important inter-departmental circular of 19th December last year. In a debate in your Lordships' House on 31st January this year on Home Office penal administration I suggested that some effective authoritative link was needed at central Government level in order to ensure effective action at that level to prevent crime and delinquency, and to stimulate and encourage the initiation of that kind of co-operation at local level also. I must admit that it was disappointing to me when the then Minister—I am glad to see that he is going to speak this evening—made no reference in his concluding speech to my question and made no mention of that inter-departmental circular, that circular having been issued only six weeks before that debate. It appeared not to be in his Home Office brief.

Since today's debate is in the nature of a Question, I will now ask the present Minister to say in his reply whether he does not think that something more is called for than an inter-departmental circular, signed though it was by three Permanent Under-Secretaries, wearing the robes, the pinstripes, of power, if we are to follow the Guardian; whether it also represents the present Government's policy in this vital area of the nation's problems, and whether indeed, as I suggested on 31st January, there is merit in having some standing inter-departmental machinery, or, perhaps better, some independent body at government level, national level, despite their dislike of Quangos, to keep crime prevention under review and to stimulate more constructive and concerted measures at local level.

I have been greatly impressed by the pioneering work in Devon and Cornwall inspired by the chief constable, Mr. John Alderson. Recently he came to address the annual conference of the National Association of Probation Officers. I had previously been down to Exeter to hear at first hand from members of his crime prevention consultative group and from members of his crime prevention support unit, and I was very impressed indeed. I understand that a juvenile bureau has since been established which is operated jointly by the police and the social services and that it is working well. There are other clear and encouraging signs that all this initiative is beginning to pay off in such cities as Exeter and Plymouth.

There are, of course—the noble Baroness mentioned some who replied to her—other initiatives elsewhere; and in fact no single blueprint would be appropriate to every place and to every circumstance. With 2½ million reported criminal offences annually, and we understand that that is only one-tenth of reported crime overall, it is the tip of an iceberg. It is quite essential that there should be such initiatives, not only in exceptional places where there are outstanding chief constables such as Mr. Alderson, but in every city in the land. This is very far from the case at present. I am sure most of your Lordships would agree that there are still many places where the tasks of the police and the other agencies addressed in that circular are formal and cool and the contacts occasional, where indeed one party tends to see the other as the opposition, and where, most regrettably, relations between police and groups of the general public are downright deplorable. Here is an area in which, notwithstanding the new Government's intention to minimise governmental intervention, it seems to me to be very important indeed that they should act firmly to improve relationships and to cultivate collaboration in the prevention of crime.

The noble Baroness's Question relates to the prevention of juvenile delinquency, and as a general proposition the best hope of tackling this alarmingly growing phenomenon is not by such measures as appear to be implicit in the Queen's Speech and in the Conservative Party Manifesto which preceded it, with their threat of sterner and more punitive action. The Minister has recently repeated and made more explicit that intention.

From some considerable experience of working in the youth service myself, and from my continuing contacts with the Probation Service, I can say, both on the evidence and from personal conviction, that, with certain exceptions for whom secure accommodation is clearly inevitable and necessary, commital to penal institutions will not work. For over 75 per cent. of juvenile offenders it is a recipe for costly failure. It is a prospect which is rightly viewed with apprehension, and I would go so far as to say with hostility, by the Probation Service and by directors of social services. There is no more appalling aspect of this present situation than the increasing numbers of juvenile offenders, more than one-third above the figure as reported in 1977, who are even now being sent to penal institutions without having previously had the benefit of care and supervision in the community.

The best hope is to involve delinquent youngsters, under professional supervision and with volunteer support, in the problems and needs which abound in their own neighbourhoods, and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, was the intention of the 1944 Education Act, to challenge them through leisure activities which make demands on their energies and which give them a sense of satisfaction. Most of these activities are capable of being included in what is termed "intermediate treatment". It would, in my view, be better still to step up the provision of programmes of neighbourhood service and leisure activities, perhaps under the auspices of the special temporary employment programme and day release schemes, which involve youngsters before—and without the need for—the intervention of the courts. We need more measures of this kind, not more prisons, more detention centres and more borstals.

The intermediate treatment fund which is administered by the Rainer Foundation, of which I am privileged to be president, has just published its first annual report. In that report its chairman, Michael King, has written the following words: The serious lack of community-based treatment resources specially designed to divert youth in the 14 to 17 age group from slipping into further and more serious crime is an important contributory factor in the startling increase in the number of 15 to 16-year-old boys committed to detention centres and borstals since the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act". My Lords, this, in my firm belief, places a premium on more citizen support both for the provision of schemes involving young people generally and in the treatment of young offenders. I should, for instance, like to see a faster evolution in deprofessionalising the Probation Service. I should like to see a pattern evolving which has long since emerged in Holland, for example, and in Sweden, by a wholehearted recruitment of voluntary assistants in the service working under professional guidance; ordinary citizens sharing the responsibility with the Probation Service and with the social services in the task of keeping their young, junior citizens lawfully occupied and in order. That is what law and order means to me.

So in the sense and spirit of my noble friend's Question, I will conclude by asking two further questions of the Minister who is to reply. If I might remind him, I have asked one question already, so this is the second question. Can the Minister reassure those of us in this House, and many more outside who are concerned about the interpretation placed on the Government's policy about law and order, that his Government intend to put a constructive emphasis on this slogan, both by encouraging and enabling community action to pre-empt crime and by giving more support to intermediate treatment schemes?

Thirdly, will the Government consider in a future inter-departmental initiative, the need to call for public co-operation with the Police, the Probation Service, the Education Service, the social services and any other appropriate agencies, not by "having a go" at dangerous criminals and thugs, but by tackling the grave question of juvenile delinquency in local constructive programmes? It is only by community action—indeed, where it is lacking, by the re-creation of a sense of community through tackling crime before it occurs—that we can hope to get the measure of hooliganism, vandalism and juvenile violence, and turn the misspent energies and perverted ideas of many of our deprived young people into constructive and useful channels. There is no other way.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I first apologise for the fact that my name does not appear on the list of speakers. I gave notice to the Table at a late stage and I promise to be brief by way of some sort of defence for rising at this time. I hope that I may be forgiven for making what may seem to be a political point in what should be a non-political subject. I do so because of the urgency of the problem of juvenile delinquency and its relevance to the whole question of law and order, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred. It was also a matter which featured very prominently in the Conservative Party Manifesto, which dealt with the question of law and order in a manner which could be debatable. However, it emphasised to the electorate how important it was, from the Conservative Party's point of view, that the matter of law and order should receive primary consideration by any Government.

I look at this moment from these Benches, at a time when we are consider- ing an Unstarred Question on juvenile delinquency, and see not one Government Back-Bencher present. I see the Minister, who it is always a delight to see, and his noble friend Lord Long, who equally it is always a privilege to see and hear. However, I see them in their lonely isolation on the Government Front Bench dealing with an issue of law and order—almost the first one that we have dealt with in this House—and the whole problem of juvenile delinquency. I say, with a feeling of regret—and I do not wish to make a political point—that it seems a great shame that more importance has not been attached by the Government Benches to the Unstarred Question that my noble friend Lady Phillips so properly put down.

The next point that I should like to make is, I hope, a more constructive one. There is not the slightest doubt that the question of juvenile delinquency is one of the most tremendous social problems facing this country today. It has many aspects. It has the aspect of poverty, of broken homes and of very difficult social considerations which appertain to a certain section of our population with its own individual problems. I am talking about the immigrants to this country who have great problems. I am talking of the difference between parent and child, some of the disabilities that unfortunately they undergo and some of the stresses and strains which are put upon their respect for law and order when some of them feel they do not attain social justice and tolerance within our society. So it is necessary to have the amalgamation of all the thought and all the experience of the social services, youth services and so on.

When I read the circular which was addressed by the authorities—the Ministries that have already been mentioned—I, too, noted the time limit of six months or so. I saw in that circular mention of the need for reports to be made centrally so that the various Ministries could consider concerted action and experience could be gained centrally and nationally from what had been done by way of experimentation and otherwise in various areas throughout the country.

We all know that the police do a tremendous amount in individual areas and that various youth agencies also do a tremendous amount. There is a terrific amount of goodwill. There are many volunteers who do this type of work with great sacrifice, and to great social purpose. To be able to wed all those efforts and to learn centrally from their experience was what I thought to be the purpose of this circular, which made chief constables the medium through which the arrangements were organised in the various areas so that reports could be made. I wait to hear from the Minister—as does my noble friend Lady Phillips—what has been the response. If the response has been good, what action will now be taken? Moreover, paragraph 8 of the circular says: Depending on the response to this circular, consideration would then be given to the production of a summary of relevant schemes for general circulation to all interested parties". May I ask how it has proceeded? If it has not proceeded, because there has not been a proper response, what steps will the Minister take in order to ensure that responses are obtained as a result of the initiative that was taken last December? I feel this House can do nothing more useful in its deliberations than to try and push forward something which may be along the lines of social work—encouragement in education and in youth work—to ensure that this tide of juvenile delinquency does not swamp us. I do not use those words in any dramatic sense.

I hope that the Minister will not regard my final point as irrelevant to this debate. I promise that I shall return to it again. Indeed, I believe I am right in saying that he has already had notice of it from the Lord Chancellor's Department, and, if he has not, will he accept my apology because I understood that that notice had been given. One of the great difficulties in dealing with children who start off by being unfortunate in their home background, or who show some measure of misconduct which may well lead to juvenile delinquency, is that they find themselves the subject of care and control applications. If those children are not to be turned into juvenile delinquents it is vitally necessary that those care and control applications are dealt with with some amount of promptitude.

In the meantime, the children are sent all over the place. The parents do not know where they are and local authorities do not know where they are. The delays which are occurring, about which I gave the Lord Chancellor's Department specific notice—which I was promised would be passed on to the Home Office, which has responsibility in these matters—are scandalous. The courts are now taking months, during which all these applications are adjourned, before making a decision. To those who have responsibility for these matters in local authorities, in social work and elsewhere, this is causing the utmost concern. I hope that I have not wearied your Lordships for too long, and again I apologise because my name does not appear on the list of speakers.

8.10 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for rising to speak, but I also affirm to the House that I shall not be longer than three minutes. First, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking this Question. Some of the statistics which she has mentioned should almost have been blazoned throughout the land. I do not know how we can impress the urgency of this matter upon people. Ruskin uttered the phrase: There is no wealth but life and that is the axiom of economics. Our welfare depends on our children. I was brought up in the wilds of Wales. I had the mountains, the woods and the rivers. They do not exist so much in modern society. We are becoming an insect society. Nothing is more horrible for child-life than living in a high-rise flat. I remember quoting in this House the famous poem which I learned as a five year-old in a little Welsh mountain school: Over the waters and across the lea, That's the way for Billy and me, Where the pools are bright and deepest". Some of these fellows never tread on real grass. We have an insect society; a massive population moving to perdition. Nobody seems to care, because the economic fact is that the shadow of prosperity is with us—not the substance—because the motor car, the colour television, the flat and the bathroom are dominated by the fact that the mother and the father must work like hell to earn the income to keep everything going.

Behind all juvenile delinquency the great old background of Britain, the homeliness of life and the neighbourliness are shut out. Half of Londoners living in flats do not know the names of their neighbours, and when they do know them they cock their noses up with silly pomposity, for some reason that God only knows. This kind of thing is growing. Therefore, although I criticise television for the terrible violence it shows—everthing opens with a shot, a bang or a scream—it should co-operate much more in this area of trying to solve the problem of juvenile delinquency.

I promise not to delay the House. I also want to pay tribute to some programmes shown on television, which have brought children together. In Wales I well knew of the marvellous contribution which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made as a mountaineer to child health and child strength. When I was a kid I liked to wrestle and fight; we liked to push each other in the rivers; but we did not want to smash up old women, or tear windows and houses to pieces. My three minutes is nearly up. Lastly, I do not understand local authorities which are supposed to be carrying out slum clearance, but which leave the skeleton of ugly houses, torn and shattered, looking like the East End of London after the bombing. They are dens of iniquity for children. Those children commit all sorts of petty crimes in them: smashing windows, lighting fires and terrorising old people. When local authorities start on slum clearance as a project, they should not clear too much at once, but should rebuild as quickly as possible.

I see that three minutes is now on the clock. I appeal to the Minister to ask the Government to give us a day or two in this House when—without making party points—after the Recess, we can discuss in depth this vital problem which affects the destiny of Britain and our future.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Phillips could hardly have chosen a better moment to raise this subject. Not only should I like to thank her for initiating this debate, but I should also like to congratulate her on her timing. She has taken a keen interest in this whole subject for some time and her knowledge is admired here and elsewhere. Of course, she has considerable experience as a magistrate and in other ways on which to draw. Therefore, she speaks with great authority.

The timing is right for several reasons. There is, first, the point that my noble friend mentioned about the timing of the response to the circular. I very much hope that even if the Minister is unable to give a complete report on the response to the circular tonight, he may undertake to do so as soon as possible. However, there is also a good reason for debating this subject at this moment, because the past three days have seen the first national conference on Juvenile Delinquency and Children at Risk, to consider the intermediate treatment of juvenile offenders and young people at risk. I am pleased to see that that conference, held in Sheffield—which had, of course, been planned some time ago—has had the full backing of the present Government with, if I may say so, just the sort of turnout of a galaxy of most of the relevant Ministers we should have intended had we remained in office.

That conference dealt with only one of the matters touched on by the circular which we are considering tonight, but it is an important matter. Other aspects of juvenile delinquency were also referred to there. Those attending the conference were mainly the sort of people to whom the circular was addressed. If, on examination, the conference is found to have been worth while and productive, it might be useful to press on with others on specific aspects of the problem.

I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said tonight about intermediate treatment. In saying that, I must also apologise to him for obviously not having done full justice to his speech in our debate on 31st January. I remember the occasion very well indeed because it was my first ministerial speech in your Lordships' House and I was rather conscious that time was getting on. I believe that I spoke for 31 minutes, which I do not think the Whips on my side thought very kindly about. However, I remember the noble Lord's speech. Whether or not that particular point was in my brief, I remember regarding his contribution on that point in particular as most significant, and certainly call it to mind, though at the time I did not reply to it directly.

My noble friend's Question is timely for at least one other reason. Last December—the same month as this circular was issued—the then Government published a Green Paper entitled Youth, Custody and Supervision: a New Sentence, and embarked on a consultation process on it. The Government asked for comments by June this year. Although that Green Paper was on a rather different aspect from those covered by the circular, nevertheless it is relevant to the whole subject of juvenile crime, punishment, treatment and sentencing policy. I shall return to that in a moment.

The circular itself stemmed in part from a conference organised by the Home Office in March last year at Ditchley on the Police and Juveniles, which was presided over by my predecessor as Minister of State at the Home Office, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. One matter which attracted particular attention there was the system developed in Cheshire for community liaison, involving the police and other relevant agencies. The process for consulting on what to do about particular cases seems to have had some success. A useful and illuminating account of one aspect of the Cheshire scheme is given in an article in the Journal of Social Welfare Law for March 1979 by Neville Shone and Ruth Christie of the University of Liverpool, who have been involved in a research project in Cheshire. The account shows how an effective working relationship between the police and other agencies has, as the authors put it: developed and led to the creation of a comprehensive diagnostic, preventive and treatment service for delinquents". The scheme and the project give weight to some of the very proposals put forward in this circular, for, as the authors go on to say: The benefits of sharing in this consultation procedure have gone further than merely creating a mutually supportive atmosphere in which to work. This was all that was hoped for when the project began. In reviewing the results of the work undertaken, it can be seen that the consultation procedure has formed the foundation for a comprehensive flexible service for children in trouble. Before any decision about court appearance, every child is offered systematic diagnosis and assessment. New resources have been created or linked in a new way to provide opportunities for care and treatment within the community before or after court appearances". So that is somewhat encouraging.

Of course, it is important always to bear in mind that the decision on whether to prosecute or not, and whether to caution or not, must remain the responsibility of police forces. There is some encouragement, too, to be gained from the report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis for 1978, because in Chapter 6 on community relations there is quite a meaty section headed, "The Police and Young People". I use the word "meaty" because so often when one sees these matters discussed in articles and elsewhere there is very little meat and rather a large quantity of airy-fairy talk; and it is good to see something meaty in a report of this kind, too.

That section refers to co-operative ventures of the sort we have been discussing. It is commendable and heartening that the Metropolitan Police have been pursuing these policies vigorously and that the Commissioner, Sir David McNee, is able to report that progress has been made. It is also worth noting that, as the report points out, this year, which as we know is the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Police, also sees the 10th anniversary of the Metropolitan Police juvenile bureau system.

This has proved of great value, and is another example of the usefulness of consultation and co-operation with other agencies. The bureaux—there are 23 of them in the force area—deal among other things with cautioning as an alternative to prosecution. It is disturbing that so many youngsters, as my noble friend has already said tonight, are still having to be referred to the bureaux—37,656 last year. Admittedly, this is a drop of over 2,000 on 1977, though, as the report goes on to observe, previous falls have not been maintained.

But the proportion of juveniles cautioned has remained for some time at about one-third of all those coming to police notice. It is heartening that the report is able to state: There are indications that police are largely making the correct decisions. In 1976, 9,000 first-time offenders were cautioned. By April 1978 only 20 per cent. had come to police notice again". The report also mentions that since 1975 bureaux have been diverting some young offenders into intermediate treatment, which is a good thing, and allied schemes, and that all bureaux are encouraged to co-operate with local intermediate schemes, although, as it adds, the level of participation is determined by the facilities provided by the various local authorities.

I hope that the Government's public expenditure cuts are not going to affect adversely the work being done and planned here. Indeed, many local authorities need to be encouraged to do much more. I hope that the Minister—as I believe my noble friend herself mentioned in the course of her speech—may be able to say something reassuring about that. It is hard enough to get schemes of this kind off the ground in the first place. It is so often hard to persuade bodies to embark on them for many people have been sceptical about them, let us face it, although the results show that they should not be. It would be all the harder to start them up again after they had been dismantled through lack of funds.

Other police forces too have been working on similar schemes. Although time does not permit me to mention them in detail, they do deserve praise. I referred just now to the last Government's Green Paper, A New Sentence for Young Offenders; a consultative document to see whether a new form of custodial sentence might replace the present rather unsatisfactory set of alternatives. There have been some ominous signs over the past few days that the Government may be in the process of abandoning the consideration—and I stress that word "consideration"—of the suggested new so-called generic sentence as a possible alternative. There was, for example, a report in the Daily Telegraph on Monday of this week, 9th July.

I note that at the Sheffield Conference, the Minister of State, Mr. Leon Brittan, is quoted as saying yesterday that there had been some misunderstanding of the Government's policy on juvenile offenders. I have not seen the text of that statement and only heard him on BBC Radio 4 last night, and reported in the Press today. I do not know how reassuring his statement might have been. But I hope that the Government are not going to cast aside all the efforts put by so many bodies and individuals into the consultations before they have had a chance to consider those representations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, might feel able to reassure your Lordships on that point tonight as well.

This whole problem is an enormous one, as a number of my noble friends have said, including my noble friends Lord Mishcon and Lord Davies of Leek. It is profoundly disturbing that we have reached the stage where, in 1977, 8 per cent. of males aged 14 to 16 were found guilty of, or cautioned for, serious offences. My noble friend Lady Phillips has given us some other figures tonight which are also disturbing. As Sir David McNee told the Sheffield Conference on Tuesday of this week, in 1978 the Metropolitan Police arrested 110,000 people for indictable crime, nearly 30,000 of them juveniles. He also mentioned that under-21s account for half of all arrests.

It is partly because it is so disturbing that the last Government had been putting in a great deal of work and thought to encourage a concerted onslaught on this problem, not least through the means referred to tonight by my noble friend. It is immensely important that we tackle ever more vigorously the problem of juvenile offenders. So many of these youngsters in trouble, or at risk, are either, after all, the adult criminals of the future or, if we can act effectively in time, future adults who were deflected from an otherwise almost inevitable career of crime.

I believe that not only must we encourage schemes of the kind we have discussed to deal with youngsters already at risk, or who have got themselves into trouble, we must also encourage, perhaps even more than those, other schemes which some police forces, for example, have been trying with some marked success. For instance, to get schoolchildren and other young people involved in helping to combat crime. Projects like the one brought in by the Surrey Constabulary to get the help of young people and others to fight vandalism is one example. It has been getting results, which is splendid, because it helps the youngsters, it helps the community, it helps the police. Other forces have done something similar, also with encouraging signs. That sort of venture which, in a sense, is more positive even than dealing with those who have already offended because it helps directly to prevent crime, could perhaps be extended to other areas and other aspects of the battle against crime.

There is, too, the problem of truancy, which has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Phillips tonight. That needs more attention, because much crime is committed by truants. Sir David McNee, in his speech on Tuesday, regretted the fact that the Metropolitan Police felt that it had to abandon its so-called truancy patrols because of objections in some quarters. He is reported as stating that when they were operating there had been a notable drop in offences of theft from vehicles during school hours. One district reported a 26 per cent. drop in motor vehicle crime; a 36 per cent. fall in petty crime; and a 10 per cent. drop in burglaries.

Without having all the facts about these particular operations before us at the moment, I will not discuss their merits in detail tonight; but this I would say: we are blinding ourselves if we ignore those figures; and perhaps we should all think again about the value of that sort of plainly effective operation, with a view to encouraging its reintroduction. We cannot, after all, expect a police officer to fight crime if we insist on handcuffing one of his arms behind his back—always assuming that such a feat is physically possible.

Then, somewhat allied to the truancy problem, is the problem of the pupil who is suspended from school because of some misdemeanour there, and who is then free to roam the streets, perhaps bent on venting on others his resentment at being suspended—like the truant, another potential offender. Perhaps some other way of dealing with those pupils to prevent them from causing trouble for other people, and worse trouble for themselves, should be considered.

I believe, with my noble friends—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, clearly takes this view—that quite high priority should be given to combating crime among the young, for any success here would be an investment in the future. It is for this reason that I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Phillips for the chance to discuss this important topic tonight.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, it is unusual for a government circular to be the subject of a Question in your Lordships' House, but this, it it is clear from the speeches made by noble Lords tonight, was an unusual circular, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for providing this opportunity to discuss it and for explaining so clearly the formidable problem which we are debating. The circular was conceived at one of a series of conferences of selected chief constables held at Ditchley in March 1978. The conference took as its subject juveniles and the police. The programme involved two presentations, one on the links between the police and the social services, and the other on the links between the police and the Education Service. This brought out very sharply, I understand, the extent to which co-operation between the police and local authority services and the Probation Service could make a substantial contribution to the treatment of children in trouble.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, gave an interesting example of children who are themselves combating vandalism in Surrey, and I will give another example of co-operation which might be of interest to your Lordships. Noble Lords may be familiar with a juvenile volunteer scheme which was established in 1976 by the Cheshire Constabulary in the Crewe area under which members of the public volunteer to act as honorary aunts and uncles—that was the expression used—to children who had been cautioned by the police. These civilian volunteers required no special qualifications other than a wealth of common sense, good character and a committed interest in young people; but they received some initial advice on dealing with young offenders before being given absolute discretion on how to help youngsters committed to their charge, and the social services department was closely associated with the police in the scheme.

Incidentally, I was glad, as I am sure your Lordships were, that Lord Boston mentioned the increase in the use of cautioning and the success it has met. To amplify the noble Lord's remarks on this, in recent years there has been a marked increase in the use of cautioning by the police. In 1977, of those aged 10 and under 14 found guilty of or cautioned for indictable offences, just over 70 per cent. were cautioned. For those aged 14 and under 17, the corresponding figure was 38 per cent. Those are, particularly the first, quite high percentages and I was glad that Lord Boston gave the House, which I was not prepared to be able to do, the success rate in the sense of non-return to crime of young people who have been cautioned. I am grateful to him for doing that. It was agreed at the conference that it would be helpful if central Government could take some action to bring to the attention of all concerned schemes which, through improved co-ordination between the services involved, would help to reduce juvenile delinquency, and that the previous Government did. I am glad to be able to pay tribute to the fact they they did so. The importance of the need for cooperation was emphasised by the fact that the circular was issued by four Government departments, and I am bound to say that whenever people criticise the distribution of responsibility between different Government departments, this circular shows that on that occasion anyway the criticism was taken to heart.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, put to me the question: Should there not be some standing inter-departmental machinery or some independent body to keep juvenile crime under review? I will take away his remarks and think about them, and will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to them. But I would tell the noble Lord that there is close and continuous co-operation in all aspects of the prevention and treatment of juvenile offenders by the four Government departments most closely concerned; namely, the Home Office, the DHSS, the Department of Education and Science, and the Welsh Office. The main administrative machinery for this is an inter-departmental working group at a high official level which meets monthly—I am sure the noble Lord is aware of it—to monitor the working of the 1969 Act and to keep all aspects of the subject under review. The working group has statistical and research sub-groups to co-ordinate action and initiatives on the provision of statistical advice and on the formulation and funding of research projects of joint interest. I am not suggesting that that should necessarily be an alternative to what Lord Hunt suggested, but I thought it right to deliver that information to the House.

Coming to the Question, chief constables were asked, it is true, to write to the Home Office in the following six months or so, and since the circular was not issued until the end of last year, perhaps I may gently say it is a little premature to consider the responses to it to be totally closed and the conclusions of the Government to be quite finished. I am nevertheless glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the response we have received so far has been extremely encouraging. We have received replies from a number of chief constables, all of whom report that there is effective machinery for liaison in their areas or, if there is not, that efforts have been made to establish such machinery since receipt of the circular. Meetings have been held, steering committees set up and there have been consultations at senior level between local services and the police.

But it is not general statements of that kind that the House wants to hear tonight, I know; it is the descriptions of what is being done, the specific practical results of working together, that noble Lords want to hear of, and I will give a few examples of those. The response to the circular indicates that co-operation is continuing in the area where its need was first most readily apparent, in dealing with cases of non-accidental injury to children. The noble Baroness, understandably and rightly with her experience of schools, first dealt with children who are at risk because of being out of school when they should be in, but I am, first of all, turning to what we would call battered children.

Here, it is clear that a close working relationship is continuing to develop between the police and the other agencies concerned in order to minimise risks of children being unnecessarily hurt. And here—I speak with so much less experience than most of your Lordships—I think one learns the first lesson of co-operation within the community. If I remember rightly, some years ago Mr. Alec Dickson, the head of Community Service Volunteers, gave a talk in which he said, "We are all volunteers now"; and I remember well that Mr. Dickson went on to point out that some of the most effective community workers were those who, through the jobs they were doing, constantly called on people—postmen, milkmen, people who delivered newspapers and so on—and that we could all help people in need provided of course we were ready to open both our eyes and our hearts.

It is for that reason that I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the police work being done in Devon and Cornwall. But in varying ways I think I am right in claiming that chief constables all over the country are encouraging their forces to work increasingly closely with the communities they serve.

The noble Baroness asked what is to be done to keep an eye on children during long summer evenings, and during the summer holidays which are just beginning. One answer—to use a homely expression—is to keep the police on the beat. Of course that is tremendously demanding of time and therefore of manpower, but I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the improved terms and conditions of employment for the police, following the Edmund-Davies Report, and the steady recovery in recruitment, will help in this respect.

With regard to truancy from school, where the need for inter-agency co-operation has long been recognised, the replies that we have been receiving are more encouraging. In most areas there is close co-operation. In some places special projects have been established to reduce the incidence of truancy. A booklet produced by the North Wales police, called Missing Out, which describes the police liaison officers' scheme, is mainly concerned with truancy. In Cheshire first to third year truants in certain schools are seen at home and warned by police officers, and in Nottingham the police operate truancy patrols.

I believe that one of the great sources of strength of our police in this country is that each police force is rooted within its local community. May I for a few moments put this point personally. Whenever I visit a police force I find that, whether it is operating in a town or in the countryside, the chief constable is invariably genuinely planning how best to improve relations with the general public and thus try to recruit more effective public support for the maintenance of law and order.

Six days ago a young woman police constable was telling me of the work that she is doing in the schools of a large town where she is stationed. She is a member of a community relations team placed under a police inspector, and her job as a schools liaison officer is to foster good relations with children in schools, to make the police in uniform familiar figures, and to give talks in schools on such subjects as road safety, cycle proficiency and first aid.

In Lancashire there are special school weeks schemes in which display stands showing all aspects of police work are installed at schools for a few days or for a week. Pupils take part in different competitors with police themes, and visits are paid to schools by members of the mounted, dog, underwater search, and other police departments. For what, some people might ask? I believe that it is for this: one day in the future, as with the young woman police constable with whom I was speaking, these projects and this general approach may lead a boy or girl to decide that he or she wants to join the police or the probation service, or generally to help, or become involved in helping, less fortunate young people, perhaps with intermediate treatment schemes.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, questioned what he believed to be the implications of the gracious Speech for strengthening the powers of the courts in relation to young offenders and juveniles. I always take very much to heart everything that the noble Lord says to the Government, but in reply I should like to say that surely care and control are two sides of the same coin. There are some young people who will mindlessly cause cruel damage and deep distress. Is it not the case that many of them need the care which only a period of control can bring? The Government believe that it is in their interests, as well as in the interests of the community, at least to develop our proposals for shorter and sharper sentences in some cases. If these proposals can prevent young people from serving longer terms of imprisonment later, who would deny then that the experiment was worth trying?

But of course we are as anxious as the noble Lord to keep young people out of penal establishments, and within the available resources the Government are supporting the scheme of intermediate treatment. I am not at this hour going to give your Lordships a list of what my right honourable friend's department does in this respect, except to say that some 225 hostels for homeless offenders, many in the younger age ranges, are being grant-aided, and more are in the pipeline. Your Lordships might be interested to hear of the grant which the Department of Health and Social Security has made to NACRO for a team to promote intermediate treatment for those young people who are most at risk of receiving custodial sentences. The Home Office, as well as the DHSS, is represented on the steering committee of this project, which by showing what can be done and what is being done with such young people, will, we hope, be able to increase the trust of the courts in the making of supervision orders in cases in which otherwise the courts might hesitate to do so.

I need hardly say that in work of this kind the participation of volunteers and of the Probation Service is absolutely essential; but as the noble Baroness's Question relates specifically to the police, may I finally commend to your Lordships the reports which come from several police forces about inter-service training which exists and which is being encouraged. In some areas there are schemes for the interchange of officers for short periods of time between, for instance, the police force and the social services department, or the police and the Probation Service. In other areas joint seminars, lectures and conferences are held, and all these initiatives enable the different agencies to understand better the problems and objectives of each other for the good of young people whom they are trying to help.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me whether the circular represented the present Government's policy, and whether we believe in a constructive policy of crime prevention. Although we may disagree on some points, I hope that all of my reply has made clear the attitude of the Government. We really are committed to as much co-operation as possible between agencies, and indeed to encouragement from Government.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, may I also make it clear that, while it is true that within our own Government departments we have adopted severe manpower restraint, and that we are asking local authorities for a policy of manpower restraint, we have also asked local authorities in choosing their priorities to exempt from this particular policy law and order services, which means not only the police but also the courts and the Probation Service.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked me two questions. One was in essence about young people on remand, and I have to admit to the noble Lord that I am afraid that the message that he gave to the department of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did not reach me. It occurs to me that this particular point falls a little outside the terms of this debate, and I wonder whether he will allow me to write to him on that issue. The noble Lord also asked me whether the summary, which the circular stated would be considered when the replies to the circular were received, would be proceeded with by the present Government. I assure the noble Lord that we will certainly be considering this matter exactly as seriously as the circular forecast that that previous Government would do—


My Lords, the Minister is most kind in allowing me to intervene. Of course I should be very grateful for any communication from him, and indeed I will send him a copy of my communication to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I was referring not only to remand cases, but to care and control cases, too. With regard to the other point, I hope that the Minister will also give me some satisfaction. Is he as disappointed as I was by the attendance of his own Back-Benchers?


My Lords, in this House your Lordships come and go as you feel best and it would not be for me, sitting on either the Front Bench or the Back Bench, in any way to criticise the comings and goings of my noble friends.

I should like to end by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for asking the Question which we have been considering this evening. In the final analysis it is, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, for the different agencies locally to organise the necessary action in order to help young people. But I accept that in order to encourage this, and to give a lead, the Government must play their part. I welcome the opportunity which the debate has given to explain something of what is being done and to make clear the Government's support for it.