Such proposals will be extremely welcome. Will my right hon. and learned Friend note the belief of Conservative Members that parental responsibility is a vital part of family life and that the exercise of that responsibility is more likely to keep families together than allow them to drift apart? Will he therefore oblige parents to turn up in court if youngsters are brought to trial? If they are sentenced, will he make parents liable for the fines, should they be levied, but will he also ensure that they are means-tested fines?
All right hon. and hon. Members will agree that one of the first duties of parents is to instil in the child an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and to teach the child to respect and abide by the law and not to lie, cheat, steal or bully. There should be absolute agreement about that. It is slightly astonishing, therefore, that anyone should discuss the problem of what reforms may be necessary in our criminal justice system without acknowledging the central part of the parents. The so-called White Paper issued by the Labour party is entirely silent on this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) is right. I believe that parents should have to come to court with their children when their children face charges. I also believe that the parents' means should be taken into consideration when a decision is made on the appropriate fine to be imposed on the child, so that if the child does not pay, the parents have to pay a realistic penalty in the child's stead.
Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to condemn the bailiffs Crilley and Sons, who earlier this week were reported as saying that after the introduction of the poll tax, when they go hunting for youngsters to get their goods and chattels, and the householder says that they cannot come in, although they, the bailiffs, have no right to enter their staff should try to get inside the house because, "once you are in you cannot be thrown out"? Is it right and proper for bailiffs to operate in that way when seeking young people?
Is it not the case that by making parents criminally liable and thereby inculcating in them a sense of responsibility it is highly likely that we shall have far fewer youngsters sleeping rough in our streets at night?
The possibility of making parents criminally liable has been considered, but I do not think that it is necessary. What is important is that parents should be reminded all the time of their responsibility when their child falls foul of the law. Parents can be reminded of that most efficaciously by insisting on their presence and by taking their means into consideration when deciding on the fine to be imposed on the child.
Is the Secretary of State aware that much informed opinion outside the House is concerned about a number of statements on this matter by the Government? What seems to come through is the Government's wish to punish the parents of children whose behaviour is not acceptable to them. Does he realise that that could make the relationship between children and parents far more difficult, when that is the last thing we want? Will he give consideration to the Labour party's position, which is to base such a scheme on the Scottish children's panel which has a successful record?
It would be best to draw a veil over the emanations from the Labour party. The proposals that I am outlining will encourage parents to offer more support to their children and to take a constructive interest in their lives.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the level of juvenile crime worries hon. Members on both sides of the House? Does he further agree that it is the duty of a parent to spend time with his or her child and to provide an atmosphere of love, security and respect for the law? Does he further agree that those qualities are sadly missing from today's society? May I therefore urge him to bring forward quickly proposals to make parents responsible for the fines of their children?