Juvenile Crime

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11 March 1993.

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Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington , Sunderland North 12:00, 11 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the cost to the Exchequer of research into the causes of juvenile crime since 1979.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Since 1979, my Department's research and planning unit has spent some £1.4 million on external projects and, in addition, has undertaken 16 internal projects, whose cost cannot be separately quantified, into juvenile crime, its causes and prevention.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington , Sunderland North

The Home Secretary will be aware that my constituency has the highest car theft rate in Great Britain. Much of it is carried out by young people and some of them are persistent offenders. In view of what the Home Secretary said yesterday about the benefits of prevention as a separate issue from punishment, does he agree that there should be proper resources to find out through in-depth research what motivates such anti-social behaviour? It would be of great benefit to the nation and would be one of the best investments ever to be made in Britain to help ameliorate the problem.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Certainly we devote as much attention to the prevention of crime as we do to the equally important matter of how to punish or deal with people who commit it. As I have already said, we engage in a large amount of research, especially into the criminality of young people. That research demonstrates that parental attitudes, quality of discipline and lack of educational attainment all play a large part in encouraging young people to become juvenile delinquents. That is why I felt it necessary to bring forward some fresh proposals to deal with the most persistent juvenile offenders so that they can be kept in secure accommodation, properly educated and cared for by people who seek to instil a proper sense of values in them.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is all right having research and royal commissions but the general public want some action? It is no good telling television companies and the media research people that a 16-second advertisement on television sells so many million products and then asserting that sex and violence for hour after hour on television does not have an effect on young people. I honestly believe that my right hon. and learned Friend is getting down to the job, but we have been failed by successive Home Secretaries.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend may have heard me say that I believe that the level of violence on television has a significant effect on altering attitudes among the young. I hope that those who are responsible will take action on that. As for Government action in respect of what is available to children and young people through the media, the written word and other sources, some of the responsibility is mine. The broadcasting side of it is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will put equally pertinent questions to him.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that Ministers will be more successful if they work harder at understanding the problem of juvenile crime? His Department has told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that juvenile crime is decreasing, but does he realise that there has been a major increase in the theft of cars, theft from cars and home burglary, three crimes in which research shows that young people play a major part? The right hon. and learned Gentleman praises many local projects, but will he now provide the strategy and resources so that crime can be prevented, with the result that every city, town and village will become safer?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, juvenile crime is not declining, as we all know from our own experience. The number of juvenile offenders is said to have decreased, as shown by some of my Department's statistics. In part, that is true. There are fewer juvenile offenders coming before the courts, but those who do tend to be committing a higher proportion of offences—and more serious offences. It is difficult to disentangle from the figures the effect of diverting young people out of the criminal justice system, which has been done in recent years. We put resources into research and we come up with proposed remedies, which is more than the Opposition do. We have designed our proposals with objectives such as safer cities in mind. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends now pay tribute to them.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton , Congleton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that further research costs to the Exchequer and the British taxpayer could easily be saved if common sense were adopted? Juvenile crime flourishes because of lack of parental discipline, truancy from schools, far too much violence on television and videos and, most important of all, the absence of corporal punishment, which is the greatest deterrent to young thugs.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance place that common sense has to play in all these matters and how that should be put alongside academic research. In considering the problem of persistent juvenile offenders, which I have been doing since becoming Home Secretary, the best research that I was able to follow was the result of talking to chief constables, magistrates and judges, and being told how powerless the courts felt when dealing with the hard core of the most persistent offenders. We have responded to that by bringing forward proposals.