§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the motion which we are about to discuss reference is made to the Windsor free pop festival. The motion suggests that the festival is an example of the disregard for the observance of law. I understand that police proceedings are still pending against the promoter of the festival. I suggest that any reference to it in the course of the debate may be in breach of the sub judice rule.
§ Mr. Speaker
The implementation of the sub judice rule is a matter for the discretion of the Chair. We shall have to see how we get on.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I beg to move,That this House expresses its concern at the increasing disregard for the observance of law, of which the so-called Windsor free pop festival is but one example; regards the present escalation of acts of vandalism, violent crime, hi-jacking and terrorism as a threat to our way of life; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all necessary measures, such as increasing the size of the police force and special constabulary and reviewing penalties both for acts of terrorism and other crimes, to restore the rule of law.I am grateful for this opportunity, even on Friday 13th. I am also grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for standing up for the right of back benchers to have a full debate on a Friday. I have also noted what the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said about the length of speeches and I assure the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) that I am fully cognisant of the sub judice rule and will be careful not to infringe any of the attendant restrictions.
It is always an honour to speak in this House and to have the first innings. I have always thought that if an hon. Member puts down an Early-Day Motion, he should discuss it. I have two motions down. The first refers to the restriction of length of speeches and has fortunately, by kind permission of the Leader of the House, been referred to the Procedure Committee. It is drawn so as not to apply to the opening and closing speeches, so it would not apply to mine this morning. The second motion relates to 993 terrorism. This has already been debated this week, but there is no restriction on its being discussed today as well. My motion today is widely drawn to give hon. Members the opportunity to discuss these important matters on a wide scale. It was also drawn before the business of the House, relating to so many matters of law and order, had been announced.
My theme is the disregard for law in this country, which emanates first from control in home and school. I then want to deal, subject to the strictures of the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central, with a specific case of law breaking in my own constituency which has been witnessed for three years at the Windsor pop festival. I shall then deal with some of the more violent and worrying crimes like vandalism and terrorism and how they can be reduced.
We face two grave problems—inflation, of which the papers warned us again today, and the breach of law and order. I do not suggest that inflation is the cause of crime, because that was already on the increase before the present inflationary spiral, but the general lack of confidence in the security of our currency and economic affairs does not help the general regard for law and order.
In the last 10 days, reflecting the public will, Parliament has had a number of chances to debate specific aspects of law and order. I hope that the country realises that, whatever the decision on Wednesday, the House is fully aware of the real dangers which face us.
We must separate ordinary breaches of law and order, which we all deplore, from the quite different crime of terrorism, which threatens the pattern of our society. Where do these trends start? A prosperous society should have brought a fall in the crime rate, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said in a debate on 25th July, that has not happened. In a more prosperous society, crime is increasing.
The fundamental failure lies in children's formative years at school. School and parents both have a duty. Our society has a high rate of divorce, and large numbers of one-parent families and of what we call "latch-key children". Truancy is not always the 994 child's fault. Perhaps school discipline has been lax for many years, but parents often fail to back up the authorities. The situation was not helped by the 1969 Act, which passed authority from the courts to the local authorities.
First, I believe that it is incumbent on the parent to ensure that his child attends school and that failure to do so should be recorded so that when an unreasonable level is reached the parent can be prosecuted to make him realise his duty not only to society but to his own child, to ensure that he gets proper discipline and an orderly education.
Second, parents should be made vicariously liable for the misdeeds of their children. I know that this is possible in a very limited number of cases, but parents should have a further liability to make them control their children better. The root of the trouble is discipline in school and home. There is a tendency for parents to blame the school but there is a joint responsibility of schools and parents. Third, we should be trying to ensure by studying these two aspects of our life that we build a foundation of law and order.
I turn now to a technical subject which I do not expect many hon. Members to understand. I refer to a deliberate breach of the park regulations passed by resolution of this House. This relates to the holding of the Windsor free pop festival. Although this is a local issue at the moment, it is becoming so widespread that it will soon be a national problem. I am not against pop festivals. If people wish to enjoy themselves in this way, that is their business, but the cardinal rules are that those festivals should be properly organised, should be legal and, more important than anything else, should not interfere with the peace and quiet and ordinary lives of other citizens.
The situation is complicated, because such activities at Windsor are controlled by a number of Acts of Parliament dating from 1872—an Act that was re-enacted in 1973—so we consider this problem in the context not just of pop festivals but of the law.
Two pop festivals were held with the local authority's consent in 1966 and 1967. They were held in an area called the Balloon Meadow, which is far too small even if it could be used now, and I understand that in any case the owners are not 995 prepared for it to be so used. Those two festivals gave rise to a certain amount of trouble. Local residents were worried about noise, nuisance and all the things that accompany pop festivals—but those festivals were not to be compared with the festival which occurred in 1972.
In 1972 the whole situation changed completely, because, without so much as anyone's leave, Windsor Great Park was used. In 1972, 1973 and 1974 the festivals were illegal. Such a festival is contrary to park regulations and is clearly outside the law. Over 7,000 people attended. They were there illegally. They caused considerable trouble to local residents and made a mess of the area.
It was called a free pop festival, but it was not free, because it cost the ratepayers about £75,000 and involved the exercise of 700 police over the bank holiday. Police, like anybody else, like to have their bank holidays free. Police had to be called in from the whole of the Thames Valley.
I pay tribute to the police. I am certain that they did their best in the most difficult circumstances. They were faced with a problem which was far too great for them to tackle under the existing circumstances.
The second objection is that Windsor Great Park is enjoyed by thousands of people every day. People walk through it and enjoy its amenities. The holding of this pop festival denied many thousands of people the opportunity of using the park. The laws of the park specifically lay down that people may enjoy the amenities of the park.
The principal legal offences were the lighting of fires, which caused the destruction of a large number of trees and caused a great deal of damage, the playing of music, and camping. These are clearly against the law.
I may be asked why these people were not cleared off when they there were only 500 there on the Friday but were allowed to build their numbers up to 7,000, when the whole exercise became completely out of control. I believe that the answer is that mob rule prevailed and the police did not feel able to move these people on on the first day because even with the numbers of policemen 996 there, they could not carry out the exercise.
The Windsor pop festival, which is advertised extensively all over the Continent, consists of three entirely different elements. The first element is the genuine family man who thinks the pop festival is fun and who does not realise it is illegal. Unfortunately, intermixed with those people are the drug pushers. I shall not cite the number of convictions, for I know that the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central will pull me up sharply if I say anything about that. However, I can say that last year—this is not sub judice—there were a large number of convictions for drug pushing. This was very serious for the citizens of Windsor.
There is another danger, in that the festival is held on what is known as the cavalry exercise ground, and is close to the Long Walk and the approaches to Windsor Castle. So far, we have had no trouble in that regard, but it is a matter to be considered.
People will ask, why cannot an alternative site be found? We have tried, but without success. It may be that one can be found in Chobham or elsewhere. People may well say, "You do not want the festival on your own doorstep, so you want to push it off on to somebody else's." There is an element of truth in that. The local authorities have tried to find a suitable site where offence will not be caused. There is no site near to Windsor Great Park which is not close to houses or to crops and which would not cause offence.
If an alternative site were to be found, the right thing would be to move these people, who arc breaking the law. However, if an alternative site cannot be found, we must face the facts. The offence occurs not when people arrive but when they spend the night there, light a fire, or erect a tent.
Many of us have looked carefully into the legal aspects of this matter. It is my understanding that the police have the authority to move these people on as trespassers providing that the Crown Commissioner's give them instructions. It would be no use the commissioner's not giving adequate warning. The proper method would be for the commissioners to take every step to warn people that they 997 were indulging in illegal activities. The commissioners could erect notices at the railway station and wherever they thought fit.
The commissioners have a duty to society to tell the chief constable, "If this happens again we shall call upon you to use all your authority to clear the site. It is up to you to judge how many policemen you need. If you need more police, you will have to call on other authorities." It would be cheaper and far more effective if the festival were stopped on the first day. It would stop the offence to local people and stop breaches of the law. The House has passed laws and they should be observed. It is our duty to ensure that they are observed.
The primary aim must be to prevent trespass. I pay special tribute to the Home Secretary. He has been very sympathetic, helpful and understanding. A petition has been organised among the local residents, objecting to the festival. Seven thousand names have been appended to it and it will be submitted to me soon. The Home Secretary said in answer to a Parliamentary Question tabled by me:The primary aim must now be to avoid a recurrence of a similar situation in future years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 195.]I therefore believe that we should use the police. This is not an operation in which the military should be involved. Military installations such as barracks can easily be used. It would save a lot of money. There was a slight misunderstanding last year at the last minute, but I do not think this will happen again. I do not think anyone will argue that military installations—free accommodation—should be denied to the police. So long as the Army is not involved in the operation and the police are merely using the accommodation and the facilities, there can be no objection, because this reduces the expense to the ratepayers and makes the task of the police much easier.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will endorse my view that it should be the duty of the Crown Commissioners to use their powers to instruct the chief constable of the Thames Valley Police that they do not wish such a festival to take place and that it is his job to take sufficient measures to ensure that it does not occur, on the grounds of trespass.
998 This pop festival has illustrated the state of recruitment in the police force. Obviously we need more police. I believe that we should be looking for a great increase in the strength of the special constabulary, because this is a force which can stand by and help. This is the right argument to use to such misguided people as the Stirlings and the Walkers, who want private armies to be set up. Let us have sufficient regular police and special constables and say, "We do not need your private armies. We are quite capable of carrying out this duty ourselves." The Home Secretary has stressed this recently. Economies must be effected in public expenditure, but not in external or internal defence, which is so vital to our survival as a civilised nation.
It is well known that I have far more sympathy with the victim than with the criminal. I believe that we should ensure that when in prison convicted persons do active and useful work and that, on their release, they should continue to pay for the damage they have done to others, by paying something each week.
We have already had a short debate on terrorism. Hon. Members appreciate that every effort was made to ensure that as many took part in that debate as was possible. I have deliberately included this subject in the terms of my motion because I realise that many hon. Members may like to raise the subject. This is one of the most terrible features which society has seen for a long time. It is not only the IRA which is involved. There may well be other forces determined to destroy our society.
Terrorism, whether committed on land, sea or air, should be in a special criminal category. I shall not go into the question whether it should come under the law of treason, but this is an offence quite separate from others. It has now been defined in the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It is a determined drive to break up our orderly society. It is a premeditated, planned act. I do not believe that the death sentence is a deterrent for the person who plants the bomb. Organisations can find plenty of lunatics to do that. What I do suggest is that everyone who is involved in this offence should be liable to the death penalty.
I am glad to point out that there are at least 81 other hon. Members who agree with me about this. The man who 999 makes the fuse for the bomb and the man who lends his car should be made to realise that it is not just the person who commits the act of planting the bomb who would be liable to the death penalty. We have rehearsed all the arguments about Northern Ireland and organised terrorism. I am impressed by the result of a survey which shows that 75 per cent. of the people think that some form of death penalty should be reintroduced for terrorism. We have to be sensible about this. We are looking not for reprisals or recrimination but for a deterrent.
The Home Secretary was absolutely right when he said that the greatest deterrent was that the police should catch those responsible for these crimes. We all pay tribute to the police for what they have done recently. But each of us has to decide whether the present penalty is sufficient to deter people from committing this ghastly crime.
If we want to preserve our society there is a duty on us to play our part, whether as parents or citizens. All members of society must do all that they can—so many fail—to back up the rule of law and rebuild the standards of life in this country which have been so highly prized throughout the centures. We must make sure that the citizen plays his part in the orderly and happy society which we all want to see.
§ 11.55 a.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) on the way in which he has introduced his motion. He spoke with great responsibility and restraint. I did not find myself in complete agreement with him, particularly during his references to capital punishment. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised about that. Since we have recently debated capital punishment I do not intend to refer to it today.
In the present climate of opinion this motion is highly timely. The hon. Member mentioned other initiatives by General Walker and Colonel Stirling in forming bodies of people whom they claim have come forward voluntarily because of what they consider to be the serious law and order situation. I do not believe that the idea of law and order is a cliché. Without law and order, rights cannot be 1000 asserted or obligation exacted. Nor can a moral order of things arise in which man can transcend the dictates of greed or passion. It is an extremely important subject. There are indications that some people are tending to underestimate the problem just as there are others who are exaggerating it.
I wish to address myself to those who tend to underestimate this problem. There has been an increase in crimes of violence and disorder. The Chairman of London Transport recently saw the Home Secretary to discuss the issue of violence on the Underground, particularly on the Northern and District lines, the latter of which affects my constituency. There are certain problems arising on Saturdays as a result of the exodus of football supporters. There are also problems connected with night buses. I know that other areas have similar problems. There is a grave concern about this and I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to it in replying.
There is also concern about the spread of violence and a certain amount of intimidation in our schools. Here again I am addressing myself to those who underestimate rather than those who exaggerate this issue. There are those who exaggerate it and say that it has something to do with the method of schooling. I do not believe that to be the case, although I do believe that it has something to do with the size of the school. That is another argument, however.
I do not believe that it is in any way related to comprehensive schools. It will not have escaped the notice of the House that a member of the Royal Family was recently involved in some sort of schoolboy prank. Sometimes these things can be exaggerated. The Press picks them up and gives an impression of general violence. While I am not necessarily saying that this applies in my constituency, although it is not immune, teachers in a number of London schools have recently become deeply concerned about the school atmosphere. This is a subject which can be dealt with in a responsible way. Ultimately it is something which can be resolved only in the home. This is not something with which policemen or headmasters alone can deal.
The much more general problem concerns respect for the law. I do not shirk 1001 mentioning the subject of picketing and the problems arising from that. Much of the criticism of a rather famous case, about which we can now talk because it has gone through all stages of appeal, arises partly because of the particular part of the law which was used to prosecute the people involved. No one would deny that violent picketing is a direct threat to law and order and must be challenged. I would not be soft on anyone who in any sort of picket situation used violence. We must assert that strongly. In the present climate there is an automatic feeling that almost anything can go. I do not share that view. My reservation in this case has more to do with the law which was used than the behaviour of the men concerned. I have no sentiment over that and I condemn the use of violence. Whether the matter was prosecuted in the right way is a subject for debate.
The motion refers to the strengthening of the police force and, in particular, the special constabulary. The role of the special constabulary has, for a number of years, been greatly underestimated. It plays a vital rôle in supplementing the work of the regular police force. The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) mentioned this recently in a debate on the police, and I found myself in general agreement with his comments.
I should like to propose that if the present trends continue—we hope they will not—and there are signs that the regular police force is unable to cope with the situation of petty and senseless violence, the Home Secretary might consider the reintroduction of a police reserve similar to the old War Reserve, which was a part-time force containing the elements of the former special constabulary and which also attracted retired policemen and other people having relevant experience.
I do not say that in any dramatic way as if the situation is so serious that such a force must be formed tomorrow. However, if the situation continues to deteriorate and the work of the regular police is therefore made more difficult, particularly in respect of the recent IRA and anti-terrorist legislation, the Government might consider the setting-up of a reserve police force based on the experience of the old War Reserve. That is something which might be considered.
1002 The recent speech of the Lord Chancellor on sentencing policy has been extremely helpful. The rôle of the courts is extremely important. There are too many people found guilty of violence and petty crime who get away with it. The sentences are trivial compared with the offences. A much tougher policy followed by the courts would be very helpful in backing up the police.
The great issues which are thrown up with regard to the question of law and order must not be allowed to escape the attention of serious-minded people simply because the General Walkers and the Colonel Stirlings enter the scene and frighten off more responsible people from speaking about the subject.
General Walker is a distinguished soldier and a quixotic and independent man. One admires those qualities. I do not understand his course of action in forming his private group. He says it is not a private army, which I fully accept. However, by using the language which he uses he is helping to create a situation which should be avoided. He recently put out a statement in which he said that a law and order crisis would arise before Christmas. I do not believe that that kind of language is justified. It greatly exaggerates the situation and frightens many innocent citizens. I think he is misguided.
It would be far better if the volunteers whom he has managed to attract could be persuaded to join the special constabulary or ultimately, if it is felt necessary, the reserve police force which I have mentioned.
The difficulties we face must be seen within the wider context not only of this country but of the other countries of Western Europe which face the same problem. We shall successfully get through this difficult period only if there is respect for law and order. The only way in which we can ensure that justice is done, particularly during the present situation of economic difficulty, is to respect and uphold the law.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
This short debate has already shown us some vivid illustrations of the breakdown in law and order. There are a variety of causes for that, and I think 1003 it will be only honest for the House to admit that many of those causes are quite beyond the control of the Government.
It is sometimes difficult to admit that there are things about which we can do nothing, but underlying social trends may well not be within the reach of Government to affect. There arc other matters upon which the Government can have an influence but only very gradually and over a very long period of time. The Government can and must at all times give the fullest support to the law as it stands. If the law requires to be change, we must by all means be responsive to the requests for change, but while the law stands we must give it the fullest support.
Many people regret that this Government have not always shown that respect for the law which we are entitled to expect. The attitude of the Government to the Clay Cross situation is one example of a most disturbing trend. By agreeing to take steps to remove some part of the penalty imposed by the law, the Government are on a slippery slope, but that decision, which we regret, has already been taken.
I urge the Government not to commit the same error in another situation, where they are under considerable pressure, in relation to the Shrewsbury pickets. While greatly regretting the present indisposition of the Prime Minister, I hope that it will at least have the side effect of enabling him to reconsider his ill-advised decision to meet the TUC to discuss the matter. The two men concerned were lawfully charged with serious offences and have been found guilty of conspiracy to intimidate and of unlawful assembly. Those are not empty phrases. Instead of exercising the lawful right to picket in the normal way, they were in part responsible for the trouble on the site in question where large numbers of people, the jury found, were put in fear as a result of the activities of the convicted men, quite apart from the side effect of considerable damage to property.
Their cases were considered by a jury. Susequently there was an appeal against sentence as well as conviction and the men were released on bail during the appeal. It has been dismissed. There 1004 has been a further hearing before the Court of Appeal in which they sought leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Their application has been rejected. Every possible legal means has been used in this case. Every court possible has been approached or application made to approach it. To respond to political pressure now and to release these men prematurely would knock another nail in the coffin of the rule of law.
Freedom is safe only if no one is above the law. If a convicted person can have a reasonable expectation that one of the greatest States of the Realm, such as the trade union movement, will rise in arms and secure his release, that is the end of freedom for us all. The day may come when there is another party in power which will be responsive to political pressure of a different kind and when other people may hope to escape the consequences of their law breaking. I would condemn that situation just as much as I condemn the situation threatening us at the moment. The only protection for us all is to have a Government of laws which is above a Government of men and a Government which ensures that the law is carried out and is not respited by the action of the Home Secretary intervening under political pressure. That is the only safe course. If the law is out of date it should be changed.
The Home Secretary should not intervene in the Shrewsbury case. To do so would be to set a most dangerous precedent. The Home Secretary faces pressure from people who support him in the country and in the House. I hope that we shall play our part by begging him firmly to resist that pressure. If he does, he will play his part in enforcing and securing respect for the law. To do that would be to do no more than his duty. I am sure that the House can expect him to do just that.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
We are indebted to the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) for enabling us to discuss the question of the enforcement of law, because clearly it is vital to our existence.
However, the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) took the opportunity of this debate to attack the 1005 Labour Government. His criticism was utterly and completely wrong. If anything, the Labour Government are far more effective in enforcing the law than were the Tory Government or any other Government. For the hon. Gentleman to cite in support of his argument the Clay Cross and Shrewsbury cases is absurd. There was no question of the Government wishing the law not to be enforced in the Clay Cross case. The Minister made that perfectly clear in his statement. It was utterly wrong for the hon. Gentleman, in a debate of this kind, to attack the Government in that way.
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's criticism about the Shrewsbury case. The courts convicted the men concerned and the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal. Nobody suggested that, from a legal point of view, the law was being attacked. There has been a petition and representations have been made citing certain matters which must be considered by a humane Home Secretary.
The procedure followed in the Shrewsbury case was the same as that followed in all criminal cases. Surely the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby knows that. When a person is sentenced to imprisonment or is fined, it is always possible to make representations to the Home Secretary to consider the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and it would be utterly wrong of the Home Secretary not to consider them. That is not acting in a political way. I seriously deprecate the hon. Gentleman trying to make a false point of that sort in a debate such as this.
§ Mr. Brittan
I have not criticised the Government, because their decision has not yet been taken. I sought to give the Government strength and support in the action which I hope they will take, namely, to resist the pressures imposed on them to release on political grounds the men involved in the Shrewsbury case. It is open to anyone to make representations to the Home Secretary. As the Court of Appeal has carefully considered the appeals against conviction and sentence, it would be wrong to respond to political pressures. I am hopeful that the Home Secretary will act in such a way that no criticism is called for, but it is better to express our views before rather than after the event.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am glad that I gave the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to make another speech. It is very kind of him to give advice to the Government, and I am sure that the Ministers and everyone else concerned will appreciate his great kindness. I note what he says, but he has missed the point entirely. If he pays attention, I will repeat it.
When a court imposes a sentence, whether monetary or imprisonment, no one suggests that the legislature or the executive will interfere with it. But in every case in which a person has been sentenced, representations can be made to the Home Secretary to use his discretion in dealing with it in the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. That is not a political matter. No one suggests that political motives will enter into it. I repeat that I deprecate the hon. Gentlemen making a false point in a debate of this kind.
I have already said that the enforcement of law is vital to our existence. It is often said that because in the view of certain people a law is bad, it can be disobeyed, and it is on occasions disobeyed on that ground. If that view were upheld, we could all take our decisions about what we should obey. We on this side of the House often resist legislation introduced by Conservative Governments and they in turn resist our legislation. But once legislation has been passed and has become law, it must be obeyed and enforced, however opposed to it we may be. That is the view which we and the Government take. The remedy is to try, by constitutional means, to reverse the legislation.
The motion refers tothe present escalation of acts of vandalism. violent crime, hijacking and terrorism".Hijacking and international terrorism arc the modern counterparts of piracy on the seas. They are terrible crimes. But they can be dealt with only by effective international means. They have grown with the development of air travel and, to some extent, with the sale of arms.
The Irish problem is a special one. I take it that the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead desires to draw attention to the ordinary crime—mugging, the danger of walking in the streets, particularly at night, bank robberies, rape and attacks which are often accompanied 1007 by the use of firearms. One must not exaggerate the state of affairs. In the old days there was piracy on the seas, attacks by highwaymen and many lawless acts of different kinds. In those days the Press did not report these matters to the same extent as it does today and our police and police methods were not so effective in bringing criminals to trial. Nevertheless, there has been an increase in crime.
One wonders how much responsibility television bears, with its constant reproduction of criminal scenes. These programmes are seen by impressionable youth and must put ideas into the heads of young people. On the one hand, it is often said that criminals are the product of poor homes and unsatisfactory upbringing. Often in criminal cases those facts are urged in mitigation of sentence. On the other hand, the Welfare State is blamed for our having had it "too good". Probably both play their part in producing the criminal.
The answer is, surely, for us to do all we can to improve housing conditions, to make conditions of employment as satisfactory as possible and to keep down unemployment so that idleness will not breed criminals. Above all—and I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead said—we must develop our educational system. The hon. Gentleman suggested some methods by which that could be done, and there are a great many others.
We seem to have lost the old family life, the family atmosphere. There are so many distractions in the modern world that take people away from the home and what it means, and that presents us with problems that are difficult to tackle. The looseness of the marriage tie and the easiness with which divorce can be obtained have been no small factors in this.
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead spoke of the necessity to enforce proper sentences for any breach. I believe that the penalties enacted by our laws for any crime are on the whole sufficient for the purpose for which they are intended. There are maximum sentences and, in imposing those sentences, our judges have a discretion to have regard to all the circumstances. In reading a short report of a case the layman 1008 may not have all the facts before him. Our judges are men of experience. They often consult together on the principles that should be applied in imposing sentences. I think everyone will agree that our judiciary is an excellent one upon which we can place full reliance.
Most of our magistrates are lay, unpaid magistrates, and they deal with the bulk of our criminal cases. They carry out their duties as a rule in an effective way, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for the service which they render to the community. No doubt sometimes one may see a degree of leniency and criticise it, but again one must remember that the reader of an account of the proceedings has not always all the facts before him. Above all, we must not lose sight of the fact that, although the punitive element must be there, we must have the reformative element as well. That is most important and must not be discounted.
I summarise the position shortly in this way. No one denies that a problem exists. How do we tackle it? I agree that we should increase the police force and add to it through the Special Constabulary. But the problem is a social one, the answer to which lies in the betterment of our society, in the increase in family ties, in better conditions in our homes and in employment and, above all, in education.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I should like to take the opportunity afforded by the motion to intervene briefly on a specific matter on which I have already written to the Secretary of State.
On 1st February this year a constituent of mine, Mrs. Alexander of Bletchley, had her car stolen. On 17th February a man was apprehended by the police and charged with that offence. Because of various adjournments the case was not heard until October, and on 21st October the man concerned was sentenced for the offence.
Because the car in question was a material piece of evidence, the police were advised by the counsel who was prosecuting the case for them that that car must be kept impounded until the case was heard. My constituent, therefore, was deprived of the use of that car for nearly six months and she suffered 1009 considerable financial hardship. When the man was eventually convicted it became apparent that she was not entitled to any compensation.
Events have played into my hands to a certain extent. Hon. Members will have read the account of the taxi driver who pursued the people who threw a bomb into the Naval and Military Club on Wednesday night. The taxi was fired on, the windscreen and the radiator were shattered and a considerable amount of damage was done to the vehicle. Because no injury is involved, there is no possibility of the taxi driver being compensated for the loss he suffered through carrying out that gallant act.
I hope that the Secretary of State will look into this matter carefully. There is an easy way out. I do not know anything about the major courts of the country, but I have been a magistrate for several years. At the end of a case in a magistrates' court the police always say to the magistrates that there are witnesses' expenses of so much to be paid. Those are normally added to the fine that is imposed on the convicted person. It would appear to be easy to amend the Criminal Justice Acts and the Magistrates' Courts Acts to allow the judge or magistrate, as the case may be, on a conviction to award compensation where a person who has helped in the detection and conviction of the criminal has been put to expense.
We all pay lip-service to the idea that it is the duty of the citizen to assist the police in the detection and conviction of criminals. The absence of compensation for any loss incurred in so doing is a grave deterrent to that end. Whereas we should all carry out our duty as citizens, we should not be put to expense or incur penalties in so doing.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)
I welcome this opportunity to make a brief contribution—a contribution which may be somewhat more controversial than earlier speeches from the Labour benches in this debate.
It is perhaps in one respect a little unfortunate that the motion has been set down for discussion today. It seems to me that over a period of nine or 10 days on four separate occasions we have been debating law and order to a point at 1010 which many of us feel that the arguments are dinning in our minds. There is a great danger of our failing to distinguish between the significant and enormously serious threats to our society and other matters which are no less serious but which touch the general problem of social welfare.
There are dangers in suggesting that the total problem facing our society at present is that of law enforcement. I do not draw back from the important problem which is represented by terrorism in our society and the disasters which we have witnessed in recent months. I was one of the hon. Members who sat through the all-night sitting on the recent anti-terrorism legislation and I hold no brief whatever for terrorists. On the other hand, I believe that it is important that we should distinguish problems which are defined as criminal actions but which have a somewhat different social context from that which affects the situation of the ordinary criminal.
Mention has been made of the problem of the Shrewsbury pickets, and the motion refers to the Windsor pop festival. The clear view has been advanced in our discussions on these matters—and I think particularly of the contribution to the debate on capital punishment made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary —that certainty of apprehension is more significant than savagery of punishment. Disservice can be done to respect for the law if punishment seems to be inappropriate. There is a distinction to be made between criminals who for their own narrow personal interests commit crimes of theft or crimes against the person and people who are involved in actions which are certainly criminal and not to be condoned but which involve issues in a wider social context.
I maintain that the problem represented by the Shrewsbury pickets points to the fact that the social context was somewhat misunderstood in the charges brought against the pickets and that there was a certain inevitability of punishment, with the feeling that an example should be made of these men. But what is being suggested to the Home Secretary in respect of the exercise of clemency may be a recognition that it is essential to defend the sanctity of the law. In other words, if a large number of people believe that men such as these have suffered 1011 an excessive punishment—a savagery of sentence that appears unjust in the light of the crime—to exercise a degree of clemency may be the best protection of law and order.
We should recognise that before we abolished capital punishment successive Home Secretaries exercised clemency. Their actions took precedence over the decision of Parliament because they were interpreting the operation of their function in a social context.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
In following the argument on executive clemency, for which there is clearly a rôle in our society and our legal system, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in the case of the Shrewsbury pickets, with the present pressures, the situation is different from the usual form of executive clemency? Whereas in all previous instances executive clemency was granted by the Home Secretary, what worries many hon. Members is that in the case of the Shrewsbury pickets pressure is coming from the TUC to the Prime Minister. That is a different form of approach compared with the other kind of executive clemency by an approach to the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Davies
The present situation clearly shows that the exercise of executive clemency is not an automatic operation of the law but involves a social and political judgment. It involves the mechanisms through which a Home Secretary may be approached and the sources from which such approaches should be made. There are no clear precedents on the situation. If the Trades Union Congress is in a position—and I can think of no body which is in a better position—to identify that failure to exercise clemency in this area, which may cause a degree of disrespect for the law among trade unionists, it is only right and proper that the TUC should make such representations. I have no doubt that the representations eventually will go to the proper source for final decision—which obviously is the Home Secretary. I do not want to spend the whole of my time dealing with the Shrewsbury pickets. I was using them as an illustration of the social context in which certain criminal acts and punishments are enforced.
1012 One part of the motion makes particular reference to the Windsor pop festival. I wish to emphasise that we must increasingly recognise that within the diversity and plurality of our society there are deep social strains which find themselves expressed in a youth culture. It has expressed itself in certain social groupings which this nation has not experienced in the past. We must recognise that our society gives greater emphasis to youth and more opportunity for youth to express itself, and yet we must remember that on the whole our laws are passed by bodies composed of rather older men. There is a problem of the difference in cultures and indeed in generations.
Sometimes I feel that senior police officers are rather more responsive to this situation than are Conservative Members. When thousands of people gather together, as happened at the Windsor pop festival, and break what can only be regarded as limited and minimal laws concerning the operation of Windsor Great Park, one cannot identify this as the forerunner of a social revolution which seeks to challenge the whole forces of law and order.
There are aspects of our pop culture which show themselves in hippy festivals, which are gestures of defiance or contempt for authority. But because of that fact I do not hold the youth of Britain in any disrespect. It is in the nature of youth to demonstrate radical forms and, provided that these are within a reasonably peaceful context, I can see nothing to condemn.
Had the law been enforced against the organisers at the very beginning of the Windsor pop festival, it might be said that there was a flagrant breaking of the law; but clearly the law had not been enforced at that early stage. Therefore, once the young people were gathered together at Windsor, that gathering should not be regarded as cocking a snook at the law. They did not represent a mass movement of people wanting to challenge the fundamental laws of Britain or to undermine the liberties of the people of Windsor. They were gathered there for a social purpose and I am sure that the vast majority possessed a basic respect for the law, and no doubt the festival was an enjoyable pursuit. 1013 Of course, the festival infringed other liberties and no doubt the din of the pop music, of which I am not a great lover, tends to interefere with the liberties of others who prefer on such occasions to be deaf. I do not regard this infringement as being of the magnitude suggested by the interpolation in the motion of the reference to the Windsor pop festival or of having some connection with the general breakdown of law and order.
What worries me is that we are developing a society which, if we are not careful, will develop the culture of the "Clockwork Orange", because it is essentially a clockwork society. It is important that we recognise that people require to be treated as human beings, rather than as machines, and that men require job satisfaction, rather than to be mere clock watchers. Development in these terms must mean greater participation and greater job satisfaction on the part of willing people. Young people will not accept a situation in which they come out of our extended educational system to earn their living in a society in which their liberties are crushed. They will not accept a situation in which decisions are made continually on their behalf and in which their ability to participate is at a low level.
This attitude clearly applies in the general movement and demand for greater respect for working people at their place of work, which develops also from a school culture which is rapidly changing. Hon. Members of the Opposition appear to have severe limitations when it comes to considering the development of education in our State schools. I am sometimes upbraided by members of the Opposition—in private rather than in public—who suggest that we on this side of the House are too soft in our attitude towards the discipline of young people. But many members of the Opposition, brought up in rather rigid school regimes, in which the sparing of the rod has not manifestly spoiled the child, ask whether it would not be better if our State educational system adhered to those principles. My response to that is that I feel that it is not the rod which makes Opposition Members such advocates of the virtues and values of our society but rather that many of them look forward from their early days to enjoying many of the major benefits of society.
1014 It is not discipline which ensures that people have respect for the values of society, but rather the inherent quality of the values. But if, in the State school system—in relation to which many of us on this side of the House have greater knowledge, through having experienced its facilities—there is a problem of values and youngsters are not sufficiently respectful towards their teachers, in terms of discipline, there may be good reasons for that. I doubt whether those reasons lie in the quality of teaching or in the values of the teachers. I have great respect for the values which the teaching profession upholds.
It is increasingly the case that teachers have had to engage in militancy and to take part in demonstrations to get any recognition of the rôle they play in our society. If we see that in society greater values have been put, for instance, on those people who care for children's teeth than on those who care for children's minds, is it surprising that children have little respect, in a materialist society, for those who teach them and who are clearly under-valued by society itself?
We must always look at the problems of discipline within the context of the inherent values of our society. If out of this debate comes a belief that we can inculcate such deeper respect for our society only by ensuring that our educational facilities are enhanced and our educational provision is better supported, the motion will have served a good purpose.
I end with a point on the motion that is not contentious. The House owes its origins and its basis to the defence of people's liberties. We are the bulwark of freedom. In recent days we have had to face the horrors of terrorism, and to take action which many of us have regretted, not because we thought that they were not necessary—they were; what we regretted was that they had become necessary, and thus the liberties of our people were being infringed.
Let us ensure as lawmakers that we protect our liberties by making sure that our laws are respected. This is the essence of the respect for Parliament and for authority, and the basis of a good society. I hope that in debating the motion we shall show ourselves to be worthy of the rôle of protecting the liberties of the individual.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
I am pleased to be speaking immediately after the extremely interesting and thought-provoking speech from the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies). I disagree with many of the things he said, and I shall deal with some of them shortly. But I agree with him when he said that some people whose duty it is to enforce the law—such as senior police officers—are sometimes much more flexible in their response to the social problems surrounding the whole question of law and order in our society than is Parliament. That is a fair criticism, but perhaps one which is a little undermined by the events of this week, because it has been law and order week in the House of Commons. We have had three debates on this subject—one dealing with juvenile crime, one on the police and one concerned with capital punishment.
I warmly welcome the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) because it enables us today, in the cool and reflective atmosphere in which the debate is taking place, to have a broad sweep at all the problems, and to consider some of the matters raised by hon. Members. When we discuss enforcement of the law there is a tendency for everyone to say, "They ought to do something about it. They ought to catch more criminals. They ought to give more severe sentences." But enforcement of the law is far too serious a matter to be shifted on to the shoulders of one group, whether that group consists of policemen, school teachers, or judges, because the responsibility for enforcing the law is something that we all share. The approach needed is that we are all involved, we all have a rôle to play, and we must take part in moulding the values which underline law and order and the enforcement of it.
In his excellent opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead rightly expressed the importance of the home and the school in laying the foundations of individual discipline, which is the basis of law and order. Whatever view the hon. Member for Enfield, North may take about discipline and schools, he will surely accept that there have to be some rules and disciplines. One can argue the values 1016 surrounding these disciplines, but somebody has to make the rules and the disciplines, and the first responsibility is for the parent. St Ignatius Loyola said, I think, "Give me a child until he is six years old and I will make him a good Jesuit for the rest of his life". The same should be true of a good parent in relation to discipline in the early years. Inculcating the right values can make a good child a law-abiding citizen for the rest of his life.
As a student in Borstal—I hasten to say that I was there as an assistant to a housemaster—I was in charge of a dormitory of 18 boys, and I discovered in long conversations with them that they had all come from broken homes, or from socially deprived backgrounds. One realises that the causes of crime and breakdown in law and order often stem from the earliest stages in a child's life. One must therefore stress the point—as it has been stressed—that schools and parents have a great deal to do with the problems confronting society today.
I think that the chief constable of Birmingham said last week that most of the increase in shoplifting in his city today came from young boys playing truant from school. Here is another problem which needs to be tackled by both parents and school teachers, with a little more help from the courts, perhaps, at the earliest possible age, in an effort to inculcate disciplines stemming from rules of some kind. I am sure that attendance at school is a valuable discipline which even the hon. Member for Enfield, North will acknowledge.
The police have featured a good deal in today's debate. Since I spoke in the debate last Monday, I shall not go into that side of the matter at length, but I was extremely pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) support the proposal that the special constabulary should be strengthened and expanded. I know from her excellent winding-up speech last Monday that the Under-Secretary of State also supports that proposal, and I hope that we shall now see some firm Government action and really constructive thinking on the whole rôle of the special constabulary.
Only by drawing on this reserve can we find the extra manpower needed to 1017 prevent outbreaks of terrorism. In my view, the Police Advisory Board, which is to start meeting in February, should have its terms of reference widened to this end. I do not know the details of its terms of reference—I am not sure that they have been published—but they should, in my view, include such questions as whether the special constabulary could be put on the same footing as the Territorial Army so that, for example, a small bounty could be paid to those who give regular service and go off to training camps for a certain period every year.
On occasions when, for instance, it is necessary to flood 400 extra men into the London railway terminals because there has been a tip-off that a bomb is to be planted within the next few hours, the only way to draw in that amount of manpower without completely disrupting the rest of the police service lies in boosting the special constabulary. I know that the Minister is sympathetic, and I look forward to seeing action on that front.
In particular, I hope that we can sweep away the present prickliness, or even hostility, between the Police Federation and the special constabulary. This is a political matter which must be tackled. It should be stressed that there is no hostility whatever from the special constabulary's side in the matter. The special constable should strengthen and support the police and in no way be in competition with them.
As for the regular police, our debate on Monday made clear how much the House feels that we owe a great debt of gratitude to them for the way they are carrying out an extremely difficult task at present. Any further measures one can devise to encourage the recruiting of more police officers, such as concessionary mortgages, for instance, ought now to be receiving the Government's full attention.
I turn to the position of the courts. The police are able to improve, and are in fact improving, I believe, the certainty of detection of crime and the bringing of criminals to justice. That is a most important part of law enforcement. But there is a gap which needs to be filled in the activities of the courts themselves to improve the certainty of conviction of the guilty.
On this question, I refer to the controversial views of Sir Robert Mark, 1018 which were originally expressed, I think, in his famous Dimbleby Lecture about jury trials in 1973, when he questioned how satisfactory such trials were in contributing to the essential conviction of the guilty. Sir Robert Mark pointed out— the statistics have confirmed it—that of all the people in England and Wales who plead not guilty and are tried by jury some 40 per cent. to 45 per cent. are acquitted.
Sir Robert Mark has argued that there are too many rules designed to give every advantage to the defence, which are too easily exploited by some less-than-scrupulous lawyers, and this is contributing to the unacceptably high acquittal rate.
Perhaps I can shed a little more personal illumination on this matter. As some hon. Members know, I had the experience of being tried at the Old Bailey. It is a very strange experience to be tried at the Old Bailey. I do not think that I shall ever forget the day when I heard the shout "Put up the prisoners" and I walked up the steps into the dock accompanied by a warder trying to be cheerful and telling me, "Court No. 1, the famous court, the one where Crippen, Haig and the Kray Brothers were tried, and where only last week we had the Hoseins. That is where you are going".
I took part as defendant there in a trial to which I need make no reference, since it has no relevance to this debate. Our law on official secrets and its application to journalists is so unique a matter that it has no relevance to the generality of crime. Perhaps I may add that I was acquitted, so that I am now happily able to sit on these benches rather than on the less comfortable benches of Wormwood Scrubs.
I saw a good deal of what went on both during my own trial and during my period of waiting to be tried. There was a long wait. Most people on bail awaiting criminal trial now have to wait six or nine months, and in my case it was 14 months. I had the opportunity then, as a layman, to watch a number of trials and to see how prosecutions and defences were handled.
From that experience, watching a number of trials and participating as defendant in my own, I formed a view which is roughly equivalent to that of Sir Robert 1019 Mark, namely, that, thanks to the exploitation of rules designed in the nineteenth century when defendants and their lawyers were a good deal more ignorant and in need of more protection than they require today, a great number of defendants who should have been convicted were cleverly getting away with it. Without going into individual details, which I have no wish to do, it is difficult to give specific examples, but that was the general impression which I gained.
One clear example of what I mean is the accused's right to silence. This should not be exploited so easily as it is today. I watched trials at which the prosecution's case plainly called for an answer, but the accused, sometimes an astute and intelligent man, simply said, "I have a right to silence, I shall not answer any of your difficult questions", so that the trial had to fold up although it was almost certain that if the man had gone into the witness box and been cross-examined a very different impression would have been created. I am sure that our, so to speak, sacred attitude to the right to silence should be changed in present conditions.
Many questions on the rules of evidence and other matters have been looked into by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and, on the whole, its suggested changes have been supported. They should now be looked at again by Parliament. I am aware that there is some controversy here. Sir Robert Mark's views have been criticised by Mr. Zander, and Mr. Zander's views have in turn been rebutted by Professors Baldwin and McConville in Modern Law Review. It is a continuing controversy, but I hope that the Government will at an early date look again at the possibility of introducing certain reforms in our court procedure.
I come to the High Court of Parliament. I think that it was Burke who said, "We sit here on a conspicuous stage and the whole world marks our demeanour". We must realise that our approach here to the problem of law enforcement and law and order has a great impact in the country at large. Undoubtedly, events such as Clay Cross council and Shrewsbury pickets affairs make an impact in the country at large. 1020 It is no use pretending otherwise. Whatever one's political view of such cases, they undoubtedly have an effect.
It is essential that justice shall be seen to be done and not be subject to any kind of political pressure. Once people have the idea that it is possible to say that the politicians can pull so-and-so out of prison or that by political influence a penalty can be changed, we reach a disastrous situation.
I felt that the hon. Member for En-field, North was treading dangerous ground in his references to executive clemency and the suggestion that it would be quite normal for the Prime Minister in such a case to accept representations from the TUC and pass them on to the Home Secretary. As far as I am aware executive clemency has never been handled in such a way. Appeals for it have come from such people as probation officers and social workers and never from a major political movement suddenly exerting pressure.
It is a most dangerous precedent, and I entirely support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) who pointed out that the case of the Shrewsbury pickets had been through the whole gamut of the legal apparatus—the Court of Appeal and so on—and that it now seems that we are getting into a Watergate situation when the President or Prime Minister can start putting on pressure for executive clemency. I hope that the Government will draw the line where they now stand and will not interfere with this case.
I have detained the House for too long and I hope that I have not been too egotistical in making personal references to illuminate general points. After three and a half debates this week, I hope the House has become more flexible in its approach to these problems. They have had a very good hearing of the kind they have not had for a long time. On the whole, I believe that the debates have shown that Parliament and the public are deeply concerned, that they are taking the necessary measures and that they are strengthening their attitudes in two key respects. I hope that the House will feel that this week's debates on law and order have been very much worth while. I certainly do.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)
The motion covers a very wide catalogue of problems or lawlessness, and if I had been asked to prepare a list of the issues which actually threatened the fabric of society and our democratic way of life I do not think I would have put the so-called Windsor free pop festival very high on that list. I declare my interest in the debate, in that for four years I have been a magistrate in the East End of London. That, in a sense, is an education in itself. Serving in a magistrates' court in East London one recalls the slogan of a Sunday newspaper that, "All human life is there." Certainly, in the East End all human frailty is there.
I detected in earlier contributions from both sides of the House a suggestion that when we speak of respect for the law it should be a sort of blind, unthinking acceptance of the law, irrespective of the law's merits or the degree to which it is worthy of respect. In some senses that argument is as dangerous as the problem of lawlessness and the people who so easily flout the law.
Since Clay Cross has been mentioned, it is right to say that for some of us on the Government side of the House the problem of the Housing Finance Act created some very agonising decisions. At the time in question I, no doubt like many other hon. Members, was a magistrate and a leader of a borough council. I found great difficulty in resolving the differing calls on my conscience, coming from both directions. As a magistrate I had taken an oath todo right by all manner of personsand I do not think that the Act did right by all manner of persons. It discriminated heavily against a section of society which was incapable of looking after itself. In a sense, the Government of this country govern by consent. The people consent to Government on the basis that they are doing a reasonable job, and are governing sensibly and in the interests of the people. If we want, as many of us do, to create a genuine participatory democracy in which people think for themselves, we shall have increasingly to expect them to reach their own judgments on the laws that we pass.
I am not suggesting that everybody has the right to pick and choose the laws he will obey and those he will not, but surely 1022 we recognise that there must be an acceptance of the fact that some people, quietly, sincerely and on grounds of conscience, will say, "This is a bad law, and one which I cannot personally accept." The social history of this country shows that it is only because brave men and women over the years have taken that attitude that we have today some of the freedoms we so much take for granted.
I want to comment in detail about one of the issues raised in the motion. It is a mundane issue, but it is of great concern to many people, certainly in the urban areas. I refer to the problem of vandalism and hooliganism.
Our great cities are being engulfed in a rising tide of senseless, mindless, purposeless destruction—which worries a great many people. This is a genuine threat to the whole quality of life in our cities. It includes stupid scrawling on every spare piece of wall, and in this respect the inventor of the aerosol paint spray bears a substantial degree of guilt for the pollution that we are now suffering from this vandalism. It covers the destruction of street trees and street lights. Any house left empty for move than a few days will probably have its windows smashed, and if the vandals can get inside, all kinds of other damage will be done. It covers telephone boxes and public conveniences. Public buildings of any sort seem to be fair game for the vandals who are attacking many of our major cities.
The cost to the ratepayers in my local authority area is phenomenal. It runs into thousands of pounds. Over the nation it must amount to millions of pounds of wasted money which has to be spent putting right the work of the vandals.
The other aspect of the matter is hooliganism. Hon. Members have mentioned football hooliganism. I spend every other Saturday afternoon at football matches and I am appalled at the extent to which young people go not to watch the game but simply to look for trouble. They place themselves and conduct themselves in such a way as to look for trouble and for fights, and I find that very hard to understand and accept. I have been going to football matches since I was a small boy—since the last war and the early post-war years. I do not 1023 recall wanting, at that age to attack people and to take knives and other offensive weapons to football matches. I do not recall wanting to smash shop windows and terrorise people on the way to the game. This aspect of hooliganism I find extremely difficult to understand.
There have been references to hooliganism on public transport. This is an increasing London problem, which worries both management and workers on London Transport.
The motion refers to penalties. Most hon. Members seem to understand that reference to mean harsher penalties. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), I am not sure whether that is the best way round the problem. Detection is certainly a much better deterrent than are severe penalties. In considering penalties for vandalism and hooliganism I believe that we should be looking to the greater use of things such as community service orders. The vandal has no respect for his fellow man or for society, and he commits crimes against society by destroying public property. In these cases it is reasonable to give him something useful to do on behalf of his fellow man. This has been started. The first community service order scheme began in inner London and we have seen the first results. They have certainly been encouraging. The scheme has not been a total success, but it is encouraging enough to enable us to feel that it is an avenue along which we should go in dealing with the problems of vandalism and hooliganism.
First, however, we must catch the hooligans and the vandals, and here we are up against considerable difficulties. I join with other hon. Members in paying tribute to the Metropolitan Police. Bearing mind the extent to which the force is under strength, it does a very good job. I am not convinced that we use the manpower resources of the Metropolitan Police to the best effect. My time on the bench leads me to believe that we waste a lot of police time keeping policemen hanging around for hour after hour at magistrates' courts, waiting to give evidence, sometimes in very trivial cases. I am not convinced that we could not go still further towards relieving the police of the daily problems of traffic offences 1024 and traffic management, and things of that sort.
Because of the amount of serious crime, the police have less time to concentrate on the problems of vandalism and the more petty issues which worry so many ordinary people. I should be happier if we could see more police patrols in our cities—not just the panda patrols, which whizz through at top speed, but ordinary policemen on the beat, who are one of the major deterrents to the problems that I am talking about.
It is right to say something about the public's attitude. I am becoming increasingly worried about the extent to which the public seem to turn a blind eye. I can well understand that a person will not be keen to deal with a gang of louts on an underground train late at night. But in cities such as London, ordinary people are beginning to accept hooliganism and vandalism as a way of life, and just to shrug their shoulders and ask "What can you do?" If that sort of attitude persists, there will be a continuation of the deterioration in the quality of life in our cities.
When talking about respect for law in this context, one is talking about respect for society and one's fellow man. It is sad to find the extent to which young people feel themselves alienated from the rest of society. They feel that it is legitimate to smash public property, because it belongs to some anonymous "them", who do not understand, who do not know. This lack of involvement of young people in our society is worrying, as is the attitude of parents. Too many parents take no interest in what their children do, and do not accept responsibility for the things their children get up to. This flows to some extent from the break-up of family life as we have known it.
There is an erosion of the cement which holds together the fabric of our society. That is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the problem of lawlessness. It poses a challenge to our education system and to the mass media, particularly television, which has a tremendous impact on the life style of many people. It also poses a challenge for all of us in public life.
Like other hon. Members, I think that we must give as much attention to the causes of the breakdown of respect for 1025 law and of the breakdown of the acceptance of standards in our society, as we give to their effects.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
The motion covers a whole world of violence and law-breaking. Some of the aspects set out by the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) are singularly far apart from each other. To talk in the same breath of the international hijackings and terrorism, which distress and disturb the whole world, and of the vandalism in our city centres, requires a great leap of the imagination.
I welcome the opportunity to speak immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), because our experiences are parallel. There are many ways in which I can confirm what he said. I, too, must admit that I have been through the heart-searchings of placing myself in the position of being on the wrong side of the law, which in the end I felt I was bound to do on moral issues. I was subsequently upheld by the opinion of no less a person than Lord Justice Denning. He agreed that there was ground for people to take stands against laws such as the Housing Finance Act and the Industrial Relations Act on matters of conscience. But those are quite separate issues from those which we face today.
The introduction of similar matters by the Opposition does not help us to consider the implications of the two entirely disparate types of violence referred to in the motion. International hijacking and terrorism demand international co-operation of the highest order. They demand a serious attempt by all countries to bring a halt to this kind of violence, which is so sickening to every civilised country.
But we cannot divorce the more localised effects of anti-social behaviour, as we can loosely call it—the vandalism that my hon. Friend talked about, the destruction in city streets and centres—from the history of the war-time and post-war years. Those of us who have been involved in local authorities, fighting over the years to improve housing conditions and working with all our might to get better city centres, have been party, in a way, to the break-up of family life.
We have seen the uprooting of societies —the studies in Bethnal Green were proof 1026 of this, if anything ever was—the tearing apart of parents, children and grandparents, with one sent to the outer county estates, leaving the other stranded behind in the city centre; the removal of families with established ways of life and employment from our inner city areas, leaving behind the casualties of our social system. The unfortunate, the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, the immigrant, are the people who now inhabit many of our city centres, whereas the established families have had the good fortune already to be moved out to the more pleasant suburban areas where, perhaps, better housing conditions have prevailed.
The tragedy is that in our enthusiasm to increase the supply of housing we in local government have often permitted a style of housing to replace the old which was entirely unsuited for family living. It is small wonder that young people use the aerosol can to daub the walls of new estates when there is nothing in those estates to occupy them, nothing to give them any sense of belonging to the estate, to the borough, which, by a process in which the House has also had a hand, a process of enlargement, of extension of boundaries, means less to the people who live in it.
There is a variety of ways in which we in the House and our predecessors have accelerated the breakdown of established settlements in different parts of the country. We should give a great deal of thought to the future development of housing. It was very sad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say, only this week, that local authorities will have to pay less out of their funds for maintaining housing, when already so much of the accommodation in the city centres is dilapidated and miserable, a disgrace to the local authorities that own the properties, and no incentive to the spirit of civic pride in the young people at whom we always point the finger of blame for vandalism.
Having operated in the courts in London, as my hon. Friend has, I feel that we must not overlook the fact that in the city centre the penalties imposed by the courts are often imposed on the inadequate, the casualties of our society, whether they be the young people from broken homes who have no guiding light and no standards given to them by which they can judge how they should behave.
1027 or the people who have been shaped by the schools we have given them in inner areas—schools that are a disgrace to our education system.
When we allocate our expenditure in a way which cuts down on the cost of improving the environment we should take a share in the blame when people arc left feeling isolated and perhaps less highly regarded than we might wish.
Housing plays a major part in family life, but housing alone is not enough. Accompanying housing there must be the right kind of community centres, in which young people can express themselves. Very often we are far too critical of the young people of today. I know only too well from my own experience in some of the most deprived areas of inner London and from the experience of some of those with the most deprived family backgrounds that young people go out to help the elderly and the disabled and to raise funds for a variety of good causes. We must not overlook the majority of young people in our society, who are of that kind and not of the kind who indulge in blind violence.
We could do a great deal by showing understanding and by considering, in the passing of our laws, that we should not impose penalties over and over again on the people who feel so unprotected. In recent years there has been a tendency to consider that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. If we can overcome that feeling we shall be making a step in the right direction.
I received a periodical today that illustrates the point. Perhaps we would overcome the feeling of inequality if it were not profitable to spend £40 a head in attending a seminar on how to avoid income tax. If that were not profitable there might be a little more encouragement for people to pay their taxes happily. They would then know that everyone else was doing the same. Perhaps they would be encouraged properly to look after their own property and communal property. They would realise that they would be considered to be acting against the interests of the society if they overstepped the mark in any way.
It is right that we should discuss these matters even at the end of a week of ceaseless discussion. However, although 1 should hate to get matters out of pers- 1028 pective, there is one aspect of life in London that should be mentioned, namely, the problems of London Transport and the extreme distress which is being caused by a minority of people to the men who are trying against great odds to provide a satisfactory service. I think that every London Member should be behind the request from the Chairman of London Transport to help in ensuring that hooliganism on our public transport does not have the effect of providing the whole of our society with an even further reduced standard of transport.
I now return to my previous thought. We must not get our life out of perspective. We must not be panicked into thinking that the way out of our present dilemma can be found only by more and more imprisonment and higher and higher fines. There are other ways. These are the ways which we must help to encourage. We must offer greater humanity to those who have not had the benefits that some hon. Members have had. If we can play our part in upgrading life for those who are at present underprivileged we shall go a long way towards helping to erase the problems that the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead raised.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)
We spend too much time in dealing with symptoms rather than with root causes. Many of the speeches that have been delivered during the debate have dealt with symptoms. That is the accusation I make of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn). He included in his motion reference to the pop festival in Windsor Great Park. From his point of view it may have been the most important event in the past few years or in the life of the people that he represents. As far as I am concerned it was only a passing phase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) was right to draw attention to one of the root causes of the unease which afflicts society—namely, the desperate housing situation. How can we expect children to be brought up in a normal way of life or expect parents to be abie to do so if they are living in filthy, deplorable and disgusting conditions for years on end? That is a situation that applies to many areas of London. It is disgusting that such a state of 1029 affairs should be allowed to continue a moment longer than necessary.
I would make housing the top priority in the Government's social policy. I would give it preference over anything else. Unless we provide ordinary people with proper homes we can expect all the ills to which the motion makes reference. Vandalism, lawlessness, hijacking and terrorism all spring to a large extent from the inadequate and unsatisfactory conditions in which people are condemned to live.
The local authorities have a responsibility. Some authorities have reached a stage in which they are pulling down more houses than they are putting up. By means of compulsory purchase orders they are pulling down houses which have many years of life left in them. They are thus causing a blight over many neighbourhoods. That is a matter to which I hope the Government will pay serious attention. It so happens that I also have a copy of the excellent publication to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North referred. I draw the attention of Conservative Members to the excellent publication entitled Labour Weekly. It comes out every week and costs only 5p. It contains a large amount of valuable information.
It also happens that the copy of Labour Weekly which reached me this morning has a good article on London's housing entitled "London's Housing Horror", written by Sir Reg Goodwin, the leader of the Labour GLC. It reads:London has over half the total number of homeless people in the United Kingdom—and many Londoners who do have homes are living in appalling conditions.… In a major speech at the weekend he said: 'In recent years, cases of actual homelessness in London are running at 1,200 per year or 30 cases a day—which constitutes between 50 and 60 per cent. of total homelessness in the United Kingdom.'I am convinced that that is an unfortunate contributory factor to the present lawlessness and dissatisfaction which prevails. Sir Reg Goodwin later said:In the 1971 census, 1,130,885 Londoners were living at a density of one person per room and over, and 363,000 chronically overcrowded at 1.5 persons per room or over.Everybody must condemn that situation as unsatisfactory. I shall not try to make a party point out of it. It is the responsibility of all Governments. I hope 1030 that serious attention will be paid to the effect of deplorable housing conditions on the crime wave and truancy and all these other evils.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
I am sure that the promotion manager of Labour Weekly will be grateful to the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton). We also take his serious point.
The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) for giving us the opportunity of this debate. I take the point of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), but those who are interested in law enforcement are lucky, normally, to have one debate in three months ; it is going to the other extreme to have four in five days. It is a tribute to my hon. Friend that his subject matter was so important and fresh.
A number of hon. Members have taken advantage of my hon. Friend's generously drawing the motion wide. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) made an important point, and I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said about the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and the point of Sir Robert Mark, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police—that the certainty of conviction is as important as the certainty of detection. A number of us have considerable sympathy with that. Several hon. Members opposite also mentioned London Transport.
Obviously, the Minister will want to deal with the detailed points about the Windsor pop festival, but I want to deal with the general problems that such festivals present to the police. The Windsor festival was known to be unlawful, and eventually the police had to clear the site—an action which was given enormous coverage by the media. This kind of work is repugnant to the police. The last role they seek is that of clearing people from an area—a task which can clearly be portrayed as repressive. This kind of work is alien to their tradition.
The police role is to ensure that demonstrations proceed peacefully and to control them rather than prevent them. That is because we recognise the right of peaceful demonstration. Our law also 1031 has a practical advantage for the police. Other countries pursue different policies, trying to ban demonstrations. It is sometimes suggested that we should do the same, but if only a small number of demonstrators turned up, confrontation with the police would become inevitable in those circumstances. We arrange things better. There is a rapport between police and public which is the envy of many other countries. It is sometimes inevitable that the police have to act firmly if greater public disorder is to be prevented, but many policemen find it difficult to accept being put into such a situation unnecessarily—at football matches and pop festivals for example.
The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central may have underrated the seriousness of pop festivals, especially to the police. It is exactly in this area that problems have arisen in other countries. Governments are tempted to leave these matters to the police, but that is only shifting the responsibility. We do not want the kind of repercussions that we saw at Windsor this summer. What measures do the Government have in mind to prevent this kind of disorder, not only at Windsor but at other pop festivals?
The standards of our police are very high, but they will sometimes make mistakes and even more often mistakes will be alleged against them, so it is in their interest as well as that of the public that such complaints are investigated and settled fairly. We should be fair to the complainant and to the policeman. What reaction has the Minister received from the police to the Home Office proposals? The principle of the new scheme, which I have always supported, must be supported not only by the public but by the police. Policemen should not be put at unnecessary risk. Many already feel that they are vulnerable to malicious or unjustified complaint.
May not the Government's proposals be too complex? Have they not put the emphasis in the wrong place—on the check? Would it not be better, simpler and faster to emphasise the investigation? I do not want to mislead the House. I do not believe in an outside body of 1032 inspectors. The police are the only people with the experience to investigate complaints, but it is possible to follow Sir Robert Mark's example in his formation of a separate complaints branch—the A10 Branch—directly answerable to the deputy commissioner responsible for handling complaints. Those policemen are divorced from normal duties and their independence is assured. Such a scheme could work effectively outside London as well. Even with the checks, which most observers would conclude are full and fair, only 7 per cent. of complaints are substantiated, which shows the high standards of the police.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead said, one of the unhappiest statistics is that, as prosperity has increased, so has the crime rate. In 1950, there were 1,000 crimes per 100,000 of the population, whereas in 1970 there were over 3,200. The particular concern of magistrates, social workers and probation officers is about the incidence of juvenile crime, which is particularly acute in some of the big cities, especially London and Birmingham. In London last year, five out of 10 burglaries and four out of 10 robberies and thefts were committed by juveniles. They are alarming figures, which no Government can expect to reverse overnight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead raised the interesting question of the vicarious responsibility of parents. We are all agreed that parents have great responsibility in this respect. This point was made by the Society of Conservative Lawyers under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). The society's view was that the power to order a parent or guardian to pay a fine was so hedged with qualifications as to be ineffective, and it suggested that the doctrine of the vicarious responsibility of parents for fines arising from their children's behaviour should be extended.
No one claims that the present situation has been created by the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The situation was not ideal before that, and it would be a grave error to suggest that it was. We are concerned with whether the Act is effective to deal with it.
1033 During Monday's debate the Minister of State, Home Office, said that hewanted to go on to show where we accept criticism of the provisions of the Act and the respects in which we think criticisms are misplaced."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December 1974 ; Vol. 883, c. 103.]Unhappily, at that point the hon. Gentleman immediately sat down. I wonder whether the hon. Lady will pick up from where the hon. Gentleman left off and indicate those parts of the Act which she accepts are open to reform.
My last point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), and by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitz-man). In this debate we are concerned essentially with the rule of law. The present Home Secretary once used the phrase "the civilised society" to indicate the type of society that he wanted to see in Britain. The badge of the civilised society is the rule of law. We are all concerned with the ways in which the rule of law has been challenged by terrorists and other groups. However, we should not ignore the fact that the vast majority of people not only respect the law but automatically obey it. This respect should not be underrated, particularly at times like these when there are economic problems—at least threatened problems—in society.
Conservative and Labour Governments have been able to rely upon that respect for the law. In some cases the Government have even used the law to set a standard. I shall not argue about the merits of such action. It can be debated either way. I simply state that this has happened. For example, in their race relations legislation the last Labour Government used the law to set a standard which they hoped would be observed. They relied upon the overwhelming respect of the British public for the law.
I therefore believe that we should be on a very slippery slope if that respect for the law were ever to disappear, or even substantially to be diminished. If it were ever to be evident that individuals or groups were able to avoid the law, clearly that respect would automatically be diminished, for it is the proudest boast 1034 of our law that all people are equal before it, that the law recognises no special interests whatsoever.
I have said that, because it is important to put the point in its context. It is particularly important when we come to a case like the Shrewsbury pickets. The pickets were found guilty by a jury. They were represented. They have taken advantage of their legal rights to appeal, and those appeals have been dismissed. In other words, I think that the trial process will be seen by everyone to have been scrupulously fair.
It is now suggested that at this point, all appeal procedure in the normal legal sense having been exhausted, the Home Secretary should exercise the Royal Prerogative of mercy. We on this side would oppose that on the grounds that the Home Secretary gave in his reply on 13th November, namely thatthe Home Secretary cannot usurp the functions of the courts ".He canrecommend interference with sentences passed by the courts only on the basis of considerations which the courts have not been able to take into account."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 144.]I do not believe that it can be said in this case that that can be the situation.
I ask the hon. Lady to confirm that this remains the Home Secretary's attitude. It is a question which we have raised and to which the Leader of the House has replied, quite properly, that it is a matter entirely for the Home Secretary. On that we agree. That being so, we find it strange that the Prime Minister is seeing the Trades Union Congress on the question. Is the purpose of that to explain the legal position to the TUC, or is it to receive representations? If it is to receive representations, I cannot see how this can be justified and I certainly cannot see how it can be reconciled with the statement that it is a question entirely for the Home Secretary.
The Government should realise just how seriously the Opposition and the public in general take this case. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity provided by the debate on the motion clearly to state the Government's position on this case.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)
The motion which the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) has brought before the House today invites us to express a general view on the increase in disregard for the observance of law and on the measures which should be taken to counter that trend. This is a vitally important subject, and one to which the House has given a good deal of attention over the past few weeks.
Much of the ground has been covered in our recent debates on the subjects of juvenile crime, the police, penalties for terrorism, and capital punishment.
The motion is very wide ranging and comprehensive. The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to a variety of problems and to possible counter measures. I am grateful to him for giving me notice of some of the points that he intended to raise.
I recognise that, because it is the task of the police to enforce the criminal law as a whole, whatever is done to strengthen the police will have a generally beneficial effect on the extent to which law is observed. I recognise that the behaviour of any one section of our society inevitably has its influences for better or for worse on the behaviour of others.
Crime and social conflict have always made news. With modern means of communication, such news travels far and fast and in a form which presents it more vividly than was known in the past. But the existence of trends and fashions in law-breaking and their mutual influence are not sufficient to enable us to think in terms of one single problem of disregard for the law which has one factor or set of factors as its cause.
Some hon. Members have tried to define the factors. My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) and Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) suggested that housing is a key factor. It is equally hard to suggest one set of measures to remedy disregard for the law. It is impossible to arrive at general conclusions of practical value about the causes and remedies for lawlessness with a scope wide enough to take in, for example, both the hijacking of aircraft by terrorists and the holding of the Windsor free festival.
1036 As the motion speaks of an escalation in certain types of criminal offence, the House may like to be reminded of the crime rate. The latest figures available are those for the first six months of this year. During that period the number of indictable offences recorded in England and Wales was 794,458. This, I regret to say, represented a rise of 20 per cent. over the figure for the corresponding period in 1973—an increase which is all the more disappointing because this 1973 figure showed a decrease of 5 per cent. as compared with the first half of 1972.
The offence in respect of which the highest rate of increase was recorded was criminal damage, which rose by 28 per cent. over the corresponding period last year. This underlines the concern expressed in the motion about the growth of vandalism, a point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and Ilford, North. I have spoken earlier about fashions in lawlessness, and there is reason to think that damage to property is at the moment a fashionable offence among certain groups of young people. Certainly it seems to thrive on publicity. Hon. Members may like to know that the Home Office Standing Committee on Crime Prevention is at present considering the report of a working party on the extent of vandalism and on measures which could be taken to prevent it. This will, I hope, enable us to offer some useful advice to people and organisations, for example, London Transport, whose property is most at risk.
As regards crimes of violence, there was also an increase in the first half of this year over the first half of 1973 but it was of a much smaller order—only 3 per cent. I am glad to say that in sexual offences, which are counted as a separate category in our criminal statistics, there was a decrease of 6 per cent. It was in offences against property that the larger increases occurred. Apart from criminal damage, which I have already mentioned, there were increases of 23 per cent. in offences of theft or handling stolen goods, and 22 per cent. in burglary.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the increase in juvenile crime. The facts about this were given to the House on Monday by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. There is a serious increase, and there are signs that offences committed by children are increasing in seriousness.
1037 and that the peak age of criminality is falling. It appears now to be 15 for boys and 14 for girls.
It is nevertheless important not to exaggerate the proportion of the total amount of detected crime which is committed by juvenile offenders. Last year they were responsible for 24.6 per cent. of the total number of indictable offences resulting in findings of guilt as compared with 23.7 per cent. in 1970. That is a sizeable proportion, but not one that is rapidly increasing. Nevertheless, the situation leaves no room for complacency over the adequacy of what we are doing at present to prevent children from falling into crime.
Many hon. Members have put forward suggestions why children are increasingly falling into crime. They have asked whether it is the fault of the parents, of the teachers or of society. This is clearly a subject which we could debate for a long time. The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead suggested that, because of the parental responsibility aspect, there should be an extra duty upon parents. He said that because of the difficulty of enforcing fines or other sums ordered by the courts to be paid by juveniles found guilty of criminal offences, their parents should be made absolutely liable to pay on their behalf.
Parliament has already gone some way in that direction by providing that where a fine or compensation has been ordered to be paid in criminal proceedings against the juvenile, the parent or guardian may be ordered to pay unless the court is satisfied that the parent cannot be found, or that he has not conduced to the commission of the offence by neglecting to exercise due care or control.
If we go further than that we would, in effect, be placing an absolute liability on parents for all criminal actions committed by their children, even if those parents had done their conscientious utmost to prevent the commission of the offence or indeed even if it would have been physically impossible for them to prevent it. The House would, I think, hesitate before going that far. In the meantime, it may be felt that the level of fines and the means of enforcing them against juveniles should be strengthened. The points that have been made will certainly be taken into consideration by my right hon. Friend.
1038 We are aware of the criticisms which have been made of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. As was made clear in Monday's debate, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has the whole of the Act and its effect under review, with particular reference to the part played by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). In looking at the workings of the Act, the Government to some extent accept criticism of it, particularly regarding such points of law, procedure and facilities, as the level and enforcement of fines in juvenile cases and the remand of young persons between 14 and 17 to Prison Department establishments. We fully accept the desirability of phasing cut such remands as soon as the community home system can develop sufficient secure assessment and observation places. We shall also want to hear the views of the Magistrates' Association— which is sending a deputation to see my right hon Friend in the near future— and of others, on the legal framework of the supervision order.
As for criticisms which are perhaps less easy to accept, I cannot prejudge the consideration now being given to the Act, but I should say that many people criticise it in one way or another when the real problem is one of resources. There are no fewer resources because of the Act. It is simply that the growth in their quantity and quality since its passage has not kept pace with the growing problem of juvenile offenders. Nor was this problem set off by the Act. As my hon. Friend told the House on Monday, the trends in offending were there before the Act and have continued since. Criticism which should justly be aimed at the scarcity of resources may be misplaced if it is aimed at the law itself. Still more important, no legal change on its own can increase the supply of resources.
I come now specifically to the Windsor free pop festival. I invite the House to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said about this festival being but one example of increasing disregard for the observance of law. I noted the interesting remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) on the philosophy of life of people who attend these festivals.
1039 The festival was held this year, as in the two previous years, in Windsor Great Park, without the permission of the Crown Estate Commissioners. It entailed activities such as camping and the playing of music which, if done without the commissioners' permission, constitute breaches of the Windsor Great Park Regulations. I certainly in no way condone the illegality involved, and I am sure that we all sympathise with the feelings of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, who suffered annoyance and inconvenience. I can assure the House that important lessons have been learnt by the police, by the Home Office, and by local authorities about the repercussions of this festival.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that all these festivals should be properly organised and should be enjoyable, peaceful events, combining freedom of the individual with law and order. I cannot comment on the motives and actions of those who organised the festival, since criminal proceedings are pending against one of the leading figures involved. I would point out that by all accounts— and this is contrary to what the hon. Gentleman led the House to believe—a large proportion of the young people taking part in the festival were either unaware of the illegality or at least were attracted to the festival by motives quite other than a desire deliberately to break the law.
The events of the festival have been amply documented in the report published by the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley, which I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman has carefully studied. The chief constable's decision to clear the festival site on 9lh August 1974 was the subject of much controversy, nationally as well as locally. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was urged at the time to set up a public inquiry into this and other aspects of police action during the festival. However, after careful consideration, he concluded that in this instance the holding of such an inquiry would serve no clear or constructive purpose and in particular would not help to resolve the controversy which had arisen over the way in which the chief constable exercised his judgment. An inquiry would have held out little prospect of a reconciliation of 1040 different points of view or of any advance towards the avoidance of a similar confrontation next year.
Today the hon. Gentleman has made valuable suggestions, all of which have been carefully noted, as to how to avoid a repetition of similar trouble next year. The need to devise more acceptable arrangements for future years, wherever a pop festival might occur, is a matter which I know is receiving very serious consideration from the local authorities in the area. The Home Office is keeping in close touch with those discussions, and I do not think it would be appropriate at this stage to say more than that, although I can assure the House that there is the closest co-operation between the police and the Crown Estate Commissioners about the future maintenance of law and order.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am grateful for the full reply which has been given, and I do not ask for an immediate answer to this point. The question whether the law of trespass should be invoked by the Crown Estate Commissioners is one to which we should give very serious consideration if we are to avoid a situation whereby 30,000 or 40,000 people may descend on Windsor next year. I make no apology for raising this matter in the debate since I have given hon. Members ample opportunity of widening the debate.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The law of trespass is very much in the minds of those participating in the talks between the police and the Crown Estate Commissioners. I am sure that matter is being given careful consideration by them.
Turning to the need to increase the size of the police force and the special constabulary, the points raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) have been noted. The figures concerning the strength of the police and the special constabulary, and the intake of police cadets which, I am pleased to say, has reached a new record level, were given to the House recently. The position is certainly serious, but I am confident that some small progress is being made in recruitment. In 1973 the Metropolitan Police loss in strength was 522. but we can draw some slight comfort from the fact that so far this year the figure has been just under 200.
1041 I have said before that the Government fully intend to support chief officers in their efforts to maintain an active and efficient special constabulary. We believe that the special constabulary is a vitally important part of the police manpower service. We are continuing to support the advertising efforts and the campaign of national publicity for the recruitment of police and members of the special constabulary.
I listened carefully to the points raised by the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field concerning complaints against the police. There is now little or no dissent in the House as a whole regarding the need for a review of, and a change in, the procedure. There is a basic choice which has to be made when one compares the merits of the various possible schemes. They lie between an arrangement under which the independent element may be invoked ex post facto, and one under which the independent element intervenes at an earlier stage, so that the scrutiny of the complaint and the result of the police investigation can affect the final decision on the outcome. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's views will be noted in the discussions.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has put forward not a cut-and-dried scheme but one that was intended as a basis for consultations with the police service and the police authorities. Those consultations are now proceeding. There have so far been separate meetings between Home Office officials and the three police representative bodies—the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Superintendents' Association, and the Police Federation. We are now seeking to arrange a joint meeting with all those bodies and the local authority associations early in the new year for the purpose of a general exchange of views. The local authority associations concerned are the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. They are not yet ready for discussions at member level, but we hope to arrange such discussions in the new year before the joint meeting. We shall need a few months in which to complete the consultations and to prepare the legislation. After that we want to introduce the legislation as quickly as possible.
I now come to the question of the Shrewsbury pickets. This matter has been 1042 raised by almost every hon. Member, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). I know that many hon. Members have strong feelings on this subject. I shall not go into all the details of the case now, but I think it is important that I should make quite clear the Home Secretary's general position in regard to his responsibility for advising on the exercise of the prerogative.
The facts of the Shrewsbury case and the relevant law have been fully argued in lengthy proceedings before the Court of Appeal, which were concluded on 3rd December 1974. The merits of the case have been judicially considered with great care and the decision of the courts must be accepted and respected. At the same time, it must be recognised that every citizen or body of citizens has the right to petition for clemency on behalf of a convicted prisoner, and my right hon. Friend must therefore always be ready to receive and to consider representations for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. In doing so, he must and will have regard to the constitutional constraints upon interference by executive action with the decisions of the courts.
As the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field reminded the House, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his reply on 13th November, told the House thatthe Home Secretary cannot usurp the functions of the courts, and should recommend interference with sentences passed by the courts only on the basis of considerations which the courts have not been able to take into account."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 144.]His attitude today is still the same. My right hon. Friend will be replying to further Questions on the case on 19th December, and I cannot anticipate now what he will say then.
The Prime Minister's meeting with the TUC certainly does not have the very grave constitutional implications which some hon. Members seem to suggest. Its purpose will be to receive the views of the TUC on various general matters arising from the case, but it is very well understood that any advice on the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in individual cases remains the sole 1043 responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
The hon. Lady has made an important statement, the first part of which we very much welcome, particularly her remark that the Home Secretary stands by what he said on 13th November. However, on the question of the Prime Minister's meeting with the TUC, am I to understand that all that the Prime Minister will do will be to discuss with the TUC the general implications of this case for future policy and not the question of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy?
§ Dr. Summerskill
Discussions take different forms. My right hon. Friend's discussions with the TUC have not yet taken place, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an accurate account of what will be said. The general remit of the meeting is to discuss various general matters arising from the case.
I come to the question of penalties. I assure the House that the Home Secretary and the Government in general accept the duty to ensure that the courts are armed with adequate powers of sentence to deal with those who come before them. The maximum sentences available to the courts are kept under continuing review and from time to time changes are made where necessary. It is a great mistake to suppose, on the one hand, that judges and magistrates have inadequate powers of sentence and, on the other hand, that raising the maximum penalty has any effective power to deter.
The powers of sentence already available to the courts are much greater than many people suppose. The motion refers to vandalism. I remind hon. Members who have raised this problem that the maximum sentence under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 for the offence of destroying or damaging property is 10 years imprisonment. Where such damage involves arson, or where there is the intent to endanger life, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Murder and manslaughter are subject to a maximum penalty, mandatory in the case of murder, of life imprisonment. But so is wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Even the lesser offence of malicious wounding carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment, as 1044 does an assault in which actual body harm is occasioned.
I am sure that no hon. Member will argue that this House should seek to interfere with the discretion of the judiciary in the exercise of its powers of sentence in any individual case or class of case. Any attempt to do that would tend to bring the machinery of criminal justice into disrepute.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) raised a specific constituency case. He also raised a point of principle where he would like to see changes made. I will look into this and write to him about it.
Insofar as the motion describes the increase in crime as a serious problem, calls for an increase in police manpower, and asks that the penalties for crime should be reviewed from time to time, I am sure that none of us would wish to take exception to it. It is clear from the debate that the House is united in the view that law and order must be upheld.
The House has already come to a decision on the measures immediately needed to deal with IRA terrorism and on the restoration of the death penalty. On the wider issues raised by the motion, the great value of such a wide-ranging debate as we have had today might, to some extent, be lost or obscured if at the end of it hon. Members were asked to express either an unqualified assent to or an unqualified dissent from the form of words which the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead has proposed.
I welcome the broad measure of agreement which underlies the views of all hon. Members who have spoken. May I therefore respectfully suggest to the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead that, having given the House the opportunity to discuss at length the important matters referred to in the motion, he might consider seeking leave to withdraw it rather than asking the House to adopt it as a full and adequate expression of all its collective views.
§ Question put and agree to.
That this House expresses its concern at the increasing disregard for the observance of law, of which the so-called Windsor Free Pop Festival is but one example ; regards the present escalation of acts of vandalism,
violent crime, hijacking and terrorism as a threat to our way of life; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all necessary measures, such as increasing the size of the police force and special constabulary and reviewing penalties both for acts of terrorism and other crimes, to restore the rule of law.