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Volume 959: debated on Thursday 30 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what fresh initiatives to deal with the problem of vandalism he proposes to take following his conference on the subject.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further action he is taking to reduce crimes of vandalism.

I held a conference last month bringing together representatives of Government Departments, local authority associations, the police and other interested bodie. We agreed that measures to counter vandalism are best planned and organised locally. The role of the Home Office is to provide support to local efforts through research, information and publicity. I and other Ministers propose to issue guidelines on good practice.

I am grateful for the Home Secretary's reply. Is he aware that, in contrast to some of the woolly thinking on the role of punishment in dealing with vandals, there is a general welcome for his own important statement that he has never been against the sharply administered wallop in dealing with this problem? Does he accept that this realistic approach is warmly welcome? Does it indicate some change in Government policy?

I was asked whether I had ever administered a wallop to any of my three sons. This was nothing to do with vandalism. The answer is"Yes ". I kept it quiet, and I am sorry that it was made so public because all three are now capable of giving me a good wallop.

Can the Home Secretary persuade the courts to make more use of short sharp detention sentences, and to fine the parents of young offenders?

I would not interfere with the courts in any way, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not indicating that he would. The judiciary is not controlled by the Home Office, and neither should it be.

Will my right hon. Friend consider a more constructive proposal than is being made by the Opposition? Will he consider extending a variant of the community service order to vandals so that they can put something constructive back into the community?

It is for the courts to decide how to deal with vandals who appear before them. However, we have discovered two things in different parts of the country. There may be a lot of talk about vandalism in an area, but, when I ask about its extent, I find that only in a few places does anyone know with any accuracy. Second, many local authorities do not have centres at which vandalism can be reported, evaluated, or discussed with the education authority. The best local authorities are doing just that, in association with the police. I saw that in Halifax last week. The scheme is being carried out very well there, and other local authorities should copy it.

As it is obvious that many different methods need to be applied, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated publicly, in dealing with the matter, is it not ludicrous for the Secretary of State for Social Services, in discussing these matters, to describe any policy of firmer regimes in detention centres as

"consciously recruiting sadists and bullies to staff …prisons for children "?

A large number of the people who commit vandalism do not end up in prison, and the nature of their offence does not mean that they should. I agree with the CPRS report on this matter. The subject is complicated, and it is far too easy to say that vandalism will be solved by a short sharp shock. In some areas it needs a bit of thought on the part of the local authorities to do something about it.

In view of my right hon. Friend's welcome comment, will he give an early reply to the fifteenth report of the Education, Arts and Home Office Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which deals specifically with the short, sharp shock, and shows on strong evidence from prison governors and prison officers that it is futile and self-defeating?

I shall certainly reply to that point, but we are discussing vandalism which presents a wide social problem. Although in one or two cases the solution to vandalism may be the short, sharp shock, it is much more complicated than that.