HC Deb 25 February 1936 vol 309 cc328-35

Motion made, and Question proposed. That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,630, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland in London and Edinburgh; expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899; a Subsidy for Transport Services to the Western Highlands and Islands; a Grant in lieu of Land Tax; and contributions towards the expenses of Probation, and of Remand Homes.

6.5 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

This Supplementary Estimate is mainly required to meet the cost of additional staff which had to be appointed to meet the increased pressure of work. This was clue to the fact that a branch of the Scottish Office was established in Edinburgh in January, 1935. The office has been found to be of great value to local authorities in Scotland, who now have a place where they can readily make contact with the administration of the Scottish Office. When my right hon. Friend opened the Scottish Office it was pointed out that it would give facilities for personal discussions between the Scottish Office and local authorities, and local authorities were invited to take full advantage of it. The response to the invitation has been greater than we anticipated and we have had to provide additional staff. During the first three weeks of February of this year, the staff held no fewer than 50 meetings with members and officials of local authorities and other bodies who had come to discuss questions in connection with local government services. That is in addition to the formal deputations which the Secretary of State and myself have received. That is the main cause of this Supplementary Estimate.

6.7 p.m.


I want to thank the Under-Secretary for his explanation of this Vote. It is good to know that a large number of the staff of the Scottish Office have been transferred to Edinburgh to carry on the work of meeting the representatives of local authorities. It has resulted in considerable time and money being saved by local authorities whose representatives formerly had to go to London. One likes to beleive that this expenditure is only the beginning of what may ultimately be a large removal of the Scottish staff from England and London and the concentrations of its operations in Scotland. There is one point I would like the Under-Secretary to explain, for he has made no reference to it. In the heading of this Estimate, there is a statement that this amount is to cover a subsidy for transport services to the Western Highland and Islands.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

I think that the hon. Member has been long enough in the House to know that the heading of a Supplementary Estimate has no relation to its contents. We are strictly limited to the actual items set out in the Paper.


As I understand, there are certain items which have to be borne on this Vote. There is an extra sum required somewhere, and as a Scotsman I want to know where it appears. I am not disputing your Ruling, Captain Bourne, but I want to know how much additional is going to the transport services to the Western Isles because it is a service which has been of great benefit, not only to the Western Isles, but to the people who trade with them.


I have now looked at the main Estimates and the particular item to which the hon. Member refers is under Sub-head E. That is not in this Supplementary Estimate, and therefore I am afraid it cannot arise.


It is mentioned in the heading to the Estimate, but not in the details of the Estimate.


I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has appreciated that in a Supplementary Estimate it is the custom to set out the title of the main Estimate, but the only items with which this Committee can deal are those actually included in the Supplementary Estimate. The question that he is trying to raise is Sub-head E, Class 1, Vote 24, Scottish Office. In this particular Supplementary Estimate there is no provision either for extra expenditure or for savings under that Sub-head. Therefore, on this occasion it does not arise.


I will leave that point, therefore, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will manage to get it in somehow if there is an explanation that ought to be given to the Committee. We are spending more money on this service, and we would like to know how it is being spent. The only other matter is the anticipated savings under Sub-head I. The Under-Secretary might give us some information where he intends to effect that saving, and if it will mean the depletion of the service or the lessening of its efficiency.

6.12 p.m.


We are not going to oppose this Vote. As one who is in the fortunate position of being connected with at least four of the administrative authorities in Scotland, I think that I can officially in their name congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for having set up the department which is under review at the moment. It has been a great service to the local authorities in Scotland. With my close connection with that work, particularly during the last four years, I can say without hesitation that the traditions of the Scottish Civil Service have been well maintained in the staffing of that department. It has made all the difference to much of our work. It has been far easier to get in touch with those who are, in turn, in contact with the political heads, and it has enabled us in many instances to get on much more quickly with our work. I want officially on behalf of the local authorities in Scotland, the Convention of Royal Burghs and the large burghs and cities to say that we are well pleased with the work that is being done and to thank the heads of the departments for the civility and courtesy which is always extended when we approach them in connection with our work.

I have no complaint to make of the increase in the contributions towards the expenses of remand homes, for which £245 is asked in this Estimate, except that sufficient has not been asked for. One of the difficulties in administration in Scotland is the fact that we have no proper homes to which magistrates can remand young persons, not for the purposes of punishment, or for branding them as criminals, but for the purpose of giving them an opportunity to be reclaimed. As a magistrate I recently found myself in a most difficult position. A young person was before me charged with theft. The conditions in his home were not good. If I had sent him to gaol it would only have meant that he would go back eventually to the same home surroundings, and probably there would have been a repetition of his offence, and in order that I might feel that I had done my duty by that young person I had to delay my decision while I made inquiries of the Scottish Office and elsewhere to ascertain whether there was an appropriate home to which I could send him, not for punishment, because I believe he was more sinned against than sinning, but with the object of reclaiming him.

I should not have objected to a far larger Supplementary Estimate if it had been for the purpose of giving us in Scotland some central institution to which we could send young persons with the knowledge that they would be properly looked after and put on the right lines once more. Although the whole question cannot now be debated, I hope that when the Estimates are submitted it will be found that steps have been taken to give us such a central home. Let me again say that we on this side shall not oppose this Vote. I will not say that we are quite pleased with it. It may be that it is only a step towards complete Scottish Government by the Scottish people, but the work of administration in Scotland has been made easier by the setting up of this Department.

6.18 p.m.


I do not know whether to be gratified or not by the increase in the expenditure on remand homes, because I do not know all the facts which lie behind it. If this extra expenditure is necessitated by an increase in youthful crime in Scotland we cannot feel gratified; but, on the other hand, it may be gratifying. I should like to be told the reasons for the increase. Has there been an increase in crime among the youthful population, or are we spending more on trying to bring back these alleged youthful criminals into the proper channels. I feel that in certain cases this extra money on remand homes might be saved, and I would like the attention of the Lord Advocate to this point. It is the practice in the City of Glasgow when a young person who is below a certain age is arrested—most of them are boys—to send him to a remand home before he is tried. Bail can be easily secured by an adult but not for this class of alleged youthful criminals, if you can call a boy of this age a criminal. I think the term "alleged wrongdoer" would sound better. It might be there would be no necessity for this increased expenditure on remand homes if some reasonable system of bailing out these young offenders were adopted.

I approached the Procurator-Fiscal in Glasgow the other week with reference to a number of boys who had come, not from very bad homes, but from ordinary working class homes. I said to him, "I will go bail for the lads." He told me, "Under the Youthful Offenders Act you cannot do this with a youthful criminal. He has to go to a remand home and wait there till he is tried." I asked him, "What would happen if something serious occurred at a boy's home and it became desirable that he should be let out?" The Procurator-Fiscal told me, "In such circumstances we should have to take a risk, but we have no legal power to let him out." I cannot raise now the whole question of how to deal with the problem of the youthful offender, because I should be immediately ruled out of order, but I hope that some day it will be discussed, because there is no more serious problem confronting us at the moment than presented by the young people in our big cities who have failed to keep outside the law; but I feel that we ought to consider giving the Procurator-Fiscal or others in authority power to release these youthful offenders on bail.

Another point I wish to raise in connection with remand homes is this: I know they were introduced with a good object, that of removing youths from the influence of adult criminals, and to that extent it was a laudable object; but I think part of the money now being spent might be saved if the authorities did not in all cases insist on these young offenders going to remand homes but allowed them to go home, even without formal arrest, for a day or two. Further, I think the Secretary of State for Scotland might devote a little attention to improving these remand homes in our big cities. If any of this money is being spent on such improvement I welcome the fact, because the Committee can take it from me that the homes stand in need of considerable improvement. Consider the one in the City of Glasgow. I say no word against the officials in charge of it. If we are to have remand homes where children are kept three or four days—and in certain cases that may be unavoidable—they ought to be better situated than they are and provide better accommodation and more air space. The officials in Glasgow do the best they can, but I do not think the location of the home is suitable. In the old days one had to have the remand home near to the county building where the sheriff was going to try these young offenders, but in these clays of rapid motor transport there is no longer any need for the remand home to be in the centre of the city. Remand homes should be taken away from crowded centres of population and better accommodation should be provided.

6.28 p.m.


I should like to tell the Committee something of my experiences under the old system of the School Board in dealing with what is called the youthful defaulter. It was not so much the child who was at fault. The fault was in the system which gave the people homes in which it was sometimes next to impossible properly to rear children. We who were on that Board, 25 in number, realised that if we were to restrain the growth of the seeds of ill-doing already planted in the child we must change the child's surroundings. We therefore took a small estate called—


No doubt this is very interesting, but I do not see its connection with the matter now before the Committee.


I am dealing with the system of remand homes.


That subject should be raised on the main Estimates, so far as it refers to the general system. We are dealing now with the increase in the Vote.


I was going to point out the reason for the increase in the Vote. I am trying to help those who will reply by a contribution from my own practical experience, but if information of that kind is not wanted there is no reason why I should give it. In dealing with any form of remand home you have to ask what is the function of a remand home. I can deal with the function of a remand home under this Supplementary-Estimate, I hope. A remand home is as place of detention until a certain time has elapsed, during which whatever has been done by a juvenile culprit is put into a form upon which a judge can judge the case and give a decision. Instead of the conditions which now prevail, it would be better to have the system which I have described. I can see no possibility of good results from children being confined in a congested area, where they make contacts which you have tried to prevent by taking them away from home. If we want to bring a corrective influence to bear upon children, after we have taken them away from the bad influences and put them into a remand home, we should cut away the contacts; but you are not cutting away the contacts if you, are placing these children all together.


I have listened to the hon. Member, but he must raise this question on the main Estimates.


We are discussing the question of money, and I am discussing a system which means the expenditure of more money.


The hon. Member is raising the whole question, but that is only in order on the main Estimates.


I will, therefore, stick to this sum of money. This sum is absolutely insufficient to deal with any reform in the existing remand homes. I am surprised that hon. Members who are so familiar with slipping through millions of money should give so little consideration to this matter. If anything should touch the hearts of men and women it is that children are being deflected from the path which they ought to tread, and we come along with handfuls of halfpennies to deal with a huge question. Let us not forget that unless we take better care in regard to the things that are done in the remand homes we are not only laying a foundation but we are putting on that foundation a sub-soil and 'an upper soil for the development of criminals. I plead with the Committee to keep those considerations in view.

6.34 p.m.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

We have heard only two topics discussed in the Debate which has taken place. The first is in regard -to the Establishment of the Edinburgh Office, in respect of which there has been nothing in the way of criticism or disapproval. I welcomed the appreciative reference, made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), to the work which the staff at the new Department are doing, and I am sure will continue to do, in facilitating contact between the Central Office and the local authorities of Scotland. As regards the remand homes, the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) seemed to think that the additional expenditure under this head was rendered necessary either by the failure or the refusal of the authorities, particularly in Glasgow, to allow bail to juvenile offenders. I am happy to be able to assure him that the expenditure covered by this Estimate is not associated with either of those causes since it is attributable solely to the improvement of the accommodation afforded in the remand homes. It is not in any way associated with an increase in juvenile crime or with the specific point to which he referred.

That being so, I doubt whether I should be in order in pursuing the discussion upon the specific difficulty raised by the hon. Member, in regard to the granting of bail in such cases, and as to whether that difficulty requires administrative action either by myself or by someone else, or legislative action. I have noted with care the point that he raised, and I shall be prepared to go fully into it if he so desires. Those are the only outstanding points which require attention, and I trust that the Committee will now see their way to grant the Estimate.

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