HC Deb 15 April 1948 vol 449 cc1279-84
Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 51, line 41, to leave out Clause 63.

This Clause was inserted against my advice during the Committee stage, and I am obliged, therefore, to make much the same speech tonight as I made in Committee in opposition to it. The Clause gives to the courts a statutory power to call for periodical reports upon the progress and conduct of any person detained in an approved school, who has been ordered to be sent there under the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act; in other words, it gives statutory power to the court which sends a child to an approved school to call, as a right, for reports periodically—I do not say how often—on the progress and conduct of the child who has been sent there.

9.15 p.m.

I want to emphasise that, in suggesting to the House that this Clause is unnecessary and should be omitted, I am not putting forward the view that it is undesirable for courts to take an interest in the subsequent fate of persons in respect of whom they have had occasion to make an order. It is obviously very useful, from the point of view of helping their judgment in future cases, that they should have some knowledge of the results of their work, and that they should know whether a certain youth whom they may have sent, after careful and anxious consideration, for training had in fact made good, and whether their judgment about him had proved right. There is nothing at all between me and the persons who supported this Clause on that score.

What I say is that no court which has in the past been anxious to obtain information about a case which has been before it has, so far as I am aware, ever found any difficulty in getting the necessary information. It was not alleged in Committee or, at any rate, no examples were given, that a report had been withheld from any court that wished to have a report about one of its cases. I do not believe that the authorities concerned with any young persons who have come before the courts would ever withhold reports at reasonable intervals to the court which was interested. They are only too de- lighted when the magistrates or other persons who have had occasion to send young persons to them take a lively and active interest in the whole matter. Therefore, if a court asks for information, it already gets it.

The Clause, however, goes much further than that, and suggests that there should be statutory power to demand this information. I do not say that if this power were given it would necessarily be abused, or that any very great harm would be done, but I say that there is no need for it, and that all the facilities can be made available, and would undoubtedly be made available, to the courts without any such statutory power. I think it is wrong in principle to put into an Act of Parliament a power for which no need has been shown. Secondly, I think it is wrong in principle that we should give power to a court or any other body to demand that some other body periodically reports, unless it has at the time when the report is demanded some function to perform in the matter.

It is perfectly clear, I think, that when a court asks for these reports, it has no longer any function to perform concerning them. Once an order has been made and the person has gone to an institution, it is for the authorities there to regulate the whole of the future treatment of the person concerned, unless, of course, for any reason that person has to be brought back to the court for some offence, or for a revision of the order; and in that case there can be no need for any additional statutory provision for the information to be supplied.

I also think, and I mentioned this in Committee, that while there seems to be no actual need for statutory power, there is the possibility of one or perhaps two rather undesirable results. It may well be that if the power were in the statute periodical reports would be asked for almost as a matter of routine. That would add to the work of the people who prepare them and to the papers in the office of the court, and would serve no useful purpose. I do not think that we should add to the work in that way unnecessarily, in the absence of any good ground or proof for introducing this power.

As I have said, the court has in fact no control over the case once it has left the court, and I think that the giving to the court of statutory power to call for information might well persuade certain members of the court to think that they had some right to interfere. They might well ask at some future date why that power was given to them specifically by Act of Parliament if it were not that they might express to the authorities their displeasure at what was being done or their belief that the case had not subsequently been well handled. It is not desirable that the court should be encouraged to think at this stage that it has any further control over the case.

Those are the disadvantages of giving a statutory power. I re-emphasise what I said in my opening remarks: I do not think there is anything at all between the Government view and what the supporters of this Clause said they wanted. All they wanted was that information should be available, on request, to courts. I do not think there is any need for a statutory power for that purpose. Nobody mentioned a single case where a report had been withheld, and I do not believe that it would ever be withheld. We gave an assurance in Committee that if hon. Members had any doubts about this, we would be prepared to set those doubts at rest by issuing instructions to all the authorities in all the institutions which might be concerned with this that when a court asked for periodical information, that information should be granted. I believe that such an instruction is unnecessary, but we gave the assurance that we would do that. I ask the House to say that a statutory power of this kind is unnecessary and that it is wrong in principle to put in such a power when no need for it has been shown.

Earl Winterton

I find myself—and I believe some other hon. Members do—in exactly the same difficulty as we were in during the Committee stage. This Clause was carried against the Government by 18 votes to three. It was an entirely non-party vote, and only two non-official Members voted for the Government. The Under-Secretary used exactly the same contradictory arguments on that occasion as he has used tonight. He says that it is undesirable that the courts should ask for periodical reports. That is the effect of his argument—

Mr. Younger


Earl Winterton

Yes. He said it was undesirable. I noted his words very carefully at the time. He said that after the child or young person had been convicted, the courts should not have any further interest in him, but that it was for the school to deal with him.

Mr. Younger

The noble Lord will forgive me, but that is not so. I said that it was undesirable that the courts should be encouraged to think that they hail any further right to interfere in the case or that they had any function in the case. I thought it was extremely desirable that they should be interested in knowing, for their information in regard to future cases, how their previous decisions had worked out. That would be a good thing and there would be no difficulty in their having that information, What I said was undesirable was that they should be encouraged to think, as I believe they would be by this Clause, that they have a function to perform in respect of the case. They have no function to perform in those circumstances.

Earl Winterton

The hon. Gentleman has agreed to everything I said. He has said that the court should not be encouraged to believe that they have any right to interfere in the case. The Clause contains no suggestion that they have any right. The case has been disposed of. All the Clause does is give them the power—I ask the House to note this—which the hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech tells us that they already possess by custom, of asking for periodical reports. However, for some obscure reason which has not been made clear to the House on this occasion and was not made clear to the Committee, and was consequently responsible for the majority of 18 against three in favour of the Clause, the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to have put into the Measure a power which is in fact already enjoyed by the court in the shape of the custom which has grown up.

The hon. Gentleman uses as his principal argument for objecting to this the fact that if it were put into the Bill it would be an indication to the courts to do something quite different from what they are doing at the present time. According to his own admission, at the present time they do, in fact, in a particular type of case, ask for, and are granted, reports about the progress of a child. I should have thought that I knew something about the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. What is being done is in accord with the spirit of that Act, but for some reason that I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman refuses to give statutory enactment to it, for the trifling reason that if statutory enactment is given to it, it will encourage the courts to go beyond what they are doing at the present time. On his own admission they are doing what this Clause seeks to lay down. I do not want to go to a Division on it, but it is regrettable. In regard to our procedure here, I should say that we are not content with the present procedure. Amendments which have been defeated upstairs are not called, but when a vote on [...] Clause has gone against the Government it is discussed in the House, and we are merely given the same answers as we were given upstairs: It is unfortunate.

Mr. Ede

The first part of the last observation of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) was not quite fair to the Government.

Earl Winterton

I was not attacking the Government. I was doing something which was not strictly in Order, perhaps; I was criticising the procedure on the Report stage.

Mr. Ede

The latter part of last evening and a considerable part of today I have devoted to dealing with pledges that I gave in Standing Committee, and I have fulfilled those pledges by new Clauses and substantial Amendments to the Bill. If it was not possible to meet my hon. Friends and Members of the Opposition I have quite frankly said that the draftsmen were not able to provide the necessary words. This is really an administrative problem. We all know the difficult position in which a body is put when it is stated in a statute that it has a right to do something. It entirely alters the relationship, which, in this case, I am glad to say has grown up between many courts and schools.

The schools welcome visitors and contacts from the courts, but they are always on the basis that it is an act of courtesy on the part of the schools to receive the visitor or make the report that is required. In fact, there are one or two schools and other institutions which are becoming such show places that I am told there is rarely a day when they do not get a visitor of some kind or other. On occasions they would like to have a clear day in which to get on with their ordinary work without interruption. I desire that the voluntary co-operation between the courts and the schools should continue. I do not want to put the courts in the position where they can of right demand a report with regard to a particular case. I want to emphasise to the magistrates and to the schools that from the day the young person enters the school he becomes the entire responsibility of the staff and the managers of the school. While they will be glad to give an account of how the young person is getting on, the responsibility for that child on the part of the court has ceased from the moment he enters the school.

9.30 p.m.

I venture to suggest that that is a sound administrative line to adopt, and that one desires the relationship between the courts and the schools to be on a voluntary and not on a statutory basis. I am taking steps to make it quite clear to the schools that that should be the basis of their relationship with the courts who send them children, or with courts who might desire to send a child if they thought, when they saw the school, that it was the suitable place for a child whom they had under consideration or whom they might possibly in future have under consideration. I hope that the House will feel that this is the best way in which to arrange this relationship, and I can assure the noble Lord that it is no sense of disrespect to the views expressed by the Committee that I ask the House to reverse the decision taken in Committee.

Amendment agreed to.