HC Deb 07 December 1955 vol 547 cc381-3

3.30 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, and the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937, with respect to escapes from the care of fit persons, from approved schools and from remand homes or special reception centres. The purpose of the Bill which I am seeking permission to introduce is to repair an omission and make good a defect in the existing Acts, the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 and the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937. I know that local authorities in England and Wales and Scotland are anxious that this amendment should be made.

As the House will be aware, at present provision is made under both Acts for the protection of children and young persons who are in need of care and guardianship, or are exposed to moral danger, or are falling in with bad associates, or who, as may be the case, are beyond control. In such cases, where a juvenile court is satisfied that a child or a young person is in need of care he may be committed by a court order to the protection of a "fit person," or sent to an approved school or remand home, or other arrangements made under the terms of the Acts for his guardianship. A "fit person" may be an individual or a local authority.

Cases where this kind of action may be taken include those, for example, where a child under 16 years of age is residing in a house of ill-repute, or where a young girl is allowed to consort with, or be employed by, a person of known immoral character. In those circumstances, where it has been found necessary to take action or commit a child or young person to the care of a fit person as defined in the Acts, and where that child or young person subsequently runs away, or escapes, no warrant at the moment is necessary for his apprehension and return.

It has been discovered, however—and this is the crux of the problem—that where a child or young person has been committed by an order made in Scotland and has gone or been taken to England, no adequate procedure exists for his return to Scotland. Similarly, if an order is made by a juvenile court in England or Wales, and the child escapes to Scotland, there is no adequate provision made for his return to the country in which the order is made and to the fit person to whose care the child has been committed.

There is another difficulty which has become apparent, a lack of power to deal with the case where someone abducts a child from Scotland into England or vice versa. By that act, the child is taken beyond the jurisdiction of the court which has dealt with the case. It is easy to see that, simply by the crossing of the border, the whole object of committing a child to the care of a fit person to safeguard its moral and physical welfare can be frustrated.

The Bill proposes to make good that defect in the law. It provides that the recovery authorised by the English Act, which can at present only be effective in England and Wales, shall operate in any part of Great Britain, and that the procedure under the Scottish Act shall also be valid in any part of Great Britain. Happily, the number of such cases where this type of difficulty arises is not large, but we are dealing with children in need of protection and it is, I submit, right that their welfare should not be jeopardised by something which obviously was not intended in the original Act and is a short-coming for which at present there is no practical solution.

I think it right that I should acknowledge and put on record my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Joint Under-Secretary of State and their officials for the assistance which, in consultation with the Home Office, they have rendered to me in this matter. It was in reply to a Question of mine on this subject that the Secretary of State admitted that a defect existed, and he offered to help me if I took advantage of the procedure afforded by this House. That the right hon. Gentleman has done, and while I cannot thank him personally now, as he is not present in the Chamber, my thanks will be on record. This House is always generous and at its best when considering these human social problems, and I hope that I may obtain its consent to this Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hannan, Mr. Ede, Colonel Gomme-Duncan, Mr. Hoy, Major Anstruther-Gray, Mrs. Hill, Mr. Mitchison, Sir D. Robertson, Mr. Malcolm MacPherson, Colonel Stoddart-Scott, and Mr. Steele.