HC Deb 25 July 1958 vol 592 cc851-4
Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 35, to leave out from "keep" to "the" in line 37, and to insert: a foster child in any premises and the local authority are of opinion that it would be detrimental to that child to be kept by him in those premises".

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the Amendment in page 5, line 10, after "person", insert "is keeping or" is consequential upon this one, so they may be discussed together.

Miss Vickers

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

There was a great measure of agreement in Committee that this Clause needed some change. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) then said: I should like briefly to support what the hon. Member for Devonport … has said. Apart from the powerful arguments that she has advanced, this seems to me to be a limiting Clause, the ultimate effects of which one might not be able to foresee, and one might thereby create unintended loopholes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th July, 1958; c. 40.] I spoke on this subject on Second Reading, but in Committee I withdrew the Amendment as I felt that my wording was not the most satisfactory, though I hoped that it would be looked at. The present provision is unsatisfactory and is a poor substitute for the present Section 211 (1) of the 1950 Act, which specifically lays down that the welfare authority may fix the maximum number of children under 18 years of age who may be kept in any premises in which a foster child is kept; and may also impose conditions limiting the number of children.

Here the limit is on the number of children accommodated mainly for fostering. I realise that that brings in private homes—and there is good reason for that—but it still does not apply to what are often called the "back street baby farmers" who in many ways are a very much greater menace. There is strong ground for saying that local authorities should have powers to limit the number of children. The Public Health Act, 1936, covers all children privately fostered, but I understand that this Clause, as now worded, would not operate in the same way.

Local authorities could not limit the number of children, who could, therefore, include the foster parents' own children, children of relatives of the foster parents, daily-minded children, and children who could be put there by the local authority under the child protection provisions. There is now nothing in the Clause to stop all those children coming into the premises.

I realise that under the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act, 1948, the local authority can limit that type of children, but not the others that I have mentioned. The Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act deals with only one or more children in protection cases. Therefore, I want to require local authorities to be able to limit the number of foster-children only. Section 201 of the 1950 Act can impose a limit on the total number of children. The foster-parents may have a total number of foster-children limited to them, but, as the Act stands at present, they can have any number of other children. That is what I want to safeguard in this Clause.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to second the Amendment.

12.30 p.m.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers), I still think the Amendment goes far wider than hon. Members would wish. Nor do I think they would wish to impose these very close investigations on ordinary family foster-care. Indeed, if a child were received for a holiday for a month all these conditions would have to be imposed. They are not applicable to private placings in the same way as they are to permanent institutional placings where homes for foster-children are involved.

The basis of this subsection is to deal, and properly so, with thorough investigation, checking and inspection of commercial institutions where foster-children may be kept. It gives the local authority power to make requirements, quite rightly, about the staffing of institutions, accommodation, equipment, medical arrangements and the keeping of records. This Amendment would extend the application of all those investigations and requirements to every household in which a foster child is kept. The conditions specified, apart from those in paragraph (a) and (b) relating to the number, age and sex of the foster-children and the accommodation and equipment provided, would not be appropriate in the case of private arrangements.

The Amendment would restrict the exercise of local authorities' power to those cases in which a child was being kept or was going to be kept by a person or in premises detrimental to the child. In such a case, as I pointed out in Committee, local authorities have powers under Clause 4 (3), under which in certain circumstances any child is prohibited from being received, and under Clause 7 there is power to apply for the removal of any child.

I cannot see the point of my hon. Friend's comment that there is no limit to the number of children who may be received. The very powers which the local authorities have in Clauses 4 (3) and 7 will give them full opportunity to decide whether too many children are being taken into foster-care, whether there is already a large family and whether there are not adequate provisions for a foster-child to be added to it. I am sure that we are not divided in our intention that protection should properly be given, and I assure my hon. Friend that those two Clauses give local authorities the power which they need for private placings.

I sincerely feel that this Amendment goes much wider than it ought and would be a gross interference with ordinary family foster-child placings. For that reason, I am afraid that I am unable to accept the Amendment.

Mr. W. Wells

I accept the logic of the hon. Lady's answer to the hon. Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers), but I think on reflection that some little difficulty may arise simply from the way in which this Clause is worded. I refer to the use of the words: Where a person is keeping or pro-poses to keep foster-children in premises used … wholly or mainly for that purpose … I can foresee some difficulties of interpretation arising, and I hope that I carry the Solicitor-General for Scotland with me, from the use of the words or mainly." A lot of argument might arise about that, and I should have thought, if it is too late in this Bill, at any rate when we come to deal with the consolidation Measure that some thought should be given to the question of the retention of those words.

Amendment negatived.