HC Deb 05 July 1963 vol 680 cc781-809

  1. (1) The parent or guardian or near relative of any person detained in an approved school may apply to the appropriate court for the order under which he is detained to be revoked. The court may revoke that order and substitute for it any other order that could be made if the person was before the court under section 84 (6) of the principal Act.
  2. (2) The appropriate court shall be the juvenile court acting for the petty sessional division or place within which the person making the application is residing.
  3. (3) The power to revoke an order under this section shall be without prejudice to the power under section 14 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 of the managers of an approved school to release any person and to exercise supervisory powers over him.—[Miss Bacon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Miss Bacon

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree, having sat through the Com-

mittee stage of this Bill, and also those hon. and right hon. Members who were in Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill, that I hold rather strong views about the whole problem of the management and control of approved schools. The reason why we on this side of the House have not put down a very far-reaching and very wide new new Clause on this occasion is not because we have in any way detracted from our views on the whole of the approved school system but rather because we thought that we would choose two points with respect to approved schools which had some chance of being accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, we have chosen these two new Clauses, one with respect to children under the age of 13 and the other with respect to the revocation of approved school orders.

First of all with regard to the first new Clause which we can discuss, which provides that no child under 13 years of age should be committed to an approved school. At first sight this might seem a very tall order and something which is almost revolutionary, but it is interesting to note that the Ingleby Committee's Report, although it rejected this recommendation, said that many of the witnesses who came before it were in favour of what is now our new Clause—in other words, were not in favour of committing to an approved school any child under the age of 13.

We do not mean, of course, that children under the age of 13 can do as they like and get away with it and not be dealt with in some way. But there are many ways in which children under the age of 13 can be dealt with other than by being sent to an approved school. I will return to that later. I feel, and I am sure that my hon. Friends feel, and, indeed, that many people in the country feel, strongly that although we keep giving lip-service to the idea that approved schools are educational in character, nevertheless in the minds of most people in the country they are of a penal nature and give to the children sent to them a stigma which seems to remain with them all their lives.

Maybe it is not right that this should be so. Maybe the curriculum in the approved school is educational in character. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that throughout the whole of a child's life, when he or she has been sent to an approved school, the stigma remains and that it is often said of such a child that he or she is an approved school boy or girl. I believe very firmly that this ought not to occur as a result of something which has been done by a child under the age of 13.

We have at present three classes of approved schools—junior, intermediate and senior. Our new Clause would mean that we would not in future have junior approved schools, although this would not mean that such approved schools would be closed down and the teachers thrown out of work. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that if he had the places thus made available in the junior approved schools he could make use of them very well indeed for those awaiting places in intermediate and senior approved schools—for those of whom he has spoken today, who spend weeks in remand homes awaiting places in approved schools.

What is the position today? An older child is sent to an approved school for a maximum of three years and the managers decide when he or she shall be released. But if a child is 12 years of age or under then the period is not only a maximum of three years. That child, if he is 10 or 11 years of age, can be kept in an approved school until a few months after school-leaving age. Therefore, the younger the child is when he goes into an approved school the likelier it is that he will spend a longer time in it.

If we look at the excellent booklet which has been issued by the Home Office, Cmnd. 2051, entitled Statistics Relating to Approved Schools, Remand Homes and Attendance Centres in England and Wales, we can see how this works in practice. Incidentally, I would remind the House that it is only as a result of our efforts on the Criminal Justice Bill that we now have these annual statistics at all. Otherwise, we should not have had the information before us at the present time. If we look at Table 10, on page 6, we see the number of months that different classes of children are kept in approved schools.

It is rather remarkable to note that in the junior approved schools, that is, the approved schools catering for those who enter under the age of 13, the children are detained for much longer periods than are those in the intermediate and senior approved schools. Indeed, I see that in 1961, the year to which the booklet refers, nine children were in junior approved schools for over 60 months, that is, for over five years. Just fancy young children going into approved schools and being kept there for this long period of time.

The reason why I believe they are kept in these junior approved schools so long is that the managers have a choice of two evils, either to keep the young child in the school until school-leaving age or to release the child, when he or she would go back to his or her own school. Such a child, having done two or three years in an approved school, would, on returning to its original school, find itself a stranger in that school, a stranger among strange people, with a curriculum quite different from the one in the approved school.

I believe that in these cases there is a tendency for a child to commit further mischief and even, perhaps, to find him-self back in the approved school once again. Therefore, I believe that it would be much better if we could get away from committing young children under the age of 13 to approved schools.

I have a feeling that the right hon. Gentleman is going to say that the result of this would be that hordes of young children of 10, 11 and 12 years of age who ought to be in approved schools would be suddenly let loose on the community. But again I am indebted to this excellent little booklet because it gives us the figures. In 1961, the number of girls under the age of 13 committed to approved schools was 46. The number of boys under the age of 13 committed to approved schools was 932, that is, some 970 boys and girls per annum in England and Wales. This number, perhaps, may sound rather a lot, but let us not forget that county boroughs and county councils together number 145, and they are pretty big authorities. If we do a bit of arithmetic and divide 970 by 145 we get the figure of six or seven per annum in each authority.

Surely we are not going to say that big authorities like county councils or county boroughs cannot find some other way of dealing each year with six or seven youngsters under the age of 13 other than by sending them to approved schools. After all, the courts can do all kinds of things. They can put a child under supervision. They can send a child who has committed an offence to an attendance centre. I should like to see a great extension of that principle, where children live at home but have each week to put in a few hours at the attendance centre.

Some of these children are, perhaps, maladjusted and could surely be found places within the education system of the local authorities for maladjusted children. I believe, too, that some of these children would be found to be mentally backward and could, perhaps, best be dealt with by the health authorities.

2.0 p.m.

There are some children who come before the courts because they are in need of care, protection and control who—not the most difficult cases, but some of them—could be taken into care. There are all these things which could be done instead of branding children for life as being"approved school" boys or girls because of something which they did when under the age of 13. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this sympathetically, even though I understand the Motion is not one on which we may be called specifically to vote.

I turn now to the other proposed new Clause—Revocation of approved school orders. At present the position is that when a child is brought before the courts for an offence, or under care and protection proceedings, the magistrates who commit the child to an approved school for an indefinite length of time have no power to state a period—six months, eighteen months or two years—as in the case of an adult person who has committed a crime and is sent to prison. Children are committed to approved schools and it is left entirely to the school managers to determine when they shall leave the school.

This is unique. If a person has committed the foulest crime he usually knows how long he is to be kept in prison. If a child is made the subject of a fit person order, the parents can at any time appeal to the magistrates for the order to be revoked. But approved school children are put into the school for an indefinite tune and the parents have no right to return to the court and to tell the magistrates,"We think our Johnny"—or"our Mary"—"is now fit to come out of the school". The only thing they can do is write to their Member of Parliament, or to the right hon. Gentleman.

We have all received letters from parents who have children in approved schools. I have never yet had a case where a child has been let out from the school as a result of my writing to the Home Office. What usually happens, I suspect, is that when the Home Secretary receives a request from a Member of Parliament, he does not have any independent inquiry or send someone to the child's home to see what kind of a home it is. All that is done is to write to the managers of the school, who state that in their opinion the child ought not to come out of the school—obviously. So very much rests on the managers. Yet over half of our approved schools are run by managers who are self-appointed and responsible to no one.

Only 25 approved schools out of a total of 118 are run by local authorities. There are 30 schools which are run by voluntary bodies, such as religious organisations, and 51 are run by local committees. Perhaps a hundred years ago someone called a few people together at a village meeting and it was agreed to start a reformatory school. The school had been carried on since and when one of that little group retired or died another person was co-opted. I am not saying that there are no good managers among these people. Some are good. But that is the procedure in a number of our present-day approved schools.

A good many children in approved schools, particularly girls, have never committed a crime. They are in the school because they were in need of care and protection. I speak from memory. But I think 64 per cent. of the girls and only 5 per cent. of the boys are in these schools because they were found to be in need of care and protection. They have not committed any crime, and yet their parents have no chance whatever to go to a court and to say,"We think that our child should be released from the approved school".

There is evidence of some astounding cases. I apologise to hon. Members for referring again to the case to which I referred during the Committee stage proceedings. But I quote it again because there was an extraordinary sequel to it. A girl aged 13½ years was committed to an approved school two years ago because she was found to be in moral danger. She had good parents and a good home. She was the youngest of the family and, as sometimes happens, she was wayward and stayed out late. On one or two occasions she stayed out all night. Her parents were persuaded to allow her to appear before the court as being in need of care and protection. They thought that she would be away from home for about six months.

When the parents came to me, their daughter had been away from home for two years and was 15½ years old. It seems incredible that a girl could be shut up in an approved school for such a period. As I said to the Home Secretary during the Committee stage proceedings, if he insisted on shutting up every girl in danger of becoming pregnant he would want many more approved school places.

The parents of this girl wanted her back at home. She had come home for holidays and was all right. But when she went back to the approved school, which was run by a religious organisation, things were so strict that she had absconded and had proved extremely difficult. Then, suddenly, this girl was moved from a Lancashire town to a training school in Liverpool. Her parents still visited her regularly once every month although it was a long journey. The managers of the approved school would not allow the girl to go home. But they had the power to send her to this other establishment.

This is the extraordinary end to the story. A few weeks ago the parents went to see their daughter at the training school, and they were told that she had brought a boy to the school and said that he was her brother. Her parents told the school authorities that the boy was not their daughter's brother and that they had no son."Well," said the training school authorities,"You had better take her home because she is in moral danger so long as she stays here." And so the girl went home. I have just heard a more incredible thing still—that the man whom the girl had taken to the training school was a maintenance man employed at the approved school where the girl had been for over two years, and there she had been carrying on with him. The man has since been dismissed. Over £1,000 of public money had been spent on this girl and what good had it done in the end? Just none.

The girl's parents, who were good parents, could do nothing but appeal to me. I appealed to the Home Secretary, and all the right hon. Gentleman could do was write to the managers who refused to allow the girl to come home in the first place. All we ask, by the acceptance of this Clause, is that parents should have the right to go to a court and put their case to the magistrates, after a decent interval, to endeavour to get their children out of approved schools. I feel certain that the right hon. Gentleman will accept his very modest proposal as being an improvement in the present position relating to approved schools.

Mr. C. Royle

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has presented such a case in favour of the Clauses that we are discussing that there is not a great deal more left to be said. I think that her case is unanswerable and I wish to support her.

The proposal that children under the age of 13 should not be sent to approved schools seems to me similar to the principle relating to the question of the age of criminal responsibility. We must re-orientate ourselves and make up our minds about what approach should be made by the House of Commons to cases involving children of such tender years.

We must have some completely new thinking about what might only be described as naughtiness of children of this age. There are few countries in the world where such children are regarded as criminals, as they are in this country.

I know that it is something which does not relate to these Clauses, but we have succeeded in persuading the HomeOffice that the age of 10 is the right age for criminal responsibility, although we should have liked the age to be greater, or, at all events, a little higher. In line with that thinking it seems that children under the age of 13 should not be put in approved schools. We have to overhaul our thoughts on this matter. We have lacked in thought on it for a long time.

As the right hon. Gentleman said in discussion of a previous Amendment, it may be very many years before there is another opportunity of doing anything about legislation for children. It is some years since we had the last opportunity. I dread the years which may intervene between now and further legislation if something is not done about this matter. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to seize this opportunity, while we have this important rethinking, to make it clear that it is the view of the House that a child under 13 should not be sent to an approved school.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are many other ways of dealing with children of that age. It is not necessary to send them to schools of this character. Today, we have discussed the question of the lack of accommodation in remand homes. There is the physical problem of building and finding enough places of a suitable type. If this Clause were adopted we should release for other more important needs institutions which are being used at approved schools for the accommodation of children under 13. This might give physical assistance in the problem of remand homes.

I turn to the other new Clause—Revocation of approved school orders. I stress that in this new Clause my hon. Friends have used the word"may". It will be left in the hands of approved school managers to decide whether that revocation shall take place in the light of circumstances. The opportunity which is lacking at present should be created for parents to have a constant interest in children sent to approved schools. My hon. Friend used the word"indefinite." A child was sent to an approved school for an indefinite period. That creates in the minds of parents a lack of hope, almost a recognition that the child will be there for a long time, perhaps two or three years.

In many cases parents allow interest in their own children to drift to the managers and they lose their own interest in the child. It is a good thing if they can continue to take an interest in the school where the child is resident. If this new Clause were adopted, parents would always have hope in mind. They would be anxious to go to the school to watch the progress of their offspring and to seize the opportunity when that progress took place to make application for revocation of the order. There seems a great argument for the Clause in that respect.

2.15 p.m.

I support what my hon. Friend said about the management of approved schools, which has such a bearing on this matter. I want to be as kind as possible to people who render service to the community. They do so with the best intentions, but we are told that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think of some of the bodies with whom I have had contact. These are staffed by most desirable people, but by the time many of them are appointed to the bodies they are approaching middle age, if they are not well into it. Their knowledge of children of this kind is very limited. They take a sort of committee pride in their work. In some cases they are very loth to think of releasing a child on licence. They act in a benevolent and charitable way, but full understanding of the problems of the child is far from their thoughts.

The fact that they are self-appointed is something which we should look at very seriously. No one has anything to do with their appointment except that the Home Secretary gives final approval. When a manager dies or retires, his colleagues get together to appoint a suitable similar type of person to take his place. This goes on in perpetuity, with the best intentions in the world, but without any regard to the correctness of the situation and the wider aspects of what a manager of an approved school ought to be doing and thinking.

It is fair to say that where an approved school is run by a local authority there is a very different situation. The choice of managers is made much more carefully. There is close contact with the local authority, which can easily drop a manager who does not measure up to the work he has to do. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a danger in refusing the right of the parent to apply for revocation. Where schools of this nature are in operation there is a great argument that the parent should have the right of application for revocation of an order. Otherwise, in many cases children will be kept in the schools far longer than they should be.

We have had much to say about this matter in the last few weeks and new Clauses and Amendments such as these were discussed in Standing Committee at great length. We felt that we were making some impression on the Joint Under-Secretary, if we were not making it on the Home Secretary. I add my plea to that of my hon Friend that on this important question the right hon. Gentleman should come with us and not force us to take it to a Division. Let him show his power of acceptance by saying that this is a good idea and one on which he can come along with us to improve the situation in approved schools.

Mr. Brooke

These new Clauses deal with two separate but related matters, and it may be helpful if I now say a few words about each of them.

The first new Clause suggests that no child under the age of 13 shall be committed to an approved school. I really must get guidance on what Parliament wants me to do. Does it want me to seek to deal effectively with juvenile delinquency, or does it not? If it wishes me to deal effectively with juvenile delinquency, it must not take from the courts certain powers that they now exercise, though normally with reluctance, when they come to the conclusion that the only thing to do with a certain boy or girl is to send him or her to an approved school.

It will be within the knowledge of the House that, under the principal Act, a court is not to order a child under 10 to be sent to an approved school unless satisfied that the child cannot be suitably dealt with otherwise. About 50 children a year under the age of 10 are sent to approved schools because the courts have decided that there is nothing else suitable to do with them. What would happen if the new Clause were accepted would be that the court would be told that the one thing suitable to do with a child was not to be done—Parliament had said so. That, to me, really makes nonsense in present circumstances.

Altogether, about 900 children under 13 are sent each year to approved schools. They are sent there in every case, no doubt, because the courts have come to the conclusion that what they need is a fairly prolonged period of residential training. I cannot accept what the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said about paying lip service to the idea that an approved school is of an educational character. Ihave been to a number of approved schools since I became Home Secretary—so have my colleagues, the other Home Office Ministers, and so, I am quite sure, have many hon. Members on both sides. I have not been to one where doubt could be cast on its being of an educational character, and the education given there being of value—

Miss Bacon

I said that the curriculum inside the schools was of an educational character, but that people had come to regard approved schools as penal establishments.

Mr. Brooke

Then I very much hope that the hon. Lady will help me to open the eyes of the people because, if these were penal establishments, one would not get boys who had been to them returning later as visitors. I have some experience of prisons—I am not aware of any prison to which former inmates have come on special days to see how things are going on—

Sir B. Janner

Has the right hon. Gentleman ever invited them to come back?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman, if he likes, can test his theory by issuing invitations of that kind.

When I go to an approved school on any special occasion I invariably find present a number of boys who have been to the school and have come back on that occasion because they regarded it as their school and took pride in it. Only the other day, I opened two new houses at an approved school, built by the boys themselves. Quite a number of the boys who had spent between a year and two years there had come back on that occasion because they felt it to be an important day in the history of the school—not because the Home Secretary was there, but because the two new houses being opened were an asset to the school. They had returned just as we ourselves might go back to our old schools on a special occasion or for some ceremony. We must get out of our heads the idea that all the boys who have been at approved schools look back on them as if they had been in prison.

The question to which the first new Clause asks us to address our minds is what is to happen to these 900 young children a year who are at present sent to approved schools by the courts because that is thought to be the best treatment for them. I have not as much juvenile court experience as have some hon. Members, but I am certainly not aware of any juvenile court magistrates who rub their hands, and say,"We must put up the number of children in approved schools as high as we possibly can, and send as many as we can to approved schools".

My experience is precisely the contrary: that the courts will very carefully consider whether there is any less severe action they can take before they come to the conclusion, as they have to in certain cases, that nothing will be suitable for the child except a fairly long period of training away from home and in an approved school. As a matter of fact, the percentage of children under 13 in approved schools is falling. That is a good thing, and is in line with the thought behind the Amendment, but some 17 per cent. of all the admissions to approved schools still consist of those under 13, and we cannot dismiss that 17 per cent. as of no importance.

Moreover, we have to consider what would be the psychological effect if there were no power in the hands of the courts to send children under 13 to approved schools—because I have no doubt at all that that power has a material deterrent effect. It is a reserve power for dealing with a child who does not respond to probation, or to supervision, or who is, in the technical term, refractory while under the care of the local authority. While nobody can quantify in figures what the effect would be if that power were removed, I myself have no doubt that there is a deterrent element in the fact that it is possible to send children under 13 to approved schools.

I think that the courts would hear with dismay acceptance of this Clause. They would ask,"What are we to do with these children?"—

Mr. MacColl

The right hon. Gentleman should not say that. He knows that the Magistrates' Association, in its evidence, supported a proposal very much on these lines.

Mr. Brooke

I repeat that the courts I know of would be dismayed to hear that the power to send a child to an approved school had been taken from them.

This should be a reserve power. It is desirable that, if possible, such children should be dealt with in another way. It is often possible to treat the offender by probation, or by fine, or by reporting at an attendance centre, or by putting him in the care of a fit person, or by a limited term of detention in a remand home, but there are cases in which none of those remedies is suitable. It seemed to me to be far-fetched to suggest that the type of boys now being sent to approved schools could effectively be dealt with by being sent on a few Saturday afternoons to an attendance centre.

My experience is that the kind of boys who are sent to an approved school for a period of a year, eighteen months or two years are not the boys who would respond to the deprivation of leisure on Saturday afternoons at an attendance centre—

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

As the numbers involved are so small, would my right hon. Friend consider the idea that, before a child of 13 is committed to an approved school, the case should be put before the Home Secretary himself?

Mr. Brooke

I do not think so, because the numbers are not so small—they amount to about 900 a year. There are nearly 20 such children a week sent to approved schools. And I do not believe that it should be the job of the Home Secretary to interfere with the decisions of courts in any such way. Parliament must decide what powers the courts should have, and then the courts should be at liberty to use their discretion in deciding how to exercise those powers.

2.30 p.m.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that 17 per cent. of the 900 are under 13, or in using the figure of 20 a week is he saying that that is 17 per cent. of the whole of the child population under 13?

Mr. Brooke

I am sorry if there has been some confusion. I had hoped that I had got it right. About 900 children under 13 are admitted to approved schools each year. The number of children under 13 who are admitted to approved schools is about 17 per cent. of the total number. Those are the figures which I have, and I believe them to be correct.

I come to the new Clause—"Revocation of approved school orders"—for which I must say that I think that a stronger case can be made than for the new Clause—"Committal to approved schools", which would deprive the courts of a very important power. The second new Clause contains the suggestion that a parent should be able to go to the court and ask for an approved school order to be rescinded. This is a quite unusual power to give to a court. The normal procedure is that the court reaches its determination and its decision, and it then rests with the Execu- tive to implement that decision. Normally, there is no power for somebody to go back to a court on behalf of someone who is in prison and seek to prove to the court that the person has been in prison long enough, that it was a pity that so long a sentence was imposed, and that the court should reconsider the matter.

Miss Bacon

The right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. He is equating approved schools and criminal courts. A prisoner is given a definite sentence. An approved school child is merely committed to an approved school for an indefinite period. If the Home Secretary stands by his assertion that approved schools are regarded as educational establishments, he ought not to liken the children who go there to prisoners sentenced by criminal courts.

Mr. Brooke

I am not so likening them. If the hon. Lady had listened to me, she would have realised that I was talking about the procedure of the courts. The courts are the same and have the same functions, whoever they are dealing with. The hon. Lady is also incorrect in saying that a child is committed to an approved school for an indefinite period. That is not the case. A child is committed to an approved school either for a maximum of three years or until he reaches school-leaving age, if he is a younger child when first committed. The great majority of children committed to approved schools remain there for between one and two years, as the figures in the booklet clearly show.

The case which has been advanced in favour of the Clause is that the managers are not to be trusted. I cannot accept that. The managers regularly receive reports from the headmaster of the approved school on the boys who may or may not be fit for release. Surely they are the best people to judge. They are better qualified to judge than the court, which would have seen nothing of the boy since he was sent to the approved school.

Mr. Hale

Is the Home Secretary saying that, in the circumstances described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), which have happened to all of us, namely, an application to the Home Secretary that he should consider the circumstances of a child detained for an indefinite period, he always waits for the managers to meet and discuss the case, or have not there been cases—I know that there have—in which the reply from the Home Secretary comes after consultation with the person immediately in charge?

Mr. Brooke

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is trying to prove. I am speaking in the first place of the initiative: which the managers take. I shall come to the Home Secretary's part later. In the normal case, in every approved school the managers meet at regular intervals to consider the cases and normally interview the boys who may be becoming fit for release. The managers do not necessarily act on the recommendation of the headmaster. They form their own opinion and decide either to release a boy or to retain him for a longer period and see him again after an interval.

The hon. Lady suggested that there was no way of getting a child released from an approved school, except by writing to a Member of Parliament or to the Home Secretary. The first initiative in deciding how long a child should stay lies with the managers themselves. It is perfectly possible for anybody to write either to his Member of Parliament or direct to me. A letter to a Member of Parliament will be passed on to me, and everyone of these cases is carefully considered within the Home Office and is discussed with the managers of the school. My inspectors have close contact with the managers of the schools. It would be a travesty of the truth to suggest that those applications or letters are dealt with in a superficial or formal way by the Home Office. After all, we are dealing with individuals. We are dealing with individual boys and girls, and they deserve the most careful consideration.

I do not think that anybody in this debate has mentioned that there is a reserve power in the hands of the Home Secretary to direct the managers to release a child if they are unwilling to do so but the Home Secretary thinks that he should be released. I am glad to say that for a number of years it has not been necessary to exercise that power, because in every case where the Home Secretary has come to the conclusion that a child ought to be released the managers, after it has been put to them, have agreed without the need for a direction. That reserve power exists.

Mr. MacColl

Would the right hon. Gentleman address himself to this proposition? In many cases it is a toss-up whether a child is committed to the care of a local authority as a fit person or is committed to an approved school. It often depends upon the facilities available in a particular area. There is power for a parent, in the case of a fit person order to a local authority, a publicly accountable body, to apply to the court for the revocation of the order.

The right hon. Gentleman has included a Clause in the Bill giving a right to appeal from the court's decision on that matter. This has been done with the approval of the magistrates, who recognise the fairness of it. Why, in all conscience, is it right to put in a right of appeal to quarter sessions from a refusal of a court on a matter of this sort and yet reserve to the Executive the final decision in the case of an approved school order, whether release should be ordered in the case of a very similar child?

Mr. Brooke

I do not accept that it is a toss-up whether a court decides to make a fit person order or an approved school order. Indeed, I am very much surprised that the hon. Member, who is a juvenile court magistrate himself, makes that sort of insinuation against his fellow magistrates. My conviction is that a juvenile court never makes an approved school order, unless it has come to the conclusion that it has no alternative.

Mr. MacColl

The right hon. Gentleman did not grasp my point. I said that it depended on the circumstances in the area. Would the right hon. Gentleman address himself to this proposition? The order made depends upon the facilities available. It is not a matter of prejudice, nor is it a matter of judgment of the court whether a child should be punished or not punished. It is a matter of looking at a report and saying,"Is there a vacancy in a school for maladjusted children, or do we have to send the boy to an approved school because there is nowhere else we can send him?". It depends on the pressure on the school.

That is why I say that it is a toss-up. It is really a matter of luck as to the region in which the boy happens to be appearing. In many parts of the country boys who in London would undoubtedly be committed to the care of the London County Council are sent to approved schools.

Mr. Brooke

The phrase"toss up" was an unfortunate one for the hon. Member to have used.

The hon. Member raised the question of the right of the parent in the case of a fit person order to go back to the court. There is an essential difference between a fit person order and an approved school order. The latter is for a definite time, which may be shortened at the discretion of the managers. The primary object of the former is different. Its object is to take the child out of the care of the parent, because the home circumstances have been found to be unsatisfactory, and to place the child in more suitable care instead.

That is a state of affairs which may last for many years, but it may alter if the home circumstances are transformed. A fit person order, unlike an approved school order, is of indefinite operation and may be made for a baby in arms; but the home circumstances may greatly alter for the better. It is right, therefore, that the parents should have the power at any time to ask for a fit person order to be reviewed. That depends on the home circumstances, but in the case of an approved school order it depends on the progress which the child is making.

The argument I am submitting is that the best people to judge these matters are the managers of the school, with this reserve power in the hands of the Home Secretary, who can intervene if he feels that the managers are making a mistake.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle), who cares so much about children, should have thought it right to have spoken so disparagingly about approved school managers. My experience of them is not that they are rather vague, charitably minded, benevolently intentioned people who wander about the country. They are a body of men and women who sincerely devote themselves to their job. I do not think that one can dismiss any particular set of managers by saying that they are self-appointing. I would remind the House that I have power to add additional managers to any body of managers if I am not satisfied with the existing ones. Again, I have not had need to use that power.

My experience is that the managers of approved schools—whether local or voluntary schools—do most genuinely devote themselves to their task and that some of the best bodies of managers I know are managers of voluntary schools rather than local authority ones. I will not draw comparisons as between one and the other because there are admirably devoted men and women to be found in both cases.

The hon. Member for Salford, West said that if this change were made parents would be anxious to visit approved schools to see how their children were getting on. I would remind him that they visit them now. The one anxiety in the minds of managers and headmasters concerns parents who seem so disinterested that they never visit them. However, in general, parents take a keen interest on how their children are progressing.

I am not prepared to accept the argument of the hon. Member for Salford, West about the managers of approved schools. I am sorry to have to differ with him on this matter because he and I are close together in our intentions in a large part of this sphere. I do not consider that the decision as to whether a child has remained for the appropriate time in an approved school should be taken out of the hands of the managers and transferred to a juvenile court. I believe that the present system works satisfactorily. It is important that there should be that reserve power in the hands of the Home Secretary. It does not have to be used by way of direction. It can be used by way of persuasion. I must advise the House that neither of the new Clauses would be an improvement to the law and, in fact, to inhibit courts from sending children below 13 to an approved school would be a grave step to take in relation to the campaign we are seeking to wage against juvenile delinquency. I do not believe that there is any need for the change proposed in the second new Clause.

2.45 p.m.

Mrs. Slater

None of my hon. Friends has any desire to attack approved schools. We recognise that others are doing an excellent job, having regard to their powers. Nor have my hon. Friends attempted to attack, as the right hon. Gentleman inferred that we had, the managers of approved schools.

Many of my hon. Friends, like myself, have been members of committees which are interested in this work. We have the experience of sometimes discovering that cither managers or people in charge of a school or department do not always make the right decisions. There should, therefore, be some power whereby certain decisions may be overruled.

It is for these reasons that we are asking the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether or not he is able, or should be able, to overrule certain decisions. He said that he had never had need to overrule the decision of a board of managers about a boy or girl being kept at school.

Mr. Brooke

I said that I had never had need to issue a direction to the managers because they were unwilling to yield to my persuasion.

Mrs. Slater

Despite that, we have all had the experience of managers taking the view of the person in charge, particularly in an awkward situation, rather than making a decision contrary to that suggested by the person in charge. The right hon. Gentleman believes that if we accept the new Clause about children under 13 being committed to an approved school we would, in effect, not be dealing with juvenile delinquency.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we were dealing not with numbers, but with persons. The overriding fact is that when dealing with children under 13 we are dealing not just with persons, but with children of an extremely difficult age. If we are not careful we will be placing a stigma on them for life. We do not want the situation to arise when simply because a child has been to an approved school it is stigmatised for life. Such a child must not be looked upon as a criminal.

In many cases these children are not in the care of an approved school. They may, perhaps, be maladjusted because they are from maladjusted homes. I recall that in Standing Committee we attempted to persuade the Government to accept an Amendment which would deal with this matter but, unfortunately, we did not succeed. Many boroughs, particularly the larger ones, have cases of children coming from maladjusted homes and the question of where such children should be sent for care is of extreme importance. It is not always because there was not a place. Sometimes it is because the matter has never been considered because some people have thought that the only place to send the Child is an approved school.

Sometimes, in the Standing Committee, I wondered whether, in many of these cases, it was not an educational problem rather than a Home Office problem. If all the educational people could be brought into consultation before such decisions are made—school welfare officers, headmasters, those who have been directly concerned with the children and have known them right through their school life—we need not put the stigma on a child of going to an approved school. Unless we are very careful we put in the minds of these children, possibly subconsciously, the feeling that they are criminals and in many cases they will continue to act as criminals.

I have seen some very good schools and I admire the work which they are doing, but these are not the places to which one should send a child under 13; the children might be sent to some other place such as a school for maladjusted children or the camp schools which some local authorities have where their energy can be burned up. We ought to consider whether this is not the kind of place to which these children should be sent.

Mr. MacColl

All these possibilities are available under the existing law. If a fit person order is made, a local authority can send the child to a school for maladjusted children or an outward bound course. There is much more flexibility than under the approved school order.

Mrs. Slater

There is much more flexibility and it prevents the child from going through life with a chip on its shoulder.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there are only a few of these children who are under 13 and that it is a decreasing number. In Committee, the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that pioneer work was going on, and she rather accused my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) of having a political outlook on this matter. I assure her that in no way is there a political issue at stake here. We are concerned with the welfare of the child—not only its immediate welfare, but its long-term welfare, taking into consideration the attitude of mind which we create in these children.

The second new Clause deals with the parent having power to apply for the release of these children. Often the recommendation of the man in charge of the school decides whether the child should be released. With all due respect to some managers, it is not the manager who makes up his mind, but the person in charge. If the child is refractory—a phrase which we heard often in Committee—or one of the awkward squad in the school, but not really a criminal, the chance of that child being released becomes more and more remote, unless they want to get rid of him.

Sometimes, what has happened to the child shakes up the parents, too. There are cases in which a child has been sent to an approved school and on the surface it seems as if the parents have much responsibility for the fact that the child has been sent there. But suddenly, because of what has happened to the child, the parents have been shaken out of their complacency and have become very worried, because they feel that they, too, have been a failure.

In such circumstances, where the attitude of mind of the parents has changed because of what has happened, they should not have to wait for the length of time for which the child has been committed to an approved school. They should be able to put their case before the court once more and should have adequate consideration given to the length of time before the child might be brought back. We are concerned about the child, and if the child can be brought back to the atmosphere of an improved home, and to a family relationship, this may be a good thing not only for the child but for the parents.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be stubborn about this, as, unfortunately, he often is, and not to feel that because this has been the position for many years, we must permit it to continue. Let us experiment for a little while. We are in the stage of experiment in education. Let us have a little experiment in the Home Office for a change. Let the right hon. Gentleman have another look at this matter from a completely different angle. I appeal to him to think again on what he said and to see whether he ought not to change his mind in the right direction.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst): After listening to the speeches of some hon. Members opposite, may I say that while I have great sympathy with some of the cases which they have outlined I think that they tend to ignore a point which my right hon. Friend brought out—that we are all deeply concerned with the trend of juvenile delinquency and that we cannot dismiss the type of case which, in the main, is sent to an approved school as mere naughtiness or waywardness.

Many of these children have committed sufficiently wayward acts that, if they had been a few years older, they would have come into the criminal lists. It is not good enough to suggest that a child simply gets into bad company and that that is sufficient excuse for it to get away with it if it repeats the things which it should not do. Sometimes it might involve taking other people's property, or damaging it, or stealing a bicycle. They must not feel that they are able to get away with it until they are 13 before acceptedly serious punishment is imposed by the stricter discipline which prevails in approved schools.

Hon. Members have ignored the fact that in many cases these children are sent to an approved school because of the appallingly bad influence of their parents which has given rise to bad conduct, because the children have not been set a good example at home. They have got into bad ways, have not been corrected and have started on a career which, if allowed to proceed, would lead them in later years into paths of recognised crime.

Mr. MacColl

I am sorry to be repeating this point like a parrot, but that is the whole object of a fit person order. If the child is in such a state that as long as he remains at home he is likely to get into trouble, the answer is a fit person order.

3.0 p.m.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

I made it plain that I was referring not merely to the child whose parents had not shown an adequate sense of responsibility, a child who was not in trouble, but to the child who has already started a life of misdemeanour and who has not been found out in time. The child has got away with it and has got into the habit of thinking that it is right to steal and of expecting that one can get away with it.

I had the experience in my constituency of parents coming to see me and taking me in completely with their vehement protests that their boy had been sent to an approved school when he had never been in trouble before. They said that it was quite outrageous that he should be sent away for three and a half years. When I had the records looked up I found that the child had first been before the court and had been let off with a warning. He had been before the court on two further occasions and had been placed on probation. This was the fourth time and each time his thefts had become larger.

The parents sincerely said,"He has never been sent away before", and they therefore claimed that it had never been accepted that he had done anything wrong before. Probation to them simply meant that he had got away with it. I was convinced that the best chance for that child's future moral guidance and his opportunity to develop into a good citizen was that he should go to an approved school rather than remain in the environment of his family.

I accept what the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) has said—that one often finds young girls who are in approved schools as in need of care and protection because they have been in moral danger. After they have had experiences much earlier in life than legally their years would permit, it is extremely difficult to deal with them. To foist some of these girls who have had illicit intercourse at an early age into local authority care and protection schools creates a real problem for the people who run those schools because of the influence of these girls on others.

I remember cases of girls of 13 and 14 who had been living in houses in cer- tain parts of London after running away from home, and who had been put into an approved school where supervision is more strict, and where one finds a number of girls who have been in moral danger or have been the victims of this sort of behaviour. It is not right that it should be possible to send young girls of this kind only to the normal type of local authority schools where there may be young girls from quite normal families who are there as in need of care and protection merely because their parents are ill.

I strongly endorse what my right hon. Friend has said about the extraordinarily good work done at approved schools and the tremendous efforts made to provide vocational training for boys who might otherwise drift along in dead-end jobs on leaving school. Several schemes have been worked out in conjunction with employers and trade unions in the building trade so that after three years' training in these approved schools the boys are accepted as apprentices to become craftsmen when they come out. This is something which probably a boy would not undertake if he were home.

Hon. Members have tended to underrate the excellent work done in a number of schools to give these children the opportunity of coming out with a worthwhile future career ahead, an opportunity which in a short term of twelve or eighteen months could not be made available to them.

I endorse what my right hon. Friend has said about the very real difficulty we have nowadays, when children mature so much more quickly, in accepting any suggestion that we can afford to leave the necessarily stricter method of the approved school until a child is 13. We still have too many young people who start on the path to crime when they are 8, 9 or 10. In my view, we should leave it to the court to decide. It is a power which the court uses with discretion and after full consideration of all the circumstances. The courts should continue to have this power, where they deem it necessary, to send children under 13 to an approved school.

Mr. Hannan

Speaking for myself, it seemed that the right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) was adopting an approach contrary to that of her right hon. Friend earlier. The right hon. Lady was thinking of approved schools in terms of punishment and repression, certainly not in the sense of education and correction of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke.

As the House probably knows, the approved schools of Scotland are under the education authority. This probably explains much of the difference of emphasis and view between hon. and right hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman's argument was least attractive when he adopted the approach of trying to distort some of what my hon. Friends have argued. No one is suggesting that we should avoid facing squarely the problems which are created for us by some young people today. But these problems are accentuated by the lack of diagnostic processes and the lack of proper accommodation. If we had these, we could probably deal with the approved schools in a better way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) was right to draw attention to the long period for which some young people can be sent to approved schools. A young person under the age of 12 can be sent to an approved school for three years and four months, or until age 15, whichever is the longer—not the shorter. A young person sent to an approved school at 10 years of age, or 8 years of age, as can happen in exceptional circumstances, could be there for seven years. This is taking it at its worst, of course. Do right hon. and hon. Members opposite argue that this is the proper way to deal with young people of this character?

It will not be denied by the Under-secretary of State for Scotland that children who are truants from school, with no other record of delinquency and without having committed any other offence, can be sent to approved schools. Can one honestly say that a child who skulks school or, as we say in the North,"plonks" school, merits being sent to an approved school for three years?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State no doubt will say that Lord Kilbrandon's Committee is examining this problem in Scotland. As usual, Scotland is in the forefront, and no doubt Lord Kilbrandon's civilising influence will spread South. Meantime, cannot we help by drawing attention to the fact that, because truants can be sent to an approved school, there is a need for the classification of offences according to gravity?

All that we ask in the first new Clause is that young people under the age of 13 should not be sent to approved school. The right hon. Gentleman asks what we propose to put in the place of approved schools. Some local authorities in Scotland, and no doubt in England, will be making their representations in due course as to what should happen to them. Such children might be sent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) suggests, by way of experiment to short course centres for six or nine months to see whether that would have any effect on them.

The second new Clause suggests that there should be revocation of approved school orders. This is a most important point. It is wrong that someone who, after visiting his child in approved school, feels that some recovery has been made should have to write to his Member of Parliament or to the Secretary of State saying that such a course should be taken. Far too much authority is vested in the boards of management and in those who run the schools themselves. In Scotland, there is no need for the Secretary of State for Scotland to approve the appointment of a manager, but the Act demands that he should be at least informed of the appointment.

All the legislation covering children's homes, remand homes, remand centres, and detention centres is worthy of revision. There is a vital need not only for provisions such as those outlined in the new Clauses but for something like a youth charter, bearing in mind the number of instances in which it is said that parental neglect is responsible for a great deal of the trouble which young people get into.

We are not running away from the problem. Not enough thought is given to it. I hope that even now the Home Secretary will at least consider the proposals outlined in the new Clauses.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

Division No. 158.] AYES [3.13 p.m.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Millan, Bruce
Barnett, Guy Hamilton, William (West Fife) Mitchison, G. R.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hannan, William Mulley, Frederick
Bradley, Tom Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis) O'Malley, B. K.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Holman, Percy Oram, A. E.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hunter, A. E. Prentice, R. E.
Cliffe, Michael Hynd, H. (Accrington) Rankin, John
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Janner, Sir Barnett Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cullen, Mrs, Alice Jeger, George Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Davies, Harold (Leek) King, Dr. Horace Skeffington, Arthur
Diamond, John Lipton, Marcus Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Lubbock, Eric Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Evans, Albert MacColl, James Taverne, D.
Pitch, Alan Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Fletcher, Eric Mapp, Charles TELLERS FOR THE AVES:
Greenwood, Anthony Mellish, R. J. Mr. Charles A. Howell and Mr. Redhead.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mendelson, J. J.
Aitken, W. T. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Allason, James Holland, Philip Pike, Miss Mervyn
Atkins, Humphrey Hornby, R. P. Pitman, Sir James
Biggs-Davison, John Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Pott, Percivall
Bingham, R. M. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Bishop, F. P. Hughes-Young, Michael Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Black, Sir Cyril Iremonger, T. L. Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry James, David Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Brooman-White, R. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Brown, Alan ((Tottenham) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Skeet, T. H. H.
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Smithes, Peter
Channon, H. P. G. Kershaw, Anthony Speir, Rupert
Chataway, Christopher Kirk, Peter Stevens, Geoffrey
Chichester-Clarke, R. Langford Holt, Sir John Tapsell, Peter
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Teeling, Sir William
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Linstead, Sir Hugh Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Crawley, Aidan Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Dance, James Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon.S.)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry McAdden, Sir Stephen Turner, Colin
Drayson, G. B. McMaster, Stanley R. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Eden, Sir John Mawby, Ray Vickers, Miss Joan
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Glover, Sir Douglas Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gurden, Harold Mills, Stratton Woodnutt, Mark
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Miscampbell, Norman Worsley, Marcus
Harris, Reader (Heston) Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Peel, John Mr. Finlay and Mr. Ian Fraser.