HC Deb 15 July 1963 vol 681 cc217-62
Miss Vickers

I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, at the end to insert: (f) if it is proved to the satisfaction of a juvenile court beyond reasonable doubt that the child, being under the age of ten years, acts in a manner which would render a person over that age liable to be found guilty of an offence. Although I spoke on the Second Reading, unfortunately I was not on the Standing Committee and, therefore, I could not move this Amendment. My reason for moving it is that it is a recommendation of the Ingleby Committee, in paragraph 86. In addition, children who are under the age of criminal responsibility and can be sent away from home because of committing what are deemed to be crimes, in my opinion, should not be deprived of the protection which the law gives to those who are considered to be criminals.

On Second Reading the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) quoted a letter from the County Councils Association. I do not intend to quote the whole of that letter, but I should like to refer to part of it: The Association did not suggest that children of, say, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen did not know light from wrong; their view was that children of those ages and younger should not be treated as criminals if they did wrong. That was why they suggested they should be dealt with outside the criminal code. Training and education rather than punishment was needed. That is the reason for my Amendment. If my Amendment were accepted, the age of criminal responsibility could easily be raised to 15 years because there would be adequate means of protecting the younger ones.

As I understand it, a juvenile court has two functions. One is to try cases of children over the age of criminal responsibility accused of criminal offences, and the other is to inquire into cases of children of any age said to be in need of care and protection. The second function which the court exercises is not a criminal but a civil jurisdiction. The child is not on trial and no finding of guilt is made.

At present if children under 10 cannot be dealt with as offenders, they can become convenient tools for gangs of older children. They cannot be cleared if untrue allegations are made against them by shopkeepers or neighbours. I believe there are about 4,700 children between the ages of 8 and 9 who are found guilty of some offence in an average year, but if these children cannot be brought before the court they will be denied the help that can now be given to them. Such children may be left to drift until they are at least 10 years old. It is true to say that the Home Secretary recognised this fact, as is apparent from his remarks on Second Reading as reported in column 1375 of the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I consider that unfairness might result if two children were involved in a small offence and one were under the age of 10 and the other over that age. I am worried about what is to happen to these younger children. If it is thought necessary that such children should have some kind of protection, why cannot they be treated as older children would be if they were found guilty of an offence? This would not go against them in the future, and they would get adequate protection to save them perhaps from becoming delinquent in later years. I would prefer to see the age of criminal responsibility raised beyond the age of 10. It could only be done if this recommendation of the Ingleby Committee, which was put forward after great thought, had been accepted.

In recommending that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12, the Ingleby Committee recommended in paragraph 86 that a juvenile court should be empowered to treat as in need of care and protection a child under the age of 12 who acts in a manner which would render a person over that age liable to be found guilty of an offence". The Committee gave a further illustration in Appendix IV, at page 170, and set out in detail how the proceedings would operate in the case of a boy aged 10.

If a child under the age of 12 so behaved, either the police or the local authority could bring him before the juvenile court as in need of care and protection; and if the court found the complaint proved, it could exercise precisely the same powers, including the power of punishment, as if the child had been over the age of 12 and been found guilty of the relevant criminal offence.

Now, I understand, a child can be taken into care and protection and not have the same right of appeal as a child who has been accused before a criminal court. It seems to me clear, therefore, that the Ingleby Committee would not have recommended an increase in the age of criminal responsibility unaccompanied by a procedure which would enable a child between the ages of 8 and 12 to come before the courts if in need of care and protection.

In other words, it appears that a child who is below the age of criminal responsibility will not get the same protection as a child who is brought before the courts and charged with a criminal offence who is of the age of criminal responsibility.

I understand, having read the debate in another place, that it was proposed to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12, and I would like to have supported that. It was argued, I understand, that this country compared unfavourably with other countries, although, perhaps, it was not fully realised that in other countries a child over the age of criminal responsibility is considered as adult as children were in the early days in this country, when a child could be deported or imprisoned. This still happens in other countries in Europe in regard to a child over the age of criminal responsibility. In this respect, therefore, we compare quite favourably with other countries. It was mentioned in another place that in some countries, a child under the age of criminal responsibility can, nevertheless, be declared a juvenile delinquent on the ipse dixit of a police officer and dealt with by the appropriate authority. Those countries have, therefore, machinery by which they can deal with these younger children.

My reason for anxiety about the situation is that if the earlier fault cannot be recognised and tackled, there is less chance of success when a child gets older. I am fortified in this idea by a leading article in The Times of 2nd May, which urged that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised and that machinery should be established to enable delinquent children under the age of 12 to be suitably dealt with.

This is what I am worried about. Whatever the age of criminal responsibility, how is a child under the age of criminal responsibility to be suitably treated? I am also fortified, though perhaps not for exactly the same reasoning, by a letter which appeared in The Times on behalf of the National Association of Probation Officers, who are equally worried about what will happen concerning those in the younger age group. I want to be quite certain that the younger children are not used as tools and I want them to be helped at as early an age as possible.

12 midnight

If my Amendment is accepted, a child will not be sent for trial—I want to make that clear—and no finding of guilt can be held against it. All I ask is that it should receive similar protection to the child committed for a criminal offence, that no action shall be taken against it; in other words, that it may be taken into care without having any right of appeal, as appears to be the position at present. My right hon. Friend may say that in civil proceedings there are not the same standards of proof. I accept that. The balance of probabilities is different. There is the matter of proof beyond all possible doubt, and justice might not be done if the commission of an offence were to be the evidence of need of care and protection.

However, I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the Amendment, because if some help is not given to the younger ones and they are just left to drift until over the age of 10–5,000 of them come before the courts at the present time already—it may be very difficult to help them in later years. This is a very important Amendment, and I hope that even at this very late hour, not only in time but also in the proceedings on the Bill, my right hon. Friend will seriously consider accepting it. Not only will it enable us to give protection to younger people, but through the Amendment we may be able to raise the age of criminal responsibility very much higher. I should like to see it raised to 15, with protection given to those under the age. Also, those who deal with this type of case should have the opportunity to help the young people in the early stages so that they may not develop criminal tendencies at a later age.

Miss Bacon

I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) has moved the Amendment. It nearly breaks my heart to say that I hope that the Home Secretary will not accept it but will resist it. Nearly everything that the hon. Lady has haid in her speech was an argument in favour of the case committee which we proposed earlier and which has been turned down by the House. The hon. Lady is worried about what will happen to the children under the age of criminal responsibility. So were we. That was why we suggested a case committee, much less formal than a juvenile court, and where there could probably be some voluntary arrangements between the parents and the committee.

I understand that our main Amendment on raising the age of criminal responsibility will probably not be called. That being so, it seems that this is the only opportunity we have of discussing this very important matter. Without going into the question of the age at all, I believe that this Amendment takes us a step further back. What do we mean, by "the age of criminal respon- sibility"? We do not mean the age at which children cannot be brought before a court, because children can be brought before courts as in need of care and protection. We mean the age below which children cannot be charged with having committed a crime.

If the hon. Lady had her way—this was proposed by Ingleby, but I am opposed to Ingleby on this—what would the position be? Supposing two boys aged nine and ten took away a bicycle which did not belong to them. The boy of ten would be taken before the court and charged with having committed a crime. The boy aged nine could be taken before the same court, not charged with having committed a crime but as being in need of care, protection or control. In the end, the court could do exactly the same with both children. The one under the age of criminal responsibility could find himself at an approved school with the boy of ten.

That seems to me to make nonsense of the whole thing. I am sure that the children would not see any difference, and I am sure that the people in the country would not either. I agree that it is of some importance that the boy of nine would not be charged with having committed a crime, but what I am concerned about is seeing that very young children are kept out of the courts altogether and to produce some other method of dealing with them.

Another reason that this would be a step backward is that at present, with the age of criminal responsibility at eight, if a child under eight commits one act which, in any older person, would be deemed to be a crime, he is not brought before a court as in need of care, protection and control unless his general behaviour over a period is such as to make it necessary.

The Amendment, however, does not specify the ages of eight to ten. The hon. Lady merely specifies "under ten", which means that if a child even of four or five—for she sets no lower limit—committed one act which, in an older person, would be deemed to be a crime could be brought before the court as being in need of care, protection and control. This would be a most retrograde step.

I am sorry that our Clause with respect to case committees was not accepted, because that would have been a much better way of dealing with this. Had we raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12, 13 or 14, we would, I agree, have been in a rather difficult position, having rejected case committees, but as we have only increased the age to ten I do not think this will create such great difficulty as some people think. If it does create difficulty, however, I hope that we shall find some alternative, some less rigid form, than the juvenile court and will have some kind of case committee.

I am sorry I cannot go with the hon. Lady on this because she and I on these matters usually think alike, and occasionally we have supported each other. But in this we would be taking a step backwards.

Mr. Brooke

I am in the somewhat embarrassing position of having to choose between the two hon. Ladies. I greatly respect the ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) who has very sincerely and conscientiously sought to find a remedy for what the Government believe to be the defects in the Ingleby procedure.

The Amendment seeks to combine a nominal rise in the age of criminal responsibility with the introduction of a procedure by which children under the new age—and children a long way under that age, as the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said—could be dealt with by the court for their delinquent acts. I must say, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, that we are trying to find some way of avoiding bringing young children into court for their delinquent acts. Whatever the other merits of the Amendment, it would be inconsistent with what we have sought to make the whole purpose of the increase in the age of criminal responsibility, which is to save children under the age of ten from being brought before the court on account of behaviour offending against the criminal law.

My hon. Friend explained that these would be civil proceedings and that there would be no question of a criminal offence. I quite appreciate that, but I am not at all sure that a child of eight or nine would appreciate it, and I doubt whether many parents would. These things may be quite clear to us when we are arguing in the House of Commons, even after midnight, but, without disrespect, I am not sure that they would be equally clear in the workaday atmosphere of the juvenile court.

I agree that my hon. Friend has improved on the Ingleby recommendations in one respect, because she says that an act equivalent to an offence—if I may put it that way—would have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and not, as is the general rule in care, protection or control proceedings, only on a balance of probabilities. That element in her Amendment would restore one safeguard of criminal procedure which the Ingleby Committee appeared to have discarded. Even so, I do not think that there is any way of getting away from the fact that the proceedings in a case falling within the scope of the Amendment would be simply a substitute for the criminal proceedings which would be instituted in the same case under the present law.

One wants to pay the greatest attention to the probable effect of an Amendment. Perhaps therefore I should also say that as drafted the Amendment would leave it uncertain whether the court needed to be satisfied that there was any element of mens rea in the child's behaviour. Is it enough for the court to be satisfied that the child took away a bicycle, or has it also to be satisfied that the child took away the bicycle without any intention of returning it? These are matters which may seem somewhat technical, but if we were to embody an Amendment like this into the law, we would leave the court in doubt as to whether the element of mens rea had to be present.

I entirely appreciate that my hon. Friend is seeking to provide a method or practice for dealing with a child of eight or nine who has done something which in an older child could be dealt with under the criminal law. She is perfectly entitled to ask what is to happen to these children. Have we been rash in raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to ten without thinking out sufficiently how we will deal with these children?

It is common ground between us that none of us wants any child brought into court unless it is absolutely necessary. One would certainly hope that when a child of eight or nine is in circumstances where it might now be brought into court charged with some offence, a report will be made to the child's parents or, if it has happened in some connection with the school, to the head teacher of the school. After all, both parents and schoolteachers are perhaps the best persons of all to deal with children of 8 or 9, whatever else may lie in the background.

12.15 a.m.

One may ask, is that any use? One may say that it has not proved sufficiently valuable in the past, but I hope that Clause 1 may have some considerable importance in cases like these. We all recognise that a number of small children start committing offences because their parents really have not known how to cope with them—

Mr. Mapp

The right hon. Gentleman posed to the House the very thing that he is avoiding. When the Bill appeared in another place there was no change in the age of criminal responsibility. Because of pressure brought to bear on them, the Government then made a change. Having made the change, they did not address themselves to the problem of the children of 8 to 10, or 8 to 12, or whatever it may be in future. In Committee upstairs, and now here, we have put forward certain proposals. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) has done her homework, and I pay tribute to her for trying to find a solution to the problem. The right hon. Gentleman puts the position to the House, but he does not fill the vacuum as to what the Home Office has been thinking, and in fact the vacuum is still there.

Mr. Brooke

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would allow me to continue my speech, because I am about to deal with this very point on which he says that I have not expressed a view. I am about to express my view on it and to point out that Clause 1 is very pertinent here.

In many of these cases where young children have been getting into trouble, the real cause is that the parents have not known how to cope with them. The object of Clause 1 is to put a duty on to local authorities, as well as power in their hands, to give guidance and advice to parents who are in that position, and it will not now be necessary, as it has been hitherto, for the local authority to stand back until a crisis has arisen. The local authority in the course of its ordinary work will be offering advice, guidance, and assistance to help parents and the child in a case of that kind.

It may be found, in the course of action under Clause 1, that the child needs some specialised treatment of some kind—that the child really ought to be in a school for maladjusted children, or ought to go to a child guidance clinic, or something like that—or that the parents will refuse to co-operate at all. It may be that, despite the advice, guidance, or assistance that may be given to them, they will remain indifferent or unwilling to give their child any help.

It will then be important to see what can be done under Clause 2 as it stands without this Amendment. The Amendment will be ineffective for bringing a child into court unless subsection (1,a) of Clause 2 is satisfied, that is, that the child is not receiving such care, protection and guidance as a good parent may reasonably be expected to give". If the child is getting into trouble, and if it is not receiving that care, protection and guidance from its parents, it may well be that it will fall under subsection (2,a), which deals with the case where the child is falling into bad associations; indeed, this is constantly given as the reason why a child has been led astray. Or it may fall under subsection (2,b), which refers to the situation where the lack of care, protection or guidance is likely … seriously to affect his health or proper development … There are all these various possibilities. It is not the case that if the age of criminal responsibility is raised to 10 there are no circumstances in which a child falling into bad associations can be brought to the court as being in need of care, protection or control.

I assure my hon. Friend that there is a variety of possibilities for dealing with the 4,000 cases that hitherto have been coming into court when a child has been charged with some offence. We are breaking new ground here. We are pioneering, and may make mistakes. We have to learn as we go along, and I am sure that we shall learn most from those local authorities that use their powers most vigorously and send us in helpful reports. My concern will be to do all in my power to ensure that all local authorities know of the experience of those local authorities which are best setting about their duties under Clause 1.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are not ignoring the problem which her Amendment is designed to solve. There is a genuine problem here, but I say in all sincerity that I believe it would be better solved by leaving the Bill as it stands, and by vigorous use of the powers of the local authorities under Clause 1, than by introducing her Amendment into Clause 2, which would have the unfortunate repercussions that I have tried to indicate. I hope that my hon. Friend may feel inclined to ask leave to withdraw her Amendment.

Miss Vickers

I do not know what the position is, since I was not a Member of the Committee, but is it the fact that children who are under the age of criminal responsibility can be sent away from home because they have committed what are deemed to be crimes, and will not receive the normal protection of appeal which is given to other persons above the age of criminal responsibility?

Mr. Brooke

Many children brought before the courts have not committed an offence but are deemed to be in need of care, protection or control. The children to whom the Amendment is directed will simply be one section of a larger body of children who are not deemed to have committed an offence, but who may come into court on the ground that they are thought to be in need of care, protection or control. The provisions of Clause 2 will have to be satisfied before the court can make an order, and these children will have just the same protection as other children who come into court now in similar circumstances.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Mapp

I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, at the end to insert: Any general or special order made by the Secretary of State under section 62(4) of the principal Act shall provide that any proceedings by an "authorised" person must be with the consent of the appropriate local authority. The Amendment refers to the question of authorised persons. The Committee was engaged upstairs on this general subject for about four hours, and columns 145–224 of the report of the Committee's proceedings indicate pretty conclusively that the subject was important and was exhaustively dealt with. The debate is now on the simple and narrow but important issue whether, in future, juvenile court proceedings in respect of a child in need of care, protection or control should or could be delegated to an authorised person as well as to the local authorities and the police. The Amendment does not seek to rob the Royal Society of the right, but makes it conditional that the agreement of the local authority should be obtained before the proceedings arc instituted.

Let us for a moment reflect on the present position. The people who are entitled to take proceedings in the courts so far as a child in need of care, protection or control is concerned, are the local authorities. That will continue. The parent is entitled at the moment to go to the court and demonstrate to the court that his or her child is outside control. Under this Bill we are withdrawing from the parent the right to go to the court and complain to the court that his or her child is outside the parent's control. In this country we regard the position of a parent as one of extreme, vital and basic importance. Here we are, for a good reason—and Ingleby sets out the reasons—taking from the natural parents the right to go to the courts. The third position at the moment is that the police, for fairly obvious reasons, have the power to go to the courts, and they will continue to have that power under the Bill. Under the principal Act, the 1933 Act, the Home Secretary is empowered to make an order which has the effect of authorising a person—in effect it is the Royal Society and its agents. They will have the right of proceeding in the court in the case of a child in need of care, protection or control.

Let me clear up an interjection I made earlier in the evening. I quoted a case in my own constituency where the Society had proceeded, but it was not in respect of this feature, though the same problem of consultation is at stake. In the case I was putting, many months after the Society had had its consultations and given its undertaking, a child was thought to be suffering some deprivation. At 2.15 in the afternoon a school teacher, doubtless well intentioned, rang up the Society. One of her scholars appeared to be suffering from lack of food and from other circumstances. At 4.15 the house was visited by the Society's inspectorate. Later that evening the Society's doctor turned up along with the inspector, at 8.30, and the child was taken from the home. The point I want to make is that the family service unit had been delegated by the local authority for nearly two years to help that family, and had actually made a lot of progress in the general discipline of the family, and there was food in the house, though its disposal and so on left something to be desired. Here is a case where the work of the local authority was suddenly arrested, as it were, overnight, without the necessary consultations with the local authority. This is not an isolated case, as will be seen from the Committee report, although clearly my hon. Friend could not give names and addresses. There are a large number of cases—too many to be happy about the situation—in which this consultation has not taken place. Within the work of children committees there is a growing body of trained case workers; they have a greater opportunity these days of family study and under the Bill there will be more work for them to do in future.

12.30 a.m.

We are at the crossroads. Although correspondence which I have received from the society seems to question this, I believe that no one would say a word against the general work of the Society. But we are concerned solely with the narrow point whether in the next decade, having taken away from the parent the right to proceed to the courts, we should continue, in the new phase of child care, to let the society have, through the general order of the Home Secretary, the prescriptive right to proceed to the courts, if necessary without the agreement of the local authority.

Much play has been made of consultation. Reading between the lines, it is clear that before the Bill saw the light of day the society's work in some senses had been modernised; more case workers had been taken on and I understand that there had been more education. There was some arrangement by which the Home Secretary, before the Bill took shape, indicated that the order would continue.

I shall not repeat some of the unhappy phrases which I have read and some of which I think on reflection should not have been made. That covers the society and perhaps one or two other bodies interested in child welfare. The House is solely concerned with what should be its attitude. There is another alternative on the Order Paper which it will consider later. My suggestion would write into the Bill that the authorised persons procedure should continue but only with the Home Secretary writing in the order that any proceedings must have the precondition of the consent of the child officer for the local authority. The other suggestion, which we shall reach later, is that the special order arrangement of the Home Secretary can continue but perhaps over a period of years and then be subsequently withdrawn. It may be that in enlightened London and Lancashire there is no need for these special arrangements but that there is need of them in rural areas. This suggestion could apply to areas or to times; and when we are at the crossroads, it is a question of time. The Home Secretary said that, if there was misuse or general supercession, these orders could be withdrawn. I contend that the time has arrived when one or the other of these two alternatives should be adopted.

Sir P. Roberts

On a point of order. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) seems to be taking two Amendments together and putting them as alternatives. I suggest to the House that that might be the reasonable way to proceed and that we could put ourselves in order by taking the two Amendments together.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-(Gray)

I was paying attention to what the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) was saying. He referred to a later Amendment. I should have thought that we are better to stay as we are, taking them all separately. That was how they were selected by Mr. Speaker. I heard of no agreement to combine them. It is as the House wishes.

Mr. Mapp

I was intending only to make passing reference to the other Amendment. I did not seek to argue it.

I want to refer to a contribution by the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee. This is a summary of the case: With the passing of the Bill, the need for trained professional social workers will be even greater. There is now a wide overlap between the work of the N.S.P.C.C. and many other local voluntary bodies and local authorities. In effect, we are in a transitional stage and the statutory authority is taking over the pioneer work of the very devoted voluntary social worker, who has been doing work which we all praise and for which we are all grateful."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E. 4th April, 1963; c. 157.] I want to quote some words used in Committee by the Home Secretary. He said this: … in order to get away from the danger of someone butting in and upsetting a carefully worked out plan there should be consultation in all cases except those cases of the utmost emergency—not only consultation between the Society and the local authority but, as has been agreed in discussions with the local authority Associations and police representatives, consultation between the police and the local authorities, so that if all this works as it should there will be a tripartite safeguard against anybody suddenly butting in while trained child-care workers are handling the case and rendering their work fruitless by suddenly bringing the child to court."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 9th April, 1963; c. 202–3.] I have quoted an instance. Many were quoted in Committee. The facts are that of the 40,000 cases per annum that the Society handles about 400, or 1 per cent., involve legal proceedings. Another 400, or 1 per cent., go to juvenile courts. It is the second 400 about which we are concerned. I cannot see any valid reason why the Home Secretary digs his heels in. The Society is on this issue rather narrow-minded about its future. It should see the opportunity that presents itself for a wider libertarian approach. By accepting the principle of a new limitation—perhaps one of these alternatives—it should see new opportunities opening out. I know in my heart that my interest in the Society was first kindled when a young man simply because I read reports in newspapers about the excellent work it was doing. From time to time we read cases of the Society having taken court action following cruelty to children. This is bound to kindle the thought in our minds that someone must be doing some good work.

It is probably, because of the publicity the Society gets—and I do not use the word "publicity" in the commercial sense—that we have evidence of what its officers are doing. I appreciate, of course, that the Society's work does not rest on the few incidents we read about. It is concerned with a much wider sphere. In this connection, what would happen if the Amendment was accepted? If the Society thought a local authority officer was being awkward in withholding his or her consent, it could bring the matter to the attention of the Home Secretary and hon. Members. The Society is not without contacts in Parliamentary circles. On the other hand, of the 400 cases, it is more than like that 99 per cent. of them will be proceeded with in exactly the same way as now.

We will be obviating the small percentage of cases which cause irritation to local authority officers and others. If the Society wants publicity it will be able to get it. It will merely have to get the permission of the local authority in these cases. If that permission is withheld and the Society considers that unjust, it can go to the Home Secretary.

I hope that the Home Secretary will consider this matter afresh and accept the Amendment. Let us face the future of this new world with enlightened ideas. We want to ensure that there is more than consultation. Hon. Members who have had to take part in consultations of any sort know what the words "frustration" and "consultation" can sometimes mean. I am merely asking that the Society should ask the local authority to give its permission.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I thought at one stage that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) was going to carry his argument to its full conclusion. He spoke practically about professionals and amateurs in this field and that local authority caseworkers would be so much more effective than officials of the N.S.P.C.C. The implication was that the Society might as well get out of business. I am a firm believer in the voluntary principle. I do not believe that because local authorities are paid by the ratepayers and do not receive their money from voluntary sources they must do this work more efficiently. N.S.P.C.C. money is subscribed voluntarily. Admittedly the Society's inspectors are paid. Nevertheless, if the money is paid voluntarily in the first place I do not see any harm in the money then being spent well and effectively.

I draw conclusions from the figures exactly opposite to those drawn by the hon. Member. The Society deals with more than 40,000 cases a year, but less than 1 per cent. of them come into court in these circumstances. The reason is that the Society has the power to prose cute and it therefore has the power to warn. This power is tremendously important. If the inspector says, "You must pull your socks up. Do you realise the penalties and that I have the power to take you to court?" and the parents turn round and say "Don't be silly"—

Miss Bacon

The hon. Member is completely confused. When he says that the officer can say, "I have the power to take you to court", presumably by "you" he means the parents. The Amendment has nothing to do with the parents.

Mr. Allason

He has power to take the child before the court as being in need of care and protection, but he says that to the parent because it is the parent who will suffer. It is in the child's interest that the case should be brought. The officer has the power to threaten the parent and tell him he must try to mend his ways. A tremendous volume of good work is done in this respect and I should like to see it sup ported. If the N.S.P.C.C. is to get out of business, which was what the hon. Member for Oldham, East was really suggesting—

Mr. Mapp

I hope that nothing said in the House, and certainly on this side, will lead to the rather clumsy words which the hon. Member has used, To talk about this sort of society, and other which are doing humanitarian work, going out of business is atrociously wrong. I made it clear that we want the Society to take on new work. We subscribe to 99 per cent. of its work. We only ask whether, within this narrow concept in a changing age, the Society should have the right to go to court without consultation.

Mr. Allason

I have been explaining that the Society cannot continue with this case work if it has not the ultimate power to prosecute.

Mrs. Slater


Mr. Allason

Because the warning is so very necessary. Two-thirds of the more than 40,000 cases are dealt with by warning, and that warning must have power behind it. It is useless if the officer can only say, "You ought to try to behave better or we shall have to tell the local authority about you. "I do not think that that will be in any way effective. The inspectors must appear to have a certain amount of power behind them. What we are really arguing about is whether we are to have consent or consultation. Consent, as the hon. Gentleman has freely admitted, means the power of veto. He said it would not be used very often, but yet he wants to have it. I take the opposite view. I think consultation is perfectly reasonable. To me, consultation means that the two bodies which have got varying interests come together and one says, "For goodness sake, do not do that because I am trying to take other action", to which the other one says, "No, in spite of what you say, I still wish to take the child to court." In those circumstances, if consultation has taken place, I think it is perfectly reasonable for the Society to go ahead, even though the local authority may take a different view of the case.

When a local authority considers a case there is a slightly different point of view from that of the Society. We all know that a local authority never likes to lose a case. Therefore, if there is a borderline case the local authority will say, "We will not take that child before the court because we might lose and then we would be under heavy criticism." The N.S.P.C.C., on the other hand, is prepared to take a borderline case to court and let the magistrate judge. In fact, in about 20 cases out of 400 in a year, the decision goes against the Society. I do not think that is in any way a criticism of the N.S.P.C.C. It is perfectly reasonable that it should have brought the case, and it shows that the magistrate has got some power of deciding, rather than that only the open-and-shut cases should be taken before the magistrate.

The hon. Member has admitted that what he is seeking is a complete power of veto, which I consider is another way of bringing forward the Amendment which was defeated in the Standing Committee. I hope the House will reject this Amendment because I think it is yet one more attack on the voluntary principle.

Mrs. Slater

As I have listened to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) I have been wondering whether this is a discussion of the care of children or of the continuance of voluntary bodies. We should be interested primarily in the care of children, and not in the protection of any voluntary body. That does not mean that I want to see this voluntary body put out of existence. When the hon. Member made that allegation a few moments ago either he was completely misrepresenting the case which we on this side of the House have put forward, or else the body for which he was speaking deliberately misrepresented the case so that it could have its point of view stated before the House.

Nobody has suggested that this voluntary organisation should be put out of existence. We have all been very glad of its existence. But surely we move with the times. We ought to realise that throughout the ages there have grown up many kinds of organisations, not only voluntary but local authority organisations, which are concerned with children's interests.

When discussing the matter in Committee, the Home Secretary tried to make the case that voluntary bodies had existed and, therefore, they must always be allowed to continue to do the work. It is true that our education, welfare and medical services were, perhaps, started by voluntary bodies, but as the circumstances have altered and the work has increased, it has often been necessary for local authorities to undertake more and more of the responsibility.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said that the body of which we are speaking—the N.S.P.C.C.—has a different viewpoint from local authorities and that a local authority never likes to lose a case. Local authority people who are engaged in this kind of work want, in fact, to prevent cases occurring.

The people who first come in contact with a child after school age are the school welfare officers. They go into homes, meet parents and see what kind of homes the children have. They have to talk to the children. Very often, these are the people who have the first contact with either the parent, who may not be meeting his or her responsibility, or the child, who may not be living in circumstances in which we would desire a child to live.

I can state definitely that on the local authority side, the school welfare officers, probation officers and child care officers are extremely anxious for prevention and that a child should not be brought to court. In saying that the local authority never liked to lose a case, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead was saying that the local authority always wanted to take a case to court.

Mr. Allason

I hope that the hon. Lady will remember that we are speaking of roughly 400 cases a year out of more than 40,000. This is a very marginal element. I have not been suggesting that every case, or one case in ten, should be hustled into court. In a borderline case, however, it will be found that there are two different views. A local authority might say, "That is a borderline case. The magistrate might or might not convict. In those circumstances, it would be wiser not to bring the case, although we might like to. We have financial pressure and the finance committee, for example, will criticise us if we bring a number of cases which fail—"

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I should remind the House that we are not in Committee.

Mrs. Slater

I appreciate that we are talking about a small number of borderline cases, and it is those with which we are concerned. I am asserting that the local authority officer does not always say, "This is a case in which the child should be brought before the court; this is one which we will hustle into court." It is not always the fact that the N.S.P.C.C. says that a case should not be taken to court. Sometimes it does when the local authority people do not want a case to go to court.

I know of a case which the school welfare officers had in hand. They visited the home and saw that help from another section of the local authority was brought in. A home help had gone to help the parent, who was not coping and, therefore, the child was not coping.

1.0 a.m.

One can imagine the horror of that person, who had spent hours of time on the family and the child, when suddenly confronted with the possibility that an outside body, a voluntary body, was going to take the child to court. That did not happen in the end because consultation took place, but it could have happened.

This voluntary body gets funds from local authorities apart from what it obtains voluntarily. The local authority grants may not be very big, but they are made. Local authorities provide funds for many voluntary bodies to carry out some of their work. There are direct and indirect ways of helping, and there are many ways by which money can be got from local authorities. Let us not forget that local authorities provide some of the money.

If the outside body is prepared to have consultation, why should not the Amendment be accepted? Why should it not be said "Yes, we will consult with them"? Why should not the local authority, which in the final analysis is the body which is responsible to the ratepayers and to the right hon. Gentleman, be the body which finally decides whether a case should go to court or not? If the necessary undertaking is given, I cannot see why we should not insert in the Bill the words which have been suggested. It seems to me that we are tonight fighting a last little bit of control which some people seek to retain. I believe that the local authority should have the last say.

Mr. Hannan

While the Clause does not apply north of the Border, I am glad to intervene in favour of the Amendment. I do so for the following reasons.

The McBoyle Report urged co-ordination of policy and staffing through a committee composed of local authority members and of administration through senior officials of local authorities for a preventive service, and it suggested that the voluntary organisations should be represented on the committee.

There are some differences in the negotiations and consultations which take place between the Royal Society in Scotland and the local authorities compared with what apparently occurs in England and Wales. As to what has been said about the money given by local authorities to societies, Glasgow Corporation is far and away the most generous of bodies by giving £1,000 annually to the Royal Society. An hon. Member opposite insinuated that these societies were maintained only by private subscription. That is not true. But for the local authorities they would be in dire straits; that is admitted in their annual reports.

The hon. Member suggested that unless these societies have the power of veto and to take cases to court, their whole reason for existence will go by the board. That is an extraordinary claim to mike, since this Bill, this Clause and the Amendment are all directed towards a preventive service. The purpose is not to take people to court but to keep them out of it.

In Scotland, the power to bring children before a juvenile court is prescribed in the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937. I am told that proceedings in this connection would fall under two main headings, and this is one of the dangers into which we were about to fall earlier tonight. We are talking here of cases of children being brought to court as distinct from police action. Under whatever heading—whether parents or children—the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, 1949, states, in the Eleventh Schedule, that in the case of a child or young person brought before a court as being in need of care and protection the children's officer shall be informed and it will then be his duty to provide such information as the Act prescribes for the consideration of the court.

I speak without knowledge of the English Act in this respect, but this seems a reasonable request. I am told by the deputy children's officer in Glasgow that in all such cases the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children advises him, and no local authorities have a better reputation than Glasgow and Ayrshire County Council for the care of children.

In the report which the children's department submits to the court, a recommendation is made as to the most suitable method of dealing with the child or young person. Even where the Society wants to charge a parent, it must put the case in the hands of the Procurator Fiscal. It is he who must make the charge. If we have this system north of the Border, why not in England?

Subsection (4) of Section 62 of the principal Act says that … a local authority, constable or authorised person … may bring a young person before a court as in need of care and protection. In Subsection (4) it will be seen that the expression "authorised person" means … any officer of a society which is authorised by general or special order of the Secretary of State to institute proceedings under this section, and any person who is himself so authorised. This is the source from which the Royal Society gets its power. As has been said so often, this is a matter of a difference of emphasis.

In view of this, I find it extremely difficult to understand why the right hon. Gentleman should resist what is intended to be a helpful proposition for co-ordinating information. It goes back again to the case committees. If it is of any assistance to the right hon. Gentleman, page 20 of the McBoyle Report contains two excellent paragraphs on the rôle of voluntary organisations and mentions the Royal Society specifically. Eminent men were among the members of this Committee which acknowledged the work of the Society and suggested that voluntary organisations had a special aptitude for exploratory and experimental work, perhaps because of their greater freedom and flexibility, but that, nevertheless, their primary function should be providing information, leaving it to the local authority to take remedial action without resorting too often, unless circumstances demanded it, to some extraordinary action in the courts. If that is done, it has to be with the knowledge of the local authority itself, and the Society, if it still wanted to retain this power, would then proceed. All the difficulties which have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman have been overcome already and again the civilising influence of Scotland might be followed, for the Home Secretary would then find it difficult to find a complete answer to our case.

Miss Vickers

In view of my earlier Amendment, I hope that it will not seem illogical that I support this. Why does the Society want this power? It says that it wants this power to carry out its work, but I cannot conceive that it could not do so without this power which, in any case, is very unpleasant. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) put the matter very well in Standing Committee when he said: When it comes to introducing one more person with power to bring a child before the court, the N.S.P.C.C. inspector is himself not a voluntary body, but an extra-statutory official because he has delegated statutory powers to bring a child before the court".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 4th April, 1963; c. 184.] Therefore, in this case we are talking not about a voluntary individual but about someone with delegated powers for a specific job.

It has been pointed out that a very small number of people are brought before the courts by the Society, and that does not prove that its work would be hindered by the loss of this power. One or two letters have been sent to me on behalf of the Society and one of them, dated 21st March, 1963, referred to the Second Reading speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and quoted her as saying: Just as a local authority, with all its services, is dealing with certain problems, the N.S.P.C.C. may take a child to court at the precise moment when the local authority is perhaps doing its best to keep the child out of court and is succeeding. The writer commented: I wish to state most emphatically that this fear is groundless, for the Society has given an undertaking to the Home Office not to bring any child before a juvenile court without prior consultation with the local authority, unless circumstances arise in which the degree of urgency is such as to make prior consultation impossible. I cannot imagine any case in which the urgency is so immediate that there will be no chance of prior consultation, and I do not think that this loophole is necessary.

1.15 a.m.

One of the documents sent to me contains the following statement: The parents with whom the Inspectors deal consist mainly of those who have failed to respond to other agencies"— I should like to know what "other agencies" means— or have continually refused assistance, and the welfare of whose children is endangered. It is these parents who often feel neglected and ostracised themselves, by the rest of the community. Firmness often gives a form of security since they are immature. Methods used therefore cannot always be entirely permissive. An Inspector's work could perhaps best be described as being case work combined where necessary with the positive use of authority. This is almost blackmail—"If you do not do this we shall take your child to court". It is a form of blackmail to which I cannot subscribe, and that is why I am worried about the Society continuing to have this power. We know that the majority of the members of the Society are not trained. We have gone to a great deal of trouble, through the Young-husband Report, to decide the type of training that is desirable for people who have to deal with young children.

As I say, these people are not trained at all. Further, I have great objections to them wearing uniform—and I have said this more than once—because it tells the neighbours that an individual from the Society has called, and I do not think that that is desirable if one is trying to help the family. If these inspectors decided not to wear uniform, I think that they would do the job a great deal better than they do now.

I have had some experience of taking children to court. I was a welfare officer in Malaya, and one of my jobs under the Women and Children's Protection Act in Malaya was to take children to court if they were in need of protection. I remember a widow who left her four children in the care of their grandparents while she went to work. The grandparents sold one of the children. I managed to find the child and to discover the bargain price. It was quite interesting, and I had to take the child to court. At the request of the mother, I took all four children to court because she was frightened that the grandparents might sell the others.

Taking children to court is a very difficult and unpleasant job, because even if parents are not as loving and kind as they might be, children are frightened of being taken away to a different world. One has to think many times before taking this very hard and deliberate step, and I therefore think that every type of consultation is necessary. Every type of person should be consulted and the fewer the people who have this power the better.

I recognise the first-class and pioneer work which this organisation has done, and I hope that it will continue with preventive measures. The greater the number of people who can get together to help in the work of prevention the better, but when it comes to taking drastic action such as taking a child to court, the fewer the people who have this power the better. I should have thought that the Society would be only too willing and anxious to get rid of this arduous and difficult job. It would make its work very much easier if the parents had complete confidence in the inspectors because they would then get their co-operation far more easily.

This letter to which I have already referred says: I very much hope that the Society may have your support in resisting the proposal to limit its powers to help children. To put the matter at its lowest, the Society provides a second line of defence to the children which over the years has been proved to be of great value, and it has yet to be shown that any good would come from removing that line. I am yet to be convinced that any good will come from leaving the Society with this power. I would have thought that if it was the second line of defence for the children it should try to protect the children, perhaps, against local authorities, rather than take the children to court. I presume that somebody must have this power, but I think that it would be far better left with the local authorities. The last thing the Society would want to do if it were acting as a defence for the children and cementing the family together would be to take them to court.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment, although I do not think that it goes far enough. I would have preferred one of the Amendments moved in Committee. Nevertheless, I hope that this one will be accepted, because consultation will be an added advantage to the families, and particularly to the children.

Miss Bacon

What we are discussing now has nothing to do with the power that the N.S.P.C.C. possesses to take parents to court for neglecting or ill-treating their children. That must be made clear, because some hon. Members have spoken as though this was something to do with parents; we are talking only about the children.

We must also get perfectly clear the fact that we must not regard the Society and local authorities as being of equal status in the care of children. Local authorities regard the taking of children to court as one of the minor tasks they have to undertake. They are charged with providing homes to which the children have to go when they have been taken to court and have been put in the care of the local authorities. That is very important. When the Society has taken a child to court it is the end of the matter for the Society; the case is finished, and it has no further responsibility. The matter is then handed to the local authority, which is charged with caring for the child in one of its homes. It is quite wrong to equate the local authorities on the one hand with the Society on the other. We must also remember that Clause 1 lays important duties on local authorities to work in the home in order to try to prevent the appearance of the children in court. The whole emphasis of our approach in the Bill is to try to keep children out of court as much as possible.

All that the Amendment asks is that the local authority should be told when the Society wishes to take somebody to court, and that the authority should make the decision. We had another Amendment on the Order Paper, which I understand has not been selected, which was slightly different and which would have taken away the power from the Society or any authorised person, would have given them the right, which parents have, to appeal against a local authority's decision not to take the child to court.

The Amendment that we are discussing is very important. It simply provides that it shall be the decision of the local authority, which is entrusted with the duty of trying to keep children out of court.

When I first attended the Committee stage of the Bill I did not know very much about the N.S.P.C.C., other than that it was, as I thought, doing a good job of work, particularly in preventing child cruelty and neglect, and in taking parents to court. I cannot say that I regard the Society today in quite the same light as I did at the beginning of the Committee proceedings. I will not go into details about the rather unfortunate document which was sent to all Members of the Committee referring to local authorities as bureaucrats and officials, and so on.

I would say just two things. First of all, all—or most—Members of this House have received from their local committees a letter, in identical terms, sent out by the national committee to the various secretaries, and they have in turn written to us, and many Members have said to me, "What about this letter? We have got some jolly good people on our local N.S.P.C.C." And so they have. But I sometimes wonder if those very good voluntary members of local committees know what is being said and done in their name. I am quite certain that the secretary to the Leeds branch of the N.S.P.C.C. did not realise what was being done in her name. She wrote me the usual letter. The national committee had evidently forgotten to tell her that I was the one who moved the Amendment, and she wrote to me, and the letter was rather curious. I am pretty certain she did not know that the document the N.S.P.C.C. headquarters had sent out refers to local authority members as "bureaucrats" and "officials" because this woman's husband happens to be a member of Leeds City Council. I am sure she would be quite surprised to know her husband was referred to in such terms.

I have been profoundly disappointed with the N.S.P.C.C. throughout the whole of the proceedings on this Bill—

Sir P. Roberts

I can appreciate that the hon. Lady may be disappointed at the moment, but she has not heard any speech from me yet. I appreciate that she got up before she had a chance to hear me, but she will have an opportunity later, I hope.

Miss Bacon

I may change my mind. I do not know.

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that we Members of the Committee on the Bill have received valuable assistance from many bodies concerned with child care and welfare, and we have been very grateful indeed for the assistance which they have given us. The child care officers sent us a very valuable memorandum on the whole of this Bill. They went through every Clause to show how they thought we might improve the Bill in the interests of the children. The children's officers did the same. They sent a most valuable memorandum on the whole of this Bill—to every Member of the Committee. The probation officers' help has been absolutely invaluable. They sent out documents and things about this Clause and that Clause, and suggested Amendments, because they care so deeply about children. The education welfare officers mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), the approved school teachers, not only sent us memoranda but have been to see us; we have talked with them; they have been most helpful about every Clause. And so have various local authorities.

What disappoints me so profoundly—I must say this because I have been thinking it so long—about the N.S.P.C.C. is that the only point in the whole of the Bill with which it has been in correspondence with us or any other Members has been about its own powers under the Bill. We have nothing from the Society, absolutely nothing, about any of the rest of the Bill, and it has been only this one thing in which it has been interested.

While at the beginning of this Bill I was willing to praise the N.S.P.C.C, I do believe that its whole conduct during the Committee on the Bill has not been such as to make me have any great confidence in it in looking after children. I am sorry to say this, but I really have been feeling this for some time. As I say, it has done very valuable work, particularly regarding the parents, but I believe that any decision to take a child to court should be one taken by the local authority charged with the duty of trying to prevent children from going to court—this is the power we confer on the local authority under Clause 1—the local authority which will have to deal with the child after it has been dealt with by the court.

I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment. I know that the right hon. Gentleman said that if there is not consultation he has the power to withdraw his authorisation. I hope that he will go a stage further. I am not sure that in his heart of hearts he does not think as we do on this matter. I am sure that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State does; she indicates dissent, but her speech in Committee, while concluding with the hope that the Amendment would be defeated, was in favour of the Amendment and could have been made from our side of the Committee.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is a difficulty here which is shown by the cases which we have quoted. I trust that it will be left to the local authority to decide when a childs hall be taken to court. We do not want to interfere with the right to take a parent to court, but to take a child to court is a very serious matter which I believe should be in the hands of the local authority.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. Brooke

The House may like to be reminded that it was in 1933 that the special power of the N.S.P.C.C. to institute care, protection or control proceedings was first conferred on the society. The special power might have been withdrawn at any time in the last 30 years. It might have been withdrawn at any time by the Home Secretary of the day, for example by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) during his long tenure of the Home Secretary ship; and, in particular, it might have been withdrawn at the time of the passing of the 1948 Act. In fact, my predecessors, regardless of party, for the last 30 years have felt it right to continue that authorisation of the N.S.P.C.C.

I will not go over all the arguments which were adduced upstairs, but I want to make it clear that I have the power to withdraw that authorisation and that if there were substantial evidence that the society had not been seeking to observe the undertaking which it has given on consultation, then I or my successors would have to consider very seriously withdrawing it.

May I make a passing reference to a passing reference by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) to another matter lying a little outside the Amendment? I assure him that I could give authority to the society or some other body which would last for a particular period or would cover a limited area. That Amendment to which he referred is not necessary; the power exists under the law as it stands.

But it must be one thing or the other. There is no halfway house. Either the society should have this authorisation or the authorisation should be withdrawn. As it is, the society is operating under an authorisation which I wish to continue unless circumstances change. I think that the authorisation should be one granted by the Home Secretary. If the Amendment were agreed to it would mean that a certain local authority could in effect withdraw the Home Secretary's authorisation in a certain field by refusing its consent. I do not think that that can be right. Reference was made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) to the Scottish arrangement. He stated correctly, I am advised—although I do not claim to be an expert in Scots law—that the children's officer in Scotland is notified of care or protection proceedings in advance so that he can put information before the committee. I have no doubt that that is so in Scotland, but I think that the hon. Gentleman submitted that it was not so in England.

The fact is that similar provision is made as regards England and Wales in Section 35 of the principal Act. That Section requires any person bringing a child or young person before a juvenile court as being in need of care or protection to notify the local authority and the probation service so that they can make inquiries about the case and can put before the court whatever information they think may be of assistance. This is a duty to notify of impending proceedings. It is not, as this Clause would make it, a duty to seek the permission of the local authority before initiating proceedings.

The Society has given its undertaking to consult. If the Society is to have authority from the Home Secretary at all, as I think it should, I do not feel that we should take away with the other hand what we have given with the first hand and endow the local authority with a power to veto the desire of the Society to take proceedings.

The hour is late and I do not think that the House wishes me to go into the whole vista which is opened up by discussion of the position of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I submit that it must be one thing or the other. Either the authority to the Society to bring proceedings should be withdrawn, as I appreciate that a large number of hon. Members opposite, to judge by our Committee proceedings, would wish—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I know that two hon. Members out of 300 or so on this side of the House have indicated that they would wish it withdrawn, but they are in the minority. There have been, I am sorry to say, considerable attacks on the policy of the Society from members of the Opposition.

Miss Bacon

From both sides.

Mr. Brooke

There have been considerable and widespread attacks from the Opposition. I do not agree with those. I believe that the Society is doing excellent work and should be trusted to continue with its work, provided that it observes the pledge that it has given. I shall certainly act carefully on what I said would be my attitude when we were discussing these matters in Committee. I am not prepared to advise the House to accept the Amendment and narrow the scope of the Society's work. I believe that either we should trust it to do its work free from any veto by the local authority or we should not trust it at all. My choice is the former.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Some of the remarks I intend to make I have already made on a previous Clause, but they are worth repeating in view of what the Home Secretary has just said. There has been misconception and a great deal of misrepresentation. Most of the misrepresentation, I am sorry to say, comes from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This is an Amendment to Clause 2 of a very important Bill which will do something for the future. It will not do anything retrospectively, apart from enforcing retrospective payments due under an order when the child has gone away. We are not concerned with the 400 cases about which the N.S.P.C.C. has sent us circulars. We are concerned with the future. If the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) will read the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) in tomorrow's OFFICIAL REPORT he will find in it some real truths; truths which contradict what he was saying.

In reality the Bill should have commended itself to the N.S.P.C.C.—unless the Society has changed its attitude. Its title refers to the prevention of cruelty. Is not unnecessarily taking a child to court cruel? Is there not an atmosphere, a stigma, attached to a child being taken to court? That stigma applies to adults, let alone children. Even if a person is found completely innocent and told by the magistrate or judge, "You leave this court without a stain on your character" the person in question knows the old English proverb, "There is never smoke without fire." People may leave court with their characters completely cleared, but are they considered by everyone to be whiter than white? Of course not.

The Society sent hon. Members a good deal of correspondence. None of it commended itself to me. It was ill-advised, ill-written and by no means a recommendation for the Society. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead seemed to be taking part in what I thought was a sinister campaign by the hierarchy—not the volunteers and contributors—of the N.S.P.C.C. I received a letter from the Birmingham and district branch of the N.S.P.C.C. and I wrote back saying that I had received similar correspondence. The secretary of the branch then wrote saying that his letter had been spontaneous. I have actually received three such letters.

I was, for my sins, the Whip for the Opposition in Committee. Hon. Members came to me for advice. I went to the Vote Office and got them copies of the Standing Committee minutes. Several people were surprised when they saw what was in them. I quote from the letter I received from the Birmingham and district branch of the Society. It stated: The Members of my Executive Committee reported at our last monthly meeting that local supporters of the Society are much concerned to read the advcrse, and in our opinion, unfounded, comments which have been made about the N.S.P.C.C. during the recent debates on the Children and Young Persons Bill, particularly as it appears to have been suggested that the Society mainly exists to prosecute in cases of cruelty to children. That is a misconception. This is cruelty to children. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead tried to suggest that taking a child to court was not the same as a prosecution.

Mr. Allason

Perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten that it is also a question of prosecuting the parents in cases of cruelty. The figures are similar—400 cases a year—and perhaps the hon. Member has got them mixed up.

Mr. Howell

The only thing the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead got right in his speech were the figures. I have the same figures with me. I know all about the 400 and the 1 per cent. He is trying to argue about the prosecution of parents. I would answer him on this aspect if it were not for the fact that I would be out of order. The Clause under consideration refers to children, not parents.

Mr. Allason

The hon. Member keeps accusing me of referring to the prosecution of parents. He was the first to introduce that argument. I merely mentioned this matter when he commented on my remarks. I have not before referred to the prosecution of parents.

1.45 a.m.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten what he said. He will have to read HANSARD tomorrow. He said that he wanted to retain this right in order to threaten the parents. I challenged the Birmingham secretary to quote any hon. Member of the Opposition who had criticised the Society for its work other than on this point of taking children to court. He came back with all sorts of excuses, quoting from something which apparently I had said and which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) may have forgotten but which he himself said tonight.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) have been accusing the Opposition of running a campaign against the Society. That is entirely wrong. All we are concerned with is the protection of the child and that he should go to court only as a last extremity and with authority. The secretary of the Birmingham society said: This apart, there is a general misconception that the Society is primarily a prosecuting agency and it seems to me that your speech in Standing Committee lends colour to this. You are reported to have said, "This is a memorandum in which there is a demand—in which it is asked that this right shall be retained to prosecute a child. The letter goes on to argue what "prosecute" means, but it seems to me that if a child is taken to court one is prosecuting him. It adds: We must remember that this organisation is a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children—not a society for the prosecution of children. But one begins to doubt this. Why on earth did the Society receive an assurance from the Government before the Bill was published that this right would be retained in it? Why did not the Society do as other organisations have done and recommend ways in which the Bill could be improved? Has the Society forgotten what it means to look after the interests of children?

I have paid the tribute, and I repeat it, to the Society that it has prevented a great deal of cruelty to children. It has taken cases to court. I hope that every time it finds a parent being cruel to a child it will prosecute them. But when it comes to taking a child to court I want to prevent the sort of case where the child is used as a shuttlecock in the court. Let us assume that an inspector employed by the Society, who is a professional man, has the same qualifications and standing as a children's officer. If he goes to court, taking a child as in need of care and protection, and the parents take the children's officer and the officer says, "This case has been brought without my permission, authority or consent" what will happen? The child is there as a pawn in the game between solicitors for the one side and the other. Is that what the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead wants the child to be?

Mr. Allason


Mr. Howell

The Amendment will be rejected. The Society has been promised that. I hope that the hon. Member will tell us that all the Society's inspectors will be not only advised but ordered that they must not take a child to court without the approval of the children's officer. The hon. Member for Heeley appears to be smiling. This is the sinister part of this case. The Society wants to retain the right, even without the approval of the local authority, to take the child to court. I do not want to see the child used, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead indicated he should be used, as a subtle form of blackmail in telling the parents be taken to court by all that I will take the child to court. "Let the parents be taken to court by all means, but do not let us use the child for that purpose. After all, if a child is involved in circumstances in which the Society or the local authority contemplate taking him to court, the parents must be bad. But that type of parent will not be coerced by the threat of being taken to court, because very often he has been to court before. It may be as a result of the father having stolen and having appeared in court that the child is in danger.

The Society has made the case for my hon. Friend. It could not have put up a better argument. I will not go over the figures again. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead was quite right; 1 per cent of these cases have involved prosecutions and a further 1 per cent. juvenile court proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman has said that we must have one or the other, that there is no in-between. That is where I differ from him. This is not a question whether the Society has the right to prosecute on its own initiative or lose the case altogether. I have no objection to the Society having the necessary power. In fact, if it is necessary for a child to be taken to court I would prefer the Society to do it rather than the local authority. But I would like it to happen with the support of the local authority.

I notice that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has not been able to stick the pace and has left the Chamber, but she spoke as a magistrate. I am not a magistrate, but if I were and the Society approached me I would say, "Where is the other part of the tripartite?" The police would always be represented in court. Probably a woman P.C. would be there to give evidence, but I would want to know where the remainder of the tripartite was.

If I may quote again the N.S.P.C.C. paper, Unfortunately, there will always be a small number of cases for which there is no other course open than to institute legal proceedings in the child's interests"— mark those words—"in the child s interests". I agree with that. But one must be certain that it is in the child's interests that he is taken to court, and not as a result of the views of one man. It may be necessary according to the N.S.P.C.C. inspector, but I would rest better in my bed if I knew that before a child could be taken to court the N.S.P.C.C. would be prosecuting with the approval of the local authority. In other words, there would be a supporting application.

If a voluntary society is paying a professional man to carry out its work, and a professional body—the local authority—supports the application, I cannot see the magistrate turning it down. On the other hand, without this support, the magistrate might say, "Where is the local authority in this matter?" Make no mistake, many magistrates are local authority people. They are aldermen and councillors. They will know that there is a children's officer and a children's department, and they may wonder why the N.S.P.C.C. is bringing a case to court without the supporting application of their own children's officer.

I know that we will not get the Amendment, but it would be in the interest of every child who might find himself or herself in this position and I am sorry that the Home Secretary was committed to reject it even before the Bill was printed.

Sir P. Roberts

First, my understanding is that the Society does support the Bill. It had discussions with Home Office representatives when the Bill was published. We had disagreements about various Clauses, but we were satisfied by the arguments put up by Ministers and the Society supports the Bill. Therefore, there is no reason why the Society should go to the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) or anybody else on the benches opposite to bring in Amendments to a Bill which it supports.

Mr. MacColl

We support it.

Mrs. Slater rose

Sir P. Roberts

I cannot give way; time is getting on. There was argument that this was the only point in which the Society was interested. That is absolute nonsense, because we have had a great deal of discussion, not with the hon. Lady or with hon. Members opposite, but with the Government, who were responsible.

I come to the broad issue—

Miss Bacon

Will the hon. Member give way?

Sir P. Roberts

I am sorry, I want to get on.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

This House will be responsible for what goes out.

Mrs. Slater

Everybody else supports the Bill.

Sir P. Roberts

I am saying that the N.S.P.C.C. supports the Bill, and that is why it did not give a lot of Amendments to the Opposition. That is the only point I am trying to make.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) said, quite rightly, that we were at a cross roads. I have been a little surprised that after that statement, with which I agree, there was a suggestion that we were not doing anything and that it was not a cross roads. I agree that this is a cross roads, and we have to look at the part which a voluntary society plays when the majority of the work is done by the State or by local authority assistance. There is no doubt that this is the problem that we must look at. It cannot be belittled one way or the other or shrugged off by saying, "We support the Society, but".

On the narrow issue of bringing children in proceedings before the court, we are, I hope, in all quarters of the House, trying to look after the interests of the children. I feel a little tired when it is suggested that one society or one local authority is looking after its own interests. I do not accept that. I believe that all Members of the House are trying to look after the interests of the children. Therefore, this is the problem.

When one is trying to help children, usually the information about their harm comes from the ordinary public. We have to look to the ordinary public for the information, which goes either to the police, to the local authority or to the N.S.P.C.C. In some extraordinary way, different people make different approaches. Some go willingly to the teacher, or the teacher goes willingly to the local authority. Some people will go to the police, others will not. Some will go to the N.S.P.C.C. and others will not. All I am suggesting is that we need all the various avenues to get the information and that we should not close any door in trying to save a child who is being badly treated. That is why the N.S.P.C.C.—and I am glad that the Government agree—should be allowed to continue as regards taking children to court, which is the narrow issue.

It has been suggested that children should be prevented from going to court. The whole basis of what we are trying to do, on all sides, is to prevent a child being neglected, harmed, hurt or badly brought up in a home.

2.0 a.m.

Therefore, the longer one leaves that child in that home—so long as it is admitted that harm is being done—not taking it to court is doing it further harm. So it is wrong to suggest that the right approach in a case where there is obvious neglect is to leave that neglect in order to see whether it will get better. That does not appeal to me. It may be a question of urgency to stop the child receiving further harm. I say that because I did not accept the argument that the N.S.P.C.C. ought to be trying to prevent children being taken to court. That may well be the very last thing which should happen.

Let me try to bring the debate back more into an atmosphere of good will. I have been surprised—I did not attend the Standing Committee, I regret to say—by some of the vehemence I have heard in the House on a matter on which there should be no vehemence. Among local authorities, children's officers and the great majority of those working for voluntary bodies there is a great deal of good will and co-operation, and there is a great deal of admiration one for the other. It would be most unfortunate if the idea went out from the House or were gained from reading the debate that there is any friction. If there is any, it is only marginal anyway. The great majority of these people are working happily together.

Therefore, I was hurt when I was trying to make this point earlier on to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Charles A. Howell). I was saying that out of 80,000 cases in two years, in only one had a local authority actually opposed the N.S.P.C.C. in court. The hon. Member suggested that I was saying what I knew to be untrue. I assure him that that is not the case. He may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. But it hurt me a little when he suggested that I was saying something to the House which I knew to be untrue. That was not so. There has been only one clash between a local authority and the N.S.P.C.C. about taking a child to court. Admittedly, there have been arguments and disagreements from case to case, but in only one case has a local authority actually opposed an application by the N.S.P.C.C.

Having said that one wants to see co-operation and good will, I have been a little surprised at the vehemence with which some hon. Gentlemen and Ladies have approached this matter. The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said that she started with some good will towards the Society but has now turned against it. I do not think she was very fair. In the Standing Committee she produced three cases to which she gave a good deal of publicity. When the N.S.P.C.C. asked her kindly to let it have the evidence—because if the cases existed the Society must have known about them—she refused to do so. Thus, the Society is in the position of not being able to answer, if answer is necessary, or confirm, if confirmation is necessary, the points she raised. It is not a fair way to make an attack on the Society by not giving it an opportunity to reply.

I was a little surprised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) over some of the things she said. She held herself out to be an expert in the matter. She was actually criticising the Society because it has not got trained inspectors. "Not trained at all" were the words she used. That is quite untrue. The N.S.P.C.C. inspectors have considerable training. Maybe it is not enough, and maybe they must have more, but they certainly go through a considerable training.

Mr. Mapp

How long?

Sir P. Roberts

Up to three months. Then they go back again for refresher training. Of course they have training. Then they go with other inspectors. They are trained for two or three years under various people with experience. To say that they do not having training shows that hon. Members do not know what they are talking about. I regret to have to say that.

The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East mentioned the child care officers and the Child Care News in this respect. Admittedly there was particularly bad and biased report of the Committee upstairs in it, and admittedly it was no doubt done by one person. It is unfortunate that a one-sided attack on the Society should get publicity of this kind, which cannot do good to the children. I hope that when this Bill finally reaches the Statute Book we shall try to forget some of the altercations which have taken place. We are not trying to defend one institution or another. We are trying to get a lot of dedicated people to work together. I hope we shall bear that in mind.

In considering this Amendment, we are thinking of the case of a child who may or may not be neglected or who may be in need of protection. Supposing a local authority official says the child must stay at home because it is not actually being harmed, while a Society official—perhaps a man who has spent most of his life in this work—says he thinks the child is being harmed. It is question of issue between them.

We are not suggesting that local authority officials are invariably wrong or that Society officials are invariably right. But we do say that we have a forum in the court, and that if there is a disagreement the magistrates should judge. Otherwise, one sets up the children's officer of a local authority as a court in himself, and that fundamentally must be wrong. We are having more and more delegated authority and we must try to avoid taking the ultimate power from the court itself. This was very well put in the Reservation to the Ingleby Report by Sir Thomas Williams, who said: It would mean that a 'tribunal' composed of servants of the State, i.e. the local authority or the police, would have to give permission before access could be gained to the magistrates. This is fundamental. Let no one set himself up as being infallible and above the law. If there is a disagreement, then let the magistrates decide it and not some local official, who may, I know, be acting with the best will in the world.

We must remember that the Society has been doing this work for a very long time and it is respected and trusted by a large number of people. I do not think we should do anything which would undermine that. My right hon. Friend has said that he is watching the matter carefully. The Society has said that it will consult. If there is anything wrong it is most desirous to rectify it. If we do take this line and allow some of the dust to settle, I am certain that the welfare of the children will be better for the passing of the Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. MacColl

I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, at the end to insert: (3) In section 62(4) of the principal Act there shall be inserted at the end of the subsection the words "An order made under this subsection may direct for what period and in what petty sessions area the authority to institute proceedings shall apply I do not want to rehash the arguments which we have already had. I want only to summarise them having listened to and taken some part in the debates in Standing Committee. The background to this situation is that one society was authorised thirty years ago and that no change had occurred since.

That indicates two things. The first is that there has been no recognition of the complete transformation of the children's services in the last thirty years. At that time, there were no children's committees, no Children Act, 1948, and there were rather fewer women police. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) is now leaving us, but in the Standing Committee we suffered rather a lot from representatives of the Society leaving after they had made their speeches and I was hoping that the hon. Member would do me the courtesy of listening to me.

The other thing is that many other societies are now doing the kind of work which at one time was the monopoly of the N.S.P.C.C. For example, there are societies like the Family Service Unit, the Family Welfare Association, the Moral Welfare Council and others all actively engaged in this work but none of them in a special statutory position. The whole question of authorisation needs to be reviewed.

I was not impressed by any of the arguments in Standing Committee except one, that put forward by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). He said of hon. Members: Very many of them have had experience in counties and cities of powerful local authorities which are extremely efficient bodies, but it cannot be said honestly that all local authorities have quite the same experience. Some of the poorer authorities are not able to be so well organised and it is true that local administration is unevenly carried out in many parts of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 4th April, 1963; c. 177.] In a sense, this is fair comment for the hon. Member—I am not making any reflections on his county, which I think is Cornwall, is a rural Member and urban Members—

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I was drawing on my pre-war experience when as a solicitor for the Great Western Railway I attended what used to be called police courts all over the country from Chester to Penzance and had considerable experience of local authorities in many parts, not only rural areas.

Mr. MacColl

I am sure that the hon. Member spoke with considerable experience, but pre-war experience of the organisation of local authorities in this respect is not relevant, because since the war we have had the Curtiss Committee and the Children Act and now we have Clause 1, which are all tremendous steps forward. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was putting his finger on a very arguable point, if he will not think that I am being cheeky in saying that.

2.15 a.m.

I do not think that the N.S.P.C.C. needs this power in the large towns, and I do not think that its absence would be noticed. I am not referring to prosecutions for cruelty, but to care and protection cases. In London we have extremely good police women and a very well organised police force which does a great deal of this work to the admiration of everyone. We have a competent children's authority, with a great deal of experience, which is capable of shoulder- ing this work, and in the big cities and large urban areas there is no doubt at all that this power is now out of date. It belongs to a period thirty years ago when the situation of the social services was very different from what it is now.

I am suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should have the power—he may have it already, I do not know; it is a nice point of interpretation—to be able to say that in areas where the children's authority and the police are well organised to do this job there is no need to have a third body in at all, but in areas where, for one reason or another, the authorities are not yet prepared for the work because they have not the necessary staff and experience, a voluntary body can be brought in to deal with the problem.

It may be the N.S.P.C.C., or it may be some other voluntary body which would be authorised to do this work, and the authorisation could be limited to, perhaps, the petty sessions area. I think that this would be the best unit to use, because a local authority area sometimes overlaps a petty sessions area, and sometimes a local authority area includes a number of petty sessions areas.

The authorisation could also be for a fixed period. In other words the right hon. Gentleman could say to the Barsetshire County Council that he was prepared to authorise a voluntary body to do this work for five years in the petty sessions area covering Barchester, but that after that period he would expect the local authority to be equipped to do the work.

We have tried many ways of getting round these difficulties, and nobody can accuse us of being dogmatic. We have tried the straightforward withdrawal of authorisation. We have tried withdrawal of authorisation coupled with appeal to the court against the refusal of the children's authority to take action. We have tried statutory consultation between the Society, the various bodies, and the local authority, and now we are trying to limit the area and to give the authorisation for a particular period of time.

I think that the solution to the problem lies in one of those suggestions. I put this forward as another of the possible ways of doing it. It seems to me that the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech meant that he was watching the situation, but that there were areas in which he was not certain that if the authority was withdrawn there would not be a breakdown of the service. If that were so—and the right hon. Gentleman is a better judge of the situation than I am—it would be most undesirable. Let the right hon. Gentleman have power to make it a limited authority. If he finds that co-operation is not working, that the training of the Society's inspectors is not adequate, he can withdraw the authority, except in areas where there might be a breakdown. There does not have to be a complete withdrawal so that an area suddenly finds itself faced with a new situation for which it is not prepared. But there could certainly be a withdrawal in particular areas where the other bodies are well equipped to do the work. This is a useful flexibility to authorisation.

Mr. Brooke

I can assure the hon. Member that his purpose is already accomplished. Section 62 (4) of the principal Act, as it stands, is, I am advised, sufficient to enable the Home Secretary to restrict the authority conferred on a society or person to a specified period or place. I have no present intention of exerting those powers in a restrictive manner as to either time or place, but I am assured without doubt that there is no need for the Amendment to confer on the Secretary of State a power to restrict the authority given to a certain period or a certain area. With that assurance I hope that the hon. Member will be willing to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Sir P. Roberts

I feel guilty in that, in the heat of the debate, I mentioned that the training was three months. I understand that at present the preliminary training in the R.S.P.C.C. is six months and that it will soon be extended to a year.

Mr. MacColl

Even when the right hon. Gentleman is making a concession he can hardly do it generously. He says that he is not going to use this power, although he has it. He should examine the Amendment and see whether it is the answer to the problem. There is no case for keeping an authorised person in London, and I suspect that that consideration applies to other areas. Many people would say that they do not get particularly excited about getting rid of an authorised body, but there are some people who are connected with this matter who do think that it matters. There are areas where it might matter. Let the right hon. Gentleman look at the question from the point of view of deciding in which areas the working of the machinery of the police and the children's authorities is sufficient to be able to do the work.

Having made that point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.