HC Deb 15 July 1963 vol 681 cc195-205

If any person applying to a court or a justice of the peace under section 40 or section 67(1) of the principal Act for authority to take a child or young person to a place of safety has reason to believe that the child or young person is subject to a probation or a supervision order or is in the care of a local authority as a fit person, he shall so inform the court or justice of the peace and so far as practicable give notice of his application to the juvenile court named in the order or the local authority as the case may be.—[Mr. MacColl]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. MacColl

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

This is one of a series of new Clauses and Amendments which were also moved in Committee—and, I hope, others on this subject will be debated later—dealing with the problem of the co-ordination of the activities of different bodies which are concerned with the care of children. Before explaining the matter further, I should explain the nature of the removal to a place of safety, for many people are not aware of how in many ways the law in dealing with children is very much tougher than that dealing with adults.

It may come as a shock to many people to realise that it is possible to obtain an order from a J.P. to remove a child to a place of safety—which is a home or similar institution—if it is thought that such a step would be in the interests of the child. It is possible to keep the child there without bringing it to court for 28 days. If an adult was arrested for a crime and was kept in prison without being brought to court for 28 days habeas corpus would tremble and there would be a frightful row. But it can be done to children who are not even delinquents. There is nothing to prevent them being held in custody, unable to get in touch with anyone and without having any contact with their parents.

It may be said that this is not the normal behaviour or what normally happens. That is true. Children's authorities looking after children normally behave in a humane and enlightened way. Nevertheless, the power is there to obtain an order to remove a child from its home or wherever it may be living and to take it into custody.

We are proposing in the new Clause that a person who goes to the justice asking for an order to remove should take some steps to find out whether anyone else is dealing with the child; if the child is on probation, under the supervision of a probation officer, or in the care of the local authority as a fit person—in other words, if there is a statutory authority responsible for looking after the child. The person who, in an emergency, wishes to apply for an order to remove should at least tell the justice making the order what the true situation is and, wherever possible, should give notice to the supervising office that the action is being taken.

10.45 p.m.

The case which was quoted in Standing Committee dealt with a young person who was under the supervision of a probation officer who happened to go away on leave. While he was away another outside body stepped in and removed the child to a place of safety, with the effect of wrecking her G.C.E. examination. When the probation officer came back it was discovered that that had been done. We want to avoid that kind of thing.

It seems to me that the best way of avoiding it is to put an obligation upon the person removing the child to get in touch with the supervising person, who technically is the court, and at least warn the justices who are making this drastic removal order, which should never become a matter of routine, of what the true situation is so that at least they take the responsibility of removing the child with full knowledge of the facts. This seems a reasonable protection to provide for the smooth operation of the service dealing with the child and also for the protection of the liberty of the child. This power of removing the child to a place of safety, although habitually done or purported to be done in the interest of the child, can be a serious interference with the child's liberty. Whatever social workers and welfare workers may think about it, for the child it is often arrest and removal to prison.

Sir Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

In intervening, I possibly should declare a special interest, in that for many years I have watched over the care of children through the authority of the N.S.P.C.C. I am a member of the executive of that body. The Minister will know that that Society has already given an undertaking that it wishes and is willing to consult both local authorities and the police in matters of this kind.

The Clause, as far as I can read it, merely puts into words the duty of consultation, as far as is practicable. One has no objection in principle to that, but I suggest that in view of the fact that the Society has made this undertaking to consult and the fact that the Home Secretary has powers to withdraw authorisation—in this case from the Society—if there is no consultation, I should have thought that the best way of dealing with the matter—

Miss Bacon

If the hon. Member will allow me to say so, he is a little confused. This has nothing to do with the authorisation of a body under the 1933 Act. It has to do with removal to a place of safety which anyone, including the N.S.P.C.C. can do.

Sir P. Roberts

I am merely putting forward the point of view of the N.S.P.C.C. In the ordinary course of events I do not know of many cases where an ordinary person could go to the magistrates and succeed. The feeling is that the main work done by authorities other than the local authorities or the police is done by the N.S.P.C.C. and the greatest number of the cases brought forward in this way are brought under the authority of that Society. In the matter of consultation I think that the present arrangements are satisfactory. I see no reason why we should amend the Bill in this way by accepting this proposed new Clause. As we are trying to build up consultation between the local authorities, the police and the Society, it would be far better to see how this system works before we put into legislative effect some Clause of this kind.

As I say, I do not see any great objection to this Clause in principle, but it would be better to leave the matter as it has functioned in the past, by having consultation on a normal basis of good will. It is better to do it that way than by having some form of statutory control.

Mr. Brooke

This Clause raises one aspect of the general problem of co- ordination of the activities of the various statutory services and the voluntary social organisations in connection with children and their families. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) has put the point very well: is it desirable that all these matters should be regulated closely by statute, or can one in such cases as this, and against the background that he has described, rely on there being genuine co-ordination and co-operation without the need of statutory sanctions?

Speaking for the Government, I accept entirely that one service ought not to take action in a case that is already being dealt with by another service, without proper consultation with the service that is already handling the case. The question is whether principles of that kind can or should be translated into statutory provision, and I must say that I would advise the House not to accept the proposed new Clause and not to complicate the law further with statutory provisions which I submit are not really necessary.

It is the fact that, although, as the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said, all kinds of people might apply for authority to take a child to a place of safety, in practically every case if it is not the local authority it is the N.S.P.C.C.

Miss Bacon

Or the police.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Lady is entirely right; it is the local authority, the police or the N.S.P.C.C. We debated the position of the N.S.P.C.C—in another context, I grant—at some length in the Standing Committee, and I informed the Committee, as indeed I think they had already been informed from other quarters, that the N.S.P.C.C. thoroughly accepts the general principle of co-ordination with other social agencies, including the statutory agencies, of course.

The N.S.P.C.C has given an undertaking to consult the local authority before instituting care, protection and control proceedings and to do so before the stage is reached of applying for authority to remove a child or young person away from home. If that undertaking is honoured, as I believe it will be, there is every reason to hope that the sort of case against which this Clause is directed will not arise. The N.S.P.C.C. will be aware of the words that I used in—

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

Will the Minister be good enough to tell the House the date of this undertaking? Within my own knowledge, some 11 or 12 weeks ago a child in my constituency was removal between quarter-past 2 and half-past 8 in the evening. Although the case had been in hand by an official agency of the local authority, not a word of consultation took place at all.

Mr. Brooke

If it was done at a special time, that might have been unavoidable. Perhaps the hon. Member will let me have particulars. He was, if I remember aright, a member of the Standing Committee. I said at that time that if I received information that the undertaking which I had reported was not being adhered to, I would like to know and would go into the matter. It would have been helpful if the hon. Member had not waited until now before reporting a case which, apparently, occurred eleven or twelve weeks ago. What I said in Committee is on record and I repeat it here.

It would be perfectly practicable to legislate on every conceivable aspect of co-operation and co-ordination between voluntary agencies and statutory bodies, but I do not think that it would be wise. That is not the way to secure the maximum help from the voluntary agencies, which, in the normal case, all the statutory agencies are only too glad to receive. It would be possible to do that, but I think that it would be unwise for Parliament to do it. For the reasons which I have given, I suggest that the House should not accept the new Clause.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I do not think that the Home Secretary has been entirely frank with the House, nor was his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts). Both of them said that the N.S.P.C.C. was prepared to consult the local children's officer. Those of us on this side who have been in the trade union movement know what consultation means. It can mean simply that somebody tells one that something will be done. The Home Secretary has not been frank enough to tell the House at this stage that an undertaking was given, even before the Bill was printed, that the Society should retain this right. Therefore, that undertaking having been given outside the House, even before the Bill was printed, it ill behoves the right hon. Gentleman now to say that he is not in a position to accept the new Clause.

The hon. Member for Heeley kept using the words "speaking on behalf of the N.S.P.C.C." He said that he could assure the House that the Society was prepared to consult. Why does he not go a stage further and say that the N.S.P.C.C. will not take this action unless it is approved by the children's officer or the designated officer?

Let me give an illustration of what could happen if the N.S.P.C.C. does this—I did not know anything about the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp)—and a family is advised to go to the children's officer and bring him to court. What a ridiculous position it would be if the N.S.P.C.C. were to go for an order and found that it was opposed by the local children's officer. That can happen, and it would have happened in the case, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) in moving the new Clause, in which the probation officer was on holiday. If he had not been on holiday, he would almost certainly have opposed it in the courts. That is the position into which the Society is getting itself.

Sir P. Roberts

Is the hon. Member aware that over the last two years, 80,000 cases of all kinds have been taken up by the N.S.P.C.C. and that in only one case has there been opposition by the local authority?

Mr. Howell

The hon. Member knows that that is not correct. Details were given of more than one case—

Sir P. Roberts

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your protection against the hon. Member telling me that I said something which I know not to be correct?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think any point of order arises on that.

Mr. Howell

I repeat that details of more than one case were given in Committee. They are on record in the Committee.

Sir P. Roberts

Is the hon. Member aware that the N.S.P.C.C. asked for particulars of those cases but that they were not forthcoming?

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Howell

That is nothing to do with me. The cases were quoted. Obviously, we could not quote names and addresses, but the details were given. They were given to hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and I cannot imagine that they were not given to hon. Members opposite. I support the objectives of the N.S.P.C.C. as much as the hon. Member for Ealing, North does. It is an organisation which raises its money voluntarily, but let us be clear that the work is carried out by professionals. I do not want to denigrate any of the children's officers in the Society, but it may well be that many of them have not the qualifications and that local authorities may be much more discriminatory in selecting their children's officers, demanding a very high standard of qualification.

It is essential that there should be unanimity between the Society officer and the local authority officer before a case goes to court. What the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us was that, even if the agreement to which they referred is reached, there is an escape clause containing the words "except under exceptional circumstances.'' I cannot see any exceptional circumstances in which the local authority children's officer could not be contacted if the Society children's officer can be contacted. Even if it is Bank holiday, somebody must be available. Therefore, I do not think that the arguments are as genuine as they might have been, and I do not think they bear any relation to what is taking place. The Clause would help considerably.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I do not want to enter into the dispute over the Clause, but I was very interested when my right hon. Friend replied and no comment at all was made about the position of the courts or magistrates, for they are interested parties. I should declare an interest as a magistrate. Perhaps it would be better if occasionally a little more attention were paid to magistrates and their views on how the machinery dealing with matters of this kind operates.

I wonder whether, when considering the new Clause and the arguments in Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend or anybody else sought the advice of the Magistrates' Association or the advice of the clerks to the courts to ascertain whether it would be an advantage to the cours to have a Clause of this kind. That is very material. Justices are sometimes in a very difficult position because information which they would like to have is not forthcoming when a case is being heard.

Mr. MacColl

Perhaps I might assist the hon. Lady. She is under a misapprehension. The Clause was not discussed in Standing Committee. Therefore, the question does not really arise. The discussion in Committee dealt with a different point—taking proceedings for care and protection. This Clause deals with the removal of children to a place of safety before proceedings begin in court.

Dame Irene Ward

That may well be so, but much argument has taken place on both sides of the House about what was and was not said in Committee. The Clause refers to juvenile courts and magistrates, and all I ask is whether the magistrates were asked to express a view about whether the Clause would help them in the administration of justice and the part they have to play in looking after children who are in need of care and protection, and whether they were in favour of acceptance or rejection of the Clause. The courts are an integral part of the whole machinery of administration, and it is important that their interests should be considered and their views sought. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to answer this point.

Miss Bacon

I shall be brief, but I want to put one or two things right. In answer to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), I would point out that many of my hon. Friends who were on the Standing Committee are magistrates. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is chairman of a juvenile court. I think that there has been some confusion in this discussion because, as my hon. Friend said, this Clause does not cover the same point as the Amendment we moved in Committee. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) was rather confused because he was speaking entirely to that Amendment, which was about bringing children to court in need of care and protection. This Clause concerns what happens before the case comes to court.

In Committee I quoted cases given to me by very reliable people, and I promised that I would not divulge the names and addresses. But I remind the House of the case of a girl of 14 who was taken to a place of safety and thereby missed her chance of getting her G.C.E. That was a case from Leeds. The hon. Gentleman is confused in saying that there has been only one case of an objection over a period when the N.S.P.C.C. has taken children to court. That is not the point. This new Clause would deal with what happens before a child gets to court. The 14-year-old girl I have mentioned was sent back home when she appeared before the court. It was in the month that she was kept in a place of safety that the harm was done.

This is a very modest Clause. It merely asks that when a child is taken to a place of safety the person taking it shall ascertain whether or not it is already in the care of some suitable agency and shall see that that agency and the court are informed. That is all we ask and it is a modest request.

The Home Secretary says that the N.S.P.C.C. has promised to consult, but that was to do with taking the child before the court, and at a later stage tonight further Amendments will be moved to cover that aspect. I am surprised that he does not accept this very modest request, which is the least we

could ask for. I hope, in view of his refusal, that we shall carry this to a division.

Mr. Brooke

By leave of the House, perhaps I may reply to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). As the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said, this Clause covers a new point not raised in Committee. To the best of my knowledge, I have received no advice or opinion from the Magistrates' Association about it. I entirely agree that the position of the courts and of the magistrates is extremely important.

Warrants to remove children to a place of safety are granted by magistrates, who are surely to be trusted to make appropriate inquiries before doing so. They have this protection in their own hands. To the best of my knowledge and belief, I have not received any specific advice or opinion from the Magistrates' Association upon it.

Dame Irene Ward

I did not ask whether the Association tendered any advice but whether my right hon. Friend had asked it whether it had any advice to give. It is extremely difficult for the Association to know what new Clauses and Amendments are to be put down on Report stage, particularly if a new point is to be covered. Did my right hon. Friend get in touch with the Association on this matter?

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

The House divided: Ayes 95, Noes 150.

Division No. 164.] AYES [11.9 p.m.
Abse, Leo Davies, Harold (Leek) Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bacon, Miss Alice Dempsey, James Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)
Beaney, Alan Dodds, Norman Kelley, Richard
Blyton, William Duffy, A. E. P. Kenyon, Clifford
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Evans, Albert Lawson, George
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W.(Leics, S. W.) Fernyhough, E. Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)
Bowles, Frank Finch, Harold Loughlin, Charles
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Fitch, Alan McCann, John
Bradley, Tom Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) MacColl, James
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Gourlay, Harry MacDermot, Niall
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Greenwood, Anthony Mackie, John (Enfield, East)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hannan, William Manuel, Archie
Carmichael, Neil Harper, Joseph Mapp, Charles
Cliffe, Michael Herbison, Miss Margaret Mayhew, Christopher
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hill (Midlothian) Millan, Bruce
Cronin, John Holman, Percy Milne, Edward
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Houghton, Douglas Mitchison, G. R.
Dalyell, Tam Hoy, James H. O'Malley, B. K.
Davies G. Elfed Rhondda, E.) Janner, Sir Barnett Oswald, Thomas
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Sorensen, R. W. Whitlock, William
Probert, Arthur Spriggs, Leslie Wilkins, W. A.
Purser, Cmdr. Harry Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Randall, Harry Stonehouse, John Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Redhead, E. C. Swain, Thomas Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Wills, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Woof, Robert
Ross, William Wainwright, Edwin Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Silkin, John Ward, Dame Irene
Skeffington, Arthur Watkins, Tudor TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.) Weitzman, David Mr. Charles A. Howell and
Small, William Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Mr. Sydney Irving.
Aitken, Sir William Hirst, Geoffrey Pitt, Dame Edith
Allason, James Holland, Philip Pott, Percivall
Atkins, Humphrey Hopkins, Alan Proudfoot, Wilfred
Barlow, Sir John Hornby, R. P. Pym, Francis
Barter, John Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Ramsden, James
Batsford, Brian Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Hughes-Young, Michael Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)
Bidgood, John C. Iremonger, T. L. Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)
Biggs-Davison, John James, David Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Bingham, R. M. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Roots, William
Bishop, F. P. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Black, Sir Cyril Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Scott-Hopkins, James
Bossom, Hon. Clive Kirk, Peter Seymour, Leslie
Bourne-Arton, A. Kitson Timothy Sharples, Richard
Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Leavey, J. A. Shepherd, William
Braine, Bernard Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Skeet, T. H. H.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Brooman-White, R. Linstead, Sir Hugh Smithers, Peter
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Litchfield, Capt. John Spearman, Sir Alexander
Buck, Antony Longden, Gilbert Stanley, Hon. Richard
Bullard, Denys Loveys, Walter H. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Storey, Sir Samuel
Chichester-Clark, R. MacArthur, Ian Studholme, Sir Henry
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) McLaren, Martin Summers, Sir Spencer
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia Talbot, John E.
Coulson, Michael Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Tapsell, Peter
Crowder, F. P. Maclead, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Curran, Charles McMaster, Stanley R. Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F. Macmillan, Maurice (Hadifax) Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Maddan, Martin Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Doughty, Charles Markham, Major Sir Frank Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)
Drayson, G. B. Mathew, Robert (Honiton) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
du Cann, Edward Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Eden, Sir John Mawby, Ray Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Emery, Peter Miscampbell, Norman van Straubenzee, W. R.
Errington, Sir Eric More, Jasper (Ludlow) Vickers, Miss Joan
Fisher, Nigel Morgan, William Wakefield, Sir Wavell
Foster, John Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walder, David
Goodhew, Victor Neave, Airey Wall, Patrick
Gower, Raymond Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Webster, David
Green, Alan Osborn, John (Hallam) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Gresham Cooke, R. Page, John (Harrow, West) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Grosvenor, Lord Robert Page, Graham (Crosby) Wise, A. R.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Woodhouse, C, M.
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Woodnutt, Mark
Harris, Reader (Heston) Peel, John Woollam, John
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Worsley, Marcus
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pike, Miss Mervyn
Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Pilkington, Sir Richard TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Pitman, Sir James Mr. Finlay and Mr. Ian Fraser.