HC Deb 15 July 1963 vol 681 cc291-6

Amendments made: In page 45, line 47. column 3, at end insert: In section 26, in subsection (1), the words 'or in default of payment of such a fine'.

In page 46, leave out lines 11 to 13.

In page 47, leave out lines 12 to 14.

In page 48, line 3, column 3, at end insert In section 3, subsections (2) and (3)".—[Mr. Brooke.]

4.7 a.m.

Mr. Brooke

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House will forgive me if I keep my remarks brief on the Third Reading of this important Bill. I am grateful to both sides of the House for the way in which it has been received and welcomed. I want to express my appreciation of the helpfulness of everyone who served on the Standing Committee, particularly the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon)—though we had our disagreements. She was, I know, wishing throughout to be constructive.

Most of all, I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Joint Under Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State took on a heavy task when, almost without notice and without previous experience of the Home Office, she joined the Standing Committee. I think that we all recognised the grasp she obtained of the Bill in a very short time.

Far and away the most important Clause is Clause I. This is the Clause for which the local authorities generally have been waiting, and though I do not want to be over-optimistic about what it will do until we see the results, unless our expectations are gravely disappointed it should enable a large number of families to be kept together who would otherwise be broken up, with consequential results in juvenile delinquency and unhappiness.

I want to tell the House that my present intention is to bring Clause 1 into force on 1st October. That will give the local authorities the period of the recess months to make their preparations. I intend to follow very closely the way in which the Clause works. I shall be able to do so both through the reports I shall be seeking from local authorities and through the direct contact my inspectors have with the children's departments. My own belief is that almost without exception the local authorities will wish to exercise these new powers vigorously.

As to the remainder of the Bill; the rest of Part I and Part III contain various improvements of present provisions for the treatment of delinquent and deprived children. I think that these will make an addition to the efficient and humane administration of this branch of the law. My hope is that some of these Clauses, which simply extend discretionary powers to local authorities, can be brought in force soon along with Clause 1. The operation of others may have to wait a short while longer until my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has revised the rules of procedure for juvenile courts in the light of the Bill; but I have no reason to think that it will be necessary to wait many months beyond the time when Clause 1 comes into operation for those other Clauses to be brought into operation, too.

Part II is rather different from the rest. It takes us into a different sphere and it is a testimony to the good job which the Government have done in this respect that, after many years of study, we managed to put the principal recommendations of the Bateson Report into legislative form in such a way that there has been astonishingly little criticism. I confess that I thought that there might be many Amendments to these provisions, perhaps from both sides of the House. But it appears that all the work which has been done on the subject since the Bateson Report was published has brought all concerned into almost unanimous agreement as to the way in which the conditions of employment of juveniles should be regularised, particularly in the entertainment world.

I know that its principal function is to give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself the power and the duty to make regulations. Our aim will be to ensure reasonable uniformity in the exercise of their discretion by local authorities, while permitting a degree of adaptation to local circumstances.

The regulations will, of course, have to be framed in consultation with the local authority associations and with the many other interests involved and we shall have to give due notice of the introduction of the new provisions so that existing arrangements are not disrupted at short notice. As the House may know, I have already had to give a somewhat unusual undertaking not to bring Part II of the Bill into force at least before the end of the next pantomime season. It may be some time be- fore we can bring it into operation, but I can assure the House that there will be no avoidable delay.

All of us who have had any part in carrying the Bill through the House can congratulate ourselves on having done a valuable piece of work for the children. Now we shall all wait and see how it turns out and how local authorities exercise their discretion. I, for my part, will be ready to help them in every possible way.

4.14 a.m.

Miss Bacon

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the detailed account he has given of the way in which the Bill will be brought into operation. I am sure that we are all pleased to note the speed with which he is to get on with the job of bringing the Bill to fruition.

I should like to join with him in paying tribute to the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary for the way in which she stepped right into the deep end with the Bill and, within almost a few days of becoming Under-Secretary, being in the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not find that very surprising, because she and I live only a mile apart and we come from a tough part of the country, where we are accustomed to doing things of that description.

I thank my hon. Friends who, not only on Report, but in Committee, worked so hard on the Bill. I thank, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for all the help that he gave in the drafting of the Amendments. I do not think that it is generally realised how much at a disadvantage hon. Members of the Opposition are in dealing with a very long and technical Bill of this kind because, unlike the Government, we have not the assistance of Parliamentary draftsmen, civil servants, and so on. My hon. Friend has done a great job of work in drafting the Amendments in an admirable way, and I am sure that they could not have been improved on by the Parliamentary draftsmen.

It is a pity that we have had to take the concluding stages of this important Bill at such a late hour. We could have been awkward—perhaps I should say refractory—and held up the Bill, but we know that local authorities and people who are working in the field are waiting for the Bill. We tabled many Amendments, but, as the right hon. Gentleman recognised, we tried to be constructive.

During the Committee and Report stages of the Bill we had discussions about many comparatively small but important parts of the Bill, and I think that at times we were in danger of forgetting the main purpose of the Bill which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is outlined in Clause 1. The main purpose is to lay on local authorities the important duty of taking preventive action in the home.

We support the Bill. We have criticised only one or two aspects of it, and our aim has been to improve it. It is now over to the local authorities, and the success of this Bill will depend on four or five things. First, it will depend on how local authorities tackle this very important job. Secondly—and perhaps the most difficult one—it will depend on the social workers and on the speed with which more social workers are trained because we shall need many more social workers to carry out this task. Thirdly, it will depend on the voluntary bodies, the way in which they co-operate with the local authorities, and the way in which the local authorities cope with the important job of co-ordination. Fourthly, the success of the Bill will depend on the public.

During the passage of the Bill I have criticised the system of various things. When one does that, one is sometimes thought to be criticising the people who work with that system. I want to make it quite clear that where I have criticised the system, I have not in any way made any reflections on the devoted and dedicated people who are working with it—the probation officers, the child care officers, the approved school teachers, and so on. They are doing an excellent job of work in what is admitted to be the most difficult part of the social sphere.

There are many new things in the Bill—the raising of the age of criminal responsibility is only one—but now it is over to the local authorities, to the social workers, to the voluntary bodies, and, above all, to the public. We are concerned with halting juvenile delinquency, and the main purpose of the Bill is to see that it is nipped in the bud; that the local authorities take action in the homes of those children who, it is thought, might come into care or into the courts.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to keep the children out of the courts, and to keep them, as far as possible, out of the care of local authorities, and so to encourage a happy state of affairs in the homes that the children remain where all children ought to remain—in their own homes, with their own parents and families.

4.20 a.m.

Mr. Mapp

At this late hour no one wants to detain the House after it has spent a long time on a matter like this. I am glad about the Bill, and about what it aims to do, but before I came here I was used to the idea of the board room or middle level management throwing ideas up in the air and letting the people in the field or on the factory floor do the job.

It is all very well for us to pass the Bill, but what about the supply of social workers? In Committee, in reply to a question I raised, the Joint Under-Secretary said: I assure him that the training of case workers is provided for already in section 45 of the Children Act, 1948. We must impress upon local authorities the importance of making certain that we get the people. Having got them we cam make adequate arrangements for their training."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 2nd April, 1963; c. 114.] That is not so obvious a process to me, of getting the wherewithal to do the job. I certainly hope that the Home Office, and particularly the Minister, will look at this aspect of the question.

It is no good our writing laws in this House and setting up a complicated series of legislative Measures without making provision for the implements to carry them out. Let us make sure that the case workers are trained and come forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.