HC Deb 23 July 1963 vol 681 cc1332-46

Sentence to an approved school shall not be considered as suitable treatment for—

  1. (a) children who are certified as mental defectives,
  2. (b) children who are found to be in need of care and protection,
  3. (c) children whose only offence is truancy.

—[Mr. J. Bennett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. James Bennett (Glasgow, Bridgeton):

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

I hope that I may be as fortunate as my hon. Friends the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen) in at least having the first part of the new Clause accepted. The first part contains the very fundamentals of elementary justice. It should be entirely unnecessary to move that mental defectives should not be sent to an approved school.

I know that I shall be told that not many such children are sent to an approved school and that these schools were never designed to take any such children. But so long as the law remains as it is at present, mentally defective children can still be sent to an approved school.

I have in mind an instance which came to my attention of a child certified as a mental defective who should have been placed in an appropriate institution but who, because there was no accommodation available within the institution, was returned to the approved school from which it had come. The function of an approved school is to provide education and training. It is obvious to everyone that approved schools as such have their own built-in problems. They deal with very difficult children, children who have been sent there for various crimes, and to add to their difficulties by sending mentally defective children for education and training which the schools simply cannot provide is not only unfair to the child but extremely unfair to the schools. This is a practice which we should be well advised to stop, and acceptance of the first paragraph of my new Clause will be the first step towards doing so.

All of us who have dealings with approved schools appreciate the strains under which they have to operate. The very fact that I am pressing this new Clause upon the Government is an indication of how strongly I feel that approved schools are being asked to undertake too much. I am sure that the House will accept the premise I am advancing. In no circumstances should children certified as mentally defective be sent to approved schools.

It may be said that there is a lack of suitable accommodation. Although this may be a reason, it is certainly not a justification. We are concerned with justice. What I ask for here is a first step towards putting right a wrong which still exists, and, if the noble Lady says that she cannot accept my proposal, I shall be very interested to hear what possible arguments she can put against it.

Next, children in need of care and protection. This is a very specious expression, "children in need of care and protection". For the life of me, I cannot visualise such children receiving at approved school the care and protection which the court orders. I am fortified in this view by what I read in the S.A.C.T.O. Report on Custodial Sentences for Young Offenders, 1960, to which so much attention was paid in Standing Committee. Many are the recommendations contained in it dealing with custodial sentences for young offenders, and these have been accepted in principle by the House. Is it too much to ask that we should accept and act upon what is said on page 13 of that Report? Although the Committee had no remit to discuss the care and protection of young persons, it had this to say: Nor do we deal with young persons in need of cart: or protection ordered to be sent to an approved school (which incidentally, we deplore)…". Although it was going outside its terms of reference, this very responsible body, charged with a special task, saw fit to say that, in its opinion, children in need of care and protection should not be sent to approved schools.

The youngsters sent to approved school because they have committed crimes of one sort and another are not angels by any means. Many of them are there because they have kicked over the traces quite a bit. Is it not absurd, with that type of child in the school, to send there also children and young persons who are—I ask the House to mark the words well—in need of care and protection? I simply cannot understand the logic of such a sentence being ordered for youngsters in this category.

The third category are children whose only offence is truancy. It should be remembered in this connection that many children who are sent to approved schools because of truancy are sent there also because they are in need of care and protection. Although I may not have such a strong objection to truants as such being sent to approved school, I am appalled to find that those sent to approved school for truancy have an average length of stay of 17 months. This is a staggering slice out of a young life for an offence such as truancy.

Can we possibly be satisfied that a young person guilty of truancy and sent to approved school will receive there only the education and training which it is supposed to receive? Children guilty of truancy will mix with children whose offences are far more serious. Are we naïve enough to think that a long period in an approved school will not leave a scar of some kind on a young person's mind? Are we naïve enough to imagine that bad habits which young people may take into an approved school will not become worse the longer they stay there?

I became quite incensed fairly recently when, within my own area, I discovered that there was a girl of 14½ who had been sent to an approved school because of truancy. I gather that, as the law now stands, that is quite in order. But I discovered, also, that her record of truancy went back for three years before that. It makes me wonder whether we are concerned more with retribution than with rehabilitation. If any action were needed in such a case, it should have been taken at an early stage of the youngster's development, not when it is on the verge of leaving school. I was told in this particular case that the girl was also keeping bad company. Let there be no mistake that a girl of just under 15 going to an approved school will meet much worse company there than the company she keeps outside.

What I am now saying could be construed as criticism of approved schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a real appreciation of all the difficulties under which the managers and staff of approved schools have to work. I am urging the new Clause on the Government with a view to reducing the burden which they are continually being asked to undertake in the provision of proper education and care for the recalcitrant children in their charge. It is quite unfair that we should burden them more with cases which, in the first instance, should never be sent to an approved school.

Has the Under-Secretary of State considered the experiment going on in Eng- land, the introduction of classifying schools? Many young persons, before they are sent anywhere, spend some time at a classifying school in order that it may be decided how best to treat them. We must adopt an entirely new attitude towards the children and young persons we send to approved school if we are really concerned with rehabilitation. I recently read, strangely enough, in the Report of the Education Department, Education in Scotland in 1962, something which quite appalled me. On page 92 it is said that two per cent, of the girls and 33 per cent of the boys"— that is, of those attending approved school— had been recommitted to approved schools or sentenced to detention centres, Borstal or prison". This is far too high a proportion to find their way back to approved school or other institutions. So long as such a percentage as 33 per cent. of the boys remains, it is high time that we had a re-examination of our methods of treatment and, particularly, our methods of after-care.

I could say a lot more on this subject, but I think that I have made my main case. The noble Lady knows that I have a very great interest in approved schools as such. I realise that my comments could be construed as criticism of approved schools, but again I say that that is not the case. The approved schools have a tremendously important job to do within our society. Let us make it easier for them to do the job which they were set up to do and let them stop meddling with other ancillary work which they are not able to carry out.

7.30 p.m.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I am very sorry to have to tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett) that I cannot accept his new Clause for a reason which I hope will commend itself to him.

It is exactly the kind of problem with which the new Clause deals that is being considered by Lord Kilbrandon's Committee, which we hope will report by the end of this year. I therefore suggest that it would not be wise to put a Clause of this nature in the Bill since the terms of reference of the Kilbrandon Committee are to consider the provisions of the law of Scotland relating to the treatment of juvenile delinquents and juveniles in need of care or protection or beyond parental control and, in particular, the constitution, powers and procedure of the courts dealing with such juveniles… It might be helpful if I said what happened to the three categories of children mentioned in the new Clause who, the hon. Member hopes, will not be considered suitable to go to approved schools. The hon. Member, who is very experienced in the workings of approved schools, will recognise that the approved schools think of themselves, not as places of penal treatment, but as centres where proper training and instruction can be given which is lacking in the homes of the children concerned. The records in regard to children committed as being in need of care or protection or as being truants show that, in general, those committed under these procedures are just as much in need of the kind of training which they get in approved schools, which is both social and educational, as are children sent there on other grounds.

The hon. Member mentioned a particular case in his constituency. I suspect that he probably knows that the child in question has been considered fit to be released on licence. She had a very bad record of truancy indeed, but we hope that things will now improve.

With regard to children suffering from mental handicaps, the approved schools have considerable experience in training pupils who have to overcome handicaps of low intelligence and educational backwardness, and in a number of these schools there are staff specially qualified in the teaching of mentally handicapped children and in all the schools any child in that category, receives particular attention.

Mr. J. Bennett

There is a difference in the proposal that I have put forward. It mentions not handicapped children but children certified as mental defectives within the meaning of the Act, children sent to approved schools purely because there was no suitable accommodation in the proper institutions.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I was proposing to mention that the reference in the new Clause to children who are certified as mental defectives is not quite correct because such certification was abolished by the Mental Health (Scotland) Act, 1960. Under that Act, however, it is already open to a court, if it is satisfied that a child brought before it is suffering from serious mental disorder, to make a hospital or guardianship order and there is a duty on the prosecutor, or, in a care or protection case, the person bringing the child before the court, to lay before the court such evidence as may be available on the mental condition of the child. Apart from that provision, and particularly in view of the forthcoming report of the Kilbrandon Committee, I do not think that it would be wise to accept the new Clause.

Mr. Willis

I did not intend to take part in this debate, but the excuse or at least the reason, given by the Undersecretary of State for rejecting the new Clause seems to me unacceptable. Apart from telling us the present position, she said that we could not do anything because the Kilbrandon Committee is inquiring into this matter. If it is desirable to do what is suggested in the new Clause, surely we should not wait for the Kilbrandon Committee to report. If this new Clause were put in the Bill, we think that we should have done a good thing. The hon. Lady has not said that it would not be a good thing to put it in the Bill. When we get the Kilbrandon report, and after the Government has considered what action should be taken on it, we can take the steps which we think are necessary in the light of that report.

Why should we not do something good because the Kilbrandon Committee is to report about it next year on which we might act the year after? I do not follow the logic of this. I cannot see that it would interfere with the work of the Kilbrandon Committee. It will carry on and make its report. The noble lady's reason for rejecting the new Clause is quite unacceptable to me. If she had given some other reason why it was not thought desirable to do what my hon. Friend suggests, we might have been able to accept it, but as it is I do not think we can accept the reason given by her.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I wish, first, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett) on the admirable way in which he proposed the new Clause. One realised throughout his speech not only that he has great knowledge of approved schools and of the need of care and protection for some of our children but also how deeply he felt about these matters. I hoped that not only his experience and knowledge but the very depths of his feeling would have got over to the Under-Secretary of State and that she would have been willing to accept at least part if not the whole of the new Clause.

I know that we are in a difficulty at this late stage in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that the hon. Lady had not given good reason for not accepting the new Clause and that she did not say it was a bad thing. I am not sure of that. I rose to speak because Lord Kilbrandon's Committee is sitting and it seemed to me that some of the statements made by the hon. Lady might prejudice the findings of that Committee. Let me take one in particular. She said that those who worked in approved schools did not regard them as places of penal treatment. One must take that statement as meaning that since they were not regarded by the staff as places of penal treatment there was not very much wrong in mental defectives and children who are only truants and who have done nothing else wrong mixing with children who are in approved schools because a court has found them guilty of some misdemeanour.

I accept that those who work in approved schools do their very best to rehabilitate, socially and educationally, the young people in their care. In spite of that, because of my knowledge of approved schools, it seems to me that they are no place for the three categories of children which are causing my hon. Friend so much worry. To take paragraph (c) of the new Clause first, I think of children whose only offence is truancy. Children may be truants for a number of reasons. I give these examples from my experience as a teacher.

There is the child who, far from being wicked, finds school terribly uninteresting. I had one boy who always told me that he would be a biologist and he simply loved to get away from school, not to do anything wicked but to go on to the marshes and watch the wild life there. When I took my children out on a Saturday morning, it was a delight to have that boy with us because he could give so much to the other children. That type of child is a truant because he finds so much of greater interest outside school than he will ever find inside school. It would be very wrong to send that kind of dreamer—it happens occasionally—to an approved school.

If we consider the other truants, very often it is because of the home influences that a child continually plays truant from school. To send to an approved school that kind of child, whose only fault is truancy, is completely wrong in the civilised country in which we live.

There are all kinds of children who are, rightly, in an approved school, and in an approved school segregation is impossible. Indeed, segregation might have many repercussions. If a child who is a continual truant or who needs care and protection—again, perhaps because the home is at fault—goes to an approved school among children who are there, possibly, for criminal offences, I have the gravest fear that such a child will become contaminated at an early age. Therefore, instead of taking sensible steps to give care and protection outside an approved school or to try to stop the truancy, as things are we are running the grave danger of turning those whose only fault is truancy into the potential criminals of the future. That is a very serious matter.

I hoped that before we discussed the new Clause the noble Lady would have given these matters great consideration. In her position as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland she must be learning a great deal about our educational system and about our approved schools in Scotland. She must realise, as we on this side realise, that there is much good in my hon. Friend's new Clause.

Once again I ask the noble Lady whether she will not give further consideration to this matter and speak again to show that she and the Government deprecate the sending to an approved school of any child in these three categories, so that Lord Kilbrandon's Committee will realise that on the part not only of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton and of those who have put down the new Clause but on both sides of the House there is an earnest desire to find a solution other than an approved school for these three categories of young people.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Ross

I was hoping that we would get a response from the hon. Lady to the eloquent pleas of my hon. Friends. The hon. Lady did not answer merely by saying that a Committee was sitting and that the Government did not want to do this or that. I do not think that Lord Kilbrandon's feelings would be hurt if the Government for once made up their mind about something. I do not know whether we are to have the benefit of a speech from the point triple Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I refer to the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White).

Mr. Willis

Where is he?

Mr. Ross

He is here; my hon. Friend need not worry. I was going to refer to something of which the hon. Gentleman had charge and which, I hope, he treated with a little less levity than he seems to treat this matter.

One of our difficulties during discussion of the Bill, and particularly the question of approved schools, was that we had in another part of the building another Committee dealing with children and young persons, in which, belatedly, the Government applied an important Clause to Scotland, with the result that we did not entirely know within either Committee the Government's intentions about the treatment of families or the children of families who required the attention of the local authority. We are in the wonderful position that the situation is dealt with partly in the present Bill and partly in the Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] and now we are told that we cannot add anything to either of them because Lord Kilbrandon and his Committee are discussing the question of juvenile delinquents and the treatment of this, that and the next thing. If the House of Commons is convinced that a matter has been proved and that it is right that we should do something, we do it. The sovereignty of Parliament is something that we should entirely and constantly bear in mind.

The three propositions which we are discussing are fairly simple. The first is whether we should send children who are mental defectives to an approved school. It is I, and not my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett), who must apologise for the weakness in the drafting of my hon. Friend's new Clause. He left it to me and it has turned out to be a weak vessel. I completely forgot about the technical change which we made in the Mental Health Act and, of course, no such definition is applied. It is a question of mental disorder to a particular extent and degree. The Scottish Office, however, was in no doubt of our intention.

If a child is suffering from mental disorder, the place for him is not an approved school. It is not good for the child and it is not fair to him. Irrespective of all the help that, we are told, is available at an approved school, it does not have the specialised help that can be given at a place which is specially fitted for the treatment of mental disorder.

Secondly, there is the need of care and protection, not because of anything inherently wrong with the child but because he has failed to get the care and protection from those who should give it—the parents. It may be that the child has no parents and that he has been looked after by an elderly relative who simply cannot cope with the problems of bringing up growing children. It is not fair to these children or their families that they should be sent to an approved school.

These are the questions which the hon. Lady should have answered, and there was the third, the question about truancy. I know how my hon. Friend feels about this. The hon. Lady should appreciate that the three parts of this Clause were once three separate Clauses. I prevailed upon my hon. Friend to have one and to have a single debate. Probably he was unwise in accepting my advice about this, though I have a feeling that thehon. Lady would have said "No" three times instead of once. However, I felt that the one Clause would make for a tolerably good debate about this matter. I do not think the hon. Lady has answered it at all.

If truancy is the only offence of the child he should not be sent to an approved school. Just remember how long one can remain in an approved school. All the approved schools are not the models which the hon. Lady would have us believe them to be. One thing I wish is that we could spend as much money on our approved schools as in England they spend on theirs, and I wish that our Scottish approved schools were as good as English approved schools. There is still in some of them too much of the taint of the old institution, and we have got to get away from that.

My hon. Friend quoted figures of the number of people in approved schools who had gone back again or had been sentenced to detention centres and so on. They are shocking figures. They do not give us any satisfaction, but to what extent are the approved schools themselves hampered by the presence there of people who just should not be there? Their presence is bound to limit the ability of those in charge to deal with those who were originally intended to be dealt with there. It is because of the shortcomings of the Government in the provision of places for those with mental disorder that they have to be sent to approved schools; and as for those who need care and protection, because the local authorities are not prepared to do what I think is probably their job here in the provision of the second home, those children who need care and protection also go to approved schools. I do not think it is fair to the children and I do not think it is fair to the approved schools.

Some of these approved schools and some of the very dedicated people running them are doing a wonderful job, and while we may hold up our hands in horror at the rate of 30 per cent. of failures there is still a 70 per cent. success rate—although I do not think the figure is quite as good as that taking it all round. But even at that, I think we have got to give our approved schools a chance of succeeding with the type of children for which they were intended, and they will have the better chance if they are used for them and not used for others because of the failures to make for them proper provision in other ways.

I thought that the hon. Lady could have given us a much more sympathetic answer than she did, and might have expressed the hopes of the Government, with all the various Bills before them at the present time, and might have said that the Government were actively concerned with these problems and were concerned to ensure that proper provision is made and proper treatment given for the various types of children who are here in this new Clause listed and categorised. I do not know whether she wishes to say something more. It is one of the troubles of Report stage that one can have only one real go at a matter. I hoped that before she did have her say she would have thought much more sympathetically about it, and I hoped she would have given us a much more satisfactory answer than she has done.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I apologise to my Scottish colleagues for intruding—

Mr. Willis

We are delighted.

Mr. Ede

—in a debate initiated by them about the affairs of Scotland, but I am pleased to find at least two other Members of my own calling who do not think that truancy is a crime—and certainly not a crime on the part of the truant.

Mr. Ross

I thought my right hon. Friend would say on the part of Members of Parliament.

Mr. Ede

I always feel far better with an audience of about this size because I realise the truth of Milton's description of the audience Satan had when he said fit audience find, though few". As a teacher I would have regarded a truant as a reflection on me rather than as a reflection on himself. In these days there is ample opportunity, although there is still much to be desired, to make a school a place in which the interest of the individual child can have full opportunity for recognition by the teacher. I think the boy to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) referred, who was guilty of his own nature study at a time which the school thought ought to be devoted to arithmetic, is a child to be commended. Certainly the child who can show others, out on a school ramble, things he has discovered for himself, a child to whom nature reveals itself as he goes along, is not one who is likely to profit from the strict residential atmosphere of an approved school. That kind of education is intended for the upper classes. I do not myself think that it is suitable to give that type of education to a boy with some appreciation of what free wandering really means.

I hope that, as time goes on, we shall get a greater recognition of the duty of the school to the child who sometimes finds a formal lesson not merely uninteresting but irritating. If a child does truant, as a rule in these days I think the fault is more likely to be found in the school than in the child. I should feel much happier if I knew that truancy ended because schools had become more interesting.

I never truanted, but I had a great admiration for the truants. They knew what was coming to them when they turned up and they never made any complaint. They needed no instruction about getting ready for the reward which was to come to them. They accepted it in a good spirit, and made up their minds that next time they would have more fun, even if they did have to pay more for it.

Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

I, too, wish the hon. Lady would re-examine in her own mind the content of this new Clause and understand that children arrive at this situation in which they have to be dealt with in this manner, have to be dealt with by being sentenced to an approved school, because they have come before the courts, and they go before the courts for very many and different offences.

My hon. Friend gave an illustration about truancy. A headmaster reports the case of an absent child to the attendance officer of a committee, a subcommittee of the education committee. The case comes before the committee, who see the parents—and sometimes fail to convince the parents that the child has not been to school as regularly as he ought. But the headmaster himself, and his influence, ought to be enough to ensure that such a case does not arise and does not require to be sent to court.

8.0 p.m.

One of the problems is that the juvenile court has no intimate knowledge of the offender and has to deal with the crime purely as truancy. Just how criminal is truancy in the mind of the court? The court has no other means of dealing with the child than sending it to an approved school unless—this is where I think the probation service is so important—it is not satisfied that it should make a decision in terms of sentencing the child when it is of school age. I have never heard of a sentence of three or four months. It is usually for one to three years. That is a very cruel situation.

If I might be honest and domestic about it, this generally comes at the age of puberty. There are very many psychological aspects apart from the matter of dealing with the minor crime of truancy and taking the children out of the area of influence of people they have known all their lives and putting them into the hands of functionaries who have the duty to carry out what the court has decided—that they be removed from the community to an institution as retribution for something they have done. When one takes into account all the psychological argument that goes on in the child's mind as to whether or not it is being fairly dealt with, I think it is regrettable that the hon. Lady should not support an element of what is contained in the new Clause.

Question put and negatived.