HC Deb 09 June 1969 vol 784 cc1057-65
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 11, leave out from 'unnecessary' to end of line 14.

This Amendment is similar to one which was moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), who thought that the words were unnecessary. I have looked at them. I agree that the words are unnecessary. There is no need to put them in. Therefore, as both sides are agreed, I hope that we can get on.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 3, line 20, leave out 'not in his interests' and insert: 'neither in his interest nor the public interest'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we can take also Amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 21, at end insert: 'or to charge him with an offence'.

Mr. Callaghan

This Amendment owes its birth to the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) on my birthday. The hon. Member suggested that we should have regard to the interests of society. He preferred the words "public interest"; he thought that. "protection of society" was putting the case a bit high. On the whole, I think that the two things are likely to go together. On the other hand, both considerations should be borne in mind. I am happy to move the Amendment to meet the hon. Member.

Mr. Carlisle

I hope that the Home Secretary will not think that I am taking up time unduly if I simply say "Thank you".

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 21, at end insert: 'or to charge him witth an offence'. There is a sentence or two which I should add. The Amendment arises from the previous one. It would be inappropriate to lay upon a local authority a duty to bring care proceedings in a case where the authority knew that the police intended to prosecute. The Amendment makes clear that the local authority has no such duty in that case.

Amendment agreed to.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 3, line 38, after 'subsections', insert '(1),'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that with this Amendment it will be convenient also to discuss the following Amendments: No. 12, in page 4, line 1, leave out 'it is proved that'.

No. 13, in line 3, at end insert 'it is proved that he'.

No. 37, in Clause 9, page 11, line 13, at end insert: 'or a local education authority'. No. 46, in line 28, leave out 'local'.

Mr. Callaghan

Again, these are Amendments by the Government to meet the wishes of the Committee. The Amendments which I have moved achieve that end because their principle was accepted in Standing Committee. Amendment No. 11 provides that in the reference to a local authority in Clause 2(1), the duty to make inquiries falls upon the local education authority in education cases. Amendments Nos. 37 and 46 will have a similar effect in relation to the duty to make investigations and provide information for the courts.

These Amendments meet a point raised by the Inner London Education Authority. In London, as is well known, the education authority and the children's authority are distinct bodies. The Amendments make it clear that in education cases the local education authority has a duty to make any necessary inquiries and provide the court with any necessary information on the children's background.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 12, in page 4, line 1, leave out 'it is proved that'.

No. 13, in page 4, line 3, at end insert: 'it is proved that he'.—[Mr. Callaghan.]

Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 4, line 17, at end insert: (6) If on application under this subsection to the court in which it is proposed to bring care proceedings in respect of a relevant infant who is not present before the court it appears to the court that he is under the age of five and either—

  1. (a) it is proved to the satisfaction of the court, on oath or in such other manner as may be prescribed by rules under section 15 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, that notice of the proposal to bring the proceedings at the time and place at which the application is made was served on the parent or guardian of the relevant infant at what appears to the court to be a reasonable time before the making of the application; or
  2. (b) it appears to the court that his parent or guardian is present before the court
the court may if it thinks fit, after giving the parent or guardian if he is present an opportunity to be heard, give a direction under this subsection in respect of the relevant infant; and a relevant infant in respect of whom such a direction is given by a court shall be deemed to have been brought before the court under section 1 of this Act at the time of the direction, and care proceedings in respect of him may be continued accordingly. The object of the Amendment is to enable care proceedings to be brought in the case of a child under the age of five without the child being brought before the court. This, again, was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), and I thought that his case sounded a sensible one. Therefore, the Amendment is put down to meet it.

The Amendment enables the court to give a direction. The effect will be that a child under the age of five who is not before the court will be deemed to have been brought before it. The direction may be given only if the parents are present or, if they are not present, if it is proved that the notice of proceedings was served upon them at a reasonable time before the making of the application for the direction.

The Amendment also provides for the parents, if they are present, to be given an opportunity to be heard. The power to give a direction is permissive and not mandatory. There is no question of the court being obliged to deal with the case in the child's absence unless it is satisfied that it is proper to do so. There could be cases—I hope that there will not be many—where it is alleged that the child is being ill treated, when the court might well think that the child's physical presence would be essential. Then it would be entitled to call for the child to be present. That is the major effect of the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 5, line 9, at end insert: (11) Nothing in this section shall empower a local authority when making enquiries pursuant to subsection (1) of this section on receiving information suggesting that the condition mentioned in paragraph (e) of subsection (2) of section 1 of this Act is satisfied, to deprive a child or young person of his liberty, either with or without the consent of his parents other than by an order of a court. Behind this Amendment lies the anxiety which has been felt, and not wholly allayed, ever since the early days of the first White Paper, "The Child, The Family and The Young Offender". This is quite simply a fear that under the Bill we may move into a situation whereby many more young offenders are sent to remedial treatment by voluntary agreement without the process of the court. Right from the start of the first White Paper this has been generally regarded as a very serious issue, and in my view rightly. As the reaction to the first White Paper, "The Child, The Family and The Young Offender", made quite clear, any notion that local authorities should be able to persuade the parents of young offenders to submit them to remedial treatment without the process of the courts was widely—one could say unanimously—opposed and condemned. What lies behind this Amendment is our wish not to see that notion return by a side wind, as it were, through this Clause in the Bill.

Our fears are not wholly imaginary. What, I think, first gave rise to them were some words by the Under-Secretary of State, who, I am glad to see, is taking a deserved rest from these proceedings. He said them in Committee on the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) has already quoted them, but I think I must repeat the words because they go to the heart of our anxiety and are the reason for this Amendment. The hon. Gentleman said: There will be those who have transgressed and in respect of whom a caution has been issued, or those who have been detected at an early stage in their delinquent development—if I may so describe it—for whom it is thought that attendance would be beneficial. That would be a part of the voluntary process. Third, there will be another group who have not transgressed at all, but under Section 1 of the 1963 Act they will be regarded as being in need of certain care, guidance and supervision. The attendance of the second two categories I mentioned will be on an informal and voluntary basis. I hope that clears up the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 27th March, 1969; c. 121.] That gave rise to fears among my hon. Friends that there was no limit to the point to which the arrangements the hon. Gentleman had in mind might take this proposal. I will come in a moment to the words later used by the Home Secretary, who did have a certain effect on our thinking, but I should like to treat that separately.

I recognise that the motives behind the wish that local authorities should be able to act in this way are wholly benign. It does not reduce my disquiet about the proposal. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that. These are, of course, motives which are not limited to the Home Office. The memorandum of the Association of Child Care Officers, on which I pass no general comment, leave me in no Doubt that there are a number of people who feel with passionate sincerity that children should be kept out of court at almost any cost, that almost any arrangement is preferable to one which requires a child to appear in court.

With that general approach, the Home Secretary will agree, we have gone some way. That is, after all, partly the thinking behind the Bill, and part of the Bill which we accept; we share the desire to reduce the number of unnecessary court appearances by children. But there is a price above which we are not prepared to pay, and that is granting, to local authorities, however benignly motivated, a degree of control over young lives which should not be exercised without the authority of the court.

It is fair to add that later in the proceedings the Home Secretary added some remarks to those of the Under-Secretary which went some length towards allaying the anxieties. I will not quote them because they are extensive, but they appear in columns 181–187. The Home Secretary was very persuasive here, and I do not speak ironically. He rehearsed the courses open for those not going to court, and he enumerated quite fairly the many attractive facilities—again, I do not use the word "attractive" ironically—available to the child and the parents and always with the parents' consent. The adventure camps and so on are no doubt in the child's interests and in the parents' interests and no harm could come. He added an important proviso, which I would like to hear reiterated on this Amendment, that it was not his intention that children should be removed, even with the parents' consent, for residential purposes. He said this: It is certainly not my intention that children should be removed, even with their parents' consent, for residential purposes elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G. 1st April, 1969; c. 186.] That strikes me as an important limitation on what we are apprehensive about.

In the development of the range of facilities which may occur—and we obviously reached no limit to them—it is difficult to determine just what that includes and what it excludes. Clearly, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn, it includes the attendance centre.

The right hon. Gentleman later said that it really depends on where one draws the line. That is precisely the point that we here have in mind. It does indeed rest on where one draw's the line, and on that I hope that the Home Secretary on this Amendment will be able to give us some further assurances tonight.

We do not doubt or question the motives and the benevolence of the local authorities, who feel strongly on this issue, and of the professional workers, who also feel strongly and wish to do what is best for the child, but who carry with them the conviction of many professional bodies that they will know better even than the courts what is in the best interests of the young person. I do not doubt that these views are sincerely held, I do not deride them, but I have no doubt where Parliament's duty lies here and I have no doubt, reflecting on the reactions to the first Government White Paper, since withdrawn, where the general public view and indeed the general view of professional bodies lie on this issue.

Voluntary agreements which occur anyway under the Children's Act, 1948, in case of the sickness or imprisonment of the parent should not lead to an extension of courses of treatment for children without the court process. It is on that that we wish to set clear limits. It is on that that we want to hear limits defined, and that is the motive behind the Amendment.

Mr. Callaghan

I am glad to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance which he seeks. The Amendment is based evidently on a fundamental misconception of the purpose and effect of Clause 2(1). It is entirely otiose and unnecessary, I assure the hon. Gentleman, because the local authorities are given no extra powers in this regard by the Bill than they had before. They are not given powers to do anything that was not done before. There is nothing which enables a local authority to do that which the Amendment says it shall not do.

8.45 p.m.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) will accept my assurance that there is no need for the Amendment. There is nothing in Clause 2 which empowers a local authority to deprive a child or any person of his liberty, either with or without his parents' consent, other than by an order of the court. That is the only way in which one may proceed.

This is a clear case of considering where to draw the line and the degree of parental control over a child. When I was a child I was, I regret to say, sent to a juvenile choir. I hated it, but my mother insisted that I went, and I went. However, there was nothing that could have compelled me to go if I had refused, even though my mother wanted me to go. If I had been strong enough willed to say "No", I could not have been forced to go. Equally, there will be nothing, if a child refuses to go to an adventure camp for a weekend, to physically compel him to go, even if his parents say that he should go.

Obviously it is to be hoped that with a child of 10 or 11 parental persuasion will be important. I am sure that hon. Members will not wish to stand in the way of that happening, particularly if the appropriate authority considered this to be a sensible course. I was influenced in this by the remarks of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley), who is either chairman or a member of the board of an excellent institution in the north of England to which children, similar to those whom we are discussing, go for a weekend at a time. He gave an account which, I understand from my officials, was not only accurate but which somewhat under-estimated the good impact of that place to which children go, no doubt with their parents' consent and after discussion, and I would not want to stop that sort of thing from happening. This is, therefore, purely a matter of where one should draw the line.

I emphasise, in repeating that the Amendment is unnecessary—because local authorities are given no power under the Bill, except by order of the court—that it would be a misfortune if we were to prevent anything from being done, except by order of the court, when clearly parental persuasion is an important element in dealing with children of this age, and provided that parents come to this conclusion freely and voluntarily, I hope that they will be allowed to persuade their children. However, if a child was sufficiently strong willed, mature and adult to say, "No, I will not go", then nobody, local authority or anybody else, can say, "You must go", and I trust that the right hon. Member for Ashford will, with this explanation, not press the Amendment.

Mr. Carlisle

I am afraid that if a fundamental misconception has occurred, it was largely caused by the background of the White Paper, which indicated the exact powers mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), and perhaps by a speech of the Under-Secretary in Committee which was open to misinterpretation because he implied that there would be far wider powers than the Home Secretary indicated.

The right hon. Gentleman said—we were delighted to hear his remarks—that the Bill does not give any power to a local authority to in any way interfere with the liberty of the individual. However, when the Under-Secretary was interrupted in Committee—at the time he was speaking about attendance centres—he maintained that he believed that he was correct in saying that local authorities would be given powers under Section (1) of the 1963 Act. However, that provision is limited to advice, guidance and assistance and is in no way related to the matter under discussion.

I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will appreciate that it was a genuine desire to get his assurance repeated on the Floor of the House that led to the Amendment being tabled. We wanted the right hon. Gentleman to repeat his assurance, given in Committee following his hon. Friend's remarks, that there was no possible means of going beyond what we now know to be in Clause 2. Many people will be assured by his remarks and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, having achieved the object of getting the right hon. Gentleman to repeat his assurance, will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Deedes

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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