HC Deb 15 October 1969 vol 788 cc462-4

Lords Amendment No. 26: In page 28, line 30, at end insert: (4A) If a person who is subject to a care order and has attained the age of five is accommodated in a community home or other establishment which he has not been allowed to leave during the preceding three months for the purpose of ordinary attendance at an educational institution or at work and it appears to the local authority to whose care he is committed by the order that— (a) communication between him and his parent or guardian has been so infrequent that it is appropriate to appoint a visitor for him; or (b) he has not lived with or visited or been visited by either of his parents or his guardian during the preceding twelve months, it shall be the duty of the authority to appoint an independent person to be his visitor for the purposes of this subsection; and a person so appointed shall— (i) have the duty of visiting, advising and befriending the person to whom the care order relates; and (ii) be entitled to exercise on behalf of that person his powers under section 21(2) of this Act; and (iii) be entitled to recover from the authority who appointed him any expenses reasonably incurred by him for the purposes of his functions under this subsection. In this section 'independent person' means a person satisfying such conditions as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State with a view to securing that he is independent of the local authority in question and unconnected with any community home. (4B) A person's appointment as a visitor in pursuance of the preceding subsection shall be determined if the care order in question ceases to be in force or he gives notice in writing to the authority who appointed him that he resigns the appointment or the authority give him notice in writing that they terminate it; but the determination of such an appointment shall not prejudice any duty under the preceding subsection to make a further appointment.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendment would provide a safeguard for children in care without parents or whose parents take no interest in them. This arises from a very full discussion in Committee in another place.

Mr. Goodhart

I welcome this Amendment, which I am happy to say was introduced as a result of an intervention from this side. I have three short questions to put to the Government. First, is it contemplated that the same person may well be the visitor for several children? I hope that, where possible, one visitor will deal with one child. Clearly, these will be emotionally deprived children and the more that one individual can concentrate on each the better

Second, is it contemplated that the visitor should be reimbursed for any expenses which he may incur? If he comes, as he should, from the community of which the child is normally a member, he may have to travel considerable distances as the community which he handles will now be spread over a very wide area. I hope, also, that the visitor will from time to time take presents to the child, and the poor person may find this difficult.

Finally, the Amendment says that a visitor must be appointed if a child has not been visited in a home by his parents or guardian for 12 months. It is contemplated that the visitor should often be appointed well before 12 months have elapsed, perhaps after three or six months, and the longer period is a "long stop". I hope that the Home Office will send out a circular suggesting that visitors should be appointed well before the 12 months have passed.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

If I may speak again, with the leave of the House, I can shortly reply to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). First, there is no reason in law why the visitor could not act in a trust capacity towards a number of children. Secondly, it is envisaged that his expenses should be reimbursed. Thirdly, the statutory duty as set out in the Amendment matures only when the 12-month period is up. But I cannot see that there would be anything repugnant in principle to the appointment of a visitor before that period was up. The converse is not true. It does not preclude them from exercising their discretion to appoint.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

6.30 p.m.