HC Deb 08 February 1971 vol 811 cc236-46

1.40 a.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hawkins]

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Even at this early hour I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in this short Adjournment debate the subject of the implementation of Part III of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, 1968. I could have wished that it had been at a more convenient hour for Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Minister and Officers of the House.

Although there is no obvious widespread public anxiety expressed about the subject, the degree of interest of the limited number of people involved is more deep and intense than normally prevails on the introduction of new legislation. I refer to the members of children's panels who have offered to render voluntary service and the dedicated social workers.

First, as a courtesy to the House, I should explain what we are talking about. Following the Kilbrandon Report on Children and Young Persons and the subsequent White Paper of 1966, the Social Work (Scotland) Act reached the Statute Book in 1968. Its purpose is the integration of the various social services existing in the local authorities in the form of separate welfare, child care and probation services into a single local authority social work department, and the replacement of juvenile courts by a system of children's panels. It is these lather vital provisions governing the change from courts to panels which are covered by Part III and which have not yet been implemented, although, in fairness, I should add that a major reorganisation has been proceeding since the passing of the Act with the other Parts of it.

On 15th October, 1970, the Under-Secretary of State will recall that in speaking to the chairmen of children's panels he said that the Secretary of State for Scotland: … intends to bring the new system into operation in early April 1971, and we shall do everything we can to ensure that this target date is met. If the expected progress is made. it should be possible to announce the precise commencing date in January 1971. It is, therefore, at this point that my first questions arise. To be fair, the Under-Secretary explained at that time the reasons for the delay which, briefly, were that it was taking longer than was expected to make various preliminary arrangements. Therefore, it is in no acrimonious spirit but with a view to seeking a progress report on Part III that I want to put some questions to the Under-Secretary.

The first and obvious question is, can the hon. Gentleman now inform the House of the precise date? I know it is unusual for Governments on either side to yield to questions of this character in Adjournment debates, but there is an opportunity for the Under-Secretary to set a precedent. If the hon. Gentleman cannot state the date precisely, can he say whether it will still be in early April'? Or, since the date was not announced in January as he promised, must we assume that the expected progress has not been made? If so, what are the remaining difficulties? For example. do they lie in the appointment of reporters?

What is the number of reporters required? Am I right in thinking that it is 42 responsible local authorities that are eligible to appoint? Since in theory there is one for each local authority under Part III, including the large burghs. is 42 the requisite number? How many of that number have been appointed, and where have no such appointments been made? A reporter, who is an officer. vets the information supplied to him, all complaints, which may be malicious or trivial, and then considers whether they should go to a children's panel, so this is a very important post. A reporter may not be removed from or required to resign from his office by the local authority except with the consent of the Secretary of State, which suggests that the Secretary of State attaches great importance to the appointment.

What is the breakdown by profession or calling of the reporters already appointed? For example, how many are lawyers or former policemen? How many are ex-Service officers? It would be a pity if an undue proportion are or have been associated with exercising discipline to the disadvantage of those who accept a preventive correction approach.

According to the excellent little publication, "Children's Hearings", no special legal qualifications are necessary for the appointment of reporters. Have lawyers been appointed generally? I can understand the reasons if a case is subsequently to go to the sheriff's court, but it would be interesting to know the breakdown of those appointed.

Since the reporter can deal with cases in only one of three ways, none of which provides for a reference back to the police, are the police expected to continue to operate the existing warning system and liaison schemes illegally, as has been suggested in recent newspaper articles? I understand from the booklet that I mentioned that the police may in fact continue to issue warnings, with or without the reporter's consent. But I should say in fairness that that same critic admitted in the Press that the children's tribunals were a good thing, and he wished the panels well in their endeavours. The officer concerned has rendered very good services over the years to the police force in Glasgow.

When can we expect the rules of procedure governing children's hearings to be issued? The point to which I have just referred may well be covered by the rules when they are produced. So far as I know, no such information has been provided, at least, in statutory form. When they are provided will they be in the negative or affirmative form?

My next point is on the panel advisory committees. The difficulties in announcing the date arise from the incomplete number of advisory committees which have been appointed. As I understand it, one can be appointed in each local authority to assist the Secretary of State in selecting panel members. Are all advisory committees appointed? Again, may I have an indication of the type? Is it a cross-section of the community who have been appointed as chairmen?

Similarly, from what walks of life do the panel members come? In conjunction with hon. Members on both sides of the House, my concern is that we shall not have people animated wholly by extreme leniency nor those desiring extreme retribution, but only sympathy tempered with firmness and shrewd common sense and the ability to consider cases not in the context of their comfortable background and home but an ability to project themselves into the circumstances of inadequate housing, inadequate parents and deprived children. I should like some information on that point, particularly with regard to Glasgow. Is the number of panel members for Glasgow now complete or are there more still to come?

While speaking about Glasgow, may I raise with the Under-Secretary the need for local officers to get out into the areas rather than have the social work department and its officers centralised in the City of Glasgow. Surely the need is for branch officers, perhaps, to begin with, in the north, south, east and west, to cut down their travel.

I raise next the very important matter of residential accommodation. This is crucial to the successful operation of Part III. Hon. Members of the House in the 1950s will recall a series of Questions and Adjournment debates directing attention to the need for adequate provision of accommodation with suitable treatment facilities appropriate to the various needs of juvenile offenders or children in need. In too many cases—regrettably it still happens—those young people were put in prison because no other suitable accommodation was available. In my own constituency, after an inquiry, one institution was closed because young girls of 11 or 12 years of age were in residence with young women of 18 to 21 who were street-walkers. Those are practical physical difficulties which the administrators are anxious to avoid and overcome. But what are the Government doing to assist local authorities in the provision of better accommodation? What are the problems? In a recent Answer to me, the Secretary of State said that it is the duty of local authorities to provide such accommodation either by themselves or in co-operation with contiguous local authorities and voluntary organisations. Has he now asked the local authorities to provide proposals for these developments and, if so, with what results?

I welcome the Statutory Instrument made in respect of registration of establishments, which, among other things, calls for all such places within Section 61(1) of the Act to register with the local authority as the registering authority. Such places then become subject to inspection and must conform to certain standards.

As I understand it, when Part III is brought into operation, remand homes will no longer be known by that name. What plans has the hon. Gentleman for the use of such accommodation? Will it be used as assessment centres, or can it be adapted to meet the needs of the panels' decisions as to the proper treatment for children?

Can the hon. Gentleman say a word about training and recruitment? It is an open secret that there is an urgent need for more trained social workers. It is known that in more than one place a breakdown in the service has almost been reached. That is all the more reason for taking this opportunity to pay sincere tribute to the hard work and devoted service of the various directors and staffs concerned in bringing about this fusion of so many important services.

Since this short debate is concerned only with the limited area of Part III, I will not pursue this next matter too far, but can the hon. Gentleman say a little about the rationalisation of the qualifications necessary? He will know that there were no less than five different certificates of qualification issued for the various professions separately. Are steps being taken to bring them together and have a generic certificate of qualification issued?

Then, on finance, can the hon. Gentleman say a few words about the financial effect of introducing Part III? The Statutory Instrument says that the rates of travelling allowances and subsistence for members of children's panels will approximate to those prevailing for councillors. I do not take exception to that, but has an estimate been made of the total? Generally, expenditure under this head will be treated as relevant expenditure for the purpose of rate support grant, but will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, if this great progressive step in social reform is to achieve the measure of success that we all wish for it, still greater financial resources will be required to be allocated to it? There will be many new items. There was an increase between 1967 and 1968 compared with 1968–69, and there is no doubt that more resources will be needed if Part III is not to be crippled from its inception. The question is not whether we can afford it, but whether we can afford not to do justice by this new Act, positively to meet the needs and provide the care for deprived, neglected children and, in the negative sense, to diminish the alternative course of wasted lives and vandalism.

I urge the hon. Gentleman, not in any offensive but in a realistic fashion, to recognise that he has a responsibility for education. There are other developments which I have only mentioned but which, together with Part III, could be a charter for our young people. I know that the hon. Gentleman is personally not in favour of raising the school leaving age to 16, but his Government are. I hope that they will continue to press that, and for the implementation of the Report on Service for Youth. Together, I believe that they will achieve much to eradicate some of the delinquency. It is on the preventive side that we need to be active, rather than dealing with the results of vandalism, which is just as big a cost, and comparing one cost with the other.

In the limited time now remaining to the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will be able to deal with at least some of these points.

2.0 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor)

I shall do my best to answer the various points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan).

Concerning the school leaving age, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have made their views clear, and they are also my views.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising these points in this Adjournment debate. As he will see later, it is particularly appropriate that they should be raised today.

Part III of the 1968 Act sets out the statutory framework for establishing children's panels and the children's hearings drawn from them. Their purpose is to consider the cases of children who may be in need of compulsory measures of care. The establishment of this new system was one of the two main aims of the 1968 Act. The other was the establishment of the integrated social work departments within local authorities which have been in operation since 17th November, 1969. As a step forward in social reform, the new departments represent a change which can stand on its own merits. But they were also a necessary precursor of the introduction of the system of children's hearings.

The three main components which are essential before the new system is introduced are: first, panel members selected and trained to take part in the hearings; secondly, reporters appointed with their staff and accommodation; and, thirdly, an effective framework of rules for the detailed operation of the system.

There is no Parliamentary procedure to bring into effect the rules about which the hon. Gentleman asked.

Last summer about 850 panel members were appointed in all parts of Scotland. They have been undergoing training and preparation both at universities and colleges and in their own areas.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the make-up of these panels—in particular, in Glasgow. A very real endeavour has been made to choose the right kind of panels for the job. Glasgow will have a very heavy problem. This is obvious from the fact that it has by far the largest number of panel members. At present there are about 190 drawn from four times the number of volunteers and of much the same pattern as elsewhere. It was, however, suggested to the Glasgow Panel Advisory Committee last year that it should consider appointing about 40 more panel members, partly as a general safeguard and partly to see whether a higher proportion of members from manual occupations could be obtained. The advisory committee hopes to be able to submit recommendations to the Secretary of State shortly about this proposal, and special training will be laid on for these extra members, just as the present 190 have had preparation and training.

Concerning the make-up of the panels elsewhere, the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that Edinburgh University is undertaking a study of the age and occupations of those who apply and of those who are appointed, which should be available later this year. My Department intends to issue a circular about the functions of the advisory committees, which will be expected to keep an eye on the workload of the panel members and to advise the Secretary of State if any additional apointments need to be made. The make-up of the panels will be under careful review, and we shall have this most helpful report from Edinburgh University.

Regarding reporters, most of them have now been in post for some time, and only one or two smaller local authorities have not yet made appointments. The hon. Gentleman asked about numbers. There are 42 reporters required altogether. Three of these are combined posts. The only posts which remain to be appointed are Angus, Arbroath and Inverness-shire. Not all the reporters are lawyers. We have some who are policemen and others who are social workers. I am sure that the local authorities will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The hon. Gentleman said that, this being an Adjournment debate, one would not expect a major announcement, but he invited me to establish a precedent in this connection. I am glad that, if it is a precedent, I can do so tonight.

Although we had hoped to introduce the system in December, this did not prove possible because a number of reporters had not then been appointed, and because the preparation of rules of procedure took rather longer than had been expected. We therefore announced in October that we intended to bring the new system into operation in April. I am glad to inform the hon. Gentleman now that the Secretary of State has signed a commencement order which will bring the children's hearings into operation on 15th April.

If in this debate we have established a precedent, I hope that what we have announced will also mark the beginning of something that will be well worth while for the whole of Scotland.

On the question of staffing, services to children's hearings will fall to be provided by local authority social workers who already provide services to the courts, amongst many other functions. At present there are about 1,000 social workers in Scotland, of whom about 600 have some form of qualification. The independent Rowntree Committee which considered social work in Scotland thought that we should aim at a figure of at least 1,500 social workers by 1975, the vast majority of whom should be trained. I think that this is a useful broad target to aim at, although it represents a very rapid expansion to an output of about 500 social workers per annum, which also allows for developments in residential social work and other needs. In 1970 the output of qualified social workers in the Scottish colleges and universities was 122. The 1971 figure should be about 50 per cent. above that, and we hope that the increase will be at least as much again in 1972.

I deal next with the question which the hon. Gentleman raised about residential accommodation. He suggested that adequate accommodation might not be available. We do not, of course, know what view the hearings will take on the need for residential care away from home in cases coming before them. Since they will be concerned primarily with the needs of each child, their demand for residential accommodation may prove to be radically different from the present pattern of committals by the courts, which are subject to the constraints of statutory distinctions between specific types of accommodation and between the different types of sentences which can be imposed. At this stage, however, we can only judge the possible demand for residential care by what is happening at present.

At the moment residential care for children who have committed offences or who need compulsory care and protection is primarily provided by 27 approved schools, all but two provided by voluntary bodies, providing altogether about 1,880 places. At present the schools have about 1,560 pupils. On the face of it, this might look as if there was ample provision, but, of course, the schools are differentiated according to the sex, age and religion of the pupils they take, there can be sudden fluctuations in the demand for places for a particular age group, and there may also have to be restrictions on intake from time to time because of staffing shortages or building work. This means that waiting lists build up and last year schools for the older pupils were particularly affected. Nevertheless, overall there has been a welcome drop in committals to the schools; the present population is about 120 lower than that at the end of March last year.

The hon. Gentleman asked about remand homes, and what would happen to them in future. In future there will be no statutory distinction between what we at present know as approved schools or remand homes, and other types of homes for children. The hearings will be free to use children's homes for those who must be removed from their own homes but can go out to ordinary day school, and, indeed, children's homes at present accommodate a number of children who have come before the courts and who may be subject to probation orders or supervision orders or committed to the care of the local authority. There are at present about 5,750 places in children's homes in Scotland, but I accept that in some areas more accommodation is needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the future building programme. The overall provision for capital expenditure on social work building projects, including accommodation for children, will be £3 million in 1971–72 and £3.3 million in 1972£73; this compares with a capital expenditure on these projects of £1.6 million during 1968–69—barely half the expenditure we expect next year.

On the question of overall development, looking further ahead, the recent White Paper on Public Expenditure has shown that we expect expenditure on the social work services in Scotland to increase at constant prices from —20 million this year to £27 million in 1974–75; this represents an average annual increase of 7½ per cent., a faster growth rate than for any of the other social services. We intend soon to issue a circular asking all local authorities to draw up plans for the development of the social work services for several years ahead, in which full account will be taken of the need for better facilities for children in trouble, as well as for the various other needs to be met.

On the question of the costs of the new system, the direct expenditure by local authorities on the children's hearings and supporting staff is estimated at about £0.5 million in 1971–72, and —0.6 million in 1972–73. Indirect expenditure on supporting facilities cannot be estimated precisely, but the rate support grant settlement, the report on which will be made to the House on the forthcoming Rate Support Grant Order 1971, takes into account all expenditure by local authorities on social work.

I am sure that the whole House will share the strongest wishes for the success of the new system.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at ten minutes past Two o'clock.