HC Deb 09 December 1974 vol 883 cc56-103

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I beg to move, That this House instructs Her Majesty's Government to treat as a matter of urgency the provision of adequate facilities for dealing with young offenders and to set up a departmental committee to inquire into the operation of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Before I embark on my task I should like, on behalf of back benchers, to protest at the manner in which this debate has been delayed for an hour because the Government have chosen to make three statements in Private Members' time.

When I tabled the motion originally it included the phrase "alarming increase in juvenile crime". I accept that that was not in order, although I still believe that it was not an inaccurate description of the situation.

I shall not burden the House with detailed quotations from criminal statistics which hon. Members no doubt have had full opportunity to study. However, perhaps I should put forward a few figures which are worth quoting.

Of all the crimes of violence that occurred in 1970, just under 12 per cent. were perpetrated by young persons under the age of 17. In 1973 the figure rose to 15½ per cent. In 1970 just under 38 per cent. of all burglary offences were committed by juveniles; last year the figure was 43 per cent. In 1970, 28 per cent. of all robbery offences were committed by juveniles; last year the figure rose to over 40 per cent.

The problem of juvenile crime is particularly serious in the conurbations. The Metropolitan Police report that their arrests for indictable offences overall in the period 1969–73 increased by 18 per cent.; the number of arrests of juveniles for indictable offences rose by 40 per cent. Last year of all the arrests for burglary, in the Metropolitan Police district 52.5 per cent. were by juveniles; for robbery and theft, 39 per cent. were by juveniles; for wounding and assaults, 14 per cent. were by juveniles; as to offences involving motor vehicles, 41 per cent. were committed by juveniles. Similar figures can be quoted for areas such as Liverpool and Birmingham.

Unhappily, there is no sign of the situation improving this year. The Metropolitan Police figures indicate that in the first six months of this year there was a 25 per cent. increase in juvenile offences.

These figures are frightening and serious. They are serious, first, because they represent suffering to those on whom violence has been inflicted, and pain and distress to those whose homes have been burgled or cars stolen. They are serious because the children involved in these offences influence other children. They are serious because if only a proportion of today's juvenile delinquents become tomorrow's hardened criminals, the prospects for law and order are poor.

We could, of course, discuss at some length the reason for this situation, but possibly the decline in adult standards of conduct and an apparent decline in the importance of family life must be held to some extent responsible. Being a parent is not an easy job, as any hon. Member knows. It is a curious fact that in an age when training and qualifications are required for virtually all jobs, no training is required to be a parent. Indeed even having a permanent partner is not considered an essential qualification. Perhaps some of the new ideas in education, such as free expression, have not necessarily helped to inculcate the values of self-discipline and consideration for others. If companies are prepared to spend enormous sums of money on television advertising in order to influence us, could it be that some of the things seen on television influence less sophisticated and less discriminating children?

My particular concern today, however, is to examine how we deal with children and young people who, either of their own volition or as victims of circumstances, get into trouble or in some way come to the attention of the authorities. I want to look at how we deal with children who may be at the beginning of a road which could lead to a life of crime if they are not properly handled.

At the heart of the matter is the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. I invite the House to join me in taking a critical look at how that Act is operating —"critical", I hasten to add, in no partisan sense. It was a Labour Government who passed the Act and a Conservative Government who implemented it, and now it is a Labour Government who are responsible for ensuring that it it operating satisfactorily. I venture to suggest that it is not.

It is fair to say that the Act was introduced in an atmosphere of some controversy. There was criticism by magistrates, probation officers and others, whose advice, unhappily, was in many respects ignored. The timing of the implementation of the Act was particularly unfortunate because it brought social workers far more into the field of juvenile delinquency at a time when the social services were undergoing the Seebohm reorganisation. I shall not comment on the wisdom of turning specialist social workers into what are technically known, I believe, as generic workers. But it meant that social workers who had been accustomed to dealing mainly with old people or with mentally-handicapped folk were thrust into juvenile work, which included court appearances and accepting new responsibilities in unfamiliar circumstances. For many, Seebohm was followed by further local government reorganisation.

Another difficulty was that the Act visualised that there would be some sort of national scheme of community homes. Such a scheme did not exist in 1971 and, indeed, it started only nominally in April of this year, and much of it is a scheme simply on paper. But notwithstanding these difficulties, the Act was implemented, and, if it has its faults, it certainly has its merits.

When I was appointed to a juvenile court some 12 years ago, we were handling two categories of children. There were those who were before the court for committing criminal offences and there were those who came before us as being in need of care and protection. I had not been sitting on the court long before I realised that this distinction was not accurate. It did not always reflect the true situation. When one read the reports on certain offenders and learned their backgrounds, one was surprised that they had not been before the court earlier, and one could only wish that the authorities had known of the circumstances of their homes at a much earlier date. When one was considering care cases, one often realised that it was sheer chance that the children of the family had not been involved in offences on earlier occasions.

I believe that the Act was right to remove that distinction between the two types. It recognised that many children needed treatment and care rather than punishment. It recognised that offences are sometimes simply a symptom of a disturbed condition.

I remember particularly an occasion when, having had before me a lad who admitted shoplifting, we adjourned the case for two or three weeks for reports and let him go home. Two days later he went into one of the local stores and walked out concealing under his jacket— not at all well—a large table lamp. Fortunately, he walked out straight into the arms of a policeman. If ever there were a case of the psychiatrist's cry for help, that was it. This time he did not go home. We put him into appropriate surroundings.

However, the Act failed in some respects. It failed to recognise the distinction between the child for whom mild punishment, supervision or care is appropriate, and the child who is a real delinquent and needs more disciplined training. Nor did the Act recognise that even the purely mischievous child needs and, indeed, expects a structure of rules and sanctions to which, in his own interests as well as those of the community, he should conform.

The Children and Young Persons Act deprived juvenile courts of many powers. I am bound to comment that it was a pity that in this particular manner we have discarded the experience of magistrates in dealing with children. Apparently it was no longer considered of value.

What powers remain to the juvenile courts? They can impose a fine. But there is no sanction whatsoever for nonpayment of the fine. So Johnny, having appeared before the court and been fined, says that he will pay at the rate of 50p a week, but he does not pay, and there is nothing whatsoever that the court can do about it. It cannot enforce that fine until the lad is 17. The court knows it, and the boy knows it. That is the sort of thing which brings the law into disrepute.

The juvenile courts can impose a supervision order. For those who may not be familiar with that, I say that it is not dissimilar to a probation order, but attached to it are no conditions. It simply means that the child is under the supervision of a social worker or a probation officer. A probation order has attached to it certain conditions—that the probationer must be industrious, must be of good behaviour, must report to the probation officer, and so on. If those conditions are broken, the probationer can be brought back to the court and dealt with in some other way. But in the case of a supervision order, there are no conditions whatsoever and the only sanction available if the order is not abided by is simply a care order.

Incidentally, I hope that in phasing out probation officers for supervision orders and replacing them with social workers we are doing the wise thing. Of course I have a great respect for the work of social workers. Indeed, I pay tribute to the work they have been doing in the last few years in particularly difficult circumstances. But I think that it is a pity to deprive children of the guidance of trained and experienced probation officers, at least until there is an adequate supply of similarly trained and similarly experienced social workers.

Third, the juvenile court has power to impose a care order. This is made in the form of an interim order—a remand for reports until the matter can be further considered—or it may be a care order as such, as a final decision. But this simply means handing over the child to the local authority. The court has no control whatsoever over the disposal of that child. Although the adult equivalent would be a remand in custody or some form of custodial sentence, there is no means whatsoever of the court indicating what the disposal of the child should be.

One might assume that if the court thought that the child would be best at home, it would make a supervision order. But if it makes a care order it surely is indicating that it thinks that the child should be in custody. However, whatever the court's wishes, it has no powers to ensure this. Therefore, the child who is the subject of a care order may, in fact, finish up at home.

There are various reasons why that child may finish up at home. It may be simply that the social worker in whose care he is entrusted does not think that a custodial setting is appropriate, whatever the court may have thought. It may be that the community homes which have been approached are either unable or unwilling to accept that child. Or it may be that the child has been placed in a community home and has absconded simply because there is inadequate provision for the child who is determined to abscond.

Whatever happens when any of those three courses have been adopted, the result is that the child is at liberty again and it can commit more offences. In due course, it will be arrested and it will come back to court. All that the court can do is to make a care order. Thus the cycle is repeated, because the courts have no powers and because the accommodation available is inadequate or under-used. I am not saying simply that this sort of thing can happen; I am saying that it does happen, and that it happens all too often.

I have a letter from a chairman of a juvenile court in Hampshire. Part of the letter states: Several years after the Act coming into force there is still no provision for difficult cases. There is not even a lockable room in our area, let alone a secure wing or secure establishment where a persistent absconder, obstreperous or violent child can be contained either on remand or after sentence…. The magistrate explains the case of a boy found guilty of indecent assault who, before coming to court, had been to a local hospital for a few hours and seen a doctor briefly. We took care in court to go into the home background and it appeared to us that supervision by the parents, if the boy should return home, was quite inadequate. In the presence of the representative of the social services and the boy's solicitor we made it quite clear that in the interests of himself and of the public he should go back to the hospital for three weeks for full reports by two doctors, and appear before us again … in three weeks' time. The boy was allowed to go straight home where he committed two more serious offences. There was a case in Rugby of a boy who appeared before a juvenile court, charged with armed robbery, shooting at a policeman who pursued him and planting a fire bomb in a school, and posting a petrol bomb. The magistrates refused bail and, in fact he was remanded into the care of Warwickshire County Council to await trial. Two days later the department allowed him to return home, where he attempted to kill his mother.

There was also a case of a boy in Nottingham who committed 42 burglaries in three months while supposedly in the care of the local authority. A recent case which received publicity arose in Stock-port. It concerned a 13-year-old boy who had broken into 250 houses and cars and stolen £7,000 worth of goods while in the care of the local authority. Only last week a judge was protesting in the case of a boy aged 11 who pleaded guilty to causing the death of an elderly woman by dangerous driving of a stolen car. The boy had been the subject of a care order. The judge said: I wish the appropriate authorities would draw to the attention of the Home Secretary that the previous care order plainly failed. I am endeavouring to do just that.

Another case concerned a 14-year-old boy in care who absconded and committed dozens of burglaries. He came before a court, was put back into care and started again committing more burglaries. There are similar complaints from all over the country. I have letters from areas including Cheltenham, Watford, Ipswich, Stock-port, Newport, Bath, Pontefract, Reading and Colchester. I fancy that the Home Office file on this matter is even larger than mine.

I have said that the court has few powers, but it has certain other powers which it has to use, because of the situation I have described. Older boys can be sent to a Crown court with a view to undergoing Borstal training, and this is happening. The figures for boys being sent to Borstal are going up. We do not welcome this, because the success rate of Borstal suggests that it is not an ideal way to dispose of lads of this sort. But sometimes it has to be done because there is no other way of dealing with the boys.

A court can also issue a certificate of unruliness in respect of a particularly difficult child. This means that if the child is on remand and such a certificate has been issued, the authorities are bound to find some form of secure accommodation, but too little of this is available. Indeed, this is sometimes so limited that prison is the only accommodation available for children. Recently, a magistrate in Camden protested at the fact that a girl of 15 appeared before her on remand from Holloway prison. A report on the matter in The Times state: Only the last-minute offer of a temporary place at a remand home yesterday prevented the girl's return to Holloway… The social worker in charge of the case had made up to thirty fruitless calls to other homes and adolescent units at mental hospitals. At present, there are probably between 20 and 30 children in prison. The numbers are small, but is it not dreadful that four years after this House has passed reforming legislation we are putting children into prison?

I cannot believe that the Home Secretary and his Minister of State, who have a reputation for progressive views in this matter, can preside happily over such a state of affairs.

Another area where the courts' powers are very much limited is in school attendance. The Act requires a double standard of proof; it must be proved to the satisfaction of the court not only that the child is not receiving education but also that it is in need of such care that it would not receive unless a care order was made. The result is that fewer cases of non-attendance at school are coming before the courts, and when they do come before the courts the only course open to the courts is a supervision order or a care order with the limitations that I have described.

At the moment there are a number of children who are subject to supervision or care orders who are still truanting. Before the 1969 Act was passed, juvenile courts had the power to fine the parents. This they can no longer do. Before the 1969 Act there was an overall power to make an approved school order for truanters. It was a power that was little used but it was an effective deterrent.

Many a time I have had a lad before me in court and I have said to him, "Now, you realise, Johnny, what is to happen to you if you do not go to school?". The boy replied, "Yes, sir, I will be put away." I have said, "Right, we are going to adjourn this matter for six weeks. If you go to school regularly and we hear in six weeks that you have been going to school regularly, you will hear no more about it. But if we hear that you have not been going to school regularly, you will be brought back and you know what will happen to you." The boy has replied, "Yes, Sir." We rarely see such boys again. That was an effective deterrent. But it is a power which the juvenile court no longer has.

I hope I have said enough to illustrate the shortcomings of the Act, after operating for four years, to justify the request in my motion for a review of it. I am aware that a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee has been looking at the operation of the Act. I have no wish to discredit the work of the subcommittee. I fear that the members must have found the work frustrating by being interrupted by two General Elections. It is necessarily a small subcommittee, and its terms of reference are limited and do not cover the question of the court's powers. It can spend only a limited time on the subject.

I urge that a larger body, such as a departmental committee comprising people with knowledge and experience in the magistracy, judiciary, and probation and social services be set up. Such a committee could review the Act, particularly the aspects to which I have drawn attention, and report. But any such review, whatever form it might take, will be bound to take time, and the situation I have described calls for action without delay. I therefore ask the Government to initiate such action.

I urge the Government to treat as a matter of urgency the provision of adequate accommodation, especially secure accommodation. I accept that there are financial restraints at present, but I believe that I have illustrated the need for priority to be given to this matter. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security is present. Is the DHSS satisfied that the existing homes are being properly and fully used? Are the 120 former approved schools fully occupied? Cannot some of these approved schools have minor work carried out to make them secure? How many places are there in secure units? The figure I have is 42. I should like to have that confirmed. I hope the House will agree that that figure is far too low.

Could not the Home Secretary restore to juvenile courts some of the powers of which the Act deprived them? The principle of juvenile courts remains as laid out in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, that the court shall have regard to the welfare of the child or young person, but the courts are frustrated in their efforts.

I suggest, first, that the courts have the right to make attendance centre or detention centre orders for non-payment of fines. Why not make parents guarantee those fines? Incidentally, I wonder whether a £10 maximum fine for children is adequate today. I suggest that the Home Secretary makes it possible to incorporate provisions such as a residential requirement into supervision orders. Section 18 of the Act empowers the Home Secretary to do exactly that, and I urge him to use it. I suggest that he allows the court to order custody when it believes that this is required. I suspect that this might well help the social worker who at present has to decide whether the child is to go into custody, and this must surely affect the social worker's relationship with his client.

Surely the wardens of community homes can be obliged to accept children for whom care orders have been made. There would be uproar in the Press and in the House if prison governors refused to accept adults sent to prison by the courts. Why should the situation be different with children?

I plead for action on the question of truancy, for it is from truancy that delinquency so often stems. A survey in my local court of the cases that have come up in the last four months showed that in 80 per cent. of cases the boys, and in some cases girls, were truanting and that in 70 per cent. of cases the offences actually occurred while the children were truanting. I think that those figures are fairly typical.

May we have from the Home Office some clarification of this double standard of proof? Surely if the child is not attending school and if the Education Act puts responsibility for attendance at school on the parents, the fact that the child is not at school proves that he is not receiving care which he would receive if an order were made, and it is, therefore, possible for proceedings to be taken. It would be an improvement if proceedings could be taken, and taken much earlier than now.

I suggest, too, that the court be empowered in such cases to fine the parents and, where necessary, to make a custodial order. It may be outside the scope of the Children and Young Persons Act, but surely it would help if the police were empowered to deal with suspected truants. At present, if a policeman sees half-a-dozen lads knocking around the high street during school hours, he can merely ask a few questions. Would it not be ideal if in certain circumstances the policeman were given the right to detain the lads for a few hours and to make a few inquiries?

All the proposals I have made are practicable, and they are practicable ways of dealing with juvenile crime. Most of the proposals could be instituted promptly.

We are faced with a growing and serious problem which is of concern to every Member of the House and to thousands outside who have to deal with it. It is to cope with this situation that I make these proposals. It is to encourage discussion and action that I move the motion. I do so in a constructive spirit and I hope that in that same spirit the House will accept the motion and that the Government will not only accept it but will act upon it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that this is a very brief debate and that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

I welcome the very constructive way in which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) moved the motion. He rendered a service to the whole House and, I am sure, to future generations of young people who may well face the prospect of coming before the courts.

However, there is always a temptation and a tendency to treat crime—not least juvenile crime—as a problem in isolation. the result may be to elevate the procedure of the courts and the punishment meted out by the courts to the level of a cure rather than seeing it as a confession of the failure of society at an earlier stage. It is rather tempting to attack the symptoms rather than to diagnose and deal with the real causes of juvenile crime in society.

This is not to deny that the symptoms should be dealt with and, indeed, treated. Indeed, the lack of seriousness and severity in the courts, the leniency which has of necessity to be exercised by the juvenile courts, may be criticised in the case of perhaps 20 per cent. of more serious offences, and that gives rise to serious concern and serious misgivings, which were rightly expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

A review of the working of the 1969 Act is desirable. This applies in respect of the segment of offences that I categorise as the serious 20 per cent. The overwhelming majority of delinquents come from disadvantaged and from deprived families in our society. During the 12 years I have spent in the courts practising at the Bar I have yet to come across more than one youngster whom I have defended where deviant behaviour could not be traced back to his family background and to parental discord. Nor is it any secret that there are areas of our cities which are well known for their tendency to produce an abnormally high proportion of young delinquents.

Recognising that that is so, one must look at the social causes. There is, therefore, a connection between crime and family background, particularly with the poorest families, with families where marriages have broken down, and frequently where rejection of a child follows remarriage.

There is undoubtedly a connection between crime and the break-up of old-established communities where there were sanctions that no longer exist, sanctions that were imposed by the norms of society. The anonymity of the large modern housing estates, particularly the high-rise developments in the centres of many of our cities, makes often for a breeding ground of delinquency.

I believe that there is equally a connection between the absence of facilities —or often the absence of the motivation to use facilities—for recreation of a type which can tap responsibility, enthusiasm and initiative. I am not thinking here of the old type of paternalistic attitude towards young people.

There is a special problem again among many unemployed school leavers and those sections of society which, for one reason or another, tend to be discriminated against when they come on to the labour market.

We have, therefore, the context of a society which not only has those social problems but in which material success is regarded as the object of life. The hon. Member for Chislehurst mentioned television. Almost every television commercial carries a message which I believe is objectionable and damaging, because it promotes the ethic of acquisition of material goods, of gratification of immediate physical and material desires, rather than any sort of moral value.

If that is the ethos in which young people are reared, it is inevitable that it will have a result upon them. When they see, for example, the gross inequalities of wealth at the same time as advertisements of the type I have described, that is an obscenity which must serve to emphasise the sort of ethos in which they are reared and the consequence in their deviant behaviour.

We can add to that the fact that educational deprivation exists precisely in those areas of the greatest need. That will only exacerbate the problem. There is little outlet—I think this generation should be aware of this—for the aggressive impulse we all have. Those of us who were born and reared during the Second World War, as I was, will remember that there was little delinquency, but at that time our young men were fighting for a cause in which violence was an outlet which does not exist today.

This is a matter which perhaps the older generation should bear in mind when considering the conduct of, say, my Stretford-enders at Old Trafford, Manchester, or, again, the misplaced hysteria and misplaced idealism of some of the demonstrations by young people today, which is perhaps the rather insensate manifestation of group loyalty. These are forms of idealism which are unacceptable and anti-social in our society but which, when they were channelled in another direction, were acceptable.

Nevertheless the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he refers to this as a serious problem. Theft, vandalism and violence rather than serious organised crime are the offences with which we are concerned. Unhappily those who start with petty offences graduate into more serious offences, and it is the persistent and serious offender rather than the occasional offender with whom we are concerned.

I agree that there is a rather artificial distinction between those in need of care, on the one hand, and those in need of treatment, on the other, because the two must go together. The hon. Member for Chislehurst has put his finger on the failure of the new system of powers of the court to provide for the more serious offender. There is insufficient power to deal with that sort of person.

I frequently wish that the sanction which the court has at present could be imposed not on the offender but on the parents. The hon. Gentleman referred to the payment of fines. There have been times when I have sat through proceedings in court and wished that the parents could have been dealt with as the encouragers and almost the instigators and fined heavily. I put that forward as a matter for serious consideration.

The care order is not the answer in the absence of the local authority being able to deal with the problem. It may take a person who is sent to it by the court, but that is to take away what ought to be the power of the court in deciding on the treatment and remedy— words which I use rather than "punishment"—of the child. That is where the responsibility should lie. In attempting to deal with this problem in terms of treatment we leaned over too far in 1969 in that direction rather than providing for the kind of secure environment which is needed for these young people.

I was impressed by a report that I read in The Guardian dealing with this problem, referring to the Director of the New York Centre for Residential Security Design, Mr. Oscar Newman, and showing that in New York—I am sure this applies in this country as well, and I ask our Home Office to undertake serious studies —the incidence of crime increases according to the height of residential accommodation, and that in poor families the incidence increases even more. Where there were 40 such crimes per thousand in three to four-storey buildings, the figure rose to 75 with six to seven floors, and 100 in blocks of more than 10 storeys. In middle-income and well-structured households, the rates were 18, 35 and 55 respectively. I suggest that we ought to embark seriously on research into the way in which we plan our cities because that has a definite effect on the rate of crime.

One of the consequences—one sees this in the conurbations—is the way in which local authorities shuffle off the problem by putting problem families in one area. When they do that, the area becomes intolerable. Tenants want to move out, and this accentuates the problem within that area. Even within my own city of Manchester I have come across this tendency to concentrate those families into one area. One finds in those flats not a lift working, all the windows broken, and the better families wanting to move out.

It is vitally important that the right sort of social planning is undertaken in addition to an approach to the problem through the courts. One needs an integrated approach and, therefore, housing policy is vital. In my pleasant constituency of Blackley old ladies come to me frightened out of their minds about youths and girls who shout obscenities at them, throw stones at their doors, put lighted papers through their letter boxes and so on. The lack of provision within the community for a genuine outlet for the energy of these young people must be studied seriously.

On the other side, we must look at the provision for persistent offenders. That has to be parallelled by the increase—and this is a matter which will be debated later—in the status that we can afford to our police forces, the wages we pay them and the kind of calibre that we draw into the police forces in our recruiting.

If the serious offender is brought before the court, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Chislehurst, there are inadequate facilities. It is outrageous that young people, even older girls, should be kept in a place like Holloway. This can have nothing but a harmful; effect on them. Very often this is a procedure which is quite wrongly adopted by the courts, when waiting for a medicall or psychiatric or social inquiry report. Therefore, we need secure community houses of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

On a happier note, one can see what good community facilities can do before people begin to commit crime, whereby their energies are channelled, for instance, into the local judo or boxing club or into table tennis and such activities. I have pulled many a muscle trying to vie with some of the youngsters in those activities. That is the sort of combined approach that I should like to see.

I have no objection to something analogous to a detention centre. Indeed, I should have thought that was the most appropriate way on a Saturday afternoon of dealing with a certain category of offender who might be deprived of what otherwise would be his greatest pleasure. If we are to give juvenile courts adequate powers to deal with serious and persistent offenders who need treatment, we need institutions which create the atmosphere of self-discipline, which teach skills and the routine of work. They ought not to be what I would call a soft option. They ought to be looked at in the light of treatment rather than punishment. But they must not be a joy ride.

Something akin to a period of detention, with this more positive approach to the social and emotional problems of young children which are often manifested in the commission of crime, is the way in which I would like to see the courts and the Home Office approach the problem. The range of options in our penal system is far too limited. For youngsters the care of the local authority is absolutely inadequate. The juvenile court needs to be able itself to order the detention of youngsters in an institution which has a positively remedial aim, combining the equipment for an eventual return to society with, at the same time, not being a soft option. It means the replacement of many of our older penal establishments.

How many of us will speak from a platform at election time asking for money to be spent on this objective? All too often at election time we hear loose talk about bringing back the cat and hanging. "Bring back hanging and end vandalism" was the slogan I heard at the last election, as if the two had the remotest connection. It is that sort of confused and emotive thinking which has done a great deal of harm to a positive and integrated approach to the problem of crime. There is a reluctance to attack the social roots of crime, to examine the family environment and moral standards of society in which we live. We have tipped the scales too far in the treatment of children, possible because we have failed to realise that young children today are more mature than they were a generation ago, that they develop rather more quickly and are more sophisticated and more aware of the world in which they live.

I shall not go in detail, as the hon. Gentleman did, into the workings of the juvenile courts with which he is so familiar. I find them, on the whole, to be considerate and humane yet firm within their terms of reference. But they cannot control that segment of those who come before them for whom proper training of, say, the detention centre sort would be appropriate.

My plea, therefore, is not only that punishment must fit the crime but that we should begin to eradicate the causes of crime. We should analyse, discover and isolate those causes—otherwise, constructive though the hon. Gentleman was in initiating this debate, we shall indulge in a sterile exercise in indignation rather than a positive attempt to reduce the incidence of deviant behaviour among young people.

I welcome the opportunity which the hon. Gentleman has given us to express our views about a situation which is causing increasing concern, especially in our large cities, for it is a social problem which needs attacking, but attacking not only in the courts but at its social roots as well.

5.21 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The winning of a place in the Ballot for Private Members' motions is a precious prize. It is even more rare and remarkable for two private Members quite independently, each knowing nothing of what the other was doing, to choose the same subject for a Private Member's motion and to win a place in the Ballot. All unknowing of what my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) intended to do, I put down a motion on the same subject. This is indicative of the strength of concern felt by many of us on both sides, representing all parts of the United Kingdom, about the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

I remember an old saying, "As the sprig is bent so the tree will grow". Too many sprigs today are very bent. Of all the black clouds over the future, none is more menacing than the thousands of fairly hardened young criminals who roam London and our big cities, and the cloud is so menacing because of its implications for the future. We have thieves of 12, burglars of 13, prostitutes of 14, muggers of 15, wreckers and vandals of 16. What sort of men and women will they grow up to be?

I am sure that all the experience we have had since 1969 shows that the Children and Young Persons Act of that year has failed disastrously. Sometimes, I think "Heaven defend us all from theorists and experts ". So frequently we have the advice of those who believe utterly sincerely in their advice, because they have read it in a book and they have worked it all out on paper, that if we take a certain set of steps such-and-such result will inevitably follow. But it does not.

I sometimes wonder whether those who say that it is always better to have treatment rather than punishment have ever brought up a family. As someone who has, I am well aware that when a child commits a misdemeanour, a well placed spank on that part of the anatomy which a far-sighted Deity has provided for the occasion is far more salutary than giving the child treatment, whatever that may mean. I have two sons, and on occasion —not many occasions, I hasten to say; I can remember only four or five—the well placed spank was administered, and I believe that they are better young men for it today.

There is no doubt about the well-intentioned way in which the Act began, but it started life with several serious misconceptions about how best to deal with young offenders. One such misconception was that informal action out of court would be better than formal action in court. In practice, action out of court has meant no action at all in a substantial number of cases.

I have here the reported comment of a London magistrate on that very point. Her words were prefaced by a passage in a newspaper article about social workers, as follows: The role of magistrates has been taken over by local social services departments, whose officers in general lack specialised knowledge of juvenile offenders. They are also responsible for all other social matters ranging from the problems of the homeless to old people. While they have the authority to return an unco-operative offender in their care to a juvenile court for further punishment, they are reluctant to do so". Now comes the comment from the magistrate: They do not like admitting failure. It is misguided thinking which is bound to instil false standards in a child. They take advantage of loose supervision. A probation officer would rarely hesitate to bring a persistently bad boy or girl back to us. Another misconception with which the Act started its life was that custody orders should no longer be made because social service departments would be better able to cope with and deter the young offender than would magistrates. As the magistrate whose words I quoted a moment ago showed, this simply is not true. It has proved to be a grave misjudgment. I believe that social workers in general have a serious lack of that specialised knowledge of what makes juvenile offenders tick which magistrates and probation officers have in abundance.

Social workers are often wonderful people, but they are the chameleons of administration, official jacks-of-all-trades, as it were, and they are out of their depth all too often when dealing with young offenders. Together, the magistrate and the probation officer used to deal wisely and effectively with these youngsters. But now magistrates have no power to do so, and the probation officer is not only not responsible to the court but no longer deals with juveniles at all, only with adults.

How stupid, when juvenile crime is worrying most of us, that one of the key figures in dealing with the situation should be put off the job of dealing with youngsters and now copes only with adults. The courts today have no power to say where an offender ought to go. It is the social services department which decides, and all too often the child is sent home.

The former approved schools now have power to refuse admittance to known trouble-makers and absconders. This is a serious matter. Recently, one 14-year-old West Indian girl was turned down by no fewer than 34 children's homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst referred to this extraordinary rule, and extraordinary it is. One cannot believe that it is in the best interest of the child, for what in the world does such a child make of the fact that it is turned down for 34 different places? The system takes no account of the effect on the child of that stupid rule. Moreover, though it seems incredible, it is often the worst cases which achieve their objective in being sent home simply because no one will have them.

The same applies to the under-15s for whom Borstal is not allowed and in respect of whom a detention centre order cannot be made unless there is a place available. Usually, of course, there is no place. The courts must have power at least to deal with the hard-core minority. I am certain that it was wrong to take that power from the courts and to give it to the social services department, and we must reverse that. Courts should be able to make a care order with a direction that the offender be detained in secure accommodation.

Before the 1969 Act, the juvenile court could require a local authority to find a place in a remand home. That was the responsibility of the local authority, and it had to do it. It often entailed telephone calls to a good many homes, but the job was done because the responsibility was placed on the local authority's shoulders. The courts should still be able to do that. But this means that we must have more secure unit places—we are very short of them—and we must have more special schools.

It is said by some that we must have more community home places, but I am not sure about that, and I am a little worried. The number of places in our existing community homes has been sharply cut down, and what looks from the outside to be an overcrowded situation is not in fact overcrowded in relation to what used to be the position under a different rule. In my constituency I have a community home which used to hold 146 boys. It now holds 75.

It is exactly the same place, the same buildings, but it will take only 75 youngsters instead of 146. If anyone suggests that a 76th child should be sent there, he is told that that is impossible because that will be overcrowding. It always used to take that number, and I cannot understand why the number of places in existing homes should be reduced in this way.

There is a severe shortage of staff, but to what extent has that taken place as the ratio of children to staff has been altered? Each member of staff used to have to cope with many more children than now, and even that was not a large number.

A justice of the peace from Camden said recently that the Act was unworkable. The Education Welfare Officers' Association used the same word. The Magistrates' Association has made its views on the subject absolutely plain. I believe that the police are disheartened by the apparent futility of arrest and prosecution. I cite the case of one 14-year-old boy who has had 18 court appearances since he was 11 years old. These consist of 10 charges of burglary and 10 of theft. On each occasion the police have tracked him down, found that he perpetrated the crime and have taken him to court. He has been conditionally discharged 10 times and the only punishment he has ever had is through fines which together total £5. He is now in care, but it seems rather late in the day.

Another persistent young offender first came to police notice in April 1969 at the age of 12. Between then and February 1973 he was brought before the court 10 times, and each time he was given a conditional discharge. He was arrested again in January this year and finally he went to Borstal. One policeman who dealt with the case said that that had happened far too late in the boy's career to have any remedial effect.

These young offenders must be caught quickly, and on this score the police do their part. They are brought before a court, but the system sends them away again. That might be done for the very best of motives; indeed, I have no doubt that it is. But young offenders are denied the treatment which could turn them from their path of crime.

In the case I was citing a policeman said that what had happened to the boy had had a marked effect on the other members of the family. The boy's eldest brother had been arrested on 10 charges. He had had eight conditional discharges for various criminal offences. This is a ridiculous situation.

Time is short, and I wish to be brief, so I shall restrict myself to one or two other points. The first concerns fines. If a fine is imposed on a child of 16 it is unenforceable until that child is 17 and is subject to the jurisdiction of the adult court. One could attempt to deal with it by attachment of earnings, but I understand that this is nearly always impossible. If the parent is brought into the matter, which seems a good idea, it is often found that the parent is alone, because many of these children come from one-parent families. Often that parent is on social security and it is extremely difficult to see how to impose a fine which will be paid.

We must take care to make a clearer distinction between the child in need and the young offender. The Act blurs these two categories, and I think to the disadvantage of both.

I agree that we want more personnel and more accommodation. We want, too, a change in the rules and possibly a return of the old probation order. I do no think that the supervision order is the right thing. One thing which worries me is that sending to a detention centre as a punishment is imposed only if a vacancy exists. Unless a defendant has already been represented by a lawyer, the offer of legal aid must be made before a child is sent to detention. Instead of a boy being sent immediately from the court to a detention centre where he will receive the correct treatment after the hearing, he has to be remanded for legal representation either on bail or in care. It could be a week or more before those developments materialise and the boy might have that period added to the three months detention. He could therefore be longer in custody as a result of the compulsory offer of legal aid, and that is stupid.

These are detailed points, but the case has been made for the Act to be looked at and amended. This must be done for the sake of the public. It is all very well saying that a child has had a bad home, but if he is sent away from the court so that he can do burglaries again, what about the people he burgles? The public need protection from these children. I am sure that the Act is not providing the answer for the child that we all hoped it might provide when it became law. We know that the magistrates are appalled at the Act. It is time, moreover, that attention was paid to the objections that the police have to it.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on initiating the debate and on the reasoned arguments he put forward. I hope the House will accept the motion. I remind the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) that many of the points she is making were made before 1969 and many people were equally unhappy then that the right solution had not been found. We should look at the Act with a view to improving it and making it work rather than from an attitude of out-and-out criticism.

The emphasis in the Act of moving the job of assessment from the magistrate to the trained social worker was very good provided that the trained social worker was given the choices. The tragedy is that we have given the social worker the choices but we have failed to make the necessary provision, so that he cannot send a young offender to an assessment centre because there are no places available.

The magistrates certainly need more facilities to enforce fines. Possibly we need a system by which the fine is substantially increased if it is not paid in weekly instalments before the child reaches 17, at which age it can be enforced. The offender would then realise that if he did not pay it at the right time, eventually he would have to pay much more.

One of the fundamental points which should be written into a supervision order is that anyone of school age should attend school regularly. Unfortunately, many social workers do not seem to attach great importance to this aspect. I know from experience that bad school attendance is one of the first steps to juvenile crime. A supervision order should ensure that a child attends school regularly up to the statutory school leaving age.

The magistrates should have far better facilities for remanding offenders in custody. Recently in Stockport a boy was brought to the courts by the police and was put into the care of the local authority. He was taken away by the social worker but he slipped out of the back of the court building and was away. It was several days before the police could apprehend him again. If a social worker is to work with a young person he must be able to hold that young person for sufficiently long to talk to him and to establish some contact. Therefore on occasions it should be made easier for magistrates to remand in custody so that a relationship can be established.

We must also examine the misuse of the detention centre. At least two magistrates told me recently that they had to wait until the boy reached the age of 15, and they were almost thinking of ways of deferring the case until he reached that magical age and then sending him to a detention centre. A three-month sentence normally works out at two months. If that sentence does not succeed, the court is left with 10 months with nothing else to impose. There should be a careful examination of the way in which detention centres are used. It should not be necessary to wait until the magical age of 15 to use them. Their use should be more flexible.

Another weakness that magistrates feel very strongly is that they do not have the power or authority to press for a place in the assessment centre. In the old magistrates' court the clerk would ring round to find a place, and he was in a position to put pressure on the Home Office. The social worker, who has the same task, has nothing like as much authority to press for a place. The magistrates think that it would be far better if they were in a position to back up the social worker by doing the pressing.

In Stockport, one very able juvenile magistrate has resigned because of the frustration he felt. He believed that his work was hampered because the magistrates did not have those facilities. I am sure that other people who might be willing to serve on the juvenile bench are also discouraged. That is a tragedy.

The other weakness is that the Act took away some of the financial responsibility from central Government and placed it on the local authorities. That is unfortunate, in view of the pressure that local authorities are under because of the problem of rating. In 1969, the better local authorities were ready to meet the provisions of the Act. But almost as soon as it started to be implemented, they had the Seebohm reorganisation. No sooner had that begun to settle down than most local authorities in England and Wales were further reorganised. During that reorganisation a great deal of the prevention work previously being done with children of eight, nine, 10 and 11 by the better local authorities was not done, and in many ways we are now reaping the results.

The Seebohm reorganisation is presenting other problems. An all-purpose social worker responds to pressures. Almost every hon. Member and many other people are guilty of putting pressure on social workers on behalf of the elderly and the handicapped. That is justifiable, but there is a limit on resources, and the application of those pressures means that the time of social workers is taken from young people and given to the handicapped and the elderly. If we press for better facilities for the elderly and handicapped, as we should, we must see that they are not provided at the expense of the children and young persons. This is one of the major problems of having generic workers. We may be able to allocate money to separate areas, but the allocation of the time of all-purpose workers is more difficult. Priority must be given by social workers to carrying out the provisions of the Act.

I have pressed my hon. Friend the Minister many times to give us accurate figures on the extent of the problem in the North-West. In Stockport, the magistrates, social workers and probation service are convinced that there is a major problem. We must have the figures, so that we may assess it. It is unforunate that my hon. Friend has not been able to give us much more information. The best I can discover is the estimate that in the North-West there is under-provision of assessment and community homes by about 30 per cent.

I understand that in the same area there is also a misuse of facilities. The idea of an assessment centre is that a young person should spend about six weeks there. After being assessed, he should return to his own home or go to an ordinary children's home or a community home. I gather that many children stay in the assessment centre for at least eight weeks, and some stay for 12 weeks or more. Not only are they not being assessed, but they are wasting facilities from which someone else should be benefiting. They stay there because of lack of facilities in community homes or elsewhere to which they should move on. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us accurate figures showing the extent to which we misuse these facilities, particularly in the North-West.

I give one example. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred to one Stockport case, that of the so-called Artful Dodger, who hit the headlines. A sum of about £7,000 was involved. But there was a much more important case in Stockport a little earlier. About last December a boy appeared before the juvenile magistrates in Stockport for non-attendance at school. The case was deferred, but in January he was placed in the care of the local authority, with the agreement of the magistrates and the social workers that he should go to an assessment centre.

The boy waited until the end of April before, after a great deal of fuss, he was found a place. His punishment for non-attendance at school was to be placed in the care of the local authority, which had to take him home to his mother and tell her, "Don't let him out of your sight. Don't let him go to school until we can find a place for him in an assessment centre." Therefore, his punishment for not going to school was to be kept off school for three months. The boy was not at that stage involved in serious crime. But that incident is a far greater indictment of the present system.

If we are not careful, we can spend the time of the police, social workers and the courts now, and later we may have to spend money on the same people through the prison service. That will cost the community a great deal. It would be far better to spend the money now on making proper facilities available, particularly in assessment centres and community homes.

5.47 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) for raising the subject of juvenile crime. The experience of most of the previous speakers has been as magistrates or lawyers. My experience of the application of the Children and Young Persons Act has been in the schools and of the effect on school children.

I do not remember the Act going through Parliament. That may be a fault on my part, but I did not at the time expect to enter the House. I was at the receiving end of whatever legislation left here in so far as it affected schools, usually for the worse. But at about the end of 1971, two things began to dawn upon me, or were brought to my notice by housemasters and the police. One was that many boys were being brought in by the police and outsiders to see me about outside offences and there was an increase of truancy about which we seemed unable to do anything.

Because a care and protection order had so often to be obtained before anything could be done, there was often an agreement, illegal or unfair as it may be, between a policeman, a parent and the person against whom the boy had offended for the boy to be brought to school to be dealt with by summary justice, if we were prepared to provide it. That was done because those concerned did not want to go to court or to the social workers.

The House obviously passed the legislation after deep thought, but it has provided the headmasters of many London schools with problems, because nobody else wanted the set-up provided by the Act to deal with the situation that I have described. It showed a lack of confidence in the Act by parents, police, the public, and persons against whom offences had been committed.

Obviously school works only when pupils are at school. It does not have the kind of radar that beams on to triffids from a long distance. If boys are missing from school, they will miss their schooling and there will be a further increase of illiteracy when they reach the age of 16. Further, they will be doing something different when they are not at school. They will not go to libraries even to sleep. They will not audition for the National Youth Orchestra or wander round art galleries, except in heavy snowstorms. Instead, they will frequent sleazy cafes or wander around flats in gangs, Alternatively, they might decide to see what will fall off the backs of lorries with a little encouragement or visit certain markets in the area.

Reference has been made to the case of the Artful Dodger. If boys of 15—the same may apply to girls—cannot be brought into school because they are in need of care and protection before a trauncy order is effected we shall never be able to keep them in school until 16½, the general school leaving age.

The link between heavy truancy and juvenile delinquency is clear. We were told recently by the Chief Constable of Birmingham that most of the increase in shop-lifting came from boys playing truant from school. The figures for 1973 from Glasgow show that 2,600 boys and girls under the age of 16 were picked up for shoplifting. Over one-third—over 800 —were picked up when they should have been at school. This seems to be a serious weakness in the Children and Young Persons Act. We should be able to deal quickly with truancy by order on the parents when the child is below the age of 15, and by an enforceable fine, or by way of a detention centre or attendance centre, when the child is over 15, when Arsenal is playing at home. In some way we should bring it home to the child that truancy is not permissible.

I believe that the increased rate of truancy is much higher than is thought. This year an analysis took place in the schools. It was done under the Conservative Government in January and the findings appeared in July under the previous administration of the present Government. The findings showed that very few pupils were playing truant. However, the assessment was made on one day, namely, 17th January. All the schools had been warned that there was to be an analysis that day. It was left to the schools to decide in each case whether or not there was truancy. No school with a good reputation would wish to increase its truancy figure as against absence as a result of genuine illness.

I have letters at home from schoolmasters in areas of the country other than London who say that in their schools they told difficult boys, "You can miss on Wednesday and Friday but on Thursday 17th we want you here." The analysis showed that there was not a great increase in truancy—but, of course, everyone was warned. A similar situation is the air-marshal advising a RAF station that he will be making his inspection on a certain day and the coal being whitewashed.

Last year the Education and Welfare Officers' conference estimated that over 500,000 pupils were playing truant every day. The chairman of that organisation estimated that the figure was 420,000. That was before the raising of the school leaving age. I believe that approximately 650,000 pupils are now playing truant every day. That means that, on average, every child is missing two-thirds of a year of full-time education.

I have now read the Act carefully. I do not like it. I think it is wrong. There was a time during the nineteenth century when most people believed, from a political and religious viewpoint, that illiteracy and misbehaviour were products of original sin, and that the only way of correction was by hitting the rump to stimulate the brain. That was a simple view, and one from which we have moved some way, but there was a degree of truth in it. Perhaps it was rather an extreme view. It now seems that we are faced with an extreme view directed in the opposite direction. There is the Rousseau philosophy that man is born free and is thereafter in chains. Environmentalists and others now put forward the philosophy that boys and girls are born good and that they are ruined by their parents. They suggest that they can be saved only by social workers. That is sometimes a little less true than the nineteenth century belief in original sin.

There are boys who commit offences just for the devilment of it. They do so to see how far they can go. They push against society because they believe that crime pays. There is the idea that by creating a more equal society, by achieving more material wealth or by turning off the television earlier we shall not be corrupted by the devil. That is a creed which is not on.

There is a mixture between boys who do things for devilment and boys who commit criminal offences in desperation because of home circumstances. The idea that anybody who offends below the age of 15 is in need of care and protection is to me philosophically wrong and disastrous when put into operation.

For example, three boys may commit the same offence. The one who comes from a so-called good home background is sent back to his home. The other two, who come from so-called poorer home backgrounds—the definition of such a background is often very strange, as it is emotional love that matters in the last place—will be said to be in need of care and protection. They see the boy from the good home allowed to return to his home background, and they will no longer believe in British justice. They will believe that there is no such thing as justice, and Professor Mayer says there is no such thing as social justice. From the boy's point of view there can be justice only if everybody is dealt with similarly.

Maybe we have moved too far from the nineteenth century concept to another concept which is not based to a great degree on fact. The very point that people previously went to the courts, whether juvenile courts, magistrates' courts or the High Court, illustrated that certain lines and structures had to be observed. People knew that they could not break the rules, and that a certain pattern of life had to be observed. They realised that their security came from the system. It was not a pathless desert. Social workers are a product of society. The whole effect on boys is different. I am sure that boys prefer the previous system.

It is obvious that I do not like the Act. I did not like what I saw of it fin school. I do not like it now that I have read it. I realise that it was enacted when one Government were in office and that it was implemented by another Government. We must consider seriously the means of quick enforcement of truancy rules to keep boys in school. We must do so by the use of attendance centres for two hours on Saturday afternoons or by imposing fines on parents. Similarly, a wise probation officer deals with boys not as special social cases but as boys who have misbehaved and are thus normal. Such a probation officer is more likely to do good than someone who treats such boys as semi-social freaks. Of course, many people break the rules. Most boys break them. The House considered speed limits this afternoon. A Minister said that even he had broken them at one time or another.

If there is a possibility of analysing the Act upon the basis that I have outlined I believe that it can be improved. By doing so juvenile delinquency will be reduced and we shall be making a start in the right direction.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

I agree with much of what I have heard from both sides of the House. There is no doubt that the 1969 Act has been the source of grave disquite among magistrates, police and social workers. But I must warn the House about the danger of over-reacting to the defects which have appeared since the operation of the Act. There is a danger of adopting a mechanistic approach to the problem. There is a danger of viewing the mechanism which we have produced— namely, the Act—and saying "It does not work", thereby condemning all procedures that have been presented to deal with children and young offenders.

I should like to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) said about the causative factors in juvenile crime and delinquency. In my brief experience working within a Borstal it was rare to find any inmate who did not have some serious social deprivation at home, in his school background or in his relationship with his fellow peers. I will not go through the factors mentioned by my hon. Friend. I support him in what he said.

I mentioned the danger of over-reacting. The Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was the product of several reports during the 1960s—notably the Ingleby and Longford Reports. Those reports pointed out that there was no substantial difference between the delinquent and the deprived child and that in those circumstances there should be no difference of treatment.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said that the Act had served to blur the distinction. In my view, that was the intention of the Act. The guiding philosophy behind the two reports to which I have referred was that we should substantially reconsider our treatment of delinquent and deprived children and the implications of the stigma of criminal proceedings upon children. They also recommended that we should consider dealing with delinquent children more in the context of the family than of the court.

The net result of the 1969 Act was to preserve the court structure and at the same time to give increased powers to social workers.

The Act, as has been said by hon. Members today, has come in for a good deal of criticism—in certain circumstances warranted criticism—and it must be said that in passing that Act this House failed to provide our social services with adequate means to carry out its provisions. There has been a lack of finance and, indeed, an overwhelming lack of manpower in our social services.

It is worth noting that only 4 per cent. of people working in residential child care have any specialised training of any kind. It is also worth noting that in replacing approved schools no priority has been given to local authorities to provide community homes.

Blame has been put on local authorities in terms of the amounts that they are expending to make the 1969 Act a working reality. The Association of Directors of Social Services, in evidence to the Social Services sub-committee, pointed out that of 55 observation and assessment centres in capital programmes for the year 1974–75, 14 were deferred from a previous year, those 14 being approved, and the other 41 being wiped out by the Department of Health and Social Security. It is important to stress that in the provision of services to make the Act work the Department, in its control over loan sanction, must bear some of the responsibility for the lack of resources.

One of my hon. Friends mentioned that the Seebohm Report, which coincided with the implementtion of the Children and Young Persons Act, and the reorganisation of the social services acted to the detriment of child welfare, because we now had the principle of the team worker as opposed to the specialised worker.

The implementation of regional planning boards has also provided a source of frustration to senior social workers, because they have lost a certain amount of control over planning resources.

Therefore, there has been a severe lack of provision of resources in terms of both capital programmes and manpower.

We have heard criticism of the procedure under which care orders can be made. It is said that children placed in care are later found on the streets. It is to be noted that it was open to the managers of approved schools to release children in their care. Therefore, under the old system, children who had been sent to approved schools could be found on the streets.

From the arguments that have been presented I do not know whether hon. Members want the approved school system to be reintroduced. Therefore, some of the defects of that system ought to be underlined. Approved schools were isolated institutions set in rural backgrounds far from the urban settings where children have to learn to live if they are to come to terms with society. They were institutions from which there was endless absconding. Indeed, their success rate was no greater than 43 per cent. I suggest that a return to the approved school system should not recommend itself to this House.

Magistrates are at present using their powers to send young offenders to detention centres because they feel unable to guarantee that those children will be taken into care. That is obviously not the intention of the Act. Indeed, magistrates should not allow themselves to make such orders because they are breaches of accepted sentencing policy.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that there is provision within the working of the Act for children of unruly character who cannot be committed to the care of local authorities to be committed to remand centres or to prison. We have heard details about children in such circumstances. This practice should be stopped forthwith. The whole philosophy behind the Act was, as far as possible, to keep children out of such institutions. The same principle should apply to offenders awaiting sentence for Borstal in a Crown court. They frequently find themselves awaiting sentence in prison. This practice should be brought to an end.

I have said that the Act can be criticised. Certainly something needs to be done. Principally, we need greater expenditure on the resources available to local authorities. We should not be panicked into concluding that the Act has completely failed in its purpose—that would be a dangerous thing to do—but we should consider some serious studies into the effects of taking children away from their homes and holding them in secure places compared with the performance of children who are not taken away from their homes. There have been very few studies in this country to compare the success or failure of these two groups, but studies in America indicate that there is little difference in future performance between those who have been taken away from home and those who have remained at home. I should like to see some such study of that aspect of the matter.

I, too, would accept, and I think that everyone would—the police, magistrates and social workers—that there is a need for places where young offenders may be held in secure confinement. There are some whose offences are of such a nature and spanning over such a period that it is necessary that there should be secure provision for them.

It is necessary to reconsider the operation of the Act, but it is inappropriate at this time to consider jettisoning it. It can be made to work, but, as with so many other things, what is required is more expenditure.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

The House appears to be remarkably united this afternoon in its disquiet about the disturbing increase in juvenile crime, particularly in the big conurbations, and remarkably concerned about the workings of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. There seems to be broad agreement, too, about the way forward. We want a departmental committee, or perhaps a House of Commons Select Committee, but preferably the former, to do three basic jobs: to study the working of the Act, to monitor its progress, and to recommend changes in the law. As has been said over and over again this afternoon, the Government must make increased financial provision so that the Act may be properly implemented and given a fair trial.

What has been going wrong? Again there is broad agreement about that. The implementation of the Act has been too slow. Community homes were not established until April 1973, and I am told that the first intermediate centre did not open until July 1973. According to a Written Answer as recently as 20th November, certain sections of the Act still require implementation.

Unfortunately, the Act gave added responsibilities to local authorities at the time of local government reorganisation. More important, the absence of adequate accommodation—and, in conjunction with my colleagues, let me mention particularly secure accommodation—has been one of the main problems. There appears to be an absence of any system for appraising and improving the provision of accommodation, and I hope that the Minister will say something about that.

Too many children in the big conurbations have been encouraged by the default of our services into the pattern of deprivation that leads to crime, and I speak as a council member of a charity that deals with seriously disturbed and homeless adolescents. We have had graphic descriptions this afternoon of this crazy cycle—children being put into the care of local authorities, which means social workers, which means all too often that they are returned to the home where the trouble started in the first place.

We have also heard mention of the number of these children who are in adult prisons. Surely that makes a mockery of the basic intentions of the Act. Properly staffed accommodation is frighteningly expensive, but surely we can see that society will have to pay tomorrow if it is not prepared to face up to its responsibilities today. Certainly we cannot consider the explosion—and a remarkable explosion it is—in juvenile crime without appreciating its connection with the high rate of truancy in too many of our schools. As we know, many children are absconding from school when the crime takes place.

The House has been told of the low morale among magistrates and social workers. I should like to stress the need to restore power to the juvenile court magistrates in order to prevent further resignations. We are faced with a dangereous position as a result of these resignations. Too many children feel that they have got away with it, and that is extremely dangerous. The distinction between right and wrong has become too blurred. Let us give magistrates the widest possible discretion and the power to impose sanctions for criminal behaviour.

I can briefly sum up my views by quoting The Magistrate of November 1974. It said: The 1969 Act, with its greater emphasis on care than on punishment, is appropriate and has worked reasonably well with the majority of children and young people who come before the courts or, better still, no longer have to come before the courts. Nevertheless … there remain, especially in the big cities, a small minority of tough sophisticated juvenile offenders—and some 15- and 16-year olds are strong young men for whom these provisions are totally inadequate. They deride the powerlessness of the courts to deal with them, commit further offences after having been placed in the care of the local authority, and are led to think that they can break the law with impunity. Some kind of ' long stop' measure is needed so that young offenders who do not respond to constructive treatment (which we support) are shown that in the last resort the law has teeth. Failure to show them this serves only to encourage a small minority to grow into adult criminals. I strongly support those views and I hope that the Government will take note of the strong and surprisingly united feeling in the House this afternoon.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I join with other hon. Members in most warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on his speech. I congratulate him not only on the way in which he has presented his arguments but on the force and clarity with which he made clear the need for Government action—urgent Government action—to deal with juvenile crime.

It is a sad and startling fact, which I think is recognised on both sides of the House and certainly by the public outside, that we are suffering from an uncontrolled and, in the present state of the law, apparently uncontrollable surge of violence and crime by children under the age of 17. It is almost unbelievable that the most persistent and violent of our criminals—at least, some of them—are children under the age of 17.

The figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst has pointed out are frightening and serious. Nearly one-quarter of our serious crimes and more than 40 per cent. of all burglaries and robberies are committed by children under the age of 17. Anyone who has tried to deal with this problem must in some way be affected by the depair and frustration felt by those who are doing their best to solve the problem.

In a recent speech, the Lord Chancellor mentioned the fact that there were defects in the 1969 Act and in the facilities provided for implementing it. Magistrates throughout the country—I have had letters recently from associations to point out just how many magistrates are involved—have been threatening to resign, and a number of them have already resigned, because of the intense feeling that they are unable to cope with the problem either with the aid of the law or, if the law is suitable, because there is inadequate provision of facilities, such as proper accommodation.

This feeling of frustration is shared by all who come into contact with this problem—not only the magistrates but the police, probation officers and social workers who, as I believe we would all wish it to be recognised, have been doing an outstanding job in attempting to bring some sense into the problem.

The blame for what is happening lies with, though it may not be equally shared by, the law itself—that is, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969—and the absence of adequate facilities to enable the intentions of the Act to be fulfilled. I do not doubt—I suppose there are few Members in the House who would doubt —that the intentions that lay behind— and still lie behind—the 1969 Act were good. There was the intention that children should be treated rather than punished. It was the intention of the Act that responsibility for the treatment should be transferred from the courts to social workers. Let it be said that in many cases this works, but let it also be recognised that there remains a small but growing persistent core of offenders for whom the provisions of the Act have no meaning and to whom they give no hope. The Act has failed to discourage them. Indeed, it appears positively to have encouraged them and to have increased their numbers.

Under the Act, magistrates on juvenile panels no longer have any power to discipline children or to impose disciplines on children who come before the courts. Time and again magistrates have before them children who are able and determined to mock the law and break it. They commit crimes with virtual impunity, and ultimately they become what Mr. William Deedes, the former right hon. Member for Ashford, once described as "apprentices in crime". Of course, the magistrates can fine these children, but what is the use of fining a child when no money is available for the payment of the fine and no powers are readily available to enforce it? A compensation order may be made, but the same objection applies.

Before the Act was passed magistrates could say to local authorities, "We require you to take in this child and provide suitable accommodation for him —if need be, secure accommodation". Whether there was such accommodation is another matter; the fact remains that under the 1969 Act all that magistrates can do is to put the child in the care of the local authority, and it is then for the social workers to try to find suitable accommodation. In many cases there is no such suitable accommodation, and where there is, for example, a community home, the warden of the home has the ability to say, "No. I shall not take that child because it is too difficult".

The other week I had a talk with a social worker who had to deal with a very difficult young girl. She had committed offence after offence and he could do nothing with her. She needed special treatment and secure accommodation, so he went to a community home and asked the warden whether she could be accommodated there. The warden replied, "If she is a girl of fairly good character, well behaved, intelligent and likely to be cooperative, we will do what we can for her". As the social worker said, "If I had been trying to get the girl into Roedean with those qualifications I might have succeeded". The fact that the girl was difficult was sufficient for the warden to say, "No. We will not have her in this home".

As my hon. Friends the Members for Chislehurst, and Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) said, there is no doubt that truancy is an important element in juvenile crime. Between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the children who get into trouble are those who have been absenting themselves from school. I ask the Minister to bear in mind what I know he will understand to be one of the prime difficulties of the 1969 Act, namely, the evidenciary problem. To deal effectively with truancy it has to be proved not only that the child has been absent from school but that he is in need of care. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst said, if a child is playing truant from school, that itself ought to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the child is probably in need of care.

There are two solutions to the problem. The first is the obvious one of providing more facilities. We ought to overcome the shortage of community homes and the shortage of facilities for such institutions as special schools and places where special medical help can be given to these children. I am told that the Minister has received from the Justices' Clerks' Society a copy of the memorandum on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. If he has, he will find in there that the absence of a sufficient number of special schools and special medical help are described as "a national disgrace", and indeed they are.

In a recent debate in the House my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) complained—I join him strongly in this complaint—that there is no system for the appraising and improving of accommodation facilities. What I am anxious about in this debate, as I know my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst will be, is to ensure that the Government, through the Home Secretary—whose responsibility it is—do something immediately, in advance of the ultimate reform of the 1969 Act. On that there would appear to be remarkable unanimity on both sides of the House and in the country.

I have received a letter from Mrs. K. M. Fox, the President of the National Council of Women of Great Britain, in which she talks about the urgent need for the Act to be re-examined and altered in order to help the disturbing number of children who are still seriously at risk. In October 1973 her council passed a resolution asking the Government to re-examine and re-assess the workings of the 1969 Act. In July this year—I hope that this fact has been brought to the Minister's attention—the council prepared a memorandum on the workings of the 1969 Act. It is an imposing document, containing some very cogent and compelling arguments. I do not wish to weary the House by referring to the memorandum in detail. I merely put it before the House as evidence, if evidence be required, of the unanimity in the country among those who have had dealings with the Act of the need to take urgent steps to ensure that the Act is reviewed.

The memorandum which the Justices' Clerks' Society has produced describes the Act, in words which I adopt, as a singularly inept piece of legislation and says that among the reasons for the Act's failure is the failure of the care order to deal with the hard core of persistent offenders. It also points out that the Act has deprived society, through the courts, of the important power of protecting the public.

In August this year a committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers produced a report called, "Apprentices on Crime"—I know that the Minister has had a copy of it—which was the result of two years' work in taking evidence and trying to discover how best the Act could be amended for its improvement. The work of the committee showed how difficult it is to make good and sensible suggestions, but I hope that some of the suggestions in the report will commend themselves to the Minister. The Conservative Party, in its election manifesto adopting the recommendations of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, promised to review and amend the Act if it returned to power.

I want specifically to mention a motion put on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), which has become an all-party motion. It complains about the frustration being felt by magistrates and the lack of facili- ties available to implement the 1969 Act, and it asks the Government to set up a Select Committee to study the workings of the Act.

The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 set out in statutory form the principle which I believe the House would wish to be followed in any amendment which we might make to the 1969 Act. The 1933 Act provided that a court shall have regard to the welfare of the child or young person". We would all endorse that. But we must also have in mind—I think that the House is equally concerned about this—the need to protect the public against the hard core of persistent offenders and, further, to protect those offenders against themselves.

We must, by fresh legislation, do something positive to remove the deficiencies and anomalies of the 1969 Act. It is essential for us to restore to the courts some of the powers which were taken away by that Act. I join those hon. Members who have asked the Minister to consider setting up a departmental committee so that the workings of the Act and its future may be urgently considered. When we had to deal with the future of the jury system—goodness knows, that was a pretty complex matter —in 1962 a departmental committee was set up by the Home Secretary under the chairmanship of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest. Its recommendations were ultimately accepted and implemented.

The question of legislation governing the control of juveniles and juvenile crime presents a complex problem, which we should consider with the greatest possible care. Would it not be of the greatest help for the future and possibly for the present if a similar departmental inquiry were to be set up under the chairmanship of the distinguished Lord of Appeal in Ordinary—if that be the kind of candidate we want—with the committee being composed of social workers, magistrates, probation officers and others with direct experience of the failures of the 1969 Act? Through such a committee the Government would have a guide of some certainty and wisdom, which could lead us out of what is, under existing legislation, an almost insoluble problem.

6.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

The House owes a great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) for enabling us to ventilate a subject which is causing deep concern in the country and, judging from the many contributions made in the debate, deep concern in the House. I owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for the way in which he introduced the motion. He made a measured and constructive speech, and we shall pay great attention to the points he made.

The source of the concern is obvious to all. Children are increasingly involved in the commission of criminal offences. In 1969, 72,000 children under the age of 17 were dealt with for indictable offences. By 1973, the figure had risen to 79,000. However, if one adds the considerable number of children who were cautioned rather than proceeded against, one finds that the figure rose from 165,000 in 1969 to 205,000 in 1973.

In addition, there are signs that the degree of seriousness of offences committed by children is increasing. The peak age of criminality is falling. It seems to be 15 for boys and 14 for girls.

In directing attention towards juvenile crime, the facts should not be overstrained. The figures for juvenile crime reflect the increase in crime generally. In 1970, 23.7 per cent. of indictable offences by males were committed by children under 17. In 1973 the figure had risen only to 24.6 per cent. The rise overall does not suggest that what is happening to children is markedly out of line with what is happening to the community generally. I do not minimise the importance of the serious crime wave that we are experiencing, but it is part of the pattern.

In looking at that position, the real question is whether we are any worse off because of the working of the 1969 Act, or whether that Act now needs no further consideration. The Home Secretary and I share the deep concern that has been expressed in the House. As the Home Secretary said to the Police Federation in October, we are perfectly willing to look at any defects, whether of concept or of execution, which it is thought can practically be dealt with in relation to the Act.

The 1968 White Paper "Children in Trouble", on which the Act was based said that the aims of protecting society from juvenile delinquency, and of helping children in trouble to grow up into mature and law-abiding persons are complementary and not contradictory. The 1969 Act sought to enshrine that philosophy in law. Its aims are to spare young offenders the stigma of criminality by dealing with them as far as possible outside the criminal law; to support and treat them in their families and in the community to which, whatever form of residential custodial treatment is available, they must eventually return; and to ensure that when a child or young person has to come before the juvenile court he is dealt with in the light of his individual needs, and that there is a wide variety of treatment measures available to help him. In considering the question we should ask ourselves whether that aim has been realised by the Act and, if we find the present position inadequate, whether it is capable of being realised.

In quoting figures of serious crimes committed by young people, the hon. Member for Chislehurst drew largely on the recent speech of Commander Peter Marshall, of the Metropolitan Police. In view of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said about the police, it is interesting to note that in his speech Commander Marshall said: It is fashionable to criticise the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969 and to lay at its door the failures of today. In my view this is unfair. There was no golden age pre-1969 when acts of punishment worked wonders with juvenile delinquents. We are seeing the inevitable development of a trend towards more juvenile crime which has its origin in the nature of urban industrial society. There is a great deal of wisdom in that comment, which we have to bear in mind in considering criticisms of the working of the Act.

The Act has been in operation for less than four years. There are 11 different orders which juvenile courts can make in relation to children who have been charged with offences, ranging from binding over to a recommendation to the Crown court for an order for borstal training. They include detention centre orders as custodial treatment for children and attendance centres.

The major change in the Act, and the one on which most attention is focused, is the wider use of the care order. It was always possible for a juvenile court to make an order that a child should be put in the care of a local authority, but the Act recommended that it should be done, too, in relation to a criminal offence. It took away the power of the magistrate specifically to send a child to an approved school or to make a fit person order. It is there that magistrates have expressed resentment and frustration. But it should not be thought that the effect of that change means—as some hon. Members seem to presume—that when the magistrates make a care order the child must always be dealt with in a home. That is not so. The purpose of making the care order is to introduce a wider area of flexibility in the treatment of the child. Treatment is not to be rigidly limited to custody in an approved school.

When a care order is made the local authority has three choices before it. First, it can decide to advise and support the child in the home, which is what most people understand by the care order. Secondly, it can link that with the exercise of some discretion over the child's spare time activities by adding some non-residential treatment. Thirdly, it can remove the child from the home altogether and put him into what the Act calls a community home, but that includes all the approved schools and remand homes that were in existence before the Act came into force in 1971. It is true that the community home schemes put forward by the 12 regional planning committees came into force only 20 months ago, but they include all the buildings that were previously used as approved schools or remand homes.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst said that before the introduction of the Act a magistrates' court could tell a home, "You will take this child"—but it could not. What it could do was to make an order. Then it was for the court to get in touch with the Home Office and for the Home Office to telephone round to see whether a place was available. The reason why it was not possible to make an order for an approved school to take the child was that most approved schools were voluntary schools, which were not under the local authority, and the schools were entitled to take whom they liked.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Is not one of the prime causes of the frustration of magistrates the fact that although social workers do not choose to send children back to their homes they have to because of the lack of places in community homes?

Mr. Lyon

I am coming to that point. The hon. and learned Gentleman has focused his criticism where it should lie.

The places available in what are now called special community homes, but which were formerly called remand homes or approved schools, are substantially in use. There is a very slight drop on the number of places which were available in 1969, but all are in use. The question arises whether there should be more places, so as to allow the local authority social services department to do its proper job of selecting the best treatment that is available to help the child.

What we need are more resources to provide more homes and, in particular, more secure homes, for the smaller but increasingly important number of children who are very delinquent and far beyond the capacity of the ordinary community home to deal with.

Mr. John Loveridge (Upminster)

Will the Minister consider the rather different aspect of safeguarding the children? The child of one of my constituents was brought before the court and imprisoned for the misdemeanour of truancy. Should it be possible under the Act for a child to be locked up for a crime for which an adult cannot be locked up?

Mr. Lyon

Concern has been expressed about truancy and treatment. My hon. Friend says that the powers of the court are not entirely taken away in regard to treatment for truancy. Since 1971 the number of orders made on the grounds of truancy have steadily increased from 1,300 to 2,098 in the last year for which figures are available.

Amidst all the criticisms of the Act— criticisms which I understand and to which I am sensitive—one must return to the recognition of the fact that the real failure of the Act is that there are not sufficient facilities available to make the legislation effective in terms of the increasing number of children, and particularly for those who are grossly disturbed in relation to whom the Act has certain powers but where those powers have not been translated into buildings. In the time that remains for this debate I should like to indicate what has been done, and what is proposed to be done, about the increase in resources to allow the Act to operate more effectively.

Among the boys and girls committed to the care of local authorities a tiny minority are so disturbed and disruptive that in community homes corresponding to the former approved schools, even in those with secure units, they not only receive no benefit themselves but severely obstruct the treatment of others. For such children, under new powers conferred by Section 64 of the Act the Department of Health and Social Security is to provide and administer directly three establishments with a high staff ratio, specialised facilities and programmes geared to a stay of as long as four years. One of these youth treatment centres is already in operation with about 30 children and with an eventual capacity of about 55.

The regional plans, decided by 12 statutory regional planning committees, provide for the construction of 550 further community homes, with 8,750 places—a 15 per cent. increase on the present allocation. A total of 3,100 of these places are to be in "special" community homes, which are equivalent to the old more secure type of home, such as the remand home or approved school. A total of 460 of these places are to be in secure units which will have an even more restricted regime than did the old approved schools. These plans all depend on the allocation of resources to fulfil them.

Two new youth treatment centres are to be built with 196 places, of which 98 are to be in secure units. Construction of the first unit, at Birmingham, is planned to begin in the summer of 1975 and the second, at Wakefield, will begin in the following year. The units are to be purpose-built and will, together with the existing centre at Brentwood in Essex, constitute a resource available for England and Wales as a whole.

What do we intend to do about providing the resources? Local authority capital expenditure on community homes is financed mainly by borrowing. Community homes are part of the personal social services and accordingly are sub- ject to what is known as the "key sector" loan sanction procedure. In other words, the Secretary of State's approval is required for each project.

Regional plans for community homes were approved by the Secretary of State for Social Services to come into operation on 1st April 1973. In England, in anticipation of the approval of regional plans, approval was given in the previous financial year to projects which would provide 365 of the additional places included in those plans. The House will remember that last year the Conservative Government made considerable public expenditure cuts. One effect of those cuts was that the programme was never fully implemented. This is one reason why the Act has not been as effective as it should have been. In the event, in that year approval was given to 121 community home building projects—only one-third of the expected number—and these projects covered, among other things, 743 additional places.

In 1974–75 the reductions in previously planned capital investment had the result that the list of provisionally approved projects issued by the Department to local authorities at the beginning of the year had to be limited to projects which had been provisionally approved in the previous year but which had not reached final approval. However, the original allocation of capital for community home building in England in 1974–75, namely £6.9 million, has been increased as part of the Chancellor's decision to help the construction industry. Approvals in 1974-75 are now estimated to total £9.25 million covering 227 projects which will among other things produce 1,109 new places.

For the next financial year the Secretary of State for Social Services has issued a circular to local authorities asking for their bids and indicating that they should put all the building projects into orders of priority to show what they consider to be the most relevant expenditure projects in their areas. From the information we already have available—and the bids are not finally in—it is becoming clear that local authorities regard the provision of community homes, and particularly secure community homes, as being at the top of their order of priority.

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

It is all very well to announce plans for increased buildings and extra facilities, but what use are they if we do not have the money to pay extra staff and to train social workers?

Mr. Lyon

My hon. Friend raises a valid matter and I do not minimise it. The Secretary of State for Social Services has taken that subject into consideration in his assessment of the amounts of money which can be devoted to local authority expenditure in the coming year. The upshot of all this planning is that we anticipate there will be a considerable increase in the amount of resources to be made available to local authority social services to implement the Act.

I wanted to go on to show where we accept criticism of the provisions of the Act and the respects in which we think criticisms are misplaced. However, in the remaining amount of time available to me, the best I can do is tell the House that the Act and its effects are under review in the Department. We are co-operating with the Secretary of State for Social Services in implementing its results. The hon. Member for Chiselhurst (Mr. Sims) can be assured that all his criticisms and those of other hon. Members will be taken into consideration in that review. I hope that he will take the view that the substance of his motion is accepted and will feel able to withdraw it.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. Sims

The Minister has given the House some interesting and encouraging news in the last few minutes. I am disappointed that he does not feel able to accept the motion, but I hope that I initiated the debate in a constructive spirit. The debate has been conducted in an instructive and useful atmosphere, and I think the House will agree that our time has been well spent.

We shall carefully watch the review which the Minister has announced, and I hope that we shall be given its results at an early date. I trust that in that review the Minister will be able to meet some of the criticisms which have been so deeply felt by hon. Members. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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