HC Deb 28 October 1975 vol 898 cc1392-5

'In section 1(2) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, the following paragraph is inserted after paragraph (b):— (bb) he is or is likely to become a member of the same household as a person who has been convicted of any of the offences mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 in respect of him, or in respect of another child or young person; or"'—[Dr. Vaughan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr. Vaughan

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

With this it will be convenient to discuss new Clause 24—Amendment of section 2 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969—and Government Amendment No. 253.

Dr. Vaughan

New Clauses 23 and 24 are both technical clauses amending the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. For convenience we have separated the two new clauses, but they have the same general objective. They seek to improve the conditions for taking children into care. As the Minister said in Committee, it is a question of technique. In Committee the Minister gave an undertaking to discuss this matter with the various organisations concerned.

New Clause 23 aims to protect against adults who have been convicted under Schedule 1 offences. We have added a corporate clause to include protection not only where a child has been taken into care but where there may have been action against any other child or young person. We have looked carefully at Government Amendment No. 253. In my view there is a fine legal distinction between our new Clause 23 and Government Amendment No. 253. The intention is clearly the same, but our wording is rather better. I ask the Minister to consider accepting new Clause 23.

New Clause 24 seeks to cover situations where, although no actual injury or damage may yet have occurred to the child, there are strong grounds for thinking that such an injury or damage might occur in the near future. For example, this would include children who are left for long periods or completely on their own so that they are clearly at risk. It can be argued that that type of situation is already covered by an earlier section of the Children and Young Persons Act. I put it to the Minister that he should seriously consider accepting new Clause 23 and perhaps also new Clause 24, but I should like to have his comments on that matter.

7.45 p.m.

Dr. Owen

I do not believe that there is anything of substance between us on this matter. The Government amendment would add as a further primary ground for the making of an order under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 the fact that a person who had been convicted of one of the offences listed in Schedule 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is or may become a member of the same household as the child in respect of whom the proceedings were brought.

New Clause 23 and the amendment have been tabled to meet a point raised by the Association of Directors of Social Services in its "comments on the Children Bill" that paragraph (bb) should be added to Section 1(2) of the 1969 Act as a new primary ground for taking care proceedings.

We prefer the Government amendment, but not just because it is tabled by the Government. We knew that the hon. Gentleman's proposal was on the Order Paper. He may remember that I have modified that proposal even further towards meeting the point about "likely". We use the words "or may become". The reason we prefer the Government amendment to new Clause 23 is that the latter does not require the court to consider, before making an order, the proba- bility that the child in respect of whom proceedings have been brought will be ill-treated, neglected, and so on, within the terms of the existing Section 1(2)(a) of the 1969 Act which reads: (a) his proper development is being avoidably prevented or neglected or his health is being avoidably impaired or neglected or he is being ill-treated; or". We regard this consideration as essential before the court should be able to make an order. Unless there were a probability that any of the conditions in Section 1(2)(a) would be satisfied there would be no justification for making an order.

The words "or may become" would enable a court to make an order before the person who had been convicted of a relevant offence actually became a member of the same household as the child in respect of whom the proceedings were brought. That is, of course, one of the points that is made in new Clause 23.

I did not believe that our previous amendment covered the matter sufficiently cleary. That is why we have redrafted it. I prefer the way we have dealt with the amendment as opposed to the rather technical method used by the hon. Gentleman. I am advised that ours is a clearer method of dealing with the matter for the reasons I have tried to illustrate.

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to the Minister. If proceedings have taken place against another child—not a child in the household to which these particulars relate—does Government Amendment No. 253 cover that eventuality as does our new Clause 23? I do not believe that it does.

Dr. Owen

If the person involved has committed an offence against another child, I believe that that is covered by our amendment. A particular case has been the subject of a recent inquiry. The report of that inquiry is with the Government and will soon be published. It is for that reason that I have paid particular attention to this aspect of the legislation. In this case we are able to make legislative changes prior to the presentation of a report. In that case and in a number of other cases which I have been considering recently, I am satisfied that that eventuality is covered by the amendment.

New Clause 24 would add a declaratory subsection to Section 2 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 for the purpose of simplifying the interpretation which courts would be expected to place on Section 1(2)(a) of the 1969 Act. The objections to it are that the wording is defective and that it adds nothing to the meaning of the words already in Section 1(2)(a). The wording of the clause is defective because the words in lines 2 and 3, if it is proved that the care and protection exercised over the relevant child by his parent or guardian is such that he is placd at risk". impart the opposite meaning to that which is intended. It would seem that these words are intended to mean that it is the absence or lack of care and protection which is placing the child at risk. I am sure that that is what the hon. Gentleman is after. This is an important distinction because the word "care" in the context of the child denotes concern or interest in his welfare and is thus a positive measure for the good of the child which is hardly likely to place him at risk unless misconceived.

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press new Clause 24. There is no difference between us on new Clause 23 and Amendment No. 253. I have tried to redraft Amendment No. 253 to meet the main substance of new Clause 23. I recommend the House to accept Amendment No. 253.

Dr. Vaughan

We accept what the Minister said. As I said in opening, this is a technical matter. We accept that new Clause 23 is covered by the Government's Amendment No. 253, but naturally we would have preferred our own wording. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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