HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc542-66

'(1) In section 1(3)(c) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 at end add—

  1. "(c1) a residential care order; or
  2. (c2) a secure order; or".

(2) In section 7(7)(c) of the Act at end add—

  1. "(c1) a residential care order; or
  2. (c2) a secure care order; or".

(3) In section 20(1) of the Act (Orders for committal to care of local authorities) at end add— In this Act a residential care order means a care order requiring the local authority into whose care a person is committed by a residential care order to accommodate the person in a community home for a period specified by the court and not exceeding two years at the end of which period or of any lesser period as specified by the court the person shall continue in the care of the local authority subject to the provisions of section 21 of this Act. A secure care order means a care order requiring the local authority into whose care a person is committed by a secure care order to accommodate. the person in secure accommodation for a period specified by the court and not exceeding two years at the end of which period or of any lesser period as specified by the court the person shall continue in the care of the local authority subject to the provision of section 21 of this Act.".'—[Mr. Edward Gardner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Edward Gardner

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

The purpose of tills new clause is to give to the juvenile courts the powers that they do not have at present and that they need desperately to deal effectively with persistent offenders under 17. The new clause empowers the courts to order these offenders to live in community homes and, where necessary, in secure conditions in these homes for specified periods not exceeding two years.

The need for this clause lies in the failure of the present law to contain the alarming rise of what is seen by many as the scandal of uncontrolled juvenile crime. I remind the House that most burglaries and violent crimes, including crimes of what is known as mugging, are now being committed by schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 16.

The law on this group is contained in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The Act replaces punishment by treatment and, through what are known as care orders, transfers responsibility for treatment from the juvenile courts to the social workers employed by the local authority.

Social workers by choice, and perhaps more frequently because of the absence of other accommodation, all too often send or have to send the offenders back to the bad homes and bad parents under the influence of which the offender may have committed the original offence and from which base he may well be expected to commit further offences. Magistrates who are helpless, police who feel frustrated, and many social workers who are both, fear that the problem is getting completely out of control—if that situation has not already happened.

The main anxiety is the growth of a hard core of persistent offenders for whom the courts and the law have no meaning and for whom the courts have no effective power. I want to make clear so that there is no misunderstanding that this clause is aimed at dealing with this hard core of persistent offenders.

I should like to give the proportion of offenders in the age groups covered by the 1969 Act relating to persistent young offenders, but I have no such statistics. Last week I tabled the following parliamentary Question to the Home Department for Written Answer: how many children and young persons, during the most recent period of 12 months for which figures are available, have been dealt with for a third or subsequent offence (a) involving violence or (b) of burglary. The Minister's answer was I regret that this information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost"— [Official Report, 12th July, 1977; Vol. 935, c.67.] I make no complaint about the answer, but I wish to underline that the magistrates and police are under the firm, and I believe accurate, impression that this group of persistent offenders is growing rather than diminishing and that the public at large are agitated by fear that the problem is now out of control.

There are three principal reasons for the present state of affairs. One reason undoubtedly is that sufficient facilities under the 1969 Act have not been given to those who have to deal with this problem so as to make the legislation work properly. But it is essential to bear in mind that, even if these facilities were available now, they would not help with the problem of the persistent offender.

.The second reason is the lack of cooperation between the social and the educational services. The Government should deal with that matter urgently.

9.15 p.m.

The third reason is covered by this clause and relates to the absence of any provision in the 1969 Act to allow courts to control persistent offenders. This can be remedied tonight by an amendment to the 1969 Act, because that would be the effect of accepting the new clause. The new clause would give the juvenile courts the power to make a residential care order or, if necessary, a secure care order of the kind that has been recommended by three committees over the years. One of them was an all-party committee.

The first was a committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers. The second recommendation was in the eleventh report of the Expenditure Committee on the workings of the 1969 Act, and the third was a Conservative study group on juvenile crime set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). I urge the House to accept that no Government who deserve the name can afford to ignore the unanimous recommendation of three committees made up—as I hope is accepted—of responsible people with a deep interest in a particular problem. Neither could any Government afford to turn their back on the fears of the public and the mounting concern of magistrates, police and all others who have close and long experience of the problem.

For that reason I ask the Government to look at the clause, to accept it and to make it a necessary part of the law in fighting this aspect of crime.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

When the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) listed the number of Conservative bodies in favour of the principles enshrined in the new clause I began to be worried about whether I should rise to support it. However, there are other bodies not so closely associated with the Conservative Party and a wide range of public and informed opinion that is concerned about the problem of ensuring that secure accommodation is provided and can be ensured by the courts for certain types of young offenders.

The most dangerous part of the situation, as the hon. and learned Gentleman hinted, is that those most responsible for dealing with the category of person we are discussing feel powerless to deal with the situation. The public know that because they freely admit it. I refer to the courts and the police. Both are charged with dealing with the problem. They are in the forefront and have had to admit time and again that there is nothing that they can do. They hold up their hands in despair.

The public reaction to that is understandably severe because it brings the effectiveness of our whole legal and penal system into disrepute. This is not intended to seek to undermine the remedial work in which the social service departments are rightly engaged and the work that is done with a large number of young offenders who do not need to be placed in secure accommodation and in whose cases wide discretion can be left in the hands of the local authorities and social workers.

However, it has long been apparent to all concerned that in certain cases the courts must be able to indicate to all concerned—to the public, to the offender, and to those responsible for dealing with him—that the crime is of such gravity and that the case follows such a pattern that security must be guaranteed. We cannot afford to allow a situation to continue in which the courts do not have that power, or in which policemen leave a courtroom convinced that their work has been wasted and that they will soon have the same offender in their hands again because he will have absconded from unsatisfactory accommodation, or even from home, in the absence of appropriate provision.,

We all know the financial limitations that have restricted attempts to implement the Children and Young Persons Act and it will be a long time before we solve the problem. However, if the courts do not have the power to take clear action that can be clearly seen in certain cases, I do not know how public confidence in the whole system of dealing with juvenile crime can be maintained for any length of time.

Mr. Grieve

I support the new clause. This Act has been a disastrous failure in protecting society and deterring juvenile offenders. This is not due to any lack of good will or hard work by those in local authorities and juvenile courts who have done their best to implement the Act, but is because by this legislation society deprived itself of necessary safeguards at a time when juvenile deliquency was vastly on the increase.

I should like to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) with a few figures culled from the criminal statistics for England and Wales in 1975. They show the extent and danger of juvenile delinquency in our society and illustrate the need for society to protect itself and to protect these young people against themselves. I shall give the figures for men only because I want to be brief, but I can tell the House that the figures for female crime are shocking.

In 1975 there were 30,860 cases of "other woundings", which eliminates infanticide, and manslaughter but covers the vast spectrum of wounding. Of these cases 926,071 were dealt with at magistrates' courts. Of these, 528 were committed by children under 14, a total of 3,609 by boys under 17 and 6,982 by young men under 21. At the Crown court there were two cases committed by under-14s, a total of 62 committed by under-17s and 1,500 cases committed by under-21s.

The most serious offence that can be committed against die property of the subject is burglary in a dwelling house and if the law ought to do one thing it should be to try to protect citizens in their homes. A total of 13,456 of the 21,464 cases of such burglary contained in the statistics were dealt with at magistrates' courts and 2,768 of the offences were committed by children under 14. Those under 17 committed 6,783 cases and 1,868 were committed by young men between the ages of 17 and 21. In the Crown court there were four cases committed by under 14s, a total of 442 by under-17s and 3,388 by young men aged between 17 and 21.

There were a total of 42,993 other burglaries and 37,037 were dealt with by magistrates. Of these, 5,854 were committed by childen under 14, a total of 12,387 by those aged between 14 and 17 and another 9,116 by those aged between 17 and 21. The Crown courts dealt with one case committed by a boy under 14. Those aged between 14 and 17 were responsible for 229 cases and a total of 2,209 offences handled by Crown courts were committed by young men aged between 17 and 21.

Mr. Edward Lyons rose

Mr. Grieve

I shall finish these figures before giving way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

This is not a laughing matter. Labour Members may laugh themselves silly but it is a serious matter for these young people. It is a serious matter for society.

Robbery is one of the most serious offences known to the law. Of a total of 3,254 cases throughout the country 913—it is a justiciable by the magistrates —were dealt with in the lower courts. There were 275 cases of robbery committed by males under the age of 14 years, 606 by males between 14 and 17 years and 32 by males between 17 and 21 years. There was one case of robbery committed by a person under 14 years dealt with by the Crown courts, 127 committed by boys between 14 and 17 years and 1,016 by young men between 17 and 21 years.

I conclude with the statistics for theft from the person of another. Of a total of 1,831 males convicted, 1,632 were dealt with before the magistrates. There were 102 cases committed by children under 14 years, 292 between 14 and 17 years and 552 by those between 17 and 21 years. In the Crown courts there were two cases committed by those under 14 years, seven under the age of 17 years and 83 between the ages of 17 and 21.

The figures speak for themselves. They show that an appalling proportion of crime, which is ever on the increase, is being committed by juveniles. It is a proportion that should shake and shame society. In large measure it is being committed by juveniles under 14 years and by those between 14 and 17 years. One cannot escape the conclusion that in large measure this is due to the failure of the Children and Young Persons Act. It has completely failed to provide a proper form of custodial treatment for those who require it.

For the reasons that I have advanced I warmly support and applaud my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde in moving the new clause. I congratulate him on the time and energy that he has expended upon this vital topic.

I promised to give way to the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) and I do so now.

Mr. Edward Lyons

The figures that the hon. and learned Gentleman read out are appalling, but surely the new clause relates to children in respect of whom the magistrates have no powers to incarcerate. All the figures related to children between the ages of 14 and 17. I believe that at present the magistrates' courts can send them to detention centres. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the magistrates, who are entitled to send adults to a maximum of six months' imprisonment and juveniles to a maximum of six months in a detention centre, should have the power to send children under 14 years to up to two years' custody in secure accommodation. Does he really want that?

Mr. Grieve

The significance of the figures is the amount of crime committed by those under 21 years. I agree that we are concerned with the youngest in the age group but we cannot regard the figures relating to them in a vacuum. We must look at the figures for crime committed by all young people. That includes age groups beyond those directly under consideration tonight. That is why I thought it right to quote the figures in the various brackets for those under 14 and up to 21.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) has been slightly misleading in quoting figures for offences committed by young people who are not covered by the new clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman has given a colourful and clearly accurate picture. However, if one were not careful, one would think that those figures applied to the age groups specifically included in the clause.

I accept that there is a problem with juvenile crime. No one can attempt to discount or in any way evade the issue. However, it is exaggerated from time to time. If we examine the statistics closely, as did the hon. and learned Member for Solihull, we find that the largest number of offences tend to be committed by the same young offenders again and again. That presumably is the point of the expression used by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner)—"the hard core". Many offences are committed by many young offenders, but the majority of those offences are committed by a very small minority of young offenders.

The new clause, which is only slightly different from that tabled and debated in Committee, is designed to deal with the minority or hard core. The whole purpose of the exercise is slightly distasteful. I respect the hon. and learned Gentleman's motives in wanting to deal with juvenile crime and delinquency. I respect his sincerity and his expression of concern about the problem. Therefore, it is legitimate to attempt to deal with it in a Bill of this kind. But the hon. and learned Gentleman goes further than that, and that is what I find distasteful.

The hon. and learned Gentleman, together with many other Opposition Members, is using this clause as an opportunity to snipe at the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 and the whole philosophy that lay behind it. I was surprised, if not perturbed, to hear the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), on behalf of the Liberal Party, join that cause tonight. I should have thought that the philosophy behind the 1969 Act, however imperfectly it has been implemented in practice, was such that the hon. Gentleman would have supported it.

Although the 1969 Act has not been successful—we all accept that—its lack of success is due to the inability of successive Governments to provide the necessary resources. If it is ever to be successful, resources must be made available to local authorities, particularly for the provision of community homes with secure units. That is one aspect that is covered by the new clause. Many of the provisions of the 1969 Act have not been implemented. We are still waiting to see whether the Act can be successful when fully implemented.

The Opposition have taken the opportunity in this new clause to go to the core of the 1969 Act before it has been given a fair trial by any Government. It has not had sufficient resources, motivation or push devoted to it by the Government, local authorities or magistrates. Indeed, it has not had many of its provisions properly implemented.

Mr. Edward Gardner

I am not seeking to come into conflict with the hon. Gentleman's views on the 1969 Act and the fact that it has not been given a fair chance. But can he point to any provision in the Act that could with any chance of success have applied to what I have described as the hard core of persistent offenders?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I was about to come to that point. The hard core—the minority of persistent offenders—are already dealt with in provisions that enable the Crown court to send those who are guilty of criminal offences to borstal training or to detention centres. The individuals referred to by the hon. and 'earned Member for Solihull are coverd already. The courts—not the magistrates' courts—have the power to order borstal training. They have power to send people of 15 years and upwards to detention centres. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that children of 12, 13 and 10 years should also now, under his new clause, be subjected to what he calls a secure care order but what is in effect a term of imprisonment. though it be in a community home or residential establishment, for a period of up to two years. We should be giving that power to juvenile courts or magistrates—a power that neither the hon. and learned Gentleman nor I was prepared in Committee to give to the magistrates.

Mr. Edward Gardner

The hon. Member is distorting the argument by talking about prison. Community homes are not prison. They are places which can help children and, if they are properly used in the way that we suggest, to protect the public as well.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not trying to misconstrue what I said. I did not say that community homes were prison. I said that in effect trey would amount to imprisonment in a residential establishment, in a community home, if the clause that he is proposing tonight were enacted.

The philosophy of the 1969 Act was based upon notions of care and treatment. I know that these are soft words, words that we are not supposed to use in today's hard, modern world. They are, nevertheless, important. It is important that we consider children in trouble and that we should be attempting to care for and treat them. If the new clause is accepted, the degree of flexibility that the 1969 Act allows to local authorities and social service departments, will go out of the window.

The whole point of the 1969 Act is that the needs of children shall be assessed, that they shall be in the appropriate residential establishments—perhaps they should be the secure unit of a community home—that they shall have schemes and methods devised for them which it is hoped will lead to their reform and rehabilitation. As they progress—we hope that they will progress through that system—alternative measures will also be devised and implemented.

There may be occasions when one allows the child into the community, hack to its parental home, to see whether the process of reform and rehabilitation has so far been successful. We need a degree of flexibility and a range of alternatives so that a variety of schemes can be employed appropriate to the individual, appropriate to his age and appropriate to whatever development he happens to be making when he is under the control of the local authority.

If we accept this new clause we shall lose for ever that degree of what I hope is imaginative flexibility. This will be to the detriment of the children concerned.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that so many of these community homes decline to accept children whom they regard as the slightest bit awkward? They take the better grades of person from the court and they do not take those who most need their care. Those children are returned to their parental homes from whence they originated to commit the crimes, and social workers are powerless to do anything about it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friends say that that is not true. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for what the hon. Lady said. I feel that in some cases the more difficult and more obstreperous child is refused entry into the community home, because the better child can be accommodated, for the good management of the home. So we are led to the paradoxical situation in which the more manageable children are in residential establishments and the more difficult children end up, as it happens, in prisons and remand centres. The local authorities will not accept them because too much power and discretion is given to the heads of the community homes. This is a major criticism of the operation of the Act, and it is why last year we had 5,000 14-to-16 year olds in remand centres and prison establishments.

With all the concern and sincerity of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde, I feel that his new clause is ill-conceived and that it will lead to mischievous consequences.

There are occasions when difficult children do not find places in community homes. They go into the care of local authorities which means, in effect, that they returned to their parental homes immediately. That should not happen unless it is done under proper supervision and unless it has been determined by those best able to judge and who should know—the social workers concerned—that perhaps the child is better in his parental home and can be supervised there. I accept that in far too many cases juveniles who are difficult are taken into the care of the local authority and are immediately allowed to roam the streets again. That ought not to happen.

But I do not wish to go to the lengths suggested in this clause where we are giving magistrates powers in relation to juveniles that we do not give them in relation to adults and telling them that they must be doctrinaire and rigid and must impose what amounts to a sentence of imprisonment on a young child, albeit not in prison, and that there will not be the kind of proper fitting in of therapeutic, rehabilitative and reformative measures devised on a flexible basis to the benefit of that child and, it is to be hoped, through him to the benefit of the community.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister and my hon. Friends will resist the clause as strongly and with as much vigour as we did in Committee.

Mr. Sims

The amendment stems from a variety of respectable sources which were listed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) not least of which is the eleventh report of the Expenditure Committee of this House, which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will agree could hardly be described as essentially a Conservative body, especially since its chairman was the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who could hardly be described as a Right-wing reactionary. Furthermore, its report was a unanimous one.

The Select Committee examined carefully the whole of the working of the Children and Young Persons Act. It considered the philosophy to which the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) referred, it found various faults in the way that the Act was working, and it made a variety of recommendations.

Two of these recommendations were to the effect that when a care order is made agreement should be reached in court between the magistrates and social workers concerned on what should be done with the child. If the agreed course should prove impossible or undesirable the social worker should notify the court and that when a juvenile already the subject of a care order appears before a court charged with an offence the court shall have the power to make, if it thinks fit, a 'secure care order' requiring the local authority to place the juvenile in secure accommodation for a period". In other words, the recommendation accepted the point which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde and I sought to make when this matter was discussed in Committee, namely, that the court in circumstances such as these should have some say in the way in which the case was finally disposed of and the child dealt with.

Interestingly enough, in giving its observations on the eleventh report of the Select Committee the Home Office appeared to accept the general thesis behind this. In paragraph 26 of its observations the Home Office said: the Government recognised that many juvenile court magistrates have much experience of the problems and needs of juvenile offenders, and also that in the process of the court hearing, which includes the consideration of detailed reports about the offender, the court can form its own considered view in the light of all the circumstances of the offence and the offender about a suitable disposal. It goes on to suggest that, when a care order has been made, the magistrates should be able to make a recommendation that the child should be placed in secure accommodation. Unfortunately that proposal was spoiled by the suggestion that the magistrates should not say anything in court but that little notes should be passed and whispered conferences should take place behind closed doors.

9.45 p.m.

When we discussed this in Committee the Minister of State said that relatively few cases occurred where this was a real problem. However, he admitted that he did not know the number of cases where the court would have made a secure order if it was able to do so.

Those who know about these matters are those who work i n the juvenile courts. I have letters from chairmen of three juvenile courts who can speak with authority. They deal with such cases week after week and day after day. The chairman of a juvenile court in Yorkshire says: children who have been made the subject of Care Orders and appear to be in urgent need of training and discipline are being returned home to their parents, and also may well appear before the court for a farther offence. The chairman of a juvenile court in Lancashire tells of having before him nine juveniles who had committed 12 offences between them and were asking for 140 other offences to be taken into consideration. Practically all the offences involved burglary or theft. Of the nine offenders five were already in the care of the local authority and residing in local authority homes.

One boy, aged 14, who had committed five offences and asked for 46 others to be taken into consideration had not attended school for even a day. A report on that boy said that he had absconded from the local authority home at every opportunity and that when returned to the home he had immediately absconded again. The boy had committed further offences on each of the occasions that he went missing.

The chairman said that it was only with the utmost effort and assistance of the hospital wings of detention centres that he was able to ensure that the boy was put in suitable accommodation. The chairman states: These cases are typical of the cases with which we are dealing week after week. In their own interests many of these children need secure homes from which there is no escape.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The hon. Member said that he would quote from people who should know. Those who know are those who have to deal with children, such as members of the British Association of Social Workers. They are opposed to the new clause. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, representing authorities that would have to administer and find resources for this provision, is also opposed to it.

Mr. Sims

The British Association of Social Workers has indicated that it does not support the new clause because the effect of the Children and Young Persons Act was to transfer authority from the courts to the social services. We are suggesting that some of that authority should be transferred back to the courts.

Although the British Association of Social Workers has expressed opposition, some individual members support what we are trying to do. There are arguments on both sides. Social workers are not united against the new clause. Many support us.

I detain the House only to quote one more case which is particularly apposite. It concerns a boy of 11 years of age. We are not talking about a young thug of 16 or 17 years of age. The boy was charged with assaulting a woman with attempting to rob her, robbing and indecently assaulting another woman and with three offences of burglary. He admitted these offences and asked for 10 others to be taken into consideration. This lad broke into a dwelling, robbed a woman at knife point, then went into another house and threatened another woman with a blood-stained knife, robbed her and indecently assaulted her. A psychiatric report on the boy said that he was "dangerous".

The chairman of the juvenile court concerned, in outer London, said of the boy: At the time of the offences he was in the care of the local authority. In view of the court's severely limited powers, the only decision open to us was to make a fresh care order and send the boy back from whence he came, and you can imagine our consternation when informed by social services, 'that there was no secure place for the boy'".

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

Will my hon. Friend explain what he means by "secure accommodation"? Is he suggesting that there should be completely separate children's prisons as units that are separate from the community schools, or is he suggesting that there should be an extension of secure accommodation attached to the community schools?

Those who are involved in social services are just as much aware as magistrates—and probably more so—that there is a serious problem with young people. I speak as the chairman of a social services committee. There is nothing wrong with the 1969 Act. The only thing wrong with that Act is that no one has ever allocated sufficient resources to provide the facilities that are required. I cannot see that the proposal of my hon. Friend will be of any great assistance in providing more facilitises unless resources are provided to go with it.

Mr. Sims

I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. More resources must be devoted to providing secure accommodation for the court to use. This should not be difficult. There are plenty of community homes where there is residential accommodation, and some of them have vacant places. Implementing the idea of a residential order is perfectly practicable.

On the question of secure accommodation, I should favour having relatively secure wings in existing community homes. This is practicable. The problem is that at present courts have no power to use community homes in appropriate cases.

I return to the letter to which I was referring before my hon. Friend intervened. The chairman of the juvenile court went on to say: It is true that each of these ladies has suffered a terrible experience, but surely the chief matter for concern is that such a situation can exist under the present law whereby nothing can be done to contain a boy within a secure environment so as to prevent a repetition of such occurrences. That is a view that we should all share.

I urge the Home Secretary, even at this stage, to face reality, to recognise the problem here and to act on it by accepting this new clause.

Mr. Edward Lyons

I understand the anxieties that have been expressed, particularly by the hon. and learned Mem- ber for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). We are witnessing a very serious juvenile problem. It is also true that magistrates and police alike feel a sense of frustration. None the less, we have to look at this very carefully and decide what is the best way of dealing with this difficult situation. We have only 200 secure places in the country. Many areas have no secure accommodation.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) revealed the truth of the matter in one of his examples when he told us that the social workers, who have the power to recommend secure accommodation, had to say that they wanted to send a boy to secure accommodation but that it did not exist. If we pass the new clause, the same situation will obtain. If a magistrate says "To secure accommodation with you", and there is none, how has the new clause changed anything?

We must decide whether we wish the decision about secure accommodation to be taken by magistrates or the social workers, who are in day-to-day contact with the juvenile. We are talking about children under 15. All the comparative figures that we have been given for those over 15 are irrelevant to the clause, because the courts have power to send people aged 15 upwards to detention centres.

The proposal in the new clause, dealing with children under 15, is simple—that magistrates should have the right to send them away for up to two years. Admittedly, some of them are very naughty and do terrible things. Some have the makings of recidivists already. It is being said that it should be left not to the social workers working with the children to make that decision but to the magistrates before whom they appear.

When we tell the magistrates "You can send people aged over 15 away for only up to six months, but you can send children away for up to two years", that is putting things in reverse order. Adults are better able than children to stand up to the wrong decision. In the days of the approved schools 80 per cent. of the children who went to them committed further offences when they came out. The idea that one can send a child to a secure place and—hey presto!—he is cured is not borne out by history.

The community homes used to be approved schools which were not secure. In the 1960s there was an absconsion rate of over 60 per cent. for boys and over 40 per cent. for girls. It was a commonplace at the Bar in the 1950s to appear for children who had committed a whole string of offences in the attempt to return to their homes having absconded from approved schools. They had no money and used to break into houses to obtain the wherewithal to return home.

There is a total absence of resources. To give the magistrates power to send children to secure accommodation that largely does not exist is fatal. Like judges, they have no obligation to consider whether there is a place at which the sentence that they order can be implemented. As a recorder, I have the duty of sending people to prison for the appropriate time. It is not for me in that judicial function to consider whether there is a prison waiting or whether the convicted person will be one of three in a cell, two in a cell, or whatever. The magistrates will simply say "A secure place is needed", but there is no secure place in most areas. It is better that the social workers should consider what can be done. If they think that a secure place is right, they should seek to find one.

If there is no secure place, what are the social workers to do? It is no use the magistrates making orders that cannot be implemented to fill 200 places. We are being asked to decide that instead of social workers making the decision, on the basis of day-to-day consideration, it should be given to a juvenile court bench, whose members are often unqualified, although they do very good work. That is the pin on which we are balancing.

I do not believe that magistrates, who, we say, must not be given the power to imprison anyone aged over 15 for more than six months, should have the power to sentence children to up to two years. Even when a magistrate wants to send a person aged 17 to borstal, that young person has to go to the Crown court, because it is not accepted that magistrates have the judgment or ability to impose such a sentence.

The case comes up to people such as myself, and we have to make the decision whether to commit to borstal. That is the position. But, apparently, magistrates can be given the power to send small children away for two years. I suggest that before we do so the arguments have to be very powerful. They do not seem to me to be powerful enough tonight, albeit that I appreciate that there is a very serious problem in relation to these small children. How do we deal with that?

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That the Criminal Law Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Tinn.]

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

Had the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) completed his speech?

Mr. Edward Lyons

I have finished, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)

Recognising that this has been a lawyers' fiesta this evening, I hesitate to intrude on it, but, having been married to someone who for 17 years has sat as an Inner London juvenile magistrate, I am not totally uninformed of the problem from that point of view. Week after week I have listened to reports of what is said by the magistrates who are dealing with these problems in the courts, and I am well acquainted with the growing feeling of complete inadequacy in relation to the problem of the small minority of severe and persistent hard-core young offenders. I think that this problem has been recognised in all parts of the House in the debate. Unfortunately, up to the present we have not found an adequate way of dealing with these hard-core young offenders.

I agree that the problem of countering the rising level of crime, and the appalling figures for crime among young people, goes far wider than just making some improvement in the manner in which we deal with the offenders. But the Government are doing very little to deal with the problem at the present time.

It is true that the resources are very limited, and that this has been the main cause of the failure of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. I understand that the magistrates are certainly not unaware of all the shortcomings of the previous system of approved schools, with the high rate of absconding from them. Nevertheless, because of the lack of facilities today for dealing with the serious and persistent young offender—not just of 14 and under but from 15 to 17 as well—the care order too often means nothing more than the local authority having to return the offender to his home. Too often, offenders abscond from the community home to which they have been sent.

Something must be done urgently about this problem. It not only harms these often maladjusted and sick-minded offenders if they do not receive the treatment they should have been given. It also undermines the whole confidence of the public generally in the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. If the young offenders are sent home because there are no proper facilities for dealing with them, the fact that they appear to have got away completely with their crimes is a direct encouragement to their younger brothers and sisters or friends.

The havoc which can be created by these young people, and the sometimes serious injuries which can result from their activities, creates a severe lack of confidence by the public generally in the working of the Act and in the methods of dealing with young persons in trouble.

The White Paper, Cmnd. 6494, appears to many people, including the magistrates who have to deal with the Act, to be extraordinarily wishy-washy and to be side-stepping the main problem of the hard-core young offenders. In the guise of not wanting to blur the lines of responsibility between the court and the local authority"— in the words of the White Paper—the Government refuse to accept that magistrates should be given authority to ensure that local authorities keep these persistent offenders in secure accommodation while they are undergoing the treatment they need and without which they are likely to become hardened thugs who may be criminals for the rest of their lives.

Because of the lack of facilities, the 1969 Act cannot work as it was designed to do. Something must be done to prevent even further erosion of confidence. Although it is not perfect and will not produce any new accommodation, the clause will make people realise that secure accommodation is needed in the existing homes. Even if they do not accept it, I hope that the Government will bring forward something similar to give confidence to those who have to work the legislation that they mean to overcome this growing and worrying problem.

Mr. John

This debate leads out of the full debate that we had in Committee on the new clause which was defective because it applied only to care orders and not to criminal orders. This new clause has been drafted to provide for two new orders under Section 7 of the 1969 Act, but it is still defective, and even were we not at variance with its basic philosophy, we should find it completely unacceptable.

The two new orders provided for are not restricted to children and young persons who are already subject to a court order and who appear before a court. Nor is the power proposed linked to offences which would be punishable by imprisonment if committed by an adult. This creates the anomaly that the ordinary care order under Section 7(7) of the 1969 Act would be available only in respect of juveniles found guilty of an offence which would attract imprisonment if they were adults. Therefore, a secure care order could be made on less stringent criteria than an ordinary care order, which is totally anomalous.

As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) suggested, secure accommodation is nowhere defined either in the 1969 Act or in the new clause, so we should be legislating for something which was not precise. Therefore, on technical grounds I could not advise the House to accept the new clause.

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), who accused people of laughing during his speech, cannot mean—

Mr. Grieve rose

Mr. John

I am developing an argument and I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would allow me to complete it. I listened to his speech in silence—and without laughing. He cannot argue from that premise that we do not express concern for young people. We all share the concern about hard-core recidivist juveniles. There is a small minority, but there is not the sort of burgeoning group that we have heard described in some speeches tonight. The answer does not lie in giving magistrates' courts powers far beyond those that they have had in the past. The answer lies in the provision of secure care.

A total of£3½ million over a two-year period has been provided for local authorities and powers were taken in the Children's Act 1975 for dealing with such secure care. We have come up against the basic difference in philosophy, arising out of the 1969 Act. If we gave magistrates the power to make a secure care order it would pre-empt from local authorities those places that they could use to better advantage for other children. We should be filling up the residential accommodation with people committed from the court while young people who are dealt with by local authority social workers were being shut out.

The proposals before the House tonight would not only give the courts power to give what is virtually a custodial sentence of up to two years compared with a limitation of six months for adults, but would give that power in relation to people appearing before the court for the first time. That is the basic and fundamental flaw in the clause.

I do not minimise the difficulties caused by juvenile crime and I do not minimise

Division No. 193] AYES [10.13 p.m.
Adley, Robert Gow, lan (Eastbourne) Monro, Hector
Arnold, Tom Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Grylls, Michael Neubert, Michael
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Farehain) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Osborn, John
Biffen, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Page, Richard (Workington)
Brooke. Peter Haselhurst, Alan Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Brotherton, Michael Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Ralson, Timothy
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Hawkins, Paul Rathbone, Tim
Budgen, Nick Hayhoe, Barney Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Holland, Philip Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcllffe) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Clegg, Walter Hunt, David (Wirral) Ridadale, Julian
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Hurd, Douglas Rifkind, Malcolm
Corrie, John Jessel, Toby Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Jopling, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Durant, Tony Lawson, Nigel Sainsbury, Tim
Elliott. Sir William Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Eyre, Reginald McCrindle, Robert Shelton, William (Streatham)
Falrbairn, Nicholas Macfarlane, Neil Shepherd, Colin
Fairgrieve, Russell MacKay, Andrew James Silvester, Fred
Fookes, Miss Janet Mawby, Ray Sims, Roger
Fox, Marcus Mayhew, Patrick Sinclair, Sir George
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Meyer, Sir Anthony Skeet, T. H. H.
Gilmour, Sir John (East File) Miller, Hal (Bromagrove) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfietd)
Glyn, Dr Alan Miscampbell, Norman Speed, Keith
Goodharl, Philip Moate, Roger Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)

the figures. But the diagnosis that is being advanced is not matched by the remedy propounded, which would seriously impinge upon the Act and its success in dealing with juveniles in trouble if we were to blur the responsibility.

To care for children and look after their welfare is not a matter of sent timentality but an insurance policy for us all. The more successful we are in dealing with these problems, the less the likelihood of re-offence. That is why on grounds of both principle and practicality I urge the House to reject the new clause.

Mr. Edward Gardner

There is no lack of desire on this side of the House to look after and care for children wherever possible. But the technical imperfections which may well be present in this new clause are no reason for the Government's rejection of the principle behind it.

The new clause provides the Government with an opportunity—perhaps their last—to put right what has become a national scandal. This clause can give the only present and immediate hope for the protection of the public from persistent young offenders. I urge the House to support it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 151.

Sproat, lain Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Stanbrook, Ivor van Slraubenzee, W. R. Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Viggers, Peter Younger, Hon George
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Wakeham, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Welder, David (Clitheroe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) Waiters, Dennis Mr. Carol Mather and
Tebbit, Norman Warren, Kenneth Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Temple-Morris, Peter Weatherill, Bernard
Abse, Leo George, Bruce Parry, Robert
Anderson, Donald Golding, John Pavltt, Laurie
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Gould, Bryan Penhaligon, David
Armstrong, Ernest Gourley, Harry Phipps, Dr Colin
Ashton, Joe Grant, George (Morpeth) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Hardy, Peter Radice, Giles
Atkinson, Norman Harper, Joseph Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Bates, Alf Harrison, Rt Hon Waiter Richardson, Miss Jo
Beith, A. J. Hooley, Frank Robinson, Geoffrey
Bennett, Andrew (Stockpot N) Hooson, Emlyn Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Boardman, H. Horam, John Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Howell, Rt Hon Dents (B'ham, Sm H) Rooker, J. W.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rose, Paul B.
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Buchanan, Richard Hunter, Adam Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Sedgemore, Brian
Carmichael, Nell Jeger, Mrs Lena Selby, Harry
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Silverman, Julius
Clemitson, Ivor John, Brynmor Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Small, William
Coleman, Donald Jones, Barry (East Flint) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Concannon, J. D. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cook, Robin F. (Edln C) Kaufman, Gerald Spriggs, Leslie
Corbett, Robin Kerr, Russell Stallard, A. W.
Cowans, Harry Kilroy-Silk, Robert Steddart, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lomond, James Stott, Roger
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lee, John Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Dalyell, Tam Lector, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Davidson, Arthur Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lyon, Alexander (York) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Davies, for (Gower) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Deakins, Eric McCartney, Hugh Tins, James
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Dempsey, James McElhono, Frank Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Doig, Peter MacFarquhar, Roderick Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dormand, J. D. McGuire, Michael (Ince) Ward. Michael
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Madden, Max Watkinson, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Mallalieu, J. P. W. Wetibeloved, James
Dunn, James A. Marks, Kenneth White, Frank R. (Bury)
Dunnett, Jack Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Whitehead, Phillip
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Whitlock, William
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Maynard, Miss Joan Wigley, Dafydd
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Mendelson, John Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Mikardo, Ian Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Evans. loan (Aberdare) Milian, Rt Hon Bruce Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Evans, John (Newton) Mitchell, Austin Vernon (Grimsby) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Faulds, Andrew Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Flannery, Martin Noble, Mike TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Oakes, Gordon Mr. Ted Graham and
Ford, Ben Ovenden, John Mr. James Hamilton
Freeson, Reginald Palmer, Arthur
Freud, Clement Park, George
Question accordingly negatived.
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