§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Wallace
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is an amendment to section 37(2) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. That subsection gives a constable or any person authorised by the court, or any justice of the peace, the authority to take a child into a place of safety. A series of circumstances are listed in which the child may be taken into a place of safety. The purpose of the new clause is to add to the list children who are beyond the control of their parents.
Once taken into a place of safety, the child may be retained there until arrangements can be made for the child to be brought before a children's hearing. When a child is so taken into a place of safety, it is incumbent on the occupier of the place of safety, for example, the constable, to inform the appropriate reporter to the children's hearing of the circumstances of the case. At that point, certain duties are placed on the reporter, relating to the length of time that the child may be detained. If the reporter is satisfied that the child is in need of compulsory measures of care, wherever practicable he must try to ensure that the children's hearing sits on the first lawful day after the commencement of the child's detention.
Section 37 safeguards the interests of a child taken into detention. I seek to extend those provisions to children beyond the control of their parents. At present, various circumstances are laid down in which a child can be taken into care—offences committed by a member of the household, lack of parental care, and so on. In all those circumstances, the interests of the child are very much at stake. If circumstances come to the attention of a person authorised under that section suggesting that the safety and welfare of the child may be at risk because the child is unruly, perhaps frequently absconding from school and putting himself or herself at some personal risk, that may constitute something of an emergency and powers should be available to take the child to a place of safety. A reporter in my constituency told me of a case in which the 501 child had to be locked up in a police cell before the reporter could take any action. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that that is highly unsatisfactory.
During the passage of the Bill, letters have been received by hon. Members advocating this change and I am told that, at a recent meeting of reporters from all over Scotland, there was considerable if not unanimous support for such a measure. I believe that it is consistent with the general theme and purposes of the children's hearing system and it is based on the welfare of the child. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. John MacKay
As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has said, his proposal has been supported for some time by the Association of Reporters to Children's Panels, but I do not believe that it is appropriate to make the change at this stage, for a number of reasons.
First, we thought it right to include in the Bill a strictly limited number of social work provisions. Our intention was to include items which were self-contained, in the sense that they would not open up significant areas of wider interest which ought to be dealt with more systematically. We wanted to confine ourselves mainly to those which were generally agreed and did not require further consultation or were needed to clarify a matter on which the meaning of the legislation appeared to be uncertain. In looking at the proposal put forward by the Association of Reporters to Children's Panels we considered that there were wider issues involved.
Section 37 of the 1968 Act sets out various grounds on which a child may be taken to a place of safety in an emergency. One could roughly describe all those grounds as circumstances in which the child is a victim or possible victim. They are generally, but not entirely, similar to those set out in section 32(2) as grounds on which a child may be brought before a hearing, but they are clearly designed to relate to situations in which some dramatic change in the child's circumstances has taken place which requires immediate action and which justifies immediate removal of the child from his home. I am not convinced that a child getting beyond the control of his parents is that kind of emergency. I should prefer to look rather more broadly at the relationship between section 37 and the other sections of the 1968 Act dealing with compulsory measures of care, together with some of the procedures for dealing with children subject to such orders before agreeing to the changes proposed in the new clause.
It is also right to point out that the view of the Association of Reporters on the necessity of this amendment, although forcefully put, is not generally agreed by other interested parties. I understand that, for example, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Directors of Social Work are not convinced of the necessity of this amendment. This reinforces my view that it would be preferable to avoid a piecemeal change at this stage.
In a sensitive area of law such as this, dealing with important distinctions between grounds for immediate action to remove a child and grounds for longer-term compulsory measures of care, where the distinctions between the grounds for action in relation to the child are real and important—although they are by no means easily made—it is better to take a wider view which is supported by all those most clearly involved. I hope that 502 the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), having aired this desire by the reporters to the children's panel, will agree to withdraw his motion.
§ Mr. Wallace
I have listened to the Under-Secretary of State. Although I accept that the provisions of subsection (2) relate to cases where a child is usually the victim, I suggest that there could be cases where a child has acted in a way that is beyond the control of the parents and has, almost by self-infliction, become a victim. In such circumstances an emergency could arise. I acknowledge the wider points made by the Under-Secretary of State. This matter must be seen in a wider context. It was probably implicit in the hon. Gentleman's speech that the Government have not shut the door and are prepared to listen in a continuing dialogue with the Association of Reporters to Children's Panels and others. Perhaps this matter can be dealt with at greater length in more appropriate legislation. This matter could well come up for discussion again. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.