§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 14, line 23, at end add—
`(7) In section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981, for subsection— (4) there shall be substituted the following subsection—(4) The grounds which justify the making of such an order are that there is reasonable cause to believe that damage to the child's health or well-being is likely unless he is immediately removed to or detained in a place of protection for the duration of the order.".'.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 14, line 23, at end add—`(7) In section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981 there shall be inserted the following subsection—(6A) (a) for the purpose of any hearing at which an order under this section is being sought, the officer, who under subsections (5) and (6) above has the power to make the order, may insist that a person be nominated to protect and represent the interests of the child at any hearing.(b) A person nominated under paragraph (a) above shall be described as the `safeguarder' of the child.".'.
No. 3, in page 14, line 23, at end add—
`(7) In section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981, after subsection (9) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(9A) An officer making an order under this section shall have power to authorise the withholding of the childs' address and of access, and to specify the conditions on which access should be granted.".'.
No. 4, in page 14, line 23, at end add
`(7) In section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981 there shall be added at the end the following subsection—
(12) (a) At any hearing overseas or in the UK at which an order under this section is being sought, the parent or parents shall have the right to attend and to nominate a representative to attend on their behalf.
(b) The parent or parents or their nominated representative shall have the right to appeal against an order made under this section on their child". '.
No. 5, in page 14, line 23, at end add
`(7) In section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981, there shall be added the following subsection—
(12) (a) Written statements supporting an application to be made under this section should be provided at the hearing where practicable, or in any case within 12 hours of the order being made. The officers making the order must record in writing his reasons for doing so.
(b) The written application and the reasons for the order should be supplied after the hearing by the applicant to the parents and the child, and the parents should be given information by the officer presiding about their right to seek legal advice.".'.
§ Dr. Godman
I am deeply interested in the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse, which is a crucial issue even if only a handful of cases each year is involved. As I said once in Committee, there was only one Jasmine Beckford, and that little girl, because of negligence and 411 other reasons, is now dead. With the amendments, I seek to strengthen the position of a child who, regrettably, is unfortunately placed at the centre of an application for a place of safety order.
Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5 strengthen amendment No. 2 which is concerned principally with the child' interests. I hope that it is in order for me to say at this point that I shall seek a Division on amendment No. 2. The interests of the child or children should be given primacy over the interests of all others. I believe that the Government are reluctant to accept the amendments.
The 1981 report of the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee rightly paid close regard to the serious problems surrounding children at risk. Paragraph 10 on page 6 of the report stated:The grounds on which an order may be made (e.g. that the child is being ill-treated, exposed to moral danger, or beyond control) follow civil legislation.That is what the Minister suggested when he said that in military law the Government sought an approximation to extant law in the United Kingdom. The Committee continued:One lacuna, however, in its likely operation came to light in the course of evidence taken from the Ministry of Defence. Unlike Clause 13, the Clause contains no provisions regulating the return to the United Kingdom of children affected by it once the short-term holding orders have run their course. It is envisaged that, if the most secure future for a child is adjudged to be within the care of a United Kingdom local authority, then the child's family would be returned administratively to the UK, whereupon the child could be taken into care under English law.I am not happy with that reference to English law. If nothing else, it reveals a lamentable ignorance of Scottish law in terms of the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse. In fairness, I should point out that there were no Scottish Members on that Committee—the members were all from south of the border. In fairness to the Government, I point out that clause 13 is to be welcomed, albeit with serious reservations—hence the amendments.
The report of the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee, which was published yesterday, dealt with the need to defend and promote the interests of children in cases of child abuse. This time the Committee acknowledged the difference between Scots law and practices and English law and practices in the detection and treatment of child abuse. The Committee was made aware of those highly significant differences by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and myself.
§ Dr. Godman
The report by the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee has a bearing on amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5. Paragraph 16 on pages viii and ix states:The procedures under service law for dealing with children at risk are broadly comparable to those under English civilian law. Different procedures, however, operate in Scotland. Under Scots law, a child detained in a place of safety must be brought before a 'children's hearing', composed of 3 lay members, within 1 or 2 days. The hearing has power to appoint a `safeguarder' to represent the child's interests.I used that phrase in one of my amendments. The paragraph continues:Both the child and its parents have the right to be represented at the hearing, and to appeal against the hearing's decision. These various safeguards for both the child and its parents do not exist in English law or, consequently, in military law.412 My amendment seeks "an approximation"—to use the Minister's words—to Scots civilian law rather than English civilian law. The report continues:
The Committee accept that the special circumstances of service life overseas may make it difficult for a full range of safeguards on the Scots model to be built into the system for dealing with children at risk. Nonetheless, we recommend that the MoD consider whether it would not be possible to extend to military law some at least of the relevant provisions of Scots law, in order better to protect the interests of children and parents.That is precisely what my amendment seeks to accomplish.
As I said to the Select Committee, Scots law is superior to English law. I make no apology for that statement. It is easier for me to say that than it is for the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, because I am a Yorkshire man who has been domiciled for a long time in Scotland and who had the good sense to marry a Scots girl. I can say with no false modesty that Scots law is superior with respect to the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
Amendment No. 1 closely follows a recommendation of the review of child care law, which was a report to Ministers by an interdepartmental working party which was published last year. Paragraph 13.8 on page 86 of that excellent report stated:We are concerned that the present grounds for an order do not address the purpose of removing the child. Further, by expressly referring to the grounds for care proceedings in section 1(2) of the 1969 Act"—an English Act—the wording of section 28(1) might have contributed to the frequent use of place of safety orders as a means of starting care proceedings. An emergency protection order should not become a matter of coursethat is the term used instead of a place of safety order—where care proceedings are a likely option. We recommend that the grounds for such an order should be that if the child is not removed or detained now he is likely to suffer harm. Put another way, the child must be at risk of damage to his health or wellbeing which necessitates his immediate removal or detention for a brief period.The report goes on to say in paragraph 13.10:We are aware that our suggested grounds … concentrate on apprehended harm to the child. This is consistent with the rationale for an emergency order. The prospective grounds clearly increase the risk of unwarranted intervention. However, we would limit intervention to cases where it is necessary to make the order for the period in question, so that the order is precisely addressed to the needs of the children.The report was discussing English law. It went on:Further, the magistrate should be satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe that such harm is likely to the child. This is a stricter test than the present requirement that the court be satisfied that the applicant has reasonable cause to believe that certain conditions exist. Finally we consider that the word `likely' places a sufficiently difficult burden of proof on the applicant to prevent unwarranted orders.Those two paragraphs from that fine report substantiate the argument for amendment No. 1.
In that context — I promise that this is the last quotation from that report—paragraph 13.11 says:
It is not for us to suggest the exact wording of new grounds. However the present wording of the power to 'detain and take' the child to a place of safety causes problems in practice. Some magistrates may be reluctant to grant orders for children who are in hospital, since they do not need to be 'taken' to a place of protection, even though detention may be in their interests. Revised grounds should enable such children to be made subject to an order if they are at risk of harm.
I do not want to take up too much time so I shall now deal with amendment No. 2, which I think is the linchpin of these amendments. The amendment seeks to employ Scots law and Scottish practices in order better to protect 413 the interests of the child or children concerned. Let me remind the House that where an applicant—for example, a police officer or social worker—believes that a child has been physically or sexually abused he may seek to place all of the children in the family in care. Most of the emphasis in discussions and debates of this kind concentrates on the child. However, the social worker, policeman or perhaps the paediatrician who has examined a child for non-accidental injuries may urge the taking into safety of all of the children in the family.
In Scotland, we have what are known as children's hearings. They play a decisive role in combating the social evil of child abuse. The children's panel or hearings were set up under the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and amending legislation under a Conservative Government. Under English law the child has no right to be represented at hearings. Under Scottish law—I am using a document which was kindly provided to Members of the Committee by the Ministry of Defence—the child has a right to be represented before the children's hearing. The panels are comprised of three lay persons plus a reporter. The reporters are employed by the regional and island councils but they cannot be dismissed other than by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, there are safeguards for the children and the parents. In addition to the right to be represented at a hearing the document says:where the panel"—it means the hearing—considers that there is a conflict between the interests of the child and those of his parents, the panel may appoint a 'safeguarder' to represent the child's interests.That is an important development in the process of dealing with child abuse. That is why I have used the term in amendment No. 2.
In Scotland a safeguarder may be a retired social worker. On our list of safeguarders in the Strathclyde region we have Miss Vera Hiddleston who is the head of the social work training unit at the Jordanhill college of education. She is a vastly experienced specialist in this field. It is such people who can be appointed by a children's hearing to act as the safeguarder of the child.
Time is against me so I shall conclude my remarks on amendment No. 2 by urging the Committee to accept, apart from all else, that the amendment is presented with sincerity and in good faith. As I said earlier, and I am willing to repeat it, in this case the law north of the border is better than that south of the border.
Amendment No. 3 seeks to protect the child, or children, and their caretakers. Let me give an example. If a child of less than five years was removed from his parents stationed in, for example, Osnabruck, and returned to the Strathclyde region in Scotland, no one will tell me that such a child would be returned to England. He would be placed with foster parents. No child being taken into care in the Strathclyde region goes anywhere other than to foster parents. Such foster parents are most carefully selected by the social work department in Strathclyde. It may well be that there are all kinds of risks involved here, not only to the child but to the foster parents. Therefore, it is important that the authorities and officers concerned have the right to refuse access and to refuse to disclose the whereabouts of such a child. At the same time we should remember the wise words of the working party on child care law: 414If the applicant is other than a local authority, he should inform the relevant authority of the order, the child's address and who has the charge of the child at that address, and whether access is to be granted. Local authorities should have to satisfy themselves of the welfare of the child under the order, including the arrangements for access.Those are recommendations in the report, but it is established practice in Scotland.They should be able to apply for the emergency order"—the place of safety order—
to be transferred to them from the applicant if transfer would be in the child's interests. The local authority should continue to be under a duty to pay the expenses of the person providing the place of protection (section 73(2) of the 1980 Act).Amendment No. 4 is concerned with the rights of parents. I think that it is only right and proper that the interests of the child should always take priority, but we have also to pay close and serious regard to the rights of the parents. Let me remind the House that, in many cases of child abuse—physical or sexual—only one of the parents is involved. The husband and father or cohabitee may subject the mother and child or children to physical abuse of the most violent kind. In such cases, why should the mother suffer? Why should the mother be separated from her child or children? In cases such as this the applicant may recommend that all the children should be taken into care. Why should the mother be torn apart from her family in such circumstances?
The objective in child care law—it surely coincides with Conservative party philosophy—is the maintenance of the family as an integrated unit. The mother must have her rights protected and promoted by those in authority especially in the dreadful circumstances in which a woman may find herself.
In support of the amendment I quote, with modesty, an amendment that was proposed by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow to the report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, but which Government Members of the Committee chose to vote down:There is, however, a need for parents to have an opportunity to be heard and to be supported by a representative at a hearing where the decision as to whether or not to return the child to the United Kingdom is made. If a decision is made to return the child to the United Kingdom, then there would need to be safeguards both to protect the child's welfare and to ensure that parents can attend and be represented at a court hearing in the United Kingdom. The Report to Ministers of an interdepartmental working group on English Child Care Law regards as unsatisfactory the present procedure under English law whereby only the child and the applicant are parties to care proceedings".I found that appalling and that was why I moved the amendment. The amendment continues:The Report recommends that under a new law parents should be parties to proceedings. It is our view that this reflects a sensible and humane approach to a most serious problem. We therefore recommend that military law concerned with children at risk should take cognisance of the Report's recommendations in this regard.I regret to say that that amendment was lost.
Amendment 5 also seeks to protect the interests of the parents. I make no apology for returning once more to the interdepartmental report. If one studies the wording of the amendment, one appreciates that the quotation from paragraph 14.20 on page 98 of the report is apposite:
The court … should be under a duty to serve notice of the proceedings on the "parents" …anyone with charge or control of the child (this would include foster parents); and anyone with whom the child has had his home for six weeks or more within the six months preceding the application. In addition, it should 415 have a discretion to serve notice on any other person who has or may have an interest in the proceedings and wishes to participate in them".
Taken together, amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 seek to strengthen the position of both the child and the parents. However amendment No. 2 is primus inter pares—it has to be. The child's interests and welfare, present and fuure, must always, whether we are discussing a family stationed in Osnabruck or a family in Greenock and Port Glasgow, be given priority. I suggest, with humility, to this Committee that my amendment will strengthen clause 13 in the new Bill. It will bring about an approximation to military law to Scots law—Scots law at its finest, Scots child care law.
§ Mr. Wilson
I wish to speak in favour of the amendments put forward by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I do so largely because of the excellent way in which he has put them forward. I have not had the experience of serving on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill and therefore I come fairly fresh to the subject and to the legislation. I have had some experience of child law in my past career.
I do not necessarily share the view of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow in adopting, or seeking to put forward, amendments to the Armed Forces Bill to bring the law of England into line with the law of Scotland. I can accept his argument about the superiority of the Scottish law, but I would not necessarily show the same degree of humility as I am both a Scottish Nationalist and a Scottish lawyer to boot.
I wish to raise another serious principle which is bound up with the terms of these amendments and the Bill as it is to be framed. England is displaying imperialism in seeking to impose upon Scotland any part of the English law. It is an entrenched part of the Treaty of Union that Scotland would not have imposed upon it any part of the law of England. Regardless of that international treaty, which the House has broken time and time again, provisions have been adopted which put the Scots at a disadvantage. It is a constitutional right that the Scots should be exposed to their own legal system and should not, whether it is inferior or superior, have any provisions of an alien legal system imposed upon them. It does not matter whether someone is serving with the armed forces or is a civilian. It is utterly wrong that, as citizens, such provisions should be imposed upon them.
I concede that there may be special arguments concerning the fact that service personnel are volunteers and are alleged to serve in the United Kingdom, not the English armed forces. Thus it could be argued that they have consented to accept the English legal system. Nevertheless, it cannot be accepted under any circumstances that any spouse or child or service personnel should have their birthright, the Scots legal system, removed from them.
I support the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow in terms which may cause him some embarrassment. It is the constitutional right of Scots to live under their own legal system. The fact that one person may serve in the armed forces does not give any Government or the House authority, in terms of the Treaty of Union, to dilute the privileges to which they are entitled by domicile and birth.
416 If it is correct that the child, or indeed the parents, may not be entitled to representation in connection with the proceedings that may be taken under the Bill, I would argue that that is in defiance of natural justice. I should be interested to hear the Minister's reply. It is an essential part of human rights that we are entitled to representation. No decision should be taken in secret or taken apart from one party or another.
If I follow the case presented by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, the Scottish system confers those rights. If, under the Bill, the British system does not provide those essential rights, perhaps it is time somebody raised the matter with the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. Obviously, it is no surprise to me that Britain has been hauled before that court more frequently than any other member of the European Community for a lack of constitutional protection of rights which are safeguarded to nationals of other countries. It seems wrong that such a right should be denied, and I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about that. If what he says is correct, I am both shocked and alarmed that those rights of natural justice should not be afforded under the legislation.
For that reason, if not for the vital constitutional provision that I mentioned, I hope that the Minister will ensure that no Scottish citizen is deprived of his legal rights under the Scottish legal code.
§ Mr. Stanley
I certainly appreciate the detailed and expert consideration that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has brought to this aspect of the Bill throughout our proceedings both in Committee and on the Floor of the House tonight. As he acknowledged, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has also made a considerable contribution.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow tabled his amendments early, as I certainly wish to consider them carefully. I hope that he will he able to conclude from my response that, although for the reasons that I shall endeavour to explain I cannot meet him in all respects, we have taken his amendments seriously and made a proper, considered response to them.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) made a characteristically powerful, anti-imperialist speech. I wonder whether, if clause 13 had been based entirely on Scots law, he would have made exactly the same speech. As a lawyer, I wish to make a simple practical point to him. I hope that he will recognise as a lawyer that it is only possible and sensible for the services to administer their disciplinary legislation in the context often of small groups, units, battalions, and sometimes even smaller groups that may be posted overseas, on the basis of a single corpus of law. It would not be practical to provide within a single unit the operation of, for example, Scots law and English law simultaneously in relation to the same offence. Having said that, I hope that the best points of both English and Scots law can be combined in legislation. We in the armed services would certainly wish to follow the best legislation that can be put together.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance, but it is always strange to me that the code of law which seems to be adopted to deal with the armed forces comes purely from the English common law, and that little Scots law is borrowed, especially regarding the 417 identification, representation and statements made under the criminal law as it may apply to courts martial. Will the Minister explain why Scots law is never adopted as the major code, and why we always seem to rely on English law in these matters?
§ Mr. Stanley
In this area we tend to take the lead from the Department of Health and Social Security. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes a careful study of what happens regarding the same social problems north of the border when he makes amendments to legislation. I am sure he wishes to come up with the most satisfactory legislative solutions.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am not reassured by that. I have ongoing correspondence with the Treasury and the DHSS both of which refuse to admit the differences in majority and the rights of young people from the age of 16 onwards. They, too, follow the English pattern.
§ Mr. Stanley
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am relieved that that correspondence is not with me.
I should like to deal with each of the important amendments in turn. Regarding amendment No. 1, the present wording of section 14(4) of the Armed Forces Act 1981, which the hon. Gentleman seeks to amend, deliberately follows that of section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 which applies to England and Wales. I hope that the House will agree that in such matters it is right and proper that the services should adopt the same criteria, and work to the same principles in deciding whether a child should be removed to a place of safety as those which would apply were the case being considered by civil authorities under the equivalent civil legislation.
The hon. Gentleman's proposed amendment would remove that commonality with civil child care legislation in England and Wales, and substitute different criteria, which, for example, would make it difficult to remove a child beyond the control of his parents to a place of safety.
§ Mr. Stanley
I shall give way, but it may be helpful if I conclude my remarks on amendment No. 1.
Obviously, I appreciate that the equivalent Scottish legislation, which is section 37(2) of the Social work (Scotland) Act 1968, contains no provision for a place of safety order where the child is beyond the control of his parents. I am also aware that a Scottish hon. Member—indeed, this evening we have already seen this—is unlikely to be impressed with the merits of English and Welsh legislation, compared with equivalent Scottish legislation, although he will perhaps draw some comfort from the fact that the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was of course the work of a previous Labour Government.
The hon. Gentleman will, however, be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is conducting a review of child care law. I am sure that the differences between the law in Scotland and in England and Wales on this point will be carefully considered. Should my right hon. Friend decide to amend the Children and Young Persons Act on that point, I am sure that we would want to consider appropriate amendments to the armed forces legislation.
Meanwhile. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not feel it would be right for me to anticipate the 418 outcome of my right hon. Friend's review and embark on a piecemeal amendment of these provisions in the armed forces legislation. For those reasons I am afraid that I am not able to accept amendment No. 1.
§ Mr. Bermingham
While I listened with care to the Minister's remarks and understand that, if further amendments to the law are carried, it is possibly preemptive at this stage to amend the law in anticipation of what might or might not happen, does the Minister agree that it may be necessary for the Ministry to take on board the consideration of a child's position in being returned to Scotland as opposed to England because in Scotland a child has certain rights which he would not have in England? If the Minister will undertake to consider that matter, it may assist my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) with his amendments, without having to press them to a vote.
§ Mr. Stanley
As I understand it, in the normal course of events a Scottish child would be returned to Scotland and be dealt with under Scottish legislation.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about the review by the Secretary of State for Social Services. Can he undertake that, if legislation is introduced, it will be so phrased that this legislation will automatically be amended? We will not then have to wait three or four years for suitable alterations to be made in the next quinquennial review.
§ Mr. Stanley
In answering that question, one becomes involved in the issue of the scope of legislation that is at the moment entirely hypothetical. I cannot give an undertaking such as the hon. Gentleman asks for. I can, however, assure him that we are anxious that in all aspects of legislation, and especially the sensitive and important area of social legislation, service legislation should be up to the civil standard and should reflect the latest thinking of the Government. If it were practical and possible in legislative terms, we would want our legislation to be kept in line with amending legislation that might be produced by another Department. If it were possible to use another Department's Bill to produce an equivalent amendment in our own legislation, we would, in principle, want to do so.
Amendment No. 2 provides for the appointment of what is termed a safeguarder to protect a child's interests at any hearings. This proposal is derived from Scots law on child care. However, in Scots law a safeguarder is not appointed when the initial application is made to the justice of the peace or the sheriff for a place of safety warrant, but only at a later stage, before a children's panel, when the child's longer-term future is being considered—in other words, once care proceedings are under way. However, service law does not deal with care proceedings but only with the temporary removal of the children from danger. The proceedings are equivalent to a place of safety order under English law and to the stage prior to a children's hearing in Scotland.
Just as there is no occasion for the provision of a safeguarder at that stage in either English or Scots civil law, so there is no occasion for such provision at the equivalent stage in service procedure. That is why the clause is drafted as it is. I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, will understand that at the equivalent stage there is no provision for a safeguarder either in Scots or English law.
§ Mr. Wilson
If the child were at risk while the parents and the child were, for instance, in Hong Kong, and it was necessary for the child to be taken to a place of safety for reasons that we all understand—I accept the Minister's argument—what would happen? Would the child be taken straight back to Scotland if the parents were still based in Hong Kong? At what stage, and under what procedure, would the long-term arrangements for the child's future be taken care of? It is peculiar to take a child away to Scotland to make use of the rights of representation if the parents are still in Hong Kong, yet the Scottish proceedings would not apply in Hong Kong, or under the Army Acts.
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Gentleman refers to the relationship between the short-term and the long-term procedures. I will deal with that on another amendment.
I assume that the intention of amendment No. 3 is that there should be power to withhold details of the whereabouts of the actual place of safety from the parents of the child on whom an order is made, if that is justified.
I should first stress that there are likely to be very few cases indeed, if any, in which such action would be justified. The services are likely in every case to want to reassure parents that their children are in good hands. Of course, where a child has been, or may be, the victim of serious abuse by a parent, it would be important to keep the parent away from the child. In such rare cases commanding officers would invaribly have adminstrative means at their disposal to select a place of safety under service control that would effectively ensure the exclusion of the parent.
The amendment of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow would in fact not be consistent with either English or Scots civil law. No powers for withholding a child's address and access to the child have been given either to the magistrate when a place of safety order is granted in England, or to a sheriff in Scotland when an authorisation by a court or justice of the peace is made for the detention of a child in a place of safety pending arrangements for bringing him before a children's hearing.
The amendment also contains a number of technical deficiencies. For example, it is not made an offence to disclose the child's address, or to make provision for the revocation or variation of orders denying access.
However, I assure the hon. Member that we shall review this matter as part of the reconsideration of section 14 of the 1981 Act that the Select Committee has asked us to undertake, and in the light of any changes that may emerge from the DHSS review of child care legislation to which I have referred.
I know that the laudable intentions of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow in amendment No. 4 and the other amendments to clause 13 that he has tabled are to protect as far as possible the interests of both parents and children when place of safety orders are being considered. However, I think that he may have somewhat misunderstood the purpose of the place of safety order provisions in service legislation.
The provisions that the hon. Member envisages for attendance or representation at hearings, and for appeal, are of course entirely appropriate where child care proceedings are being considered, and where the child's longer-term future is at stake. However, section 14 of the Armed Forces Act 1981 does not deal with care 420 proceedings. It deals only with temporary emergency place of safety orders which may only be made overseas—not in the United Kingdom, contrary to the amendment—and which can last for a maximum of 28 days in total.
Such orders are designed primarily to remove children as quickly as possible from a potential source of danger and to provide for their safe keeping until the way ahead is determined. They are thus broadly equivalent to place of safety proceedings in England and Wales or to the stage prior to a children's hearing in Scotland.
The next step might be either to return the child to the family or to transfer him or her to the United Kingdom, into the hands of local welfare authorities which will decide what further action by way of care proceedings might be required. Such further care proceedings would take place under local civil law—either English or Scots law—where the statutory provision as to representation or appeal would apply. The amendment would go far beyond the equivalent provisions affecting the initial granting of a place of safety order in England or Scotland so far as attendance, representation and appeal by parents are concerned.
Service law already goes further than either English or Scots law in providing that parents have a right, wherever practicable, to make representations to the commanding officer before the order is made. It would not be right to go further. To do so would risk delaying proceedings while possibly leaving a child in a dangerous situation. I am sure that that would not be acceptable to the House.
In amendment No. 5, the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow proposes that there should be written statements supporting applications for a place of safety order. The suggestion derives, perhaps, from a misunderstanding of the type of procedures involved. Service place of safety orders do not involve written applications and formal hearings. They are designed to react swiftly to events where the child is in immediate danger. What usually happens is that a case conference will hastily be convened involving medical staff, social workers and others with knowledge of the family. If they decide that a place of safety order is necessary, a request for such an order will be made to the commanding officer.
What the hon. Gentleman proposes in terms of written applications goes far beyond anything in English child care law or, indeed, in Scots law in relation to the initial application to a justice of the peace or a sheriff. This provision might cause an unacceptable delay in removing a child from the source of danger. Of course. where a child is transferred back to the United Kingdom and after care proceedings are instituted by the local authorities, the services make arrangements to provide all the necessary supporting evidence and documentation to the United Kingdom courts.
However, on another aspect of the amendment, I am sympathetic to the proposal that the officer making the order should record on it his reasons for doing so and the fact that the parents should formally be told of the reasons. In practice, it is most unlikely that parents would be left in ignorance of the reasons, but, having considered this, I have decided that, from now on, as a matter of administrative practice, the officer making the place of safety order should include on the form the grounds on which it is made and a copy of the order should be given to the parents or guardian of the child.
421 The appropriate service guidelines will be amended accordingly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is practicable to accept the substance of his amendment by the administrative change that I have described.
The hon. Gentleman's amendment also refers to the need to remind parents of their right to seek legal advice. I have decided to accept the substance of the hon. Gentleman's amendment on that point. However, I should explain that the Queen's regulations for each service already contain paragraphs which make it clear that for those serving overseas service lawyers will provide legal advice free of charge on non-criminal matters, including matrimonial and family affairs. By amending the appropriate service guidelines, I shall ensure that, in future, parents whose children are subject to place of safety orders have their attention drawn to the relevant paragraphs of the Queen's regulations.
I hope that, on the basis of what I have said and the responses that I have made, the hon. Gentleman will believe that his amendments—which are important—have been carefully considered. I hope that he believes that this is an acceptable response and that his major anxieties have been met.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Often in Committee we are a bit curmudgeonly, but I wish to say two things. In my constituency experience, the services, almost without exception, have been sensitive and helpful in handling these difficult matters, and credit is due to the good sense of commanding officers. I very much welcome what the Minister of State said. Some formal notification of the reasons is the answer to the problems that some of us have experienced.
§ Dr. Godman
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). In the rare constituency cases that have arisen concerning the sons of my constituents serving overseas, I have been most grateful for the sensitive care and attention that has been devoted to the parents. I am pleased to put that on the official record.
I hope that I am not whingeing when I say that, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), I am not a lawyer, so I am a little handicapped. I wish to read what the Minister said, although I assure him that I listened most attentively to his remarks. Nor am I served by the platoon—at times it looked like a battalion—of Ministry of Defence officials who gave evidence to the Select Committee. Much of my experience is based on the good advice and guidance given to me by my wife who, as I told Mr. Fracer of the Ministry of Defence, is a senior social worker and highly experienced in these matters. If I have made any mistakes, they are entirely my responsibility and nothing to do with my wife. My dear wife, who is from Govan, is a little larger than I am.
Although I do not have the benefit of a platoon of specialists, I am grateful for the care and attention that has been given to the amendments. I accept that, in several instances, they are technically inadequate. That can only be blamed on my ignorance of these matters. In the Select Committee, and this evening, I have tried to establish the need to protect the interests of the child. If such dreadful circumstances were to arise in connection with the child of a Scottish soldier, which led to the child being removed 422 from its family, that child must be returned to Scotland—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said, to his place of birth or where he and his family are domiciled.
When the Minister dealt with amendment No. 3, he said that a Scottish child would be returned to care in Scotland. Having been given that assurance—I know that the Minister is honourable—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 13 to 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.