HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc615-6

`—(1) Where it is proposed to use a voluntary home or registered children's home to provide a refuge for children who appear to be at risk of harm, the Secretary of State may issue a certificate under this section with respect to that home.

(2) Where a local authority or voluntary organisation arrange for a foster parent to provide such a refuge, the Secretary of State may issue a certificate under this section with respect to that foster parent.

(3) In subsection (2) "foster parent" means a person who is, or who from time to time is, a local authority foster parent or a foster parent with whom children are placed by a voluntary organisation.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations—

  1. (a) make provision as to the manner in which certificates may be issued;
  2. (b) impose requirements which must be complied with while any certificate is in force; and
  3. (c) provide for the withdrawal of certificates in prescribed circumstances.

(5) Where a certificate is in force with respect to a home, none of the provisions mentioned in subsection (7) shall apply in relation to any person providing a refuge for any child in that home.

(6) Where a certificate is in force with respect to a foster parent, none of those provisions shall apply in relation to the provision by him of a refuge for any child in accordance with arrangements made by the local authority or voluntary organisations.

(7) The provisions are—

  1. (a) section 43;
  2. (b) section 71 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (harbouring children who have absconded from residential establishments etc.), so far as it applies in relation to anything done in England and Wales;
  3. (c) section 32(3) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (compelling, persuading, inciting or assisting any person to be absent from detention etc), so far as it applies in relation to anything done in England and Wales;
  4. (d) section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984.'—[Mr. Mellor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Mellor

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

Mr. Speaker

With this it will he convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 114 and 117.

Mr. Mellor

New clause 14 will bring great pleasure to many hon. Members who were concerned about the provision of refuges for run-away youngsters, about which the Children's Society was concerned. Those concerns were raised by several hon. Members in correspondence and in the House. They were raised also in Standing Committee on behalf of the Children's Society by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), whom I am glad to see present today in the Chamber. Those concerns related to whether the existence of a refuge might be construed by the courts as an inducement to young people to stay away from home, thus placing in jeopardy organisations providing that valuable service.

I am glad to say that the revised new clause meets those concerns. It provides that organisations and persons providing refuges may be issued with a certificate by the Secretary of State and that where a certificate is in force those running the refuge, whether in children's homes or as foster parents, cannot be prosecuted for offences involving, for example, harbouring.

Regulations under the new clause will impose rigorous requirements on those running refuges and those acting for the Secretary of State will examine those seeking certificates with great care. Bona fide organisations will have no difficulty in complying with those requirements. I am quite sure that I speak for the whole House in expressing pleasure that we have been able to bring forward this new clause to meet the legitimate concerns of the Children's Society and others.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I welcome the new clause and the Minister's remarks. Hon. Members almost certainly receive more correspondence on this issue than on any other. The Children's Society has already acknowledged the progress that has been made. Perhaps the spirit of the Bill is reflected in what the House is about to agree. We have always argued that the interests of the child should be paramount. A child who, for whatever reason, has left home has the right to have two or three days in which to think out his or her situation in a calm manner without the Children's Society, for example, being threatened with action for harbouring. That represents progress. I am sure that Opposition Members welcome what the Minister has said.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

I appreciate the way in which my hon. and learned Friend has resolved the difficulties in this issue. When the Bill left the other place, there was great concern about the ambiguity of the Lord Chancellor's remarks on Third Reading and about whether the Government intended simply to deal with children who had run away from care or those who had run away from home. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the several exchanges that have taken place between us and with the Children's Society in endeavouring to make sure that we have a clear form of words.

The problem was that there was debate between lawyers on whether the initially proposed amendments fitted the Bill. I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend has been able to meet the various requirements put forward by the Children's Society. About 10,000 children are believed to be missing in London each year. Obviously, it is important that the work of the Children's Society, safe houses and refuges should be allowed to continue unhindered. I welcome the clause because it finally makes sure that the Children's Society is acting within the law rather than outside it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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