HC Deb 15 May 1991 vol 191 cc269-70
5. Dr. Godman

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow of 26 April, Official Report, columns 618–19, if it is his intention to introduce legislative provisions akin to those contained in part III of the Criminal Justice Bill; and if he will make a statement.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No. The provisions in the Bill have been designed specifically for England and Wales. We need to consider separately what is most suitable for Scotland and in particular the Scottish Law Commission's recommendations in its report on the evidence of children and other potentially vulnerable witnesses.

Dr. Godman

Part III of the Criminal Justice Bill and the English Children Act 1989 show all too plainly the disturbing discrepancy between English and Scottish child care law. Given that discrepancy and the recent and continuing inquiries into abuses of children, has not the time arrived for a Minister of State at the Scottish Office to be given specific responsibility for child protection? Should not his first duty be to initiate a critical and tough-minded examination of child care law and practices? We can trust social work departments, but these worrying developments need a Minister of State to carry out such duties.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

We have a Minister of State who has promised a White Paper on the subject. A report on child care law was published last October and we have received extensive comments on its recommendations. On 19 April, my right hon. Friend announced his intention to establish a judicial inquiry following the recent child protection cases in the Orkneys. We will take into account its findings in preparing the White Paper, which will set out a coherent package of measures to improve and simplify arrangements for the protection and support of children in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman will know that changes have been made to the legislation, because he proposed them. Following consultation with the judiciary, the new procedures in courts will be introduced in Edinburgh and Glasgow later this year. They will be carefully monitored with a view to reducing stress on child witnesses. We will review the practice and, if necessary, legislate further in the light of experience.

Mr. Wallace

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his prompt response to the calls for a judicial inquiry into the events in Orkney. He will agree that we look to that inquiry to come forward with positive proposals to improve child care law. Does he accept that the inquiry will be more effective and better informed if the parents involved have adequate funding for proper legal representation? Can the Minister make a statement on that?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have written fully to the hon. Member on the subject of legal aid. I understand that the immediate problem has been resolved, but if there are further matters I shall be happy to meet the hon. Members to discuss them in detail and to follow them up.

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