§ 5.25 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ Clause 15 [Effect of approved school order on fit person or local authority]:
EARL JELLICOE moved, in subsection (2), after "that Act" to insert:
or where a juvenile court, under section 84 (8) of the principal Act, has revoked an order committing a person to the care of a local authority and made an approved school order in respect of him
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, on the Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, moved an Amendment to Clause 7 designed mainly to ensure that where a court sent to an approved school a child brought before it under Section 84 (8) of the principal Act by a local authority in whose care he was under a fit person order, the court should have a discretion to allow the fit person order to continue in force so that the local authority might continue to befriend and assist the child in question. I said that I hoped to be able to produce, before Third Reading, an Amendment to meet this point.
§ The Amendment which I am now moving extends the provisions of Clause 15 (2) so that a local authority would have power to continue to visit, advise and befriend a child in an approved school, even though the order committing him to their care had been revoked under Section 84 (8) of the principal Act. I might mention that it does not affect the requirement in the new version of that section substituted by Clause 7 (2) that the court must revoke the fit person order before making an approved school order or any other order. However, it secures the object, as I understood it, that the noble Lord had in mind, that the local authority should nevertheless be able to continue to act as the child's substitute parent in a case where, despite the proceedings under Section 84 (8), the basis of such a relationship survived. My Lords, I beg to move.545
Page 10, line 26, after ("Act") insert the said words.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for the considerable amount of attention and thought he has given to this particular point, because it was on this clause that he moved an Amendment on Report stage, to which I moved two Amendments, one of which he accepted; and this is the final act. He has indeed met the whole point about continuity, which is extremely important when a child has been under care, but there is one point which he has not covered, and I should be very glad to know whether, in his view, the amended clause will cover the point of financial assistance. The clause says that the child shall be "befriended" by the local authority; and the noble Earl will remember that I, at least, was not certain that they would be able to befriend him in certain circumstances to the extent of giving financial assistance. It is a point of importance to the local authorities that they should have that assurance: otherwise there will arise points of doubt and difficulty. I hope the noble Earl will be able to say that the clause, when amended and as then drafted, will cover the point about financial assistance.
My Lords, if I have the permission of the House, I should like to answer the point which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has raised. It is quite true that this Amendment is to Clause 15, but he will remember that when we discussed it on Report we were discussing Clause 7. We then came on to discuss Clause 15, and on the second of his Amendments, which I think is the point to which he is now addressing himself, I said we should like further time to consider the implications of his Amendment. As I shall probably be mentioning later on, this is a point on Clause 15 to which we do require to give further consideration.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 19 [Assessors for recorder in appeals and committals from juvenile courts]:
EARL JELLICOE moved to leave out subsection (2) and insert—
(2) Where in any case only one such member is available the recorder may sit with
that member, and where in any case no such member is available and it appears to the recorder that an adjournment would not be in the interests of justice, he may sit alone.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment honours an undertaking given by my noble friend Lord Lothian at Report stage. Its effect is that in a case to which Clause 19 applies the recorder may sit without any juvenile court justices as assessors only if it appears to him that
an adjournment would not be in the interests of justice.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested at Report stage that the criterion should be whether it would be contrary to the child's interests to delay the hearing. I can assure him that the Government entirely agree that the child's interests should be the first consideration—I should like to make that quite plain. But I do not believe that those interests should be the only considerations. As the noble Lord's colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, said (and I quote from column 257 of Hansard)—at the Report stage:
… the overriding considerations must be the welfare of the child or young person and the interests of justice …
To that I would only add that the latter will generally include the former. Justice will generally include the interests of the child, but if there were any possible conflict it would be right that the interests of justice should prevail. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 29, leave out subsection (2) and insert the said new subsection.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, again I am grateful to the noble Earl for this Amendment which, as he said, goes a long way to meet the point I had in mind. The words of the Amendment, "in the interests of justice", are, of course, the same as those used in paragraph 17 of the Second Schedule; and they are, indeed, the words used in the practice of the juvenile courts. No-one could dissent from the noble Earl's proposition that if the interests of justice do not apparently include the interests of the child nevertheless the interests of justice must become paramount. The wording of my Amendment was precisely to ensure that, when 547 this Bill becomes an Act, the whole legal machine serves the best, the immediate and the long—term interests of the child.
This particular clause provides that in almost all circumstances a magistrate, or two magistrates, with experience of juvenile courts and of child cases shall sit with the recorder as assessors. My unease about these words does not arise from any academic assessment of the value of language but from actual knowledge and experience of what happens at the court session when a recorder is considering the case of a child. It would be wholly wrong to suggest that the recorder does not know everything there is to know about the law and the interests of justice, but in my experience some of them are absolute "clots" when it comes to children, and ought at all times to have the benefit of these assessors. They should sit without an assessor only if it would otherwise mean long delays in considering the child's case and is therefore not in the interests of the child. I can only hope that the kind of case I have mentioned will not arise, and that what the noble Earl has said about always considering the interests of the child will carry weight and that the interests of justice will always coincide with the interests of the child.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 27 [Evidence of children in committal proceedings for sexual offences]:
My Lords, the Amendment which I am now moving is a drafting Amendment. It is designed to make it clear that any objections by the defence under the new Clause 27 procedure must be made at or before the time when the statement is tendered in evidence. I think the Amendment is self—explanatory. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 15, line 24, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
("(a) where at or before the time when such a statement is tendered in evidence the defence objects to the application of that subsection; or")—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ EARL JELLICOE moved, after Clause 54 to insert the following new clause.548
§ Power of local authority to visit and assist persons formerly in their care
§ Where a person was at or after the time when he attained the age of seventeen in the care of a local authority under the Children Act 1948, the principal Act or the principal Scottish Act, but has ceased to be in their care, then, while he is under the age of twenty—one, the local authority, if so requested by him, may cause him to be visited, advised and befriended and, in exceptional circumstances, to be given financial assistance.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the new clause which I am now moving also stems from an undertaking I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, during the Report stage. It would enable a local authority to help a person under 21 who was in their care up to the age of 17 or later by causing him to be visited, advised and befriended, and also, in exceptional circumstances, to be given financial assistance. Such help may be given only on request. In so far as the new clause would enable a local authority to advise and befriend a child formerly in their care, it covers the same ground as the new clause moved at Report by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I then reserved the Government's position on the need to extend the local authority's powers of financial assistance beyond the limits set by Section 20 of the Children Act, 1948, as amended by Clause 44 of this Bill.
§ We have since had an opportunity to discuss this point with representatives of the local authority associations and with the London County Council. They considered that a power to give financial assistance in cases not covered by those provisions I have mentioned would need to be exercised only in exceptional circumstances, and the Government's new clause accordingly confers such a power with that limitation. I should add that the new clause extends to Scotland. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ After Clause 54, insert the said new clause. —(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, as the noble Earl has indicated, the terms of this new clause follow almost exactly the lines of the one that I moved on Report, except, I believe, for the insertion of the words "exceptional circumstances" where financial assistance is concerned. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could give some indication of the kind of financial circumstances which would be 549 regarded as "exceptional", not by reference to a dictionary definition (I am sure he would not do that), but by a kind of example which would be helpful. Could the noble Earl also give an indication of why it is now proposed to put this new clause after Clause 54? I originally moved it to come after Clause 3. At the time I did not think it a very good place to put it, but I do not think it is any better after Clause 54, because if it is placed after Clause 54 it means that we have two contradictory and unrelated elements in the one clause. I should never dream of looking for it under Clause 54. This would mean going right through the Bill before discovering it. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would deal with those two points.
My Lords, I shall be exceptionally brief in my reply to the noble Lord on both points, because I am not certain that I know the precise answer to either of them. Dealing first with his second point, we can clearly look as the Bill goes along into whether this is the best place for this new clause, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestion that it might not be. Frankly I do not know why we chose that particular place to put it. On his first point, I am afraid that he has stumped me, because, as I said at Report stage, it was my view that the existing provisions of the 1948 Act would cover the various possibilities to which he alluded at Report stage. I can only conjecture that the local authorities' associations and the London County Council thought that there might be some other cases—although, as I mentioned earlier, they thought that these would be very exceptional. I am afraid that I cannot specify the exception, because it is our view that almost all the circumstances would be covered by the provisions of the existing Act.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 60 [Citation, construction, commencement and extent]:
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 31, line 24, after ("8") insert ("27, 34").—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.550
§ Schedule 1 [Supervision Orders: Requirements as to residence and treatment]:
My Lords, this Amendment, which again is of a drafting variety, would delete a qualifying phrase from paragraph 10 of the First Schedule. On looking through the Bill again, it seemed to us that the qualifying phrase was unnecessarily restrictive. Perhaps I could mention another reason for our wishing to delete the qualifying phrase. Even if it were not unnecessarily restrictive, it is, in fact, defective. The word "not" should not in any event appear in it. I beg to move.
Page 34, line 5, leave out from first ("treatment") to ("or") in line 7.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I can only apologise to the noble Earl because there was a defect in the Bill which I overlooked.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ An Amendment (privilege) made.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. Last November I commended this Bill to your Lordships at Second Reading. Since then it has received both careful and expert scrutiny in your Lordships' House. As a result, what was good in November is now even better in February. Honesty compels me to say that the virtues of this Bill are in some measure a reflection of the virtues of the Government which produced it. Nevertheless, I should be both ungenerous and disingenuous were I not to acknowledge the constructive and positive contributions which noble Lords have made to our discussions—and in saying that, I have very much in mind the contributions made by noble Lords opposite. At the same time, I hope that I may claim that we have shown ourselves ready, and indeed willing, to consider the suggestions which they and other noble Lords have made.
In general, we believe that a Bill of this nature should not be the occasion for Party controversy. Believing that, we have tried to steer something of a middle course in our consideration of it. I must confess, however, that at times we have not found it altogether easy to pass with safety between Scylla and Charybdis, if I may refer under that allegorical guise to those two commanding and expert 551 figures (neither of whom, I am afraid, are there), the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and my noble friend Lord Ingleby, both of whom contributed so much to our discussions.
My Lords, Scylla sounds feminine. May I briefly review the progress we have made? Much of our attention has rightly centred on Clause 1 as a major—indeed, I would claim, the major—clause in the Bill. Clause 1, as amended, makes it clear that the duty to provide the advice, guidance and assistance required by the clause rests primarily on the local authority, who may, however, avail themselves of the help of any voluntary organisation or other suitable agency who are at work in their area. As the right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishops of Norwich and Southwell, in particular, have pointed out, the clause opens up a new and promising field for cooperation between voluntary bodies and statutory agencies in the common interest of the children and the families whom both exist to serve.
We intend to take early administrative steps to ensure that Clause 1 is brought into operation, both in the letter and in the spirit intended by Parliament. The date of its coming into operation is, of course, under Clause 60, a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to decide. We are at present thinking of an early date: October 1 this year. Before then, we shall hold any further discussions with the local authorities that may be necessary. We trust that before October, they for their part will be putting any necessary preparatory work in hand. All in all, we are determined that the impetus behind this new drive to help socially handicapped children, which the Ingleby Report and this Bill have imparted, shall not be lost through avoidable delay, or through any lack of encouragement from the centre.
Your Lordships will not wish me to discuss all the changes we have made in the Bill since it was first introduced. Nevertheless, I may perhaps briefly touch on some of them. On Clause 2, we have been able to meet the general wish that the new description of children 552 who have to be dealt with under Section 62 of the principal Act should mention their need of protection as well as of care or control. For its part, Clause 14 is now embellished with a tiny and innocent Amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and another, equally innocent, which we thought of for ourselves. On Clause 15, we have gone a long way to meet the genuine and not unreasonable fear of noble Lords opposite that its power, as originally drafted, might be to deprive some children in approved schools of quasi-parental support.
Your Lordships will be glad to learn that I do not intend to make another speech about the age of criminal responsibility. I will, therefore, confine myself to pointing out that Clause 16 in its present form represents, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has said, a compromise by which the Government have sought to find the point at which the largest number of people might feel able to agree. We are not perhaps so sanguine as to hope that the dust of controversy has settled completely on this clause. In any event, once the Bill becomes law, we shall all be watching very closely to see how the clause works in practice. For my part, I would suggest that the advantage of accepting only half the noble Baroness's loaf is that we can be reasonably certain that we have not bitten off more than we can chew.
On Clause 19, we have accepted the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that there should be a restriction on the circumstances in which a recorder may sit without any assessor to deal with a case to which the clause applies. I know, of course, from what the noble Lord has just said, that he feels that we may not have gone far enough here, and on that we may differ. On Clause 25, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was able to point out certain practical difficulties in our original attempt to give legislative effect to the wish of my noble friend Lord Ingleby's Committee that the attendance of both parents should be required more frequently. Our second attempt, aimed at overcoming these obstacles, did not find complete favour with either the noble Baroness or my noble friend. Much of the difficulty here lies in the variety of situations with which this clause has to 553 deal. Nevertheless, as I undertook on Report, we are examining whether there is scope for further improvement here.
In turning to Part II—the Bateson part—of the Bill, I should like straight away to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for drawing our attention to a number of points—such as the safeguarding of a child's earnings, the need to take account of a child aged 16 still being subject to compulsory school attendance, and the need to leave opportunities open to musical prodigies—where the Bill could be improved. I think that, with his help, this Part of the Bill has in fact been materially improved. Again in Part III, we have been able to accept the substance of the noble Lord's proposal enabling local authorities to provide further assistance for children under 21 who were formerly in their care.
There are some other matters of greater or lesser importance where, as a result of our discussions, we think that improvements might be made, but where, because of the time factor, such improvements should we decide that they would be improvements—must necessarily be left To another place. Thus we are not yet certain whether subsection (2) of Clause 15 enables a local authority to give all the assistance that they need to give where a child formerly in their care is in an approved school. Again, as I have already mentioned, we shall be having a further look at Clause 25. We have also still to decide whether 13 is the right upper limit in Clause 27. At the same time, we are considering how paragraph 26 of Schedule 13 can best be amended to take care of another point which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has brought to our attention. Finally, I should remind your Lordships that the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, have raised some questions on Part II—about the young actor or actress of 15 and about the child model—that do not admit of easy answers. I cannot guarantee that we shall be able to resolve these questions, but we shall certainly try.
In conclusion, my Lords, I would claim that this Bill has grown into a healthy child whom we can confidently send out into the world, or at least to another place. We know from the Ingleby Report that in any proceedings concerning the welfare of a child 554Great value is to be derived from the presence of the child's father…The truth of that maxim has been brought Home to us throughout these proceedings by the value we have derived from the presence of my noble friend Lord Ingleby —incidentally, he kindly told me how much he regretted that, owing to another engagement, he could not stay until the end of our discussion this evening. I realise that, like many children, the Bill has not turned out in some respects quite as its father intended. In general, however, I think it has remained true to its lineage. I therefore hope that my noble friend, with his great belief in the importance of parental responsibility, will take due credit for its virtues and will not dissent from the action which we are taking this evening.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his kind words about the part that we have played in the various stages of this Bill. For our part, we should like to express most grateful thanks to the nable Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and to his noble friend Lord Lothian, for the great care and consideration that they have given to everything that has been said, and for the quite remarkable number of occasions when, after discussion, they have been able to accept our point of view. Indeed, there was only one occasion during the course of the Bill when there was any serious disagreement, and then it was not a question of disagreement between Scylla and Charybdis, because Scylla and Charybdis were on one side against the Government; and if the Government had accepted their joint advice—that of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger and the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby—we should not have had a Division, and I think this Bill would have been a better one in a major sense. But that is now a matter of opinion, and certainly I am not going to discuss it, although I think the noble Earl is probably right in forecasting that it may be a matter for discussion in another place.
This Bill (and I think its father, Lord Ingleby, would agree with this) was not as good as he, or, indeed, we on these Benches, would have liked when it first came to your Lordships' House. I feel 555 sure, however, that it is a much better Bill now. The discussions on its various stages have been, I think, an example of your Lordships' House at its best: because here the form and content and the value of legislation are always first past the post, and irrelevant Party points come a long way down the course. This has been a particularly good and useful Bill for that reason.
The noble Earl, in addition to the Amendments which your Lordships have accepted this afternoon and on the earlier stages, was kind enough to mention other matters on which assurances have been given, which are the subject of discussion and which it is hoped will result in Government Amendments during Committee stage in another place. I hope he will forgive me if I point out that his brief list is not quite complete. The Government are still going to consider the point, which I think is important, of the power of local authorities to help the potential offender; to, as it were, reduce juvenile delinquency by social work. That comes in Clause 42. Then, in Clause 47, there is still a further point about the juvenile court having power to continue a fit person order. There is also the question of the retrospective contribution orders. I know that they must be the subject of further discussion with the A.M.C. and the London County Council; but it is a point of importance to them. I hope the noble Earl will bear those in mind. So that we have a full list of, I think, about eight potential Government Amendments in another place to which your Lordships can claim parentage. With those Amendments, I think this Bill will be a good Act of Parliament, and I am sure it will be of very great service indeed to the children of this country.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I should just like to say how much I have appreciated the way in which my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Lothian have taken this Bill through your Lordships' House. I have been closely associated with the work of children's officers and child care officers for a number of years, and I know that this Bill is awaited with great anxiety, as well as with pleasure, by this service. I am sure they will be extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for the way in which he has conducted the Bill, 556 and for the Bill itself, of which I think the Government can be justly proud. I think it will be extremely successful.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.