HL Deb 25 April 1968 vol 291 cc764-74

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I beg to move that the privilege Amendment be agreed to.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg leave to speak on the Third Reading of this Bill, which I think it was anticipated would go through without further debate. The reason why I ask for leave to speak at this stage is that while I support wholeheartedly the ultimate objective of this Bill I feel I must register some form of protest at the way in which a Bill of this magnitude and importance to Scotland has been brought forward.

The initial notice that this Bill was to be considered by the House was extremely short. I understand that that was because it was originally intended that the Bill should go to another place. But a Bill which literally covers the whole life, from the cradle to the grave, of any person in Scotland who encounters tribulation is one of considerable importance, and the speed with which it has been put forward, the short period between the Second Reading and the two days when it was considered in Committee, and again the short time from the Report stage to the Third Reading to-day, seem almost indecent.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, regrets that he cannot be here this afternoon, owing to the fact that the Third Reading was put down only yesterday morning. I understand that it is also for that reason that my noble friends Lord Lothian and Lord Drumalbyn, who have been speaking so much on the Bill, are unable to be present to-day.

The pressure to rush this Bill through your Lordships' House has prevented me from speaking to an Amendment in my name, and I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Ferrier for putting it forward. Despite the fact that he did so with much greater ability than I could have done, I wish to add my voice on this subject. The Amendment refers to some form of representation of the Churches and faiths on the proposed social work committees. As originally drafted, that Amendment dealt with Church representation along the same lines as Church representation on the education committees. It is a system which has worked well, and obviously has some virtue in it, and one to which we think the Government should have given full consideration.

However, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said on behalf of the Government, this Amendment was modified, and came up at the Report stage in the hope of meeting the opposition of the Government. As it came up at Report stage last Tuesday (I was sorry that I could not be present, owing to the short notice) the Amendment read: Each social work committee shall as far as possible include persons of experience belonging to the principal Churches or faiths in the area.". This was deliberately worded in a loose and elastic way, to meet the circumstances of the different local authorities in Scotland which would be administering the Act.

The Church in Scotland has a long-standing interest in social welfare. It has had as long-standing an interest as it has had in education. Even going back so short a distance as John Knox, from whom we trace our modern education in Scotland and its degree of independence from Government interference, the Church of Scotland has always been active in the social welfare of the people of Scotland; and for that reason every parish in Scotland had to have a church and minister. They were not there only for spiritual guidance; they had a very definite part to play in the social work. I realise that, historically, perhaps it is not sufficient, but this work has been carried on by the Churches in Scotland right into the present day in a very forthright manner.

Let me give your Lordships just three examples. Since the war the work the Church of Scotland has done in old people's homes, under the leadership of Dr. Lewis Cameron, has been quite phenomenal. A number of old people's homes have been opened—something that would never have got going if it had been left to the Government. I do not say they are going to be suppressed, but the Church is actively involved in this. The voluntary bodies are to continue under this new Social Work Bill. The Episcopal Church in Scotland has a very fine record in dealing with orphan children; its classic, one might say, orphanage at Aberlour is being modified to suit the present circumstances. The actual orphanage at Aberlour is being closed, but in its place, in conformity with the present times, there are being opened homes each containing father and mother and ten children. This is most progressive work that is being done at the present moment by the Church, which is more involved in it than the State is. Then the Roman Catholic Church has a record in Scotland of its approved schools. I was at one time chairman of an approved school in Scotland, and therefore I know something of the absolutely dedicated work of the priests of the Church with those boys in those schools. Although they are going to change, their name will, we hope, continue—for the voluntary services are to be encouraged—and they will be run by the Church and will be an integral part of this new social welfare scheme which is being established under the Bill.

The Churches, by virtue of what they have done and what they are doing, have a right to special consideration far above that of any other specified body. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, thinks that there is no need to specify this in the Act. Perhaps in the present climate of opinion he is correct, and I would not fundamentally disagree with him on that. But this Bill is intended to last for a long time; it will be a long time before there is another Act, and we have to legislate ahead for whatever the climate of opinion may be.

Let me give your Lordships an example of what has happened in the pest and what may happen in the future. I can envisage the possibility that in the future —perhaps not in many cases—the dominant Party in the local authority will use co-option to ensure a fuller representation of their Party, and therefore facilitate the "steamrolling" of their plans and ideas. One of the factors in the Bill is that the local authority can co-opt additional members to the committee, so this is a very possible thing. The reason why I say this has happened in the past is that I have had experience of this myself in the past. For sixteen years I was a member of a local authority and on the education committee. On that education committee were a number of people co-opted by that local authority, and they were, during my time on the local authority and the education committee, always members of the dominant Party. And but for the fact that the Church had direct representation on the education committee we should have had on that committee another "wodge" of five persons from the dominant Party, persons who had no special qualifications to deal with education problems.

Another reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for opposing the Amendment was the limited number of places for the co-opted persons, and he said that the Church representatives would presumably outweigh the others. This is nonsense, my Lords. What will be the average size of these committees? Could they be smaller than fifteen? One-third of the members can be co-opted— one-third of the total. I think the social work committees would number more than fifteen members. This, I would say, would give the possibility of at least five co-opted members, and I am sure that the Churches are not so antagonistic to each other that they would fight for these one or two places that might be made available for Church representation. We are no longer like that in Scotland. We have had many sectarian disputes, but these, curiously enough, have never come into the local government education field. The large committees, of course, would have more than five co-opted members, and I do not see why one should not have it definitely specified that some of those should have a Church connection, though not necessarily that they should be clerics or priests themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, also told us that the Bill says the committee's "may have co-opted members up to one-third of the total". Taking those words, it seems to me that the Government envisage the possibility of fewer than one- third, and possibly even no co-opted members. Certainly the Bill as it stands would indicate that if a local authority did not want to have co-opted members it need not. This, I think, is extremely dangerous, and I do hope—in fact I am almost certain—that the interests of the Churches and the voluntary bodies will be properly considered when this Bill is debated in another place.

My Lords, I apologise for stepping in at this moment and for being so dogmatic, but I feel strongly about this matter and I would assure your Lordships that the feeling among the Churches in Scotland is growing. It has not had time to grow so far, because so little has been known about this Bill, and it has been rushed upon the nation in such considerable haste.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage, but I feel that what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has just said provides me with my justification and my excuse. I am not pleading that we have had too little notice. What I am saying, apologetically, is that I and others did not do our homework properly on the Bill. I wish to draw attention to the fact that the principle of the Bill is opposed to what Lord Balerno has now said. By oversight some of us did not raise questions that we should have raised on Second Reading, on the Committee stage and so on.

In this Bill, which otherwise I accept as a highly progressive and constructive Bill, we have built in something which I feel affects greatly the rights of children. I am deeply concerned about human rights and about the rights of children, and in this Bill we have again evolved, under Clause 5(3)(c), regulations requiring foster parents to be of the same religious persuasion as the child, and under Clause 14(3)(b) and Clause 23 we place the same obligation on the local authorities. Clause 43(2) requires the children's hearing to have regard to the child's religious persuasion when placing the child in a residential establishment. Clause 60(1)(e) enables the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the facilities necessary for a child's religious upbringing.

It occurs to some of us that in this day and generation these are rather anachronistic provisions, certainly greatly divisive and restrictive in terms of what can be said to be done under a most enlightened Bill in terms of the upbringing of a child. It is demonstrably true that in any cases where you have the question of adoption this will be quite definitely restrictive. Where you have the placing of children in institutions which have to be of the same religious denomination as the child, you will again have discrimination or restriction. I apologise to your Lordships for raising this matter at this stage, but I use Lord Balerno's excuse: that I hope this at least will be attended to in another place.


My Lords, I rise for a few moments in order to support my noble friend Lord Balerno in what he said about the arrangements of business in this House for dealing with this Bill. We all know that we had the Report stage on Tuesday. It was only then announced that the Third Reading would be taken to-day, and many who would have taken part and were interested to take part found it quite impossible to do so. I think this has been a great mistake throughout. I am quite sure it is not the fault of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. With the rush with which the whole thing has had to be done, I think he must have found it extraordinarily difficult.

I do not think this is a good Bill. I think that probably it will have to be amended in the years to come, and I would say the sooner the better. I am extremely annoyed about several things which I have pointed out. I think it is bad that such things as private people issuing warrants and not J.P.s or anybody like that, and doing away with the probation service, are to come about under this Bill. I am sure that these things will be much regretted in the future. In conclusion, I would say only this. I wish it had been a better Bill; I wish it had been a better drafted Bill. I wish we had been given more time to discuss the points, and I hope that we shall never have such arrangements again.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I want to intervene for only one or two moments. The speeches to which we have just listened, complaining of the lack of time that has been given to the House to deal with this Bill are the same as those which over the years I myself have made over and over again. Every Opposition complains of lack of time and of the way in which the business is conducted. The Opposition will go on complaining, and the Government will defend themselves on the ground that they have a great deal of business, that they want to get the Bill to the Commons, and so on. But the time has come when we have seriously to consider what we are going to do about this situation.

This is a genuine complaint. Often the House has not adequate time to deal with important matters of this kind, and I throw out the suggestion that I hope the House will have an opportunity one day of dealing with this at some length, and of considering most carefully how we are going to conduct our business. I am sure that this Bill, like many others, would have been much better dealt with had it been possible to send it to a Committee—this Bill in particular. After all, there are a limited number of people who are interested in this particular measure; and why the, time of the whole House should be taken up dealing with this matter of, with all respect, limited interest, I cannot make out.

I hope that one day we shall be sensible and send this and many other Bills like it to a Committee. The Theft Bill is another example; we spent days and days on it, quite unnecessarily, because the number of people who spoke on it could be counted on one hand. One day perhaps, if my Chief Whip will give me the opportunity, I might put down a Motion myself to discuss the Business of the House and the way in which we should conduct ourselves. In the meantime, I should like to say that I have great sympathy with those who complain about lack of time.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balerno quite rightly said that we were legislating for the future, and also that it would probably be a long time before we had another Bill such as this. But surely this is just what we want—flexibility. The point is that if we want flexibility we should not stipulate that the churches should be represented on these committees.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say one word on the Third Reading of this Bill, because I am one of those deeply interested in it. I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, has said. I think it must always be difficult to organise the business of the House, and there is no doubt at all that when you have the Report stage of a Bill on one day and the Third Reading 48 hours later, it is difficult to do anything about it from the point of view of careful study of the Report stage, or indeed putting down any Amendments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, knows, I raised a question on the Report stage, and he was good enough to say that he would consider it, and that if I wanted to I could put down the same Amendment again and we could discuss it. I did not put down the same Amendment. I had a conversation with the noble Lord in the Lobby, and he has written me a letter pointing out that the point I raised about the importance of sheriffs being actually on the social work committees—a point that I thought was a little out of keeping, since no other persons are being specified as having to be on the social work committees—was something that he would look at again. I have received an assurance from the noble Lord that there is no question of the sheriffs being on the social work committees by right; that this is not a mandatory power which the Secretary of State will insist upon, but simply an indication that it would be in the interests —and here I agree—of a social work committee that the sheriff should be given the opportunity to be on the committee, or on a sub-committee dealing with delinquency. I wish to assure the noble Lord that I am satisfied that there is no mandatory power in this matter. I hope that the social work committees will be so constructed as to include their many interests, such as those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Balerno, and also the work of the sheriffs. I feel that all these interests should be represented on these committees, and I am hopeful that they will be. I have the good fortune on my own county council to be the chairman of two committees dealing with social work, one with probation and the other with child care. I hope to see that when these committees are reconstructed they will include among their members people who have been carrying out work in connection with child care and probation.

I wish that we had had more time to discuss these matters. Certainly we had time, in that the debates went on for many hours; but the actual time table of the Bill meant that it often came on at difficult hours which made it hard on Members of this House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that on this Bill, which is entirely a Scottish Bill, it was not to be expected that all Members of your Lordships' House would be in the House to listen to what we were going to do in Scotland. I should have been happy with an arrangement by which the Bill could have been discussed in a Committee outwith this House by the Members who are interested in it. I have always been interested in the idea of generic social work training—a tiresome phrase, but the noble Lord will know what I mean. I feel that this Bill has its advantages, and that it may bring about an improvement in social work in Scotland. I very much hope that we shall not be unduly rushed and so prevented from finding good people for these posts. I hope that the Bill will be a great success.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. I shall try to be brief, since, having regard to what was said by the noble Baroness about the hours at which we sometimes started to discuss this Bill at certain stages, it appears that we have inflicted a similar situation upon those Members of your Lordships' House who are waiting to speak on the Second Reading of the Countryside Bill. Therefore, complaints are not always on one side of the Border.

I must repudiate the suggestion that the Bill was unduly rushed. I accept that the actual time at which the Second Reading took place was, from a Scottish point of view, bad. We then took the Committee stage in two sections—one on a Thursday and the other on a Tuesday. There was the ordinary interval of time between the Second Reading and the Committee stage and the ordinary interval of time between the Committee and Report stages. The only point at which there was any rushing of procedure was to take the Third Reading two days after the Report. An examination of the records of your Lordships' House will show that we have not set any precedent in this matter. During the Committee and Report stages we disposed of more than 300 Amendments, and certainly 300 Amendments could not have been put forward if there had not been adequate time for consideration during those stages.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell the House how many of those Amendments were Government Amendments or Amendments relating to changes in drafting?


That does not matter. The Government, just like anybody else, need time to prepare Amendments; and both the Opposition and the Government found time in those two stages to put forward 300 Amendments. We found time to divide on four of them. If the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has any complaint about the decisions on probation and the issue of warrants, there is at least the merit that those decisions were arrived at by the will of your Lordships; it was not simply a matter of agreeing to what was put forward by the Government. The Amendments were voted upon, and the Bill as it stands is what your Lordships have made it. There can be no ground for criticism on that score.

I respect the point of view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, on the religious issue. I must say to my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder that on this matter I find myself more in agreement with Lord Balerno: that it is right to take into consideration the religious point of view, rather than the opposite point of view, that it is now something which should be disregarded or excluded. Having said that, I repeat what I said before: that I do not believe that the Churches' influence or opportunity in these matters will be set aside. Who will be co-opted will depend entirely on the local authorities.

I conclude by saying that it is, of course, difficult to satisfy everybody. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, was to move an Amendment which would have restricted the rights of co-option. At least one noble Lord did not wish anybody to be co-opted to the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, wanted particular places to be reserved, whereas my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder did not want such people to be in. In such matters as these somebody, at least one of the three noble Lords who raised the point, is bound to be disappointed, since one cannot accomplish three different things at the same time.

Notwithstanding what has been said to-day, I am grateful for the way in which this Bill has been considered. I am grateful for the meticulous care with which the Bill has been gone into by the opposite Front Bench, and for the constructive way in which they have sought to accomplish its passage through your Lordships' House. The fact that there were 300 Amendments and that we managed to deal with them in very much less time than another place could possibly have considered that number of Amendments does not mean that we did not give them adequate consideration; but at all times the convenience of the House was sought and, with the very occasional exception, points were not made time after time. I therefore express thanks to all those who have helped because they like the Bill, as well as to those who have helped even though they do not like the Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him to say how much time elapsed between the publication of the Bill and the Second Reading? It seemed to be a short period of time, in view of the importance of the Bill and remembering the many persons in Scotland who had to be consulted.


My Lords, I would remind Lord Balerno that almost every point raised on Second Reading was a point which was going to be raised in Committee and nobody, with the exception of one noble Lord, took exception to the principle of the Bill. Some noble Lords disliked the provisions relating to probation, but the general principle behind the Bill was accepted on Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved that the Bill do now pass.— (Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.