HL Deb 24 July 1968 vol 295 cc1197-209

[References are to Bill 138 as first printed for the Commons]

[No. 1]

Clause 1, page 1. line 13, leave out "counties of cities", and insert "large burghs".


My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House cloth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1 to 56 en bloc. But perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I spoke generally to the effect of the whole body of Amendments which another place have made to this Bill.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me. Perhaps he would refer only to Amendment No. 1 at the present time and speak to that. I do not know what my noble friends may wish to do. They may have a point to raise on one of the Amendments between Amendment No. 1 and Amendment No. 56. But if the noble Lord would speak to Amendment No. 1 first, that would give other noble Lords the opportunity of speaking in general, if that would be convenient; and then, if it so turns out, so far as I am concerned I should not object to what he is now proposing.


My Lords, I am quite happy to do as the noble Lord wishes. I had not thought that doing it in the way I proposed would stop anybody from raising any point. However, I beg to move that the Commons Amendment No. 1 be agreed to.

I invite your Lordships to consider the Amendments made to the Social Work (Scotland) Bill in another place and to agree to the Bill as now amended. Your Lordships will have noticed that when the Bill was considered in another place it was given a general welcome, as indeed it had been by your Lordships. There has been no appreciable dissent from the main purposes of the Bill. Although some of its provisions are controversial, the main points of controversy have not been about whether it was desirable to make changes in the existing provisions, but rather about the precise nature of the changes which ought to be made. Many of these points are, of course, the subject of the Amendments whi:h are now reported to your Lordships. It might be helpful if I say a few words about each of the main points on which Amendments have been made.

Your Lordships will remember that when the Bill was presented to this House it provided in Clause 1 that the large burghs as well as the counties and cities should be local authorities for the purposes of the Bill. After a good deal of debate on the various considerations involved in this matter, your Loidships decided to exclude the large burghs. This matter was considered also in another place, with the result that one of the Amendments made restores the large burghs as local authorities under the Bill.

In another place, consideration was given to Amendments which, while retaining the large burghs as local authorities under the Bill, would have had the effect of limiting the number of such authorities either by fixing a maximum number in the Bill or by setting a minimum population below which a local authority would not exercise functions under the Bill. It was recognised, however, that none of these Amendments could be made effective unless the Secretary of State were given powers to require local authorities to combine in certain circumstances for the purposes of the Bill, and it was not thought desirable that such compulsory powers should be adopted. My honourable friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State had, during the discussions in another place, consultations with representatives of the local authority associations, who were able to give him an assurance that in the entirely new circumstances presented by the Bill individual local authorities would be willing to consider on their merits the arguments for combinations of local authorities, on a voluntary basis, to ensure that the functions laid on local authorities by the Bill would be properly and effectively carried out. In the light of this assurance, it was judged that the size and number of local authorities discharging functions under the Bill should be left to be worked out in the light of such consideration by individual local authorities, the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State in pursuance of Clause 5 of the Bill and the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government, Scotland, when these are made known.

My Lords, it has been clear throughout consideration of this question that whether or not large burghs should be local authorities under the Bill was a matter of judgment between two conflicting sets of arguments. My right honourable friend has reached and made known his judgment, and that has been endorsed in another place and expressed in the Amendment which is now reported to your Lordships. I hope that at this stage your Lordships will agree that that Amendment should stand.

The other main point of controversy at earlier stages of the Bill was whether or not the new social work department which will be set up under the Bill should discharge the present responsibilities of the probation service. Bearing in mind that the new department must in any event discharge these responsibilities in relation to children, and that this means that the new department will be responsible for something like half of the total current workload of the probation service in Scotland, your Lordships decided that Clause 27 of the Bill should provide that the new department should assume all the responsibilities of the probation service. In another place Clause 27 has been amended in minor ways, but its main effect remains as your Lordships decided.

I might perhaps make only brief comments at this stage on a number of other matters on which Amendments made in another place either change or extend the provisions of the Bill. Clause 12, which is the key clause placing on the local authority a duty to promote social welfare and to provide the necessary services and facilities for this purpose, was a little difficult to comprehend and a number of criticisms of the drafting of the clause were made. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, laughs at that. I think that it is rather an understatement which I have made.

This clause has been extensively amended in another place. Its substance has been changed only marginally, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is now much easier to understand and will, therefore, be easier for local authorities to put into effect. Amendments have been made to provide that the phrase "person in need will apply only to Clauses 12, 13 and 14. The main result of these Amendments is that the local authority will have power under the Bill to provide residential and other facilities for persons who do not fall within the definition of "persons in need". There is, therefore, no doubt that such facilities can be made available for such people as unsupported mothers and persons on probation. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a substantial improvement.

Purely as a matter of drafting, Clause 19 is now left out. Most of the provisions of this clause were really covered in Clause 89 and were therefore unnecessary. The remaining subsection (that is, subsection (2)) of Clause 19 is added as an additional subsection to Clause 15, where I think it sits more happily. The Amendment to Clause 35 makes clear that representatives of the Press will have a right to attend children's hearings. This has been a difficult point on which to reach a conclusion. It is essential that children's hearings should be able to conduct their business in an informal way and to discuss personal, and sometimes quite intimate, matters with children and their parents. This will be very difficult if a large number of people are present. Again, it is essential that children and parents be protected against sensational publicity. On the other hand, there is a legitimate public interest, not only in the measures which are taken in relation to children who are delinquent or who are brought before a children's hearing for other reasons, but also in relation to the working of the new system of children's panels once it has been introduced. After discussions had been held with representatives of the Press, my right honourable friend reached the conclusion that it would be right to give the Press the opportunity to observe the children's hearings in action, and this conclusion is given effect in the Amendment to Clause 35. The provisions of Clause 58 will, of course, safeguard the child against the publication of any matter which might identify him. Children who in future appear before the court for any reason will continue to be protected against undue publicity, as they are now (under the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, as amended).

In your Lordships' earlier discussions of the Bill there was some discussion of the powers given to a children's hearing to issue warrants for the detention of a child. Amendments made in another place simplify the Bill's provisions in this regard. They also introduce a provision that a child detained under a warrant issued by a children's hearing must be brought before a hearing as soon as practicable, and in any event may not be detained under that warrant for longer than seven days. This may be the best place for me to mention that the Amendments to Clause 37 cover the situation of inspectors of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, so that they will continue to have the same power to safeguard children in the future as they have now, although the subsequent procedure is somewhat altered by the setting up of the new system of children's panels. A new power is given to the sheriff by the insertion in Schedule 1 of a new provision in the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937, which will enable the sheriff to commit a child for residential training. This latter power is almost a precise equivalent for the present power of committal to approved school, which disappears under the Bill.

Clauses 56 and 57 are intended to provide a bridge between the children's hearing and the courts by giving powers to the court to obtain advice from children's hearings and to remit cases to children's hearings. Their drafting was not, however, entirely clear and it was decided to redraft the two clauses completely. The new Clause 56 deals with children (as defined in Clause 30) who are prosecuted for offences. It empowers the court, in the case of a child who is not subject to a supervision requirement, either to remit the case to a children's hearing or to ask for the advice of a children's hearing. In the case of a child subject to a supervision requirement it requires the court to seek the advice of a children's hearing: after having obtained the advice of the children s hearing the court may either dispose of the case itself or remit the case back to the children's hearing. The word "court" means here the sheriff court or High Court. Other courts are excluded by Clause 31(1).

Clause 57 deals with young people between 16 and 17½ who are prosecuted for offences but who are not children as defined in Clause 30. The court is empowered to seek advice from a children's hearing about such young people. If that advice is that the young person should be remitted to a hearing, the court may so remit him. Otherwise the court may dispose of the case itself. In Clause 57 the word "court" means any criminal court other than the High Court or the sheriff court considering cases on indictment.

Schedule 6 is changed considerably from that at present in the Bill and it may be helpful if I explain the reasons for the changes. Part IV of the Bill, which deals with registration, will probably come into operation before Part III, which provides a new system for dealing with children in trouble. It is at this later stage that approved schools should be brought within the registration system provided for in Part IV. The re wised paragraph 1 provides accordingly. The revised paragraph 2 contains the provisions which will continue to apply to existing approved schools for a transitional period after Part III of the Bill comes into operation, and will so continue until the approved schools can be brought within the new system.

The new paragraph 3 deals with contributions in respect of children in care. Paragraph 4 clarifies the ways of bringing before hearings children who are subject to certain court orders when the new system is brought into effect; and the new paragraphs 5 and 6 cover children whose cases are in progress at that date either in relation to criminal proceedings or to care and protection proceedings. Paragraphs 7, 8 and 9 provide for the continuation of remand home and probation grants to cover transitional expenditure.

A number of provisions of the Health Services and Public Health Bill overlap with provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill. In these cases it is probable that the former will be put into effect at an earlier date, but as the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill are wider they should be the substantive ones. It is necessary to amend the Health Services Bill for this purpose.

Clause 10 of this Bill enables the Secretary of State and local authorities to give financial and other assistance to voluntary organisations. It overlaps to some extent with two clauses in the Health Services and Public Health Bill, but these two clauses are not entirely superseded as the services which may be assisted under them include some (for example, family planning) which do not come within the scope of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill. The clauses in the Health Services and Public Health Bill relating to home help and to accommodation and welfare of old people are comprehended in the wider provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill and should accordingly be repealed. As a consequence of the changes made by the two Bills it is no longer necessary to keep in force Section 26(1) and (5) of the National Assistance Act 1948, which relate to the provision and inspection of accommodation.

A number of other Amendments, in Part VI of the Bill and elsewhere, are designed to ensure that the present situation in relation to parental responsibility for financial contributions to the maintenance of children in care, and also the provisions for contributions by other people to the cost of residential provision, will remain as they are now.

The last point to which I should perhaps draw your Lordships' attention is that one clause and one Schedule have been added to the Bill which will have the effect of amending the provisions in Scotland of the Children Act 1958. These Amendments improve and extend the responsibilities of the local authority towards those children in their area who are cared for by persons other than their parents or guardians. Your Lord- ships will remember that the complementary Act—the Nurseries and Child-minders Regulation Act 1948—was substantially tightened up by amendments made in the Health Services and Public Health Bill. The new clause and Schedule close a gap between the provision of the 1948 and 1958 Acts.

The Amendments made in another place are, apart from those dealing with the topics I have already mentioned, almost entirely of a technical nature and are either consequential or are concerned purely with matters of drafting. I hope that after consideration of these Amendments your Lordships will feel able to agree to them, so that the stages of this Bill can be completed and that we can look forward to the addition to the Statute Book of this eminently valuable measure to which many people in Scotland are looking with hope and confidence as a considerable step forward in the development of better social services. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment (No. 1)—(Lord Hughes.)

10.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for having given us a summary of the effect of this very long list of Amendments. They are indeed numerous. There are 314 of them in all—209 to the Bill itself, and 105 to the Schedules—and the time is twenty minutes to eleven. They look a pretty formidable array but, as the noble Lord has said, most of them consist of comparatively minor improvements to the Bill, and some of them are, indeed, very minor. I think I can say that, so far as I am concerned. I certainly agree that they improve the Bill.

There are one or two cases where explicit provision is made in the Bill for what the noble Lord assured us at an earlier stage would happen anyway. Amendment No. 52 is an example, which specifically provides that nothing in the Bill shall authorise the exclusion of bona fide representatives of a newspaper or newsagency". I am sure that this explicit provision will add to public confidence in the new proposals for children's panels, even although, as the noble Lord said, Clause 58 forbids any reference in newspapers or broadcasting that would in any way lead to the identification of the child or of his school.

My Lords, there are quite a few Amendments stemming from Amendments to Clause 5 to leave out the words "in need". The noble Lord said that this change would give the local authorities more latitude in providing help for people who need accommodation but who do not come within the definition, and for my part I welcome that. Am I right in thinking that the expression "persons in need" is now used only in those clauses which enable local authorities to make available assistance in cash or kind, or to provide or secure the provision of suitable work, or to provide home help?


Yes, my Lords.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Then, if this is so, I wonder whether, to avoid confusion, it might not be better to alter the sub-title covering Sections 15 to 26, which reads: Special provisions as to care of children in need. Would it not be better to leave out the words "in need" there, too? I believe this can be done without any formal Amendment to the Bill because it is in only a sub-title. I think it might help in the arrangement of the Bill.

Some of us will regret that the Commons were unable to prevail on the Government to make any concession to the probation service as such. The noble Lord was good enough to tell us what happened in the discussion on this point in another place, and it would not be in order for us, I think, to go into that, as there is no further Amendment on the subject. But more of us will be sorry—and I think the figures show this—that the Commons have disagreed with the Amendment that we made to confine the definition of local authorities for the purposes of this Bill to county councils and councils of cities. However, we derive comfort from the outcome of the consultations which the noble Lord told us the Secretary of State has been having with representatives of the local authority associations and from the assurance which, I understood, the Secretary of State was given: that local authorities would be willing to consider combining on a voluntary basis for the purposes of the Act.

I also gathered from what the noble Lord said that the Secretary of State would be giving them guidance (that was the word he used), though it was not quite clear to me from what he said whether such guidance would be given before the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government were announced or whether the local authorities would still be left to carry it out on a voluntary basis. The noble Lord's remarks on this point were necessarily compressed and perhaps understandably vague. But it may be that he will be willing to clarify them a little further. I dare say he would agree that when the Royal Commission's recommendations come along the whole question wi.1 have to be examined.

There are advantages and disadvantages, of course, in having compulsory powers. My own view is that the Government have been right to dismiss the idea of using compulsory powers to get the local authorities to do what it seems to me even the Government think they would be wise to do. I think that would be wrong. On the other hand, I think the time may well come when the thoughts which the Government first had will be realised. Personally, I still feel that the Government's first thoughts on this are to be preferred. Anyhow, my Lords, I think the point is that there is nothing which is final or irrevocable about this decision.

That being so, I would not recommend my noble friends to resist the Amendment the noble Lord is now moving, or, indeed, the first two Amendments. Nor would I recommend them to resist any of the others. There are two small points on which I put down Amendments. Apart from them I can tell my noble friends that I have looked at the rest of the Amendments as carefully as the comparatively short time available permitted. I believe that they do improve the Bill. I should also like to drank the noble Lord for having written to me explaining the main changes, and for the trouble that he has taken throughout with this Bill in keeping the House informed of his views and for having discussed some of them with me this morning.

The only other comment I should like to make in passing is that this is perhaps the sort of essentially non-political Bill which in future could be taken in Committee upstairs—if that is the right geographical expression—should the experiment made on the Gaming Bill in recent weeks be judged upon reflection a success. Subject, therefore, to any points any of your Lordships may wish to raise, I should be happy to agree to the Amendments being taken en bloc with the exception of Amendments Nos. 57 and 96.

10.47 p.m.


My Lords, I will not delay the House as we are speaking on this Bill at so late an hour. But I cannot let the matter of the large burghs go without one last protest. I feel strongly about this matter. During the whole time we have been building up the child care and probation services in Scotland we have tried hard to do so in the counties and the counties of cities. One of the main reasons for this was, I think, the great difficulty in getting trained personnel. In the child-care service we have 35 areas with either fully trained personnel or people who were trained on the job. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will persuade local associations and the large burghs not to do so; but it may be that there will be as many as 56 local authority areas in which services will require to be staffed by trained personnel—and they simply do not exist in Scotland.

We all want this Bill to be a success and the only way it can be so is if we can get the people to run the services. This is a very difficult service and one in which I am deeply interested. The noble Lord, who is very persuasive, has persuaded us that the Government will do the best they can to get voluntary amalgamations of different areas, and so perhaps my rather pessimistic view of a possible 56 areas will not materialise. I hope that it will not. I think it likely that when the local authority reorganisation takes place we may find that the figure of 35 will be cut down to an even smaller one. But that is pure specula- tion. I think it unlikely that the figure will be larger. The important thing is the trained personnel; and as they are in very short supply I hope that the noble Lord will do all he can to get local authorities to combine.

I wish also to say to the noble Lord that I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act it will prove successful and that, in so far as I can, in my capacity as a local government person, I shall do everything possible to see that the area in which I live co-operates. We are indebted to the noble Lord for the way in which he has handled the Bill. I am sorry about the timetable but that was not his fault. I hope that it will prove to be a successful Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I am grateful for what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn and by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. Perhaps I may be allowed to reply first to the noble Baroness. It is very unusual for her to be pessimistic. I do not remember her ever being pessimistic before. She was not pessimistic about the railways the other day—


No, just angry.


—but on this occasion she is unusually pessimistic. I am certain that she will be happy at the end of the day when she finds that her pessimism was not justified. That may well turn out to be so in the discussions which take place, although I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn to press me about how we shall go about it. This is the sort of thing where the greater the degree of informality we can get in the months that lie ahead the better the chances that amalgamation will take place. I should not like to rule out the possibility that under this system of having a potential 56 authorities, through amalgamations, we may turn out to have fewer authorities than if we had confined the matter to the counties and the cities.

I think that is the only point on which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn asked me a question, about whether it would take place before or after the Wheatley Commission reports. We do not think that there is a great deal of time before the Commission makes its report and the time factor may turn out to be comparatively unimportant.

On Question, Motion agreed to.