HL Deb 17 April 1978 vol 390 cc939-67

6.8 p.m.

Baroness PHILLIPS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider a review of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. As I shall not get an opportunity later, unlike the procedure in the previous debate, I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Baronesses—this time we have a switch—who are to take part in this debate. We seem to have quite a good selection. There is a good assortment of widows and wives: no single ones. I am sure the right reverend Prelate did not mean to sound slightly patronising earlier, but I should like to remind him that I hope we are here in our own right because we can make a contribution and not because this is a haven for widows following the deaths of their husbands.

I put forward this Question—which no doubt the Minister who is to reply will have noticed is delightfully ambiguous—not because I expect to get a direct answer, though one is always hopeful, but because I have been asked to do so by the magistrates. On several occasions I have had the opportunity to pay my tribute to the lay magistrates. I have had the privilege of being one of them for a number of years and over the last seven months I have been addressing various groups of magistrates literally from Land's End to John O'Groats, talking with them about the way they have to administer the Acts of Parliament that we pass in the two Houses within the Palace of Westminster. Not unreasonably, they came back at me and said that often Acts of Parliament are laid down which in some ways make their job more difficult and, in other ways, frustrate them.

The Act which we are discussing this afternoon embodies the very splendid idea that offences are caused by social conditions, and that they should not be dealt with by punishment or carry any stigma. It removed certain powers from the magistrates and, unfortunately, as your Lordships will recall, coincided with a changeover, due to the restructuring of local government, of the functions of many social workers. In addition, there were other pieces of legislation which, I believe, have slightly complicated the successful operation of the Act.

Throughout the years, magistrates have sought, consistently and constantly, to make the Act workable, but I find that they have become increasingly frustrated and saddened. We must see the working of this Act against the background of juvenile crime. It is a little unfortunate that we always refer to this as the Children and Young Persons Act. Children, Yes, but the young person may well be a very large boy of 16 years of age, six feet tall, weighing 14 stones and carrying a very unpleasant flick knife. He is a "young person" within the meaning of the Act. He will commit, and does commit, many crimes with which we are all familiar—the newly known auto crime of taking away and stealing someone else's car; the criminal attack on a person, very often an elderly woman; the vandalism which not only brings about vast deserts of sprawling ugly walls but in many cases causes danger and inconvenience to the law abiding; the hooliganism of which last weekend, yet again, we had evidence; the intimidation and the violence that now go with theft.

I should not like to over-emphasise this, but I happen to have a letter which was sent last week by a chain of stores employing almost wholly female labour. The writer described the kind of incident that is increasingly taking place in such shops. He said that a couple of girl friends go in, select items—usually ex pensive—go to the fitting rooms, choose what they want, and, at the time of paying, say that they would like to be allowed to try them at home. Then a number of youths come in, who are the bully-boy boy friends. The staff, bless them, are powerless and there is little that authority can do after the event, assuming that it wants to do something.

The writer went on to say that, on one occasion, one of the young manageresses stood up to a gang. This was on a Saturday and when she went to leave at 7.20 p.m. some 14 youths, aged between 16 and 17, were waiting outside. Not surprisingly, the staff were too frightened to leave the stores. He attributes this to the way in which we deal with these cases and says, No doubt, the psychologists would find a good excuse for this sort of behaviour and would try to persuade us to try and help these poor unfortunates. I know how I would like to help them, and I would feel more confident if authority felt the same way. I give your Lordships these examples of the kind of climate in which we are discussing this subject this afternoon.

Mr. Justice Buchanan said recently, when talking to young new magistrates: One hears of burglary so often that it is common place, and some may well regard it as almost a trivial offence. You ask the lady whose house has been contaminated by the burglar, and ask her how long it took her to get the foul taste out of her mouth and the fear out of her heart. Broadly, the Act sought to substitute care and treatment for the punishment of young offenders. I believe that, for most of them, it has worked quite well, but for a minority of tough, sophisticated young criminals and youths of 15 and 16, who are strong young men, it has been disastrous. They prey on the community, and they will do so even after the courts have placed them in care. They deride the powerlessness of the courts to do anything effective.

I recently had the pleasure of discussing this problem with Professor Cavenagh, who is Professor of Social Administration and Criminology at Birmingham University, and is also a justice of the peace and chairman of the juvenile bench. She said, Many of the boys convicted had good reason to believe that no one would do anything to them, what ever they did. The victims arc socially too insignificant and the community does not care. What are such boys to consider from the fact that sign posts tell you that what you do will not be tolerated, when the signposts are being removed or allowed to fall down? I think we have to accept that it is possible for these boys to make a rational choice of a criminal career. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said that the Government fully share the concern expressed by magistrates about the level of juvenile crime, and the operation of our treatment system, particularly the control of the serious recidivist offenders in local authority care and under supervision. It was a little unfortunate that he went on to say that this is, of course, a result of the society in which we live, and I feel that he more or less suggested that the remedies do not lie entirely with the courts. I should be the last to dispute that that is not the case, but what I am suggesting is that the remedies that should be there are not being fully operated or are, indeed, being frustrated.

I would select but a few examples. The first is the attendance centres. Your Lordships will remember that these have been an effective way of dealing with young hooligans. They are required to go to attendance centres for so many hours, usually on a Saturday afternoon, for a period and this remedy has proved extraordinarily effective. But there have recently been many requests for girls to have attendance centres. I am very sorry to say that the female sex also appears to be coming into the courts in great numbers. I am not sure whether this is the effect of equal opportunities, but they also wish to commit crime. But what is significant is that the Home Office, replying to a group of magistrates as recently as December 1977, said, in relation to the provision of attendance centres for girls, that this involved a question of policy and it is still under consideration by the Department. I think we are entitled to ask that there should be some speeding up in the discussion of this policy.

Let us look at the question of remands. Here there has been a very serious effect, on two counts. If a young person has an interim order placing him in the care of the local authority, he is directly under the care of the social workers. In some curious way, there have been far too many cases where social workers have sent a young person back to the very home which was often the cause of his appearance before the court, and justices of the peace have been taunted by the very people who were said to he in safe keeping. Equally, where there has not been a suitable place for the child to be kept in remand, he has been remanded in an adult prison which is even more disastrous.

On the question of fines, the Act removed the previous ultimate sanction for nonpayment of fines or compensation, in the case of anyone under the age of 17. This is very important in the operation of the Act. I think it unreasonable to empower juvenile courts to impose fines and to order the payment of compensation, but at the same time to deprive them of the means of enforcement. It seems that this is very typical of the method of operation and something about which magistrates feel very strongly.

We come next to the question of care orders. If a young person is in need of care, the court can make an order placing him in the care of a local authority. Again the social workers will decide where he goes. Now that we are in 1978, I think that we are entitled to ask what has happened to all of the community homes that we were promised and which formed an important part of the structure of the 1969 Act.

Turning to the question of detention centres, noble Lords will remember that these are available for boys of at least 14 years who have not already been referred to borstal. There is a set number of detention centres. I have here a series of circulars from the Home Office. I realise that I am being a little hard on the Minister who is to reply, since nearly all that I am saying is directed at another Department. However, I know that he will not mind, because I know that he is very compassionate and knowledgeable about this matter.

These circulars show that, going back to 1970, the number of detention centres has not increased and there has been a curious shuffling around of places in an attempt to meet the situation. Rather like traffic, we simply move it round and round, but at the end of the day there are just as many cars and moving vehicles as there were at the beginning. I have a 1970 circular from the Home Office which states that detention centres in Surrey for boys between the ages of 14 and 17 years would cease to be available; they would have to be converted into senior detention centres. In other words, more senior detention centres were needed.

We learn that in 1971 there were to be more detention centres in order to implement the Act. We learn also that in 1972 four junior detention centres were under serious pressure because of overcrowding but that an increase would be provided only within the existing accommodation. In other words, there would be no additional accommodation; the increase would have to be provided from another section. In 1974, the numbers were again increased but the increase came from the senior detention centres. Then we learn from the 1976 circular that: There will he occasions when the wardens will have to inform the courts that there are no vacancies. This did not take any account of the fact that less people need detention centres. The feeling of magistrates was put rather interestingly by one magistrate when she said: I find it personally impossible to accept that a juvenile's whole attitude to life will become warped because someone in authority states quite categorically that he has been dishonest or that he has failed to adhere to accepted codes of moral behaviour. It would be wrong and unjust to say that the Act has not worked. Like Christianity or, dare I say it?, Socialism, it has not been tried. However, it is true to say that a number of groups have looked at the working of the Act. The House of Commons Expenditure Committee looked at it quite recently, and I should he interested to know how many of the suggestions contained in their report have been accepted and acted upon.

I am asking this afternoon that the Government should appreciate that very serious concern is felt by those people who have to try to implement the Act. May I quote finally the comments of one group of magistrates who say: Is it not a reasonable demand to be made of the Executive that they carry out the wishes of the Government to provide for the courts the appropriate powers of sentencing which are otherwise denied them and the lack of which is not understood by the general public who criticise the courts?".


Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has raised a very large issue in her Unstarred Question. Although she has asked only about the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, no doubt everybody who is to take part in the debate knows that it opens up the whole question of law and order about which there is rightly so much public concern today. Much of that concern centres around the lawlessness of the young. Not surprisingly, the public are very worried about the increase in crime, vandalism, hooliganism, mugging and so on, especially in the inner city areas. It is on this issue that I believe that the debate will inevitably centre.

Before continuing with my remarks, I should like to give to the House the apologies of my noble friend Baroness Faithfull, who is very sorry that she cannot be in her place this evening. However, she has had a long-standing engagement to take the chair at a meeting of those who are concerned with children who have learning difficulties, and my noble friend felt that she could not miss that meeting in order to be here tonight. Although many of the women Members of the House of Lords are taking part in this debate, may I say that 1 have already given my apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, for being unable to speak in her debate on widows.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said, the nub of the question before the House this evening is whether or not magistrates should have returned to them the right to make secure or residential care orders, a right which they had prior to the 1969 Act. At present, they are simply empowered to make a care order, which leaves the decision as to where the child should go to the discretion of the local authority—which in effect means the social service department of that authority. It is this particular issue about which there has been so much criticism, and magistrates believe that it is one of the causes of the increased amount of lawlessness among the young that we see today. I believe that the argument also centres on what has been called the permissive philosophy that underlies the Act and about which many people are very concerned.

It might be helpful to set out the background to the debate. One reason, I believe, for the difficulties over the 1969 Act is that it is yet another example of legislation being passed for which no proper financial provision has been made —or at least nothing like enough to make it work. It has been estimated that it costs £10,000 to provide a secure place for one child. Not only is the cost of provision high but the time between the original decision to do something and the completion of the accommodation can be up to five years. Time is money and, in a period of inflation, costs escalate.

Many local authorities—and, I have no doubt, the Government also—hesitate before they spend large amounts of money on what is effectively, although not prison accommodation, secure accommodation for young offenders. Not only is there the capital cost of new buildings; if there is to be more secure accommodation, then those who are responsible for looking after the young people in that accommodation have to be trained. As anybody who is at all familiar with social service departments knows, those responsible for residential care work—either within social service departments or, indeed, within any other system—usually have, regrettably, fewer qualifications. Also, as a proportion of the whole, fewer trained people are involved in this work.

This training requires very considerable amounts of money; but they have not been put into it, and as a result I believe that we are suffering. Not only do we not have anything like enough trained people for this residential work but we have created a system in which no adequate career structure is available for those who decide to go into it. I believe that in many instances the pay is not adequate for the very important and responsible job that the people who work in residential accommodation are called upon to do.

I was astonished to see a letter dated 4th April which refers to a circular issued by the National Joint Council for Local Authorities that makes the work of residential staff even more difficult and is likely to encourage fewer people to go into residential work. The circular says, in effect, that from 1st April 1978 Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have decided that resident staff are to be charged VAT on the supply of catering and laundry services. It seems quite extraordinary that those working in residential accommodation should have to pay this extra charge for what are obviously their meals and their laundry services which naturally have to be provided for them.

I quote this only as an instance of the difficulties that we are putting in the way of people going into this work. In my view, it is one of the things that need to be considered against the whole background of more secure accommodation. It is not that I am against that, necessarily, but I am pointing out what I believe to be a major difficulty of the working of the 1969 Act and one which we are unlikely to overcome unless we decide to spend a lot more money on it.

Not surprisingly as a result of this situation many people—not only magistrates—have become very disillusioned with the 1969 Act. Not only has there not been enough money to implement it but the Act was introduced at a time when local authority social service departments were under great strain. It coincided with the Seebohm reorganisation, that is, the reorganisation of the social services department following on the report of the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm. It was followed three years later by local government reorganisation, which in turn was followed two years later by the reorganisation of the Hospital Service, which also affected social service departments.

Perhaps I may add, in parenthesis, that those who are so keen to see a further change in local authority functions between counties and districts should ponder carefully the further demoralising effect that any such change could have on local authority social service departments. Not only were there all these many administrative changes but the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act also placed an enormous burden on those same departments and undoubtedly raised public expectations about what could be achieved by already overworked individuals.

Of course it would be absurd to pretend that no mistakes have been made by social service departments. But, before condemning them out of hand, I think that in fairness the other side of the case should be put. For the cause of the increase in crime cannot simply be laid either on social workers or indeed on the 1969 Act. It is a subject which is too large to go into in a short debate this evening, but there are many obvious causes, such as the undermanning of the police forces which leads to a very low detection rate of crime. I think it is worth looking at all those who have to share the responsibility for the upbringing of the young and who therefore share the responsibility for the situation that we have today.

First, there are parents. I believe that as a country we need family-orientated policies, whether of tax, housing or education. Then we need to look at the increase in divorce. In 1951 there were 30,900 divorces; in 1971, there were 79,600 divorces and in 1976, 136,000 divorces, having a terrible effect on all the children involved. Then there are the teachers. It is not helpful to children for there to be such a high truancy rate, and for children in effect to be excluded from school because they are unruly. We can all sympathise with the teacher in a dreadul situation, but no one can seriously believe that it is right to turn a blind eye to the truanting child because it is easier to have the child out of the school rather than in it. Doctors and social workers also have their roles and the closest co-operation is needed between education and social service departments. All those responsible for the care and upbringing of children need to have a common philosophy, and it is the divisions between the adults which are so confusing to the child. It is not just whether the philosophy which underlies the 1969 Act is right or wrong or whether we need a proper philosophy; it seems to me that what is needed is both discipline and compassion and the recognition that discipline is love, not its opposite.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is asking for a review of the 1969 Act. There are certainly many in my Party who would echo what she has to say and believe that there should be a review of that Act; that is, to look not only at the question of whether or not the magistrates should have back the rights that they had before that Act was passed but to look again at the whole question of fines, at the working of detention centres, and so on. I hope that, when the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, replies, he will help us all by giving us some of the figures as to what is happening, because I have looked at them and found them somewhat difficult to interpret.

First, there are the criminal statistics, which seem to show that there is a drop in the number of crimes being committed by those up to the age of 14, certainly in 1975–76. I do not know if we have any figures for the next year, but it would be helpful to have it confirmed as to whether or not this is true. There is an increase in crime for those aged between 14 and 17 apparently, and it would be useful to have that confirmed at the same time. Furthermore, it would be helpful for the noble Lord to confirm whether or not the information which I have been given is agreed by the Government; namely, that there has been a decrease in the number of supervision orders made by courts, despite an overall increase in the numbers appearing before the courts, and there has been an increase in detention centre orders and commitals to Crown Courts for borstal sentencing. And, so far as the local authority sector is concerned, there is now more secure accommodation for children on care orders than there has ever been before, and more children accommodated in community homes.

It would be useful to know whether these figures are correct and whether the noble Lord can say what the position is, because if we are going for more secure accommodation it would be helpful to know the base from which we would start to make that assumption. Finally, it would be helpful if the noble Lord could say whether he has any knowledge of, or whether the Government are monitoring the effects of, the fostering schemes such as that carried out by Kent County Council. Many people believe that the fostering of these difficult children is perhaps one of the most constructive ways of helping them. I believe that we need secure accommodation for that small number of children who need it, but for others there should be a variety of treatment. It would be helpful to know whether the Government can confirm these figures about numbers and about treatment, because when we have the figures it will be more helpful and will enable us all to make a judgment about the future.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for asking this Question. I am personally deeply interested as a JP of a great number of years standing, although I am no longer a member of my juvenile bench. I agree with her statement that it is perhaps true that social conditions within a nation are largely responsible for the juvenile crime rate within our country, but I would say only "largely responsible" because there has been a change in the type of crime and the type of young person who has taken it up. It is no longer the case that only people from the socially deprived areas take part in the crimes that we have heard described. On the contrary, there is an increase in crime among juveniles who come from very good backgrounds. So that is something that we should look at.

I am aware that the British Association of Social Workers feel that it is premature to have a review of the Children and Young Persons Act at this stage. I think it is essential that we should look at it now. It was introduced in 1969 and this is 1978. We have had a long time to try to introduce this Act as part of our penal system in this country. We have not got very far. There are large sections of the Act that have never really been tried, largely because of lack of funds, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Therefore I should have thought that this was an ideal moment to look at the problems before once again we arrive at a point where our ways are so set along one path that it is difficult to adjust. I believe that there are certain powers which we shall have to return to the juvenile courts.

When I heard that this Question was being raised today I looked up the Children and Young Persons Act. Section 7 of that Act envisages that at some time. at the discretion of the Secretary of State, detention and attendance centre orders would no longer be open to magistrates. As we know, they still are. My reason for saying that it is important that we look at the working of the Act now is that I have just been informed that in my area an attendance centre is being opened on 6th May. I gather from that that the Home Office and the Government have changed their minds about attendance centres. If they have, it is right that we should look at that part of the Act at this moment.

As the noble Baroness described, we still have detention centres and they fluctuate in the purpose for which they are used, either for young offenders or for the older offenders, depending on the need. I was for many years a governor of one of the junior detention centres called Camps-field. I was there more or less from the very beginning. Originally the detention centre served a very useful purpose. It had the power to pull young people up short and make them think about what they had done. I resigned as a governor of that detention centre basically because I disapproved of the change that has taken place. With a remission of half the sentence at the moment, it means that young people are in the detention centre for six weeks. It takes about two weeks to orientate them, to get them into the structure; they then have perhaps two weeks of some intensive educational process, and then they begin to think, during the last two weeks, about going out again.

The idea at the back of that is that the emphasis should be on education I believe it is right that the emphasis should be on education, but in trying to implement a system of that kind, which is going to have an impact on a youngster in six weeks are we spending our money properly? It is different if the detention centre is there to pull him up by his shoestrings and make him realise there is something called discipline If we are going to use it as an educational establishment, it must be altered in many ways.

The other tragic thing about the detention centre is that increasingly the young people who are there are already in care, so that it is not quite the deterrent that it used to be. I think it is right that we should look again at this Act. and think about what we do with these two forms of punishment. I should particularly like more guidance on attendance centres because they vary around the country. It was my understanding that an attendance centre should be open on Saturday afternoons. I am now told that they were not only built for football hooligans; but there is a great problem in football hooliganism, and if we have an attendance centre I would certainly think it much better that it is open in the afternoon rather than in the morning.

The other problem that faces the magistrate at the moment is the use of assessment centres. The security of assessment centres varies all over the country. There are some in the hard core crime areas which are really secure places, but the majority of them are open assessment centres. I think that is right. They have a small secure unit within them; I think that is probably right. But, as magistrates, we experience an enormous amount of absconding from these open centres. The superintendent has power to put a young person in a secure position for a period of 24 hours. I believe that we should return to the courts the right, when sending someone to an assessment centre, also to assess whether that young person should go into a secure unit or whether he could be trusted to attend an assessment centre in an open position. I believe that this is something the courts should have the power to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already referred to the fact that supervision orders have become fewer and fewer and that orders for detention centre sentences have increased enormously since the Act was introduced. I believe that the supervision order is probably impossible to implement however willing the social worker is. There is absolutely no sanction in a supervision order. To a great extent it is different from the old probation order, because with the probation order the offence remained and the young person knew that he could always be brought back to court for the offence. There is no such choice for the social worker, except to take the youngster back to court and recommend a care order. What concerns me about that is that the social worker actually becomes the judge of the person of whom he or she is in charge. I would therefore expect it to be more difficult to create the right kind of relationship between the young offender and the social worker.

Also, we have been lacking in intermediate treatment, again because this costs a lot of money. I am told by the British Association that a 35 per cent. increase in expenditure on intermediate treatment has taken place. But that does not tell me anything. It depends on what one started with; 35 per cent. could still be a drop in the ocean of what we want. On the question of returning some of the powers to the juvenile court, I think one study is most interesting. It was a study on truancy published in The Magistrate in February this year. The study has been made by the Leeds juvenile bench. They took a group of children, all of whom had spent 143 days out of 190 possible days as truants, and they divided them into two groups so that they had a comparison. They made an adjourned order in relation to half of them and a supervision order as to the other half. The ones who were under adjournment treatment fared very much better. Their performance dropped to 67 half days, whereas the supervision order children had 97 half days as truants. One must ask oneself whether the fact that the adjournment children have to turn up in court again is something—I am sure it is—which impresses itself on the child and makes it realise that it has done something wrong and has to answer for it. The same thing does not necessarily apply under a supervision order.

Much has been said about the impossibility that faces the social services departments all over the country. I should like to pay a tribute to what they are trying to do. But as a nation we have now given them an impossible job, if you add up all the responsibilities they have been handed over the last few years, with a budget for training, which is the most important part of their expenditure, which is wholly inadequate, having to spread their resources to such an extent that the fully qualified, fully trained social workers are too thinly spread and there are too many not fully qualified people trying to do a job which, after all, is one of the most important jobs if we hope to solve the juvenile crime problem in this country.



My Lords, I shall be brief because the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and I have been sitting on our respective Benches for a long time. However, I am particularly interested in the Question that has been asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I certainly support her request for a review of the Children and Young Persons Act as soon as possible because, as one of those who try to implement that Act every Wednesday of the year, I believe that it is high time that some note was taken of the fact that, certainly in my view and—according to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips—in the view of other juvenile court magistrates, not all of the Act is working. We never thought that it would. However, at the same time we thought that it was not a good Act.

One of the reasons that we knew it would not work was that the provisions that were made when the Bill became an Act and law were not sufficient at the time. They were not sufficient primarily because there was not enough money, but also because insufficient notice had been taken of the vast amount of extra manpower that would be needed to implement the Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is absolutely right when she says that truancy is very much at the back of a great deal of the increase in juvenile crime. Every week I am amazed at the numbers of parents who come before me with their children who have no idea, or who profess to have no idea, that their child is not attending school. Of course, they have gone out to work and presumed that the child attended school. Even if one takes the parents to the adult court for not obeying the law by ensuring that their child attends school there seems to be very little effect.

Another problem is that it seems to me that now there is no deterrent. Children can commit a crime and mostly get away with it. Even if they do not get away with it they know that there is very little that a magistrate in a juvenile court can do to them. I believe that we should have secure, perhaps rather tough, accommodation—I am thinking of the suggestion put forward by my right honourable friend, Mr. Whitelaw—with short, sharp sentences. By that, I mean one month, and it would be something that young people would never want to experience again, so it might be a deterrent. However, at present, they seem to know, without fear of contradiction, that crime pays. Crime pays over and over again.

Last week I had before me a child of 14 who had mugged a very elderly lady. He asked for 36 other offences to be taken into consideration. I was amazed and so, I am afraid, was everyone else, but perhaps that is the way that he had been brought up. It transpired that both his parents had been against the law—I shall not say criminals because I do not like that word, but they had not been obeying the law—and had allowed the child to think that disobeying the law was part of life.

One of the excesses that children get up to in my part of the world is taking other people's cars. It is not one or 12 but 25 or 35 cars and they are taken by young children some of whom I can hardly believe can reach the steering wheel. When I ask them whether they can touch it they say that they put a cushion underneath them.

We must get to the base of talking again about the Children and Young Persons Act. I am very worried that, when a child is put into the care of the local authority, magistrates very often think that that child must not be further punished by sending him to a detention centre or to borstal. However, it is when in the care of the local authority that he has reoffended. I fail to see why that child should not be sent to a detention centre or to borstal if the court considers that the right punishment.

I also believe that, if a child has burgled another person's dwelling—I deal with many instances of that kind—when he is in the care of a local authority and if the person burgled asks for compensation, it is right that the local authority should pay compensation just as a private person would if the child was living at home, because in those circumstances the compensation would be levied on the parents of that child. If that were so and if the child was in the care of the local authority I believe that that local authority would perhaps do more to ensure that the child did not steal again.

The other day I had to deal with three little boys and the next door court had another three little boys. They all came from the same children's hostel in which they were in care. They had broken out in the middle of the night. It transpired that there were only two little boys asleep: all the others had broken out and were burgling. I strongly support the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for a review and I hope that the Government will accede to it.

6.57 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I should like to suggest that a review of the Act at this time may he premature, for two reasons. First of all, crucial sections of the Act have not yet been implemented, which means that some of the proposed new procedures and some of the proposed new methods of intervention have either not become law or have received only marginal implementation. I shall give your Lordships one example. As Sections 4 and 5 have not yet been brought into effect, the age of prosecutability has not yet been raised to 14 years, the police are not required to inform local authorities about juvenile offenders whom they arrest, and the local authority is not required to investigate those children. That means that two systems of juvenile criminal justice are operating simultaneously, inevitably leading to confusion and to loss of effectiveness. Is the Minister able to give us any indication as to when the Act is likely to be fully implemented?

Secondly, there has not yet been sufficient time for any proper evaluation to he made of those changes which have been introduced. This Act came into operation at a particularly inopportune moment. It depended very largely on the skills situated in the children's departments for its hope of success. Yet, within three months of the statute becoming operative those same departments were dissolved and the personnel absorbed into the much larger social services departments. The creation of those new departments, with responsibility for providing an extremely wide range of services, inevitably caused strain on staff and concentrated attention on internal departmental matters.

At the same time, we had the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, the Health Service and Public Health Acts and the White Paper on Better Services for the Mentally-Handicapped and the Mentally-Ill, which promised yet more and better services. On top of that there was the major upheaval of local government reorganisation in 1974.

Those major structural changes, with expansion on a previously unparalleled scale, created an acute shortage of experienced staff, with the result that services generally for juvenile offenders were woefully deficient. But this position is improving as the departments recover from the changes, and much greater attention is being given to children at odds with society. I believe that some criticisms levelled at the Act are ill-founded. For example, it is alleged that it provides insufficient powers to deal with persistent offenders. Courts not only have extensive powers but they are using them; and far from becoming softer, juvenile justice has been toughened appreciably since 1969.

There has been an overall decrease in the number of supervision orders made by courts, despite an increase in the number of children appearing before the courts, while detention centre orders and committals to Crown Courts for borstal sentencing have increased by 158 per cent. and 167 per cent. respectively. Within the local authority sector there is now more secure accommodation for children under care orders than there has ever been, and more children accommodated in community homes. Another misconception is that magistrates and social workers take differing views about the disposal of juveniles subject to care orders. In fact, very few disagreements arise.

That local authorities are using their extensive powers to the full is demonstrated by the unprecedented number of children and young persons currently in residential care. But residential care and custodial sentences are expensive and ineffectual methods of dealing with juvenile offenders: reconviction rates are in the region of 80 per cent.


My Lords, perhaps I might be forgiven for interrupting the noble Countess, but as what she says is going on the record, it is a little unfortunate that she used the word "misconception". She may have some evidence, the source of which she has not actually quoted, hut I am afraid that others of us have other evidence.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I am sorry; 1 did not mean to upset the noble Baroness. The main issue of concern at the moment should surely be how best to develop more effective, and possibly less costly, alternatives to the existing and largely discredited methods of dealing with juvenile offenders. Within this context, discussion about amending the legislation is not only irrelevant but, regrettably, tends to take the focus away from the more important issues.

Techniques are being developed in working with young offenders through intermediate treatment and community service. A range of facilities providing intensive day care, evening care and weekend care are being developed, as well as professional fostering schemes, which would appear to be far more effective in dealing with the majority of juvenile offenders than residential care, borstal or detention centres.

To further these developments there needs to be a concentration upon developing the manpower skills required and the growth of training, specialisation and career opportunities for those working with young offenders, which should be seen as a top priority. Better liaison between all concerned would be of enormous help. Clearly, there are some resource implications, but primarily these relate to the allocation of resources rather than to the acquisition of new resources. A fundamental and comprehensive review of the whole juvenile justice system, including a review of the experience of other countries, may be appropriate, but only if it looked at the whole question. The roots of juvenile crime lie mainly in the families and the communities in which the offenders live. This is where a genuine war on crime should start.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, I think that it is perfectly true to say that the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 has been the subject of controversy ever since its major provisions were put into operation in 1971. As the major legislation concerned with children in trouble, it is both inevitable and essential that its provisions and their workings should be under, not only close scrutiny, but l would go further and say, continuous scrutiny. In fact, noble Lords will recall that it figured largely in our debate on disruptive children in June last year. It is because I feel—as do a number of noble Lords present—a little unhappy about a number of things that are happening in our society today, that it is a good thing that we look at this from time to time. The fact that we want to discuss it—I was going to say almost every six months, but that is an exaggeration—is a measure of our own frustration. it is because we do not like what is happening; we are not consciously facing it, but we are saying that we do not know what to do about it.

A great deal of research has been carried out over the years into delinquency—mainly juvenile delinquency—and certainly since the passing of the Children and Young Persons Act. The extraordinary thing is that it does not matter what we do for the delinquent or to the delinquent, it makes no difference. Many different schemes and different forms of treatment have been introduced, but it does not seem to make any difference at all. Perhaps the most significant fact—and I think that it is still true—is that once they have reached the age of 21 or about the age of 21, they cease to offend. It is extraordinary that we get this tremendous wave of anti-social behaviour up until that age and then, after that age, somehow they seem to settle down and turn into decent citizens.

Although it is essential that the legal procedures and facilities we provide for dealing with these unfortunate but often difficult children are kept under review, the Government find it difficult to accept the need for an immediate Government review of the 1969 Act of the kind which is called for in the Question before your Lordships. Few Acts in the field of social legislation can have been subject to more frequent inquiry than this one. I would remind noble Lords that the Act was the subject of an inquiry by an all-Party Expenditure Committee in another place from 1973 to 1975, which reported in July of that year.


My Lords, I was rather interested in the point which the noble Lord just made. He said that at the age of 21 such people settle down, recover their equilibrium and are no longer troublesome. Are there figures to show that? I should have thought that it was because they were not settling down that there is good reason to have another look at the Act to see whether it is operating properly. I must accept that if the noble Lord said it, but this settling down at the age of 21 is new to my experience.


My Lords, that is certainly the outcome of several pieces of sociological research that have been carried out. The view often put forward is that it is largely due to the fact that such people get married. I am dependent upon other people's finding: I am simply a pedlar of their results. I was asked about the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee which, as I said, sat in another place from 1973 to 1975 and which reported in July of that year. I am told that, of the 40 recommendations made by the Expenditure Committee, over half of them have been implemented by the Government along the lines recommended. Another 12 fell within the sphere of local authorities or the Central Council for Education and Training for Social Work. So far as I could see, that means that about eight of their recommendations have not yet been implemented. However, it means that the bulk of them have.

Towards the latter part of the same period, the Government themselves reviewed the working of the Act and their conclusions were published in a White Paper in May 1976 in the form of a response to the Expenditure Committee's proposals. The broad conclusion of these inquiries was, as the 1976 White Paper stated: that though much remains to be done to make the Act fully operative and although a small number of highly publicised cases have given cause for concern, the framework provided by the Act for dealing constructively and humanely with children in trouble remains a fundamentally sound one". Other bodies, as your Lordships have been told, have recently reviewed the Act. Some eight highly thought of, highly competent and highly specialised bodies have reviewed the Act. I mention four of them: the British Association of Social Workers: the National Association of Probation Officers; the Residential Care Association, and the Association of Directors of Social Services. In this field they have issued a joint report on the operation of the Act which concluded that after a difficult start there are signs that things are beginning to move forward.


My Lords, before the noble Lord finishes with his list, may I ask whether the magistrates were consulted?


My Lords, I am rather doubtful about that. The other four are the Association of Professional Advisers to Children's Regional Planning Committees, the Association of Community Homes Schools, the National Association of Heads and Matrons of Observation Assessment Centres, the National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations. They were consulting the people who were actually responsible for dealing with the delinquents from a treatment point of view.

While the Government feel that there is no need at this stage to undertake a further review of the Act, this is not to suggest that the Government are in any way complacent about the present position, or are unwilling to make to the Act amendments which are shown to be useful. We recognise that we cannot ignore the seriousness of a situation where the total number of young people under 21 found guilty of, or cautioned for, criminal offences has increased three-fold since 1956. However, this was not disproportionate to the general level of offending, and I have to stress that there is no statistical evidence to suggest that the passing of the 1969 Act or its implementation in 1971 have in any way affected the rate of increase in juvenile crime. Moreover, there are some hopeful indications for the future in that nationally the number of juvenile offenders dropped by 9 per cent. between 1974 and 1976, the last year for which national crime statistics are available, though I think it would be over-optimistic of me to suggest that too much should be read into these figures at the moment.

I was asked about the figures of juveniles, boys and girls, found guilty of, and cautioned for, indictable offences, which fell in 1975 and again in 1976 for both the 10 to 14 year-olds and the 14 to 17 yearolds—all juveniles. This is offences per 100,000 of the population of the age group. In 1974 those found guilty of, or cautioned for, indictable offences amounted to 3,434 per 100,000 of the population. That figure fell to 3,272 per 100,000 of the population in 1975, and to 3,130 per 100,000 of the population in 1976.

Something has been said about the fall in supervision orders, and that is perfectly true.In 1971 there were 18,231, and in 1976 17,722. This could suggest all kinds of things. It could suggest that the powers are not being used. It could be that perhaps the courts feel that there is no point in making supervision orders. It could also indicate—and I believe this to be true from my own personal observation in this field and my connection with it—that it is because courts are making supervision orders in those cases where there is an obvious opportunity of doing something really tangible and concrete for the delinquent involved.

I can remember not many years ago that if you were a first offender you were automatically put on probation whether there was anything to supervise or not. Some of my colleagues in the Probation Service used to say to me that some of my probationers lived a far more organised existence than I did myself, and that there was nothing I could do for them. I think courts, and those who are responsible for making these decisions, are giving careful thought to whether a supervision order in this instance is going to serve a useful purpose. To make a supervision order willy-nilly is not helpful at all. I do not attach too much importance to the fact that there was a fall in the making of supervision orders.

Detention centre orders were up from over 2,000 in 1969 to over 3,000 in 1972, to nearly 4,500 in 1974, and in 1976 to 5,388. It is much the same story so far as borstal orders were concerned. In 1969 there were just over 800, in 1972 just over 1,300, in 1974 1,645, and in 1976 just over 2,000.


My Lords, before the Minister leaves this point, may I say that there is a danger in taking overall figures, which we all do from time to time. But of course the juvenile offenders' numbers are rising in the vast conurbations, so that although in total there may be a drop, and I must say that this surprises me, the increase in the figures in the cities is quite serious.


My Lords, I would not dispute that for one moment, but, on the other hand, when one is asked for a figure one has to give it as it really is. I am not in a position (I wish I were) to be able to say whether this particular area, or this conurbation, was more highly productive of juvenile crime than the others. I cannot do this.

It is often agreed that one of the reasons for the difficulties experienced in operating the Act is lack of resources. I would fully acknowledge the problems local authorities have had to contend with since the Act came into operation in 1971. There can be no doubt that local authorities continue to need extra resources, and as the 1976 White Paper admitted, constraints on resources must, in the present circumstances, constitute an obstacle to rapid implementation of many desirable projects. It should not however be thought that the picture is entirely black. Revenue expenditure in England and Wales on children's services has increased between 1973–4 and 1976–7 from £77.3 million to £150.8 million, and capital projects from £6.9 million to £9.9 million over the same period. These are not insignificant increases, especially during a period of severe financial constraint, although I should make clear that even if additional resources were available the Government would be opposed to a massive programme for further residential provision. Priority in the future must be given to developing forms of non-residential care.

The Expenditure Committee made a large number of recommendations for amending and improving the working of the Act and, as I have already said and given the exact figures, many of these were accepted and implemented by the Government. I shall refer briefly to perhaps the three most important of these. First, the 1969 Act was amended by the Criminal Law Act 1977 to improve the arrangements for dealing with children subject to supervision orders and intermediate treatment requirements. The Act gave the courts new powers to insert conditions in the orders and to impose sanctions, if these were ignored. Fines are to be increased from £10 to £50 for the under 14's and from £50 to £200 for 14 to 16-year-olds, and the Act also gave the courts powers to deal with those youngsters who failed to pay the fines imposed on them, including, subject to safeguards, the power to transfer the fine to a parent or guardian. These provisions are expected to be implemented in the near future.

Secondly, the Government fully accepted the recommendation of the Expenditure Committee that urgent attention should be given to non-residential forms of care, including intermediate treatment and fostering. We very much welcome, and have encouraged, the development of specialised fostering schemes for the most disturbed children, which are being established on a pilot basis by a number of local authorities. In the field of intermediate treatment, my Department and the Welsh Office have held a number of conferences, seminars and workshops and in 1977 issued circulars of guidance on the subject. These activities are leading to a substantial increase in the number of imaginative schemes arranged by local authorities and voluntary organisations. The Government have also established an Intermediate Treatment Fund to make financial assistance available to individuals or organisations willing to provide intermediate treatment facilities which local authorities will use.

Thirdly, the Government recognised the difficulties posed to the community by the offences of a small minority of serious and persistent juvenile offenders. Both local authorities and magistrates recognise the need for an expansion of secure facilities in community homes. While, therefore, the Government do not believe that the correct solution to juvenile crime is to confine ever-increasing numbers of children to institutions, they cannot accept the recommendation of the Expenditure Committee for a secure care order because they take the view that the court is not the appropriate body to make decisions about long-term care of children or young people; clearly local authorities require more specialised and costly facilities within community homes to contain this minority.

We recognise that that does not meet the opinion of everybody; there is certainly a real measure of disagreement as to who should make these decisions. Consequently, the Government have used to the full, powers in the Children Act 1975 to pay grants to local authorities who provide secure accommodation for children in their care. As a result, the number of long-term secure places in community homes is expected to increase from 143 at present to about 260 in 1980. In addition, my Department is itself providing 87 places in youth treatment centres, of which 66 are secure, to accommodate particularly disturbed young people.

I do not wish to concentrate exclusively on those aspects of that Act which deal with delinquents, important though they are. The Children Act 1975 gave this House an opportunity of considering a number of important new provisions in the 1969 Act to provide better care and protection for children, though as yet it has not proved possible fully to implement all the new provisions.

I do not want to take up the time of the House unnecessarily and I think that at this stage it might be more helpful if I were to try to deal with some of the points which have arisen during the debate. We cannot implement all the provisions of the Act because of the constraints on local authority resources. The immediate priority must be the development of intermediate treatment and the ending of remands of juveniles to prison establishments.

One noble Lord referred to the detention centre and the proposal for a short, sharp shock. When the Advisory Council on the Penal System looked at detention centres, they took the view that to deprive an offender of his liberty was of itself a sufficient punishment. The deprivation of liberty and the enforcement of community living are of themselves a very definite and ever-present reminder that one of the main purposes of any sentence is punitive and the Government believe that any increased emphasis on punishment rather than on the rehabilitative side of the treatment of young offenders can be nothing but retrogressive.

I do not want to go into the history of the attendance centres and what they were originally set up to do, other than to say that no attendance centre order can be made in the case of a person who was previously sentenced to imprisonment, to borstal training or to detention in a detention centre, or who has been subject to an approved school order. Thus, one is very limited in that way. The Home Secretary is responsible for providing attendance centres in England and Wales. There are at present 62 junior centres for boys between 10 and 16 covering major areas of population in England and Wales. The Home Secretary uses agents to run the centres on his behalf and in 59 centres the Home Secretary's agent is the chief constable; in the remaining three centres the agent is the local authority. Most centres are held in schools by arrangement with the local education authority and the sessions are held on Saturday afternoons.


My Lords, I mentioned the matter because I had just received a notice from the newly opened attendance centre in Oxford—in fact, it opens in May—and my information was that it would be open in the mornings.


We shall have to look into that, my Lords, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising it because many of us see the wisdom of holding these sessions on Saturday afternoons rather than on Saturday mornings, particularly in Oxford, where I live. I will say no more about that, save to mention that there is a football team there too.

In regard to orders available in respect of juveniles, it is sometimes suggested that courts no longer have adequate sanctions available to them to deal with offences by juveniles. In addition to fines, courts can still send boys aged 10 and over to junior attendance centres; boys aged 14 to 16 to detention centres; and, as noble Lords will know, can commit young people over 15 to the Crown Court with a view to borstal training. These orders are in addition to the supervision orders and care orders under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

The Home Office is now looking at the possibility of providing new attendance centres in areas where it is likely that full use would be made of them and where suitable premises and staff can be found. Two new centres have been opened and four more will be opened by the end of May, giving six in all. In addition, the Home Office is looking at the possibility of opening a few experimental centres for girls.

I do not feel justified in keeping your Lordships any longer. One could go on trying to indicate not only what has been done but what is about to be done, and what is the Government's view. This is a matter with which I myself am very con cerned. I remember the Act going through your Lordships' House in 1969. We will keep it under continuous review. In the White Paper the Government undertook to set up at national level interdepartmental machinery to monitor its working. This machinery has been established, and has been operating effectively for 18 months. Because of that, and because the Government feel that they have their finger on the pulse, they do not consider that any useful purpose would be served at this time by having a review of the 1969 Act.