HL Deb 01 March 1978 vol 389 cc476-9

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider rationalising the many different Acts of Parliament applicable to children and young persons and consolidating at least some of the overlapping Acts which govern child and family law.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, I apologise for the fact that the Answer is rather lengthy. The Law Commission have already begun and are continuing a major programme of consolidation of the law relating to children and the family. We have already passed the Adoption Act 1976 and the Legitimacy Act 1976, consolidating the law on adoption and legitimation. Work is proceeding on consolidations of the law relating to child care and foster children. The Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Bill, now before your Lordships' House, includes provision about the powers of magistrates' courts as to the custody and maintenance of children. This Bill will be followed by a major consolidation of the law relating to magistrates' courts, which will take account of the procedural reforms in the current Bill.

In addition, the Government hope to introduce in due course Consolidation Bills dealing with the law about the protection of children and court proceedings involving children and young persons. The Law Commission are presently engaged on a review of illegitimacy as a legal status, and their recommendations on that subject may involve further proposals for the reform of the law relating to the guardianship, maintenance and custody of children. Interim consolidation of the guardianship and custodianship legislation may, however, be useful and this is a possibility which is being kept in mind.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that very full reply on St. David's Day. After such a very full reply it would be presumptuous of me to mention that at the moment there are, I think, 12 Acts of Parliament relating to children which are administered by the social services departments and the relevant voluntary organisations and 29 Acts of Parliament relating to child and family law. Therefore I am indeed grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when I hear that progress will be made towards the consolidation of these Acts.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, I was delighted to hear the very full Answer of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. In the light of two major debates in the last 12 months concerning children and the family, is it possible that the noble and learned Lord could draw attention to the fact that there has been a request for a Minister of the family? I believe that such a request has been made two, if not three times in this House. Because of the growing pressure on families, does not the noble and learned Lord feel that the need for such a Minister is growing?


My Lords, we had a very interesting debate on the family about a year ago when this suggestion was ventilated. Responsibility for matters relating to the family is now in the hands of more than one Department. I am not sure that to add yet another Minister to the penumbra of Ministers that already exist would assist the family. However, I shall certainly discuss this question with my right honourable friend, but I can hold out no great hope of an affirmative answer emerging.


My Lords, will my noble and learned friend bear in mind the recent death of Lester Chapman and the tragedy that was involved there owing to a dispute between the police and the social services department?


My Lords, that is indeed a tragic case, but with great respect I doubt whether it arises out of the Question on the Order Paper.


My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for his very full Answer, may I ask whether he is able to give an assurance that action will not take so long as it did in the case of the Crown Agents?


My Lords, it is interesting to note how a lengthy Answer seems to give rise to a large number of unconnected supplementary questions. It is a warning to me not to do it again!


My Lords, would my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack agree that penumbral Ministers are somewhat shadowy and might perhaps be replaced by a more substantial Minister?


My Lords, I suspect that the flower which my noble friend is wearing may have stimulated that question—I could see that the expression on his face did not bear the normal gravity and expectation of a serious answer to which his usual questions give rise.


My Lords, if I may be allowed to ask a simple rhetorical question, is any family in the country to be considered to be exempt from the attentions of any Minister?


My Lords, as happens with most rhetorical questions, I think that that one has answered itself.