HL Deb 09 March 1978 vol 389 cc938-46

3.57 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

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

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 9 [Powers of court to commit children to care of local authority]:

Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS moved Amendment No. 1: Page 10, leave out lines 29 to 31.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we come now on to rather more than a purely technical process. We on this side were sorry that during the passage of the last Bill the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, never got a chance to make one of the speeches; I do not know what went wrong with the rationing. Now we come to something which is really of substance. I am afraid that I must return yet again to the proposition that, although a care order putting a child in the hands of a local authority continues, as Clause 9 (6) says, until the child reaches the age of 18, after a child has reached the age of 17 no such order may be newly made. I have pointed out previously that this no longer fits in with the pattern of the whole of this collection of legislation where all the ages are now assimilated either to 16 or to 18. Nowhere else does the age of 17 years occur, except in relation to this particular provision in this Bill and in similar Acts.

At the Report stage I explored where it may have come from, and I have had since then sonic more interesting correspondence, for which I am grateful to the Government. I think I have at last run down a source of this limitation to 17. I wish to quote from the Official Report of another place of 7th May 1948, col. 1613, where the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office said: … under Clause 1 of the Bill, it will be the duty of the local authority to receive into their care, where they consider it necessary in the interests of his welfare, any child under 17 who is orphaned, deserted or lost, or whose parents or guardians are for any reason prevented from looking after him, and to keep him in care until he is 18, if need be. In both these respects the age is raised as against the old Poor Law system".

If that is still the only justification—that it is raised as against the old Poor Law system—I am very glad indeed that we have had an opportunity to reconsider it. I am told by the Government that if Amendment No. 1 were to stand on its own—that is to say, we would allow care orders to be made at any time between the age of 17 and 18 in respect of an individual child—this would cause some resource implications to arise; in other words, public money would have to be spent. The logic of that seems to me to be that the Government accept that, in these circumstances, were the courts able to make these care orders for children between the ages of 17 and 18, they would in fact use those powers and place a burden upon the Probation Service and the social services.

Now that we have Clause 13 in the Bill, which declares that the child's welfare is paramount, that must mean that there are children who ought to be taken into care although they are over 17 and under 18, but because the law is what it is they cannot be. This is a situation which was endorsed by my noble friend Lady Faithfull at an earlier stage of the Bill.

I do not want to be tiresome about this, and I am all in favour of the Government cutting public expenditure to the greatest possible extent, I do not know whether they would cut it in the same places as we would, but if they want to cut it I do not want to prevent them. It occurred to me therefore that if, upon research into the origins and indeed the current applicability of this provision, there was some doubt whether we ought not now to change it, perhaps it would be better to give the Government an opportunity to consider it at another time when it might be more suitable in terms of public finance.

For that reason I have also put down Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. Amendment No. 1 can stand by itself and if the House is to pass that then at once when this Bill became law, or upon a commencing order, the courts would have the power to put into the care of local authorities children between the ages of 17 and 18. One could do it by a specific provision in the Bill allowing the Government to bring this change into force at some future date when they thought the resources were right. If one adds Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 that is the effect.

I may say that they do not stand in my own imperfect handwriting; they have kindly been drafted for me by the professionals in the Parliamentary Counsels' Office. I hope that this is a compromise which the Government may see fit to accept. I hope it commends itself to the House as a whole as being a sensible way out of the situation. I beg to move Amendment No. 1 to see what the reaction of the Government would be.


My Lords, I rise to support the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. I wonder whether your Lordships would bear with me if I were to give one practical example indicating the real difficulty of this—I was going to say, "limbo" age of 17 to 18. Some years ago a father came to me to say that his daughter, aged 17, had disappeared. Through various methods I discovered that she had run away and was in London in one of the discotheque clubs in Soho. With her father I went to the club late at night and we found her. Her father asked her to return home. She refused and said, "You have no power over me. I am 17". The difficulty here is that the father, as a parent, has responsibility for that girl up to the age of 18, but I, as a then director of Social Services, could take no action in a legal sense to help the father with that girl.

We all know that girls from 16 to 17 when they have just left school are feeling their feet. Statistics show that girls, and indeed boys, from 17 to 18 go through what might be called, a "rough-ride" period, and need help at that stage. Even if it were only two or three months' help it would be of enormous value. Therefore, I bring to the notice of the Government the very real difficulty where parents have no jurisdiction over their children, taking them to court or asking somebody else to take them to court or accept them into care, and yet parents are responsible for them up to the age of 18.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I can take this very briefly, for the simple reason—and your Lordships I am sure will appreciate this—that the Government are able to accept the proposal which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has now put forward. There are three Amendments before your Lordships and I have been invited to speak on the first, and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to speak also on the second and third.

As the noble Viscount knows, because we have discussed this matter personally, the only difficulty facing the Government was that of resources—and nobody knows better than the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, what this would mean in terms of manpower so far as the local authority is concerned, and in terms of money when we spend something like £35 a week at least on keeping a person in care. In many respects, therefore, we are grateful to the noble Viscount for putting up these Amendments. I know that they are not exactly what he wanted, but I believe he has done this in the spirit of co-operation and for that reason we are glad to accept them.

Before I sit down I should like to take the opportunity of saying how grateful we are to him. A good deal of correspondence has passed between us but it has been worth while. If I may say so, a lesser person might have been more difficult, but it is typical of the noble Viscount to show a great deal of understanding in these matters. We are grateful to him for his co-operation and the Government accept these three Amendments.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is more than generous and I am indeed grateful to him. May I say one thing that follows on the acceptance of these three Amendments. The other day the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor announced a future programme of consolidation in this field of family and children law. Of course, it is not only in this Bill that the age of 17 appears; it is in two or three other pieces of legislation as well. There is a process whereby when legislation is consolidated minor amendments can be made either upon the recommendation of the Law Commission or under the 1949 Act with a memorandum from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I would respectfully suggest that similar powers to those which appear under Amendment No. 3 might be inserted in all the other legislation so that when the resources are adequate all the law can be brought into line. Meanwhile, I thank the Government for accepting this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.8 p.m.

Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS moved Amendment No. 2: Page 10, line 31, at end insert— (6A) The court shall not have power to make an order under this section with respect to a child who has attained the age of seventeen.".

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 10, line 45, at end insert— (10) The Secretary of State may by order repeal subsection (6A) above, and any such order shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 56 [Eligibility for Legal Aid in Scotland for proceedings under Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1972]:

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Lord McCluskey) moved Amendments Nos. 4 and 5:

Page 54, line 21, leave out ("and (d)")

Page 54, line 41, leave out ("and (d)").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, when in the debate on the Report stage of the Bill I introduced a new clause—now Clause 56—enabling some overseas claimants to obtain legal aid without the usual inquiry into the claimant's resources, I indicated, after the short intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that the Government might wish to consider one turther point arising on it. Subsections (1) and (2) of the clause disapply those sections of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1967 which provide for the assessment of applicant's means and for the taking of contributions towards their expenses with the aim of providing, so far as possible, a free collection service for maintenance for these claiments. The clause as it now stands also disapplies Section 2(6)(d) of the 1967 Act which provides that expenses awarded in favour of a legally-aided person shall be paid into the Legal Aid Fund.

The effect of this would have been that, when a court in Scotland made or registered an order for maintenance in favour of an overseas claimant with an award of expenses against her husband, she, and not the Legal Aid Fund, would have been entitled to receive the expenses, although all the expenses on her side would have been paid for by the Legal Aid Fund. These two Amendments, Nos. 4 and 5, ensure that any expenses recovered shall be paid into the Legal Aid Fund. With leave, I would move en bloc Amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 78 [Reports by probation officers on means of parties]:

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 75, line 11, at end insert— ( ) in subsection (1) the word "periodical" and the words "or in any proceedings in any matter of bastardy" shall be omitted;

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6. This Amendment makes two small changes in Section 60(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952. Section 60 enables a magistrates' court to request a report on the means of the parties: In any domestic proceedings in which an order may be made for the periodical payment of money by any person or in any proceedings for the enforcement or variation of any such order or in any proceedings in any matter of bastardy. During the Report stage the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, suggested that the reference to bastardy proceedings in Section 60 was unnecessary because these proceedings now fall within the scope of the general definition of domestic proceedings. I said that the Government would look at this. We have now done so; we agree with the noble Viscount, and I beg to move.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I think this is an improvement; and unless I am greatly mistaken, Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are consequential, so he will not have to explain those.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 84 [Short title and extent]:

Lord McCLUSKEY moved Amendment No. 7: Page 78, line 39, after ("and (3),") insert ("81,").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment corrects a small drafting omission. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Enactments repealed]:

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendments Nos. 8 and 9:

Page 88, line 26, column 3, leave out ("Sections 59 and 62") and insert ("Section 59").

Page 88, line 26, column 3 at end insert: ("In section 60, in subsection (1) the word "periodical" and the words "or in any proceedings in any matter of bastardy" and in subsection (2)(a) the words from "which shall be read aloud" to "at the hearing". In section 61, the words "or in proceedings in any matter of bastardy Section 62.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 en bloc. As the noble Viscount said, these are consequential on the earlier Amendment.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved the following Privilege Amendment:

Clause 84, page 79, line 10, at end insert: ( ) Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge.".

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I would say, at the outset, that I am extremely grateful to noble Lords in all parts of the House who have contributed to the debates that we have had on this Bill. I think this is an important measure which will transform the lives of quite a number of people once it is on the Statute Book; and I should like to take this opportunity to thank, not only noble Lords generally for their help and support on this measure but, in particular, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, who has made a number of substantial points on the I think his efforts have led to a very substantial improvement of the Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)


My Lords, I do, with some modesty, think that we have improved the Bill in the course of its passage through this House. I can mention that fact because, of course, it is really a collection of points which were given to me by those who practise in the field which have impressed themselves upon the Government and led to the Amendments being made. But I, too, think it is an important measure, and I wish it well on its way through another place. There are one or two undertakings still to implement, and we shall look forward to seeing the fruits of those when the Bill comes back with Commons Amendments.

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

4.13 p.m.