HL Deb 03 November 1987 vol 489 cc892-904

3.25 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Caithness.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 225A: After Clause 115, insert the following new clause:

("Children's hearing system

—. (1) No child or young person shall be prosecuted for any offence except on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions or at his instance.

(2) A panel (to be called "the children's panel") shall be formed for every local authority area for the purposes of this section.

(3) Sittings of members of the children's panel, hereinafter referred to as children's hearings, shall be constituted from the panel to perform, in respect of children who may require compulsory measures of care, the functions assigned to those hearings by this section.

(4) A children's hearing shall consist of a chairman and two other members and shall have both a man and a woman among the members.

(5) Any children's hearing shall be conducted in private and no person other than a person whose presence is necessary for the proper consideration of the case which is being heard, or whose presence is permitted by the chairman, shall be present.

(6) The Secretary of State may make rules for the constituting and arranging of children's hearings and for regulating the procedure of those hearings.

(7) Where a prosecuting officer receives information from any source of the commission of an offence by a child or young person or of abuse or neglect of a child or young person, he shall, after making such initial investigation as he may think necessary, proceed with the case in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(8) Where the prosecuting officer decides that no further action on the case is required, he shall, where he considers this to be the proper course, so inform the child or young person and his parent.

(9) Where the prosecuting officer considers it to be the proper course, he shall refer the case to the local authority with a view to their making arrangements for the advice, guidance and assistance of the child or young person and his family.

(10) Where it appears to the prosecuting officer that the child or young person is in need of compulsory measures of care, he shall arrange a children's hearing to whom the case shall stand referred for consideration and determination.

(11) Where the prosecuting officer has arranged a children's hearing in pursuance of subsection (10) above, he shall request from the local authority a report on the child or young person and his social background and it shall be the duty of the authority to supply the report which may contain information from any such person as the prosecuting officer or the local authority may think fit.

(12) A parent of a child or young person shall have a right to attend at all stages of a children's hearing who are considering the case of his child.

(13) When the case of a child or young person is being considered by a children's hearing, his parent shall attend at all stages of the hearing unless the children's hearing are satisfied that it would be unreasonable to require his attendance.

(14) At the commencement of a children's hearing, and before proceeding to the consideration of the case, it shall be the duty of the chairman to explain to the child or young person and his parent the grounds stated by the prosecuting officer for the referral of the case for the purpose of ascertaining whether these grounds are accepted by the child or young person and his parent.

(15) Thereafter—

  1. (a) where the child or young person and his parent accept the grounds stated by the prosecuting officer for the referral the hearing shall proceed; and
  2. (b) in any other case, unless they decide to discharge the referral, the children's hearing shall direct the prosecuting officer to make application to a magistrates' court for a finding as to whether such grounds for the referral as are not accepted by the child or young person or his parent are established.

(16) When a children's hearing have considered the grounds for the referral of a case, accepted or established under subsection (15) above, the report obtained under subsection (11) above and such other relevant information as may be available to them, they shall proceed to consider on what course they should decide in the best interests of the child.

(17) Where a children's hearing decide that no further action is required they shall discharge the referral.

(18) Where, after the consideration of his case, a children's hearing decide that a child or young person is in need of compulsory measures of care, they may make a requirement, hereinafter referred to as a supervision requirement, requiring him—

  1. (a) to submit to supervision in accordance with such conditions as they may impose; or
  2. (b) to reside in a residential establishment and be subject to such conditions as they may impose.

(19) A supervision requirement shall be in such form as the Secretary of State may prescribe.").

The noble Baroness said: My noble friend the Minister will be glad to know that this is a probing amendment but to all those who work with juvenile delinquents it is of great importance. It would introduce into England and Wales a children's hearing system similar to but not the same as the juvenile hearing system in Scotland.

The Scottish penal system which replaced the juvenile court system was introduced to Scotland on 5th April 1971. It is incorporated in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which is based on the report of the Royal Commission which was set up under the distinguished High Court judge, Lord Kilbrandon.

The case for recommending this change in England and Wales arises from the widespread and growing view that our juvenile court system is out of date in dealing with juvenile offenders and their parents. There is evidence of this by the way that various authorities, that is, combined probation and social services, are setting up juvenile bureaux outside the court system, for instance in Northamptonshire, Essex and Hampshire to name but a few.

The committee, New Approaches to Juvenile Crime, whose members are drawn from eight organisations working with young offenders, commissioned two research workers, Sarah McCabe, a criminologist, and Phyllis Treital, to carry out a comprehensive study of the comparative structures of the juvenile justice system in England and Wales. Its report, Juvenile Justice in the United Kingdom, which was published in 1983, clearly illustrated the case for change in England and Wales.

I should say that the case for change was in a large measure supported by the members of a working party which was convened by the Association of County Councillors and which included members of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of District Councils. Furthermore at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Social Services which was held in Glasgow in September of this year the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right honourable Malcolm Rifkind, in addressing the conference praised the children's hearing system in Scotland.

There is not time to outline in detail the Scottish system, which in its entirety could not be applicable to England and Wales. Suffice to say that the reporter is the key figure to whom all criminal and care cases are referred. All disputed cases are referred to the sheriff. The disposal of cases is dealt with by a panel which is concerned solely with the well-being of the child.

In this amendment all cases of juvenile crime would be referred to the prosecuting officer in England and Wales, who of course is within the criminal justice system. Disputed cases would be referred to the magistrates' court for judgment. Therefore judgment of all disputed cases is within the orbit of' the law. Undisputed cases would be referred to the panel. The panel's role would be to deal with the disposal of cases and not the judgment of those cases. The panel would provide a process of dealing with the well-being of the child. Serious offences would continue to be dealt with under Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act, even though the advice of the panel could be sought concerning placement.

Why is there dissatisfaction with the juvenile court structure in England and Wales, bearing in mind the variations in procedures of different juvenile courts? First, the adversarial system and procedures tend to intimidate children and their parents and to reduce their active participation. John Rae-Price, the chairman of the Children's Committee of the Association of Directors of Social Services, has written—and I have great feeling for this quotation— How many of us have accompanied children and families to the court, where the court's procedures and its decisions have been painstakingly explained in apparently simple language but where the parent, child or both have emerged, overwhelmed by the size of the court room and the trauma of the whole experience with not a clue as to what has gone on and what has been decided?".

Yesterday many Members of the Committee quoted anecdotes. Perhaps I may be allowed to tell one now. A while ago a woman rang me and asked, "What have they done with my son?". I said, "Where is your son?". She replied, "I have no idea. I went to the court: he was before the court today. I was so nervous and frightened I didn't know what they were talking about and they took my son away". I rang the social services and the magistrates' clerk. A care order had in fact been made. The woman had been to her solicitor and had asked "Where is my son?". He had said, 'I am in a hurry because I have another case. I shall come and see you this evening". That court is a good court; the magistrates are good magistrates. It was no fault of theirs that they sat high up on a dais or that the woman was confused and had no understanding of what had been said to her.

Secondly, let me speak on parental involvement and responsibility and the involvement of the child or young person before the court. I should like to give another example, which occurred in Scotland when I attended a panel. The panel in Scotland has quite a different structure from that of the juvenile court in England. The panel mets in a simple room with a large table, around which sit the panel members (who are comparable to our magistrates), the parent or parents, the child and a social worker. There is also someone concerned with education, who would not be included in this country, and there may be other persons who are interested in the child as well. In this case the child came before the court for glue sniffing. He had admitted that he sniffed glue. He was in a children's home.

The chairman of the panel was a postman and one of the nicest men I have ever met. He lent forward and said to the child. "Why did you do it?". The child said, "I were unhappy". The panel members said, "Yes, but tell us why you did it?". "I were unhappy, said the child. The panel members said, "Why were you unhappy?". The child shifted and looked frightfully awkward. Then he looked across at the two heads of the home who were sitting at the end of the table. He said, "Well, look at 'em". We looked at them and thought that we might have been unhappy too!

The chairman of the panel was quite magnificent. He said to the child, "Don't you realise that they have to feed you and dress you and what a hard job they have to do? But perhaps you are a bit old to be in a children's home and we shall ask the social services to do something about your future". That would have been a difficult thing to do in a magistrates' court or a juvenile court in England and Wales. In Scotland the people involved are sitting around a table. The parents and the child are involved, and the process by which the panel members come to a decision for the welfare of the child is known to the parents and to the child. I may say, as one who has dealt with juvenile offenders, that it is a much easier task to deal with parents and children when they understand the processes by which the orders are made.

Thirdly, the members of the panel, who are the equivalent of our juvenile justices, are appointed by the Secretary of State and recruited by advertisement. They are appointed from a wide range of occupations and income groups. They receive not only good initial training but very good on-going training. They are panel members for a period of five years and thus there is a turnover of panel members. In that way knowledge, responsibility, experience and interest are gradually disseminated through the community.

Fourthly, the reporter, as he is called in Scotland (in this amendment we have inserted the words "prosecuting officer", as he may be in England and Wales), is independent. That is most important. Of all the professionals who may be involved in the case, he is the most objective and his only concern is the well-being of the child.

Fifthly, review of cases in Scotland by the children's panel must be made in every case where a supervision or custodial order is made. The case lapses at the end of a year if no review is carried out. Also a parent, social worker or probation officer may come back to the panel for a variation of an order within the year. That procedure would prevent appeal cases going to the European Court of Human Rights, as happened in July 1987 when the court held that parental rights had been denied in five cases in England and Wales.

As we are considering a criminal justice Bill, the amendment deals with only juvenile offenders. It does not deal with care proceedings—that is, children in need of care and protection, of which the Cleveland cases were examples. All civil proceedings affecting family life will, we hope, be dealt with in a new family court. Some organisations have taken the view that the jurisdiction of a family court should extend to dealing with juveniles who have committed offences. However, there is no consensus on the point among supporters of a family court and it seems likely that the family court, at least initially, will not have jurisdiction over juvenile offenders.

This new clause enables Parliament to consider whether, at the same time as a family court is established, a new system for dealing with young offenders could be introduced on lines which were not the same as but similar to the Scottish children's hearing system. I beg to move.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I rise to support my noble friend. I speak as someone who has been involved with the system in Scotland which she has so admirably described. Let us face the fact at once that the arrangement in Scotland is a great success. If we want a success story, we must get the people who are organising that system and running it in Scotland to tell us about it. That is what we are looking for.

The system has been in operation since 1977. It has the support of parents and children. It gives them confidence, as my noble friend said. The evidence is taken in an informal way. The reporter is experienced in dealing with juveniles. The members of the panel are appointed by the Secretary of State and chosen from a wide range of people with different experience and different occupations. There is a fair balance between men and women and their ages range from 20 to 50. They have initial training and are given the opportunity to enlarge their knowledge and experience of children who in England would be brought before the courts in a much more formal way, which the Committee will know much better than I do and which my noble friend has described.

In Scotland we have done something which could well be repeated in Engand in the knowledge that it has already been the most enormous success. I have nothing at all to do with the courts in England and so I am speaking simply from hearsay, as it were; but what depresses me about the criminal procedures in England is that so many people are held on remand and so many people are kept in prison for ages before being tried. Many of them are teenagers and many are not committed when the trial comes off. The Scottish method allows another procedure which is outwith the court, unless a special case is agreed by the children's hearing to be referred to the sheriff court. It therefore saves an enormous amount of time in connection with trials in comparison with what happens in many courts in England. So many new juvenile cases are arising and there are accounts of difficulties for the social services in many parts of the country. They are being criticised very much at this time in this country. This is not taking place in Scotland, at the moment anyway. The methods used in Scotland seem to have helped workers where they are involved with children's offences.

In 1981 new approaches to juvenile crime were considered in a report from a committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and they resulted in a further report in 1983, Juvenile Justice in the United Kingdom. That highlighted the shortcomings in the system in England and Wales. It is a pity that the systems in Scotland and in England and Wales have not been integrated. It seems to me—this is a purely personal opinion—that now we have a very distinguished Scottish Lord Chancellor and also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, on the Front Bench, we have a good opportunity to show the English courts that we have done something very good in Scotland. I hope very much that England and Wales will do the same. If the Committee adopts this clause it will find that it covers exactly what I am saying and what my noble friend has said. I speak therefore in very strong support of the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, indicated that this was a probing amendment. At the moment opinion is running much more strongly than it has during any part of my lifetime in favour of a system of family courts. If we are to have a system of family courts there is a very strong argument for not having the duplication which would be involved in the system suggested by this amendment but having minor juvenile crime dealt with in the family court.

There is another matter. Many years ago there was a Home Office proposal that family matters, including minor juvenile crime, should be initially dealt with by an extended family council. That was not well received and it was dropped; but it has always seemed to me that there was much more to be said for it than was allowed. Has the noble Earl reexamined in his department whether it would be advisable that the initial stage of the family court should be an extended family council with professional advice and guidance?

The last matter is this. If the family court, as many of us would wish to see, has a welfare side as well as an adjudication side, every case could initially be dealt with on a welfare basis and only when that does not succeed would the matter go over to the other side of the court. The argument in favour of what the noble Baroness wants to see going to the family court is very much extended. I put these points forward so that the noble Earl may perhaps consider them when this matter is further reviewed.

Lord Paget of Northampton

Something which rather surprises me in reading this clause is that I can find no mention anywhere in it of punishment. Is it the idea that the punishment of juveniles should be abolished? If so, it is a rather alarming suggestion.

It would also apparently remove jurisdiction from all courts except something which the noble and learned Lord has just referred to as a family court. I certainly think that is well described. I wonder whether that is wise. In my district, which is a rural district, I believe that juveniles are responsible for about half the crimes of violence which are committed and indeed are responsible for rather more than half the burglaries. Juvenile crime today is a very considerable nuisance and whether this degree of liberalisation is acceptable I do not know.

Again, speaking of confining juvenile crime more or less to family courts, I well remember almost the first case I ever had. A boy had been arrested for stealing 10 shillings from his mother. In court his mother said that she had found the 10 shillings and it had not been stolen at all. However, the magistrates convicted the boy and sentenced him to six months in either a borstal or a school of correction; I do not remember which. This certainly seemed to me and to the press to he a monstrosity. I remember that I went up to London before, I believe, a divisional court, which took much the same view. His immediate release was ordered. He went back home. The next I heard was this. Two days later he went back to the borstal institution and threw a brick through the tomato-house window—which was where he had worked—and was arrested again.

He came up before the same magistrates, who with a certain air of smugness passed the same sentence as they had before. The police, who knew a good deal more than the others, were perfectly aware that if this boy was left with his parents he had no prospect of being trained as anything except a professional criminal.

I think that we need to widen our discretion a little. Children can be very wicked little creatures and if they are not corrected they are likely to go on being wicked little creatures. I hope that steps are not taken towards these very liberal suggestions without a great deal more consideration.

Lord Mishcon

I think the Committee is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], for having introduced the subject by way of this amendment, even if it is a probing amendment. We are equally indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, for the way in which she has supported it.

I wish to make it absolutely clear that from these Benches we welcome the idea of this matter being very fully looked into.

This appears to be, as my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones always calls it, anecodotage by some of us. I do not intend to go into anecdotes except to say that as a young lawyer I practised in the juvenile courts. I wish at once to do something which I know all those who have spoken would wish to do: that is, to make it abundantly clear that we are in no way criticising those who occupy the Juvenile Bench of Magistrates in this country and who do an extremely good job.

What the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is saying in this amendment is only this: of course they are doing a very good job but is the place in which they do it and the procedure which they have to adopt the best way of dealing with children? I feel that a substantial case was being made for our dealing with children in an informal atmosphere and one where they and their parents can at least understand what is happening and there is as little formal procedure as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Paget, would have made an extremely good point if the thought which was in the mind of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and also in the mind of the noble Baroness. Lady Elliot, was that no punishment should be accorded at all. If in his kindness he will read the amendment carefully he will find that, first of all, no prosecution should take place without the leave of the Director of Public Prosecutions. There is a reference to a prosecuting officer. Obviously, the normal procedures following upon a conviction would apply. There would be exactly the same remedies, exactly the same sanctions, and exactly the same punishments would apply. As I have said, I think this matter deserves the careful attention of the Home Office.

I wish to express one last thought. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, referred, as did others, to the family court. We on this side of the Committee have been wedded to the idea of the family court and have expressed in speeches in this Chamber our hope that the family court will find its way into our jurisdiction as soon as possible. I am not expressing a view. I merely tentatively say one of the principal ideas for having a family court was that we wanted to take away from any connection with criminal jurisdiction the arrangements that would have to be made within a family for divorce, maintenance and custody. We thought that this ought to be within one court where everything of that nature would be dealt with. Nobody would have to go, for example, to a magistrates' court to deal with maintenance and matters of that kind. I merely throw this out as a matter for consideration as to whether criminal offences in regard to young children and young persons are dealt with within the family court.

I ask where we are going in regard to the whole complexion that we wish to give to the family court. I can see arguments against what I am saying in the sense that all the problems of the family, including that of a young delinquent, should be dealt with in the family court. My anxiety is that at least consideration should be given to whether we are altering the whole complexion of the idea and the ideal that many of us have. We believe that family matters should be dealt with in the way that we have indicated in past speeches and quite removed from any question of being allied to criminal offences at all or even a criminal atmosphere.

Subject to that, we on these Benches welcome the idea of this matter being looked at very carefully. It would not be the first time that we have followed Scotland, and sometimes we follow it for good reason.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

I rise to support this amendment. I do not apologise for spending more time on it because I suggest that if this is not the most important then it is one of the most important amendments in the whole of this immense Bill. Surely the way that we deal with juvenile crime is the key to stopping the crime wave. It seems to me that very often we spend far too much time discussing how to deal with adults when we all know that the vast majority of crime is committed by people under 20 years of age. It is at the juvenile point that the vital contribution can be made.

If I may say so, nobody knows more about this matter than the noble Baroness who moved this amendment. I support it enthusiastically. I support it as a lawyer and as an ex-advocate. The whole of my experience has been that the juvenile court is wholly unsuited to the adversarial procedure. It is not apt at all to have a legal atmosphere. That does not mean that there should not be a legal framework, but I feel that one of the great reforms about procedures in juvenile courts should be that those who take part as lawyers should have a special qualification in children's justice. If I may use the phrase, lawyer-speak is totally inappropriate in those circumstances. To see a chairman of a juvenile court trying to explain to the parents and the child what is going on is really the most frustrating procedure to watch.

Adversarial procedures are inappropriate for the disposal of cases concerning children. Children's hearings should be completely divorced from the adult system of criminal justice. I find the concept of a reporter an absolutely brilliant one. He would be a totally independent person to whom all these matters would go to begin with, and from him they would spray out into the appropriate place for a child to be dealt with. Of course, very serious criminal offences committed with adults are a different matter and they would be dealt under the Section 53 procedure.

I plead with the Minister that if the family court is set up at long last he will please see to it that its jurisdiction covers juvenile crime as well.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I wish to make three rather short points. In the first place, I should like to reinforce the rather considerable reservations which I thought the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had about allying this particular suggestion with the family court proposals as they have so far emerged in government documents and as they have so far been discussed. I believe it is a rather different subject. The family court proposals, which I support —as is known from previous observations of mine—became bogged down too often by trying to embrace too large a range of subjects within their ambit.

The second point I wish to make is that in one respect I doubt whether the Scottish analogy is a good one. I do not believe that the treatment of children in juvenile courts ought to be centralised in England to the degree that subsection (1) of this draft new clause suggests. England is a very large place, especially as it includes Wales for this purpose. It is much larger than Scotland. To have an absolutely centralised service and not a local service dealing with children seems to me to be probably a step in the wrong direction.

The third point is this. I have heard more than once, both in Parliament and outside it, a tremendous surge of well-meant opinion suggesting that all we are interested in is the welfare of the child—"Let us all get around a table and see what is in the child's interests". I ask the Committee to remember that a child has a very acute sense of justice, and sometimes it is more acute than that of many adults. If a child is charged with having done something and thinks he is innocent, he deserves just as much a fair trial as the oldest adult among us.

4 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

The Committee, and in particular my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, will not be surprised to hear me say that neither I, nor my noble friend Lord Arran, nor indeed my noble and learned friends the Lord Advocate and the Lord Chancellor, are hostile to things Scottish. Nor, it is fair to say, have the Government been averse to learning from experience north of the Border in matters concerning criminal procedure. In the last few years we have seen legislation to provide both for an independant prosecution service and for statutory limits on time before trial, each of which is so long established in Scotland as to be part of the legal scenery.

The children's hearings system is, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull reminded us, of substantially more recent origin. It has many admirers on both sides of the Border. My noble friend has in this as in so many other matters been indefatigable in bringing its virtues to the attention of those in England and Wales who are involved in the arrangements for dealing with children's troubles. In considering the issue which she has very properly put to us today it is I suggest worth recalling several things.

First, historically the systems north and south of the Border have developed in very different ways. In particular, before the establishment of the children's hearing system in 1971 the Scots did not have as developed a system of juvenile courts, with lay juvenile magistrates, as we have had for many years in England and Wales. If I disagreed with anything in my noble friend's presentation of her argument it was the perhaps inadvertent implications that the juvenile magistrates deal with the cases which come before them insensitively or unduly harshly. No system is beyond improvement. I am aware that some juvenile Benches are experimenting with different lay-outs of the court room in an effort to make a court appearance a less daunting experience. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I very much support these developments. But my impression is that, though there will always be exceptions, the juvenile courts do a difficult job skilfully and with sensitivity.

I think it is also true to say that since the introduction of the hearings system the practice of diverting offending children from all forms of process has grown very substantially. This has happened on both sides of the Border, and I am aware that the reporter in the Scottish system exercises a considerable discretion not to pursue cases any further. But the growth in the use of the police caution, with government encouragement, has been particularly marked in England and Wales. As I mentioned during our earlier debate on custodial sentencing, the number of 14 to 16 year-old boys cautioned as a proportion of all those cautioned or convicted for indictable offences rose from 35 per cent. in 1981 to 55 per cent. in 1986. For boys aged between 10 and 13 the increase was from 72 per cent. in 1981 to 85 per cent. in 1986. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood would agree that those are impressive figures.

I was saddened to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, indicate that little time has been spent on juveniles, on the effort that is being made to prevent them committing crimes and on how we deal with their criminal problems. From the figures I have given—indeed, I can add that custodial sentences for juveniles have fallen from 7,900 in 1981 to 4,500 in 1986, which is the lowest for 10 years—I am sure that the whole Committee realises what a considerable effort the Government have made in the past eight years in the juvenile section.

This trend has been strengthened by the guidance to which the Crown Prosecution Service is working in deciding whether to continue prosecutions against juveniles. The code for Crown Prosecutors says in paragraph 16: The objective should be to divert juveniles from court wherever possible. Prosecution should always be regarded as a severe step". It follows from this that a considerably narrower range of juvenile offenders is being and will in future be brought before the courts than was previously the case. That is in my view to be welcomed.

Moreover, in many areas there are excellent arrangements for liaison between the police, the social services, the probation service and the educational welfare service so that the police can have the advice and views of these agencies before taking a decision whether to institute proceedings, to caution or to take no further formal action when a juvenile has offended. This is encouraged in the Home Office circular on cautioning issued in 1985. I suggest to the Committee that these developments may have a bearing on the issues which my noble friend raised today.

The other relevant consideration which I should draw to the Committee's attention is this. As the Committee will know, much anxious thought is being given to the question of a family court, which was mentioned by my noble friend and indeed in some detail by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor hopes to be able to make his views known as soon as possible. One of the matters which would need to be decided in defining the jurisdiction of a unified family court is whether it should include the existing jurisdiction of the juvenile courts and, if so, to what extent. As my noble friend is aware, there are conflicting views about this among those who support the idea of family court. Some believe that child care proceedings would be a natural part of the business of a family court but not criminal proceedings involving juveniles. Others, impressed as my noble friend is by the Scottish experience, would be reluctant to separate care and criminal proceedings.

While the Government's consideration of the family court idea is still continuing, my noble friend will not expect me to give completely definitive answers to the questions she has raised today. The underlying issues are important and I have tried to lay before the Committee some of the considerations which the Government believe to be relevant. I am, however, very grateful to my noble friend for raising this matter and the Committee can rest assured that my noble and learned and my right honourable friends will read the debate with interest as it will add to their considerations of the idea of a family court.

Baroness Faithfull

I am most grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in this debate. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for raising the question of family courts because I believe that, whether or not we have juvenile justice within the family court orbit, the two must be considered together at some point.

Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Paget, that his attitude and his method of dealing with young people did not succeed. The recidivism rate was extremely high and, as the Minister said, it has dropped within the past few years. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. I believe that he is quite correct that a number of juveniles do not understand the present system of court procedure. It is nothing to do with the magistrates; it is the way that the court is conducted and has to be conducted. But that means that neither parents nor children understand what is going on, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the points that he made.

I say with some diffidence to my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham that having dealt with many children I know that children to not like the present system. They do not feel that justice is meted out to them under it. I agree with my noble and learned friend that children have a great sense of justice, but under the present system they do not experience it because they do not understand what is happening in the court.

I am most grateful to all who have taken part in this debate. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to this issue because the whole question is deeply felt in the country. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Beaverbrook

Perhaps this would be a convenient moment to make the Statement. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.