HC Deb 19 May 1981 vol 5 cc46-8W
Mr. Pollock

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he proposes to take after having considered the replies to the consultative document on the powers and procedures of children's hearings.

Mr. Younger

I should first like to express the Government's thanks to the very large number of persons and bodies—nearly 170 in all—who commented on the consultative memorandum.. The comments have been carefully considered, and it will be evident from what follows that the Government have paid heed to the views expressed.

The children's hearings system has now been working effectively for 10 years, and the consultations have confirmed my view that no fundamental changes should be made in the system. I have considered with particular care what was said in response to the consultative memorandum about two possible changes which would have had a significant effect on the system, namely, the proposal that parents might be required to find caution for the good behaviour of their children and the suggestion that children's hearings might have power to impose fines. The weight of opinion of those who replied was heavily against both of these changes, and I shall take no further action on either of them.

Many of the proposals in the consultative memorandum were, on the other hand, well supported. One of these concerned voluntary reparation, and we shall give greater encouragement to the use by children's hearings of voluntary reparation as a suitable method of treatment.

There was general support for the recommendation by the Dunpark committee that all offenders over 16 should be considered for prosecution in the courts. Pending legislation on the powers of children's hearings in this field the Lord Advocate is considering instructing procurators-fiscal to take steps to bring those young people over 16 who commit offences before the courts unless there are special circumstances indicating that they should be brought before hearings.

We have given further consideration to the proposal to transfer to the children's hearings my present responsibilities for children committed by the courts for residential training under section 413 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975. In the light of the views expressed I consider it right to examine further with those concerned the extent to which it may be necessary or desirable for the courts to continue to have a power to make a residential order of this kind, and to assess the practical effects of continuing or discontinuing it. I am therefore arranging for further consultations to be held before I reach a decision on this matter.

I propose that there should be further consultations with those concerned about the suggestion that a hearing should be able to defer its disposal of a case up to six months. We think that this proposal could be useful, but, while it was supported by the majority of those who replied, it is now evident that there are certain practical issues which will require further discussion.

The consultative memorandum invited views on amendments to the grounds on which a child may be referred to the reporter to the children's panel, in particular to cover cases of child abuse and of glue-sniffing and other self-destructive practices. In the case of child abuse, comments stressed the need for the grounds of referral to be as comprehensive as possible, and this is a matter to which we attach a great deal of importance, in order that the grounds should in practice be adequate to offer the degree of protection to which every child has a right. The central advisory service of the Social Work Services Group has recently issued a report which discusses a number of issues relating to the role of the reporter in dealing with child abuse cases; and this report, which is being discussed with those concerned, will provide useful material for our proposed further examination of the grounds for referral in such cases. I should emphasise that we are committed to ensuring that the grounds of referral for child abuse are as comprehensive as necessary, and it is for this reason that we intend to have further consultations with the aim of removing any areas of doubt.

I regard it as important that there should be an effective means of bringing children who engage in self-destructive practices such as glue-sniffing to the attention of reporters. In view of the very wide range of views which were expressed I think it necessary to consider further how extended grounds of referral to cover such behaviour could best be formulated. I am concerned about this practice and will continue to explore any possibilities which might offer an effective approach to this problem.

There was general support for the proposal that when an offence has involved weapons a hearing should be able to order their surrender. I remain in favour of this proposal, and I shall consult further about the arrangements that might be made to put it into effect.

When an opportunity arises for amending legislation, I propose to make provision for the division of regional panels into area panels where this is appropriate: chairmen and deputy chairmen of children's panels will continue to be appointed by me. Provision would also be made for extension from seven to 14 days of the period for which a child may be detained pending a sheriff's finding on the grounds for his referral to a hearing, and for his detention if necessary for three days thereafter for a hearing to be convened. I also propose to empower hearings to take note of further offences committed by children on supervision with a view to improving their behaviour; in framing any provisions on this subject I shall however take careful note of the implications for the discretion of reporters.

I propose to issue guidance in due course on those measures which can be taken by administrative action. I cannot yet say however when it will be possible to introduce legislation to give effect to the other changes.

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