§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
This is a somewhat technical matter, but I think that without going into great detail I can fairly briefly explain the purpose of this Clause, which is an enabling Clause.
As the Committee may know, the system of financing approved schools is different from the system of financing remand homes, although in each case there is a 50 per cent. Exchequer grant. The system of financing approved schools on the local authority side is such that each local authority will pay the same amount throughout the country in respect of each boy from its area who is in an approved school. Therefore, no special burden will fall on the local authority which is actually providing a particular approved school. Consequently, when it is a question of asking or negotiating with a local authority as to the setting up of a new approved school, the local authority has not to have at the back of its mind that the establishment of the school may cast a special financial burden on its own ratepayers.
That, however, does not work out in quite the same way with remand homes. The remand homes are financed by agreement, or series of agreements, between the local authority, which is actually providing the remand home, and the other local authorities from which children may go to it. Consequently, the authority which is considering establishing a remand home may very well have on its mind that in certain circumstances, if, 731 for example, there was a falling off in the number of boys or girls going into that remand home, a particular financial burden might fall upon it, and this is liable to be a deterrent to the setting up of new remand homes.
This question was raised by my predecessor with the local authority associations two or three years ago at a time when it was quite clear that an expansion of remand home accommodation was needed, and it is generally recognised throughout the local authority world that this method of financing remand homes may have some effect in frightening off a local authority which otherwise would be willing to provide one. The local authority associations, however, were good enough, after discussions, to bring to the notice of local authorities generally the great importance of expanding remand home provision, and I certainly am not aware of any recent case where the provision of a new remand home has been seriously held up through financial difficulties.
But I must look ahead to the future. At present there is a very rapid increase in approved school accommodation going on. We are providing new approved school places at the rate of about 500 a year. Approved school accommodation in total is much more important than remand home accommodation. If we can rapidly improve the capacity of approved schools that will"drain off" from the remand homes children who are waiting in remand homes for approved school places. Therefore, it is the expansion of the approved schools that we have to keep our eyes on particularly.
But none of us can tell what the rate or trend of juvenile delinquency in the future will be. In the early 'fifties we had a decline, and remand home and approved school places were empty. In the last five or six years we have had a rapid increase. No one can tell what the future will hold. Also, there will not be another Children and Young Persons Bill every year. Therefore, I am looking ahead over a period of time, because it may be that at some time in the next decade we shall need a substantial increase in the number of remand home places beyond the programme of expansion which is now in progress, and it might be that we should run up against 732 this financial difficulty, particularly if juvenile delinquency seemed to be at a peak and some local authorities thought it might fall off.
It seemed, therefore, to the Government that it was wise to take this enabling power. Under this Clause, if the Committee accepts it, it will be possible for the Secretary of State by Order, after, of course, full consultation with the local authority associations concerned, to establish what I might call the approved school method of financing, which, by common agreement, is absolutely fair as between one local authority and another, in place of the existing system upon which we depend for the financing of remand homes.
I can assure the Committee and the local authorities that I have no present intention of implementing the new Clause. I can assure them that there would be, as I have said, the fullest consultation before any proposal was brought forward under this enabling power. But I hope that the Committee will agree with me that we should look ahead and should take this power in case at some future date we were to run into a situation where local authorities in areas in which remand homes were needed felt that they would be overburdening their ratepayers if they were to agree to provide a new remand home. That is the sole purpose of the Clause, and I hope that it will commend itself to the Committee.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
On the face of it, this appears to be a much fairer way of assessing the cost of new remand homes, and no doubt it will be welcomed by local authorities. We note what the right hon. Gentleman said, that he will have consultations with the local authorities before he lays the Order, and we should, of course, then be able to debate the Order when it came before the House. Therefore, I advise my hon. Friends not to oppose the Clause.
§ 11.15 a.m.
I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that in the future there might be a difficulty with regard to remand homes. He did not say very much about the present position. He has said that there are many new places in approved schools being provided and that this should lead to a falling off in
the shortages in respect of remand homes. I should like to remind him that on 14th May, during the Committee stage of the Bill, he gave the members of the Standing Committee some homework to do. I was rather surprised that he felt it necessary to ask members of the Standing Committee to do this homework, because I should have thought that through all his children's officers and all the facilities which he has, he would have been able to find out for himself the present position in remand homes rather than asking the very busy members of the Standing Committee to do the work for him. He said in the Standing Committee on 14th May:
These stories which I hear from time to time of magistrates' clerks having to telephone all over the country to secure remand home places seem strange. I have little doubt that they were true a short time ago…but they are no longer being reported to us at the Home Office….Hon. Members would do me a service for which I should be grateful if they would check up locally to find out whether the situation is as acute as it was some months ago, or whether my impression is correct; that is, that the situation is not now so acute because of the increased number of approved school and remand home places. I attach a great deal of importance to this, and I give it a great deal of attention, and it is quite right for me to put on record that we in the Home Office are not getting complaints about this matter as we were, say, at this time last year. I want to know the facts."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 14th May, 1963; c. 503–4.]
§ If the right hon. Gentleman has not received the facts, perhaps we can give them to him now. I believe that he himself received some facts almost the same day. Indeed, I believe that one local authority immediately sent him a telegram to tell him that what he was saying was absolutely wrong in respect of its area in the North-East. I have not been doing very much homework on this. I just sat back, and the information rolled in to me. I have information here from all over the country, but I will not weary the Committee with it.
§ However, the fact is that there is a very serious shortage of remand home places. Just to let the hon. Gentleman see that I am not talking generally but that I have evidence of this, I will quote one or two instances. At Reading Borough Juvenile Court on Thursday, 20th January, a 13-year-old boy was remanded for full reports. The children's department made inquiries, and on 734 the day of the hearing announced to the court that there was no vacancy at any remand home in England or Wales; but later a vacancy was found in Devon. The expense that falls on local authorities is not only that of keeping children in remand homes but that of sending children and escorts to the other ends of the country and fetching them back again to the courts for the hearings.
§ I have evidence here from North and South Shields, where it was necessary to go a long distance to find a place. In Kent the general position has been a little better than in the past, but only five weeks ago a boy had to be remanded on bail for a few days until there was a nearer vacancy, as the only other vacancy in the country was at Swansea. In York the girls' remand homes problem is very acute. Although it is rare that girls are sent to remand homes, the police have had to do a great deal of telephoning to find a vacancy, and remand homes many miles from York have been used. Seaham Harbour has been used more than once. In Cumberland, in May, a boy had to be sent to Swansea for a remand home place.
§ As I say, we welcome the Clause, but I do not think that it will have a great deal of effect in the present situation. I hope, therefore, that when the right hon. Gentleman has this new Clause he will not think he has done all he possibly could do about remand homes and will appreciate that much more drastic action needs to be taken if we are to remedy the situation which I have outlined.
§ It seems very strange to me that the right hon. Gentleman should make that statement in May and should not know—he genuinely did not know—what the position was in the country, when every magistrate seems to know what the position was. As we have said many times, he seems particularly ill-informed about what is happening in approved schools and remand homes.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham East)
I am not out of harmony with the Home Secretary's new Clause and with the intention to modernise the machinery in respect of the expense of these remand homes. I am glad that he mentioned the point—although I think that he is 735 being too optimistic—that the straightening out of the financial basis would lead to the initiation of new remand homes. He is a super-optimist. There is no evidence that that will happen. There is an acute shortage of remand homes throughout the country, but it is probably most acute in the North-West and Lancashire area.
The comment of the Home Secretary in Committee, in asking hon. Members to try to ascertain what the position was, was the more remarkable in that two years ago, in response to a request from me, his Department made a survey of the North-West and was in a position to state in terms what the figures and shortages were. Surely that survey should be continuing now. It should not be left to hon. Members to discover the position through the protests coming from their constituencies.
Admissions to remand homes on a national basis increased from roughly 12,250 in 1957 to nearly 16,000 in 1961. That is a numerical increase, but there was also an increase in the number of days during which people were in remand homes, from an average of 22 days to 26 days. The situation has thus worsened in that respect. On a percentage basis the average use increased from 59 per cent. to 87 per cent. In the North-West the 1956 intake of new admissions was 1,300, and the Home Office told me that for 1960–61 it was over 2,000, which is an even greater increase than the average for the rest of the country. The average user is just as bad at present. In fact, on the boys' side there has been a 101 per cent. occupation. This fact has been known to the Home Office for many months.
I have not the slightest doubt that the Committee will accept the Clause, but in local authority administration the Clause will be a.matter for the care and attention of the accountant. Administratively, the Clause is concerned with finance, and the children's committees, as such, will not regard it as a piece of policy. The initiation of new remand homes is now left to county authorities and county boroughs. That is the main weakness of the situation.
There it is. The Home Secretary is trying in this indirect way to get round it. instead of facing the central issue 736 But if the issue is to be evaded in this way, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the matter in hand vigorously, in order to make sure that the authorities are provided—by way of consortia if necessary—with the new remand homes that are long overdue.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I am in complete agreement with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) have said about the principle of the new Clause. It is right that any local authority which is involved in sending children to remand homes, wherever they may be, should take its share of the burden. But I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in Committee, in respect of another subject, I moved an Amendment involving the same principle, namely, a sharing of financial responsibility—and the Home Secretary rejected it.
I am most concerned about the latter part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East concerning the need for more remand homes. It is ridiculous to suggest that what is now proposed can come into operation until strong action is taken to provide more homes. Everywhere I go—and I go to most parts of the country on magisterial work—the same complaint reaches me, from almost every county, that the lack of accommodation in remand homes is making the work of juvenile court magistrates almost impossible.
I have here a cutting from the Press of the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) reporting the remarks of a magistrate of a juvenile court in South Shields in connection with the problem facing the juvenile court there when there was no vacancy in a remand home anywhere in England, with the result that two boys had to be remanded in custody at the town's police headquarters. There was not one vacancy in the whole country.
I know that the Sunderland authorities have sent the right hon. Gentleman a telegram calling attention to the problem they have had to face every time they have had to find a remand home for a young boy or girl coming before their court. In answer to that telegram the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that 737 more provision was to be made in the North-East, and that there were plans to provide 27 additional places for boys, of which 15 should be available by the end of this year or early next year. He goes on to say that plans are being made—we never know what really happens about these plans—for a new remand home at Newcastle. This is totally inadequate for the needs of the country, and this is happening everywhere. The bench of magistrates on which I sit in the south of England is faced by the same problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East has instanced the situation in the North-West.
It is a long time since the 1948 Criminal Justice Act was passed. Since then the Government have utterly failed in their endeavour to provide this kind of accommodation. If the right hon. Gentleman is now introducing a Clause to share the financial burdens between the local authorities involved he should see to it that the provision of these establishments is in preparation.
We had a Criminal Justice Bill only last year, and during its proceedings we repeatedly pointed out to the then Home Secretary the difficulties which prevailed in every kind of institution dealing with young people. The Government have been very lax in this matter. In those circumstances I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give us some assurance that efforts will be increased to provide this kind of accommodation. If he cannot, what he is now suggesting is just a waste of time, like many Clauses of other Bills that we have had dealing with this subject.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
I want to make one brief comment about remand homes, in relation to a case which occurred in Bradford not long ago. A young girl of under 15 years of age was for one period in a remand home in Kent, then for another period in Derbyshire, and for some time I was trying to find out where she was. The comments made by my hon. Friends are absolutely true. These young boys and girls are lost almost without trace for months and months. It is disgraceful that the Home Office has not got down to the question of the proper provision of approved schools. If it had looked into the matter and resolved upon some sort 738 of a policy we would not be in our present position in dealing with young people waiting on remand.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ I should like to say, too, in view of the financial aspect that was touched upon by the Home Secretary in regard to approved schools, that in this case his Department, before he became Home Secretary and for less than a month, had on remand a young person, the father of whom, who was a member of the Forces, was charged £70. Another bill was forwarded for £10, making £80 in all. The Home Secretary assisted in the return of that money to the father and the difficulties of this family have now been resolved. But I think it very important that that case should go on record.
§ I want to deal for a moment with approved schools. I think that the Government are definitely responsible for the condition in which we find this almost complete lack of accommodation. The new Clause, of course, makes a slight improvement, although the Home Secretary himself, I believe, did not attach very much importance to it. I think that this, too, should be said for the record.
§ I do not believe that in the case of adult offenders who are put in prison there is any charge by the local authority, and yet the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the grant in aid was on a 50–50 basis and that therefore the local authorities are expected to make a financial contribution to approved schools. I think that this might be a consideration—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I think that he is getting too wide of the new Clause by talking about the financial contribution to approved schools. While I am on my feet, I would point out to the hon. Member that neither can he turn this into a general debate. I have allowed some discussion of approved schools in connection with the Clause, but it was not connected with the financial liability of local authorities.
§ Mr. Craddock
All I wanted to say, Sir Robert, was that in order to get the essential financial support we may in the 739 future have to consider the question of the Government providing the whole of the money.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I shall be very brief. Clause 1 of the Bill, of course, applies to the United Kingdom, and, therefore, that explains why a Scottish voice is being heard here on a Friday morning. I should like to ask the Home Secretary if he could, perhaps, have a word with his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and thus avoid having two Ministers replying.
I should like to know in this matter of the responsibility for remand homes whether a decision has now been made, in respect of the Report on Remand Homes in Scotland, as to which Department is to have the oversight of them. The Under-Secretary of State will be aware that the Committee proposed that the responsibility for remand homes should be transferred to the Secretary of State. Such a decision would have been deplorable and would be deplored by us. If, of course, it is to be the local authorities, then we can agree at once with the announcement of the Home Secretary that the financing should be, as it is at the moment in Scotland, the responsibility of the local authorities either by themselves alone or jointly.
The proposal of the Home Office is, of course, in keeping with what obtains in Scotland, but I should like the assurance that if such changes are proposed for the transfer of responsibility for these homes to the Secretary of State—and much of what has been said about the shortage of places applies also to Scotland—the Under-Secretary will have regard to the point made.
§ Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Your intervention, Sir Robert, has prevented me from deploying an argument which I had hoped to put forward, although I know that your Ruling is quite correct. I will try to keep within the bounds of order, even though I know that it is a wrong thing to warn the Chair that one is going to try to keep in order.
Subsection (1) of the new Clause reads:The Secretary of State may, after consulting such local authorities or associations of local authorities as he thinks fit, by statutory instrument make regulations providing 740 in such cases as may be prescribed by the regulations, fox the recovery, by a local authority providing a remand home from such other local authority as may be prescribed.I cannot imagine any local authority providing accommodation just for its own cases. It is just not possible for a local authority to do that, because it would immediately be plain to every local authority throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman said in Committee that he was now getting no complaints. I hope he will be able to tell us that some local authorities have decided to send him their complaints.
As soon as one local authority opened such a home every other local authority would want to use it. This is a cuckoo in the nest business. A remand home cannot be kept selective for the people in a given area. Once it was subject to Government grant it would become available to local authorities throughout the country. I have never sat in a Committee if I could not make a suggestion which was constructive. I should never wish to do that. I suggested in Committee how this matter could be overcome. I wonder if the Minister asked anyone to consider what I proposed.
When on holiday recently I saw a children's home which had been closed and which was up for sale to any speculative buyer. I should have thought that in that case the local authority would have sought permission to buy it and would have asked the right hon. Gentleman either to provide a loan or to meet the cost.
§ Mr. Howell
I am sorry, Sir Robert, but I thought that I was not. Perhaps I can put it this way.
If the new Clause is agreed to, would such a local authority be able to recover the money if it purchased a children's home which had been closed for lack of clients and which could be used as a remand home? Would it be entitled to approach the Minister on the subject, and, if it could, what under the Clause would he be prepared to give it?
§ Mr. Brooke
I will, first, if I may, reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan). He will be aware that a circular was sent out by 741 the Scottish Education Department at the end of last year in which it was said, on behalf of the Secretary of State, that he was not convinced that a satisfactory service of remand homes could not be provided under the present system of control by the local authorities. In fact, the difficulty which this new Clause is designed to overcome, if need be, is, I am informed, not one which has hitherto arisen in Scotland. Yet I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not oppose the powers existing in Scotland in case the situation were ever to arise.
In answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Charles A. Howell), this new Clause would allow the existing financial provisions to apply to any remand home whether it was a new building or a converted building. I would only utter this word of warning, that not every building which has been given up as a children's home because it was considered unacceptable for that purpose would be ideal for conversion into a remand home. I think that it is necessary, in every case where a new remand home is needed to examine whether that can best be provided by a purpose-built building or by the conversion of an existing convertible building.
With regard to the general position, I would put the situation thus. Last summer, there were a great many complaints, and justifiable complaints, about the shortage of places in remand homes. Last winter, those complaints died away and the position seemed to have materially improved, and I was hoping that it would continue to improve. But there is no doubt that it has been worsening again in these last few weeks. When I spoke in May I was being optimistic, based on the experience which we had had during the winter. It is clear that that was a temporary, not a permanent, relief, and that the pressure is now building up again.
My aim is to have no more than a 70 per cent, occupancy of remand home places throughout the year, on the average. My judgment is that if we have an average occupancy of 70 per cent. of all the remand home places throughout the year, we have the necessary margin to deal with every emergency. Last year, the situation built up to over 80 per cent. and it is probably in the neighbourhood of 80 per cent. now. My con- 742 cern and purpose is to reduce that to the neighbourhood of 70 per cent.
I do not want to go into the approved school position at length, but the Committee realises that a great deal of the pressure on remand home accommodation is due to boys having to stay in remand homes because there is not sufficient room in approved schools. We are now getting the fruits of the work which has been done in recent years to increase approved school accommodation. During the last 2½ years up to this date, 570 additional approved school places have been provided. We are expecting another 280 in the next six months, about 500 next year and 500 in the following year. In other words, the total capacity of approved schools will rise in the next months and years at an unprecedented rate. This is bound to relieve remand home accommodation.
But I am not satisfied with that. Quite clearly, we have to continue with the expansion of the remand homes. The total number of remand home places is little more than one-tenth of the total number of approved school places. Not very long ago the total number of remand home places was 1,200. Thanks to the expansion which is going on, that figure is now 1,475, and within the next year or less we shall be getting another 108 places, bringing the total to nearly 1,600.
This is not a matter which the Home Office leaves to local authorities to get on with, showing itself disinterested. On the contrary, both the local authority associations and individual local authorities would confirm that there have been frequent discussions about the expansion of the remand home programme. Indeed, the figures which I have just given to the House reveal the results of that.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) must not say that the Home Office has no policy. It has a policy, and that policy needs to be carried out in collaboration with the local authorities. It is to ease that collaboration that this new Clause is being introduced. I am grateful to the Committee for the general welcome which it has given to the new Clause, and I pledge myself that I intend to do everything that I can to ensure that this shortage of remand home places is permanently relieved.
§ 11.45 a.m.
Mr. James McColl (Widnes)
I congratulate the Home Secretary on succeeding in making a speech on approved schools on a new Clause which deals with remand homes. That is a lesson which all of us can learn for the rest of the debate this morning.
I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman for it, because I agree that the whole problem is very closely integrated and that one cannot solve the problem of remand homes unless one looks at all the alternative methods of dealing with children—and that includes not only approved schools at the other end. It includes reception homes, places of safety and all the variety of alternative places which can be made available to the courts for dealing with children.
Very often the waiting list in remand homes arises from the fact that the courts are not given adequate information about the alternatives which could be used for some of the children. Often, I am sure, a child has to be sent to what may seem to him to be the end of the earth—from the North-East to the South—to find a place in a remand home when all that is required is a roof over his head for a week or two. He does not require very specialised treatment or very complicated reports.
The right hon. Gentleman was very straight with us and said that he had been very over-optimistic when he spoke in Standing Committee. I do not hold him responsible for the difficulties of this problem, but I hold him responsible, as we held the then Minister of State responsible on the Criminal Justice Bill, for making rather complacent speeches in Committee which the facts did not bear out. That is very much the situation which has been revealed here.
The value of this discussion is, first, that we can give the right hon. Gentleman assistance in getting the Clause through—and he ought to get it through. Secondly, it is good for the morale of magistrates, clerks of court, police and children's officers to understand that the House realises the difficulties of the problem. What sends magistrates and clerks of court"round the bend" is when, having spent pounds in trunk calls round the countryside trying to find a vacancy in a remand 744 home, and having had to hold a special court in order to commit the child when a vacancy is found, they read a statement by the right hon. Gentleman in the newspapers that there is no problem. This is what nettles people. As long as they feel that the right hon. Gentleman is making a drive to get more remand home places, everybody will give him all the support they can. I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will accept the new Clause.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in the fluctuations which occur in the statistics about the need for this sort of accommodation. In the late 1940s there was a similar drop in the demand, and we were even able to close some institutions. Then, with no apparent reason being available to convince one that the tide had turned, there was a sudden increase in the demand. Apparently the same thing has been happening in the last two or three years in the right hon. Gentleman's administration.
In those circumstances, it is very difficult for a Secretary of State to deal with the problem of accommodation as I am sure everyone wishes him to be able to deal with it. From my own experience as a magistrate I know the difficulties which arise from time to time when one has to telephone all round the country to find a single place to which a child can be sent.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) mentioned the situation which has arisen in my constituency, and I am glad to be able to urge the right hon. Gentleman to take particular steps to deal with the complaints which will come to him from the court there. The magistrate mainly in charge of it is a gentleman who has been the Conservative candidate there unsuccessfully on several occasions, and I understand that he intends to pursue that somewhat unprofitable form of existence in a constituency which has never returned a Conservative to the House since 1832.
§ Mr. Ede
He is a man who takes a great interest in the juvenile life of the borough. He is prominently connected with the Boys Brigade movement. Apart 745 from politics, he is eminently to be commended for his interest in the juvenile life of the place. When he speaks as quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, it reveals a state of affairs on which I hope the Home Secretary will be able to give some assurance when representations are made to him.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
§ Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.