Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House takes note of and welcomes the Eleventh Report from the Expenditure Committee in the last session of Parliament (House of Commons Paper No. 534).—[Mr. Snape.]
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)
This debate is on the Eleventh Report from the Expenditure Committee for the Session 1974–75 on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.
There are two unusual features about this debate. The first is that, perhaps for the first time, the Government have noted and welcomed the Report. We who are members of the Expenditure Committee welcome the welcome. Perhaps this is a substitute for not answering the Committee's Report earlier.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) raised this very matter of the delay in departmental observations on this Report at Prime Minister's Question Time today, and the Prime Minister replied—partly, I suppose, because he was interested in this particular Report, as he took the Bill through originally—that he would look at it and investigate it. However, it should not be necessary to bother the Prime Minister or for the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border to have to raise the matter in the House, when it should be standard drill for the Departments to react reasonably quickly and with reasonable competence on the recommendations that are made.
Two Departments which are not generally considered absolutely outrageously speedy, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, find these days that they are well able to deal with Reports of the Expenditure Committee most expeditiously. To the last Report from the Committee the Treasury gave an answer almost before the ink was dry, and I was moved to write to the Chan- 1230 cellor of the Exchequer to congratulate him on the excellence of the Department in so replying. For some considerable time now, the Ministry of Defence has been replying not quite on a day-to-day basis but certainly on a month-to-month working basis to the investigations and recommendations of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee.
It is rather unusual to mention civil servants by name in the House, but I should like to refer to the contribution made by the late Sir Michael Cary, whose death was a great blow to the country and to the Ministry of Defence, and not least to the Expenditure Committee. He established the most excellent personal relations with the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. He convened conferences between the Committee and his leading officials to iron out difficulties. Therefore, in two of the major Departments of State there are good relations, especially in relation to the speed of answering the Committee's Reports, and excellent relations have been established.
On the other hand, there are Departments that are very unsatisfactory in this respect. The Department of Education and Science has two Reports that are two years outstanding for departmental observations. The Expenditure Committee decided to have a debate on both these matters some time ago in order to try to persuade the Department of Education and Science to come forward with answers to the Committee's recommendations, but in the debate the Under-Secretary bumbled on and nothing further has happened. Still the Expenditure Committee does not have the Department's observations on these two Reports.
I hope that tonight the representative Minister of State from the Home Office will be a bit more forthcoming than was the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science on the other occasion, because this is the other unusual feature of the debate. For the second time within my experience—only for the second time—the House is debating an Expenditure Committee Report which has not been the subject of departmental observations. As a general procedure this is not satisfactory. I am hoping that tonight the disaster of the education debate will not be repeated and that we 1231 shall have some firm indications of response to the excellent recommendations of the Social Services Sub-Committee.
The work of this Report has been done by the Social Services and Employment Sub-Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) has been the mainspring. I think that she is the sole survivor of the Committee that started in December 1973, that has survived two General Elections and has been going strong to produce its Report—and an excellent Report it has produced, as I think the Minister of State will say. He will have some difficulty in not saying that, because the Government are welcoming the Report. I cannot think that dissent on the Front Bench could possibly arise—as when a Treasury Minister spoke a little while ago as a Back-Bench Member. This was a somewhat unusual experience. But noting and welcoming a Report is an unusual experience.
This Committee's work is absolutely characteristic of the good work that goes on in the Sub-Committees of the Expenditure Committee. The Committee has enough difficulties with which to contend without the additional difficulties of departmental delays in replying. There need not be delays at all, because Departments appoint liaison officers to these Committees.
In this case there was an officer from the Home Office and one from the Department of Health and Social Security, so very few of the recommendations catch the Departments by surprise. I admit that in this case there are three or four Departments to consult each other. That may be a reasonable cause for some delay, but not the delay that can be seen by looking at the date of the Report—30th July 1975.
The subject matter of the Committee's investigations was the working of the Children and Young Persons Act. For reasons quite unconnected with the Ministers of the Government of the day getting the Act through Parliament, the Act has run into considerable difficulties. There have been two major upheavals affecting the working of the Act, certainly one of which could not be foreseen. The first was the amalgamation of the children's departments with the social services de- 1232 partment of local authorities. That threw the administration into considerable difficulty. Then came the Local Government Act 1972, which added still further to the organisational difficulties of the people working the Act.
The Committee comments that Hertfordshire, which was least affected by local government reorganisation, was on the whole rather better in carrying out the Act because of that fact. Perhaps the blame is better placed on political events than on the people who have been required to operate the Act.
Recommendation 31 is interesting and concerns monitoring the progress of the Children and Young Persons Act. The recommendation is that a monitoring unit should further examine how the Act is working. My hon. Friend's Committee has been doing just that, but I should like to extend the monitoring process further and suggest that perhaps the basic duty of the Government should be to have some kind of monitoring system as a regular drill for all major Acts.
I offer the Expenditure Committee as a means of doing that. Perhaps after three or four years, or sooner, an Act should be committed to the Expenditure Committee or a team of senior civil servants with outside advice to examine how it is working. I have learned from my experience in the House that things never turn out as one expects. That is especially true of those on this side of the House who want to introduce more legislation—there is a comment on that from the Committee—and make changes and reforms. Unless one examines how a measure is working, it seldom will work out as one would hope.
Over the last few years, and certainly since I have been Chairman, all the Sub-Committees of the Expenditure Committee have been working with considerable skill and energy. That applies not least to my hon. Friend's Committee. She chaired it with patience, persistence and a constructive philosophy which has become 40 practical recommendations, all of which are worth adopting. They are cost effective and involve more flexible and efficient administration. My hon. Friend and the members of her Committee should be congratulated on the way in which they tackled the subject. Discussion on it has lasted a long time.
1233 They also deserve praise because their work was done within the Expenditure Committee's resources. There were no expert advisers and not much foreign travel, which is expensive these days. But the Committee was in close touch with the grass roots and with experts and it made a splendid Report.
I shall comment on one or two things in the Report, although I do not want to crab my hon. Friend's speech. I want to draw attention to some of the striking things which the Committee suggests should be put right straight away. The first recommendation is a clarion call which I believe the whole of the British public will support. The recommendation reads:the practice of remanding young persons to adult prisons should cease forthwith.The Report says that 40 per cent, of young persons who are committed to prison do not subsequently receive custodial sentences. I do not put any particular blame on any one section of the process which leads to that situation, but it is producing an injustice which the public would not tolerate if they knew about it.
Recommendation 2 reveals a further injustice—the denial of education facilities for some of those young people who fall foul of the law. The Report says that children of compulsory education age who are on remand often receive only two hours' education a day and the Report makes recommendations about that. That is a striking and strong start to the list of recommendations.
There are many other with which I know my hon. Friend will deal. I shall classify them into groups and indicate the way in which the Departments concerned, particularly the Home Office, can obtain cheaper and better administration and a better use of public funds by paying attention to them. That is the main work of the Expenditure Committee. Its work is not necessarily to cut expenditure, but to make existing practices more efficient, cost effective and to get the best value for money.
For example, some of the groups of suggestions involve making the best use of existing staff. Recommendations 5 and 33 are concerned with that. There are suggestions for better consultation between the police and the social services 1234 departments and for reducing the paperwork of those departments. Other recommendations suggest increasing and improving staff, which does not necessarily involve a rise in expenditure. For example, Recommendation 14 suggests that part-timers—qualified and experienced people, often married women—should be brought back into the service. That is reminiscent of the campaign for the married woman returners in education.
Recommendation 16 bears the mark of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. It suggests that residential staff need not necessarily reside in the buildings for which they are responsible. There are a series of recommendations about making the maximum use of the various existing facilities. For example, Recommendation 24 suggests that community homes should be used for day as well as for residential care, and Recommendation 25 suggests that local authorities should provide more day care.
Recommendation 26—which I think my hon. Friend regards as a key issue—is that urgent consideration should be given to non-residential forms of care such as intermediate treatment, day care, supervision and fostering. I am particularly interested in the recommendation that education welfare officers should be trained and used for supervising school absentees. I regard as useful the recommendations about secure accommodation.
I end with the Committee's conclusion, which is a sad comment on those of us who want legislation to improve society. Paragraph 167 of the Report reads:Our enquiry leads us to think that the Act itself or indeed any legislation that might conceivably be passed by Parliament has had and can have no significant effect on the general level of delinquency and general juvenile misbehaviour.That really puts us in our place. I am fond of a quotation by Pope:For forms of government let fools contest; Whate'er is best administer'd is best.I do not believe that in the political context, but perhaps in the modern world we do not pay sufficient attention to the best administration. For one thing, good administration is not newsworthy. It is not a matter of great declamation or excitement.
1235 I pay tribute to the Report because it gets down to the bits and pieces of good administration and makes 40 practical recommendations which are relatively easy to carry out. I hope that the Minister of State—although he cannot say "aye" to all the 40 recommendations at once—will indicate that he welcomes them and that most of them will be carried out, if not immediately, when we return from the recess.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
We on this side of the House agree with what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) has just said about the value of the Report. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) is someone with whose views we do not always agree, but it is agreeable to be able to congratulate her on this occasion as the Chairman of the Sub-Committee and to welcome its Report and this opportunity to debate it.
The conclusions and recommendations of the Committee are very much in line with those of the report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers published two years ago. The problem we all face is the alarming rise in the amount of crime which is being committed by children and young persons—that is, boys and girls under the age of 17. The courts, the police and the local authorities have been unable to deal effectively with the problem or to abate its growth.
The horrifying fact is that as juvenile crime increases, so the age of the offender decreases. In one year in the metropolis of London 1,000 children under the age of 10 had to be dealt with by the police for criminal offences. In 1974, 32,000 children between the ages of 10 and 16 were taken into custody for indictable offences, and 4,500 of them were considered to be hardened criminals. In 1975, almost half of those arrested for burglary in the metropolitan area were juveniles, and so were 35 per cent, of those arrested for robbery and other violent crimes. That experience is being repeated throughout the country.
It is no wonder that magistrates and police have been imbued with a sense of despair when they realise that some of our most persistent and violent 1236 criminals are now under the age of 17. Because of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, the powers of the juvenile courts have been severely restricted. Magistrates can no longer impose any effective control on delinquents. Instead, they hand over the delinquents to the care of social workers, who, however well intentioned, lack the experience, time, training and facilities to handle the present crisis.
Because of the shortage of facilities, such as community homes, and especially of secure places at those establishments, social workers are all too often compelled to send offenders back to their own homes, which are then used as bases from which to commit further offences. In that way a boy of 14 was reported to have committed 52 offences during a weekend after a first appearance at court The growing hard core of persistent offenders has been able to act on the alarming but correct assumption that children can, if they wish, put their fingers to their nose and commit crimes with virtual impunity.
The only protection against that kind of hardened juvenile offender is the Act. As the Report makes clear, it is a pretty frail and in most cases useless defence against the present threat of juvenile anarchy.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman right? The courts have power, for example, to recommend 15-year-olds to the Crown court for borstal training. If there is no penalty, why do the hon. and learned Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends join me in condemning, as does the Report, the fact that so many juveniles end up not only in penal establishments but in local prisons?
§ Mr. Gardner
I shall deal with that, if the hon. Gentleman will possess himself in patience. I want to come to it under a separate heading.
My point is valid. In most cases the order made by a juvenile court is a care order, although other penalties are available. As the hon. Gentleman is all too well aware, a care order has the effect of handing over the responsibility for dealing with the child. Thereafter the social worker, whose responsibility no one envies and whose difficulties we do not underestimate, must make up his mind 1237 whether the child goes to a community home, is boarded out, is fostered or is the subject of whatever other course may be proper and possible.
It is essential to recognise, as the Report does, that the Act is by no means to be written off as a total failure. For many children its provisions are helpful. As the British Association of Social Workers says in its memorandum published in the evidence on which the Committee founded its Report, the Act provides an:opportunity for helping and rehabilitating children whose problems are primarily of an emotional nature.The Act in effect concentrates on the "treatment" of offenders on the assumption that they are "mentally or emotionally disturbed". But not all children are mentally or emotionally disturbed when they commit offences.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists told the Sub-Committee thatthe vast majority of delinquents show no evidence of psychiatric disorders at all.Magistrates and their clerks told the Committee—and any parent or anyone who has had any experience of dealing with children will no doubt be easily persuaded to agree—thatsome children commit wrong acts in full knowledge of their nature and need to have the consequences sharply brought home to them.The Report recognises thatThere is a limit to the amount of delinquent behaviour which society is prepared to tolerate.One might add that many people believe that the limit has already been reached, if not passed.
The heart of the problem is the failure of the 1969 Act to distinguish between the disturbed child, who may or may not at the same time be delinquent, and the young, hardened criminal, together with the transfer of responsibility from the juvenile courts to social workers, overburdened as they are after Seebohm with other duties. The social workers have not been able to cope and cannot cope with that hard core of persistent young offenders.
Instead of a care order passing the child over to the social worker, the court should have power to make a residential care order for a maximum of two years. 1238 specifying the name of the community home to which the child should be sent. The child should be kept there and there should be a right of appeal to the Crown court against such an order. The Sub-Committee suggests that there should by a secure care order similar to the one I have just suggested but that it should be made only after a second appearance We think that in certain cases it should be possible to make such an order after a first appearance.
We support the recommendation that, where a court makes a supervision order, in proper cases conditions should be attached, to which the juvenile offender would have to submit and for breach of which he could be brought back to the court for an alternative sentence—for example, a fine or an attendance centre order.
We are attracted by the Sub-Committee's view that the present powers of a court to defer sentence in the case of adult offenders could be used in the case of juvenile offenders. We also support the recommendation that detention centre orders should be made for a period of not more than two days if necessary so as to provide shock treatment for juvenile offenders. We are impressed by the success in this country and abroad of the fostering of disturbed and delinquent children. We are anxious to see sanctions for the non-payment of fines and we should like fines to be imposed on parents who are shown to have been in part responsible for the offences which their children have committed.
One of the most serious weaknesses of the Children and Young Persons Act is in its truancy provisions. We take the view, as do the members of the Sub-Committee, that the provisions of the Act are not sufficient and cannot in present circumstances be looked upon with any confidence as a means of dealing with truancy. Between 70 per cent, and 80 per cent, of all children who come into conflict with the law begin by absenting themselves from school. We consider that the present provision which makes it necessary for the authorities to establish not only truancy but that the child in question is in need of care should be amended, so that more orders can be made and more cases of truancy satisfactorily established before the courts.
1239 We agree with the Sub-Committee that better use should be made of existing facilities. This is an inappropriate time to suggest the vast expenditure which would have to be undertaken for the building of more community homes or the endless provision of secure places, but there are at present resources which are not being used as well as they might be. We should, therefore, look hard at the way in which some local authorities are neglecting opportunities to co-operate with neighbouring local authorities. It is essential that the planning done by the regional planning committees should be implemented by the local authorities concerned.
One pressing feature which disturbed the Sub-Committee and which also disturbs the House is the division of responsibility between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security. The Sub-Committee takes the view, which we share, that one way of making as certain as we can that resources are properly used and that the administration is as efficient as possible is to place the burden of this problem on one Government Department. The Sub-Committee has selected for that purpose the Department of Health and Social Security, and we should consider that suggestion carefully.
The absence of a White Paper nine months after the Report was published demonstrates the way in which confusion arises and delay is engendered when two Departments have divided responsibility for the production of a document. It is a question of two Departments having more than a single thought. The inhibition we suffer from the absence of that White Paper is a strong reason for giving responsibility to one Department.
The first of the 40 recommendations of the Sub-Committee is perhaps the most important. The Sub-Committee recommendsThat the practice of remanding young persons to adult prisons should cease forthwith.Alternative arrangements must be made. We thoroughly agree with and support that recommendation.
This Report was printed on 30th July last year. So far as one can discover, the Government have neither said nor done anything about it. Some nine 1240 months after the publication of a Report containing strong, sensible and clear recommendations, our adult prisons still contain young offenders. On 29th February this year the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in reply to a Question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), said that there were 24 persons under the age of 17 in local prisons. This, in our view, is scandalous. It is the Government's unavoidable and immediate duty to bring an end to this state of affairs.
Boys on remand pending sentence by the Crown courts, or those who have been certified as unruly, find themselves in adult prisons when there are no remand or young-prisoner centres. But it must be noted with extreme caution that there are no young-offender establishments for girls on remand. The result, as the Report makes clear, is that girls under the age of 17 are being sent to adult prisons. The damage that can be done by a practice of that kind can last for a lifetime and can injure not only the girls but society itself.
The Prime Minister at Question Time this afternoon promised my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) that he intends to examine the working of the Children and Young Persons Act. The Government say that they note and welcome the Report, but we want them to do more than that. We want them to take action, and to do so as a matter of urgency.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) and to the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) for their remarks about our Report and for the support they have given to us in our attempts to persuade the Government to produce a White Paper in reply to our Committee's 40 recommendations.
I regard as a matter of the greatest possible concern the fact that a debate on a Report of this kind, on a subject of such great importance which has atrracted so much publicity outside as well as inside the House, should take place when we do not know what the Government spokesman in the House will say. We all share that concern. 1241 The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in an earlier debate today referred to the problem of improving and enhancing the status of Parliament. The attitude adopted by the Government rather than enhancing our status will have the opposite effect. It provides no encouragement to Select Committees, which do extremely hard work, meeting regularly week after week in an effort to arrive at sound conclusions. I hope that the Government will take on board the remarks made on this matter from both sides of the House.
I was slightly mollified by the fact that the motiontakes note of and welcomes the Eleventh Report from the Expenditure Committee.The original proposal was simply a "take note" motion. We had other proposals ready to hand, but it was not necessary to take any further action. Since the Government have welcomed our Report, we hope that all our recommendations will be accepted.
Both Departments concerned have considerable responsibilities, and it is true that in this and in other areas of activity where more than one Department is involved that very fact can be used as an excuse for delay, lack of improvement in conditions, failure to provide more resources or to take action when recommendations are made. This is a matter which must be examined by the Prime Minister, because it is his responsibility to re-allocate duties in Departments.
The inquiry conducted by the Committee was absorbing and interesting. My concern in this whole area of activity arises from the fact that a number of young people of school age have been sent to adult prisons on remand, with certificates of unruliness attached to their cases. I visited girls of 14 or 15 who had been sent to Holloway Prison, and I later followed them to the community homes to which they had been sent. I engaged in considerable correspondence with some of them and I became convinced that the Expenditure Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, should investigate as thoroughly as possible the work of the Children and Young Persons Act as it relates to young offenders. We were circumscribed by that legislation and that proved to be an enormous area of investigation.
1242 We began our work in December 1973. That work was interrupted by two General Elections, in February and October 1974. We finally completed our work in July 1975. We held a Press conference in September 1975 hoping that by then the Government had carried out a great deal of preparatory work on the recommendations and that we should have a reply by Christmas. In view of the importance of the subject, that is the time scale I had in mind.
The list of witnesses who gave oral evidence and the much longer list of those who submitted long memoranda but who were not called before us illustrate the difficulties we faced. There was much conflicting evidence given by organisations and individuals speaking from a wealth of experience. Much public concern has been expressed about the way in which the Act was working and we were left in no doubt at all that strong views were held.
Judging from meetings I have addressed since our Report was published, there is no doubt about the strong feelings held by those who welcomed the 1969 Act. They felt that it was the beginning of a new era in an area of activity that was already difficult and complicated. It is an area in which there have been long periods of difficulty and lack of success. People felt particularly disappointed about the effects of the legislation.
As a Committee we had to weigh carefully the evidence received and no doubt our Report has not satisfied everybody. But we are most grateful to all the witnesses who helped us in our inquiries. I hope that they have read our Report with interest.
During our inquiry we visited a number of community homes and intermediate treatment centres. That gave us a unique opportunity to meet staff who were trying to cope with a growing problem. I should like to place on record our gratitude for their help and admiration of their dedicated understanding of young people in trouble.
We were anxious to learn as much as we could from other countries with similar problems, but perhaps with different attitudes in coping with those problems. Therefore, we visited Sweden, Holland, West Germany and Denmark. We met Ministers, civil servants, doctors, and 1243 social workers, and we visited a number of establishments of different kinds. It was a rewarding experience and we are grateful to all those who talked to us so freely and gave us such a valuable insight into their methods and ideas.
Finally, I wish to thank the members of my Committee, and particularly our hard-working Clerk, who survived it all with good humour. Despite wildly different attitudes at the outset of our inquiry, I think it can be said that our Report reached clear and united conclusions. I am grateful for the support of my colleagues on the Committee.
It was clear from the outset of our inquiry that the work of the Act had been adversely affected by several factors—the change of Government in 1970, which came very soon after the Act was introduced, the reorganisation of local government in 1972, the upheavals following the Seebohm Report, and the lack of adequate resources to cope with the general increase in deliquency in all age groups, including, unfortunately, young people in the 10 to 17 age group.
I have mentioned the division of responsibility among different Departments. I say at once that I understand very well the difficulties of magistrates who feel that, because of the lack of resources to supplement the Act, young people needing care in a community home are all too often sent back home, often to a delinquent, uncaring background. Here is the key to much of the difficulty we face today in this whole area.
I understand, too, the view of social workers, who point to bad social conditions and uncaring parents as being contributory factors to juvenile delinquency. I agree with all the witnesses who pointed out that society would not tolerate an ever-escalating level of delinquent behaviour, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has quite rightly drawn attention. The major problem is to determine the best and most fruitful method of dealing with these young people, and that is not easy.
The Committee was very deeply concerned about the number of boys and girls remanded to adult prisons. The Act was intended to remove children from the formal atmosphere of the courts and 1244 places of detention, but because there is a shortage of accommodation for girls, especially 14-year-old girls with a care order, the local authorities ask the magistrates' courts for an unruliness certificate—often with a rather wide interpretation of the word "unruly"—and unruly youngsters find themselves in prison.
Over 3,000 of these certificates are issued annually, and it is worth noting that over 40 per cent, of those remanded in prison subsequently receive non-custodial sentences, but the damage has been done when young people, whether girls or boys, are put in adult prisons. It is no use the Minister from the Home Office telling us that they are kept separate. I have seen how girls in Holloway are kept separate from the adult women—prostitutes, alcoholics, infanticides and the rest. They are placed in the hospital wing of the prison, but doors are open and young people can hear a great deal that they ought not to hear at that very tender age. They can also see things happening. This leaves a permanent blot on young persons who are so treated.
In 1974—my figures are rather later than those quoted in the Report—4,509 boys and 140 girls all under 17 and 16,206 boys and 627 girls aged 17 to 20 were sent to remand centres on remand. That is a large number. In addition, 255 boys and 131 girls under 17 were sent to local prisons on remand, and 3,259 boys and 856 girls aged 17 to 20 were also sent to prison on remand.
This is a very worrying position, indeed. The Committee condemned the practice and its first recommendation to the Government was that the practice of sending young persons to adult prisons should cease at once, and that alternative arrangements should be made, but it is very clear that nothing has been done in this regard.
When a juvenile case is adjourned, the juvenile is usually sent home. If the court thinks that that is unsuitable, he may be remanded to the care of the local authority. He may still be sent home—if there is no accommodation for him at the local police cell or prison—on an unruliness certificate.
We were concerned to find that some areas have no secure accommodation at all, even though the regional planning 1245 committees have made their recommendations. On 11th March, the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security said that in March 1975 there were 59 secure places in observation and assessment centres in England and Wales and, according to the regional plans, some 200 more are to be provided. Only 18 of these places are currently under construction. This does not indicate exactly a head of steam behind the provision. Therefore, the evidence that was placed before us again indicated a certain amount of contradiction. We had estimates of the need for secure places varying from the 600 suggested by the regional planning committees to 2,500 recommended by the Residential Care Association.
We think as a Committee that it would be a mistake to invest large resources in providing secure places on this scale, but we think that there should be some secure accommodation in each area, preferably not provided in isolated units or large units but attached to community homes. These are especially needed for the growing number of girls who are committing offences.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
It would be helpful to the House, certainly to me, if the hon. Lady could define her terms a little more closely. I share her concern about young children being put into prison, but I am not quite with her if she talks of the age group from 17 to 20, bearing in mind that many young men under the age of 20 serve in the Armed Forces. Will she say whether what she is proposing is better accommodation for the group up to the age of, say, 16 or 17, or whether she is going all the way up to the age of 20?
§ Mrs. Short
I was referring to young persons sent to prison on remand, on unruliness certificates—not sentenced but sent to prison because no secure accommodation is available. I pointed out that in many areas of the country there is no secure accommodation at all. We seek to remedy that, so that the cases needing secure accommodation for varying periods can be provided for in that way.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House the alternatives to residential care, because I think that these are probably the most important of our recommendations. Quite clearly, I cannot deal with 1246 all the recommendations that the Committee made, nor would the House wish to be bored by my embarking on that course. I hope that other members of the Committee will pick up other recommendations about which they feel strongly.
The alternatives to residential care provide considerable scope for success without the enormous outlay of capital involved in building large secure homes and the cost of staffing them once they have been built. There are difficulties in staffing them and this is an acute problem. We believe very strongly, however, that alternatives must be sought.
One alternative is provided under the Act in intermediate treatment. This is a means of providing care and guidance for a delinquent child within the community by methods which are well founded psychologically, namely, by offering him new interests, by stimulating new ideas, and by offering new relationships with caring adults. In many ways, this is a very flexible way of dealing with problem children, because each child can have a scheme almost tailor-made to his own needs, based on his own interests and on whatever skill and talents he possesses.
I feel very hopeful about this. We visited Hertfordshire and saw what promised to be a very successful intermediate treatment scheme. But, again, the Committee regrets that the Department of Health and Social Security was very slow in giving guidance to the regions and in getting more schemes off the ground. This scheme was in the Act, and it is a provision which can be made without very much outlay of money, yet the Department really left the local authorities to flounder around and work out their own schemes without giving them the guidance they needed.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the view of the British Association of Social Workers—that regional intermediate treatment schemes should have been organised before regional plans for more traditional accommodation in homes were made. If this had been done, perhaps there would not have been the same anxiety about the shortage of secure accommodation. When we talk about the development of community homes with the secure accommodation that we are proposing, we are discussing a capital 1247 investment of millions of pounds compared with the much more modest expenditure of a few thousand pounds by a local authority to set up intermediate treatment schemes.
There is one word of advice which comes through clearly in this part of our Report and the recommendations that we made which I hope that the Department will take to heart. It is that it is no use thinking that the traditional youth organisations like the Scouts, Guides and youth clubs will work for these youngsters, who generally are unclub-bable. They need something very different. They need a great deal of imagination and skill in finding out what their interests are and then putting those attributes into some kind of scheme which will cater for them.
Directors of social services need a freer hand to develop these schemes and somehow the resources from the Government have to be provided for the local authorities so that they do not rely on the rather restricted amounts through the rate support grants or whatever may be available for local authority social services as a whole. Let us face it: the expenditure of money on schemes of this sort is not popular either among councillors or among the general public. They would prefer to see the money spent in other ways.
The Government have the job of seeing that the lead is given to providing the resources that everyone working in this field—professional organisations and voluntary organisations—is clearly saying are needed urgently. I hope very much that the Government will make these resources available and that local authority finance committees will not be tight-fisted when new ideas are put before them, bearing in mind that it costs anything from £3,000 to £7,000 a year to keep a young person in a community home or a secure assessment centre. Indeed, I heard the chairman of a social services committee say tonight that it now costs £8,500 a year. It is a fantastic amount.
We recommend that there should be a conscious and clear shift from expenditure in capital money of this hind in providing secure accommodation on the scale which has been suggested by some wit- 1248 nesses to care within the community, because this is much less expensive and very much more meaningful. Purposeful community care can be provided with this shift of resources.
Of course skilled staff are needed in community homes, and this has been part of the difficulty that we have come across. Skilled staff are also needed to run intermediate treatment schemes successfully. It cannot be said that there would be any saving of money on skilled professional staff. But certainly on new buildings, domestic and ancillary staff and all the equipment needed in a residential care situation there are considerable savings to be made.
We recommend that the Department should encourage local authorities to go ahead establishing new schemes for children in care or at risk, with or without a court order. Youngsters of this kind could attend the intermediate treatment scheme and receive benefit and obviously could be prevented from continuing on the path of delinquency.
The final major recommendation that I wish the House to consider very carefully is the development of the fostering of disturbed children and young people as an alternative to residential homes. This is not usual in Britain, but on our visits abroad we saw how much progress had been made, particularly in Denmark and Sweden. There 80 per cent, or more of children and young persons of this kind are fostered. We appear to be very shy and timid about starting to try out such schemes even when they have been proved in other countries.
In Denmark and Sweden over 80 per cent, of children and young persons are fostered and residential accommodation in homes is regarded as a temporary measure only, to be provided on a very short-term basis—a matter of weeks—until suitable fostering arrangements can be made. In Holland fostering is being developed and that country has accepted the ideas of Denmark and Sweden.
During our memorable visit to Sweden in particular, a visit that made a tremendous impression on us, we visited one of its most successful foster parents who had fostered several of the most difficult kinds of cases with which we or any other country has to deal, the adolescent drug addict. These are very 1249 difficult cases with long records of difficulties with the law. This lady lived in a wooden house, typically Swedish, beside a beautiful lake, an idyllic place. Youngsters absconded many, many times. They did so over and over again, seeking the bright lights and other attractions of Stockholm. But she herself brought them back, or they were brought back by the police or social workers, and she began all over again. She had perhaps four disturbed youngsters at a time living in her family with her own children and her husband as members of the family.
These children came from many different parts of Sweden, which is a very large country. The foster mother made a point of visiting the children's families, getting to know them and seeking their support. This is a very important part of the treatment. She and her husband were remarkable people and we were delighted to find that one or two of our more progressive local authorities have already started a similar scheme. I hope that they will be equally successful.
It is not easy to find high calibre foster parents. Fostering does not mean that children can just be dumped in any family in the hope that all will be well. Very careful selection of foster parents is needed. Ideally, parents with experience as teachers or social workers or of work in residential homes or similar activities are sought. They, too, need training before they can embark on this very responsible job. When a youngster has been placed with foster parents, those foster parents need constant care and a great deal of support from social workers, psychiatrists and others. It is a joint and communal effort, but it is well worth consideration.
The important lesson we learned from Denmark and Sweden is that fostering parents are doing a very important job in the community and should be extremely well paid. They have to be well paid for taking on very difficult children with little relief from being under constant strain. In Sweden the pay is £70 per week for fostering the most difficult cases, with tax-free allowances for expenses, including clothing and breakages, which can occur when there are disturbed youngsters in the family. The matching of the right child with the right family needs to be done with great skill and care, and nothing is more damaging to a 1250 disturbed, unhappy child than frequent changes from one home to another. The whole object of the exercise is then defeated.
In Denmark the social worker takes the young person or child to two or three families and is allowed to choose the family to which the child finally goes. That system has very good results.
We have recommended that every effort should be made to encourage fostering in Britain. Regional planning committees should be asked to seek suitable foster parents in their areas and to start fostering schemes of their own. Carefully done, we feel that such a scheme offers great hope for the future.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I agree with her entirely and I endorse fully and strongly what the hon. Lady said. However, does she agree that one of the reasons why the scheme has been successful on the Continent is that genuine family care is providing the young disturbed person with security, that within that home the new parents of that young person are providing the motivation, and that that motivation enables the young person to overcome his or her problems?
§ Mrs. Short
I agree absolutely. That is an important aspect of the work. It may be a completely new experience for a young person to be in a caring situation in a family. Previously these young persons have been battered both mentally and physically—some since birth. We know that these cases occur and great damage is done to children and young people in that unhappy situation.
Another important proposal is that in the local area more must be done to bring together all those who are concerned about delinquency among the young. Teachers have an important rôle to play. They are often in a position to indicate, almost before anything happens, the families where children are at risk and are likely to get into difficulty. School welfare officers can often help, because truancy is often an early sign of difficulties.
Social workers, school welfare officers, magistrates, probation officers and the police should be involved and brought together. They should have regular contact. They should not work in isolated groups, some of them not speaking to 1251 each other at all, as happens in some areas.
After-care is required. More research should be carried out by the Department into what happens after young people go out of care. We need follow-up procedures to see the extent to which what has been done for the young person has been successful.
We need more voluntary help. Individuals and organisations should be mobilised to help with advice bureaux. In Holland, advice is given on a confidential basis. The public must understand what is being done in the treatment of all offenders, young or adult. We must understand why apparently similar cases are treated differently. The public must become our allies in the care and treatment provided. It is a challenge to all of us to see that public opinion understands and cares about the problems of young offenders.
I hope that the Government will now give a lead and do their part in making sure that the public understand that something new needs to be done, that a shift of resources from buildings to persons must take place, if we are to make any progress at all.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly in the debate. I should like to try to put some flesh and bones on what has inevitably been an abstract discussion of a Report by mentioning the specific case of the daughter of a constituent who is at the moment in Holloway Prison. I informed the Minister that I was going to raise this matter. I am not seeking to make political capital, but should like to try to highlight with a living example some of the problems referred to in the Report and to endorse what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said about ceasing straight away the practice of remanding children to adult prisons.
The child in question is on remand in Holloway Prison, where she has been for over a month. She has never been in trouble before. She was detained after the commission of an offence in my constituency. She appeared before the juvenile court magistrates. I am in no way criticising the actions of any of the people who have been working hard to try to find a solution to this particularly 1252 difficult problem. There is not one, and that is why it must be up to the Government to make the necessary arrangements to find one.
The girl has been remanded twice and is still in Holloway Prison, where I saw her this afternoon. I should like to say how grateful I am to those who made the arrangements and gave me every possible assistance to see for myself the conditions in which she is living. I believe that she is getting as good a treatment as it is possible to give to children, but, as the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) said, she is not segregated because there are no longer the facilities to do this. She is with adult prisoners in the hospital wing. However hard the authorities try and however much sympathy and compassion they show—and they are showing this to the maximum—this cannot but be an experience which will be with the child for the rest of her life. This must be wrong.
The real difficulty is that there was no alternative, once a decision had been taken—again, I am not arguing about the decision taken by the courts and the police—that the girl should be detained until the charge was heard in the Crown court. There is nowhere else she can go. She cannot be remanded into care, because in our region there are no secure facilities. That was the only alternative, although it was deeply repugnant to the police, social workers and the clerk of the court—to whom I spoke—to have to do this.
One question which worries me concerns the chart on page 26 of the Report, which shows the progress which has been made over both secure observation and assessment places for young people in secure long-term accommodation. The hon. Lady mentioned 59 secure places and said that, because of the size of the problem, the boys seem to get the lion's share. Nevertheless, one thing which concerns me is that the social worker who was trying hard to find an alternative to detaining this child in prison was not aware what secure observation and assessment or, indeed, accommodation places were available in other regions.
I wonder whether this is where bureaucracy is not being as efficient as it might be. Although there are no facilities 1253 available within the region of which East Hampshire is part, I have found on inquiry at the Department of Health and Social Security that there were six places in another area in South Norwood, another four places in Shepperton, another two in Greenacres in Wiltshire and another six in the West Country.
What worries me is that none of the social workers concerned was aware of the places available in other regional planning committee areas. When I asked what the procedure was—and I asked that of the social worker, the Private Secretary to the Minister of State and the Governor of Holloway Prison this afternoon—the answer was that "The strings are drawn together by the Department in London".
That may be a way of doing it if one can guarantee that it will work, but until there is adequate accommodation it might be preferable if, at local authority level and, most important of all, at the level of the social worker himself, people knew where to look, even if one was only to be told that the places were already filled and that there was a long waiting list. It is disturbing that someone who was trying his best to obtain alternative secure accommodation was not aware of the places listed in the chart, which the Department assures me exist. The queue for these places may be endless, but it would be helpful if social workers were able to communicate across the board to establish whether or not there was a vacancy for even a short period.
I do not want to criticise those who are doing a remarkably good job, but the child will now stay in Holloway for at least another month before going to the Crown court. The problem then arises of what sort of institution, if any, she should be committed to for remedial treatment. Here again, the Report highlights the deficiencies.
I fully endorse the recommendations that have been made. The first and foremost is that the practice of putting children into adult establishments must stop. Surely that does not mean vast capital expenditure, but only a little ingenuity and some adjustments within establishments which are not fully secure to make even a small part of them fully secure. I cannot believe that that suggestion cannot be attacked urgently for the good of 1254 the thousands of children who go in and out of these adult establishments and, whatever crime they may or may not have committed, receive an experience which can only damage them and reduce the chances of success of those who are trying to help them.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
I think we would all agree with what the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said about the rise in crime among young people. I do not want to pursue that matter to a great extent except to say that one of things that the Report highlights is what is happening in the overall picture of crime. It said that the rise in juvenile crime was almost exactly paralleled by the general rise in crime. In other words, our children are no worse and no better than we are. We must consider the whole question of crime and its causes in our society generally.
The Report is concerned almost entirely with the workings of the Children and Young Persons Act. It says that many of the matters discussed are relevant to all children who come into care, for whatever reason.
I do not want to criticise what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the vicious nature of some of the crimes committed by young people, because that is true, but we have to make some distinctions. The root of juvenile crime is not to be found in the child who is judged to be disturbed or mentally sick. Both the National Council for Civil Liberties and the British Association of Social Workers distinguished between the child who is psychiatrically disturbed and the child who comes to crime because of disturbances in his physical and emotional background.
I am not trying to argue—although there are connections—that the only cause of juvenile crime is material poverty in the sense that we know it. All the bodies interviewed stressed the connection between physical and emotional deprivation and crime among young people. What concern me are the areas of care which are not specifically concerned with children who go into the care of the local authorities and others through the courts or because they have committed crimes.
1255 The Report refers several times to the shortage of residential staff and the turnover of such staff. We recently passed legislation arising out of the Houghton recommendations concerned with children in long-term care, many of them fostered for long periods. The Ministers at the Department of Health and Social Security know how much I welcomed the recommendations of that Report.
I am concerned not only with the aspects of the Eleventh Report which stress how we should monitor what happens to these children but also with what happens to some children who go into the care of a local authority through no fault of their own. One child whom I have known personally for a number of years is well on the way to becoming an anti-social individual. Yet I wonder at the end of the day who will stand up and ask "What happened to him and how can we prevent it from happening to others?"
That child is nearly 15 and came into the care of the local authority more or less at birth. He was born to a mother who was educationally subnormal and who had spent at least nine years from the age of four in the care of the local authority. He did not know his father. He was successfully fostered with foster-parents who wanted to adopt him. This wish was conveyed to the mother, who insisted on re-establishing a relationship with her son.
I regret to say that that was actively encouraged by the social worker and that the child was brought out of the foster home and returned to his mother nine times. The foster-parents said ultimately that they could stand it no longer. The child was showing signs of becoming disturbed. He was becoming a bed-wetter and a petty thief.
After that, he went into a children's home. The mother married again and had two more children, both of whom were in the care of the local authority. She was encouraged to have the child back with her permanently after he had spent a few weekends at home. Subsequently the mother left her husband, taking the child with her. The child then ran away and went back to his foster home, only to find that his foster- 1256 parents did not want him. So he went back into a children's home.
He is now in a boarding school, paid for by the local authority, and has no contact with his mother, whom he obviously hates. He is showing all the signs of a very disturbed boy. My plea is that with children in care—whether they have come into care because they have committed some crime or through no fault of their own—we should know what is happening to them. I do not believe that large numbers of people really know some of the things which happen to children in care. I pay tribute to the social workers, residential staff, and probation officers, who do a magnificent job, but there is a great deal wrong with the situation and we should look at it.
Many children are successfully rehabilitated and make good citizens, but there is a common thread running through many of them. We have, in fact, created many of the anti-social attitudes which they later exhibit. Who will make sure that what has happened to the child I have referred to does not happen to any others? Recent legislation has gone a long way to favour the interest of the child.
What disturbed me about the Maria Colwell case, the case I have described and many others was that social workers were constantly saying they had to think of the mother and what would be good for her and give her confidence. In the Maria Colwell case, it was said that if Maria was not stopped from seeing her foster-parents her mother would be robbed of the confidence to act as a mother to the child she had not seen for several years.
For several years I had living in my home a large number of young children below school age. Many of them were taken into care by local authorities, not because they were delinquents, but because they had no parents to care for them. I know from what happened to some of these children that this is one of the roots of some of the anti-social behaviour we see today.
In the Committee's recommendations, the question of staffing of residential establishments applies right across the board—from young children through to 1257 young offenders. I was horrified to see—although I knew it went on—that agencies were advertising for temporary staff for the residential care of children.
This means that in the area of help for young offenders, which is often the least attractive work but where there is the greatest need, we are having the greatest turnover of staff and the greatest number of inexperienced staff. We are denying the children the very thing we hope to bring them when we take them into care. We say that we want to give them a permanent relationship with somebody with whom they can identify, and who will care for them and give them motivation to go on in the right way. These children are robbed of this relationship.
It is bad enough when a child from a normal background is denied a positive, substantive relationship. How much worse is it for the many youngsters who are taken into care. The cost in antisocial behaviour of the lack of this sort of relationship is something which disturbs me greatly. I am also disturbed at the turnover of staff and their lack of training, and that it is necessary to advertise for someone to pop in two or three days a week to help care for these youngsters.
I agree with all hon. Members who have urged alternatives to residential care. I wonder whether people know what life can be like for any child in a children's home. The person who puts the children to bed does not necessarily get them up in the morning. This sort of thing can be very important for young children.
Last week, I asked in the House how many children in care had no contact with parents or relatives. The Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security regretted that the information was not available. It is vital that we should know these figures. There are many children who are put into care, through the courts or for other reasons, whose sole human contact is with a drifting number of residential workers whom they have for only a few weeks or months of their lives. I know of children who have been in care for four or five years and have had as many as six social workers. The idea with children in care was to have an individual with whom they could talk, 1258 who would take a particular interest in them and to whom they could go with any troubles. But this has not happened. I am pleased that the Report has highlighted this fact.
The turnover of staff and the number of relationships that a young person is expected to establish is astronomical. The original idea may have been good, but the results have not materialised.
I also asked last week how many children had been in the care of local authorities for more than two years. Once again the information was not available, although I gather that, because of the way statistics are to be compiled in future, it will soon be known. It is very important.
In the last few years we have lost the people from outside who used to be uncles and aunties to the youngsters in care and provide them with contact outside the walls of residential accommodation. That practice tended to diminish in the past few years.
I believe that we must try to get a commitment from people that for 15 years, for example, they will attach themselves to a young child whose future prospects are pretty grim and who goes into care so that it can have a permanent relationship with someone. Such a commitment might give motivation to those who are very often drifters in residential work.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), I have interviewed youngsters who have been in care. Very often the youngsters who have been in care in remand homes and hostels do not even know the surnames of those who have looked after them. Presumably they were drifters. Maybe they stayed for a few months or so. Many youngsters who have been in care would not know how to contact these people even if they wanted to do so. I have mentioned the number of child care officers that many deprived youngsters have had. If we could achieve some more permanent relationship, we might begin to make a little more progress.
I strongly support the Committee's view that the adoption of the Seebohm recommendations did not make it necessary to abandon all specialisation within local authority social service departments.
§ Miss Lestor
The Seebohm recommendations did not mean that the departments had to abandon specialisation. I believe that there has been far too wide an interpretation of the Seebohm recommendations.
I strongly support the idea that those who are dealing with children should know something about children and that those who are dealing with old people should know something about old people. None of us, however able we may be, can know everything about all these matters. It is dangerous to know a little about a lot of subjects and to be put forward as an expert.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong need to try to recruit as social workers older men and women who have some experience of life and life's problems. They are much more likely to create a rapport with children, and especially with other adults. Irrespective of how much training there is or how able younger men and women may be, we shall not be able to get over the barriers of age and lack of experience. The recommendation is made that we should get people with experience and training into the service.
I strongly support the recommendation that we should find out what happens to children when their care orders expire. We should find out what treatment they have had, what opportunities they have had and what has benefited them. We should also discover whether they have been the subject of court orders or whether they have gone into care because no one else was available to care for them. We should discover what facilities we provide for those who emerge from care. Are there hostels for them? We know that there are not.
Many children are on their own from the time they are 17. Many of them are glad to be on their own so that they can get away from the restrictions of residential establishments. If that is so, there must be something wrong. We must investigate any possible shortcomings.
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—if it was not him, it was another good-looking hon. Gentleman—who asked about the monitoring of children who come out of 1260 care. He was told that such monitoring did not take place.
My final point concerns paragraph 130 of the Report, which states:A large majority of young offenders are educationally backward … The education officer at Rochester Borstal said that the boys in the remedial reading course were only half as much at risk of committing further offences as those on other courses.The Committee found, quite rightly, that it did not want to comment too much about the connection of educational backwardness with juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour. I believe that that is right. But we also know that there is at least some connection between the child who feels he is a failure and the way in which he reacts to society.
In that connection, the Committee rightly says that the educational welfare service is of vital importance, and it goes on to deplore, as I deplore, the small number of education welfare workers who have had any training at all in the work they are supposed to be doing. If there is a key or any connection at all between the backwardness of some young offenders and the need for extra help, I believe that it is the need for training and for better relationships in this sector, which are long overdue.
I do not want to continue my speech much longer as many other hon. Members wish to speak. All of them have special avenues that they consider to be of the utmost importance. I believe that most of the recommendations of the Committee are well worth considering. It has highlighted a number of problems about which we cannot be glib. Neither can we be dogmatic about them, because we do not know all the answers. Perhaps we have only begun to ask some of the questions.
As someone with some experience in this matter at a personal level, and arising out of recent legislation and the Report, I believe that we need a full inquiry in great depth about what is happening to children who come into public care, whether what we are offering them meets their requirements, and what we can do to ensure that young people will cease to mirror what many adults are now doing and begin to show that they can withstand the many hazards of our society and begin to help us to build a better one.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) have both given graphic examples from their own knowledge of the effect of the whole working of the Children and Young Persons Act and the effect of a care order on individual cases. I should like to return to the more general subject of the Act as a whole.
I am most impressed by what has been said in the Report by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) about the failings and shortcomings of the Act. I hope that I can claim to speak with at least some knowledge in this area, being originally the Opposition Front Bench spokesman when the Act was going through the House and then later the Minister in the Home Office responsible for the implementation of the Act in 1970.
It has always been my view that the Act is rather like the curate's egg: it is good in parts and it is bad in parts. I think that when in opposition previously we made it clear when the Bill was going through the House that our view was that certain parts of it should be implemented and certain parts should be delayed. In the Home Office in 1970 we certainly attempted to implement those parts of the Act with which we had agreed when in opposition.
It is quite fashionable today to attack the Act for everything and to say that it is wholly bad. I do not believe that that is so. I still believe in the underlying philosophy of those parts of the Act that we chose to implement.
I believe, as the Report points out and as I believe the Act intended, that we should try to see that more children who commit crimes are dealt with outside the courts entirely, through schemes such as the police juvenile liaison scheme—and I am glad to see that that is happening. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East emphasised in her speech, where possible children should be dealt with within the community rather than be taken out of the community. I believe in the intention of the flexibility in the supervision order where it can be combined with a form of intermediate treatment which will 1262 encourage greater training of the child' within the community, which in many ways I look upon as the alternative of the community service order for the adult offender. I regret that it appears from this Report that schemes of intermediate treatment have not yet been widely implemented.
I still believe that where care orders are made, it is right that there should be the flexibility which is inherent in the Act. That gives the social services departments greater opportunity and more time to decide on the type of community home to be used, whether the child should be fostered, and how long a child should stay in a community home. Those matters can be considered more deeply by those in whose care a child is put than by a court.
When dealing with juvenile offenders we must remember that our main aim is to care for the interests of the child. In attempting to reform that child we must ensure that the juvenile delinquent of today does not become the hardened criminal of a later generation.
I still support all the underlying philosophies and aims of the Act. But it would be foolish for us to pretend that things have not gone wrong in practice—that is clear from the Report. I therefore ask myself a rhetorical question. What has gone wrong? I hope that some of my comments will be of value since I was involved in the implementation of some parts of the Act.
It is easy to criticise the Act for everything. Some critics talk as though everything was perfect before 1969. Today they talk of a lack of resources as if there were no lack of resources before 1969. Of course there is a shortage of resources and adequate places. That is not new and has not been caused by the Act.
The critics forget that to a large extent the substantial and terrifying increase in crime, particularly amongst juveniles, is a result of causes outside the Act. I always thought that some of the main critics talked as though before the Act was implemented children never absconded from approved schools or repeated offences. It is wrong to blame everything on the Act.
There is a shortage of resources and secure places and I am glad that the 1263 Report emphasised that. I share the view that it is necessary to do something quickly about removing children on remand from prison. One thing which has gone Wrong which is extraneous to the Act is that its implementation came so soon after the Seebohm Report and coincided with local government reorganisation, which put strains on the social services departments, making them unable to cope as they might otherwise have done.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East about the division between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security. I shall not suggest which Department should have been left in charge of the Act.
I am surprised that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East did not say that she was disturbed because the Department, except for a short time, has not been represented in the Chamber. That Department is responsible for the implementation of the Act and it is the members of that Department, not of the Home Office, who are being criticised in the Report. I was surprised that the hon. Lady, obviously out of chivalry towards her own Front Bench, made no comment about the absence of a Minister from that Department.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security wrote to me explaining the tragic reason why he had to be away from the House today, in Sheffield, and so could not be present to hear the opening speeches.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I accept what the hon. Lady says, and I withdraw any personal comment about the Minister of State. But it is perhaps an indication of the unwisdom of dividing responsibilities in such matters between Departments.
I believe that experience has shown that there are major flaws in the Act which require to be remedied. From the point of view of some of the lack of confidence, one of the major faults has been the unwillingness of social service departments to realise that when a court makes a care order it has done so, or should have done so, having ruled out the alternative of a supervision order. 1264 and therefore on the basis that it believes that the child needs to be removed from its environment at that time. The social services department in whose care the child has been put should approach the case starting with that presumption.
Too often social services departments have chosen to send the child straight back home again, so that the child is often given the impression that the care order did not mean what it said. That shows also a breakdown in liaison between the social workers and the court, in that the court has often not had explained to it the reasons which made the social services department take that decision. The result is that if the child offends again and is brought back before the court, the court feels that it is being frustrated in its attempt to make a care order. The magistrates promptly blame the Act for the failure.
The fact that social services departments, particularly in the earlier stages, seem regrettably to have gone on the theory that, although the court has made a care order rather than a supervision order, the child should be returned immediately to his home environment is reflected in the fact that although there is a shortage of accommodation much of it has been under-used.
I do not see the basis on which heads of community homes have felt free throughout to refuse to admit certain children. I appreciate that in the early stages of the implementation of the Act, before the community homes came under the local authorities, the governors of those homes had the right to refuse to take children. But, as I understand it, once those homes came within the control of the local authority, the social services departments had the right and power to place children in them and not have them rejected by the head of a particular home.
This has all led to a collapse of confidence. Confidence must be restored if the major critics of the Act are to be satisfied. Therefore, an essential amendment is one on the lines proposed by the Committee—that there should be a power for courts in certain cases to make a residential, custodial or secure care order—call it what one will—so that they can see that the child is sent to a particular community home. I hope that 1265 such a power would not be widely used. The courts would, of course, use it having, by remand, found out which home had a vacancy.
I endorse the views expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) on supervision orders. It is a pity that the supervision order provides no means for bringing a child back for breach of any condition of the order so as to allow the child to be dealt with in some other way for the original offence. I do not argue, as the Expenditure Committee argues, that the work should be put back to probation officers. The strains and stresses on the Probation Service are such, and its work on parole and other aspects is of such great importance, that it cannot also carry this burden. The supervision order should be regarded as being more akin to the probation order, and there should be power to impose conditions and to bring the child back before the court if those conditions are broken.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East about the importance of the enforcement of the payment of fines.
We cannot deny or ignore the clear tie between truancy and juvenile crime. I am not sure whether the powers to deal with truancy are adequate and whether the training of the education welfare officer is adequate. I am impressed by the Committee's comments.
What, then, do I suggest, with humility, should be done? First, the Home Office has to recognise and appear to appreciate the genuine concern about this issue. The very fact that the Home Office has failed to answer the observations and recommendations contained in the Report, which it has had since last July, does not suggest the degree of urgency with which this problem should be tackled and does not augur well for the Government's attitude towards it.
I was horrified to learn today that since January this year the chairmen of the inner London juvenile courts have been attempting without success to obtain a meeting with the Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security to discuss the Children and Young Persons Act. There seems to be an alarming lack of urgency within the Government.
1266 It is necessary to look again at the allocation of resources to see whether greater emphasis cannot be put on pushing forward with intermediate treatment, which is cheaper and more effective. I hope that the Home Office will closely study the recommendations on fostering. Fostering is more likely to be successful and is considerably cheaper than putting children into community homes.
It follows that the Home Office cannot at this stage, any more than we could in 1970, attempt to implement further parts of the Act. In the present climate we cannot raise the age for borstal training or remove the power to commit to a detention centre, although the interesting recommendation for a short-term detention order might be considered.
The law requires to be amended in the four ways I have suggested, only one of which is major. We require a new look at the Act, not because the philosophy is wrong but because its practical application requires reform if that philosophy is to be allowed to succeed.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)
I intervene at this stage not in any way to close the debate, because the Government have made time available to make up for any shortfall caused by the earlier debate, but because I feel that it would be helpful if other speakers, having heard what I have had to say, make their comments in order to help us to mould our final views on the White Paper.
It is as much of concern to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security as it is to me, and indeed to all hon. Members, that the White Paper is not available for debate today. So far as I am able to discover, nobody in the House, except possibly the Whips, wanted the debate to take place today. I achieved a fair degree of unanimity when I suggested that we should postpone the debate until after Easter so that the White Paper, which is in an advanced state, might be available before the debate took place. But I am afraid that, for reasons outside my control, that was not possible.
I take seriously the criticism made about the delay in producing the White Paper, but I hope that it will not be thought that the Department of Health 1267 and Social Security or the Home Office is unduly lax in these matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said, the lapses in this respect appear to be common throughout Government Departments. I have been looking at the periods of time it has taken Government Departments to respond to earlier Reports of Select Committees and, although my hon. Friend says that the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence have now improved their performance, I have discovered that there have been occasions when the time lag was greater than in this particular case. Nevertheless, I take the point and we shall try to do better if ever there is any other occasion when we have to deal with a problem as complicated as this one.
What appears to be clear from the debate is that it is agreed among hon. Members that there should be one sponsoring Department and that that Department should be the Department of Health and Social Security. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for that Department, who is sitting beside me, may take a different view, but I think that there is a real difficulty in this respect. The difficulty arises because, inevitably, Departments see issues in a slightly different way and there is bound to be some degree of conflict in the approach to a problem, particularly to one as difficult and sensitive as this problem.
The Departments I have mentioned are not the only ones involved. The Welsh and Scottish Offices are also to some extent involved, as is the Department of Education and Science, particularly on the difficult matter of truancy. There are a number of different aspects that have to be considered. That in itself makes it difficult to respond as quickly as apparently the Treasury responds.
§ Mr. Boyden
The Ministry of Defence is at least three Departments under one umbrella. Surely, if it can respond quickly, it should be no more difficult for the Home Office to do so.
§ Mr. Lyon
I was about to come to the essential thesis that underlies this important Report and the equally important subject with which it deals. It is a matter which has given cause for concern for a number of years, not only about what should be done about the 1268 Children and Young Persons Act but about juvenile crime. It is also necessary to consider whether the Act was instrumental in increasing the amount of juvenile crime or in failing to deal with it properly. If so, we may ask whether there should be a different philosophical approach.
Everybody who has spoken in this debate, and almost anybody who has commented on this subject since publication of the Select Committee's Report, accepts the philosophy of the Act. All begin by saying that they accept that the proper way to deal with juvenile crime is in general to move away from custodial treatment, to move away from treatment by the courts and to move towards the alternatives to custodial treatment, particularly in relation to the kind of help that can be given by the social services departments.
Granted that that is the general view, what ought to be done to improve matters? If the Report had said that there are certain things that might be done to improve the relationship between the courts and the social services departments, it might have been easier to respond quickly. Although the Committee asserted that the philosophy of the Act was right, there are areas in which some of its recommendations undermined the basic approach to the Act. We have, therefore, had to consider whether indeed the Act needed overhaul and whether the philosophy was right. That is a much more fundamental question, and a much greater degree of consideration was required before we could deal with that question.
Basically, the Government have come to the same view as everybody else—that the philosophy of the Act is right, that we need to build on what we have, making better use of the resources we have, informing everyone concerned in the treatment of juvenile crime of the resources available and also the difficulties facing anybody who has to deal with a delinquent child, particularly with a severely delinquent child, and trying to get a better liaison between all the parties who have to deal with this very difficult matter.
Therefore, the most important recommendation for us in the Committee's Report is that which indicates that there ought to be some better institutional 1269 arrangements for liaison at all levels. We shall take that as the crucial point on which we build.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I apologise for missing the Minister's opening sentences. Before he leaves the general point of the Government's approach to the philosophy of the Act, will he accept that not everyone agrees with the philosophy of the Act and that some of us would like to feel that the protection of society ought to be built into it a little more than it is?
§ Mr. Lyon
I was about to deal with some of the mistaken criticism of the Act and its relevance to the increase in juvenile crime. The Committee indicated that juvenile crime, as a proportion of adult crime, has remained almost stationary since 1970. In 1970, 24 per cent, of all male offenders were under the age of 17. The figure for 1974 is 26 per cent. Therefore, the fact is that juvenile crime, as a proportion of total crime, is not as significant as is sometimes suggested—or, indeed, as was suggested from the Oppoition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner
One agrees—the figures are quite clear on this—that the overall increase in juvenile crime is not great. Our concern is with the growth of the hard core of persistent young offenders. Will the Minister say what can be done to deal with that very great problem?
§ Mr. Lyon
That is also an assertion which is made regularly—I have made it myself—but the difficulty is to identify on the evidence who are the alleged hardcore offenders and what is the comparison between 1974 and 1975 and the years before the implementation of the 1969 Act. It is extremely difficult from the statistics to make that kind of comparison, but I recognise that the hardcore offenders exist and that they are an acute difficulty, especially for social services departments.
The proportionate rise in juvenile crime is not peculiar to this country and, therefore, is not necessarily an indication of the inadequacy of the 1969 Act. When this matter was debated in the other place on a motion sponsored by Lord Lytton, he said that he had information from all over the world indicating that the pattern was fairly general and similar throughout 1270 the world. Therefore, we are not talking about a problem which has been created by one piece of legislation, and here I underline all that the Committee said.
In addition, I do not think that it is fair to concentrate the whole of the criticism about the present arrangements upon whether or not magistrates ought to be able to make care orders which have some degree of secure provision in community homes. The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said that the care order was the main order of the juvenile court. However, he will see from the statistics that it represents only a very small proportion of the disposals in the juvenile court. In 1974 there were 8,200 care orders out of a total of 127,000 juveniles who were dealt with by the juvenile courts. By far the biggest proportion of juvenile offenders are dealt with by fines or by supervision orders, and that will continue.
Again, it is simply not the case that the number of children who are held in some kind of custodial care at all remotely comparable with the old approved school has dropped to a significant extent. The population of community homes now is about 6,400, and that compares with about 6,800 in 1969. There is a slight drop, but only a slight drop.
The real question is whether we are using the 6,400 places for the right kind of children. There may be some difficulties in determining whether we are, according to how we define what the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde called the hard-core delinquent child. In trying to assess that, we have to improve the kind of approach that is available for the social services department and for the court in identifying who is mos in need of the places which are available.
But the House can take it—I think it is a matter which should be stressed for magistrates—that the places which were available in approved schools before 1970, when the Act was implemented, are now being used fully. Therefore, there is no question of simply saying that when a care order is made the social worker says "Go home, Johnnie" because he does not want to implement what the court has said. Even if we gave back to the court the power to say "You will go to a community home"—whether secure 1271 or otherwise—it is a fact that the places are not available to increase very much the allocation to people who would go into this kind of custodial treatment.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Is the Minister aware that if the community homes were run by voluntary organisations they would be run at half the cost of the statutory homes? Will he say whether he would favour greater voluntary effort here or whether he feels that they must be run by the local authority?
§ Mr. Lyon
There are very considerable benefits in having homes run by local authorities but I am quite prepared to consider the point made by the hon. Gentleman, although, I am afraid, not on my feet in the middle of my speech. I will certainly have a look at it in due course.
The question therefore arises whether we ought to be providing more community homes than we have at present. In the table at paragraph 58 of the Report, the Select Committee estimates that we need about 6,900 extra places. Again, we come up against the real difficulty of resources which the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde himself acknowledged in speaking from the Front Bench. At a time when everyone is saying that we have to control the rise in public expenditure, it would be extremely difficult to tell local authorities that their spending ought to be disproportionately increased in this sector.
Before the 1975 Budget there were already plans for something like 2,000 new homes in the next financial year, but as a result of various cuts that have taken place the number that will actually be built is substantially less this year—something of the order of 800 to 850. It is, therefore, very difficult to say to local authorities "When you get a child put into care, you must make provision somewhere within your accommodation for that child to go into a custodial home". It may be that, given the best will in the world and with social workers as attuned to the defence of the public good as magistrates, there may not be all the places available to which they can send children. It is against that kind of background that I approach the recommendations of the Report.
1272 First, I want to say emphatically that we welcome the Report, and the relevant phrase in the motion is not an idle one. We take the Report extremely seriously. I personally found it an extremely lucid bit of work which illuminated my understanding of many of the problems and which has carefully researched the various factors which concern us. That is not to say that we entirely accept all the recommendations, because inevitably in an area as difficult as this there can be a difference of view; and, for some of the reasons I have indicated, some of the recommendations seem to conflict with the central thesis of supporting the philosophy of the Act.
I have already dealt with what is in my view the most important recommendation, No. 36, about better liaison. I am convinced that most of the difficulties that have arisen have done so because of too little understanding by the various groups of the difficulties facing the other group involved in this area of juvenile delinquency. Magistrates frequently simply do not have an understanding of the kind of difficulties that social workers face in having to place a very difficult child, particularly with limited resources. They understand only too well that they cannot send to a detention centre every child they want to send because they know that the resources are not available. Yet they do not seem to appreciate that if they send a child into care the social worker may have similar difficulties. Equally, social workers are not always as careful in the defence of the public good as a magistrate would be. That dimension in their thinking is sometimes missing. I am sure that it would help both parties to be in closer liaison about the disposal of a particular case.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is the hon. Gentleman in support of Recommendation 3 of the Committee that agreement on care orders should be made in court so that both parties are very clear at that time of the difficulties that both are facing?
§ Mr. Lyon
I was coming particularly to Recommendations 3 and 4. I shall do so immediately in view of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, although it is a little out of the line of my argument.
Those two recommendations are the most difficult of the Select Committee's 1273 recommendations because to some extent they undermine the approach of the Act. The Committee says that the court will have a decisive say not only in the appropriate disposal but in what happens when a child goes into care. The Act says that the matter is for the court and the police up to the point of conviction or disposal.
If the court chooses to order a disposal which does not require a child to go into care, that is also a matter for the court. Fines, detention orders and so on are matters for the court. But care is a matter for the local authority. I do not think that we can blur those lines.
We either accept that situation or we do not. If we do not accept it, we go back on the total philosophy of the Act. If we accept it, it is not appropriate for the magistrate to say in a mandatory way what should be done with the child after he goes into care. We are anxious to meet not only the wishes of the Committee, but the widespread concern among magistrates on the point.
We have been trying to find ways of resolving this problem which will be satisfactory to all. That is the root cause of the delay. I cannot tell the House what is in the White Paper, because it has not yet received final approval by the Cabinet. However, I hope to express the difficulties of the various alternatives.
The difficulty about the Committee's suggestion is that it does not say what would happen if there were a disagreement. If a magistrate said "This child should go to a secure community home" and the social worker said "No, he should not", what happens then? If the social worker decides that it is not appropriate for some reason to accept the magistrate's decision, the Committee does not say who shall decide in these circumstances.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not want to interrupt the Minister, but it is courtesy to address the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has had his back to me for the greater part of his speech.
§ Mr. Lyon
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I shall remedy that situation by turning my back to the House. I accept your rebuke and will seek to do better in future.
I was about to say that within the recommendation is a situation which is 1274 pregnant with conflict. We do not want that. On the other hand, there would be great benefit in establishing the kind of closer liaison which we have in mind if there were some way in which the bench were involved in what should be done with the child.
However, there is the other point, which I stress even more than the potentiality of conflict, about the assessment procedure which is vital to the whole matter. The assessment procedure comes after, not before, the decision to send the child into care. Certain reports are available to the court, but the assessment procedure must be gone into later. Therefore, it is not possible to make the final disposal at the court hearing. In principle, for the reasons which I have indicated, that is not right.
We could do one of two things. We could allow the court to ask the social services department to report back on any particular case with which it found difficulty. If there were any reason why the child was sent home, the social services department could get in touch with the court, explain the reasons, and possibly listen to representations from the bench about the matter.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
The Minister has left me, and perhaps the House, a little unclear as to what sort of residual judicial function is to be left to the courts in this kind of situation. Are they merely to be an adjunct to the welfare services in his view?
§ Mr. Lyon
The position at the moment, if the hon. and learned Gentleman did not know, is that once the court has said that the child goes into care, that is the end of the matter. What is being suggested is that there ought to be some improvement upon that so that the court has a proper knowledge of what happens to the child and possibly can interpose in some way in the final disposal of the child. All I am suggesting are ways in which that can come about; this is one way.
The other way, about which I would welcome views, is one on which the Government have no concluded opinion. It is that we could give the courts power to make a recommendation that the child should be kept in a community home or that the child be kept in a secure community home, which is Recommendation 1275 4. It would not be mandatory, so it would not infringe the responsibility of the social services department to make the final decision but it would, because it came from the court in that kind of way, have some influence upon the ultimate disposal.
If the recommendation cannot be acceded to for any reason, the social services department can communicate with the court and explain the reasons. This might well allay any of the frustration and anxiety felt by the court in that kind of situation.
One is bound to recognise that a recommendation made in open court to which the child may ultimately come back for some other offence may also be pregnant with difficulty. Therefore, there is a real difficulty about the best balance to strike in that situation. I would welcome the views of those who are to speak in the debate about how they feel about that matter before we take any concluded view.
In relation to Recommendation 8, although we intend to phase out the use of the Probation Service in children cases ultimately, it is not possible to do so at the moment. We find grave difficulty, for the reasons I have indicated in relation to Recommendation 3 and 4, in allowing the court the right to decide there and then whether it should be a probation officer or a social worker who deals with a particular child. As the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said—with his knowledge of the difficulties the opinion comes with great weight—there is a considerable burden upon the Probation Service at the moment in carrying out its existing duties.
One has to be careful about burdening probation officers with duties now undertaken by social workers. If the decision about the proper allocation of duties were to be left to the choice of a particular court on a particular day, it would make the whole administration of the social services departments and the Probation Service considerably more difficult. For that reason we are not much attracted to Recommendation 8.
The alternative punishments which might provide a means of non-custodial 1276 treatment are matters we are looking at very seriously but we wonder whether Recommendation 9 has been carefully thought out. There has been an enormous demand on magistrates' courts for a greater use of detention centres. The result is that, even though we have provided through the Home Office a greater number of detention centres, they are al) filled and we could well fill a great many more. If in addition we are to provide a punishment for the court of a short-stay detention, that will add to the burden on existing resources.
§ Mr Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
The intention of the Committee—certainly my intention—is not that there should be short-stay detention sentences on top of the existing three months' and six months' sentences, but that they should replace the latter, which would relieve the burden, not intensify it.
§ Mr. Lyon
That may be the Committee's intention, but whether it would be the intention of magistrates' courts is a matter of considerable doubt. At the moment, they take the view that in certain cases the child has to have a period of detention, which they know is relatively long by comparison with the recommendation. Nevertheless, they send the child to that kind of period of detention. The kind of children who would be considered for the short-stay detention seem to me to fall more into the category of those who are dealt with now in some other way—by means of a fine or a supervision order—and that is much more likely to be the effect.
There is also an issue of principle involved—whether any useful purpose can be served by a detention order of as little as a few days. At the moment, the detention order is for three months, with the possible remission of half, bringing it down to about six weeks. Those responsible for detention centres advise that in that period one can just about do something meaningful, whereas, if it were as little as two or three days, they do not consider that it would be of any assistance to the child and might disrupt the régime for those in the longer stay. So one is not much attracted to that recommendation.
§ Mrs Renée Short rose—1277
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
I think that my hon. Friend is aware that a considerable body of opinion favours the abolition of juvenile detention centres. Does he not accept that the reconviction rates of those sent to detention centres is higher than the rates of those sent to borstals?
§ Mrs. Short
I am obliged. Would my hon. Friend not dismiss this recommendation out of hand but consider the experience that we had in Hamburg? We were told clearly that the view here is that three weeks in a detention centre is the maximum during which a young person can be expected to derive benefit from the régime and that three or six months is far too long, that during that period young persons can adapt to the régime, however tough it is.
§ Mr. Lyon
As I have said, my mind is not closed to any suggestion from any part of the House. Since we do not have the White Paper, I thought that I should at any rate indicate the present state of my thinking. I emphasise that there is no final Government decision. We would therefore take into consideration what my hon. Friend says in framing our response to that recommendation.
I can perhaps be a little more forthcoming about Recommendation 6, about fines. We recognise that there is a real difficulty here. We do not accept the evidence of the Justices' Clerks' Society to the Select Committee, that, as a result of disenchantment about fine enforcement, courts were not using fines as much as they used to do. All the evidence is that they are. There is little evidence that the incidence of non-payment is increasing substantially.
It is difficult to get evidence, but it is also difficult to place one's hand on one's heart and assert as strongly as some magistrates do that this is a widespread problem. Nevertheless, we accept that, in terms of the deterrent effect of fines, there is something to be said for having a follow-up if a fine is not paid and for being able to tell the child that that might occur. It would be nonsense to have a supervision order for non-payment of a 1278 fine and a fine for breach of a supervision order. That would be circulatory.
We therefore accept the Committee's view that an attendance centre might be the appropriate disposal for non-payment of a fine, if attendance centres were available freely to every court in the land. I am afraid that that is not the position. By and large, attendance centres depend on the efforts particularly of the police, who mainly man those which are available. It is difficult for us to expand them at any great rate until more people are willing to help. We are hoping to expand as much as possible, but resources are limited and we need the kind of help which is not always available.
It is not possible to give a fine-enforcement power freely to every juvenile court in the country. We have to look at possible alternatives. I would not have thought the attendance centre was an alternative. There is no settled conclusion yet, but the alternative seems to be that we should put the burden more on to the parent. There should be a way in which the parent should be made liable if a fine imposed is not paid in the due period. We are investigating that before coming to a conclusion.
Finally, we bear in mind the criticism of the Committee about supervision orders and whether it is possible now to move in the direction of making this order something like a probation order. There are difficulties here which we have not entirely resolved. We are approaching it with a great deal of sympathy.
There are many more recommendations in the Report which are extremely useful and helpful. The Committee will find our White Paper helpful, even though we do not entirely accept all the recommendations. I have tried to deal with the major areas of difficulty to enable contributions to be made before the White Paper is issued.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Since the Minister appears to pour a douche of cold water on every single one of the main recommendations, on what basis does he say the Government welcome the Report? Are they seriously considering extending the use of attendance centres for non-payment of fines? If so, why when the Cheshire police tried to open two attendance centres were they turned down by the Home Office?
§ Mr. Lyon
I shall have to investigate that; I cannot answer it off the cuff. We are certainly interested in extending attendance centres and we are doing our best to do so.
As for pouring cold water on the recommendations, it is for the House to judge. I have tried to explain the areas of most difficulty—where there are areas of common agreement and where there are difficulties. I do not think the Committee expected all its recommendations to be accepted, but there are some we can accept without qualification.
Of course we recognise that there is widespread doubt about the best way to deal with juvenile crime today, but we do not accept that the cause of that difficulty is the Act. There is a much greater need for liaison between those administering this area of the criminal law. We 1280 believe there is still room for improvement in the allocation of resources in order to back up the central philosophy of the Act. We shall press on with it as hard and as fast as resources allow, but the House will know the difficulty of getting resources at this time.
As far as possible, we shall do all we can to make available to the courts and social services departments the resources to allow them to deal with juvenile crime so far as it is possible to deal with this form of human behaviour by way of resources. I suspect strongly that, in the final analysis, it is not possible so to dc and that the eventual solution will not be found until there is a considerable change in the attitude of parents towards their children and in the resources society gives to building up family life in order to have a very different attitude among young people to the commission of crime.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
As a member of the Sub-Committee, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) on the way she chaired this Committee of varied personalities week after week. Not only did the hon. Lady chair the Committee successfully; she also produced a unanimous Report. It was a notable achievement. Both she and the Report are, as the French say, formidable. May I also add our appreciation to the Clerk of the Committee, who did a great deal of work and distilled the many views into a readable form.
I also wish to add a word to the protests about the manner in which the debate has been organised. It is particularly unfortunate that, when the Expenditure Committee specifies that it wants a full day to debate this important Report, we are given a half-day and half the night on a particularly inconvenient day and at a time when a number of our members who would like to have taken part are unable to do so.
I would also like to endorse the comments about the lack of observations from either of the Government Departments concerned. We appreciate the Minister's useful contribution, but it is extremely unfortunate that the Report should have been with the Departments for well over six months without any observations being presented. Earlier the Lord President of the Council said that the House could put pressure on the Executive for action. Pressure has been exerted in all sorts of ways in this case, but without much effect.
I appreciate that there is a lot of meat in the Report, which includes 40 recommendations, but I would have thought that either or both of the Departments could have presented their views by now. After all, the criticisms and comments in the Report are not new. They have been made for many years and must have been known to the Departments.
In 1970–71, I was chairman of my local juvenile court and had the task of implementing the Children and Young Persons Act. Within a year or two, some of the problems were self-evident and were being voiced by magistrates, probation officers and social workers.
1282 In December 1974, not long after I entered the House, I won a Ballot for Private Members' motions and chose to debate juvenile crime and the working of the Act. The Minister of State said in that debate:the Act and its effects are under review in the Department. We are co-operating with the Secretary of State for Social Services in implementing its results."— [Official Report, 9th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 103.]Since then, apparently nothing has happened. The Government are not only treating the House with disrespect; they are also showing an astonishing lack of consideration for the very children and young people who are the subject of the Act.
Every day scores of juveniles are passing through the courts and decisions are being taken about them. The way in which they are dealt with may have a crucial influence on their whole lives. Every day children are being affected by the shortcomings and, in one or two respects, the failings of the Act. I am not saying that it is a bad Act, but it has some faults, some of which are serious. They are faults that must be put right, and action must be taken. Not least is the first recommendation, to which reference has been made—namely, that the putting of children into prison must cease forthwith. The word "forthwith" was in the first recommendation when the Report was issued in September 1975, some six months ago, yet children are still being put into prison.
Last year about 4,000 children were in some sort of prison establishment. I accept that they were not all prisons as such. I do not wish to exaggerate the problem. It is only a relatively small proportion of the children who get into trouble who go to prison, and they are in prison for only a relatively short time. In answer to the Question which I tabled a week or two ago and to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) referred, I was told that on 29th February there were 24 persons under the age of 17 in Her Majesty's prisons. In the year 1976, that is 24 too many.
The procedure by which young persons, get into prison is fairly straightforward. A child comes before the court having committed an offence such as shoplifting 1283 or housebreaking. Before the court can proceed, it must institute social inquiry reports. That may necessitate adjourning the case for two or three weeks.
In the majority of cases it is practicable for the child to return home while the inquiries are being made. If circumstances do not allow that course to be taken, the child goes into a community home. There are cases where the child is an absolute hooligan. He may try to abscond from or break up wherever he is put. He may be extremely seriously disturbed. Perhaps the incident that has brought him to court is the climax of many other events, but the circumstances may well be such that the child cannot be contained in a normal community home. Thus it is that the social worker requests that a certificate of unruliness be given.
Some criticism is made of magistrates because of the way in which they issue unruliness certificates, but they cannot issue them off their own bat. They can do so only on the application of a social worker. A social worker will make application only if he or she feels that it is impossible to cope with the child within the normal facilities that are available. Thus it is that the social worker, armed with a certificate of unruliness, is able to put the child into secure accommodation if such accommodation exists locally.
Unfortunately, secure accommodation does not always exist locally. When it is not available, we get the situation that has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), when a child is put into prison. The truth is that there is insufficient accommodation to cope with that sort of case.
It is to the credit of the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security that almost immediately the Report was issued he added a clause to what is now the Children Act to enable him to make grants of up £2 million to local authorities for the provision of more secure accommodation. That was a very good start, but it is not sufficient. It is vital that the money should be turned into actual accommodation.
I had hoped that we might hear a little more from the Minister about what 1284 is happening on that front. When the Act came into force in 1971 there were 150 secure places throughout the country. The figure crept up and in 1974 it was 179. According to an answer that I received yesterday from the Department of Health and Social Security, on 1st April 1975 there were 193 secure places. Unfortunately, the Department cannot tell me how many places were available on 1st April 1976.
If the places are increasing by that slow rate, I suspect that the total now is only about 200. Whatever argument there may be about the number of secure places that we want, it is clear that at present we do not have enough. The delay is intolerable. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to provide adequate secure places in each region, if necessary simply by making certain rooms or wings in a number of community homes more secure than they are already. I hope that from one Department or the other we shall have a date specified after which no child shall be put in prison.
However, that is only one of 40 recommendations. If I were to devote only one minute to the remaining 39, 1 suspect that I should try both your patience, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House. Perhaps I may refer, however, to a few of the other recommendations.
There is common criticism of care orders and the limited powers of the court. What so often happens is that a child commits an offence and comes before the court, and the court makes a care order. The social services say that the child should remain at home—perhaps because they so choose, perhaps because there are inadequate facilities, or even because if the child is put into a community home it then absconds. For some reason, the child finishes up back at home. The child then goes out, commits another offence and comes before the court again. What can the court do? It can make a care order.
That is an aspect of the Act that has received considerable criticism, not least from a very distinguished justice of the peace—and my constituent—the Lord Mayor of London. He has commented that last year in the metropolis 106 boys were accused of 3,735 offences, an average of 35 each, and between them they 1285 had 1,057 court appearances. Every one of those boys was at the time subject to a care order made by a court.
Hence we have Recommendation No. 4, to which the Minister has referred, which suggests a secure care order. I rather share the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde that, while the Committee originally suggested that such an order would be made on, as it were, the second appearance of a child already in care, it would be right that we should give the court the added power to make such an order in the first instance.
I quite accept that the thinking behind the Act is to transfer responsibility from the court to the social services—the Minister mentioned that—and that once the court has made the decision the responsibility as to the type of treatment is then with the social worker. But, after all, while it is right that the court should put the welfare of the child first, it has to take into account other considerations also, not least the interests of society as a whole. It would not be wrong or necessarily against the philosophy of the Act to give the court an added power, an alternative power to the ordinary care order, whereby it could lay down certain types of conditions and specify where a child should go.
Similarly, it is because of criticism of the sort I have already indicated that I support Recommendation No. 3, which suggests that we should try to seek some sort of agreement between the bench and the social services. The Minister referred to this matter, and I was interested in his suggestion that perhaps the court might be able to make some sort of recommendation.
When the Act first came into effect, the view that we formed in my own court was that, if it was appropriate for a child to go back and live in its own home, we would normally make a supervision order—assuming that the other penalties such as a fine or an attendance centre order were not appropriate. Normally, if we thought that the child should be accommodated away from home, we would make a care order. That seems to have been the thinking behind the Act. That was our interpretation. We made a point of liaising. In going through my notes in preparation for the debate, I came across a copy of a letter I wrote at the time to 1286 the local director of social services saying that that would be our thinking, which we hoped that the social services would reflect. They completely agreed.
It must be possible, if it is not practicable to give the court the additional power that I would prefer, to have some sort of understanding between magistrates and social workers. It is unfortunate that the degree of liaison appears to vary in different parts of the country. I have even heard of cases in which the social worker has refused to meet the magistrates, or vice versa.
These care orders are for the more serious cases. In other circumstances a supervision order might be more appropriate. I was particularly interested to hear that the Minister of State is sympathetic to the Committee's suggestion that such orders might be brought more into line with the old type of probation order. The weakness of the supervision order is that there are no sanctions to ensure that it works. The social worker can say to his charge that he wants him to go and see him every Wednesday and that he is determined that his charge should keep away from a particular cafe because the people there will do him no good. That child can then fail to turn up and behave contrary to the instructions which the social worker has given him.
There is nothing that a social worker can then do except take the child back to court. The court will then tell the child that he is a naughty boy and confirm the supervision order, or a care order will be made. It would be better to establish some sort of contractual relationship similar to that of a probation order. That would not apply in every case, because it might be better to have some sort of loose supervision. That is a particularly useful recommendation by the Committee.
I was pleased to hear the Minister's comments on fines, because that is an unsatisfactory aspect of the working of the Act. It is not practical for a court to enforce the payment of fines on children. In the majority of cases fines are paid, but one can fine Johnny £5 or £10 for an offence and in nine cases out of 10 it will be agreed that it should be paid at 50p a week. The child will walk out of court knowing damned well that if he does not pay there is nothing 1287 the court can do about it. He knows that and the court knows that. It brings the law into disrepute.
I was delighted that the Minister was in favour in principle of Recommendation 10, which suggests an extension of attendance centres. They play a useful part and are economical. They are effective because 75 per cent, of children who go to attendance centres do not get into trouble again. They deprive a child of liberty on Saturday afternoons but they do not upset schooling or work, and it is a form of treatment within the community.
The benefits of treatment within the community are a theme throughout our Report. Reference is made to the cost of keeping a child in a community home. It costs about £3,500 a year, and in some cases substantially more. The cost in a home which members of the Committee visited was twice that figure. It is an enormous cost. Therefore, the more children we can keep out of community homes, the better. Some youngsters must be cared for in residential accommodation, but if they can be treated at home that is better because they can then remain in the community.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Since my hon. Friend has visited community homes, can he tell the House why it costs up to £8,500 a year? Why should it cost more than it does to stay at the Savoy or go to Eton? There must be a reason. Can my hon. Friend say what it is?
§ Mr. Sims
I can show my hon. Friend the figures. One has to take into account the basic capital cost and the high cost of staffing as well as ordinary costs. The higher costs occur where there is a high ratio of staff to children, and particularly in homes with high-level and expensive security. The figures are very high. While there may well be room in this as in other aspects of local and national administration for knocking a few pounds off here and there, I do not think that there is room for many economies. We must accept that that sort of residential accommodation is very expensive.
That was one of the reasons why the Committee was particularly encouraged to read of the success of intermediate treatment in certain areas and suggested that 1288 it should be expanded as widely as possible. It is a valuable adjunct to the supervision order, where intermediate treatment is available. It is not a new idea. For years probation officers have been running schemes such as rock-climbing, go-karting, handicrafts, sailing and so on, to develop the interests of lads in something that will continue after they finish their period of supervision, to encourage youngsters to direct their energies into more useful channels. A number of schemes have been developed which involve local industry and local organisations.
A great deal of good work is being done not far from here, in Southwark. There the cost of intermediate treatment works out at about £80 per head per year. It clearly will not be 100 per cent, successful, but if only a proportion of those children are diverted from the criminal path on which they had started it will be extraordinarily good value for money. There is scope for the development of such schemes throughout the country. I hope that they will be encouraged by the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office.
Some disturbed and delinquent children cannot stay at home, for various reasons, and they must live in community homes. I have several community homes in my constituency, as I am sure other hon. Members have. The staff do a wonderful job. But the homes are not, and cannot be, the same as a family home. The next best thing to the real family home is a foster home. Children from broken homes and orphans have been fostered for many years, but it has been less common to foster disturbed and delinquent children. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East mentioned the schemes we saw operating on the Continent. There have been a number of schemes going on quietly in this country. There has been some publicity in the past week or two about the scheme in Kent, which led my local director of social services to tell me that he had been doing the same in my borough for some years, but without so much publicity.
It was interesting to see the extent to which the schemes were being developed on the Continent and how successful they were. The foster-parents are given not only the cost of looking after the child 1289 but a substantial remuneration in acknowledgment of the job they do. One of the countries we visited had a sliding scale of salary. The more difficult and disturbed the child, the higher the salary. The Department of Health and Social Security should encourage that. It could do nothing but good.
Incidentally, I note that the countries where fostering appears to have been developed most, and most successfully, are those where the way of life is often considered to be less inhibited, and where perhaps it is easier for people to take into their homes the difficult, disturbed child, the child who creates mess everywhere, the child on drugs and so on. Whether we in this country are becoming more able to cope with those problems, and whether in wider terms that is a good thing, is perhaps a matter for discussion on another occasion.
I apologise for speaking at some length. There are still one or two points, arising from our discussions in Committee, which are worthy of note. One concerns the rôle of the regional planning committees. It is obviously important that in every region the widest possible facilities should be made available. That was the purpose of setting up the regional planning committees. The trouble is that they have no powers. They can tell a local authority "It will be helpful in this region if you will have such and such an establishment" or say to another "Please adapt your establishment to take girls." If, however, the local authority refuses, there is nothing that the regional planning committee can do about it. There is a recommendation on these general lines which should be considered.
I was pleased that the Minister of State referred to the need for liaison. It is so important and simple. I mentioned earlier that some of us met together locally. I started by suggesting that the social workers might come along and meet the magistrates. There were a few raised eyebrows, but they came along and each side found that the other side was human. Since then, my successor has progressed to the point at which there have been several successful conferences to discuss the general problems of juvenile crime, with magistrates, probation officers, social workers, teachers 1290 and police all represented. There is no reason why such meetings should not be more widely extended. It is far better for this liaison to be informal than for the Government to lay down that there should be so many from each profession represented.
With regard to detention centres, before 1969 there was a tendency for juvenile courts to remand a lad in custody for a week simply to give him a dose of the medicine. That was wrong and illegal, but it had some effect in certain cases for the lad to be away from home for a few days. In this context the suggestion for a short stay in a detention centre has much to commend it.
We must examine the need for more trained social workers. It is a pity that in residential homes only 13 per cent, of the social workers are trained. Meanwhile, we should consider whether we are using the skills and experience of probation officers to the best advantage. We must clarify the law of truancy. There is a great deal of misunderstanding of the circumstances in which truants can be brought before the courts, and experience shows that a large proportion of juvenile delinquents are truants.
Having been rather critical, I emphasise that I favour the philosophy behind the Act, especially that which suggests that there is little difference between the delinquent child and the disturbed child. They both need treatment rather than punishment. But the Act fails to distinguish between the disturbed and delinquent child who needs and will respond to treatment and the minority of young criminals. These young criminals merit firm handling and must be so dealt with in their own interests and in the interests of society as a whole.
The fault of the Act is that it was implemented with inadequate measures available to the courts and inadequate resources available to local authorities. The inadequacies of the courts can be remedied in part by legislation and in part by administrative action. Resources mean finance. I accept that spending is strictly limited at present, but we must get our priorities right. I forbear to criticise certain directions in which the Government are spending public money, but I suggest that modest expenditure now in dealing with young delinquents 1291 can prevent their becoming criminals later at far greater expense to society.
We are talking of young people who in the main, if properly handled, can become normal members of the community leading enjoyable and useful lives. If we fail to treat them, or treat them wrongly, the consequences in terms of wasted talents and human misery for them, their families and those against whom they offend are incalculable. The Act must be made to work. No effort to ensure that it does is too great. The responsibility to ensure that it works properly lies with Parliament, and it is a responsibility we dare not ignore.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and the members of her Committee for having put in a tremendous amount of work and time to produce a very informative, illuminating and well-presented Report.
I also wish to express disappointment that the Government have not been able to respond to the Report, even though they have had as long as nine months in which to do so. I was also disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office was not able to go further than he did, particularly in dealing with the predicament of children from 14 to 16 years of age who are in Prison Service establishments. He said on previous occasions that the Government intended to begin the phasing out of remands for juveniles to such establishments and to local prisons. Despite repeated promises, however, we have not yet moved to a situation where the phasing out of remands, even for 14-year-old girls, looks like being even a remote possibility in the near future.
The Children and Young Persons Act has attracted a great deal of criticism and has aroused much controversy, yet it has not had a fair chance to operate. It was passed only in 1969 and implemented by the previous Government in 1971, but it has always suffered from a lack of resources and during its period of operation we have seen not only the reorganisation of local authority social service departments initiated by Seebohm 1292 but also the major upheaval of local government reorganisation.
We must remember that the Act has not been in force very long. Many of its provisions were not implemented by the previous Government, and it cannot be said to have had a fair chance of succeeding. Yet surprisingly we find, particularly outside the House but also within this Chamber, that the Act is blamed for the rising rate of juvenile crime—a rise which, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, is largely illusory. However much the Police Federation may complain to the contrary, the increase in juvenile crime has been relatively insignificant. There has been an unparalleled increase in crime among adults generally.
There are many other reasons why juvenile crime seems to be increasing. Many of the crimes are ineptly committed and the offenders are often easily caught. Furthermore, there has always been a greater degree of success in detection in relation to crimes by juveniles. Because of propaganda and various campaigns conducted from many quarters, particularly outside the House, against juveniles in general, it is probably fashionable, to a greater degree than perhaps has been the case in the past, to blame juveniles for having contributed to the incidence of crime.
In any event, many crimes committed by juveniles are relatively trivial. Despite the hysteria and controversy aroused on this subject in many quarters. I think that we as a nation must try to disabuse ourselves of the view that our children are any more delinquent or wicked than were their predecessors. We do a disservice to ourselves and to the community if we seek to place too great an emphasis—and certainly that emphasis has been underlined by the Police Federation—on the alleged incidence of the rise in juvenile crime. We must not seek to create an alarmist and hysterical atmosphere.
Whatever increase in this respect has taken place must not lead us to an unwarranted or misguided attack on the Act. It was an attempt to deal with children in trouble. It was not intended, nor was it able, to eradicate the causes of crime. We cannot by means of legislation eradicate the causes of crime. We 1293 have to isolate, identify and root out those causes by other means—and that was not the function, nor can it be, of the Children and Young Persons Act. There are many criticisms which should be rightly directed towards the Act. It has many shortcomings. But what Act of Parliament is not criticised? What Act of Parliament does not have shortcomings?
I do not believe that because the Act as shortcomings—they are there and there are many of them—this in any sense necessarily undermines the objectives that were entertained when the Act was passed or the philosophy that underlies its whole concept in practice. Indeed, I am very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State reaffirm the Government's commitment, and the commitment of many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, to the concept and the underlying philosophy behind the Children and Young Persons Act.
However, it is necessary to accept that many of the juveniles that we are talking about tonight are difficult, delinquent children and that they do not all come from disturbed homes and do not all have psychiatric problems. Many of them are embryonic criminals—the professional criminals of the future. We have to recognise that fact and deal with them in the recognition of that fact. But it is interesting that, when we talk of the incidence of juvenile crime and look at he figures and types of children involved crime of one kind and another, almost invariably they come from the deprived areas of the country, and very largely from the inner areas of the cities.
Kirkby, in my constituency, is a relatively small town, a new town, and it has one of the highest rates of juvenile crime in the country. It has a higher rate than cities like Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham. It is an area with a population of 60,000. Yet we also find that it happens to be very socially deprived, with the highest rate of male unemployment not only in the United Kingdom but in the whole of Western Europe. It has tremendously inadequate housing and social deprivation of all kinds. It has the largest number of single-parent families and the largest number of unmarried mothers. Whatever factor of social deprivation we can think of, it is 1294 to be found in Kirkby—and writ large in Kirkby. We also find there a great deal of juvenile vandalism and crime. From this microcosm, this almost miniature city in my constituency, we can extrapolate throughout the country.
There is a clear connection, even if it is not actually provable as a causal connection, between social deprivation, unstable home background, and juvenile crime and a tendency towards or propensity to it. We ought to be dealing with that rather than attempting to deal with the symptoms. We are talking in a very large way here about dealing with children who have already got into trouble rather than about how to prevent them geting into trouble in the first place. A large part of the Act is devoted to trying to divert them from a future life of criminality. It is not really an attempt to eradicate the causes of crime.
There are now something like 2,500 unemployed school leavers on Merseyside—250 in the very small town of Kirkby. Would not any hon. Member feel a great sense of grievance and resentment if, having gone through the education system and seen what was available to the normal, ordinary, decent people in society—all of this having been pictured regularly on television, along with the adventures and glories of the Martini society—he found on leaving school that there was not even a dead-end job available but only the dole queue? That inevitably must arouse a great deal of resentment and bitterness against society, which would appear to such a person as uncaring about either him or his future or his environment. Although I do not in any sense wish to appear to defend it or to argue that it is acceptable, it is not surprising, given those circumstances, that many of these youngsters and juveniles turn against that society which they feel has done nothing but humiliate and degrade them.
We have also had many criticisms of the Act that there is not sufficient power to deal with what I accept are juveniles who may be delinquent, who may be the future criminals and who need to be dealt with by other than the caring means which underlie the Act. Yet those powers exist already. The powers in the Act, for example, now enable the courts to enforce a supervision order, to have 1295 a detention centre order and also to send juveniles of 15 years and above, on a recommendation, to the Crown court for borstal training. They also seem to exercise the power—as it happens, no one has said that it should be continued—to remand many hundreds of children a year to local prisons. The powers exist to deal with those delinquents whom we accept to be adult in their physique, in their attitudes and perhaps in their behaviour, and I cannot see any further powers which could be added to the Act which would in any way protect society, which I take to be one of the most important criteria, or, what is equally important, ensure that these juveniles do not recommit the same offences or other offences in the future.
Yet all our experience of all custodial measures shows that they have a negligible effect upon reconviction rates and in no sense rehabilitate those whom they are incarcerating. If we look, for example, as I tried to get my hon. Friend the Minister to look earlier, at junior detention centres—this short dash that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East seems to want of a dose of semi-imprisonment in a detention centre to bring home to the juvenile delinquent the error of his ways and to put him on a new path—we see that clearly they have not achieved that in practice. There is a reconviction rate from juveniles sent to detention centres which exceeds that of those who undergo borstal training.
No one here accepts that it is appropriate or tolerable for children between the ages of 14 and 16 to be remanded in any circumstances to local prisons. I do not wish to go through all the many comments and figures which have been produced here tonight. Suffice it to say that a very large proportion of children who end up on unruly certificates in the remand parts of local prisons are subsequently found not guilty or are given non-custodial sentences, yet they have already, technically innocent, served prison sentences.
It is not true, as the Minister of State has said on previous occasions, that girls at Holloway, for example, are segregated from adult prisoners. Indeed, it was his colleague the Under-Secretary of State 1296 for the Home Department who told me in a letter in 1974 that it was a good thing that they were not segregated because, believe it or not, the older women commonly exerted a restraining influence on the girls. That seems to be an extraordinary statement for a Home Office Minister to make and an extraordinary reason for allowing girls between the ages of 14 and 16 to associate with older and more hardened criminal adults.
One of the objects of the Act is to ensure not only that juveniles and children are dealt with in a caring situation rather than in a punitive sense but also to provide flexibility. It has that flexibility, subject to the resources being made available, and it is a flexibility which I believe should be retained, as should the emphasis of the Act upon non-custodial treatments. As many hon. Members have pointed out, non-custodial measures are certainly less expensive than custodial measures. In any event, their success has not been properly tried or put to the test so that we can conclusively say one way or the other, but they are no less successful than the custodial measures in changing conviction rates or rehabilitating offenders.
I therefore suggest that we should be far more positive, constructive and adventurous in attempting to widen the scope and comprehensiveness of the non-custodial measures available for dealing with offenders of all ages, to ensure that offenders play a fuller part in the community and do not remain isolated and alienated individuals who are apart from society.
We need to look more fully and with a greater degree of commitment than in the past at better community schemes. For example, my hon. Friend mentioned fostering arrangements in Sweden. As was pointed out, that also happens in this country. In Kent, probation officers, school teachers, police officers and other pillars of the establishment are recruited and paid. This is something which could be broadened throughout the country as a whole as a means of providing stable homes for those who have not had the benefit and privilege of a stable home background and environment. This is working in a pilot scheme in Kent and it is worth trying and expanding into other areas.
1297 It is worth going further and introducing community service schemes for juveniles where they can repay the community for damage and distress they may have caused individuals and the community as a whole. This would be a far more constructive approach for individual children or the juvenile in trouble and certainly would be far less expensive than other measures currently employed or available.
Most of the other non-custodial methods have been mentioned a great deal already in the debate and have been dealt with thoroughly. I would give my support and hope that the Government will find themselves able in the White Paper to offer greater provision of more day care facilities, a better and more intensive education programme and more intermediate treatment and preventive measures than have been used in the past.
It is most important—the Minister of State mentioned this—that there should be better liaison between juvenile bureaux and local authority social services departments. We need to regularise the juvenile liaison scheme which has grown up haphazardly in the country. It is good in intent but in some cases it works in a way which is not to be commended or approved.
Perhaps we can start by looking in a constructive manner at the operation of the juvenile liaison scheme, to attempt to regularise its methods and methodology, throughout the country and by ensuring that the police are properly trained—as they are not now—to deal with juveniles, to overcome the confusion of the role of the police as police and as confidants and fatherly figures towards the juvenile in trouble, and attempt to get them and local authorities more thoroughly involved in diversion than has been the practice in the past.
The most important thing to emphasise is that implementation of the Act is right. Many of the criticisms are directed towards its shortcomings, but they can be overcome. It is important to ensure that the shift of emphasis to care and to noncustodial measures is continued and that it is not thwarted, prevented or circumvented by society's thirst for punishment away from constructive, humane and what I believe to be civilised measures adopted 1298 in the past which the Report supports and which the Minister's acceptance of the major part of it suggests he will be following in the future.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
There is a great deal to be said about this excellent Report, with which I have had some small connection, latterly, having been a member of the Sub-Committee. Having, however, achieved the victory of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be magnanimous to those whom I have beaten to the draw by briefly confining myself to two main observations.
First, appalling though the juvenile crime figures undoubtedly are, we have to resist the temptation to blame them all on the failure of the Children and Young Persons Act. It has been failing, but then we expected too much of it. We gave it too much to do by relaxing the harshness of the law governing juvenile offenders at the moment when crime generally and children's crime in particular was beginning to get out of hand. We gave its operation to those who were at that moment least able to cope with it—the local authorities in the throes of implementing Seebohm and on the threshold of the most radical reform of the structure of local government for getting on for 100 years. Central Government, having ordered the new structure, then starved it of its resources. As a result, it has frequently achieved the very reverse of its aims.
The Act wanted to keep young people out of prison, yet more and more are held on remand in prison for want of alternative secure accommodation. The Act wanted fewer young persons to be treated in institutions, yet the numbers sent to detention centres and borstal doubled between 1968 and 1973. The Act wanted more supervision within the community, yet supervision orders have dropped from 21,500 in 1969 to 18,000 in 1973.
The Act has failed mainly because it was never given a chance. But, had it succeeded, it could hardly have cured or even halted the rise in juvenile crime. For the causes of that we must turn to the breakdown in family responsibility, in school discipline, the social mores of the time and perhaps a host of other reasons which are not for discussion tonight. I 1299 am certainly not one of those who say that the Act is all bad, though I think that there are parts of it which would be better not there, and I shall speak of some of them later.
What I want to say—bearing in mind the hard image that one inevitably gets if one spends some time in this House, as I do, seeking to strengthen the forces of law and order, seeking to tighten up our criminal processes, seeking to tip the scales of justice less favourably to the villain and advocating sterner penalties—is that those who sought by the Act to remove the behaviour of children as far as possible from the ambit of the criminal law were utterly and completely right.
As an occasional practitioner of criminal law in the juvenile courts, I must confess that it was always a miserable experience appearing in those courts, because they sought to apply adult procedures to children's behaviour and they simply did not work. If the little things were convicted, the offenders all too often received an encouraging word, a pat on the head and tuppence out of the poor box. If acquitted, they had beaten the system, they had got a smart lawyer, they had won, they had thumbed their noses at authority and the police. One could not help feeling that often they were about to be launched by their court appearance upon a further career of crime.
Therefore, with certain positive exceptions, I should like to see the Children and Young Persons Act given a fairer wind. Let the Government begin by taking steps to implement our recommendation. That is my first observation.
My second observation concerns the more serious juvenile delinquency which society must try to contain and protect itself from. Although the Children and Young Persons Act has not created the terrifying level of juvenile crime, it has done nothing to contain it. The reason is clear to all of us who heard the witnesses who came before the Committee. The Act does not differentiate between the disturbed child and the child who needs to be punished. This was the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner.)
As we ourselves said in the Committee, 1300The major failing of the 1969 Act is that it is not wholly effective in differentiating between children who need care, welfare, better education and more support from society and the small minority who need strict control and an element of punishment.What in essence is wrong is that there has been a breakdown in the degree of respect for authority which every child ought to have. The Act has encouraged that breakdown rather than discouraged it.
If magistrates feel helpless, that helplessness communicates itself to the offending child, who is encouraged to continue his offences. If police officers feel helpless, the offending child takes heart in his wrong-doing and probably goes on to lead more and more children astray. As long as fines remain unenforceable and are not attributable to parents—I am grateful to the Minister for showing agreement with the particular recommendation of ours—as long as magistrates have no real power to determine what is to happen to the offender, and as long as the headmasters of community homes, every time they want to discipline the children in their care have first to telephone the social worker, who comes along and is seen to be a very young, charming but utterly useless young lady, so long will the Act continue to fail.
It is because these simple truths were so obvious to the Committee that we particularly made Recommendation 4 for a secure care order where a care order has failed; Recommendation 6 concerning a sanction for the non-payment of fines—I am delighted that the Minister welcomed this; Recommendation 23, for the making and enforcing of conditions to be attached to a supervision order; and Recommendation 36, which provides for a closer liaison of the authorities in the following through of the progress of young offenders after they have been dealt with.
Even more significant was our attitude to the rôle of institutions in checking juvenile crime. Speaking entirely for myself, it seemed crazy enough that the Children and Young Persons Act proposed the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 14—particularly crazy at a time when the forces of law and order have enough to cope with, with very scant resources. It is more crazy in a sense to propose the abolition of 1301 attendance centres, detention centres and borstals.
There must be somewhere to send young serious offenders for training and sometimes, if not always, for punishment. Corporal punishment is out, though many in the country, and I think in the House too, are still mourning its passage, but let us not throw away all the sanctions against the persistent small minority of serious offenders. I therefore think that Recommendations 9 and 10, to retain attendance centres and to expand the use of detention centres, are among our most sensible proposals and that they will certainly be welcomed by a large majority of the public.
I ask the Minister not to damn Recommendation 9, since he has only the guess of hard-pressed detention centre staff to support his view while the Committee had the experience of the working Hamburg system to back its view. I hope he will think long and hard before he rejects any of these recommendations, which are the fruit of a great deal of dedicated work in the Committee and by those who came to speak to us.
I conclude by joining in the congratulations to the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). This was my first Select Committee. So charming and friendly was the hon. Lady and so kind were her colleagues that I have re-enlisted and am now a member of the Sub-Committee which is considering preventive medicine, again under the chairmanship of the hon. Lady. It would astonish the country to see how the Left and the Right, including the extremes of the Left and the Right, work together in this place and come to such happily sensible, agreed and moderate conclusions for the good of the country. It astonished me.
I hope that I do not sour the atmosphere of concord with which I am concluding my speech if I say that I think it is pathetic, if the Government are concerned about juvenile crime, that they have taken so long to do nothing to implement these proposals. Perhaps the Minister will now resign.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) and the hon. 1302 Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) have quoted from the conclusion of the Committee in paragraph 167. Both left out some of the most important points made by the Committee, points of which the House, I think, needs reminding, in view of the debate.
My hon. Friend left out the words:The extent to which a particular child may commit offences which go seriously beyond sheer mischief depends on social deprivation (bad housing, poverty, poor schooling, broken families) more than any other factor.It is interesting how often the life experience of adults charged and convicted in the criminal courts includes various factors in those categories. The hon. Member for Burton also spoke selectively of the small minority who need direct control and an element of punishment. He did not include the sentence:We strongly recommend, within the framework of the Act, a major shift of emphasis away from custodial and punitive techniquesI would say to the Minister that it is wrong to suggest that any criticism of the Children and Young Persons Act is detrimental to the philosophy behind the Act. There are areas in which changes of emphasis can greatly improve the working of the Act without abandoning the philosophy on which it is founded.
I have received a suggestion—I do not claim it as my brainchild—about the problem of the secure care order. It has come from the consultant psychiatrist in charge of the Institute of Child Psychology. He suggests that, if it is felt that there is a need for some kind of secure care order, that should be dealt with in the same way as committals under Section 25 of the Mental Health Act and that if the social worker and the psychiatrist who have been called upon to give reports on a young person recommend a secure order, that should go before the courts as a proposal In that case the court, having considered all the facts, would have the right to decide for or against the making of an order rather than be dependent on an individual social worker's views and rather than make a decision based on its own view of the gravity of the offence that the child had committed, which often, according to the Report, is based on the court's view of the gravity of offences generally.
In other words, the number of times that a child has committed offences and 1303 the consideration of whether he has seriously damaged property and so on is often a deciding factor in the view which the court takes. This suggestion would take it out of the hands of the court for the purpose of getting a report on the child but would give the court the right to make the decision based on expert evidence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) drew attention to the crisis in the provision of residential staff. Many of those engaged in residential care work are unsuitable and lack the necessary training. The Committee has recommended attracting back into social work those who left to get married or for other reasons. There is a vast pool of people who are willing and anxious to take part in some form of social work. Many men and women could give love and concern to children in need. The Government must find the resources to bring these people back into social work, to operate either in residential establishments or in their own homes and to provide shelter for young people who are in difficulties.
In my constituency, many mature men have given up the rat race of commercial life in order to train as social workers, probation officers and teachers. There are women who would dearly love to be involved in this kind of service to the community, but they cannot do it when training for the basic social work certificate takes about two years full-time. Although the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work is providing the possibility of shorter training terms, training is hedged about with conditions which would make it unacceptable to returners or to those who want to start from scratch.
A one-year crash training scheme based on the idea which has been suggested tonight—the emergency teacher-training scheme operated after the war—could provide the kind of people to deal with delinquent youngsters and who could satisfy many, if not all, of the needs. Training in dealing with delinquent youngsters is of importance. The changes in social work that have flowed from the interpretation of the Seebohm Report by local authorities have meant that many people who specialise in child care have been 1304 shunted around to other departments. Many who have come fresh from university have no experience of life on which to base their way of handling young people who often come from backgrounds which are markedly different from their own. It is worrying that people come straight from university into an area where they assume that they are doing good to the poor and the needy but in doing so often try to impose their views of society and of the changes needed in it upon families whose standards and understanding of society are so different from their own.
In speaking to large groups of social workers in training, I have told them that although they may want to change society—and I firmly agree with them in wanting to make drastic changes in the way society is organised—they must not do it in their capacity as social workers. Their duty as social workers is to care for the people who are committed to them.
§ Mrs. Miller
Their duty is to do the job for which they are being trained. By all means in their spare time let them join whichever political party takes their fancy, and set about changing society through it, but they must not do it in their capacity as social workers. A good deal of the unhappiness that is caused between clients and social workers arises because this is not the appropriate way for those engaged in social service to operate. They are operating in an extremely delicate area of relationships where they are entrusted with the confidence of families who are severely deprived. The young people in their care are often pressurised by society into accepting all kinds of judgments, which the social worker may encourage, without realising the damage they are doing.
We need to look again at the way social workers are trained. Some young people from university have implanted in their minds certain preconceived ideas. For example, we have heard tonight of social workers who say that the mother is the first consideration and that her prestige in her mother rôle must be maintained, even in circumstances where her treatment of her children has been outrageous by any standards.
1305 In cases brought to the attention of the public last week in the Bedfordshire County Council area, the fact that girls have entered into or remained in prostitution after being taken into care by a local authority, whose duty it is to care for and protect them, has been explained away by social workers saying that this was allowed in order to gain their confidence. I suggest that the way to gain young people's confidence is not necessarily to grant them all the licence they require in life.
I worked for a number of years as a young person's adviser in a school in inner London where many of the girls were at least as prone as the girls in Bedfordshire to take to the streets to supplement their income. It is entirely wrong that local authorities should use the lever of granting licence as a means of gaining young persons' confidence.
The London Boroughs Children's Regional Planning Committee said in its evidence to the Select Committee:There seems little doubt that the prevailing fashion in much of society is to question any restraint on a person's behaviour.I do not believe that that is the prevailing fashion in society. It may be the prevailing fashion in the media and some trendies, but most working-class families do not accept it and are distressed beyond measure when their children get into difficulties which are compounded by those who are supposed to be helping and protecting the children from the ills which undoubtedly exist in society.
Much can be done in schools to help young people. Social workers are not fitted, as Islington's director of social services said in his evidence to the Committee, to exercise a near-judicial function. Neither their training nor, often, their experience qualifies them to operate that kind of function in making recommendations to courts.
Social workers often ignore the advice and experience of teachers who know the life style of the young persons concerned and the real problems which may have led to delinquency and the need to take them out of the home.
I have had considerable correspondence from teachers who have made this point strongly. They say that, if only they had been consulted, they would have 1306 been able to help. In the school at which I worked, teachers were encouraged to share the knowledge they had of the children and—with the consent of the family—any family problems with those trying to help and advise not only the child but the whole family.
It has been represented time and again that the extreme youth of some social workers inhibits the work they ought to be doing. I do not believe that there is a case for people without experience of any other facet of life than going from school to university operating on families whose understanding of situations is quite different.
Only this morning I had an approach from the head of a school for maladjusted children in the London area. He talked about the setting up of assessment centres. He said that in his borough £¼ million is to be spent on providing an assessment centre. He said that the highly-skilled professional people at the centre would be making vital decisions about the future life of young people, which would be very nice except, as everyone has said tonight, that there will be nowhere for the young people to go after the assessment centre has assessed their needs.
If we are looking for resources to replace some of the decisions that have already been made about the provision additional staff, I see from the Report that when people have been able to choose between accommodation and staff they have gone wholeheartedly for staff. There must be many buildings lying around every authority area which could be adapted to provide assessment centres. A quarter of a million pounds of capital expenditure could perhaps be transferred to current expenditure for the purpose of providing more trained people to help in this area.
The head of the school for maladjusted children also mentioned cases in his area of young, naughty, adolescent girls—anyone who has had a daughter of adolescent age in the past decade will know that they are very often naughty—being thrown out of their homes by their mothers, accepted into care by the local authority and then placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I find this a horrifying situation.
The head told me about a 14-year-old girl who was placed in bed-and-breakfast 1307 accommodation and who was pregnant within three months. Is it any wonder that she became pregnant? How can a local authority, with the duty of care and protection put a child of that age into bed-and-breakfast accommodation? We condemn it time after time when families—mothers, fathers and children—are put into such accommodation. Surely we should condemn the practice a hundredfold when young and unprotected girls are involved.
Perhaps I have spoken longer than is my usual wont. I have tried to restrict the length of my speech in the normal way, but this is a matter of enormous value and importance. I feel that some of my comments have been different from those in former speeches. I hope that I have made a few practical suggestions about approaching some of the problems which face us. If that is so, it is because of the Report which the Committee has presented to the House. An ideal vehicle has been provided to enable us to draw attention to the many problems that exist in our society for young people.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) has done a service to the House and has thrown a fresh light on this subject. She spoke much plain good sense. I am most grateful to the hon. Lady.
I can confirm one of the hon. Lady's own impressions. The headmaster of a large school in my constituency who has a truancy problem discovered that a family, one of whose children was playing truant regularly, had been approached by the social worker. The mother of the girl in question was most anxious that her daughter should continue at school, but the social worker had told the girl not to worry about it because truancy was just a way of making protest against society. That was a wholly irresponsible thing for any social worker to have said. It could subvert the authority of the mother and the headmaster and make a nonsense of the magistrates' court.
I do not suggest that that is in any way representative of the way in which social workers behave. Most of them do a good job. I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Ilford, North that 1308 some young social workers who have known classrooms and universities but little else would do well to be modest in offering advice in that manner.
I hope that the hon. Lady will not take amiss my comment on her observation that a number of people have moved from commerce to the social services. There are some advantages in the social services these days. There is job security which is not to be had in commerce in Britain today. There is a company car which might be at risk in commerce in Britain today.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ilford, North about the problems of juveniles and many other social problems, but in the end our nation has to earn its living. If too many people move from commerce to the social services, we shall have no resources at all.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller
It is interesting to note that, according to today's Press reports, industry is to spend about £30,000 to convince young people in schools of the need to go into productive industry. Schools and universities recognise that the recent trend away from anything to do with industry is not necessarily because of job security but is because young people are not happy in the competitive commercial world. Social workers in local authorities do not have company cars.
§ Mr. Griffiths
In the interests of making progress, I must get on with my speech.
This problem has two different aspects. The first is our proper concern for the juvenile offender, and the second is our proper concern for the protection of society as a whole. I do not find it as easy as did the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) to arrive at a single settled view of this complex dilemma.
The Minister, as always, was quietly spoken and careful, but he was complacent. He did not give an adequate answer to the points made by the Committee, as I hoped he would. He was equally complacent in showing a less than adequate concern for the needs of society.
I am well aware of the pitfalls in criminal statistics and I know that not all offences committed by youngsters are serious—many are not. I accept that many young people who fall foul of the 1309 law are more sinned against than sinning. I accept that they are the products of bad housing, bad parents, bad schools and bad environment. I accept that they are more deprived than depraved—that is not my phrase. But our sympathy for these children ought not to blind us to the fact that there are in our society today a few juvenile brutes.
I use that ugly word because it has been my experience and that of the Police Federation, in which I declare an interest, that there are in our society a few teenage thugs who beat up defenceless old people for fun. There are a few teenage sadists who enjoy torturing young children. There are a few hardened professional criminals who, at the age of 15, 16 or 17, live by crime in our society. These things need to be said at the same time as we are considering, as we are right to do, how to handle the large majority of juveniles who fall foul of the law and whose offence is very much less.
In saying these things, I am reflecting the views of one group of people in our country who have to deal with young criminals in a somewhat different fashion from that of the social worker. I am talking, of course, of the police. The majority of policemen have as much sympathy for the youngsters with whom they deal as any other group in our society.
Consider, however, two recent examples that have come my way. One is of a 15-year-old girl found guilty of a number of offences, the last of them a serious assault on her head teacher. This girl has a number of convictions. She has, I am sorry to say, already done a period in Holloway. I am sure that it did her no good, although she told us that she enjoyed it. I imagine that that was braggadocio, but that was what she said.
Until recently the girl was engaged in terrorising—I use that word very carefully—the headmistress and some of the staff of a school to such an extent that the headmistress had to be ordered by the governors to have a period of sabbatical leave, not because she is having a mental or emotional breakdown—the headmistress is perfectly well—but because of the possible threat to her life.
The girl in question has been in care. She is occasionally drunk. I accept that she may well be psychologically disturbed—the psychiatrist's report is awaited. However, I know from my personal ex- 1310 perience that the headmistress and a number of the staff have been living in fear for their lives. The head teacher has been subjected to the whole apparatus of the telephone ringing in the middle of the night: when she picks it up, there is heavy breathing and then a menacing silence, no doubt something picked up by the girl from a television film. Over a period of months there has been an effort by this girl to terrorise the staff of the school, and she has succeeded to the extent that the headmistress has now been ordered away.
Into this situation there have ventured six different agencies and, I believe, 13 different personalities from the various agencies—probation, care, social workers, psychiatrists, the lot, The case came to me only when the deputy headmaster got so worried that he thought that the wretched Member of Parliament should be brought in to try to arrive at what he called co-ordination of the many agencies.
I give this example for one reason only. I have reached a sad conclusion in this case. Much as the 13 personalities from the six agencies are trying to help the girl, there is a wider duty—to protect the school. That is a duty to protect society, and there is a duty to ensure that the work of 13 personalities is not denied to the rest of the community. We cannot afford to use these human resources on one girl for an indefinite period. They are needed by many other members of our society. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the girl will have to be put into detention. Yet as far as I can discover that is precisely what the court is not in a position to do, because having made an order it does not find it possible at present to vary it
I come to my second illustration, which is a little less sombre, that of a 13-year-old boy whose mother said to him the other day, using the sort of threat that mothers will use, "If you do that I'll bring a bobby to you." This youngster, a precocious lad, had had an hour's course in elementary sociology at his school, and he replied "Don't you realise, Mum, that the only result would be a care order? "His mother did not know what a care order was. He added that if he had any luck he would be sent to a community home where, he had learned from his mates, the cooking was "a great deal better than yours, Mum."
1311 That is no doubt an untypical case. It was related to me by a High Court judge. The point I want to leave with the Minister is that in our society today there are not only deprived children. There are some young brutes. The House and the Government have a duty to protect society against them as well as to care for other children who fall foul of the law.
I turn briefly to the Report, on which I wish to cite two pieces of evidence. The first is that of the Magistrates' Association, which said in paragraph 2 of its memorandum:The Act sought, broadly, to substitute care and treatment for punishment for young offenders. For most of them this has worked quite well. For a minority of tough sophisticated young criminals (and some youths of 15 and 16 are strong young men) it has been disastrous. They prey on the community at will, even after courts have placed them in care. They deride the powerlessness of the courts to do anything effective. They are encouraged to become criminals. The essential problem is therefore to provide the courts with greater powers and facilities where they are clearly needed for persistent young offenders.I take those words very seriously.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Does not the hon. Gentleman know that the only difference before 1969 was that there was an approved school to go to, the institution which is now a community home and which the friendly judge and the precocious child that the friendly judge down at "Truncheons" knows could easily be recognised as the same kind of institution?
It is not that there was a golden age before 1969 which has now disappeared, to the great chagrin of the Police Federation. It is simply that we have some very difficult children for whom it is very difficult to see what kind of suitable response there should be within the kind of range that a civilised society would accept as tolerable. There are things which we could do to 15-year-old children but which no civilised country would ever accept. We could send them all to Holloway or some other prison, but nobody wants that. Within the range of possibilities, there is not a great deal of difference between what happens now and what happened then.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am obliged to the Minister for that little lecture, but I do not remember talking about the period before 1969. I do not regard it as a golden age. I do not quite see the point of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, although I was very glad to have it. I simply wish him to take seriously the evidence of the Magistrates' Association.
This evening we have had eloquent speeches from hon. Members who have been concerned for the care of the juvenile. I am trying to some extent to redress the balance by saying that there is another aspect of the problem—the protection of society. I ask the Minister to take seriously the judgment of the Magistrates' Association, which represents throughout the country many thousands of men and women of wide experience of all political and no political backgrounds. I hope that he will not ignore what the Magistrates' Association said or imply that magistrates imagined that all was well before 1969—of course not. They are identifying the problem, they put it eloquently and I ask the Minister to recognise their concern and take seriously their advice.
The second piece of advice I wish the Minister to consider is that of the police. The police have a view that needs to be taken seriously by the House. Without going into great detail, I shall take three or four items at random by quotation.
The first is a general commentary by the Police Federation:Those involved in implementing the Act know well that many juveniles commit offences which are not caused by their surroundings. The depraved child is not necessarily deprived.If the Minister has any doubt about that, let him consider Patty Hearst. I would not describe her as coming from a deprived background, but she was certainly a dangerous criminal by any measure.
The Police Federation goes on to say:The considerable increase in the powers of local authorities and the intended withdrawal of any means of deterrence from magistrates (by the withdrawal of attendance centres and detention centres) have brought about an unbalancing treatment. The application of the Act means that it is impossible to separate adequately the psychologically disturbed from those who need strong punitive measures or a restricted environment.1313 I hope that the Minister will consider that view, which is shared by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner).
On the question of fines—an important matter which the Minister dealt with in some detail—the police say:It seems incomprehensible that magistrates should retain the power to fine juveniles when they have no practical means of enforcing payments. There is a power to order a parent or a guardian to pay a fine. Unfortunately, this is so hedged by qualifications as to be unavailable in a great many cases when it would be useful.The police then make the recommendation endorsed by my hon. and learned Friend:There should be a vicarious liability on parents for fines arising out of their children's behaviourwhere they can be shown to have contributed to it. That is a sound recommendation which I hope the Minister will consider. He said that the White Paper is not yet complete.
On the supervision orders, the police say:The probation order was in lieu of sentence. A breach enabled the court to deal in some other way with the original offence. The supervision order replacing it is virtually a sentence in itself. It is a serious mistake for the court to have no sanction for those offenders failing to submit to supervision. This makes the order ineffective in many cases. Surely, if an offender fails to submit to supervision, he should be brought back to court and sentenced to the original offence.Again, I ask the Minister to take this recommendation seriously.
My last police recommendation concerns the children who are returned home for care simply because the social worker can find no other place for them. The Police Federation says:Once a child is returned home, it is then free to commit further offences while still in the notional care and legal custody of the local authority.I hope that the Minister will look at the following point, because it is at the heart of the matter:But the philosophy of the 1969 Act Is that a child must have committed a criminal offence because of his unfortunate background. To return him to the unfortunate family background defeats the object of the Act.How right that must be. Young offenders must be taught that crime cannot always be blamed on unfortunate circum- 1314 stance and that in some cases it must result in penal sanctions.
Let me sum up the evidence submitted by the Police Federation. It is as follows:Magistrates are now powerless in this field. This brings both them and the law into disrespect. We are paying the price of an Act motivated by well-intentioned theory, rather than practical experience. Children are being encouraged further along the highway of crime. Far too many are being caught with a grin on their faces saying, ' I've got off with it ', then going back to their friends and becoming heroes. Other youngsters follow the leader and get involved in criminal acts due to the lack of deterrent punishment. There is no question by those who deal with these matters closely that 'teeth' should be put back into treatment and punishment of young offenders.I hope that the Minister will take those points seriously.
I end by making these short recommendations on my own account. First, I hope that the Minister and his governmental colleagues will judge it best to retain responsibility for these matters within the Home Office. I am not the greatest admirer of the Home Office. I have had harsh things to say about it. But in this matter I feel it best that that responsibility should remain with the Home Office.
Secondly, I believe that more responsibility needs to be placed on the parent, especially on the parents of young persistent offenders. Thirdly, I agree on the need to retain attendance centres.
Fourthly, I believe that we need more and more secure accommodation for juveniles. I hope that the Minister will take note of the fact that in my constituency the High Point Prison is being built. However, no provision is being made in that substantial building programme for any unit of secure accommodation for juveniles to assist our local courts. They still may have to send juveniles to Holloway on remand. That is wrong, but it is also wrong that the opportunity of including such provision in the new building has not been taken. It should be possible to provide at least one secure place in East Anglia.
Next, I believe that it would be wrong to place the courts in a position where they made recommendations which were disagreed to by social workers. It cannot be right to put social workers in a position where they virtually argue with 1315 the court in public. It is certainly not right for the child. The profession has grown so fast that it has had to draft in a large number of people who are still inadequately prepared for all the complexities. By contrast, magistrates' courts already have a great deal of wisdom and experience in these matters. To place the courts in a position where they could be virtually overruled by social workers must be wrong.
Finally I hope that the Minister will take seriously the view that in judging this whole affair, and in congratulating the Committee on its work, he should lay alongside our proper concern for children and young offenders an equal concern for the protection of our society against the criminal, however young or old that criminal may be.
§ 11.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I have no intention of pursuing the News of the World anecdotes of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), because I do not think that our policy on young people can be properly based on that kind of story. It is far more complicated than that.
The essence of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that, if we punish viciously and crack down on people, society will be safer as a result because these young people will turn away from their wicked ways. There is absolutely no evidence of this having happened in the past, and there is no evidence that the Act was conceived or is being executed on that basis.
It is a matter of record that the success rate, in terms of non-return to crime or delinquent activity, of institutions such as detention centres and borstals is extremely poor. It is about one third. Some two-thirds of the young people who pass through those institutions go on to further delinquent activity. There is no way in which this form of deterrent—which is an obsession of some hon. Members and, I am afraid, of some members of the police—is at all helpful.
The essence of the Committee's findings was that, given the terrific upheavals which have occurred since the Act was passed, in terms of change of Government, Seebohm, local government reform and so on, there would be no 1316 point whatever in trying to upset the whole system, and that it would be much more constructive and proper to see whether the Act can be made to work more smoothly and more effectively. That is the sense in which we have reported.
On the question of the Government's lack of reply, it is unfortunate that six months have elapsed without a formal reply from the two Departments concerned, but I do not treat this quite as seriously as do some of my colleagues. I am not sure that we look upon the procedure concerning Select Committee Reports in entirely the right way. I think there is a case for regarding them as a basis for continuing dialogue and debate within the House and, indeed, by the public and the country at large. I do not regard them in the sense that the Committees produce considered findings, that the Government then produce a considered reply, and that that is it. It is part of an extensive dialogue which must go on, in this House and outside it, between all the professions concerned.
There will never be any final conclusion or total solution to a problem of this complexity. Therefore, although I am a little sad that we have not had some considered views from the Government, I am not sure that this is something we should regard as being too disastrous at this stage. There is time and room for action at a later stage.
As a number of hon. Members have said, the key to the whole Report is to be found in paragraph 167, where it is made clear that the law as such is not likely to prevent crime or to prevent delinquency. It cannot by its nature do so. The problems of delinquent behaviour in children, as in adults, lie to a large extent in bad housing, in sheer poverty, in the break-up of families, in a squalid environment, in unemployment and sometimes, I fear, in bad schooling or incompetent teaching. There seems to be a general assumption that if a child is a truant it is his own fault. But truancy may arise from bad schooling and bad teaching. In addition to all these complex factors, there is the effect of alcohol. I know that children of this age do not themselves drink, but drink is a major factor in the break-up of family life, and alcohol is a serious factor leading to the disturbance of children 1317 and their consequent embarking upon criminal and delinquent behaviour.
The Act set out to switch away from custodial care towards other techniques of care, and we have emphasised in our Report that there still needs to be a major shift of emphasis away from custodial and punitive techniques towards intermediate schemes, supervision and the greater use of non-residential care, especially fostering. In other words, we suggest pursuing the spirit of the original Act more vigorously than it has been pursued so far. We believe that this may achieve some greater degree of success.
But the Report does not suggest that changes in the techniques and methods of dealing with juvenile delinquency will lower the level of that delinquency. The increase in juvenile crime is a parallel factor in the rise of adult crime, and it is also a factor which has occurred widely in Western Europe and across the Atlantic.
There can be no case for blaming the 1969 Act, and I fear that there is very little to suggest that the techniques which we use to deal with the problem are likely to have much impact on the size of the problem itself. We have to be certain that the techniques that we use will have a valuable therapeutic effect on children who move down that path and collide with authority in one way or another.
I give my firm support to the recommendation in the Report that no child should be put in an adult prison. As long as this is legally or technically permissible, it will happen. The only way to stop it is to make it unlawful. Once that is done, I am sure that all the so-called obstacles about not being able to find alternatives will somehow be disposed of, because once people know that they cannot pursue a road they must perforce look for other roads. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will see to it that that recommendation is implemented.
Another unhappy facet of our inquiry was the abuse we found of the unruly certificate technique in order to have a child confined in some form of custodial care. This is not the fault of the court. The application for an unruly certificate much come from the social workers, but nevertheless the number of unruly certificates applied for and granted, coupled 1318 with the fact that in many cases they have been granted in respect of children who have not been under custodial sentence at all, is disturbing.
We have had a case quoted in which a certificate was asked for in respect of a child who had never been in a home or in the care of a local authority. How the idea was arrived at that the child was unruly was something of a mystery to the Committee.
I am surprised that the Minister should be hostile to the idea of shorter detention sentences. It was put to us in Hamburg, where the authorities were clear that a short sentence could be useful and effective but that a longer sentence of detention was not valuable in correcting the behaviour of a child. Certainly I would not wholly accept the argument that if this idea is adopted magistrates will simply regard it as an extra shot in the locker and go on madly sentencing children to three and six months' sentences and in addition cheerfully seize on the idea of seven or ten-day detention centres as an extra device to deal with other cases. That is not the intention of the Committee, and I hope that if the idea is adopted the magistracy will not adopt that attitude.
We as a Committee were much impressed by the possibilities, largely un-realised as yet, of intermediate treatment. Perhaps I should quote a paragraph on this from the Report, because it sets out the position very well. Paragraph 105 states:The possibility of helping a delinquent child without removing him from his own community by providing for him the possibility of new interests and new relationships is central to the Act. ' Children in Trouble ' refers to bringing a child into contact with a new environment and to his participation in some constructive activity. Intermediate treatment can be much more easily adapted to fit the individual child than can custodial care.
§ Mr. Hooley
I do not agree. The intervention of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) would have been more to the point if he had paid some attention to the debate this 1319 evening, which he has not. I shall finish my quotation:The skill lies in discovering the child's own interests and using these as the basis of successful intermediate treatment.It is not correct to say that the technique has not been used. We visited a centre where it was being used, and we were given examples of cases where a child's interest had been successfully aroused, to the considerable profit of the child.
It is no part of my argument or that of the Report that this is a sudden, new discovery. In many ways it could be argued that it was a matter of common sense. Certainly we were impressed by the possibilities of this technique, but were a little depressed by the fact that for some financial reasons, which to me were obscure, it seemed harder to get money for this more economical and satisfactory method of treatment than for ambitious schemes involving large buildings and so on.
I had a conversation with a director of social services about this matter. Her reaction was "Intermediate treatment would be very nice. Give me some extra staff to do it." We are pleading not for extra staff to do it but for a diversion of effort in this direction rather than in some less satisfactory and certainly more expensive direction. I hope that the Department of Health and Social Security will give this matter more thought and perhaps modify the financial arrangements so that authorities may follow up this technique and make wider use of it.
It follows, if we are moving away from the concept of custodial, residential care, that we need more provision for day care, more use of the technique of supervision and, above all, more use of the technique of fostering in individual homes rather than putting children into community institutions, however well trained, honest and good the staff may be.
I was encouraged by the recent report, to which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred, about the success of the Kent fostering scheme. It seems that it is possible to ask families to undertake the formidable task of fostering delinquent children. The results in general have been very encouraging. It may be that other authorities are doing 1320 something similar but are making less publicity about it, in which case I am delighted. However, that was not the impression gained by the Committee. We gained the impression that this technique had been developed in Sweden— and, to some extent, in Holland—but that it was not nearly as well developed in this country and that greater attention should be paid to it.
One matter which has not commanded much attention in the debate—indeed, I do not think it has been mentioned at all—is whether a child coming before a court should have legal representation in his own right. As a Committee we were somewhat divided in our minds about this matter, and the Report makes that clear. We suggest that there should be a pilot scheme to cover this matter and that action might be taken in the light of what is learned from that pilot scheme. This is not a negligible matter.
There has been an assumption throughout the debate that children who come before juvenile courts and are then placed under supervision or in care must of necessity have been guilty of an offence. They may be found guilty by the court, but it does not follow that in every case the court is right. There may be a slight suspicion in the minds of some people that on some occasions a professional defence might have resulted in acquittal rather than conviction.
In this connection it must be recognised that in Scotland the police do not prosecute. There is an official—from memory, I think he is called a reporter—whose job is to decide whether any case should go before the court or whether some form of social treatment or care is more appropriate. This matter is bound up with the much wider and more fundamental question which has been aired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) of whether the police should be allowed to prosecute in any cases at all. Personally, I take the view that they should not. Prosecution should be the business of a public prosecuting authority. That, however, is a matter which goes beyond the scope of the Report we are discussing tonight.
Perhaps on some future occasion the Sub-Committee or some other Committee 1321 might look more closely at the Scottish system and decide whether we do not need some person or body to intervene before the matter ever gets to the court at all and to provide guidance or therapeutic action for the child without the stigma of criminality which is necessarily associated with a conviction in a juvenile court.
I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that our recommendation about the provision of secure accommodation runs counter in principle to the spirit of the Act. There is, perhaps, an inconsistency or irreconcilable problem here. I rather share the view of the principal of Kingswood School, which we mention in our Report, that it is not desirable to have more secure accommodation. This is a very questionable idea and is one which needs a lot more thinking about. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that this is to some extent a move backwards rather than forwards. It may be that in the present situation, where we want to reconcile the protection of society and the rights of the child, we have to move in two directions at once, but certainly I am not happy about the idea of more secure accommodation. I was interested that the principal of Kingswood took that particular view.
I hope that the Report and this debate will stimulate more careful thinking and more public concern about a difficult and complicated question. I hope we shall learn of some of the Government's intentions in the not-too-distant future. I take the view that this is part of an ongoing debate and that there is no final conclusion or final answer to the problem but merely a continuing process of experiment, trial and some error in trying to cope as best we can with what, we must remind ourselves, is a small minority of our total child population who for one reason or another cannot conform to the norms of society as we have laid them down.
§ 12.18 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I am pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to enable me to make a brief contribution to this important debate. It has come at a very useful time. Very often people level criticism at Parliament for debating matters which are irrelevant to the problems of the 1322 moment but the recommendations, and what is involved in this Report, are pertinent and relevant to the problems of this country, perhaps in a wider sphere as well, at this time.
I am also delighted to make a contribution because ever since I came into public life I have taken an active interest in young people and the problem of young people. For some four years I was a governor of the Tennal School in Birmingham—an approved school which following reorganisation changed its title and role. However, it gave me a considerable understanding of dealing with, and a knowledge of, the problems of delinquent young people.
I congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton North-East (Mrs. Short), who chaired this Sub-Committee of the fuel Expenditure Committee. She provided positive leadership in guiding our deliberations. I believe that the recommendations we are debating tonight are valuable and I hope that the Government will implement the vast majority of them at a very early date. I do not often agree with the hon. Lady or with the hon. Ladies the Members for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) and Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), but their speeches tonight have been very useful. They displayed an earthy realistic understanding which is often lacking from our debates.
The hallmarks of this Report are the importance of the security of human relationships, the importance of real care and love, certainly in fostering, the importance of real motivation for young people, the importance of constructive care rather than destructive and punitive restriction and the importance of a proper deterrent for the persistent young offender.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), who left the Chamber immediately after making his speech, somewhat misled the House. I have some statistics which highlight the growing incidence of juvenile crime. Since 1969, in the Metropolitan Police district, the number of arrests for all age groups has increased by 30 per cent. The number of adult arrests increased by 20 per cent., but the number of arrests of juveniles has risen by 60 per cent. About 40 per cent, of those arrested in London for robbery and theft from the person are under 17. More than half of all burglars arrested are under 17. That clearly shows the growing problem.
1323 The hon. Member also made a somewhat inaccurate reference to the success rate for detention centres, implying that they had a worse record than borstals. In fact, in paragraph 45, the Report says:The success rate for borstals is low, although not quite as low as that for borstals. It is about 35 per cent., and for children who have previously been to approved school as low as 13 per cent., but those who favour the use of detention centres argue that the success rate would be higher if children were committed at an earlier stage in their ' careers '.It is right to make that clarification.
Recommendation No. 1 was that the remand of young people to adult prisons should cease forthwith. The Report has created considerable interest. While the members of the probation service in my constituency fully support that recommendation, they are somewhat concerned about how it can be implemented, bearing in mind, as pointed out in a letter that I have received, that some of the youngsters concerned are amongst the most sophisticated of criminals, and further bearing in mind the lack of local authority secure accommodation. That to some degree contradicts the views of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who doubted the need for further secure accommodation. I feel that there is a strong need for it.
Recommendation No. 6 relates to sanctions for non-payment of fines. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) that it is quite wrong that a young person, after being fined, should be able to leave the court almost cocking a snook at the magistrate, knowing that he will never have to pay the fine. Sanctions for the non-payment of fines are certainly necessary and parents should be drawn into this area as they are inevitably responsible to a degree.
Recommendation No. 7 relates to the transfer of responsibilities from the probation service to the social services, and our recommendation is that this should be halted until social services have more qualified personnel. That is sound advice because there is considerable expertise within the probation service for dealing with young people. Until the social services are capable of dealing with young people we should retain the expertise of the probation service.
1324 Recommendation No. 18 relates to specialisation. Many people in the probation service and the social services have told me that they believe in specialised teams working within the framework of the social services rather than the generic social work teams which seem to be the order of the day. Specialisation in dealing with young people is vital and I hope that those who are teaching and lecturing our social workers will bear this important point in mind.
The philosophy behind the children and young persons legislation is sound. I understand it to be that whatever the circumstances which precipitate the appearance of a child before a court, the needs of the child should be considered, and any decision of the court should be taken as an integral part of the programme for the child's treatment.
There are two areas in which I am particularly interested. The Report recommends that forms of treatment which are community-based should be encouraged and developed much further. I refer particularly to Paragraph 117, Recommendation No. 22, which says that resources such as intermediate treatment and day care facilities should be available to children who are assumed as being at risk, although they may not have appeared before a court.
In Macclesfield there are a number of small projects which provide outlets for the energies of young people who are "at risk" and which provide counselling for adolescents who are on the verge of trouble. I am told by those in the profession that it is always much harder to argue for resources for this kind of work. The budget for intermediate treatment this year in the whole district of Macclesfield is just £1,200, which compares badly with the £5,000 a year that it costs to keep one young offender in secure care. This indicates that in our deliberations and recommendations we are concerned to provide not only the right kind of care for the young persons, but value for money for the community, too.
Therefore I make a strong appeal to the Minister of State, who has remained present throughout the debate, indicating the importance which he attaches to the Report and the debate, to strengthen the resources for dealing with the problems at an early stage so that we may prevent real problems from developing later.
1325 Recommendation No. 4 deals with secure care orders. From representations made to me, I understand that some social workers have reservations about the recommendation and about paragraph 25 which is related to it. I believe that social workers can readily appreciate the frustrations of magistrates and others when children who are already the subject of care orders reappear before their courts. This matter was dealt with superbly by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst who, as a magistrate, has considerable experience of these matters. Some of these children have absconded from community homes and others have been allowed home on a trial basis. Most social workers share these frustrations and do not allow children to remain in unsatisfactory placements. However, all too often social workers have to subject children to situations which are often the third, fourth or fifth choice because the range of resources are inadequate to meet the child's needs.
The problem is not just in the shortage of secure places—the new centre opening in Warrington next year will help—but also in the shortage of other places into which children can be moved. In Cheshire, one girl had to wait nine months for a place in a community school and this is a long time in the life of a teenager.
I doubt whether legislation would make much difference at this stage. The nation and the social services, in particular, are littered with laws which can scarcely be implemented because of the lack of resources. This inability to carry out the good intentions of the Act has resulted in the legislation and, to some extent, social work being discredited. It is irresponsible to pass far-sighted legislation without providing the financial backing to give it a reasonable chance of operating successfully. I suppose the Committee of which I was a member could be criticised for not considering further this particular aspect of the Act's working and implementation.
To those of us on this side of the House, it was splendid to hear such good sense in the speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, North, who has had considerable experience in dealing with young people. The events in Bedfordshire to which she referred have not helped the social services or social workers to get the recognition and money they need.
1326 In an editorial headed "Value Judgment" the Sunday Telegraph said on 4th April:The fashionable notion that more expenditure is the only way to improve social services took a hard knock last week from those extraordinary stories of young girls who were alleged to have been allowed to work as prostitutes while in the case of council social workers.What is needed in such cases, clearly, is not more money but more sense—and better values. To dismiss such episodes as "errors of judgment" is wholly inadequate. No social service with the right values could possibly perpetrate such a travesty of "welfare".Moving from a paper on one side of the political spectrum to one on the other, in a leading article headedSave kids from these crackpotsthe Sunday People, which can hardly be described as a Right-wing paper, said:What is needed is a Royal Commission to examine all aspects of our welfare agencies. We must make as sure as we can that they are equipped to rescue human beings, not wreck their lives.I hope that the House will continue to support the Act and that any change in emphasis will be to underline the flexibility both in attitude and in use of resources which is necessary to apply the legislation effectively. There is no better way to implement the Act and its purposes than by fostering—which has not been tried widely enough in this country. It has been highly successful on the Continent, particularly in Sweden and Denmark, and the Kent experiment has been an outstanding success.
Let us make the Act work. It will be of value not just to young people, but to the community as a whole.
§ 12.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The remoteness of decision-makers at national and local level has been well illustrated by a number of speeches, especially by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley).
The examples that I shall give of intermediate treatment, of which I had personal and direct experience when I was a youth leader directing the Young Volunteer Force Foundation, makes a nonsense of the whole intermediate treatment concept. We had 18 community projects throughout the country that were specifically geared to help young people, especially those from disadvantaged 1327 homes. We had six projects which were devoted entirely to delinquents and disturbed adolescents.
The projects were not only in urban areas. We had them in rural areas such as Barncott in Devon, Cwmott in Cwmbran, Slab in Bristol and Washup in Watford, all coffee bar experiments with a high proportion of professional workers to disturbed adolescents. Each project received lip service support from the local authority, but each ultimately had a reduction in grant from the local authority.
No local authority wants this sort of project on its doorstep, in the same way that no authority wants a prison in its area. Local authorities do not want detached youth projects because they attract the disturbed adolescents. As light attracts the moths, detached youth projects attract disturbed young people.
Whenever the Young Volunteer Force set up experimental projects of an intermediate treatment type they were rejected both by the community in whose area they were placed and by the local authority which was asked to finance them. The ideas that are set out in paragraphs 22, 26 and 38—namely, that greater support should be given by voluntary organisations to intermediate treatment—are hollow exhortations because there is no shortage of voluntary bodies which are prepared to respond. The problems are Government finance and local authority attitudes. Those problems prevent intermediate treatment working.
It must be said plainly and straightforwardly that intermediate treatment will not work as long as we have reactionary attitudes at local level. My experience is that those attitudes exist in most local councils throughout the country. Unless Government will give a lead, as they have in a number of projects such as the Urban Aid Programme and the Community Development Project, we shall never get intermediate treatment off the ground.
With respect to the Report, it makes critical remarks which voluntary organisations will resent—namely, that they are slow to respond to intermediate treatment. On the contrary, they have been quick 1328 to respond. There has been apathy at local authority level.
It will be realised that the problem of detached youth work is not only that of the young people themselves. It is the problem of finding skilled professional, mature staff who can work with disturbed adolescents. They are normally young people who have come through the education system harmed. That is why they need special help, and that is what the country does not yet have available.
First, the country is not prepared to provide the necessary ratio of about one in six professional workers to a disturbed group of kids. Secondly, if there were that ratio the local authorities would resent it. Thirdly, the size of the cake permitted to voluntary bodies is decreasing. Thus, the existing facilities would have to go if there were increasing support on the intermediate treatment front. I suggest that the intermediate treatment programme is a myth and will continue indefinitely as a myth.
I now turn to residential treatment. There is a drift away from residential treatment on the basis that we do not want to lock up those who are offending the laws of our society. If we are not to lock them up we must provide some alternatives. Other than intermediate treatment there seems to be no reasonable alternative which is being offered. I suggest that there is a fundamental error in our approach. On the latest statistics I find that community homes run by local authorities cost the taxpayer £50 per young person per week. The registered voluntary home costs only £22 a week. Foster homes, where the children are boarded out, cost only £7 a week.
That indicates that statutory community homes cost a great deal. Such money should be spent on preventive work. Local authorities dislike spending money on preventive work because they cannot connect savings with such work. They say that they will wait until the window gets smashed before they repair it.
The Report lacks any completely new approach to the problems of juvenile delinquency. One can look at housing and the environment, but when it comes down to it one has to give kids some incentive not to commit crime. They 1329 have no incentive if they do not receive help and reward for doing good. Instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on repairing vandalism on council estates, we should be giving incentives to the community and young people not to commit vandalism. Neighbourhood councils can take responsibility for the acts of young people and local authorities should be encouraged to give such Councils the same amount of money as they spent repairing damage caused by vandalism the previous year. If money was saved the neighbourhood council should be allowed to spend it on increased community facilities which could result in a dramatic reduction in crime. That can be demonstrated by the work of a number of neighbourhood councils. But such schemes have problems. The police say that it was not the neighbourhood council which reduced vandalism but that it was increased police effectiveness. Social workers say that it was their expertise and professional staff.
Unless people are given incentives and the community is given power over its own problems, the situation will not change. Although the Report contains some enlightened thinking, it approaches the problem from the wrong end by looking at the cure rather than prevention. We shall not get the solution right until we correct that basic misapprehension. In view of the time available I shall allow other hon. Members to make their contributions.
§ 12.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
It is a privilege to take part in a debate which has been marked by so many robust contributions from members of the Committee. I wish I could say the same of the Minister's contribution, which was suffused with enervated complacency.
Nobody has claimed that the Act created juvenile delinquency but it has done little to solve the problem. The Minister appears to be unaware of the concern felt by magistrates, teachers and probation officers. If he is unaware, it is not because he has not been told by people like myself. I have written to him and his colleagues at the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Society Security.
I quote from a letter written to me by the chairman of the juvenile panel of 1330 the Dover and East Kent Bench. It reads:This morning we had before us two twelve year old boys who had 'mugged' an old lady of ninety-one, threatening to hit her over the head with a milk bottle, and had stolen £26 from her purse. One is already in care. The other is in care because his mother cannot control him, although he has not previously been before the court. There is therefore no point in a further care order. Supervision is not applicable since they are in a school for maladjusted boys. To fine them adequately would be a very long-term affair, with approximately 60p pocket money, and they would be tempted to further theft if deprivation went on too long. There is no place where they can be held securely and educated in the proper sense of that word.We are fully aware that in the Juvenile Court we are concerned with the welfare of the child, but that does not cancel out our duty to the public. They have a right to expect us to take action so that they may not fear this kind of behaviour from children of twelve years of age …P.S. The case I have quoted is just today's burning example, but we have had many cases of a similar nature.There is no deep philosophic divide between any of the parties taking part in this debate. It is a false dilemma to present this debate as being about the protection of society or the welfare of the child. We are all agreed that those two objectives are perfectly reconcilable. It is, however, a question of emphasis. Have we, has the Minister, perhaps under-estimated the need for correction and discipline?
Of course that must be combined with welfare arrangements and, like all my hon. Friends, I applaud the imaginative fostering arrangements introduced in my own county of Kent. I shall not dispute with my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) whether it was Kent or his area that initiated this project. Tonight, in the time available, I want merely to voice some of the points, and only some of the points, that have been put to me when I have met members of the juvenile bench in East Kent, members of the teaching profession, members of the Probation Service and members of the welfare services.
They feel that it is symptomatic of the change of emphasis that responsibility should have been transferred from the Probation Service to the welfare services. They are concerned that the age of children for whom a probation officer, with all 1331 his wealth of experience, can be appointed as supervisor has been raised from 10 to 12, and I understand that it is contemplated raising it still further. They feel that a supervision order is quite ineffective without enforceable conditions. I should like the Minister to direct his mind to that problem.
They would like to see a return to some kind of probation order, whatever it is called, so that a child may be brought back before the court if there is a breach of an order and, if need be, in extreme cases sent to detention centres. The magistrates would like the right reestablished for their courts to send children to approved schools, and they would like a clear duty to be imposed on those schools to accept those children. They do not want to be fobbed off with the excuse that there are no places immediately available.
I should like to put a particular problem for my part of the country. There is a desperate need for an attendance centre in East Kent. The Act is stillborn if there is no attendance centre. Finally on this subject, has any thought been given to the conversion of borstals to meet the needs of the under-fourteens?
I come finally to the problem of truancy, which may underlie all this problem. I know that this is not directly the responsibility of the Minister, but I am sure that he will appreciate its interrelation with everything with which he is concerned. He did not touch on this in his speech, but has he appreciated that the school attendance rate has dropped in Kent from 93 to 89 per cent, and in the fifth year of school to 77 per cent.? What thought has been given to that? Have we re-examined the responsibilities of the school attendance officers? What deep thought has been given to throwing responsibility to where it should lie—with the parents? What thought has been given to inducements to children to attend school? What about introducing a certificate of good attendance, which might play some part in procuring a reasonable job after school?
I come to the most constructive thread that has run through speeches from both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister will give deep thought to ensuring both formal and informal regular contacts among members of the bench, the 1332 police, welfare services, the Probation Service and the teaching profession. There is there a fund of experience which mobilised, encouraged and supported, could go at least some distance towards solving these intractable problems.
Apparently the Minister has not recognised the deep sense of impotence and frustration felt by those who give freely of their time, experience and judgment in dealing with juvenile crime. Grandiose projects of legislative reform are pointless unless they are backed by resources and continuing interest and assistance from the Departments which introduced them.
Less legislation is required, together with more thought about the implementation and consequences of legislation already on the statute book. The Government should do less and attempt to do better in the areas for which they have a primary responsibility. We shall judge the Government here not so much by the tepid contribution of the Minister tonight but by the White Paper which is so long overdue.
§ 12.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
I am grateful for the chance to squeeze into the debate. I shall be brief, because other hon. Members still wish to take part.
The most interesting and imaginative part of this excellent Report is that which comes under the heading "Intermediate Treatment", although I do not like the term. But if it is defined as more effort to redeem delinquent children within their own communities, it is an approach which I support. It can be particularly valuable as an antidote to the quantitative bias of all experts and bureaucrats in the social problem industry, who tend to think that strategies which cannot easily be assessed and monitored numerically are not really worth while.
Paragraph 108 puts it rather well when it says:Most local authorities concentrated first on residential provision; it was suggested to us that preventive work in general had a low priority because its results could not easily be quantified.Everyone concerned with juvenile delinquency and the problems of young people should concentrate above all on preventive measures, because in the light of the evidence on recidivism prevention is likely to be the most reliable long-term cure.
1333 What does prevention require? Four or five things are needed. The first is more support for families, including the possibility of special grants to mothers who stay at home when their children are young, as is done I believe in France. There is no denying the ever-increasing number of mothers who have to go out to work to get away from home or meet the financial needs of the family. This contributes to the so-called latch key problem, which is often at the root of juvenile delinquency problems.
The second need is higher priority for nursery education, a good investment for the future.
The third is a return to more traditional standards and methods in school, to produce more literacy and more numeracy. There is no doubt that children who are both literate and numerate stand a much better chance in society and will be able to contribute more constructively. It might be said that violence is the language of the inarticulate and the inadequate.
Fourthly, we need improved facilities for children of all ages and the more intensive use of existing facilities. I am thinking of the more intensive use of schools, polytechnics, universities, libraries, art centres, sports centres and the rest. In my constituency there is a very hopeful new development at the Westcroft sports centre, which is shortly to be completed.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) about the importance of voluntary effort in all these matters. Volunteer and part-time helpers have a great contribution to make, whether they are called the "barefoot doctors" of social work, auxiliary social workers or pastoral auxiliaries, as is the case in the Diocese of Southwark. In short, there should be a movement away from the gradual professionalisation of social work towards lower-cost, more casual and less stigmatising efforts to help young people.
Finally, I suggest that above all we want to rethink and adapt our housing policies and the conventional approach to town planning. All too often in recent years architects and planners have merely created new concrete and glass slums for our young people to grow up in. There are examples in my constituency. The 1334 further we can get away from that sort of town development, the better chance we shall have of not creating the rootless and alienated young people amongst whom these problems arise.
Bored, alienated and rootless adults will tend to raise bored, alienated and rootless children. We must realise that it is always valuable to invest the maximum effort, time and money in our children and, because they are the country's future, no effort or concern should be spared.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
I apologise for having missed the Minister's speech, but my absence was inevitable because of a constituency engagement. I did, however, hear the Minister's intervention in the speech made by my lion. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I rather regretted the hon. Gentleman's reference to the friendly judge down at Truncheons. I have 17 years' experience of orders made by that judge in criminal cases, and I know that he displays compassion as he displays realism. A mixture of compassion and realism is required by everyone who deals with problem children in our society.
The Report identifies three major shortcomings in residential care: its enormous expense, its doubtful efficacy and the apparent insuperable difficulty in getting enough staff to service even the existing provision. Whatever our views as to the right response to children in trouble, we can all agree that the Committee has rightly identified three deeply disturbing shortcomings. Those shortcomings alone would force us to examine other ways of dealing with these children.
There is a small minority of juvenile "brutes", as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds described them, who, as much for the protection of themselves as of society, have to be kept in secure conditions. There are two main reasons why it is important, as the Committee recommends, to turn from the concept of residential care as a norm. First, children often find a bad example to be much more attractive than a good one, so that it has become a cliché to describe custodial institutions for young people as universities of crime. Secondly, as a nation we are increasingly apt to offload our more difficult fellow creatures on to agents and, provided those agents keep 1335 them alive, out of our sight and out of the newspapers, we do not greatly trouble further.
That is what we do with our old people to an extent that is found astonishing by the nations we are pleased to describe as under-developed. We do it with our mentally ill—St. Augustine's, Chartham, is the last in a melancholy series of examples—and we are doing it with our problem children. How else can we explain a system of priorities that permits the treatment of delinquents to be carried out—as the Committee records in paragraph 90—by totally unskilled and totally inexperienced staff in most instances"?How else can we explain the fact that the resources allocated to residential care mean that children sometimes have to be kept in the assessment centre for anything up to a year before they can be placed? One does not need to be a child psychologist in the technical sense to have an accurate idea of what that is likely to achieve.
I was gladdened by the reference in the report to the experiment carried out in Kent to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and other hon. Members referred. I spoke today to the Director of Social Services and the Chairman of the Social Services Committee for that county, which is mine, and I was given one very heartening example. A boy has now been in a foster home for just over a year. He is 10 years old and was taken from Canterbury Prison, having absconded numerous times in the past, having committed offences of burglary, criminal fraud, and the taking and driving away of motor vehicles—indeed, a record a yard long. One does not want to make too much of an individual case and there are only 30 children in care in the foster scheme at present, but it must be said that that boy has not put a foot wrong, and this has now been the case for over a year. Only one child has left; and only one child has been before the court again.
That scheme may prove to be the way forward. We shall have to look to the situation five years hence to see what the record is then. The situation appears to be very encouraging. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give firm en- 1336 couragement to local authorities to provide the necessary funds for a fostering scheme. It has been proved in Kent that we are able to obtain foster parents of high quality provided that we are able to offer a professional fee.
In conclusion, I wish to make two or three short points. Let me first mention legal representation. I appreciate the difficulties that can arise in this sphere. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) came out against legal representation of children in juvenile courts. However, I believe that children should be represented—not only in terms of the assistance given to the court in the form of a duty solicitor, as recommended in the Report, but because of the overall assistance which can be provided by a legal representative. Valuable assistance can be afforded to the court in this way.
This is not to overlook the fact that a child is likely to have his liberty taken away from him and to have recorded against his name the order made by the court, so that when subsequently he comes before a court that is the record with which he will have to deal. That is an important point.
Elsewhere in the Report complaints are made that welfare workers often do not know enough about court procedure, and it is said that this contributes to a lack of confidence among magistrates in welfare workers. Kent is showing the way in this respect. It has appointed court officers who are experienced in court procedures and who put forward to the magistrates the case of each individual child. That is an important step forward and I hope that it will be copied.
We must be careful not to add our voices to those who complain of the number of people who supervise against those who carry out the actual work, because in the cases of Maria Colwell and Stephen Mears it was found that there was not enough supervision. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind the fact that supervisory staff have an important part to play.
I want to come to the contractual element in what used to be the probation order and is now the care order. This is brought out in the Report. The Magistrates' Association has dwelt on this matter and there is an important element 1337 in the order made in the case of any child offender. The contractual element involves the child accepting conditions and, if he breaks them, he must suffer the consequences. This is an important point. The absence of such a contract has no doubt contributed to many of the evils mentioned in this debate.
When the Government put forward their reactions to this excellent Report, I hope that some of the proposals I have raised will be adopted by them. It is high time that we had their reactions to the Report.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of and welcomes the Eleventh Report from the Expenditure Committee in the last session of Parliament (House of Commons Paper No. 534).