Children's Officer, West Lothian

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1951.

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Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , West Lothian 12:00 am, 9th May 1951

I rise to bring before the House the question of the appointment of a children's officer in the County of West Lothian, which I have the honour to represent in this House, I asked a Question regarding this on 17th of last month, and I had a reply from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland indicating that the point of view I endeavoured to express was not favoured by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am making this further attempt to get the Secretary of State to approve the unanimous decision of the West Lothian County Council to appoint Mr. Kenneth Walker to this position.

I think I should say a word regarding my interest in this matter. I know this applicant for the position, and I gave him a recommendation to the county council when his application was submitted. To that extent I am an interested party, but I hope that it does not disqualify me in any way in putting my case forward tonight. The circumstances of the case are well known to my hon. Friend who is to reply to my appeal for a reconsideration of the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland to disapprove the appointment of Mr. Walker.

The claim I make is that this man is by character and by native ability well able to undertake the duties that would fall upon him as a children's officer in the County of West Lothian. I have every confidence in saying that if he were appointed to that position he would give satisfaction. That is the unanimous opinion of the county council, who have asked for his appointment to be confirmed by the Secretary of State. The refusal by the Secretary of State to confirm the appointment seems to me to be on grounds that are not so sound as those of the county council in urging the appointment upon the Secretary of State.

Mr. Walker is well known to quite a number of the members of the county council, and they know what is required of the person who will hold this position. I want to say on behalf of the county council that they have an excellent record —as good a record as any county in Scotland—for their care of the kind of children who would come within the ambit of the attention of a children's officer when that appointment is made.

I regret very much that there should have been any difficulty at all raised about this appointment. It is perfectly true that Mr. Walker cannot produce documentary evidence of his ability to carry through these duties, but I am sure that all of us must agree that there are qualities other than those that can be put on paper that are required for a position of this kind, and I believe that in his native ability, in his kindly disposition and in his high character Mr. Walker does have the qualifications that are necessary to carry out these duties. I am not at all convinced that there are other qualifications that could take the place of these in providing a fit holder of this position.

I know that the matter has been well considered by the Secretary of State, and that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity, at her own request, of meeting a deputation from the county council to discuss this matter. Even so, the Secretary of State has held out against giving his approval to this appointment. I think that his refusal is based on grounds that are not so strong as those of the county council in urging the appointment.

I have already indicated that Mr. Walker is well known to quite a number of the members of the county council, but he is not known to the Secretary of State or to anyone connected with the Scottish Office. He has not been, interviewed by them. He has been interviewed by the county council, and it is a remarkable thing that in a county council where party differences prevail there is complete unanimity in favour of this appointment.

I am anxious to see this children's department set up. I am anxious to see a children's officer appointed in order to take over the duties. I have been wondering how it would be possible to overcome this difficulty, for the position at the moment is that we have reached a complete impasse. The county council has on two occasions reaffirmed its belief that the nomination of Mr. Walker is one that should be agreed to. The position is that the Secretary of State has no power to make the appointment; he has power only to approve or disapprove the recommendation of the county council. Unless there is some accommodation, one cannot see when this appointment can be made. I realise the difficulties, and I am not accusing anyone of bad faith in connection with the matter, but I wish to see this matter ended in an amicable way.

The suggestion that I make to my hon. Friend is that the appointment might be allowed to take place and the county council given authority to appoint Mr. Walker on their own responsibility, the Secretary of State meantime withholding complete approval for a period, say of six months, until it is seen whether Mr. Walker is, in truth, capable of carrying out the duties to the satisfaction of the county council and the Secretary of State. That would be a fair thing to do. There is no possibility of judging these things properly by documentary evidence. The practical way that I suggest would meet the point and would put the Secretary of State in a better position than he is at present to give a proper verdict upon this matter. I hope the plea I make will be listened to and will be approved by my hon. Friend.