New clause. — (Establishment of Case Committees.)

Part of Orders of the Day — CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1963.

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Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes 12:00 am, 5th July 1963

I beg to move. That the Clause be read a Second time.

This is rather a departure from what we have been discussing so far, because the new Clause represents an attempt to consider best how Clause 1 of the Bill, embodying a new development in the work of local government, can be made effective. In particular, this is an attempt to answer the question, which was so often raised in Standing Committee and is often asked in the Press, of the way in which children who are taken out of the purview of the courts should be dealt with.

I suppose hat I am more prejudiced than most hon. Members in favour of courts because I have spent many years in juvenile courts and regard them as very effective bodies. Where they are, I think, more effective than many public authorities in looking at children's problems is that they have the advantage of always seeing the parties to the argument—the child, the parents, the complainants, the school teacher and the people whose reports are being considered. They are not dealing with it entirely as an exercise in administration on paper. They also have the ability to make sure, as far as it can be done, that both points of view are put and that each side in the argument understands the point of view of the other.

They can make a personal, individual effort to get the parents to accept the view which the court is taking. If they are doing their job effectively, they can get away from the purely external relationship of directing what should be done with a child; they can get the parents, as far as it is possible, to accept that as being a reasonable course to take. The importance of this is not only from the point of view of humanity and justice, but also from that of practical working, because if one wants to get successful treatment of a child, it is extremely important to obtain the co-operation and backing of the parents.

When my hon. Friends and I looked at Clause 1, we asked ourselves how best we could bring into the working of that Clause some of the general principles which have been found to work in the case of the courts while, at the same time, not having the tension of a juvenile court; in other words, having these problems looked at not as part of a trial, but as problems of juvenile welfare.

What is Clause 1? I remind the House that the new Clause begins: For the purposes of section I of this Act". I want to draw the attention of the House to the great step forward which Clause 1 makes, at any rate on paper. It places upon the local authority a duty—not an option— to make available such advice, guidance and assistance as may promote the welfare of children by diminishing the need to receive children into…care…or to bring children before a juvenile court". Those words were extended in the Standing Committee, and they are extremely wide.

In other words, there is a duty now on local authorities to take action to avoid the necessity of bringing children before a juvenile court. That is perhaps as important in the history of the care and treatment of juveniles as the famous Section 44 in the principal Act, which places upon juvenile courts the positive duty of looking to the welfare of children who appear before them. In other words, it is not just a rather wishy-washy, sentimental idiosyncrasy on the part of certain children's officers that they try to keep children out of court, something rather to be frowned on by hard-headed people. The duty is now placed on the authority to take steps to keep children from coming into court.

Consequently, in the new Clause we have tried to outline what seems to us to be the kind of machinery likely to be effective in this respect. The first thing we suggest is the establishment of a case committee. The importance of that is that we are trying to draw a distinction between the administrative responsibilities and the case work of the local authority.

A children's committee has laid upon it great responsibilities in dealing with problems of administration, the staffing and running of homes, the obtaining of foster parents and the arranging of all the detailed administrative work that makes it possible to run this service. But that is a different job—and a more impersonal job—from the job of dealing with individual children's cases. If children's authorities are to perform their duties effectively they must constantly recognise the need to consider each case as the case of a human being, involving a human life.