I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said, with his excellent knowledge of the subject, and the very detailed explanation he gave of this new Clause. I am with him to a certain extent. I should like to see the establishment of a case committee.
If the hon. Member had ended on line 4 of the new Clause:
interest in the welfare of children.
I should have considered that he had gone far enough. It is very difficult to lay down exactly how local authorities should carry out this work. The hon. Member has done a great service by his explanation of what the Clause means. That will be of enormous help to children's officers who will be reading Hansard and will now know what he has in mind.
On the other hand, I feel that to tie down a local authority to carry out this Clause in its entirety would be a great mistake. Many local authorities already have co-ordinating committees. For example, the co-ordinating committee of Plymouth dealt last year with problem families involving 228 children, most of whom were known to a number of representatives of the organisations on the co-ordinating committee. These cases were discussed and, after discussion, certain lines of policy were agreed. Of these, 37 families involving 146 children were said to have improved to such an extent that the children were no longer considered to be likely to be neglected and the possibility of their needing to come into the care of a local authority was removed.
I suggest that the kind of work which the hon. Member has put forward to us in detail is already being done by local authorities through co-ordinating committees. I agree with him that it would be a good idea if my right hon. Friend considered the possibility of a definite direction from him as Home Secretary that there shall be a case committee, or possibly that a case committee should be included in the Bill, but without elaborating it to the extent suggested by the hon. Member. In other words, the proposal would end at"the welfare of children" in the fourth line.
I also agree with the hon. Member that it is essential for the children's officer to have some form of protection and probably guidance, too, because Clause 1 opens up an entirely new field for the children's officer and the local authority, who will have to make very important decisions. It is essential that the children's officer should have the support of a very understanding committee. The children's committee usually meets once a month, but I believe that more detailed work will be necessary than can be done by a large committee, such as the children's committee usually is. I would therefore welcome some form of committee which would help, although I do not think that the detail given by the hon. Member should be included in the Bill, laying down that every local authority must carry out this procedure exactly in the way in which he has suggested.
In implementing its work each local authority has to draw up its own programme. Circumstances vary considerably from area to area. For this reason I am not anxious to have a provision in the Bill which would tie local authorities when their circumstances might differ considerably, for example, from urban area to country borough, to town council and so on. I do not think that they should be forced to set up a committee exactly as suggested by the hon. Member. I agree that we need a committee which can work fast and which can help with the families at risk, and I believe that this committee should be concerned not only with the children but with the problem of the family's welfare. For this reason I feel that it would be much better to leave the details of the composition of a committee to the local authority concerned.
There is a good example in the fact that most local authorities have a housing committee but also have a tenancy subcommittee to deal with problem families and other cases which the housing manager wishes to refer to them for extra guidance. I visualise the committee which the hon. Member has mentioned as being one for which the children's officer will be the co-ordinating officer; heor she will get on to her committee the type of person mentioned by the hon. Member, who will help in giving guidance. I therefore suggest to him that it would be better to have a case committee but that to detail it in the way in which he has suggested would be unwise, and that it would be unwise to write it into the Bill. In supporting the idea of a case committee, I hope that the hon. Member will not press his suggestion that this type of case committee should be written into the Bill, because I do notthink that that would be to the advantage of the working of the service.