Responsibility for Children

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th May 1989.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South 12:00 am, 11th May 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is considering to increase the responsibility of parents and teachers for the actions of children in their care.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on extending parental responsibility for offences committed by children.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I wish to encourage further use of the powers that the law already provides, firstly, to require parents to attend court with their children, secondly, to bind parents over and, thirdly, to require them to pay their children's fines. We are considering making it an offence for parents to fail to make reasonable efforts to prevent their children committing offences, as is quite comon in some other countries. Teachers play a crucial part in helping children grow up to respect and abide by the law, but we have no plans at present, to make them responsible in law for their pupil's actions during school time.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

Given that my hon. Friend's proposals quite rightly bite only on parents who could reasonably be expected to control their children's behaviour, why does he not extend that principle to teachers who act in loco parentis?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I note my hon. Friend's strong concern about this. However, parents have a continuing duty to look after their children and bear responsibility for them. It is more difficult to imagine that children should look to their teachers, of whom there may be several during the course of the day, to be responsible for their acts, or that the teachers could be reasonably held to be responsible. I view with mounting alarm reports about schools in some parts of the country, for example the Ellesmere nursery and first school in Sheffield, where there seems to have been a complete breakdown in the school, with classes being closed before Easter. The children attending the school are aged between three and seven, not 13 and 17.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

While I warmly welcome the attention that my hon. Friend gives to the subject, will he give further assurances that he will move with great caution? It is quite possible for the children of responsible parents to act irresponsibly. Likewise, how can the courts determine the degree of parental responsibility or irresponsibility with regard to a particular offence?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Of course we are cautious. The courts can determine whether parents have, on a prior occasion or occasions, been warned of their failure to take care of and proper responsibility for their children. There is a little-used provision on the statute book that was introduced by the Labour party in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, to give courts the power to bind over parents to ensure the behaviour of their children up to a recognisance of £500. I wish that the courts would use that provision more often.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Is it not totally unethical for a Minister to name a school such as Ellesmere school which is near where I live? To do so serves to highlight and arouse a lot of interest in it, and blacken its name so that the problem becomes more difficult rather than easier to solve. The Minister should have had more sense than to name a school.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

The hon. Gentleman should be more concerned about the school itself. The reports were published in the national press last week and are well known. The matter has not been raised by Ministers at this Dispatch Box. It is a matter of considerable public concern when, unfortunately, through bad behaviour, problems set in in a school, and make it ungovernable for a period, especially when the schoolchildren are aged between three and seven. There is something wrong and a combination of better parental responsibility and greater teacher responsibility would help, and that is exactly what the proposal is aimed at.