Children's Hearings System

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:01 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 12:01 pm, 8th March 2007

To ask the First Minister, following the recent announcement of an increase in the number of persistent young offenders, what measures are being taken to support the children's hearings system. (S2F-2772)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

In 2007-08, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration will receive £27 million from the Executive, and the Executive will spend £1.4 million supporting the work of children's hearings system volunteers.

Investment in work to tackle offending behaviour generally has increased from £1.5 million in 2000-01 to £63 million in 2006-07, indicating the priority that we attach to the issue.

We also plan further reforms of the children's hearings system to develop and improve the current service in order to ensure that it has the right set up and adequate resources to do the best possible job to protect children and our communities.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am sure that the First Minister will simultaneously agree that those volunteers do an excellent job and regret that one in three of them resigns every year. In many cases, that is caused by frustration. Does the First Minister agree that it is time to look into the operation of the children's hearings system, which was set up under a 1968 act? Will he look into revising the system to enable children's hearings to apply drug treatment and testing orders, to impose a more meaningful form of community service, and—as my colleague Margaret Mitchell has suggested—to take the more extreme cases of 14 and 15-year-olds out of the hearings system altogether and put them before the effective adult court for dealing with youth offenders, with the full range of disposals available to it?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Any of us who observe society today understand that the challenge is complex and requires a range of different actions and decisions. I reassure Bill Aitken that there has been a review of the children's hearings system. That review has reported, and I suspect that the issue will be a priority for a debate in the new session of the Scottish Parliament after 3 May.

In the meantime, it is important to reflect on the fact that, although we have to have tougher and faster justice and have to have youth courts and a children's hearings system that respond more quickly to issues that arise, we also have to ensure that young people in our communities have alternatives to the lifestyles that lead them into such scenarios. We also have to ensure that the families from which many of those young people come have support from a much earlier stage in order to ensure that the youngsters do not go off the rails in the future.

A range of different interventions is required. All of them will be important if we are to deal with one of the major challenges for society today, which is not just to do with youth justice but with the decline in standards and respect among a significant number—although a minority—of young people in certain communities.

Meeting suspended until 14:15.

On resuming—