Section 58 — Local authority's duty to provide information to Principal Reporter

Children's Hearings (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:15 pm on 24th November 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:15 pm, 24th November 2010

We come to group 11. Amendment 133, in the name of Ken Macintosh, is grouped with amendment 134.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Amendments 133 and 134 amend the threshold at which cases are referred to the children's reporter. From its inception, one of the fundamental features of the children's hearings system has been that the reporter should act as an independent gatekeeper to the system and should take the decision whether a child should be referred to a hearing. That is on a dual test of whether a ground is present and whether compulsory measures are necessary.

The proposed change in the bill is quite radical because it removes the role from the reporter by imposing a prior filter. No longer will all children to whom a ground relates be referred to the reporter for the exercise of independent judgment on whether compulsory measures are necessary. That will be decided instead by the local authority. That potentially allows a local authority to hold on to cases where there should have been a referral and compulsory help for children. It is worth highlighting that, in these days of constrained budgets, there will be great temptation for local authorities to save money and not to refer children.

In fact, the minister argued at stage 2 that his intention is to reduce the number of cases going to the hearings system. My worry is that the bill compromises the independence of the reporter and essentially reduces the reporter's role from that of gatekeeper to one of a processor, who automatically passes on all cases.

I move amendment 133.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I think that I understand the motivation behind Mr Macintosh's amendments. We all know that there are children who are slipping through gaps in the system, so if the grounds for referral were widened, more children might benefit. I can totally understand that the financial difficulties that local authorities find themselves in give an added impetus to his motivation.

What Mr Macintosh is suggesting is that we take away the current two tests to be met for referral to a hearing, which are that

"the child in is need of protection, guidance, treatment or control" and that

"it might be necessary for a compulsory supervision order" to apply, and instead extend referral to cases where a section 65 ground applies. I am not sure whether that would not risk overloading the hearings system. Does he have any information about the extra number of children and potential costs associated with the amendments if the lower test were to apply? Does he feel that there might be potential delays in the system as a result?

We remain very much committed to the children's hearings system being there for the most vulnerable of Scotland's children. I certainly hope that, in taking forward the getting it right for every child agenda, there will continue to be a reduction in the number of children being dealt with by hearings, their need for support having been met without recourse to a panel. I am a little unsure whether we would continue to see such a reduction in the number of children being dealt with if we opened up the grounds in the way that Mr Macintosh suggests in these amendments.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

The amendments are similar to amendments that were lodged by Ken Macintosh at stage 2, which sought to lower the threshold for referral to the reporter from that in the bill as introduced. As Margaret Smith said, the amendments would remove the two conditions for making a referral that are set out in the bill, as amended at stage 2: that the child is in need of protection, guidance, treatment or control; and that the child might be in need of compulsory measures of supervision. It is important that that two-pronged test remains.

What Ken Macintosh proposes is that local authorities and police need be satisfied only that a section 65 ground applies before they refer a child to the reporter. It removes the responsibility on them also to consider whether compulsory measures of supervision might be required, which is a responsibility that local authorities currently have. Such a change would undoubtedly lead to a significant increase in the number of inappropriate and unnecessary referrals and would cut across the principles of the getting it right for every child approach and the work on early and effective intervention.

We have seen a reduction in the number of referrals to the reporter in recent years as a result of the growing practice of multi-agency pre-referral partnerships, which have grown in number under GIRFEC. Children are being helped and supported more quickly and effectively without the need for referral. We do not want a return to the days when a child had to wait for the investigation by a reporter and then, perhaps, for the decision of a hearing before she or he had access to the support that was needed. That is what would happen if amendment 133 were agreed to.

I reassure colleagues that there is no suggestion that children who should be referred are being missed—that is not the case. The number of children who are being referred to hearings is increasing, which indicates that the right children are being referred to the reporter for the right reasons.

I strongly believe that the provisions in the bill strike the right balance. They support the exercise of professional judgment at the local level and ensure that children are provided with fast and effective support. They support the role of the reporter in making decisions on who should be referred to a hearing, they fit with GIRFEC and they will ensure that the number of inappropriate referrals is kept to a minimum. More important, practice shows that to be so. Research that was published by the SCRA in April supports the positive impact of pre-referral screening in reducing the number of inappropriate referrals to the reporter.

On that basis, I ask Ken Macintosh to withdraw amendment 133 and not to move amendment 134.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I welcome the comments from Margaret Smith and the minister. In response to Margaret Smith's points, it is worth emphasising that it is the bill that is changing the current system. In other words, the criteria that currently apply are being amended. What we are introducing through the bill is a filter—a pre-screening mechanism—for the local authorities. If the system is currently in danger of being overloaded, we should introduce other ways of handling the numbers. The reporter will have to investigate all cases that come to them, and it is very important that the balance of the decision making rests with the reporter. I would argue that giving the reporter the responsibility for making the decisions is far more in keeping with the GIRFEC principles than is allowing the local authority to decide, on its own grounds, not to refer cases. If we want to hold local authorities accountable for the service that they provide, it would be better to have an independent mechanism. I believe that we should go back to using the original procedure—which has always been the case—whereby all cases are referred to the reporter, who then makes the decisions on whether they should go to hearings.

I press amendment 133.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The question is, that amendment 133 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

For:

Alexander, Ms Wendy (Paisley North) (Lab)

Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Baker, Richard (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Boyack, Sarah (Edinburgh Central) (Lab)

Brankin, Rhona (Midlothian) (Lab)

Chisholm, Malcolm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab)

Eadie, Helen (Dunfermline East) (Lab)

Ferguson, Patricia (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab)

Gillon, Karen (Clydesdale) (Lab)

Glen, Marlyn (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Gordon, Charlie (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab)

Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)

Harper, Robin (Lothians) (Green)

Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)

Henry, Hugh (Paisley South) (Lab)

Kelly, James (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab)

Kerr, Andy (East Kilbride) (Lab)

Livingstone, Marilyn (Kirkcaldy) (Lab)

Macdonald, Lewis (Aberdeen Central) (Lab)

Macintosh, Ken (Eastwood) (Lab)

McAveety, Mr Frank (Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab)

McCabe, Tom (Hamilton South) (Lab)

McMahon, Michael (Hamilton North and Bellshill) (Lab)

McNeil, Duncan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab)

McNulty, Des (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab)

Mulligan, Mary (Linlithgow) (Lab)

Murray, Elaine (Dumfries) (Lab)

Oldfather, Irene (Cunninghame South) (Lab)

Park, John (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Peacock, Peter (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Peattie, Cathy (Falkirk East) (Lab)

Simpson, Dr Richard (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Smith, Elaine (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)

Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Whitefield, Karen (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)

Whitton, David (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

Against:

Adam, Brian (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

Aitken, Bill (Glasgow) (Con)

Allan, Alasdair (Western Isles) (SNP)

Brocklebank, Ted (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Brown, Gavin (Lothians) (Con)

Brown, Keith (Ochil) (SNP)

Brown, Robert (Glasgow) (LD)

Brownlee, Derek (South of Scotland) (Con)

Campbell, Aileen (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Carlaw, Jackson (West of Scotland) (Con)

Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

Constance, Angela (Livingston) (SNP)

Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)

Cunningham, Roseanna (Perth) (SNP)

Don, Nigel (North East Scotland) (SNP)

Doris, Bob (Glasgow) (SNP)

Ewing, Fergus (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP)

Fabiani, Linda (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Finnie, Ross (West of Scotland) (LD)

FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee West) (SNP)

Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Gibson, Rob (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Goldie, Annabel (West of Scotland) (Con)

Grahame, Christine (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Harvie, Christopher (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP)

Hepburn, Jamie (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Hyslop, Fiona (Lothians) (SNP)

Ingram, Adam (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Johnstone, Alex (North East Scotland) (Con)

Kidd, Bill (Glasgow) (SNP)

Lamont, John (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)

MacAskill, Kenny (Edinburgh East and Musselburgh) (SNP)

MacDonald, Margo (Lothians) (Ind)

Marwick, Tricia (Central Fife) (SNP)

Mather, Jim (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Maxwell, Stewart (West of Scotland) (SNP)

McArthur, Liam (Orkney) (LD)

McGrigor, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

McInnes, Alison (North East Scotland) (LD)

McKee, Ian (Lothians) (SNP)

McKelvie, Christina (Central Scotland) (SNP)

McLaughlin, Anne (Glasgow) (SNP)

McLetchie, David (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con)

McMillan, Stuart (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Milne, Nanette (North East Scotland) (Con)

Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)

Morgan, Alasdair (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Munro, John Farquhar (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD)

Neil, Alex (Central Scotland) (SNP)

O'Donnell, Hugh (Central Scotland) (LD)

Paterson, Gil (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Pringle, Mike (Edinburgh South) (LD)

Purvis, Jeremy (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)

Robison, Shona (Dundee East) (SNP)

Rumbles, Mike (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD)

Russell, Michael (South of Scotland) (SNP)

Scanlon, Mary (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Scott, Tavish (Shetland) (LD)

Smith, Elizabeth (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Smith, Iain (North East Fife) (LD)

Smith, Margaret (Edinburgh West) (LD)

Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Lothians) (SNP)

Stephen, Nicol (Aberdeen South) (LD)

Stevenson, Stewart (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Stone, Jamie (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Govan) (SNP)

Thompson, Dave (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Tolson, Jim (Dunfermline West) (LD)

Watt, Maureen (North East Scotland) (SNP)

Welsh, Andrew (Angus) (SNP)

White, Sandra (Glasgow) (SNP)

Wilson, Bill (West of Scotland) (SNP)

Wilson, John (Central Scotland) (SNP)

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The result of the division is: For 39, Against 75, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 133 disagreed to.