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Cruelty To Children (Penalties)

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 12 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum penalty for cruelty to children.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider the introduction of legislation to increase the maximum penalty for cruelty to children and to make other provision for dealing with this social problem.

The maximum penalty on summary conviction for cruelty to children is six months' imprisonment and a fine of £25, or further imprisonment in default of payment. On conviction on indictment the maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment and a fine of £100. The Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, contains provisions to safeguard a child in respect of whom a person has been convicted of cruelty. I see no reason to think that the powers given by the existing law are inadequate.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of penologists who have studied this question believe that in some cases of cruelty to children by neglect, the parents, being of low mentality, should be given remedial treatment; and that the treatment for Belsen-like cruelty to children, which is a disgrace to this country, should be punished by far longer terms of imprisonment than those existing today.

If a person is sentenced to imprisonment, under the existing law he may, if suitable, receive treatment of the kind suggested; also, under the Criminal Justice Act, it is of course possible for it to be made a condition of the probation order that a person convicted shall receive remedial treatment. I think myself that the penalties I have read out indicate that there is a very substantial reserve of power in the hands of magistrates, which they do not always use when dealing with persons who have been so convicted.

As this is a problem which perhaps can only partly be dealt with by punishment, will the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the Minister of Education, confer with the leading religious, educational and social workers to try to find the reason for what appears to be a growing amount of this very unhappy crime?

I have no reason to think—and I have given some attention to this matter—that these offences are growing. I think that a quickened public conscience has made some of these cases of more news value than they used to be. I am constantly considering what it is possible to do in the case of all children who suffer neglect or are deprived. I do consult from time to time with my right hon. Friend.

Will the Minister consider issuing a circular reminding magistrates that the offence of cruelty is just as antisocial as offences against property?

I have considered, in the light of certain cases which have been recently reported, whether it may not be desirable to draw the attention of magistrates to the powers they possess.

Will my right hon. Friend consider issuing orders that all such cases should be reported to the children's committee of the appropriate local authority?

I do not know that I have power to issue an order to anyone in that respect, but I would hope that the local authority charged with the duties under the Children Act and under the Children and Young Persons Act would interest themselves when such cases come forward. In the recent notorious case, which I think has given rise to these Questions, the child has been handed over to the children's officer by name.

Is not aftercare of the victim even more important than the punishment of the perpetrators of the crime? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that adequate care is taken in regard to the after-life of these children, who may be mentally warped as a result of their experience?

Yes, Sir. As I have just said, in the case of what is known as the "Reading case," that has taken place, and the child is still in the care of the children's officer.

In view of the obvious concern felt in all parts of the House and country, I should like to give notice that, if successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye, I shall raise this matter on some future occasion—I cannot do it on the Adjournment because it involves legislation. The amount of child cruelty in this country and the inadequate penalties at this time are a disgrace to a great nation.