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Children And Young Persons Act 1969

Volume 887: debated on Thursday 6 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking, and what progress is being made, to improve the working of, and to reform, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 24th January to a Question by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith).—[Vol. 884, c. 511.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing disquiet felt throughout the country, especially in bodies such as the Magistrates' Association, at the dramatic rise in the number of crimes committed by a small but hard core of persistent juvenile offenders? Does he also agree that the juvenile courts now find themselves almost powerless to deal with this type of offender? Will he think again and consider the wisdom of setting up an interdepartmental com mittee to consider the law on this matter and its administration?

I am aware of disquiet on this matter. A couple of weeks ago I received deputations from the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Association, and this week from a body representing a somewhat different point of view—the Social Service Officers' Association. Anybody who says he is wholly satisfied with the situation would be complacent and foolish. On the whole the fault lies in lack of resources under successive Governments more than in the failure of concept. But there is a problem relating to secure accommodation for a limited number of very difficult juveniles. I am aware of the situation and will consider the matter as constructively as I can.

Does the Minister accept that there is frustration not only among the magistracy but in a wider sphere, especially regarding the lack of secure accommodation, and that because of this there is an increasing number of certificates of unruliness issued by the courts? Does he recognise that an increasing number of young people are sent to borstal because the courts find that there is no other way in which to ensure secure accommodation for them? Does he accept that this matter must be dealt with as a matter of urgency?

Yes, I do. As I indicated in my reply to the question of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), I accept that there is a real problem here. It is sometimes easier to state the problem than to provide the exact answer to it. The old approved school system, which it is fairly generally agreed, had run its course, was not completely successful. On the whole, the change was desirable. However, there are imperfections, at the margin at any rate. I am aware of that and I shall do what I can to improve it. However, I cannot promise a magic solution.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is widespread concern at the number of young people who are spending time in adult prisons? For that reason will he hasten his plans to build the secure establishments to which he referred?

In a budgetary and other sense, the plans are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and she has announced certain plains for improvements in this respect. Within the necessarily severe restraints on public expenditure at present, there is a limitation on what both she and I can do.