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Children And Young Persons Act 1969

Volume 979: debated on Thursday 28 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to introduce legislation to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.

We hope to inform the House of our proposals in the course of this Session, and to introduce the necessary legislation as soon as practicable thereafter.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread concern being expressed by magistrates who sit in juvenile courts because they cannot ensure that, in appropriate cases, children are placed in community homes? Will he tell the House what progress is being made towards implementing our manifesto commitment to introduce a residential care order?

I am aware of the concern felt in this respect not only by magistrates but by others. I share that concern. The proposals on which we are working concentrate on a form of residential care order which will give courts the powers that they need to ensure that juveniles who continue to commit offences are not allowed to remain at home.

When will the Minister implement that part of the 1969 Act which requires the phasing out of borstal institutions? If he is not to do that, will he at least close down the only closed borstal for girls in the country, Bullwood Hall, because of its inaccessibility? Is he aware that about 40 per cent. of the girls who left that institution last year did not receive a visit from their relatives their probation officers or social workers? Would it not be more appropriate to have a series of smaller institutions in every part of the country?

It might be more appropriate to do that, and it is something that we shall consider. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will take into account the expenditure implications of such a change. On the general question of the future of borstals, that is something that will be considered in the course of our review of the treatment of young offenders.

Bearing in mind the Government's concern that, wherever possible, executive powers on sentencing should be diminished, and judicial powers increased, would it not be sensible to make the care order a determinate sentence? When is my hon. and learned Friend proposing to introduce such a change?

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion. It is one of the points that we are considering in our review.

A moment ago the Minister explained to the House that within a matter of days of taking office he changed his mind on a manifesto commitment about the fourth channel. Why are the Government sticking to the Conservative manifesto pledge to give magistrates the power to send children direct into some form of custodial care, when he must know that, compared with 10 years ago, the number of special units is now 300? Is he aware that that number is growing rapidly and that without any new moves the problem for magistrates becomes less and less every day?

I do not accept that the problem for magistrates gets less and less every day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out, there is considerable feeling among magistrates that, in appropriate circumstances, they ought to have the right to make a determination of the kind that I have described. That is something to which we gave expression in our manifesto and which we shall implement in the proposals which we shall put before the House in due course.