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Amendment Of Power To Detain Children In Secure Accommodation

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 20, leave out from beginning of line 22 to 'the' in line 26 and insert 'for the words from "authorise" to the end there shall be substituted the words "order that, pending the determination of his case in accordance with section 42(5) or (6) of this Act,".'.

These amendments follow a long and important debate in Committee on what the law should provide when a children's hearing or a sheriff decides to issue a warrant for the interim detention of a child pending disposal of his case and considering the use of secure accommodation if that is appropriate.

The problem arose because a court case in Fife resulted in uncertainty about the powers and responsibilities of hearings which result in the issuing of such warrants. We therefore thought it right to move quickly to produce an amendment which clarifies the legislation.

The original clause caused controversy. I took careful note of what was said in Committee, of the various representations made to me and of what was said by those who attended a conference sponsored by the National Children's Bureau in Glasgow on 8 March. I concluded that warrants should deal with secure accommodation in the same way as supervision requirements—that is, a warrant for interim detention may simply give authority to the person in charge of the residential establishment named in the warrant, with the agreement of the relevant director of social work, to make use of secure accommodation during the period of the warrant at such times as this is considered to be necessary in the child's interest. The amendments are designed to do that and I commend them to the House.

This is important to those involved with children's panels. In recent months my informed mail on the subject has ben heavy. I thank the Minister for the amendments. He buttressed his view fairly with the opinions of panel members and professionals. Subsequently he discovered that the unanimity which he thought existed among panel members did not exist. The argument's balance has changed.

For example, Mrs. Sherry, the chairman of the Strathclyde children's panel, takes a different view about where the balance of advantage lies. The difference is small and the change is almost certainly for the better. Even those who were on the other side of the argument accept that we must have some flexibility and that the law should not make it mandatory on those in whose care a child is placed to keep that child throughout the period of the warrant in secure accommodation with all the limitations implied.

It is wise for the law to authorise that the child can be kept in secure accommodation, but it should not demand that he is. It will please the reporters, the psychologists, the social workers and many others, and I believe that it will have much wider support among members of children's panels than we first thought. It is an example of a good piece of work in Committee and a sensible reaction by the Government. I do not often say that to the Under-Secretary, so he had better enjoy it while the going is good.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 32, in page 20, leave out from beginning of line 36 to 'order' in line 40 and insert

'for the words from "authorise" to the end there shall be substituted the words".'.—[Mr. John MacKay.]