Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential and Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2013.
Relevant document: 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, I shall provide the Committee with a brief summary of what the order is intended to achieve. The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient changes to UK legislation in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament. This order is made in consequence of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, which I shall refer to as the 2011 Act. The 2011 Act aims to improve support for both professionals and panel members to ensure consistency of approach and practice, with a view to achieving better outcomes for children and young people involved in Scotland’s children’s hearings system. The 2011 Act will provide for legal and procedural changes to ensure that children’s rights continue to be properly upheld, while also bringing the majority of existing law relating to children’s hearings into a single statute.
The 2011 Act largely restates and updates the law relating to children’s hearings in Scotland. The order will ensure that existing legislation in England and Wales, as well as reserved UK legislation, is updated to reflect those changes. The order also makes cross-border provision to ensure that certain aspects of the children’s hearings system—for example, the placing of children in a particular place—apply to other parts of the UK. The modifications made by the order are largely of a technical nature and will ensure that the existing law continues to operate effectively by recognising the modifications made by the 2011 Act and subordinate legislation made under it.
The order demonstrates the UK Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work. I hope that the Committee will agree that the order is an appropriate use of the powers in the Scotland Act 1998 and that the practical result is something to be welcomed. I commend the order to the Committee and I beg to move.
My Lords, my intervention will be largely based on reminiscence. In 1968, when the children’s hearings were set up as part of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, I was a diploma in social work student in Edinburgh and I recall the senior civil servant in charge of the Bill coming to speak to us. I suppose that I have spent the subsequent 45 years watching the development of the children’s panel system, which is characterised by being much admired but hardly ever replicated. I certainly believe that the welfare approach is the right approach and that the children’s hearings are more likely to find a suitable conclusion to, or development of, the person’s situation. I think that we in Scotland were right to abandon the juvenile court approach that was extant before 1968.
I fully concur with my noble friend that this legislation is the inevitable result of devolved legislation. It would be entirely wrong for this Parliament not to pass this legislation. Families clearly have the opportunity to go and live wherever they wish. Indeed, sometimes things go wrong when people are on holiday in Scotland. This order certainly has my support; it comes from a good, and unfortunately a rare, example of this Parliament legislating uniquely for Scotland. That was very good and it does not happen very often. It was certainly a Government who had popular support in Scotland, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds in this respect. I certainly give this order a very fair wind.
My Lords, I totally agree that this is a consequence of the devolution brought about by the Labour Government and that these are natural extensions of it. Before I make my few remarks, I thank the Minister for the helpful communication that he sent me and the offer of assistance. It was much appreciated and I respect him and his staff for that.
There are a few things. It may be that I am nitpicking— I hope not—but my interest was aroused by looking at paragraphs of the order and thinking about how they will be practically implemented. Paragraph 4.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“A children’s hearing or a sheriff may consider that it is in the best interests of a child to stay with a particular person. If that child then absconds from the particular person, for whatever reason, to a place in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, article 9 of this Order allows a constable in any of those jurisdictions to arrest the child without a warrant and take them back to the person”.
I wonder if there are any practical examples, without names of course, where that has happened. What is the justification? That is quite a lot of power being invested in a police officer, and I wonder what the track record is of any of these things happening. In addition, it seems quite a strong measure and I wonder whether there is any authority in existence that reviews a case. Is it kept within the police or within the social work department? Because everyone should be accountable, it certainly might be interesting or useful to see whether there is any review of any cases like that which throw up any problems with it.
I move on to paragraph 4.10, on offences related to absconding. It says:
“A children’s hearing or a sheriff may consider it to be in the best interests of a child to require them to be kept in a particular place or with a particular person”.
Does a child have any representation at that hearing? Who represents the interests of the child? If there is anything that a child is concerned about or is affecting them but is not known to the authorities, what sort of representation does a child get from the care system in that situation?
Moving on to paragraph 4.12:
“This Order prohibits the publication of certain information about proceedings at a children’s hearing or court proceedings under the 2011 Act if it is intended that publication will, or is likely to, identify the child, the child’s address, or the school which the child attends”.
Can we get some clarification of the word “publication”? Recent events show how something can go “viral” on the internet. Would the publication of a child’s name on the internet be a breach of this? Has that been envisaged, or was this framed and implemented at a time when there was no such thing as the internet? It would be interesting to see whether internet abuse would be covered by this and whether action could be taken, no matter how difficult it can be.
Paragraph 4.13 is entitled:
“Transfer of children from Scotland to England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Effect of compulsory supervision order”.
Quite rightly, throughout the order there is reference to the four home countries. Is there any joint body or liaison on this between the countries, or between any two countries involved in a particular case or incident? We all know how bureaucracy can be, and if there is no scrutiny and transparency things can go wrong. Again, paragraph 4.19, which is entitled:
“Child placed in secure accommodation: decision of the head of unit”,
“Under the 2011 Act, a children’s hearing may, in conjunction with a relevant order or warrant, make a secure accommodation authorisation (SAA) which could specify that the child resides at a residential establishment in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Under the 2011 Act, the Chief Social Officer (CSWO) must then make a decision as to whether or not to implement the SAA”.
Again, that seems like an awful lot of authority and responsibility to be given to one person. Are there any methods of scrutinising such decisions, or are they reviewed by the chief social worker? I ask this because—and I am not attacking social workers—no one is perfect, and it is all about scrutiny and accountability.
I have raised a number of questions, and the Minister may not be able to answer them. I find no reasons to doubt the order—in fact I support it—but I would like some clarification on these issues concerning transparency, scrutiny and accountability, bearing in mind we are dealing with children, who are not always able to represent themselves properly.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his kind words of support. The noble Earl of course has much experience of working with children and young people. I am also grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. If I do not answer any specific questions of his, I will of course write, when appropriate. He asked first about the review of cases and the viewpoint of the child. I am not aware of any problems, but of course I will write if I have any useful information. Many of these matters are of course the responsibility of the Scottish Government, but I am content to pursue the points raised by the noble Lord with the Scottish Government and write to him.
He asked an interesting question about publishing restrictions that were felt to be necessary in the age of social networking systems. The restriction is primarily aimed at journalists, to prevent them from publishing information that could identify a vulnerable child. With regard to social media, if the principal reporter is made aware that a sibling has posted something on a Facebook or Twitter page about the whereabouts of their brother or sister, the police have been known to visit them and ask them to remove the post. This is generally complied with as they have not understood the consequences of that post. The Scottish Government do not expect any changes to be brought forward in these types of situations.
It might be helpful to the Committee if I gave a real-world example of the effect of the order. Suppose that a 15 year-old child is subject to a compulsory supervision order with a condition that he reside at home with his mother in the Scottish borders. The CSO also contains a direction regulating supervised contact once a week with his father. His father is estranged from the mother and resides in Newcastle. The father therefore travels once a week to a social services centre in the Scottish borders for supervised contact with his son.
One day the child is persuaded by his father to travel across the border and stay with him in Newcastle. The child tells his mother that he is off to play football with his friends the following Saturday morning, but instead travels to Newcastle. When the child does not return home as expected, the mother contacts his friends and learns that he has gone to see his father. She contacts social services and the police, who arrange to visit the father. The father denies that the child is with him and conceals the child from police and social services in England.
In this instance, the father would be guilty of an offence under Section 171 of the 2011 Act if he lived in Scotland, but without a Section 104 order—the one that we are debating today—he would not be guilty of the same offence in England. We therefore need the Section 104 order to protect Scottish children across the UK. I am grateful for the support of the Committee and I beg to move.