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Column 1164I should like to highlight another area in which there is a glaring omission from the Bill. I refer to the lack of provision in this legislation or in other legislation for the removal from the home of the alleged perpetrators of an abuse. When working in Leeds I had the experience of removing from their home, on a place of safety order, a 9-year-old girl and her sister on the basis that the 9-year-old girl had made allegations that the mother's co-habitee had had intercourse with her. I recall vividly going to that house to remove the girl's 12-year-old sister on the basis that she too was at risk, along with umpteen policemen, who surrounded the house, and going in and removing not the alleged perpetrator but the child. That was absolute nonsense. The person who should have been removed in those circumstances was the person who was alleged to have done the damage to the child.
We are doing nothing in this legislation about that issue and I earnestly hope that the Government will look in Committee at the possibility of addressing it.
If I had had more time I would have liked to talk about the civil liberties aspect of the issues that concern me in relation to the policing aspects of social work. I have been very worried about the way in which, in some instances, parents' rights have been eroded when case conferences have taken place and the parents have had no right to know what was being said behind their backs. As someone who has been on the practice side and is now a parent, I feel very strongly about that.
I feel that many other issues have been omitted from this Bill, some of which have already been mentioned--for instance, day care provision, the family courts question, the need to look, possibly, at the children's panel system in Scotland, provision for care leavers, the issue of social worker training, which is absolutely essential to proper child care protection, and the proper resourcing of facilities.
It is not possible to push through Bill after Bill, Act after Act, and not increase resources. At the same time as Acts have been passed in the last 10 years--and I could name quite a number of them--resources have been cut by about 20 per cent., so local authorities have fewer and fewer resources with which to deal with the issues they are required to tackle.
Of most importance--and this has not been touched on in any great detail in the debate so far--is the need to examine the real causes of child abuse and what I believe are the wider political issues that have to be addressed. The DHSS guidelines issued last year set the main priorities for child protection as effective surveillance, decisive intervention and individualised assessment. The accepted model of child abuse which is projected by the DHSS and the Government is one of individual pathology. It is a disease model, but it is the individual child, the individual abuse, on which we need to concentrate.
I reject that as an approach to dealing with child abuse because it largely ignores the very important economic and social context in which parenting takes place. There is a grave danger in portraying the skills and responsibilities of parenthood as a private set of activities independent of the social and economic context in which those activities take place. As other hon. Members have said, there is a need to address the question of poverty. One third of all children live in low-wage, low-income households or very-low-income households.
We must also address the question of preparation for parenthood. I have two children. I was never prepared for
Column 1165parenthood in any way. The education system has not prepared me and I suspect that that is the case with many other hon. Members. What do we do to prepare young people for the parenthood about which we romanticise? We encourage young people to get married and become parents but give them little guidance about the problems one faces as a parent.
I would argue in particular that nowhere is the individual pathology model more questionable than with regard to sexual abuse. If hon. Members are interested in looking at the research on this issue, I would commend the work being carried out at the moment by Christine and Nigel Parton in west Yorkshire. In a paper to be published shortly, Christine Parton makes the point that : "The roots of child sexual abuse are not so much in deviant family and sexual values but in normal ones."
The essential point that she is making, with which I concur, is that the sexual norms and values of society lead directly to child abuse.
I should like to give the House a few examples before I sit down. We have a society in which judges excuse men who have had sex with children on the basis that their wives were pregnant. Judges excuse that kind of behaviour. That says something about our values. We have women blamed for male sexual violence--women, not men. The Cleveland report gave the impression that the responsibility for protecting children from male sexual violence was the mother's, not that men in society should address these issues.
What we need in this place is more working-class mothers, not more lawyers ; we have heard lawyers all night, with all due respect to some of them, who have made good speeches. We need more working-class mothers who have had experience of the problems of bringing up children on low incomes and of many of the issues that are faced in parenthood.
We need to address in particular male socialisation, sexual attitudes and expectation of women and the portrayal of women in society. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) made some very important points about how women are portrayed in the media. It would be a good starting point to stop women being portrayed as they are in the tabloid press because it creates in men a certain expectation of women. These are issues that we need to address.
I have said that I broadly welcome this legislation, but it is important to make it clear that a simple legal tidying-up measure will not resolve the very deep and serious questions concerning the welfare of children about which we are all concerned. We need to tackle the political and moral issues that should be addressed in this situation. We need to tackle the question of how men treat women and how rich treat poor in our society. Above all, we need to tackle the moral bankruptcy, selfishness and greed that have underpinned the political example set by the present Government over the past 10 years.
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : I very much welcome this Bill and the opportunity to speak in what is a very important and, speaking for myself, fascinating debate to have sat through and listened to.
Column 1166There can be very few issues as private and sensitive as the question of child care. Parents pride themselves on knowing best how to bring up their children. They resent any intrusion into or criticism of that activity. I suppose it is only criticism of one's driving style that can be taken as personally or is as likely to give such offence as criticism of how one brings up one's children. For those of us who dearly love and cherish our children, as I am sure all of us in the House do--my children are the very reason that I come to this place--it is indeed difficult to comprehend the attitude of mind of parents and others who wilfully, and often with premeditation, set out to abuse and ill-treat innocent and helpless children. We run the risk of judging others by our own standards because there can be very few parents who at some stage in parenthood have not felt their self-control beginning to slip and have stopped just in time before slapping a bit too hard or using language that is a little too strong. Such incidents, of course, are followed instantaneously by horror and self-rebuke, but those actions are the nearest we can come as loving parents to understanding the sorts of situation that give rise to the problems behind this Bill. From the debate so far this evening it is clear that there are a number of unresolved issues, many of which have been the subject of undertakings by the Lord Chancellor in the other place to introduce amendments in this House. I look forward to them and I want to address myself to a few of them. First, however, I wish to deal with one or two other aspects of the Bill.
A point has been raised about the Bill moving firmly towards increased parental responsibility. I welcome that. We hear a great deal these days about rights but much less about the responsibilities which must go with those rights. The Bill sets out to balance that responsibility about the primary interests of the child. Furthermore, the Bill is written in language which is clear to all involved in child care. It makes it a lot easier for those of us who are not lawyers to understand what the Bill is saying. It may not be quite up to the standards of a plain English award but the Government should be congratulated on producing a piece of legislation which will be easily understood by all those who have to implement it as well as those who may hope to serve on the Committee and understand the amendments.
I particularly welcome the changes in what are currently called custody orders, which are to be replaced by residence orders, contract orders and the like. There can be very few of us who have not been through a divorce or have not got a close relative or friend who has. The tug of war that can take place between parents who are divorcing will often destroy the last vestiges of trust and security for the children caught in the middle. The proposals in this Bill make it quite clear that the responsibilities of parenthood are not to be monopolised by one parent or to be thrown away by another like some discarded empty bottle. Once a parent, always a parent, and with that goes parental responsibility.
Some issues which have been debated in the other place are still to be resolved. There were attempts by some noble Lords to amend the proposals for parents to withdraw their children from voluntary care without notice. The Lord Chancellor rejected those amendments, but I hope that they can be given more attention during the Bill's passage in this House. We should understand--again, there is the risk of judging others by our own standards
Column 1167--that although the vast majority of reasonable, sensible parents would give notice, a tiny minority, perhaps even drunk, might, on the spur of the moment, turn up to retrieve their child, regardless of whether he wishes to go, whether he is awake or asleep, or whether the other parent agrees with the action. Obviously, we do not want to discourage parents from using voluntary care--it is a sensible objective--but we must look at that matter again. A useful article in Social Work Today referred to that point.
In his opening remarks, my hon. and learned Friend referred to the harbouring of those who have run away from home or from local authority homes. There is still a point to be cleared up, and I hope that we can get some clarification. When the Lord Chancellor replied to the debate in the other place, he referred to safe houses and said that amendments would be introduced in this House along the lines of what was in the White Paper. The sentences in the White Paper are acceptable to everybody. I do not have time to read them, but they are contained in paragraph 50 of the White Paper. What is slightly confusing is that they appear under a heading concerned with local authority homes. I hope that the arrangements to permit the Children's Society to continue its work will not be restricted to those who have run away from local authority homes.
On 20 December 1988 the Lord Chancellor announced that amendments will be forthcoming to the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948. We are still awaiting them, and we have heard the reasons for the delay. However, the problems go much further than simply reforming that Act. Many factors now point towards a need for a full policy on the care of children by people outside the family when the children are not at school. Obviously, such a policy should not be a straitjacket, nor should it impinge on the parental responsibilities that we are rightly enshrining in the Bill. The matter overlaps the responsibilities of the Department of Education and Science. We cannot escape the fact that more and more women want and expect to return to work soon after childbirth. However wrong I as an individual might think that that is--I make no bones about it ; it is wrong--I have no right to make that judgment for others. We know that there is a great lack of day care facilities, whatever the form of pre-school care and even out of school hours care, for children aged over five.
In the debate on clause 16 in the other House, proposals were made to require local authorities to provide day care for all under-fives. The Lord Chancellor resisted that, and I hope that my hon. Friends will continue to resist it. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who assented to one of my earlier comments, will not agree now. I do not think that the right way forward is to require local authorities to do that. It must be remembered that there is a substantial voluntary sector which must be harnessed and enhanced. There are ways in which it can be improved. I do not pretend that it is perfect. There is a need for greater professional training and greater control and regulation of those involved. That is the way forward. That is the way we should set out our stall.
Putting young children into a local authority system which, by its nature, is bound to be somewhat institutionalised is not the right way forward. If we can involve the voluntary sector even more than it is at the moment we will also involve parents. That is significant. If
Column 1168we can involve the parents at that stage, it will set a pattern for their involvement throughout their children's schooling. The Government have been trying to do that with other legislation. That environment needs to be regulated and supplemented by local authorities. Let us not have the blanket approach which was suggested this evening.
I shall return to those points if I am fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Standing Committee. It is a great pleasure to be able to take part in a debate which is not full of political hype. We have heard a few highly party political comments, but the debate has not contained the political hype and propaganda which characterise many debates in this place. I am sorry that more hon. Members have not been present to hear the debate. They would understand that this is the House of Commons at its best. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak about such an important Bill.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Like other hon. Members, I welcome the debate about the law relating to children. We should remember that this is not just a post-Cleveland Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) said. It is far more general and covers a longer perspective than that. Many aspects of the Cleveland debate are disturbing, such as the way in which the popular newspapers rushed to judgment against individuals and used it as a general attack on social workers. People made instant responses to matters which they could barely have had time to investigate. Anyone who has examined the traumas, the unpleasantness and the sordid side of the abuse of children in our society will know that the most difficult decisions are often those which must be made by welfare workers of any description--social workers, the police and many others. They are all extremely difficult decisions. Whatever one does, one gets it wrong, because one is wrong in somebody's eyes. The only thing to do is to err on the side of protection of the child. If one gets that wrong, one will obviously lose everything in the long run. It is an extremely difficult matter. I hope that there will be some caution in attitudes towards social workers in future and that there will not be cheap attacks on them by press reporters who have not bothered to understand the difficulties in which they must work in the first place.
I shall concentrate on day care provision for under-fives. Although some hon. Members have mentioned it, it has not been referred to extensively. There is an awful lot of idealising about bringing up children. There is the ideal of the nuclear family in the semi-detached, three-bedroomed house with a garden in some pleasant suburb, who are always available to ensure that children have a decent upbringing. For many children that is not the case. The reality of life for many children in our society is not growing up in that sort of environment ; it is growing up in an overcrowded flat, sometimes shared with other families, in a high-rise development with little open play space. Even if there is open play space, parents are afraid of children using it unless they are supervised. If there is no supervision and parents are unable to go out and look after their children, there is no play for them.
Many children are growing up in such environments. Many children are growing up in poor environments.
Column 1169Without dramatising what I am saying, many children are not getting enough to eat, and, in many cases, not of the right food, because their families are so hard-up.
The problem of child poverty was serious in 1979, and it is catastrophic in 1989. I ask Conservative Members who willingly and slavishly supported the Government's economic policies over the past 10 years to look to themselves on the 10th anniversary of Thatcherism and consider the lot of many children in our society and the resurrection of malnutrition and diseases which many thought had been banished after the slump of the 1930s. That is the consequence of a slavish endorsement of the market forces argument and market forces policies.
Clause 16 deals with the provision of day care for children. One welcomes it. At least we have something in legislation. Clause 16 states :
"Every local authority shall provide such day care for children in need within their area who are--
(a) aged five or under ; and
(b) not yet attending"
primary schools managed by local education authorities
"as they consider appropriate".
Obviously, I, along with anybody else with any sense, welcome the fact that that there is to be day care provision for children in need. I take issue with the fact that we have a narrow definition of children in need as a requirement for a local authority to provide day care, and in doing so we are saying that other children who are not within that narrow definition will not receive day care. When one starts to question what is available in day care provision, one is horrified. When visitors from overseas come to my community in Islington, those who are interested in local authority matters or social problems often ask about day care provision. The borough of Islington scores pretty well in the national average in its provision of community day nurseries, play centres, nursery schools and classes, playgroups and many other forms of informal day care. It scores well because the Inner London education authority and the borough of Islington give a high priority to day care provision. Yet even now the borough is under-funding many services. The borough and I both recognise that. There is a long waiting list for day nurseries. It is almost impossible for many parents to get their children into day nurseries.
The 1976 Select Committee report on the problems of children recommended a massive increase in the provision of day care facilities. I understand that the Prime Minister, when Secretary of State for Education and Science, made a rash promise of 700,000 places for the under-fives. We are still a long way short of that. Indeed, we have very poor provision.
The differences throughout the country in the provision of nursery places for children aged three to five are astonishing. Some local authorities manage as high as 85 per cent. Others, such as West Sussex, are below 10 per cent. Is that caring for the under-fives, or is it saying that we will throw the problem back to the parents and ignore the fact that many of them may be living in unsuitable accommodation and cannot afford to send their children to private nurseries?
Provision in the United Kingdom is very poor. The statistics provided by the House of Commons Library show that the number of places available in local education authority nursery schools and classes for the
Column 1170zero-to-four population is only 9.4 per cent. I realise that not all children under four are eligible. One might argue that only children aged three and four should be eligible. One finds that local authority day nurseries provide only 32,000 places in the whole country.
The changes in the past few years show an even more astonishing position. One would have hoped that, with the growing recognition of the need for children to be able to go to good day care facilities, such facilities would have expanded, but there has been hardly any expansion. Between 1985 and 1987, places in local authority day nurseries did not increase at all. There was only a substantial increase in the number of children in registered places with child minders. I applaud the work of child minders, but many local authorities and child minders recognise that that is not the ideal answer, because better facilities are needed for children to extend themselves and to develop their individuality and personality. When we compare the provision of local authority and other pre-school facilities in this country with the provision in other countries in Europe, we see what an appalling mess it is in. If West Germany can manage 60 per cent. provision for children aged three to five and if Spain can manage 66 per cent. provision, why can Britain manage only 44 per cent.? Because of political will and political priorities, the Government do not regard it as important to provide those facilities.
Where there is local authority provision, in some cases it is expensive-- indeed, sometimes, prohibitively so. Where parents are sending children to private day nurseries and private pre-school provision of various sorts, the cost is astronomical. I spent part of yesterday at a National Union of Students conference on the provision of day care for the under-fives. The delegates were asked about the cost of nursery facilities provided in institutions of higher education. It is important that nursery facilities are provided in such institutions. If they are not, how can women get back into education? All institutions of higher education are pleading with women to come back. The cost of nursery facilities may be as high as £70 per week, which is totally prohibitive for poor women. I make one simple plea. I hope that an amendment will be moved in Committee, and accepted, to introduce a statutory requirement for the provision of pre- school educational places, be they nursery, day care or whatever. There should be proper monitoring of the facilities nationally. We should not forget that we are ignoring the real needs of a large number of children who are living in great poverty, distress and difficulty, and who cannot experience the joy of socialising with other small children, of learning how to play together and of developing properly. We are starting discrimination in the cradle because of the Government's economic policy and the lack of social provision for children.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : When the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) spoke of Cleveland, my mind's eye filled with the picture of a small boy, returned home to his parents, who sat silently, withdrawn into himself, refusing to speak to anyone, staring straight ahead. His mother, who was worried sick, said that he had had 14 or 15 nightmares that week but that he refused to say anything. He had been seen by Dr. Higgs, warded, and later de-warded and sent home. I
Column 1171cannot recall whether he was one of the children who were carried off by social workers late at night, perhaps at 2 o'clock in the morning. Anyway, he had been taken away under a place of safety order obtained from a magistrate who worked in a local hospital. He had not been abused sexually but he was abused by the system. So, too, were all the other children who were taken away in Cleveland in 1987. So were the two men who committed suicide. So were the families who were irreparably split by allegations made in that great wave of zealotry.
I recall specifically a man arriving on my doorstep with a letter telling me what had happened to him and his family. He came along on Sunday, 14 June, two days after I was elected to the House. That letter was impossible to comprehend. We assume that such things cannot happen in a civilised society. Here was a professional man, well able to safeguard his own interests, totally crushed by a system of law and so-called welfare which had completely removed all his rights and responsibilities.
This welcome Children Bill will immeasurably improve the position. We have to legislate for all our children, and for the sake of all our children. Millions of children live normal, happy lives. However, each year thousands are injured, abused or neglected by adults. For the sake of my constituents and the community at large, we must go further than the provisions of the Bill.
The Bill is an excellent one for simplifying the law, and for defining properly the rights and responsibilities of parent and child. It is long overdue that the declaration of the rights of the child 1959 and the European convention on human rights should find expression in English law. The sweeping away of the long discredited place of safety order will also receive a wide welcome, as will the introduction of the emergency protection order and the simplification of the provisions relating to wardship and guardianship.
Careful consideration must be given in Committee to various points such as notification about emergency protection orders, the training of social workers, the under-fives, written agreements relating to children in care and especially the independence of guardians ad litem. If the Government wish, I will gladly serve on the Committee to support them in dealing with all those matters.
It is crucial always to hold in mind what we are about fundamentally. We are seeking the best welfare for the nation's children because a halfway house will not do. It is not sufficient to build the front half of the vehicle to Rolls-Royce standards and then try to weld a Skoda body at the back. Unfortunately, that is what the Government are seeking to do by refusing to follow the logic of their own arguments all the way to a system of family courts.
I have no doubt that, in framing his reply, the Solicitor-General has already thought of a quip about Rolls-Royce costs, but this matter is too serious for quips. Perhaps we should consider not whether we can afford a system of family courts, but whether we can afford not to establish one.
The Finer committee on family law reported in 1974. Fourteen years later, no argument against the system proposed has yet been advanced. Fourteen years have elapsed, with no progress. To put that time in context, it is fair to say that in the past 140 years, since the Infants Relief Act 1874, there has been an average gap of nine years between major pieces of legislation relating to children. The last and the most important Act was the
Column 1172Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The Minister said that he thought it would be a long time before another such piece of legislation came before the House.
If we profess to be the party of the family, we can hardly be prepared to wait another nine years to establish family courts. If we read the Bill thoroughly, we can see that it is almost as if the new system is already presumed to be there. The present structures are plainly inadequate to deal with the new law that is proposed. We need a non-adversarial system of law in family matters. We need compulsory reference to conciliation in many cases of family break-up. In New Zealand, for instance, where all divorce cases are referred to conciliation, after conciliation 19 per cent. of couples resumed the marriage, 39 per cent. reached full understanding, 16 per cent. came back for further guidance, but only 26 per cent. reached no agreement. Consider the savings that would be made in legal aid under that system.
Passive child abuse, such as allowing a child to view pornography or adult acts, might be prevented at an early stage and on a low-key basis by a simple reprimand from a court guidance counsellor, backed, as he would be, by the full authority of the court.
In order to speed up court cases, there must be a mechanism to introduce cases at the most appropriate level of court as soon as possible. I urge the Government to enhance the system, which was pronounced by the Finer committee and adopted in New Zealand, by including a judge as the chairman of the court in a way similar to industrial tribunals. The judge and tribunal should have power to call witnesses, to call for evidence and to instruct that parties be represented.
I find it quite unbelievable that in this country one must go to a judge to seek an interim injunction--and give undertakings in damages and other matters in case one is wrong--in order to freeze a man's bank account, yet in order to take his children away one only has to go to a magistrate and say that one has a suspicion that the child might be in danger. That shows how this country has its priorities so terribly wrong. I look forward to the Bill putting that priority right.
I respectfully submit that it is not sufficient to remove the most obvious shortcomings of the present system. The real point is that, in order to make sure that the system provides justice, we need a root-and-branch reform of the court system. I suspect, in the words of Mark Antony, that
"I tell you that which you yourselves do know."
This is a good Bill. It has the potential to become a great milestone in the history of child care law. The potential lies in clause 67, which the Lord Chancellor described in the other place as a "marker" to be eventually much more extensive in its effect. If that is not the case, the provisions of the Bill will be too strong for the court system that it will have to work within. It would be a great mistake and a tragedy for our people if this reform were to be presented half-finished.
The Lord Chancellor has sent us a well-drafted and cohesive Bill. When introducing it elsewhere, he showed that he represented all that is best in our party. His intention is to leave the country with an enduring mark of its compassion for the most unfortunate and vulnerable people in our society.
We should bear in mind the image that I conjured of a child who was shattered by what has happened to him. Whether that child's life was ruined by state intervention,
Column 1173by abuse or by divorce, it is imperative that we recognise that no provision is too good or too expensive for us to enact.
A hundred years after Lord Shaftesbury campaigned for better working conditions for children, we still remember him. We can emulate his reputation with this Bill. I should be very surprised if the Government were to grant my request tonight. All I seek at this stage is an undertaking from the Solicitor-General or from the Government that they will consider whether the Bill can be the vehicle for a comprehensive reform of the law on children by introducing family courts. That should be considered carefully before the Bill leaves the House. Many hon. Members, and concerned people and organisations outside, agree that we now need a family court. I ask the Solicitor-General and the Government to give us the tools and let us finish the job.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : I, like many other hon. Members, welcome the opportunity to participate in the Second Reading of this important Bill, which touches on some of the most emotional and sensitive issues in our society. I am sure that we all agree that it is difficult for any statutory framework to deal effectively with complex human relationships, especially those within families. Shortly after my election to the House, the Cleveland issue was highlighted. I felt at that time that it would have been wrong of me to intervene, because my intervention, however well-intentioned, would have been made without all the facts. However, I had the distinct impression that the emotions aroused boiled over. That may have been natural, indeed unavoidable, but that also effectively underlines the need to deal sensitively with matters affecting children. Despite my earlier remarks, we must have a statutory framework that takes into account so far as possible the experiences of recent events.
Prior to my election to the House, I was a practising solicitor and I had had some experience in general practice of dealing with family law. I welcome in broad terms the provisions of the Bill that deal with custody and access on marriage breakdown. The removal of the terms "custody" and "access" and any steps that remove the conflict in such cases and make it easier for parties in marriage breakdowns or in the breakdown of family relationships to resolve their difficulties should be welcomed. Many of us who have been advocates in such matters have seen time and time again the terrible situation of children being used as emotional blackmail in family disputes. Unfortunately, many were in such a serious situation that they saw the gaining of custody of the children as a prize to be won in legal proceedings and did not consider that the interests of those children should be given paramount consideration. Therefore, anything that goes towards removing such a conflict should be welcomed. The amendments to the care proceedings are very much overdue. The historical piecemeal approach to the law relating to children was much to be deprecated. Over many years, we saw provisions in the Children Act 1975 fail to be implemented time and time again. The courts were hampered, because they had inadequate provisions to deal with those matters effectively, although some of them were already on the statute book.
Column 1174The rights of parents to be parties in care proceedings are important. I have never understood why that has not been introduced earlier. In care proceedings, of course, the child is represented, and on many occasions I myself have represented children. However, the parents have a large and important interest, too. They should be heard and should not simply be interested parties.
The creation of emergency protection orders is welcomed. The eight-day initial order will meet some of the objections of the place of safety orders, and will give parents rights to challenge after 72 hours. That has resource implications, not least for the legal aid fund. I hope that the Government will allow sufficient resources to be made available to the legal aid authorities to ensure that parents and children, and all the other interested parties, can be properly and legally represented, where necessary. I also welcome the tighter timetable for interim care orders contained in the Bill. I am sure that the Solicitor-General is aware of the old maxim "delay defeats justice", but where children are concerned that delay is even more intolerable.
This has been a fruitful debate. Much has been said about how to strike the right balance between acting quickly to prevent abuse and identifying those cases where intervention would not be justified. We all agree that we cannot legislate for perfection. However welcome the new provisions may be, we also need to encourage the agencies involved in such decisions--social workers, doctors, the police, voluntary bodies and, on occasions, probation officers--to work closely together. Because there are misunderstandings between those agencies and, let us be honest, jealousies, tragedies can occur. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the voluntary agencies outside the framework of the law work effectively together. In common with other hon. Members, I believe that there are some omissions from the Bill. The most glaring is the failure to introduce family courts. I welcome the provisions in the Bill so far as they go and, as the Minister of State said earlier, some people see them as the means to set up embryonic family courts. I welcome the establishment of family panels as part of the system in magistrates courts. Juvenile courts were never the right place to deal with children involved in care proceedings, and family panels will now address some of the relevant issues.
The right answer is the establishment of family courts, but, despite the overwhelming support of hon. Members and interested organisations for their introduction, the Government appear to be determined not to introduce them. I fail to understand why, unless it is because of a lack of resources. I commend the words of the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) who said that it was not a case of whether we could afford them, rather that we could not afford not to have them.
Family courts are important because the adversarial nature of magistrates courts, and sometimes of other courts, destroys the possibility of any decency in the proceedings. That adversarial nature does a disservice to family law, and we must reconsider the introduction of family courts. The aim of family law should be to resolve conflicts without bitterness. One cannot remove bitterness entirely, but it can be significantly reduced.
The Solicitor-General and other Front-Bench spokesmen will be aware that concern has been expressed about the resource implications of the Bill. The Association of Directors of Social Services is particularly concerned
Column 1175about the resource implications for training and the appointment of guardians ad litem and so on. The Government should not delay the introduction of the Bill's major provisions because of lack of cash ; rather, they should make it clear that the resource implications will be met in full. There should be no skimping.
I also trust that amendments will be made to the Nurseries and Child- Minders Regulation Act 1948 in relation to private nurseries. An undertaking was given about that in the other place and I trust that the Government will act upon that in Committee. Yesterday, I led a delegation to see the Lord Chancellor whom I admire. He is an honest and sincere man who listens carefully to the points put to him.
The Bill is welcome in so far as it goes, but it could go much further. We all have the responsibility to make the Bill into an Act which is a true children's charter. I hope that the Government will respond positively to any constructive idea proposed to strengthen the Bill during its passage through the House.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Earlier I was struck by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who is a lawyer specialising in children's law. He drew attention to the extraodinarily complex and confusing nature of the law which surrounds children in our society. I believe that the Bill, with its 83 clauses and the wide range of issues that it attempts to encompass, is a further reflection of the complexity of that law.
The complexity in the law has arisen largely because we tend to think that children have different rights from adults. Having read the Bill, I have the distinct impression that children are still viewed as the property of parents rather than as individual citizens in their own right. I accept that they do not vote and that they are small and often inarticulate, but by definition they are people. In our anxiety for their welfare we sometimes lose sight of that fact, and we have set up institutions that have impinged upon children's rights.
Adults may not be subjected to physical medical examinations against their will, but in Cleveland children were subjected to inspections which almost amounted to abuse. There were not only inspected, but photographed in that act by third parties. They were subjected to appalling humiliation, but because they were small and inarticulate they were deemed suitable for such treatment. That is awful.
When we take a child into care, what we are really doing is inflicting compulsory custody on the child. That cannot be inflicted upon us as adults unless the police have a good case against us. Even then, we are protected by the writ of habeas corpus and the police have to bring the case before a court within seven days. A child may be taken away and held for 28 days before the relevant order comes back to the magistrates courts for extension. Again the child is treated in a lesser capacity than an adult. When the child is suspected of being abused it is removed, but the abuser is often left in the family home. The child is subjected to a trauma which should perhaps rightly be inflicted on the person suspected of perpetrating the crime. Instead, however, the victim is taken away. That represents another trauma on top of the abuse already suffered.
Column 1176I question some parts of our social security system. If one studies the cases of physical abuse against children, one often discovers that the children were in happy foster homes but were then reclaimed by their mothers, who were setting up homes with new partners. The children represented points in the housing game. In other words, the child is taken back not because it is wanted but because it is a valuable commodity. In The Lancet this week a paediatrician described a case in which parents refused treatment for a handicapped child because they believed that the operation, which the paediatrician thought necessary, might end the child's life. In the paediatrician's words, the child was worth £200 to the household in allowances. Again, the rights of the child were subjugated to the financial interests of the adults.
I could go on, but time is limited. My point is that the Bill tends to perpetuate the idea that powers given to professional workers to protect children are necessarily a good thing. I do not think that that is always so. The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) stressed the need for children to have an outside, independent source to whom they can speak. She pointed out that several children's organisations support that idea. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) pointed out that when the Bill was going through the House of Lords, that principle was rather lost. I wish to reinforce the idea that it should be included, and that the point should be made very strongly.
I should like to see emphasis placed again on what I would call the natural neighbourhood networks of protection for children--the teacher, who often suspects that something is wrong ; the neighbours, who perhaps do not report things as much as they used to because the social worker is supposed to be doing that job ; health workers, who often know a lot more about what is going on but perhaps tend to refer cases to the so-called professionals in the field. I should like to see the police involved to a much greater extent because they are not only trained in these matters but also circumscribed in their activity by very specific parameters. They cannot take people away and lock them up for 28 days without producing them in the courts. I hope that, as the Bill goes through its Committee stage, more emphasis will be placed on the need for the community to keep an eye on and take charge of its children.
I was struck by one thing in the admirable book written by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) about the Cleveland case. An experienced paedietrician--talking about the so-called disclosure sessions at which children were almost bullied into giving the evidence that the social worker wanted in order to carry the case forward--pointed out that children very rarely tell lies in these cases, that most children are truthful, and that if one listens to them one gets the truth. I hope that as the Bill goes through its various stages a great deal more attention than is currently being shown will be given to children as independent citizens with the right to speak up in their own defence.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme) : This Bill is a landmark in children's legislation. Many burning issues and many needs will be brought to the surface during its passage. Some of those needs will be met, and many of the issues will be passionately debated, but, however good the provisions of the Bill turn out to be, however good the law,
Column 1177all the passion and all the debate will have been to little purpose if the training needs of those who have to implement it are not met. Children have special needs. Their whole future is finely balanced. So much depends on the knowledge and accurate judgment of the professional people involved. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, police, teachers, carers, the clergy all become involved with children in need of care and protection. But central in this area of child care and protection are the social workers. It is in their hands that the needs of children at risk are placed. Their knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of other professional groups is so important in helping these children and their families. On their shoulders is often placed the ultimate responsibility for success or failure. The evidence from two Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work surveys--"Protecting Children" and "The Law
Report"--indicates that students are leaving their one-year and two-year qualifying training ill-equipped to handle child care protection work. As has already been mentioned, some students receive their qualifications without ever having worked on a child care case. In May of last year the Government rejected the council's proposal that social workers' basic training be extended by a year. This would have allowed time both for basic training and for specialist training in any one of a number of fields, including child care. The Government have recognised the need for remedial training for existing social workers. They should supply the money that is necessary for basic and specialised training not only for social workers who deal with children but for all those who deal with children. I quote from the explanatory and financial memorandum : "The full annual cost of the Bill will be between £4 million and £11 million of which £4 million will fall to local authorities and between £0 and £7 million to courts administration and legal aid. There may also be one-off training costs for local authority staff training."
The memorandum also says :
"None of the other provisions of the Bill is likely to have substantial financial effect. The sponsoring departments may have to make modest provision for monitoring the effects of the changes." That is not good enough. More money should be--must be--provided. Our hopes for this Bill rest with those people who have to implement its provisions.
In conclusion, I have to say that we as legislators cannot sit back and think that we have done our duty by children in passing a Children Bill if we do not include in it provision for training and for monitoring its effects. Children are our future and the future of this country ; we should not be counting pennies when counting the cost of our duty towards them.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I am most grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly in the debate on this Bill, which I welcome. I reinforce strongly all that my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) have said during the course of the debate. I want to emphasise the need to give grandparents rights under this Bill. I refer to a constituent of mine--the grandmother of two young children--who wrote to me saying :
Column 1178"At all times up until September 1988 I enjoyed access to the children, with whom I had a very good relationship. I was then notified by the council"--
I should say that the council referred to is not my own local authority--
"that they were terminating my own access rights, which they had allowed me up until then I understand from the barrister who has advised that there is currently a gap in the law that means that, as a grandmother, I have no clear rights to commence proceedings against [the council] to enable me to take up access. Clearly, I take the view very strongly that there is some fault in the law."
As many hon. Members have said, that fault is very clear. I should be grateful if the Solicitor-General, in his winding-up speech, would make clear very precisely what rights grandparents have under this Bill. What locus will they have in the various proceedings that are spelt out? Will legal aid be available to grandparents to enable them to take proceedings if they so wish?
This debate takes place against the background of child benefit having been frozen for a considerable period--perhaps the most major attack against children and families in this country.
Let me cite another part of the background against which the debate takes place. In the city of Bradford, which I have the honour to represent, children are the victims of a vicious campaign of Conservative dogma, which clearly represents the worst aspects of extreme Thatcherism. There are 9,000 school children whose parents are either unable or unwilling to pay school meal charges, which have almost doubled since last October. There have been major cuts in the funding of the voluntary sector, and these have hurt organisations serving children and families. I think that the meanest of those cuts relate to toys and equipment supplied to child minders in the district.
I think of the single parent with three young children who is buying a house, described as being in a shocking condition, on a rental purchase scheme at 22 per cent.-plus interest. She is a young, vulnerable and quite inarticulate woman, the youngest of whose three children suffers from epilepsy. I have a letter from the citizens advice bureau in Bradford, which has been trying desperately to assist her. It says :
"I am still trying to get money through another community care grant for repairs which Environmental Health deem necessary and for which a nine day order has been issued. Again I find it unacceptable to be told by Social Fund Officers to put a lock on a cellar door' as an answer to sewerage and silt problems in the cellar ; and to their apparent naivety or possibly unwillingness to respond to matters of urgency. It is now Friday. The order was issued last Friday. Three telephone calls to DSS, one application form explaining the urgency and now another letter has gained no response other than flimsy excuses and insensitive suggestions."
That is the reality of the attack that is being made on children and families in Bradford.
We know that 2 million children live in poverty or near the poverty level. In Bradford, many children are living in poor, overcrowded homes. They go to old under-equipped schools, badly in need of repair and renovation, and live in communities which lack basic community facilities, are run-down and strewn with litter, graffiti, waste and rubbish. Is it any wonder that 15- year-olds now represent a major criminal class in Britain?
The Government's response is to threaten to punish still further the parents of those children rather than dealing with the cause of the problem which, as has been said so