Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 117:


Page 29, line 28, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 relate to the prohibition of publication of proceedings at children's hearings. I think Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 are rather redundant because Amendment No. 117 seeks to leave out subsection (5) altogether. It would appear that the whole purpose behind children's hearings is to give the child the anonymity and the care of the children's hearings proceedings. To give these powers to the sheriffs and the courts would be going contrary to the spirit of the children's hearing system in Scotland.

I could go on at some length about it but that is the basic point behind the amendment. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I should warn the Committee that if Amendment No. 117 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 118 and 119.

7 Jun 1995 : Column CWH91

The Earl of Lindsay: As the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, has explained, Amendment No. 117 seeks to remove from all of the sheriffs, the Court of Session and the Secretary of State the power to dispense with the prohibition on publication contained in this clause.

A dispensing power is necessary to provide for exceptional cases in the interests of justice—and I stress that it is exceptional cases that we are dealing with in the interests of justice. The 1968 Act already provides a general dispensing power for the Secretary of State. That comes in Section 58. The Children Act 1989 provides a similar power for both the court and the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 118 seeks to remove the dispensing power from the sheriff and the Court of Session in respect of proceedings before them. That means that there would be no dispensing power in either the sheriff court or the Court of Session, but the Secretary of State would still be able to dispense with the prohibition in relation to any proceedings at a children's hearing. If it is accepted in principle that a dispensing power is required, one should be available in relation to proceedings, both before the sheriff and the Court of Session.

Amendment No. 119 seeks to remove the power to dispense with the prohibition from the Secretary of State in relation to proceedings at children's hearings. That would mean that only the sheriff and the Court of Session could dispense with the prohibition in respect of any proceedings being considered by them. The Secretary of State would not be able to do so in respect of children's hearings proceedings. For the same reasons as previously stated, if there is to be a power for dispensing with the prohibition, that should be extended to the Secretary of State in relation to any proceedings relating to children's hearings as well as the power which is granted to the court. On the basis of the explanation that I have given, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: It is interesting to hear that the Secretary of State does have dispensing power, if that is the correct phrase. I wonder whether there are any figures to show how often the Secretary of State has actually used that power in the past five years, for example. Perhaps the Minister will write to me in due course. Subject to that query, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Lindsay: To save a letter, I can say that since 1968 the Secretary of State has not used that power of dispensation at all. He has received only one application.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Attendance of child and relevant person at children's hearing]:

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 120:


Page 29, line 40, after ("shall") insert ("have a right to attend and").

The noble Lord said: Three amendments run together, Amendments Nos. 120 to 122. I have had the opportunity

7 Jun 1995 : Column CWH92

to discuss them with the Minister and my understanding is that the Government will be taking this matter away to think about. I may be wrong, but that is my understanding. If that is so, I do not want to take up the Committee's time by addressing the reasons for the amendment.

The Earl of Lindsay: The noble Lord's amendments raise important points of principle. I shall give an explanation. Amendment No. 120 would confer on a child a right to attend his own hearing. This is entirely in line with the increasing emphasis on children's rights.

At present, under the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, a child has an obligation to attend his own hearing but, unlike his parent, no statutory right to do so. It seems only just that the child should also have the right to attend his own hearing. The difficulties arise on Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 which would then give the hearing the power to remove that right and simply exclude the child without any safeguards.

I fully appreciate the reasons why the noble Lord has made provision for the exclusion of the child in order to protect him from information or situations which would be detrimental to his interests. However, a right to exclude would infringe the child's civil rights.

Although we are providing for the exclusion of the parent under Clause 42, that is only to enable the hearing to obtain the views of the child or to spare the child significant distress. Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 go much wider than that and I cannot advise noble Lords to accept them. I would, however, point out that the power of the hearing to proceed in the absence of the child, which is in the present legislation, would remain. That would allow hearings to proceed without the presence of very young children, such as babies, or young children who might be distressed significantly by the hearing.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing forward these three amendments. We are agreed on the need to recognise the rights of the child and I would be willing to accept in principle Amendment No. 120, but not Amendments Nos. 121 and 122. On that basis, I should be grateful if the noble Lord would withdraw his amendment.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: I will give some careful thought to what the Minister said. We all recognise that within the children's system of hearings we are dealing with a very delicate area of human relationships where children are perhaps not mature enough to understand what is going on, or even why they are there. I am grateful to the Minister for the co-operation the Government have given in accepting Amendment No. 120, and we will see what happens between now and the Report stage. We may, like General McArthur, come back again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment on the basis that the Government are accepting the proposal.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 not moved.]

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I thought that Amendment No. 120 had been accepted.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell) : The amendment was withdrawn as the Minister indicated that the Government would take action. It was my

7 Jun 1995 : Column CWH93

understanding that all three amendments were withdrawn.

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clauses 42 to 44 agreed to.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved amendment No. 123:


After Clause 44, insert the following new Clause—
(".Sections 170 and 369 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 (age of criminal responsibility) shall be amended by substitution of the word "twelve" for the word "eight".").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is put forward with some degree of reservation because it is a very serious matter which has to be given very deep consideration. The amendment proposes that the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland should be raised from the age of eight to the age of 12. The purpose of the amendment is not that of responsibility, but the current theme throughout the Bill is the age of 12 and the proposal is to bring the age into line with the other provisions in the Bill.

I am not completely happy about the amendment as drafted, but I thought it right to move the amendment in order to give the Committee an opportunity to make its own observations.

In Scotland we have the youngest age of criminal responsibility in Europe. I am advised to that effect, and no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. There is a difficult balance to strike. I formally move the amendment without a great deal of conviction, but it will give the Committee the opportunity to put forward matters for consideration by the Government between now and the Report stage. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour: I do not want to interfere with what the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, has just said, but I thought that he was going to move it with Amendments Nos. 137 and 154. Is that right?

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: The other two amendments are consequential to the first one.

The Earl of Balfour: Then I suggest that if these amendments are to be considered, Amendment No. 123 should be put into Schedule 3, if it is go to into the Bill, and not go in as a fresh clause. It is basically an amendment to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975.

On Amendment No. 137, I just wonder in that sense, and considering Clause 48, whether the effect of this amendment would be to extend the power of the children's panel in any way? Also, Amendment No. 154 should read "section 48(2)(i) and (j)" because paragraph (j) brings in the drugs side of it. Looking at Clause 48, I felt that that was perhaps what was intended. I am sorry to be rather technical on this point, but it is something which I had time to look at this morning.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page