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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. I am thrilled to hear that he is against blanket provisions in the Bill. That is a matter to which I shall return at a later stage of our deliberations on the Bill. The Minister said that the amendment would have no practical effect or utility. In the light of that explanation, I wonder what practical effect or utility Clause 16 is supposed to have.

As far as concerns local authorities, they are under a duty under Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill to provide a crime and disorder strategy, but I did not hear the distinction being drawn between that and the provisions of Clause 16. Therefore, to put upon the police authority a duty to,

seems to me to be a little otiose. If the police are not involved in preventing crime and disorder in their areas, what on earth are they doing?

If Clause 16 is regarded by the Government as an appropriate clause to introduce in respect of local authorities, I should respectfully have thought that the amendment I have proposed would also have been acceptable and would have had some meaning, blanket provision though it may be. However, this is not a matter that I wish to pursue to a Division. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hoyle: I believe that this is an appropriate moment to break. I suggest that the Committee stage on this Bill begin again not before 8.30 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.31 to 8.30 p.m.]

Clause 8 [Parenting orders]:

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 7, line 4, leave out from ("offence") to end of line 7.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to remove Clause 8(1)(d) from the Bill. The intention of this amendment is to prevent the criminal court from being able to give directions to parents because of matters relating to non-school attendance.

The civil family proceedings court already has powers to give directions to parents who are failing to secure that their child is being properly educated, under an education supervision order at Section 36 and Schedule 3 of the Children Act 1989. A parent who unreasonably and persistently fails to comply with such a direction is guilty of an offence and can be fined to the same degree as is proposed in the Crime and Disorder Bill. Thus, in terms of general court powers, this provision is redundant.

Many of those involved in youth justice and penal affairs believe that matters relating to education and home/school liaison are essentially civil, and should

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remain under the auspices of the family proceedings court rather than the criminal courts. That is the basis of this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As the Committee knows, Clause 8 makes provision for courts to impose a new court order called a parenting order. This is designed to help and support parents to control the behaviour of their children by requiring the parents to attend counselling and guidance sessions, and if necessary to comply with specific requirements which the courts may place on the parents.

As my noble friend Lady Kennedy has said, the order can be made in a number of situations, for example when a child safety order, is made; when an antisocial behaviour order or a sex offender order is made in respect of a child or young person; or when a child or young person has been convicted of a criminal offence; or when a person has been convicted of failing to send his children to school. It is the last of the four hurdles to which this amendment relates. The purpose of the amendment is to remove the last of the four triggers from the Bill.

I do not think there is any doubt that the links between the slide into criminality and poor educational achievement are well known. A child who does not attend school regularly is unlikely to do well in most circumstances. That is why there are two sections in the Education Act 1996 which try to compel parents to ensure that their children attend school and why the Prime Minister's new Social Exclusion Unit is paying particular attention to truancy.

When a parent is convicted of either of the offences under the Education Act which I have mentioned, the availability of the proposed parenting order will give the courts another option to help deal with the parent's inability to ensure attendance of his child at school. As we have the parenting order under Section 8, I believe it would be wrong not to offer it to the courts as an option in those circumstances where a parent has been convicted under Section 444 of the Education Act in failing to secure the regular attendance of his child at school. Once a breach of Section 444 has been proved, there is not a compulsory sentence, as it were, but it must be of value to the courts to have this measure in their range of options in dealing with a parent.

I do not think that anyone would disagree with the proposition that good education is vital for the development of children in this country. I have set out the important reasons why the Government believe that the parenting order will be beneficial in dealing with parents who do not ensure that their children attend school. I hope that I have put the noble Baroness's mind at rest, in particular in emphasising that this measure is an option and is not compulsory. There is no reason why it should not be provided. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Lord Hylton: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do, it is important that preventive action should be taken as soon as, or even before, a child is suspended and then expelled de facto from school. That is when

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the trouble begins to manifest itself and that may be quite a long time before there can be any conviction under the sections mentioned on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I have concerns about the way in which this measure is being included with behaviour which is of a criminal kind. Often children truant from school because of their unhappiness at their schooling experience. We should try to draw them back into the learning community. However, I am concerned about the use of criminal sanctions for that purpose, and that this should be seen as a way of dealing with non-attendance rather than through the civil courts. I shall not press the amendment at this stage. I hear what the noble and learned Lord says. I shall withdraw the amendment but I ask him to think long and hard on this matter before the next stage of this Bill.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I should emphasise that the criminal sanction relates to Section 444 of the Education Act. We are not creating any new criminal sanction. We are simply adding an additional sentence, as it were, for a breach of Section 444. Therefore her concern that we are imposing a criminal sanction for failure to secure regular attendance of a registered pupil at school is wrongly directed through this amendment; it should be directed at Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: As the noble and learned Lord knows, there are two options available as regards action to be taken in connection with non-attendance at school. One of the options involves the section that the noble and learned Lord has just mentioned. The other concerns Section 36 of the Children Act which local authorities are currently applying. We still feel concerned that the criminal courts should be used at all in relation to non-attendance at school. We feel that the proper court to deal with this matter is the family proceedings court. I know that the Government have taken a different view; but we ask them to bear the amendment in mind in considering what is in the best interests of children for their future and their education. We do not think that the way that is proposed in the Bill is the best way forward.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I do not wish to repeat myself. The remarks the noble Baroness made relate more to the existence of Section 444 than to treating the matter as a trigger for making it a parenting order. The noble Baroness kindly indicates that she will withdraw the amendment. Perhaps that will be the end of the matter.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Does the noble Baroness wish to withdraw the amendment?

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: Yes, but I wish the noble and learned Lord to think twice about whether the provision is necessary. It consolidates a provision that we think was wrong originally--the inclusion of the provision in the Education Act. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 108:

Page 7, line 10, leave out ("is a parent or guardian of") and insert ("has parental responsibility for").

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord McNally, and to speak to Amendment No. 109.

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in her criticism of the concept of parenting orders. The orders seem to be wonderfully idealistic. We have before us the template of the new Labour family where no doubt the mother smilingly greets her children as they come from school with her arms covered in flour from baking the scones for their tea, and father is ready to help with the homework, and so on--and if they are not, we shall jolly well make them so because we shall train them in the proper duties of how to be a father and a mother.

People are not like that. The puritanical, almost Cromwellian, zeal with which the order is introduced is typical of other measures which may be found within the Bill. By definition, the child concerned will be difficult. The aim is not so much to seek to make parents take responsibility for their children as to help parents find effective ways of managing them. When faced with the criminal sanctions contained in Clause 9(7) of the Bill, parents may seek to give up their responsibilities altogether rather than face being dragged through the courts and punished for what their children have done.

It is all very well for parents to enter into voluntary courses to try to help them control and deal with their children. But it is very different when they are forced to do so under pain of conviction and fines. There is a great deal about the parenting order which is highly suspect. I say that by way of an introduction to the two amendments.

It may be preferable at page 7 line 10 to leave out,

    "is a parent or guardian of",

and insert,

    "have parental responsibility for",

because the parent or guardian may have given up that responsibility and given up the struggle in the face of the difficulties they have with their children.

Similarly as regards Amendment No. 109, we are concerned that many persistent young offenders are no longer under the control of their parents. They are already in care or in local authority accommodation. In such circumstances, there is no point in imposing a liability on their parent or guardian, sending them off on courses and threatening them with legal sanctions and criminal convictions if the responsibility and care of those children has already been taken away from them under one order or another.

The purpose of the amendments is to face the reality of the situation and ensure that no court is tempted to make an order which will have no effect. I beg to move.

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