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Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I thank the Minister for spelling it out with such clarity--a clarity that was not evident in the clause as I read it. I am also grateful for the comments of my noble friend Lord Renton, as ever courteous in making translations for those of us who are not lawyers. My Latin is somewhat rusty. I am grateful to him.

I noted also the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. He said that people would not be set up to fail with regard to parenting orders. I am sure that that will be the case, but I am sure that it is also the case when a community service order is imposed. We know that with the best will in the world when the probation service has put forward recommendations, the magistrates have considered them, and a community service order has been imposed, there are still those who fail. We can foresee that with parenting orders there will be those who will fail, and proceedings for a breach may well be brought in. There may be recourse ultimately to a fine upon conviction.

It was important to tease out the issues in this clause so that we could have the benefit of the Minister's clear explanation of the procedure. Having heard his words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I have to tell the Committee that if Amendment No. 114 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 115.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 114:

Page 8, line 40, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Lady said: I have already spoken to Amendment No. 114. All I want to say now is that it is fairly clear that if the parents fail they may, at the end of the day, be fined. If they then cannot or do not pay the fine, what is the next step? Are they to be imprisoned? What is to happen to the children then? I am less concerned, I am afraid, about the public interest than I am about the fate of the children. I beg to move.

Viscount Tenby: Perhaps I may go back to the previous amendment. I made a point which was perhaps not addressed by the Minister. It has now been resurrected by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. If the only sanction is a fine, the only way that one can deal with a culpable refusal to pay the fine is by imposing a prison sentence. In the absence of any other punitive measure attached to non-compliance with a parenting order, that will happen. So the point that the noble Lady makes is a valid one.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: There is a problem with the fact that Amendment No. 115 cannot be called if

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this amendment is agreed to, because it is grouped with Amendment No. 115 which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord McNally and the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Perhaps I may be permitted to address that amendment. If Amendment No. 114 should fail, this is the least relief that could possibly be given to those who are the subject of parenting orders, because, at least, it makes it possible for them to go to court to seek to establish, on a balance of probabilities, by way of a defence, that they had some reasonable excuse for their failure. For example, that the children had become completely out of control; that they were ill or that some other factor had entered the equation which made it impossible for them to stand by the order which had been made against them, notwithstanding their utmost effort.

Surely we will permit people to escape conviction for the breach of a parenting order when there is a reasonable excuse for their failure. That is the least that can be done.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: If the words "without reasonable excuse" were on the face of the Bill, a reasonable excuse might be that which is found about 10 lines earlier in subsection (4)(a). Although I recognise that there is no amendment standing to it, I wonder whether on some future occasion the Minister and his colleagues would examine the fact that whereas it may be reasonable to have, "as far as practicable" in relation to subsection (4)(b) or in relation to Amendment No. 112, which was not dealt with earlier, I am puzzled to see how the phrase "as far as practicable" can relate to the phrase in subsection (4)(a),

    "any conflict with the parent's religious beliefs".

Were a parenting order to be introduced which conflicted with the parent's religious beliefs it is unlikely in the extreme that it would be viable either for the parent or for the child. Unless an amendment is introduced at a later stage in relation to the wording in subsections (4) and (4)(a), that would be another reason why the phrase "without reasonable excuse" needs to stand as part of the Bill.

Lord Monson: I do not believe that I can improve on the powerful argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in favour of Amendment No. 115. Unless one or other of the amendments is accepted, we are in danger of creating an absolute offence. Surely, we want to avoid that.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I support the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and other noble Lords in pressing for one or other of the amendments. Until recently, we saw the horrific spectre of many women going to prison for non-payment of a fine imposed for failure to buy a television licence. We should be concerned about similar circumstances; about women going to prison because they cannot pay a fine imposed for being unable to bring their adolescent sons to book for their behaviour. It would be a scandal if we were to implement such a change in the course of this Bill, which is supposed to support parenting. Many

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women who go to prison will have other children at home. Those children will not have their mothers with them as a result of this legislation being passed.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I thank the noble Baroness for putting the case in a nutshell.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The two amendments raise important issues in relation to the working of the parenting order. Perhaps I may again seek to explain their intention, because I believe that many of the concerns expressed during the short debate on these amendments may be allayed.

An order can be made only if one of the relevant conditions referred to in Clause 8(6) is complied with. That means that an order can be made only if the magistrates' court believes that it will prevent the child concerned either committing further breaches of a child safety order or an antisocial behaviour order or will prevent the commission of a further offence; or that it will help the parents not to fail in sending the child to school.

It was said that the effect of the order, far from helping in that respect, will hinder. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that it could lead to domestic violence. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said that it would put greater pressure on families rather than assisting them. The magistrates' court must make a judgment pursuant to the terms of the Bill. If it judged that an order would prevent such events recurring, then and only then would it be allowed to make the order. I believe that an experienced magistrates' court would be able to make such judgments and that it would be able to take into account issues such as resentment, the effect on the family and putting more pressure on the family. Magistrates' courts have experience of such situations.

Unquestionably, from time to time, they will get it wrong. The Bill seeks to deal with that by providing that the responsible officer who is appointed in respect of a particular parenting order can go back to court and ask that the provisions of the order be varied or discharged. Therefore, there are two safeguards, the first of which is that the magistrates' court considers whether it will help. Secondly, if it does not help, there is the opportunity for the responsible officer to take the matter back to court.

Let us assume that both those safeguards fail to correct a bad situation. If there is a failure to comply with the terms of the parenting order, it is a matter for the responsible officer first to decide to report it to the police and then, after the police have investigated, for the CPS to consider whether or not there should be a prosecution. As I indicated in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, there is still a public interest element.

Therefore, there are three discretions available before the matter leaves court. I regard that as quite a substantial safeguard against the situations which Members of the Committee have indicated are causing them concern in relation to the parenting orders. Although the risk is definitely there, with those three safeguards, the benefits from the parenting orders are

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worth having. I am sure that we all believe that there are unquestionably parents who would be assisted by, first, having guidance and, secondly, being under pressure to make some effort in relation to being good parents. It helps them and places them under pressure. I do not believe that it is bad or wrong that that measure is in the armoury of the magistrates' courts. While the risks are known and recognised, the Bill is so drafted to provide the least risk possible of those things occurring.

Let us go to the last stage for a moment; namely, that the court has made the order. It has not been asked to discharge it or has refused to discharge it. There has been a breach of the condition and the matter has been referred to the responsible officer and to the police. The police have referred the matter to the CPS and the matter has been brought to court. There has been a conviction of a breach of Clause 9(7). At that point, the magistrates' court must decide what to do and there is a further discretion.

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