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Baroness Blackstone: Our proposal to raise the level of the fine for non-attendance at school is one of the measures in our strategy to combat truancy highlighted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on 19 October. It will give legal effect to the announcement which he first made last year. The £2,500 maximum fine is the subject of a clause in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill currently under consideration.
Every day at least 50,000 children are off school without permission--the majority with their parents' knowledge. Even when prosecuted, 80 per cent of parents do not appear in court and can be fined as little as £10. Recent evidence shows that some parents are fined an average of £50 to £100, and a number incur fines at the maximum level of £1,000. But more detailed information on the numbers of parents found guilty and average fines is not held centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.
Raising the level of the fine will help combat the unacceptable culture that condones absence from school without permission. Most importantly, our proposal will force parents prosecuted for school attendance offences to turn up in court to face the consequences of their actions, or risk arrest. It will also give Magistrates greater flexibility when deciding on the fine level to impose when parents are found guilty.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): Lone parents and disabled students are already eligible to claim these benefits while studying full-time. We are unable to estimate the annual cost of restoring benefit entitlement to other students during vacation periods.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Estimates of take-up of Income Support in 1999-2000 will be published next year. On 29 April 1999 (Col. 513), I gave an illustrative estimate of the increase in expenditure on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance (AA) together, if their take-up were to increase to 90 per cent. The primary assumptions behind that estimate were the estimated levels of DLA and AA caseload take-up based on the 1996-97 Disability Survey follow-up to the Family Resources Survey. As noted in my Answer of 10 October, these figures cannot reliably be converted into cash terms. The illustrative amount, given in April 1999, was produced based on two main further assumptions:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): No. The case is being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service in Avon and Somerset, who will decide whether to prosecute.
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