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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: As Members of the Committee will have noticed, I have help from everywhere. I shall try to explain the process clearly. The noble Baroness is right about California and, indeed, many other places where a contract is signed

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when anyone goes to school. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that we have similar provisions. On entry to school, many schools have a contract that parents, children and the school sign, which states the behaviour expected from the parents, the behaviour expected from the child, and matters of that type.

We are introducing the parenting contract, as specified in the Bill, to target those parents who are not complying with the generality of good behaviour. More specifically, their children are suffering disadvantage by virtue of not coming to school properly, if at all, and are being excluded. This is a way of re-engaging those parents who fall within that category in a more direct and structured way.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I do not want to take up the Committee's time, but I think that the noble Baroness has highlighted my point. Supposing a child was in a school where the parents had already signed a contract. Now they would be signing another one. Would that mean anything? That illustrates my point. For these parents, it would be strange to find themselves promising again to do all those things just because they are in trouble. I do not want to hold up the Committee's time, but I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the contract in relation to the whole process. If we think that a contract is useful in these circumstances, it might be a good idea if it is compulsory in all schools.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are trying to enhance good practice. The noble Baroness is right to say that there is a different job of work almost that needs to be done in relation to these parents. The noble Baroness should know that it will be put in the context of a school and maybe the LEA, already working in a very targeted and focused way with these particular parents, to deal with identified problems that have arisen with the children.

In terms of the contract, this is an opportunity to do something about the problems. If the parents choose not to take advantage of an opportunity to enter into a contract, it will be for the LEA and/or the school to consider what further or other steps might have to be taken in order to persuade them to do their duty. One of those steps might be a parenting order, which has more teeth in terms of obliging parents to comply. That is how the two fit together. Therefore, there is a difference between the existing Department for Education and Skills home/school agreements and parenting contracts, as I tried to describe.

I do not believe that I responded to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about parenting contracts and the 13th report on the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Members of the Committee will know that the report also concluded that the Government were entitled to take the view that the provisions of Clause 18 would be compatible with ECHR Article 8. Although there was a discussion, it was decided that it was compatible.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I should like to probe further on some of these issues. I am unhappy about

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the degree to which a voluntary contract can be brought into court proceedings—a concern not only on these Benches. A large number of children's organisations are also concerned. Barnardo's, the Children's Rights Alliance for England, the Children's Society, family service units, NACRO, the National Association for Youth Justice, the National Children's Bureau, National Children's Homes, the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations, the NSPCC, the National Youth Agency and the YMCA England have a number of serious reservations about the status of parenting contracts. That is because the refusal to sign one can be cited as grounds for application for a parenting order, the breach of which can lead to a level 3 fine of 1,000. These are the two issues that I seek to raise in this series of amendments.

A 1,000 fine for breaching a parenting order seems disproportionate and excessive. When we have discussed this with the Minister, the implication has been that such a fine is never going to be levied; that under normal circumstances the fines to be levied for breaches of such orders will relate to the income of those concerned and in effect the maximum fine will seldom be more than 100. We feel, therefore, that it is rather absurd to put on the face of the Bill a provision implying that the maximum fine can be a level 3 fine of 1,000.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We may again have conflated parenting orders and contracts. Perhaps I may try to unravel that because I believe that the noble Baroness said that the charities she mentioned are concerned that a breach of the parenting contract could lead to another order and that there would be a reliance on the breach.

The breach of the contract would not form the basis on which the parenting order was made. The original failure and non-compliance would be the matters that would go before the court to determine whether there should be a parenting order, but the court would be entitled to know that there had been a parenting contract which had either been reneged on or had failed for some other reason. The court could then make inquiries of both parties—the local education authority and the parent—about what part, if any, they played in the breakdown of that contract in order to assess whether, in the circumstances, a parenting order is merited.

Noble Lords know that the court will be perfectly capable of deciding that, while the local education authority may have applied for a parenting order, it is not minded to make one for various reasons. So it is the original behaviour which could have justified the parenting order that will be relied on when the matter comes to court.

I shall deal now with the question of the appropriate fine. The noble Baroness will know that all that the level of the fine indicates is the maximum fine. Therefore once the court is seized of the matter, it will be in a position to assess which kind of sentence—in the Criminal Justice Bill we are now creating a much broader range of options than were possible before—

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and which type of disposal would be the best one for that case. It may be that the court may come to the conclusion than something other than a fine may suffice. The provision simply sets the outer limit, the maximum fine beyond which a sentencer would not be entitled to go.

Noble Lords will know that families vary in their financial means. What may be a huge burden for one family—a fine of 5 could be such a burden for some—for others, a fine of 1,000 could be a mere bagatelle. We also know that, unfortunately, poor behaviour in children is not the sole preserve of the poor.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her detailed explanation. I shall read carefully what she has said.

Lord Dixon-Smith: This has been a useful debate. The Minister has made clear the progressive nature of the process. It starts off as an essentially voluntary exercise that seeks to work by persuasion and moves through to what I would describe as coercion and, finally, to compulsion if that is what is needed.

We should all be quite clear that parents have the option to do without any of these actions. They may persuade the child to attend school or to mend its ways and behave in a more socially acceptable manner. That is always a choice for the parents. It could be the case—I am sure that the noble Baroness would hope that it would be so—that parents called in before a headmaster or a representative of the education authority to be warned that this procedure might begin would take the matter seriously. In fact, that would be the step which persuades the parents to take the necessary action vis-a-vis the child.

The position has been made clear and that is most helpful. I have no difficulty with the progressive nature of the process. It must be progressive if one is dealing with recalcitrant parents who will not take their responsibilities seriously. I accept that there are some parents with such problems and that they have great difficulty with this, and I am sure that those cases will be dealt with in an extremely humane way.

We shall study carefully the helpful explanation given by the noble Baroness, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 97 to 99 not moved.]

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 100:

    Page 18, line 18, at end insert—

"( ) Where a local education authority incurs costs as a result of carrying out its functions specified in this section, the appropriate person shall make arrangements for it to be compensated in relation to these costs."

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 100, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 114 grouped with it. Both are probing amendments which relate to the costs borne by local education authorities as a result of setting up arrangements for parenting

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orders and parenting contracts. Of the two amendments, Amendment No. 114 is probably the more significant.

Amendment No. 100 relates to Clause 19 and the voluntary parenting contracts between the LEA, the school and the parents. Earlier in our discussions I argued that such contracts should be made exclusively between the LEA and the parents. I have also made it clear in our discussions that the support services provided by the LEA in terms of advice and counselling must be significant and individually tailored to parents' needs.

In pursuing that route, costs will not be insignificant even for the voluntary agreement. They will involve the drawing-up and negotiating of the contract between the parents and the school. It may take officials much time to set up meetings and, often, to rearrange them if one partner fails to appear. The contract must then be drawn up, signatures collected, advice sessions set up and tabs kept on whether each side is meeting its obligations.

Amendment No. 114 is the more important amendment because it relates to the costs incurred by a local authority in seeking and policing a parenting order, as well as the costs of implementing the requirements of that order in terms of counselling, advice and support. As it stands, Clause 21(4), which we are seeking to amend, makes it clear that the Secretary of State or, in the case of Wales, the National Assembly, may by regulation lay down who is to meet these costs.

The Minister will know that local education authorities are currently very tightly budgeted. By law some 90 per cent of LEA funds are passported directly through to schools. What is left is all too little to meet the demands of central responsibilities such as special educational needs and school transport. These new powers to set up parenting orders are really a part of the law and order agenda rather than the education agenda. The amendment seeks to make it clear that the costs incurred in setting up and administering the system of parenting orders and contracts should fall on the Secretary of State for Home Affairs rather than on the education budget. I beg to move.

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