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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that the reply will be sympathetic. I am comforted by the comments made by the noble Lord now and also earlier when he said that the amendment was probing. Others outside the House have also voiced these concerns. I reassure them that the reason we are not pursuing them is because we believe that the measure could have an effect that I know the noble Lord does not seek.

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As I say, the regulation-making powers are required to specify who can issue notices and details about the local codes of conduct—important matters which I spoke about earlier. The power to issue guidance is necessary to clarify the circumstances in which a penalty notice is issued and will ensure national consistency.

I turn to some of the other issues the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised. He outlined many of the other reasons which cause and contribute to truancy. That was well said. We know that many of the children who truant have suffered from bullying and have problems at home. One has to try to get a broader understanding of why those children do not attend school and/or why they behave badly. One has to dig a little more deeply and not treat the matter superficially. We agree that there are many causes of truancy, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, and others including boredom, disaffection with school, personal or family problems. The national behaviour and attendance strategy aims to tackle these issues. We are investing nearly 470 million over the next three years in a national behaviour and attendance strategy—which I have already referred to in relation to other amendments—to support schools in improving behaviour and tackling truancy. Through the strategy, all secondary schools will soon have access to training materials and behaviour and attendance experts so that the senior management team in a school is confident and equipped in dealing with poor behaviour and attendance and can pass on its knowledge to other staff.

Schools will be challenged to think about a range of factors, including: whether they have clear rules on bullying and dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the playground; how clubs and other activities outside the school day and at weekends can support what happens during formal school sessions; how to make the best use of computerised registration to identify pupils with attendance problems; how to involve education welfare officers in working with families who have not sent their child into school; whether staff are sufficiently well trained in responding to classroom disruptions and in dealing with disruptive pupils; and how—this is important—to develop the use of learning mentors and learning support units to help children with particular problems. We are recruiting additional people with the relevant expertise and skills to support schools and education authorities in this work. We shall monitor the benefits that accrue from that. My noble friend Lady Ashton, who is present on the Front Bench, will be more than happy to write to the noble Lord and take up some of the specific issues he raised which may be slightly outwith what we can deal with now.

Negative effects on home/school relationships would occur only if school staff used their power to administer penalty notices inappropriately. We should be able to trust practitioners to use their discretion wisely and, as I said, we intend to issue guidance to help them to do so.

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We do not agree that penalty notices will add to the numbers of children in care. Penalty notices are an alternative to prosecution and, if a notice is not paid, the LEA will have to withdraw the notice or prosecute. Before handing down a sentence of imprisonment, which is available only in the case of the aggravated offence of truancy, courts are under a duty to consider the home circumstances of the family, usually assessed via a probation report. That would include taking into account the child's best interests. Courts must consider the parent's ability to pay in setting the level of a fine.

There is no statutory right of appeal against a penalty notice. As I have already explained, they are an alternative to prosecution. A parent who wishes to challenge a notice can refuse to pay and can defend the subsequent prosecution. Guidance and regulations will also ensure that the notice itself makes that clear. Of course, however, a penalty notice will not come to a parent out of the blue. They will already know that the school and/or LEA are concerned about their child's attendance, and our statutory guidance will suggest that parents should be advised as soon as a penalty notice is being considered. It is at those earlier stages that a parent may make representations about the notice if they wish. An LEA will have the power to withdraw a penalty notice.

We do not agree that penalty notices undermine the security that we seek to put in place. In fact, they could reinforce it. They give the parent an opportunity to consider their position, whether they want to change, whether they would rather be prosecuted or pay a penalty fine, or to consider with the school whether any of those courses could be avoided by entering into a well-targeted parental agreement through the contract about which we spoke earlier. It gives them an ambit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke about the level of penalties. The issue has caused her and others concern. We intend to consult on the level of penalty, but our intention in setting the levels was to reflect the usual fines given by magistrates in truancy prosecution cases. We think it important to have different levels of penalty. A parent who is prepared to acknowledge that their child's absence is unauthorised will be able to pay a lesser penalty than a parent who is not. We think that acknowledgement of wrongdoing is an important part of the process.

A lesser level for early payment is important, as we believe that it will underpin the administrative efficiency of the scheme. We want to minimise the burden on the local education authority responsible for its administration. It is important that no one will have to issue a penalty notice—they are simply part of the toolkit. Nor will a parent have to pay a notice, although they of course run the risk of prosecution if they do not. Courts must take into account the ability to pay.

The noble Baroness and, I hope, other Members of the Committee will have had the opportunity to look at the proposed draft regulations. In those we propose that, when a fixed penalty notice is applied, if it is paid within 14 days and if there is an agreement that an

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absence is unauthorised, the fine will be 25. If there were no agreement about the unauthorised absence, it would be 50. If payment were within 28 days in the first category, it would be 50, and in the second category 100. That is the level of fine about which we speak.

I have sought to answer the issue as comprehensively as I could, as I wanted to give the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the reassurances that she asked of me on how the provision would work, what the level would be and how it would be implemented. Her last request was to do with breach of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. Because the provision will be dealt with in the way I have described, we are content that it complies with that section.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: In everything that the noble Baroness has said, she has not mentioned Wales, and I take it that the clause applies to Wales. To what extent have the Government consulted the Welsh Assembly on the matter? They are legislating for Wales, as is their duty. However, they are legislating in a way that deeply affects everything that happens in schools, and the Welsh Assembly has a very big responsibility for how schools operate.

The provisions will alter the relationship of the teaching staff of a school with parents and children other than those affected by the issue of a penalty notice. For the first time, teachers will be asked to operate the law of the land other than education policy in schools. Is the Welsh Assembly happy about that? It is a huge issue.

The noble Baroness, in consultation with her education colleague, is making a judgment that the provision will help schools. In England and Wales, some of the teaching authorities are worried about it, and so are some of the local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has told us of many of their concerns; I had that brief, too, and was interested in it. However, I am specifically asking whether the Assembly is happy about the provision. To whom will the Bill delegate the authority to issue orders? Will it be the Assembly or the Secretary of State for Wales? Will the Welsh Assembly be free to have its own code of conduct to send guidance under the Bill?

Those are important points. I do not see a Member of the Committee based in Wales. I raise the issue simply because I am very interested in how devolution affects such measures. It is not enough that the Welsh Assembly knows about the provision. Has it agreed to such matters, and does it know how it will operate its devolved responsibilities?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank the noble Baroness for raising the Welsh banner as opposed to the Scottish one with which we are so familiar. She has raised an important point. Clause 70 deals with the extent to which the Bill will apply to Wales. Subsection (1) provides that:

    "Parts 1 to 5, 7 and 8 extend to England and Wales only".

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However, there are no fixed penalty notices for Wales. Enabling provisions can be made available if the Welsh Assembly so wishes. At the moment, the fixed penalty notice provisions refer to England only, but there would in the normal way be consultations. If the Welsh Assembly wished those enabling provisions to be activated, I dare say that that could come about.

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