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The noble Lord said: The technical amendments in this group will, on Royal Assent, bring into force powers to make secondary legislation and it will be unnecessary to make a commencement order just to bring those powers into force. This has no effect on the coming into force of the substantive provisions of the Bill. The new employer duties, for example, will still come into force in the way that we have previously considered. It will mean, however, that the technical complexity of orders under the Bill can be reduced. That must be a good thing, not least for better regulation. More important is that we will also be able to give proper notice of the detailed requirements that will apply under the Bill before they take formal effect.
As this is the last time that I will be at the Dispatch Box in these Committee proceedings, I take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have participated in our extensive deliberations on the Bill. I greatly look forward to Report stage. I beg to move.
Lord Skelmersdale: I am glad that the Minister added that last tiny paragraph. I, too, express my gratitude and that of my noble friend Lady Noakeswho was here very briefly, but has now vanished againto both Ministers for their tolerance over eight days. Of course, we have not really had eight days; I estimate that we have probably had about six and a quarter days, but I have not done the sums. I extend my thanks to all Members of your Lordships House who must have felt at various moments that when they came into the Chamber they were watching paint drying. I assure them that our discussions on this Bill have been very serious and have had profound effects, as will the remaining stages.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: Perhaps I may also say, on behalf of my colleagues, how grateful we are to the Minister. He has endless patience and is always willing to assistwhere he can. That is an important subclause to that sentence. I am lost in admiration at the way that he deals with voluminous briefs; in another life, he will have a career as a speedreading tutor. Finally, the accessibility and professionalism of the Bill team is much appreciated by all and that has made the past eight days a positive pleasure, as far as these things can ever be a pleasure. I thank the Minister and his team.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 125 to 127. The amendments deal with attendance notices and the much-heralded Clause 39,
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The Minister may say that all these circumstances would fall within the meaning of reasonable excuse. If that is so, there should be no problem in accepting the amendment. Placing an indicative list in the Bill can only assist in explaining the position to the parties involved.
Amendments Nos. 125 to 127 are designed to emphasise that enforcement is purely a last resort. Clause 40 currently does not require local authorities to have taken all reasonable steps to secure voluntary participation in education and training before an attendance notice is issued. Our amendment would clarify the position and ensure that young people are helped through the most appropriate education and training before any formal sanctions are used. There should be a well understood and transparent process that lays down the action that the local authority can take. However, there should also an absolute requirement to avoid a formal enforcement process until such time as all other options have been exhausted. This is a safeguard measure to ensure that local authorities are diligent in upholding their obligations.
The Liberal Democrats also have an amendment in this group that would explicitly make enforcement a last resort, and sensible amendments to limit any potential fines. We must never forget that the young people who find themselves in this sort of circumstance will not have money to spend on fines.
I had a most interesting meeting with the Reverend Paul Nicholson of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, which helps young people who face fines. He made it clear that punitive fines can be disastrousa tipping point where desperate young men turn to theft and young women to prostitution. Those are extreme cases, but the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, are absolutely right to draw attention to this potentially destructive issue. I beg to move.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I shall speak specifically to Amendments Nos. 146, 150A and 153. Amendment No. 150A is a new version of what used to be Amendment No. 142, which has been withdrawn, and which we slightly resisted.
We support the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, in seeking a more explicit definition of reasonable excuse, and also in the notion that the court should be very
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All of these amendments relate to the possible penalties that might be imposed on young people as a result of their failing to respond to any of the encouragements or sanctions from the local authority that is trying to get them to participate in education and training. They were proposed to us by the Zacchaeus trust, which works extensively with young people and knows very well how little money most of them have. It agues that a failure to recognise the depth of poverty experienced by the 10 per cent of young people who need help most will undermine all the good intentions of this legislation.
Unemployment pay for a 16 to 18 year-old is £47.95 a week. Most do not get that. They are eligible only if they are in severe hardship. But if they are in this categoryif they have broken up with their parents and are homeless£47 a week is still a totally inadequate amount to live on. If they participate in education and training, they are eligible for the education maintenance allowance of £30 a week, but only if their parents apply. Many parents do not apply, partly because they are often poor and illiterate and find it impossible to understand the forms they would have to complete.
Clause 43 includes appeal arrangements, but on these occasions most of these young people and their parents need help in formulating such appeals. If they do not participate, under the proposals they could be hit in a youth court with a class 1 fine, the maximum of which is £200. Amendment No. 150A suggests that such sanction should be used only as the last resort and asks the Secretary of State to define the circumstances constituting a last resort. Amendment No. 146 suggests that any fine must not take the form of deductions from unemployment. If a young person is receiving only £47.95 a week, he cannot afford to lose any of it. Amendment No. 153 suggests that the issue should always be dealt with in a youth court. I seem to recall that we have already had assurances from the Minister that all of these young people will be dealt with in a youth court, even if they are over 18 when they are brought to court. If the issue has arisen as a result of behaviour before they were 18, it should nevertheless be dealt with by a youth court. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to these amendments.
Lord Dearing: I support the spirit of these amendments. I should also like to raise one further thoughtthe possibility of offering the young person the opportunity to do community service as an alternative to a financial penalty.
Lord Adonis: Before I address the amendments, I want to return briefly to the issues about the age of the young person and the enforcement system that we discussed at the end of our previous sitting in Committee. These issues were raised in the final remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Important points were raised which have prompted me to look into the issue in more detail. It might be helpful if I clarified that my department is working with the Ministry of Justice to develop proposals, possibly involving use of the County Courts, so that a young person could not in any circumstances, whatever their age, be imprisoned as a result of defaulting on a fine for not complying with an attendance notice without a reasonable excuse. The details of how to achieve this greater certainty are being worked on and I shall bring forward amendments on Report if necessary. I reiterate that fines are, in any case, the ultimate sanction for non-participation in education and training. They would arise in only a small number of cases where all other avenues, including the option suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, had been exhausted. These further options are set out in Clauses 39 to 48, which we are continuing to debate today.
Amendment No. 146, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, relates to fineenforcement methods and the attachment of benefits. It is very rare for young people below the age of 18 to be able to claim jobseekers allowance. In the unlikely event that a young person is claiming jobseekers allowance and they are found guilty of the offence under Clause 45, they will be liable to a maximum level 1 fine on the standard scale, which is the lowest category available. The maximum level 1 fine is currently £200, but the actual amount in each case is decided and fixed by the courts in the light of individual circumstances. A youth court would take a persons earnings into account when deciding the level of the penalty and set it at a rate which it believes the young person can pay. Once a fine is determined, it is up to the court to decide how to enforce it. It would not be appropriate to constrain its flexibility in this area. However, I can reassure the Committee that a deduction from benefits order cannot be taken out against a young person who is below the age of 18.
I turn now to the amendments on what must happen before sanctions can be considered. Amendment No. 124, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, would specify in primary legislation what would count as a reasonable excuse. The now much-quoted letter of 13 February from Jim Knight to David Laws outlines in more detail the thinking behind the concept of a reasonable excuse for not participating. I note that the examples given in the letter of what might constitute a reasonable excuse are precisely those which now appear in the noble Baronesss amendments. However, it was made very clear in the letter that those examples should not be taken to be an exhaustive list. Their purpose was to illustrate the range of ways in which a young persons circumstances could prevent them participating.
It was also made clear that listing those examples was not meant to suggest that all young people in these situations would always be unable to participate.
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In a number of these centres, training in parenting skills, provision to address the mothers other educational needs and childcare are all integrated, enabling the young person to combine learning and caring for their child. For example, Newcastle-under-Lyme college in Staffordshire runs a learning programme for teenage parents at a local childrens centre where childcare is also provided. As well as working on literacy, numeracy and IT skills, the programme helps participants access other support services for themselves and their children, such as health visitor services. Most participants later progress on to further learning at the colleges main site.
Similarly, the Pinnacle project in Kent is an area-wide initiative to bring young parents back into education and training. Groups are located in childrens centres, offering multi-agency services as well as childcare, and providing an informal route into education and training through fun and interactive short courses aiming to build confidence and self-esteem along with practical skills. The gradual addition of accredited structured courses leads to the eventual inclusion of formal programmes, including literacy and numeracy work.
I give these examples to emphasise the importance of putting the appropriate provision in place. If appropriate provision of the kind I have described is put in place, it could be in the best interests of young mothers to engage in education and training alongside their caring responsibilities, and the work of childrens centres could facilitate this in highly positive ways. Teenage mothers often do not achieve the qualifications they need to progress into further education. About 40 per cent of teenage mothers at the moment leave school with no qualifications at all, and those who achieve better long-term outcomes for themselves and their children are, of course, those who gain employment and acquire qualifications at school. Therefore, we believe it is right to encourage, as appropriate, the participation of teenage mothers in education and training.
We will issue detailed guidance to local authorities on how to interpret their responsibilities and how to exercise appropriately their duties in relation to support and powers regarding enforcement action. I cannot say precisely when that guidance will be available. If I am in a position to say more before Report I will certainly do so, but we would not wish to specify the arrangements inflexibly in primary legislation.
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