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Amendment No. 125, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, requires reasonable steps to be taken by local authorities before they embark on

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sanctions. It is in effect a requirement under the Bill that local authorities should act reasonably. As the Public Bill Committee of another place heard from John Freeman from the Association of Directors of Social Services, we see enforcement as the last option and an indication that we have failed somewhere. A disengaged young person is an indication not just that they have failed but also that we have failed. Reasonable steps are set out under the Bill. Clause 40 makes it clear that a local authority cannot issue an attendance notice until it has taken the initial steps in the enforcement process provided for in Clause 39; namely, giving 15 days’ notice in writing of its intention to issue the attendance notice. Under Clause 39 a local authority cannot take those initial steps in the enforcement process until it has ensured that the person has been offered suitable provision and the right support.

On Amendments Nos. 126 and 127, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, we have made it clear that there can be no enforcement where a young person has unaddressed needs or until an appropriate learning opportunity and suitable support have been provided. Clause 39(5) makes it explicit that before a local authority can even give notice of its intention to issue an attendance notice, it must have already ensured that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that relevant support has been offered to the young person and that the young person has had the opportunity to take advantage of it. As the local authority cannot issue an attendance notice until it has given notice of its intention to do so, and the authority cannot give that notice until the right support has been provided, it follows that an attendance notice cannot be issued until the right support has been provided.

I can be similarly positive about Amendment No. 150A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which seeks to insert “last resort” into the sanctions regime. As I have said repeatedly, the use of any sanctions would indeed be a last resort and should be a stage that is rarely reached. The point of including enforcement provisions in the Bill is to make it clear that the requirement to engage in education and training is real and serious, and for it to have the effect we want in terms of changing public expectations. The Bill already ensures, however, that enforcement action would in reality be a last resort.

Clause 39 states that the local authority cannot take enforcement action unless it has provided the right support for the young person and enabled him to take advantage of that support. It already states that the authority cannot take action unless the young person is failing to participate without a reasonable excuse. The need for there to be a reasonable excuse is reiterated at every subsequent stage of the process.

In addition, before taking even the first step in the process, the authority must give the young person the opportunity to make representations. The next step is in essence a final written warning to ensure that the young person can be in no doubt about what is required of them and is given a clear last chance to engage voluntarily. The independent attendance panel provides a route of appeal for young people and an extra safeguard to check that the local authority’s decisions

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about enforcement are appropriate. In effect, therefore, all those provisions together mean that action can be taken only as the last resort.

Finally, Amendment No. 153, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to link penalties to the level of educational maintenance allowance. We will consider the amount of the fixed penalty notice closer to implementation to ensure that it is appropriate. As part of this consideration, we will look carefully at the circumstances that many young people are in, including their income, to fix the appropriate level of financial penalty. This will include consideration of the level of financial support provided to young people. However, it does not make sense to link the penalty directly to the current EMA payment levels, as we do not yet know how the future system of financial support will work and it would be inappropriate to link the penalties to it in the way that the amendment suggests. As I say, however, the level that we set will take full account of the level of financial support provided to those under 18 when this comes into force.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am very grateful to the Minister for his clarification and assurances. It is useful to have these on the record, and I thank him very much for that.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I, too, am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation. May I check something? I hope that I heard what I heard, but I might simply have heard what I wanted to hear. Did he say that the Government are seriously considering looking at how all this can be dealt with through civil penalties, so that there will be no question of a young person getting a criminal record?

Lord Adonis: I think that the noble Baroness heard too much. I was careful to say at the end that this follows directly from the further work that we have done on the specific issue of those over 18 who have unpaid fines. This eventuality was discussed in previous debates. The further work that we have done on this has led us to conclude that we may need to table amendments to make it categorically clear that in no circumstances whatever could a young person going through the fine enforcement system, which is the last stage of the last stage, be subject to imprisonment. That is probably one part of what the noble Baroness wanted to hear, because linking the regime to the civil courts has been one of her concerns. However, she did not hear absolutely everything that she wanted to hear, I am afraid.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for that clarification. That means that I can continue to speak to lawyers to see how we might be able to find a way to make this a civil penalty. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, talked about community service. If we could do that rather than impose a criminal penalty, we could all live much more happily with the compulsion element, although I know that at the moment a community sentence would be a criminal sentence. We are simply trying to find our way around this.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: At the moment, this is a matter for the youth courts, which I assume frequently mete out community penalties. Should young people

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be fined, the maximum fine is, as I think the Minister said, £200. Obviously when imposing any fine, the court would take into account the means of the young person concerned.

Lord Adonis: That is absolutely the case. They would take those means into account in the way that the noble Baroness described.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: In response to the Minister’s response to Amendment No. 124, I now know where my honourable friend Nick Gibb in another place got the various people who he thinks should have a reasonable excuse. He clearly got them from the letter sent to David Laws.

I fully accept that we should have just as much, if not more, ambition for our young people who face the greatest disadvantage, but I remain convinced that we should do all that we can to coerce before we compel. I would feel more comfortable knowing that a definition of a reasonable excuse was somewhere in the Bill, so that these broad categories were universal and it was not perhaps just a postcode lottery. I accept that there will be guidance, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we may not see that guidance before this Bill is passed, although the Minister said that he may be able to do something by Report stage. I do hope so, or we will be asked to take on trust exactly what will be in the guidance.

I am particularly grateful to the Minister for everything that he said about young mothers. This is of great concern. Could something be done so that their caring responsibilities and bonding with their babies can take place alongside some form of training and parenting skills? We would be very pleased with that. I want to say something about having 15 days’ notice; this concerns me somewhat. Many of the young people we are talking about may not be living with their parents. They often live with friends, moving around from place to place; it is called sofa surfing. Quite where the letter will go and how they will be able to comply within 15 days causes us some concern. Could the Minister consider how that might be addressed between now and Report stage? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 agreed to.

4.45 pm

Clause 40 [Attendance notice]:

[Amendments Nos. 125 to 127 not moved.]

Clause 41 [Attendance notice: description of education or training]:

Baroness Perry of Southwark moved Amendment No. 128:

( ) in the case of a young person who is incapable of following a course leading to a qualification for reasons of mental health or mental capacity, in the course of employment, either full or part-time, with full job support.”

The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 128 and to give my support to some of the amendments that my noble friend will speak to as part

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of this group. The intention behind Amendment No. 128 is not, as we have sometimes previously debated, to exclude any category of young person from the provisions of the Bill, but rather to extend the description of accredited education and training to one small and important group of young people. Once or twice in Committee we heard reference to the Rose project. Some of us were privileged to meet the young people who were being helped by the project, thanks to the efforts of my noble friend Lady Verma. We met three quite amazing young people and their dedicated guides and mentors from Havering College of Further and Higher Education.

The Rose project has taken young people who were, because of their mental capacity, absolutely incapable of learning to read and write. These were people at the very lowest range of mental competence. One young woman, moving in her vivacity and enjoyment of life, was described by her father as having been completely withdrawn before she became involved in the project, her head permanently hanging down, incapable of more than minimal speech and totally uninterested in life. What had made that difference? The project had given her well-structured support in a job. Starting with only four hours a week, and with someone permanently at her side in the early stages, she had gradually moved up so that the next thing she wanted—she told us with a great giggle—was to work full-time in Sainsbury’s. I pay full tribute to Sainsbury’s because it has taken on several of these young people. The manager of the store in which Alexandra worked told us that no allowance was made for her and that she was doing a proper job. However, what was crucial was the structured job support she was being given by the lecturers from the college of education.

Alexandra and the two young men we met from the project are never going to follow an accredited course in the formal sense or pass an exam, but their lives have been turned around by this project. Surely we should be able to incorporate such projects into the description of what is acceptable and would meet the requirements of the Bill. We should not exclude these young people and refuse to include them as part of the 16 to 18 group who are to have provision made for them; rather we should say that the kind of structured job support they are receiving could be included. Such young people would themselves feel included, and crucially funding would become available to allow wonderful schemes such as the Rose project to be rolled out more widely in further education colleges in order to support many more young people in this category.

Alexandra’s father later told us—I use his phrase—that she would literally have no life if this project had not come about. We could help hundreds or even more young people in this extreme category of low mental capacity to turn their lives around and thus become productive members of society. That is such a wonderful dream and is a perfectly proper definition to include in this clause which describes the nature of education and training. The Rose project does not meet any of the provisions in Clause 41, but to me seems to meet entirely what the Government are trying to do. I beg to move.

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Baroness Morris of Bolton: I strongly support my noble friend Lady Perry in her amendment and I should like to speak to the amendments tabled in my name in this group. Those of us who were privileged to attend the meeting arranged by my noble friend Lady Verma with representatives of the Rose project were incredibly touched by the dedication of those running the charity, by the support of the local council and businesses, and most of all by the courage and determination of the young people themselves. It was clear that just to work out which bus to catch to go to work was a major achievement and that it would take more than two years for these young people to work up to the required hours of education or training. We should value what such young people can achieve rather than be too prescriptive. For these reasons, I fully support my noble friend’s amendment.

Clause 42 establishes attendance panels in each local authority to hear appeals by young people who have been issued with attendance notices. Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 are probing amendments intended to elicit information on how the Government envisage the composition of these panels, while Amendments Nos. 134 and 135 ask how independent they will be. It might be perceived as a conflict of interest if such panels involve members of the LEA against whom the appeal was being made. Can the Minister give the Committee some reassurance on this point.

Amendment No. 136 would prevent Clause 42 coming into force until the Secretary of State produces an estimate of the cost of these panels. The Bill will place an increasing burden of responsibility on local authorities, but will not necessarily provide the requisite extra funding. If panels turn out to be overly cumbersome and difficult to fund, that may have the undesirable effect of slowing up appeals. Amendment No. 137 probes what the grounds of appeal might be, and whether they include the availability of suitable training provision. Amendment No. 140 seeks to ensure that there is no undue delay for a young person to make their case before an attendance panel. Given the short time during which the duty to participate applies, it seems sensible to make the bureaucracy as expeditious as possible, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

The purpose of Amendment No. 157 is to ensure that regulations are introduced to direct both the procedure of making appeals and the hearing of such appeals. As drafted, the clause states that the Secretary of State may make regulations about both the procedures for appeals and,

in hearing appeals. The Secretary of State could, therefore, decide not to publish such regulations, nor to lay them before Parliament for scrutiny and debate. On matters that are clearly judicial or quasi-judicial, there should be clear rules which Parliament scrutinises in some form. The amendment simply replaces the word “may” with “must”, to turn a power into a duty. I hope that the Minister can assist with these points.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I support the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on her thoroughly worthwhile Amendment No. 128. We also heard the presentation from the Rose project, and were very moved by it. At the moment, there is a gap in the Bill: those in full-time

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education and training do not have to attend an accredited course—although the probability is that they will get some accreditation from it—but those in work-based training have to have some clear accreditation at the end of the course that they pursue. There is that gap, and there are some with learning difficulties for whom sitting any sort of examination is very difficult indeed. It is, therefore, necessary to cover that circumstance.

I shall now speak to Amendments Nos. 129, 130, 135A and 140A, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. My noble friend was, this afternoon, to have been putting the skills that she learnt in coxing to good effect in leading the Lords eight, but I gather that it has been rough and that they did not wish to have an inexperienced cox at the helm. I think that she was replaced there and became a mere bystander, which was a shame.

Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 both relate to Clause 41, which sets out the description of the education and training that is regarded as being necessary. Clause 41(5) states:

That is fine in setting it out clearly, but who will judge what is “appropriate” and “suitable”? Local authorities have experts at their disposal on these issues, whom they employ either directly or under contract. Those people are called careers advisers, and go though a relatively long period of training in order to learn those things.

Amendment No. 129 suggests that it would seem appropriate that what is suitable should be,

while Amendment No. 130 gives us a definition of a careers adviser. However, that refers to an earlier definition. I should like to take the opportunity to read out the definition of the careers adviser in Clause 44 of the Education Act 1997. It states:

I do not want to delay the Committee by reading out the lengthy piece from the Employment and Training Act 1973 defining what local authorities should do to provide a careers service, but I hope that your Lordships will take it from me that it is spelt out at some length. If there are people who are trained in these things, it is appropriate that they are employed to give advice about them. I hope the Minister will look kindly on my amendment.

Amendments Nos. 135A and 140A are minor amendments that relate to the regulations under Clause 42 about setting up the attendance panel and, subsequently, the regulations relating to appeals. In both cases, the

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clauses put considerable responsibilities on local authorities with regard to what they should do about setting up these panels and what they should do in Clause 43 about appeal arrangements. On neither occasion is any mention made of consulting local authorities, yet if they are going to be required to do all these things it is appropriate that in developing these regulations the local authorities should be consulted about setting them up. I am sure the Minister has every intention of doing so, but it would be good if he could give us reassurances that that is the case.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: Before the Minister replies, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in the Lords eight. My noble friend Lord Lucas is also not here because he is in the eight. I am pleased to say that the Lords have just beaten the Commons.

Lord Dearing: I warmly support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. I am one of those who attended the presentation by the Rose project. It was moving, and one felt we had a duty to respond to it. It makes such a difference to these people’s lives, and changing their lives helps us all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, said, to get a bus and go to work is an achievement; clocking on is an achievement. To do the job, the person or young person then needs a lot of help. It is not generic learning, it is specific.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I was one of the unlucky people who were unable to get to that meeting, but I have heard a lot about it since. The descriptions that have been given today are particularly relevant to this group of amendments, which must be included. I support all the other amendments that make the same important point, and I hope the Minister will be able to satisfy us on them.

Lord Elton: The noble Baroness has said everything that I would have said.

Lord Adonis: We need to begin by congratulating our team on having performed so splendidly on the river. Some might have thought that the timing of the race was specifically devised to ensure that many of the Government’s chief critics were not able to be present. I regret, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was doubly incapacitated both from being here and from being in the boat, but I am sure that it was her cheering from the towpath that clinched the victory.

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