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The noble Baroness said: The amendment suggests that no penalty can be issued unless the local authority has agreed on a learning support contract with the young person concerned. It goes back to some of the earlier amendments that we proposed relating to personalised learning programmes. I confess that I was slightly surprised to find that we had tabled this amendment right at the end of Chapter 5. The amendment relates particularly to Clause 39.
Clause 39 proposes the procedures necessary for a local authority to go through initially if a young person fails to comply with Clause 2, which is on participating in education and training, or work-based learning with sufficient hours of training attached. The young person should either attend school or college full time or find himself or herself work or training with the required off-the-job learning hours. Clause 39(2) states that an attendance notice must be issued and explained to the young person. Subsection (5) states that the local authority must take all reasonable steps to provide support to the young person and give time for that support to get up and running. In Clause 54, which we have not yet considered, the local authority is put under a duty to make available to the young person and to the young adults for whom it is responsible,
Why, therefore, table an amendment that asks for precisely that? The key word is contract. The difference between what we are asking for and what is already being offered in the Bill is that we want a formal commitment on the part of the authority to meet the specific needs of the young person in question. We accept that the Bill already places a duty on local authorities to provide this support and that in Clause 55 the Secretary of State will specify in considerable detail what sort of services are to be provided. However, the crucial word contract is not there. Just as the Government think it useful to persuade parents to buy into the procedures via parenting contracts, we think that on occasions such as this it would be helpful if the young person concerned were also to recognise that he or she has rights and responsibilities under these procedures. That also means that the local authority cannot duck its duties or responsibilities.
As we learnt during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill earlier this year, there are perhaps too many occasions when, faced with having to meet the complex needs of highly disadvantaged young people, local authorities or their employees ignore, or just fail to deliver on, the duties of support. A formal contract has advantages in giving both sides clear guidelines as to what is expected. I beg to move.
Lord Adonis: As I said long ago on the first day of our deliberations in Committee, we are interested in the approach of learning and support contracts. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, Barnardos and Rainer for highlighting this approach and its benefits. We know that an agreement that a young person has signed up to, where they understand their obligations and the consequences of not fulfilling them, can be very effective. We would like to encourage local authorities to pursue this approach or similar successful measures that have been developed locally before considering taking any more formal enforcement action against a young person. We could specify that in our guidance to local authorities.
However, while we very much support the idea and the approach, we need to consider further whether it would be desirable to go further and set them out in primary legislation in the way that the noble Baroness suggests. That could risk making learning and support contracts too inflexible and prescriptive to respond to the specific needs of individuals, but I am happy to reflect on this issue further before Report.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for offering to reflect further on this. It would be helpful if it were put either in the Bill or in guidance. An assurance that it would go into guidance would help on this occasion. As I have said, I am not sure that this amendment is necessarily in the right place but, if the Minister is to reflect further on it, he will decide for himself where it might appropriately be put. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I suspect that my two amendments in this group are rather redundant in the light of the government amendments included with them. Nevertheless, I shall leave it to the Minister to speak to them as he sees fit. The amendments are probing. Clause 50 refers to Crown employment and how Crown employees are treated in relation to the duties in the Bill. Amendment No. 160 is designed to find out why there are regulations that institute exceptions and special rules for civil servants that do not apply to 16 and 17 year-olds in other employment. I understand that special modifications to the regulations will be necessary for those serving in the Armed Forces. The amendment has been drafted to keep the regulation-making powers in place but to take out reference to Crown employment. Clause 51 and my Amendment No. 162 deal similarly with parliamentary staff. These are simple points and, as I said, I think that the Minister will be able to deal with them. I beg to move.
Lord Adonis: In respect of Amendment No. 160, there is some doubt whether as a matter of law Crown employees such as civil servants in central government work under a contract of employment. We want this kind of work to count for the purposes of the duty to participate, of course, and Clause 50 makes that clear. The definition of normal weekly working hours in Clause 5 will need to be modified in relation to Crown employees, as they do not have a contract of employment as such. Regulations made under subsection (2) will enable us to do that. It is appropriate that such technical detail is dealt with in secondary legislation.
Government Amendments Nos. 161 and 163 in this group clarify that the duties on employers in Chapter 3 apply to employment in this House and in another place. It is right that this employment should count for the purposes of the duty to participateand the duties to check that a young person is in educational training and to release them to attendto ensure that these young people can participate in the necessary learning. However, it would not be appropriate for local authorities to have powers of enforcement against this House or another place. The amendment clarifies that those provisions in Chapter 3 do not apply.
Government Amendment No. 164 is a consequence of the new clause that we are introducing in relation to House of Lords staff. The relevant definition is included in the proposed new clause and can therefore be deleted from this one. Government Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 are minor and technical. Amendment No. 165 replaces the definition currently in the Bill of a member of House of Commons staff with a reference to an existing definition in the Employment Rights Act.
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Baroness Verma: I thank the Minister for his response. As I suspected from his amendments, I was right that he would respond as he did. I shall read carefully what he said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
( ) Subsections (6), (7) and (12) of that section (person to be treated as employer of relevant member of House of Commons staff) apply (with any necessary modifications) for the purposes of the provisions mentioned in subsection (3) as applied by virtue of this section.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment would remove a possible conflict of interests that would be created if the local authority received the proceeds of any financial penalties rather than the Treasury receiving them directly. If a body benefits from the proceeds of
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My colleague Nick Gibb in another place, when making this point, made a comparison with parking fines, which is apt. Parking fines collected by local authorities give them a strong incentive to issue fines. I think the Minister will agree that there is a considerable public perceptionaccurate or notthat such fines are seen by local authorities as a cash cow. Will the Minister assure the House that the same would not be true of financial penalties levied under this Bill? I beg to move.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: We have some queries about these amendments. As a general principle, it is appropriate for the local authority which receives payments to have control over those sums and to use them for relevant local purposes. Any transfer of the sums to the Secretary of State surely would require additional administration and bureaucracy. It is difficult to see quite what benefit would arise from that. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, has said that the sums could bring about a conflict of interests, but, realistically, the sums in question under Clause 52 would be payable by employers under Clauses 22 and 28 or by a young person under Clause 47. The likelihood that the local authority will consider these to be useful streams of income is not great. In the case of young people, the sums payable will be small, and recovering them may not be simple. As employers will play a crucial part in delivering work experience for young people, local authorities are more inclined to encourage them to participate, rather than discourage them by issuing penalty notices with a free hand. These safeguards make it unlikely that these powers, if granted, would be misused by local authorities.
Lord Adonis: These amendments would mean that all money received by local authorities as a result of penalty notices would have to be paid directly to the Secretary of State. Should the financial penalties we have provided for in the Bill be used, it is important that the money received from them can be used to cover the costs of administering the notices so that funding for that is not diverted from other services. It is usual practice for money received by government from the payment of fines to be used in this way. It is also important that it can be used only to administer the process and that income accumulated from fines cannot be used to raise money for the local authority.
That is why we will specify in regulations that the only functions this money can be used for would be administering penalty notices. Where money is not needed for this purpose it will have to be paid to the Secretary of State. However, before the Treasury gets too enthusiastic, I should stress that we do not expect
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Lord Lucas: The difficulty with the parking regulations is that, although the same strictures on local authorities are in place, they are not enforced. It has become government policy not to enforce the requirement that receipts from parking regulations are used only on parking control functions, so they have become a cash cow for local authorities. I encourage the Minister to ensure that when he writes the regulations he gives the Audit Commission, the district auditor or whoever is appropriate a power to inquire into whether a local authority is acting in accordance with the regulations. That is a deficiency in the parking regulations that the local authorities walk through.
Baroness Verma: I thank the Minister for his answer. He offers the assurance that money raised from the penalties will be used only for enforcement of the provisions in the Bill. I can see where the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, is coming from. I will read closely the Ministers assurances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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