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Lord Meston: Before my noble friend responds, will the Minister at least consider the point that, though he is right that there are fathers who do not have parental responsibility within the meaning of the Children Act, there are also people who have parental responsibility in law and who are in fact not parents? It may well be appropriate therefore, at a later stage, to consider an amendment to the Bill framed differently from Amendment No. 108, but which enables the orders to cover people who are parents or guardians, or who have parental responsibility. That is perhaps something which may be considered at a later stage of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I know that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, put that point forward in an endeavour to be helpful and his suggestion is consistent with what we wish. If a differently worded amendment is brought forward, then I undertake, without prejudice as it were, to give it careful consideration.

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We want to cover every child who is at risk or has fallen into risk, rather than being simply legalistic. At the moment these amendments are not rightly couched but I shall give any further amendments proper consideration.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am sure that the Committee will agree that this has been a thoughtful discussion in which a number of people participated who have considerable experience of children's organisations, including my noble friend, who has experience in child matters and in the law.

I hope the Minister will read the discussion carefully and take on board the thrust of it; namely, that the provision of voluntary counselling to parents is accepted on all sides as a good thing. If resources were provided to enable such courses to take place, be fully advertised and be made readily available to people who are in need of such help, there is not a person in your Lordships' Chamber who would disagree with that approach.

What those with experience of these problems have demonstrated is that the compulsory element in a parenting order can have two effects. It can cause resentment on the part of a parent who is forced under criminal sanction to do something that he or she does not want to do. But the second effect may be that difficult children can blackmail their parents with threats that they will do something which will allow the parents to be brought before the court and to face the sort of sanctions that exist under a parenting order.

I agree with the Minister that this is a difficult and sensitive area. All we ask from these Benches is that this clause and the whole concept of the parenting order be looked at thoroughly before the Bill comes back before the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 109 and 110 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Parenting orders: supplemental]:

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 8, line 3, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 111 removes the statutory presumption in favour of the court making a parenting order where the offender is under 16. The Bill as it stands requires the court to make a parenting order if it is satisfied that such an order will help to prevent further offences being committed and to give reasons if it does not make such an order. That goes to the heart of the debate we have just had as to whether this will be dealt with with the lightness of touch described by the Minister when he said that courts would approach this with great sensitivity because there is a recognition that voluntariness is probably preferable to coercion if we are to encourage parents to take on their responsibilities.

My concern is that I suspect that reinforcing parental responsibility, while clearly crucial as a way of tackling youth crime, will not always be dealt with with the lightness of touch which the Minister hopes for. I am

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concerned that if the Government were to do a piece of research they would find that the parent who attends at court most often with young offenders or children in trouble, tends to be the child's mother, even with all the difficulties that she faces in bringing up the children if they become involved in offending or antisocial behaviour. Bringing to bear an order of this kind will be particularly hard on women already in extremis. I am concerned that by creating a presumption in favour of the courts making such orders they will be made much more often than would be the case if involvement in voluntary schemes were the course taken.

I urge the Minister to consider the amendment, which removes the statutory presumption in favour of the court making the parenting order and presents it as one of the many possibilities afforded to the court and one to be taken up only in the appropriate circumstances. I beg to move.

Viscount Colville of Culross: This amendment enables me to ask a question of the Government Front Bench which follows from it. The amendment seeks to leave out subsection (1). That is where there is presumption in favour of a parenting order if the person is convicted of an offence and is under 16. If the court is to look at this properly, it is right that it should do what subsection (2) says. To "obtain and consider information" would no doubt take in the noble Baroness's point. But why only in those circumstances is the court to obtain the information?

I imagine that parenting orders will frequently be made by magistrates or by a youth court. A child safety order comes under Clause 11 and is made by the magistrates' court and antisocial behaviour orders and sex offender orders are made by complaint to the magistrates. Only under Clause 8 (1)(c) does one have,

    "a child or young person...convicted of an offence".

Surely in all cases where a court intends to make a parenting order it needs to have the information in Clause 9(2). Why is it only in the case of being convicted of an offence that the Bill makes this compulsory? I am sure that all courts would obtain this information. They would get the relevant probation officer to prepare what would be the equivalent of a pre-sentence report. In fact, it would probably be rather wider than a pre-sentence report because it would have to go into the whole question of the family.

What I do not understand--and what I am sure the Minister will be able to explain to me--is why subsection (2) relates only to a conviction and not to the other circumstances in which a parenting order can be made. I should have thought that the court would require this information in every circumstance, particularly when it is treading the unknown territory of antisocial behaviour orders or sex offender orders. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: I was impressed by what the Minister said about the parenting orders being applied with sensitivity and full consideration of the circumstances of both the parent and the child. But here

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in this clause we have an effective compulsion on the court either to make an order or to explain in open court why not. In line with what the Minister was saying, there must be reasons for not making an order which it would not be appropriate to cry out in open court. Is the magistrate to say, "I am not making an order because the parents are too thick to understand what they are going to be taught anyway" or "The child is such a tearaway that it will not have any effect"? I cannot think immediately of examples but there must be examples of when it would be inappropriate to make an order and inappropriate to express in open court the reason why it was not being made.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Can the Minister explain what the "relevant condition" is in Clause 9(1)(a)? It seems to me that, on a proper reading of the clause as drafted, the only condition that has to be fulfilled is that the person should be under the age of 16. It is a premise that a person has been convicted of an offence. That is a ground in Clause 8(1)(c) which gives rise to the parenting order. The only way that the relevant condition cannot be fulfilled is if it should prove that the person is over 16. Am I entirely misunderstanding the subsection?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am not sure that we should not try to discipline ourselves by dealing with the amendments as they are grouped. I have dealt with the groupings in the usual way. However, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about reasons. Magistrates are trained. In dealing with this class of jurisdiction magistrates are very careful and scrupulous. I have no doubt at all that in appropriate cases they will be able to give reasons which conform with their oath but which, nevertheless, are not as harshly put as the examples given by the noble Lord, which I agree were deliberately extreme.

The noble Baroness asked about research into the effects of parenting orders. I reassure her by saying that we shall be piloting them first before implementing them nationally. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked about relevant conditions. They are defined in Clause 8(6). It seems to me that, in response to the noble Viscount's question, if one looks at that one is going to have a degree of reporting material before the order can be made.

Perhaps I may put this point generally. The alternatives that we have are these. We can rely on voluntary counselling and guidance. For years I was a trustee of the NSPCC, which I had to give up after the election. It provided parenting services and agitated for them over the years. That is one situation. For various and subtle reasons to which the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, referred, for those who are not able to take advantage of voluntary counselling the alternatives are quite stark: introduce a degree of sanction to assist the child, not to punish or stigmatise the parent, or do nothing at all.

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