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Lord Renton: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he said that he was alone in expressing his view. Perhaps I may say that having heard him, he has converted me.

Lord Meston: My Lords, is the Minister saying that he is satisfied with the existing use of emergency protection orders? Alternatively, is he hopeful that in the future better use might be made of them in order to deal with the problem?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is undoubtedly the latter. We have been dealing with guidelines which are now 40 years out of date. I believe that the pilot projects to which I referred may be of great value because the problems are not single, individual problems. Each child will suffer a range of problems. I believe that one has to deal with a particular child in an individual way. I think that that is the best way of trying to attack a problem which is cruel and vicious in the extreme. It is exploitation of children, after all.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I found it extremely encouraging that all speakers were prepared to support the amendment even though some may have had reservations on specific aspects of it.

I confess that I found the Government's reply somewhat discouraging. I could have said a good deal more in relation to the amendment. For example, I could have quoted the recommendations of the Council of Europe in 1993-94; or Sir William Utting's report on safeguards for children living away from home, entitled, People Like Us; or the point of view of the National Women's Commission. There is a very great deal of outside opinion and study to support the thrust of the amendment.

The Minister referred to police awareness of the situation. What has been the impact of the guidelines issued, not 40 years ago, but much more recently in the context of the Children Act? I understand that there are only two police pilot projects using the Children Act. That seems a highly insufficient number.

As to the principle of the matter, concerning decriminalisation, again I was not very happy with the Government's reply. If this amendment can be approved, I will undertake to bring forward a new one

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at the next stage of the Bill which would limit the age to 16 and not 18, and which might incorporate other improvements. On that basis I wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.12 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker (The Viscount of Oxfuird): My Lords, the Question is, That Amendment No. 21 be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". I think the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, the Question is, That Amendment No. 21 be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". The "Not-Contents" have it.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 9 [Parenting orders: supplemental]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 8, line 6, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now come to parenting orders, about which there has been a good deal of criticism by a number of children's organisations and indeed by many others. This amendment removes the statutory presumption in favour of courts 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 would help to prevent further offences and to give reasons if it does not make such an order.

Reinforcing parental responsibility is an important part of tackling youth crime. Experience shows that parental skills courses provided on a voluntary basis work well: they can help to improve parenting and reduce family break-up, the taking of children into care and the likelihood of offending, truancy and antisocial behaviour by young people. Funding more such courses on a voluntary basis, as part of family centres and other community projects in disadvantaged areas, would make an important contribution to preventing delinquency. Group work with the parents of young offenders alongside intermediate treatment programmes for young offenders has also been shown to be beneficial in bringing about more effective parental control and leading to improved behaviour and reduced offending by their children.

However, organisations working with young offenders and their families have reservations about the likely efficacy of a compulsory court order. Co-operative parents who are keen to accept help could be involved in parenting skills groups, whether or not it was compulsory. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, Chairman of the Parenting Support and Education Forum, said in Committee:

    "We must listen to the voice of those who work with parents.

    "Counselling and guidance sessions could conceivably, and may sometimes, help. But there are very severe limitations ... parents will go into these sessions in a spirit of rebellion and resentment.

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    That will mean that they are not normally receptive. The severity of the sanction in many cases will seem unreasonable".--[Official Report, 10/2/98; col. 1073.]

The order is least likely to work with unco-operative parents--and if they are returned to court and fined for not co-operating, this is very unlikely to help reduce the child's offending. Fines simply increase the degree of pressure and hardship on families, for many of whom life is already a struggle to survive. If parents do not pay the fine, they could be imprisoned for non-payment--the alternative of community service for fine defaulters is currently available in only two pilot areas--which would have devastating effects on children. The parent who faces these sanctions most often will be the child's mother, as it is the mother who most often attends court. These penalties would be particularly harsh on women who already face great difficulties in bringing up and trying to control children who are getting into trouble.

There are also difficulties about fining a parent because of a child's refusal to obey a requirement--for instance, a curfew. To punish a parent for a child's actions could result in injustice. It could also increase resentment on the parent's part, lead to excessive physical punishment and thereby put children more at risk.

Because of the complex considerations involved, it is inappropriate to include in legislation a statutory presumption that courts should make such orders. It would be preferable to leave the use of these orders to the court's discretion.

In Committee on 10th February my noble friend Lord Williams said:

    "Some inadequate parents can be assisted. They can sometimes--as the right reverend Prelate said--be assisted on a voluntary basis ... We would prefer voluntary counselling and parenting guidance, but for those who do not wish it, who are perhaps afraid of it, in some cases a sanction may be of assistance".--[Official Report, 10/2/98; col. 1077.]

My noble friend Lady Kennedy commented:

    "I am concerned that by creating a presumption in favour of the court making such orders they will be made much more often than would be the case if involvement in voluntary schemes were the course taken".--[Official Report, 10/2/98; col. 1079.]

By removing the statutory presumption in favour of courts making parenting orders, the amendment would increase the likelihood that the courts will use these orders only when they are genuinely appropriate and not in circumstances when voluntary help is a preferable and more effective option.

I believe that the argument against the statutory presumption is a very good one. I should be very surprised if I am convinced by what my noble friend says when he replies, unless he is prepared to accept the amendment, which I very much hope he will. I beg to move.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, perhaps I may support the amendment from this side of the House, if that is agreeable to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who is one of the sponsors and to whose comments we look forward.

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We are concerned here with the balance, never easy to strike in formulating public policy, between compulsion and voluntarism. Surely the test should be what is likely to be the outcome in practice. In replying to the previous amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, applied that very test. However good the intentions, the consequences might be different from what the promoter intended. The test should be not what sounds tougher or softer on the public platform, but the likely practical consequences.

I am sure we can all agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that parental responsibility is a relevant factor in tackling youth crime. It is right that it should be the focus of attention in the discussion documents, in the White Paper and in the Bill before us. Persuading parents, sometimes inadequate or single parents of unruly children who are more often a source of anxiety or anger than of love, to try to improve their parenting skills must be a desirable aim of public policy. But how is it to be achieved?

In Committee we heard several references to the good work done by voluntary agencies. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells spoke about the work of the Children's Society, of which he is chairman; and other examples were given. All those with first-hand knowledge emphasised the importance of voluntary attendance. Expert guidance is important, but attendance should be voluntary rather than compulsory. Compulsory attendance was vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, an extract from whose speech was quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady David. He said that parents taking part in guidance sessions because they had been compelled to do so would attend,

    "in a spirit of rebellion and resentment".--[Official Report, 10/2/98; col. 1073.]

Those struck me as two accurate and well-chosen words. The problem therefore lies with unco-operative parents; not with those who are willing to co-operate. I submit that that is the crucial distinction.

While the Bill stops short of imposing criminal sanctions, the statutory presumption in favour of a court making a parenting order nevertheless takes a significant step in that direction. Failure to co-operate will be punished by fines. In many cases fines will not be paid. Default will lead to criminal penalties. To take this path can only worsen, rather than strengthen, relationships in malfunctioning families which already are subject to many disadvantages. What is likely to be the outcome? More children taken out of their homes, however dysfunctional those homes may be, and into care. The frequency of offending and re-offending by young people in institutional care is so high that it needs no repetition this evening. I strongly support the amendment.

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