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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, cannot a person who defaults on a fine be brought back to court already?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is the case, but it is much better that the parent should have a responsibility to be present in the first instance when a case is brought before the court. I am sure that the noble Baroness agrees that it cannot be right that parents do not show up at court in 80 per cent of cases. Our strategy will mean that there is every possibility that parents will be brought before the court and the magistrates will be able to discuss in the court why they are failing to ensure that their children turn up at school. It will then be at the discretion of the magistrate to reach a decision on the best course of action and assess whether a parenting order or a community sentence is more appropriate. However, without the appearance of the parent and without proper parental explanation, the magistrates are not in a position to do that. We believe that for that reason many magistrates take the understandably easier option of imposing a low level of fine. They know that if they impose a heavier fine or penalty it will have little effect and, in many instances, may go unpaid--one of the banes of a magistrate's life.

I have not been at all convinced by the noble Baroness's arguments for taking no further action on truants. I understand the arguments and am perfectly prepared to be sympathetic to the point made by the noble Earl with regard to seeing whether we can improve the quality of our approach and whether we can explore the issue of knowledge and consent. That is clearly important and I am quite prepared to do that. However, we believe that our position on this matter is right. We cannot accept the amendment put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We believe that our course of action is appropriate. It offers a way in which we can not only express our displeasure at parental collusion to truancy but also take effective action.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister warmly for his concluding words about being prepared to explore the issues of knowledge and consent. I hope that that may provide a way forward. I must confess that I am not quite so happy with some of the other parts of his reply. He said that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was proposing to do nothing about truancy. However, in her speech I listened with interest to a considerable number of proposals for possible action on truancy. On the spur of the moment, I am not certain how many of them I support. However, at the very least I believe that they prove that that charge was unjustified.

We cannot deal with this matter simply by suggesting that those who are against the clause are in favour of truancy. When any measure is put before this House we are entitled to ask two questions about it. First, is it effective, and, secondly, does it punish the

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guilty and not the innocent? Only if those two questions can be answered in the affirmative is the proposed measure justifiable. I am not certain that either question can be answered in that way in relation to this clause. If that cannot be established, the question as to whether we are for or against truancy does not arise.

Incidentally, since the Minister raised the question, when I paid my newspaper bill last Saturday I talked to the newsagent's daughter, who is a teacher. She told me that she intends to return to Nigeria to continue her teaching career because she says that there the children value what they are getting when they are taught. She says that here they simply say, "Miss, what is the point? Why do I have to do all this?" As does the Minister, I recognise that as a very serious problem. However, I believe that the solutions stretch rather wider than any envisaged in this Bill. Rather more of them are educational and rather more are connected with the pattern of subsequent employment than the Minister's defence of this clause would suggest.

I take his point about primary school children. However, he must admit--and, if he does not, his noble friend Lord Warner will tell him because such people come his way--that a number of teenagers of the type that I envisaged do truant from school. In those cases the parent may be quite unable to deal with the truancy. I believe that the Minister should be concerned if he has caught a large number of innocent or helpless parents in his net together with the guilty. It is not an awfully desirable system of law enforcement and we should avoid it.

I turn to the effect of the measure. I believe that I am correct in saying that, as it stands, the measure will lead to a considerable increase in teenage homelessness. The homeless do not normally have a particularly good record of school attendance. In that way the measure could be counter-productive.

The point the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made about the funds is important. Courts have to live in the real world in a way that Whitehall does not. Whitehall is shut away from the public. It does not have to contest elections. Courts face members of the public every day. Their judgment of what can realistically be expected and what funds can be levied may be the better judgment of the two. My conclusion from the evidence of the noble Baroness is to wonder in how many cases the money envisaged in these funds is actually to be had.

The point the noble Baroness made about knowledge is also of considerable importance. If a child goes out of the house and there is no complaint heard from the school any parent is entitled to assume that the child is in school. I cannot see any way of rebutting that. Meanwhile if there is any chance of informal protest I should welcome it. Without that I would put down a revised amendment of the sort that could properly be discussed at Third Reading. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 105:


    Page 75, line 7, leave out from ("board") to end of line 8.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 105 and speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 106 to 115. These amendments are all consequential on the substantive provisions of the Bill. I shall give a brief explanation of why each is necessary. Amendments Nos. 105, 106, 107, 110, 111, 112, 113 and 114 are all consequential on the reorganisation of the Probation Service and in particular on a replacement of probation committees by local boards. They insert definition of "local board" into those existing statutes where references will be made--as a result of further consequential amendments--under this Bill to "officers of a local board". Without these amendments, references to "officers of local boards" in these statutes would be meaningless.

Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 are minor drafting amendments to consequential amendments already in Schedule 7 to the Bill that are consequential on the abolition of detention in a young offender institution.

Amendment No. 105 is a minor drafting amendment to a consequential amendment already in Schedule 7 to the Bill that is consequential on the reorganisation of the Probation Service and, in particular, to the change in name of "probation officer" to "officer of a local board". I beg to move Amendment No. 105.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 106 to 115:


    Page 75, line 10, at end insert--


(" . In section 70(1) (general interpretation), at the appropriate place there is inserted--
""local board" means a local board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;".").


    Page 82, line 9, at end insert--


    (" . In section 6(1) (general interpretation), at the appropriate place there is inserted--
    ""local board" means a local board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;".").


    Page 82, line 12, leave out second ("prison") and insert ("or prison").


    Page 82, line 28, leave out (""sentence of").


    Page 82, line 37, at end insert--


(" . In section 99(1) (general interpretation), at the appropriate place there is inserted--
""local board" means a local board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;".").


    Page 83, line 14, at end insert--


(" . The Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 is amended as follows.").


    Page 83, line 15, leave out ("of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993").

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    Page 83, line 17, at end insert--


(" . In section 27(1) (interpretation of Part I), at the appropriate place there is inserted--
""local board" means a local board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;".").


    Page 87, line 1, at end insert--


(" . In section 54(1) (general interpretation), at the appropriate place there is inserted--
""local board" means a local board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;".").


    Page 87, leave out lines 8 to 12 and insert (", in each of paragraphs 8(5) and 11(6), in the table, for "Probation officer" there is substituted "Officer of a local board"").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Repeals]:


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