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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 35:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 35 and speak to Amendments Nos. 36 to 38. However, I shall first allow the noble and learned Lord to speak because it is possible that he may have something welcome to say.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes. The amendment relates to the subject of the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon. He raised questions which a number of your Lordships thought required serious consideration, not least on the previous occasion. Although the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, did not then speak, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Dholakia, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the issue.

The Government are prepared to accept the amendments for the reasons deployed on previous occasions--not in their entirety but in their principle

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thrust. However, I must make it plain that we looked to flexibility to amend the maximum length of exclusion orders and conditions in case a year was shown to be insufficient.

The amendments would require primary legislation and therefore, so that your Lordships are not misled, we propose in another place to extend the maximum duration of both an exclusion order and an exclusion condition of a community order to two years. That gives the court the power which I think your Lordships thought was more appropriate than executive decision, even by affirmative procedure on secondary legislation.

Secondly, the amendments take away the power of the Secretary of State to add to the list of those areas of the offender's private life with which exclusion and curfew should not conflict or interfere. The list may be required to be added to. It was not one of the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee but in another place we shall seek to reinstate those powers which do not go to the principled point.

In short, therefore, I hope that I have pleased all noble Lords.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord most warmly for that concession. He has done exactly what I hoped he would do: he has conceded the point of principle, which was the one point that concerned us. It is entirely satisfactory to these Benches.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly as I am the only current member of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee present in your Lordships' House. I can however see a former member present. The committee feel most strongly about this issue. It is an issue of principle that the power of sentencing should not be capable of being increased by delegated legislation, particularly where it interferes with the liberty of the subject, even if it is not concerned with an actual sentence of imprisonment. We greatly welcome the Government's position.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I thank the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee for its service to the House. Noble Lords on all Benches benefit from the committee's preparatory work before they consider the details of Bills. I am sure that the whole House also wishes to join me in thanking the noble and learned Lord for his work in bringing us to this point.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46 [Community sentences: drug abstinence requirements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 36:


    Clause 46, page 28, leave out lines 1 to 9.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 47 [Community sentences: curfew requirements]:

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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 37:


    Clause 47, page 31, leave out lines 8 to 17.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 48 [Community sentences: exclusion requirements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 38:


    Clause 48, page 32, leave out lines 13 to 22.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Regulation of community orders]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 39 to 41:


    Clause 52, page 37, line 17, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 37, line 22, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 37, line 25, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 60 [Supervision of young offenders after release]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 42:


    Clause 60, page 44, line 6, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61 [Release on licence etc: drug testing requirements]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 43:


    Clause 61, page 44, line 45, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64 [Arrangements for assessing etc. risks posed by certain offenders]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 44:


    Clause 64, page 45, line 32, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 66 [Duties of local boards in connection with victims of certain offences]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 45 to 53:


    Clause 66, page 47, line 11, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 20, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 24, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 27, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 36, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 38, after ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 41, after first ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 41, after second ("local") insert ("probation").


    Page 47, line 42, after ("local") insert ("probation").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 69 [Failure to secure regular attendance at school: increase in penalty]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 54:


    Clause 69, page 49, line 34, at end insert--


("( ) This section shall apply only in cases where the failure to attend school is with the knowledge and consent of the parent or other adult responsible for securing the child's attendance at school.").

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The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 54 in my name and that of my noble friend is concerned with Clause 69 which increases the penalties on parents whose children play truant from school. I no longer seek to delete the clause: I do not believe that it would be proper to do so at this stage. The amendment makes a qualification to the clause. It bites only on a parent whose child fails to attend school,


    "with the knowledge and consent of the parent or other adult responsible for securing the child's attendance at school".

The point was made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, at the previous stage that it is perfectly possible for a child to go off to school, even to go through the school gates and register, and then fail to attend for the remainder of day. Following the previous stage of the Bill, I reported what had happened to our departmental office and was told of another case which was on all fours with the one referred to by the noble Baroness. It seems unreasonable that this should constitute an offence liable to a fine of £2,500. Does the Minister have anything to say on that point? I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that the issue of culpability is a very real one. An effective policy to get young people off the streets and back into school is something that we all support. I am aware from previous debates that both the Liberal Democrat Benches and our Benches support the Government on all the practical measures they have introduced to encourage the police to visit young people who hang around shopping centres and play areas and to do what they can to get them back into school, and to encourage the community to engage in that process. However, I believe that this amendment goes to the heart of the question of culpability.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I suspect that, not for the first time today, we are moving towards consensus on this issue. I am grateful to the noble Earl for tabling this amendment which I believe is a helpful way forward. I should set out again what we intend to do with this provision so that there is no misunderstanding. At Report stage the noble Earl expressed concern that our proposal would result in innocent parents being taken to court for the actions of children over whom they had no control. The amendment which has been tabled means that the offence applies only to cases where truancy has occurred with the knowledge and consent of the parents.

I assure the noble Earl that the object of our proposal is not to punish parents who are doing everything possible to ensure that their children are in school. Before a case comes to court there will be months of effort by the local education authority to resolve the matter. Efforts will be made to try to get the child back into school. The issue of non-attendance at school will be discussed extensively with the child concerned, his or her parents and the school involved. Magistrates will expect to see evidence of these discussions when a case comes to court. I am sure that

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magistrates will expect the local education authority to show that it has done everything possible to help the parents to get the child into school.

If a parent makes every effort but the child refuses to co-operate in attending school, the local education authority has a number of options open to it. These may involve the use of an alternative education placement for a child other than at school, for example, in a pupil referral unit run by the LEA where the child will receive specialist help and support to re-engage him or her in education. For older children, the option of a place at a further education college could be considered. Alternatively, the child could be offered work experience in the last few years or months of compulsory education alongside the basic curriculum.

Parenting orders can also be used to help parents. They are designed to help and support parents or guardians in addressing their child's anti-social and offending behaviour. Parenting orders were extremely successful in the pilot areas and were rolled out nationally on 1st June 2000. Those orders have achieved a success rate of 91 per cent in terms of completion. Most importantly, if parents are not able to get the child into school despite their best efforts, the local education authority can apply for an education supervision order which makes the local education authority responsible for educating the child. That is an important option. If a parent is genuinely unable to secure the education of a child at school, the local authority can step in.

At Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, quoted the case of a child who had been off school for three months although his parents believed that he had been attending every day. The noble Earl repeated that example. Clearly, it is unacceptable for a school to wait that long to find out what has happened to a child. If the noble Earl and the noble Baroness give me further details of those cases I shall follow them up to see what more can be done. But it remains the case that in that situation a parent must accept some responsibility. Did the parents not ask the child about his or her progress at school? Were they not surprised when the child failed to bring home homework or talk about his or her experiences at school? All of those matters are very important. As a parent I ensure that I discuss my children's schooling with them each and every day, and we expect that of most reasonable parents. It is all very well for parents to protest their innocence but it is astounding that a child can be absent from school for a three-month period without the parents realising that something is amiss. Both schools and parents are responsible.

Having heard the arguments and acknowledged the points that have been made, I am willing to accept the creation of a new and additional aggravated offence with a maximum penalty at level four and/or three months' imprisonment. That would leave the current offence under Section 444 unchanged. But the new and additional offence would require proof of parental knowledge of truancy. Failure to appear in court to answer a summons for this aggravated offence would

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allow the issue of a warrant to secure attendance at court. The clear advantage is that the higher penalty would be linked to the most serious cases only.

Therefore, we do not oppose the amendment today. However, we should like the opportunity, if the noble Earl is prepared to offer it, to discuss the wording of the amendment with the draftsman and, if necessary, table revised wording in another place at Commons consideration of Lords amendments. There is nothing between us on the principle. We are now very much of one view that the objective is to reduce truancy and there is value in adopting the course outlined by the Government. We all want to improve the future prospects of our children. We recognise the importance of ensuring that there is compliance in this area and that the courts are perhaps used in a more sensitive and appropriate way so that parents are brought into the court arena. We can achieve the objective of driving down truancy rates by using the law in a more sensible and intelligent manner.


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