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Lord Dixon-Smith: Amendment No. 113 is grouped with these amendments. It deals with the same subject, albeit in a different way.

Clause 21(4) states:


Why do we need this on the face of the Bill? I assume that the Bill authorises any expenditure necessary in relation to this provision. If so, it becomes part of local government expenditure and part of the negotiations between local government and the Government to determine what funding will be relevant for the government grant in the ensuing year. That in turn, in due course, determines what the council tax payers' contribution will be.

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Why do we need to go further than that? If that is the arrangement, it does not make much difference whether the expenditure arises from the school's budget or the LEA's budget if it is part of relevant expenditure. The two are parts of the same grand formula.

There are two possible reasons for this. First, the Government are attempting to do what they so often do—that is, to micro-manage in intense detail. That should not be necessary because, if this expenditure is part of relevant local government expenditure, it does not need micro-managing. Secondly, it may be that the Government are looking for an opportunity to get out of providing their share and to put it all on the council tax payer. Apart from those two reasons, I have great difficulty in understanding why we need to regulate this issue at all.

I do not agree with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which demand compensation for such expenditure. I am quite convinced that it forms a part of general local government expenditure and should be met in the general way through a combination of the council tax payer and the taxpayer. If we start to make exceptions for such matters, we will be heading down an extremely dangerous road. It is not an appropriate way to go.

My amendment seeks to persuade the Minister—I do not think she will need any persuading—to explain precisely the financial arrangements and the need for this peculiar subsection, which does not belong in the Bill.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I shall be more than happy to explain. I hope to give comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we have no intention of micro-managing this provision, but we do intend to give local education authorities and schools the tools they need to make it work.

The effect of Amendments Nos. 100 and 114 would be to create a specific and compulsory grant-making power which would be completely unsuitable in the light of Section 14 of the Education Act 2002, which introduced a wide grant-making power that is already in force. However, I understand that the noble Baroness is concerned how the costs of guidance or counselling sessions advocated under a parenting contract or order will be met by local education authorities or schools.

I can reassure the noble Baroness that we do not envisage that parenting contracts or orders will lead to any additional costs for local education authorities. As has been identified by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, local education authorities already have responsibility for promoting regular attendance and good behaviour in schools, and the costs of parenting contracts will be offset by savings made through preventing the need for prosecutions in cases of truancy and avoiding the need to provide expensive alternative provision for excluded pupils. In any case, the use of parenting contracts and orders is voluntary.

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We shall set out in guidance factors that should be considered when deciding whether to enter into a parenting contract or deciding whether to apply to the court for a parenting order.

Amendment No. 113 seeks to remove the power to issue further regulations relating specifically to parenting orders in cases of exclusion from school. The regulations will be needed to set out who will be expected to meet the costs of counselling or guidance programmes included as part of a parenting order.

Although the local education authority is responsible for applying for a parenting order, it may agree to do so on behalf of the school. We expect that in most cases the local education authority will bear the costs associated with parenting orders, except in cases where an alternative arrangement is agreed with the school. We need to consult with those who are directly affected to ensure that there is an appropriate method of apportioning costs where necessary. That is why detail of this kind is left to regulation.

I do not agree with the noble Baroness in relation to funding. She knows that the Government have put in a huge amount of increased funding since 1997. Indeed, the Committee will know that through the behaviour improvement programme the Government have invested a further 342.2 million in this area. We hope that local education authorities and those responsible for bringing about an improvement in children's behaviour in educational establishments will seek to take advantage of that additional funding and use it judicially and well to the benefit of the children they seek to serve.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I do not have the last word on this issue, which is probably just as well.

The Minister did extremely well until she referred to the need for regulations. At that point, if I understood her correctly, she began to speak about the need for the regulations to apportion the costs between the LEA and the school. I wonder what the relationship between an LEA and its schools might be that we need regulations to deal with a matter like that. I admit that times have moved on since I was involved and that relationships may have become worse, but the idea that you need to regulate this kind of thing from the centre is quite ridiculous.

If the regulations are made within an open framework which allows a considerable degree of variation to meet local circumstances, that is one thing; but if the regulations are specific, that is entirely another. Regrettably, my experience of looking at regulations in this kind of area since I have been in this place has been that the regulations tend to be more and more specific as time goes by. That is one of the reasons why local authorities have so much difficulty. There is too much specificity in these processes.

The noble Baroness may be able to reassure me, but I could not resist coming back to say that I am genuinely concerned. I have always believed in treating

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people responsibly and giving them a free rein if it is at all possible to do so. I have always found that if you do that they then behave responsibly.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I shall try to reassure the noble Lord. I indicated how we expect it would work in the normal way. However, we wish to consult those who will be most affected by this to make sure we get it right.

We are looking to craft a model which will be a practitioner's guide and which everyone will know how to operate and understand. We have phrased the provision to allow us to consult on these issues to see what should go into the regulations and what should not. I can give the noble Lord comfort that there is no definitive, defined plan at this point.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her response. As I stated earlier, my two amendments were probing amendments, prompted by Clause 21(4). Like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I noted that it sought to apportion costs. I have some reservations about the wording used by the Minister when she talked about apportioning costs between schools and local authorities.

I take into account the amount of money that has been put into the education budget for behaviour improvement. I am delighted that it is going in. However, many of the procedures that have been set in place consume considerable funds. I think—indeed, I certainly hope—that in the long run this will diminish other costs. In the short run, it may well increase costs considerably. We all know that we cannot reap where we do not sow.

The assumption is sometimes that local authorities can bear these costs. I know only too well that frequently it is a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul. If extra mandatory requirements are put on a local authority, the non-mandatory requirements are affected. For example, youth services have been squeezed hard for years because so many other requirements have been mandatory.

I will ponder these matters further. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Parenting orders in cases of exclusion from school]:

[Amendments Nos. 101A to 107 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 102 to 107 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Parenting orders: supplemental]:

[Amendments Nos. 108 to 114 not moved.]

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 115:


    Page 19, line 23, leave out "head teachers and responsible officers"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 115, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 117, 118, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 129, 130 and 131.

All these amendments concern the role of head teachers and other responsible officers in relation to parenting orders and the issuing of fixed penalty notices. Amendment No. 115 is merely a probing amendment. I have already made it clear from these Benches that we would prefer head teachers not to be involved in administering parenting orders, least of all going to court and seeking such an order. What responsibilities does the Minister have in mind for head teachers under these parenting orders?

Amendment No. 117 and subsequent amendments in the group are more substantive and relate to an issue of principle. Clause 23 extends the use of fixed penalties to truancy, in effect allowing parents to buy themselves out of prosecution by paying a fixed penalty instead of going to court. It grants the power to issue such strict penalty notices not only to local education authorities whose responsibility it is to police truancies but to police constables, teachers and head teachers.

We on these Benches are very unhappy at this extension of responsibilities. We have already made it clear that we do not think teachers should be involved in issuing the voluntary parenting contract. If such contracts are to work, they need to be voluntary and the teachers need to be seen to be a neutral party, helping to make the relationship between pupils and parents work. Giving teachers the power to impose fixed penalties on parents would, we feel, completely jeopardise this relationship.

It is for educational welfare officers within LEAs to take on that responsibility and work closely with schools and families to resolve attendance issues. Their responsibilities are clearly set out in the Department for Education and Skills guidance on Social Inclusion: Pupil Support—SIPS guidance. It includes the following competences: the ability to promote regular school attendance and to help parents in meeting their responsibilities in securing the education of children and young people; the ability to assess and review children and young people and family circumstances, plan appropriate responses and intervention within the statutory framework and evaluate outcomes.

These are core skills which enable educational welfare officers to make an assessment of the individual circumstances on which to base any decisions on what response is most appropriate in cases of truancy. These are not skills the police are trained in or have experience of. The SIPS guidance sets out that schools and educational welfare officers should have clearly defined roles, and the school's role is to be helpful and supportive.

The proposals give power to schools for the enforcement of truancy and would create a radically different relationship between the school and the

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family that could be damaging. Asking a school or an LEA to fine a parent could increase existing tensions between parents, their children and their schools. The proposals could also further exacerbate child and family problems, and may have an adverse effect on family relationships.

There are also broader concerns in these cases, where a criminal offence is alleged to have been committed. The due process of fair trial should not be evaded. Such an extension of penalising powers outside the court process causes concern and possible breaches of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If the Government are not prepared to amend the Bill, we seek the following assurances: that the Government intend that most fixed penalty notices will be issued by LEAs; that regulations will ensure that the grounds for issuing a fixed penalty notice and the right of appeal are clearly set out; that the amount to be paid will be less than the current fine for a person found guilty of an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1944; and that the Government are satisfied that by extending powers to issue fixed penalty notices under these provisions, they are not breaching Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 seek to delete the whole of new Section 444A and insert instead a simple requirement that any penalty notices or other procedures should be issued only by a local education authority under the auspices of the educational welfare officers.

Amendments Nos. 120 and 122 require that a head teacher is to be explicitly excluded from among those who may issue penalty notices.

Amendment No. 123 excludes police constables from issuing penalty notices for truancy. This reiterates our belief that the only authorities which should have the knowledge and power to issue penalty notices for truancy should be local education authorities and educational welfare officers.

When we come to Clause 49, we shall be discussing how widely powers to issue fixed penalty notices should be extended. For the moment, suffice it to say that while of course police officers play a very important role in chasing up truants, they seldom have the detailed information about the truants or their family background to know whether it is appropriate to issue fixed penalty notices in these circumstances. That is why we believe that the job should be left to local education authorities and education welfare officers. They are the specialist staff trained to handle such situations, and only they should be authorised to issue penalty notices of this sort.

Amendments Nos. 125, 129, 130 and 131 are all consequential amendments that follow from the position that we have taken. Perhaps I should say, in relation to Amendment No. 125, that in so far as we

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believe that police constables should not be issuing fixed penalty notices for truancy, so a fortiori that applies to community support officers. I beg to move.


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