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Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I support the amendment. I have myself been involved in a parenting skills course and I support such courses. When my children were very small I visited our local school and became involved with something called Parent Link. I attended courses dealing with issues such as sibling rivalry, childhood tantrums, and so on.
Courses are not confined to those who have serious social problems or those whose children might appear before the courts. I believe that we should extol their virtues for all parents; we all have things to learn. I remember learning something called "reflective listening with one's children". I found it useful in the courts when dealing with judges. I believe that there are many skills to be learnt. Undoubtedly, the experience of all those involved is that such courses are most successful when the people taking part do so on a voluntary basis. Of course, there may be occasions--as the Minister said on the last occasion--when a sanction may be of some assistance. I accept that that may be the case. I accept that occasionally coercion may be useful. However, the clause introduces a statutory presumption in favour of the courts making such an order. That is what concerns those who have considerable experience in these matters.
Courts can be instrumental in encouraging parents to take part in such programmes and in reminding them that they are not just for people whose children get into trouble or who have problems, but that all parents can benefit from them. My experience is that parents are only too happy to find that such assistance is available. But as soon as we take a stick to people and introduce punishment for non-participation, we move into a different situation in which we may increase problems within families, rather than assist them.
I ask the Minister therefore to consider the anxieties expressed. This is not about being soft; it is about recognising what is most effective. While we are wholly in favour and in fact have been scholars of parenting courses--I suspect that there are not too many other noble Lords on these Benches who have attended courses as I have, admitting that they have something to learn even on parenting--there are other ways of dealing with this issue. I therefore support the amendment of my noble friend and hope that the Minister will give due consideration to it.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I agree with those who have spoken. The parenting order made against parents who are unwilling to co-operate is likely to be counterproductive. An order under Clause 9(1) can be made only if the relevant condition under Clause 8(6) is fulfilled; that is, that,
certain types of criminal behaviour. Is the Minister suggesting that under Clause 8(6) the court could take the view that a parenting order is not desirable where the parents are clearly not going to be co-operative? If so, that is certainly not clear and I support the amendment because that makes it clear. If the Minister does not take the view that that is a relevant consideration under Clause 8(6), then I strongly support the amendment because, in those circumstances, it
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I too support the amendment. There is not a great deal that I can add to what the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Kennedy, said or to what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said. However, I should like to emphasise what I said in Committee.
I am extremely concerned about any legislation which may fine an unco-operative mother for not attending a parenting course and then, because she cannot or will not pay the fine, send her to prison with disastrous results to the children who will almost certainly have to be taken into care. We have heard a lot this afternoon about some of the things that are apt to happen when children are taken into care, especially when they run away or leave care.
I am sure that many residential homes are excellent. But no residential home, however good, can replace a child's own home. After many years I am convinced that even a fairly bad home is preferable to no home at all. That is what being taken into care means: that at the end of the day, when the child leaves care, the child has no home.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, perhaps I may make one point. Parenting skills cannot be dissociated from the relationship between the parents. It is sometimes thought that people can simply go on a course in parenting skills; but as soon as they begin, those attending are immediately involved in trying to understand how they relate to each other. In the families where these issues arise, there may well be violent, angry relationships which would be dangerous to bring into the situation.
We cannot simply start a course on parenting skills as though those skills do not depend on the relationship between the parents. We have just heard a reason why single parents may suffer under such a provision. But with regard to the parents themselves, the necessity to face up to the implications of their mutual non-relating may be a further reason for not imposing the order. Also, and more seriously, if parenting skills courses are to tackle the relationship between husband and wife or between partners, the child will be even more exposed because the child will then carry the conflict between the two parents who are refusing together or not refusing together to face up to the implications of what they have become.
It all seems to me to endorse the amendment that says that something may be offered and pressed home. And, while I understand the desire for coercion, in the area of family relationships it is extremely difficult to use.
But if a financial penalty is deemed to be appropriate and there is failure to comply, what alternatives are possible? Is it the case--this is something to which the noble Baroness referred and if possible I should like the Minister's answer to it--that at present community service orders in relation to fine default can only be imposed in two pilot areas? I believe that to be an important question, not only in this instance, but in the whole area of the lower courts where the imposition of community service orders has been found to be most desirable. I should therefore be grateful for an answer on that point.
As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, voluntary co-operation by way of counselling groups and such organisations is always to be preferred to coercion. I should like discretion on whether or not to issue a parenting order to be left in the hands of the appropriate court.
Amendment No. 22 is the identical amendment which we discussed in Committee. Clause 9(1) puts a duty on the court to make a parenting order in cases where a child or young person who is under the age of 16 is convicted of a criminal offence and where the court is satisfied that the condition in Clause 8(6)(b) is met; namely, that it would be desirable in the interests of preventing the further commission of an offence by that child or young person.
As has been observed, in the case of 16 and 17 year-olds, the duty is replaced by a power to impose a parenting order. It is worth bearing in mind what a parenting order is. It requires the parent to comply for a period not longer than a year with such requirements as are specified, and to attend for a concurrent period not exceeding three months not more than once in any one week for counselling or guidance sessions. None of these orders under Clause 8(3) can be made unless the court has been notified by the Secretary of State that arrangements for implementation have been made within the relevant area.
We believe that there should be a distinction between 16 and 17 year-olds and those who are younger. It is quite a frequent divide in the criminal justice system. After all, 16 and 17 year-olds may well have left school; they may be living independently, they may even these days have family responsibilities of their own. Some may be in full-time education and fully dependent on their parents. We believe that there should be that distinction.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 23 and 24. These are two of the 11 issues on which I indicated earlier we had reflected and decided that the arguments were persuasive and that we ought to respond to them in that way. Clause 9(2) as it stands requires the court, when considering a parenting order resulting from the conviction of a juvenile under 16, to consider information about family circumstances and the likely effect of the proposed order on those circumstances. Subsection (2) parallels the arrangements in some criminal disposals for juveniles. Similar family-related information will be before a family proceedings court when it is dealing with a child safety order under Clause 12(1).
Those arrangements do not exist with the antisocial behaviour order, the sex offender order and convictions stemming from failure to ensure a child's attendance at school. The courts would have to rely on the facts before them. My noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General pointed out that an order can only be made provided the court is satisfied that the relevant conditions are fulfilled; that is, preventing a repetition of the behaviour which led to the order in the first place.
We listened to the arguments and considered them subsequently and we accept that, as the clause stands, there is potential for confusion. We accept, therefore, having listened to the arguments, that it would be better that the requirements in Clause 9(2) extend to all cases involving children under 16 where a parenting order is made. I wrote to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, on 20th February to explain that we had accepted the arguments and would bring forward an amendment--it is Amendment No. 23--to rectify that position.
Amendment No. 24 responds to concerns which were raised when we discussed a similar amendment at Committee stage tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He was not present on that occasion but the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was. The Solicitor-General indicated that we would consider the question of reasonable excuse and that we saw the force of the arguments. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on 20th February to say that we would be tabling an amendment to that effect. That is what we have done. It is Amendment No. 24. Therefore, in respect of Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, we have listened to the arguments and have been persuaded. In respect of the first amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, we have not been so convinced.
Baroness David: My Lords, I am extremely disappointed. I should like to thank very much all those noble Lords--noble Lords from absolutely every Bench--who have spoken in support of this amendment; and very strong and good support I have had. I wonder whether my noble friend would be willing to take this away and think about it, and think that the power would be adequate in the circumstances. I should be very grateful if he would do that. I hope that when he thinks about the support I have had for this amendment he will agree that that would be a decent thing to do. I very much hope that he might be willing to do that.
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