HL Deb 04 October 2000 vol 616 cc1650-61

4. Before subsection (7) of that section there is inserted—

"(6D) In relation to persons subject to the notification requirements of this Part whose homes are situated in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or any description of such persons, the Secretary of State may by regulations require, or authorise any person to require—

  1. (a) prior notice of their intention to leave the United Kingdom, and
  2. (b) in the case of persons who have left the United Kingdom after giving such notice and subsequently return, notice of their return,
to be given in accordance with the regulations.

The power to make regulations under this subsection is exercisable by statutory instrument, and no such regulations shall be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament."


5.—(1) In section 3 (offences), in subsection (1), for the words following paragraph (b) there is substituted—

"he is guilty of an offence.

(1A) In relation to England and Wales and Northern Ireland, a person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above is liable—

  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both,
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

(1B) In relation to Scotland, a person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.

(1C) If without reasonable excuse—

  1. (a) a person fails to comply with section 2(6A) above,
  2. (b) a person required by regulations under section 2(6D) above to give prior notice of his intention to do so leaves the United Kingdom without having given notice in accordance with the regulations, or
  3. (c) a person fails to comply with any requirement of such regulations to give notice of his return to the United Kingdom,
he is guilty of an offence and liable as mentioned in subsection (1A) above."

(2) This paragraph applies where the act constituting the offence in question occurs after commencement.

Restraining orders

6.—(1) After section 5 there is inserted—

"Restraining orders.

5A.—(1) This section applies where—

  1. (a) the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal imposes a sentence of imprisonment, or makes a hospital or guardianship order, in respect of a person convicted of a sexual offence to which this Part applies,
  2. (b) the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal orders that a person who has been found not guilty of such an offence by reason of insanity, or to be under a disability and to have done the act charged against him in respect of such an offence, be admitted to hospital or makes a guardianship order in respect of him,
  3. (c) a youth court makes a detention and training order for a term of twelve months or more, or a hospital or guardianship order, in respect of a person convicted of such an offence,
  4. (d) a youth court makes a hospital or guardianship order in respect of a person who has been found not guilty of such an offence by reason of insanity, or to be under a disability and to have done the act charged against him in respect of such an offence.

(2) The court may make an order under this section in respect of the person ("the offender") if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to protect the public in general, or any particular members of the public, from serious harm from him.

(3) The order may prohibit the offender from doing anything described in the order.

(4) The order shall have effect for the period specified in it or until further order; and the offender shall not cease to be subject to the notification requirements of this Part while the order has effect.

(5) The offender may appeal against the order—

  1. (a) where he was convicted of a sexual offence to which this Part applies, as if the order were a sentence passed on him for that offence,
  2. 1652
  3. (b) in a case within subsection (1)(b) or (d) above, as if he had been convicted of such an offence and the order were a sentence passed on him for that offence.

(6) The Crown Court or, in a case within subsection (1)(c) or (d) above, the youth court for the area in which the offender resides may, on the application of—

  1. (a) the offender, or
  2. (b) the chief officer of police, or the local board, for the area in which the offender resides,
vary or discharge the order.

(7) On the application the court may, after hearing the applicant, and the other persons mentioned in subsection (6) above (if they so wish), make any order under this section varying or discharging the previous order which the court considers appropriate.

(8) If without reasonable excuse the offender does anything which he is prohibited from doing by an order under this section, he is guilty of an offence.

(9) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

  1. (a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both,
  2. (b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both.

(10) In this section "hospital order" has the same meaning as in the Mental Health Act 1983."

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) has effect in relation to sexual offences to which Part I of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 applies where the acts constituting the offence occurred after commencement.

(3) In section 10 (short title etc.), after subsection (3) there is inserted—

"(3A) The Secretary of State may by order make any modifications of section 5A above which he considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of enabling courts in Northern Ireland to exercise the powers conferred by that section.

The power to make an order under this subsection is exercisable by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."


7. After section 5A there is inserted—

"Information about release or transfer.

5B.—(1) This section applies to any person ("the offender") who—

  1. (a) is subject to the notification requirements of this Part, and
  2. (b) is serving a sentence of imprisonment or a term of service detention, or is detained in a hospital, in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations require notice to be given by the person who is responsible for the offender to persons prescribed by the regulations of any occasion when the offender is released or a different person becomes responsible for him.

(3) The regulations may make provision for determining who is to be treated for the purposes of this section as responsible for an offender.

(4) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."


8. In section 6 (interpretation of Part I), after the definition of "guardianship order" there is inserted— "local board" has the same meaning as in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000".

9.—(1) In section 10—

  1. (a) in subsection (4), for "section 8" there is substituted "sections 3(1B) and 8",
  2. (b) in subsection (5), after "Act" there is inserted "(except section 3(1A) and (1C))".

(2) At the end of that section there is inserted—

"(6) Any power to make regulations or an order under this Act may be exercised so as to make different provision for different purposes."


10. In section 4(4) (young sex offenders), for the words following "section" there is substituted "3 above shall have effect as if, for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1A) and for the words following "liable" in subsection (1B), there were substituted "on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale".").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 157A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 157, not moved.]

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Failure to secure regular attendance at school: increase in penalty]:

On Question, Whether Clause 63 shall stand part of the Bill?

Earl Russell

To have to speak in a clause stand part debate last thing at night is a short straw; to have to do it to an exhausted House is about as short as straws come. I shall do my best.

The clause deals with the responsibility of parents whose children are playing truant from school. It raises the penalties to which they are subject from a fine of £1,000 to £2,500 with an alternative of three months' imprisonment. The clause in the Bill starts from the premise that something must be done. That is the most dangerous cry in politics.

It is true that something must be done. The problem is considerable. That is not in dispute. The question is whether there is a disjunction between the need to do something and the measures proposed in the Bill. The measures proposed in the Bill rely on the concept of vicarious guilt. They punish the parents for the default of the child. The question is whether causing more dismay for the parents, creating a greater determination in the parents to change the situation, will prove effective. I have very considerable doubts on that matter.

In one of my father's works I came across the remark, "Fortunately, most children desire approval. If they did not, all discipline would be impossible". In that context, the remark brought me up with a jerk, but I cannot help suspecting that we are here dealing with those few children who are exempted from that remark, who do not desire approval. If they desired approval, they would probably be going to school already. In this kind of case the parents' disciplinary powers are effectively nil because the sanctions available to a parent, especially a parent with a teenage child, are in practice extremely limited and the power of physical punishment is extremely restricted.

Very often the only power in the hands of a parent in a state of real desperation is to drive the child out of the house. Governments do not take that quite as seriously as they should. The MORI report of 1991 on 16 and 17 year-olds in receipt of severe hardship payment found that a majority of those who had left home had done so because the parents had thrown them out. We now have the Children's Society report which was debated in the House on 20th January. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who was in his place a few moments ago, spoke in that debate. The Children's Society found that almost one-fifth—19 per cent—of children who had run away overnight did so because they had been forced to leave home. The society estimates that as amounting to one in 50 of all young people or 14,000 young people in each school year cohort.

Those young people face quite considerable dangers and get into quite considerable difficulties. But whatever the effect may be, it does not improve their school attendance. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. If, as I believe, the chief effect of the clause will be to cause parents to throw out their children in order that the parents, in desperation, in shame and in fear, may escape the penalty of themselves being imprisoned for what they cannot prevent, the clause will do only harm.

I understand that in some cases there is a question of the parents being compliant in the offence of truanting. Where the parent has personal responsibility for an act, I would be perfectly prepared to see it treated as an offence of aiding and abetting. But very often, especially when a school system of notification has broken down, the parent is in ignorance that the offence of truanting has actually taken place. It may be quite difficult to prove one way or the other whether that is the case.

Parents should be punished for what they themselves are responsible for doing. The concept of vicarious guilt is a dangerous one and punishing the parent may serve only to worsen further the relationship between the parent and child, which may well have been bad enough in the first place. I hope there is still time for some further thought about this clause, which I think is counterproductive.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

There are some questions about. the clause that need to be answered. Perhaps I may give an example of a particularly difficult case. This happened about three years ago. The lady in question—she is the mother of a 15 year-old son—gave her son breakfast every morning and sent him off to school. After about seven weeks she received a letter from the school asking where he was because the school had not seen him all that term. Who was culpable here? Was it the school for not following up the absentee quickly enough, or was it the parent, who was totally innocent of the offence? Under the Bill, that circumstance would be considered an offence.

Secondly, given that the Government have decided to increase the level of fines, when the policy was first announced I undertook a little detective work to establish what level of fines was being levied by the courts at the present time. I found that hardly any parent was levied the maximum fine allowed under the maxima. Perhaps the Minister's officials at the Home Office can provide me with up to date figures. Given that, while it may sound very macho to increase the level of fines, if the current level of fines is not being exploited by the courts, it appears academic to increase the level even further.

All kinds of problems are being thrown up by this issue. Nowadays, parents face genuine difficulties in this area. Many of the sanctions that were available to parents have been removed by law, either by the European Court of Human Rights or by decisions coming from this House of Parliament. Parents are left in an extremely difficult position in today's world. They need to care for robust teenagers—the example I cited a moment ago makes the position clear. I should be interested to know what is to happen in such circumstances.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful for both of the contributions. They were interesting and illuminating, giving as they did the views of the logician and the practitioner.

This is a difficult and vexed subject. It is one that, as a parent, I have thought about a great deal. My children all attend school—the eldest is nearly 12 while the youngest is almost five years old. The problem can be seen in personal terms. However, children really do only have one chance to benefit from their schooling. They need to gain that benefit and to do so they must attend school regularly. Currently, too many children miss school for no good reason. There are around 1 million children—around 10 per cent of all pupils—who miss at least one-half of a school day through unauthorised absence; namely, truancy. That often happens with parent consent or even with parent collusion. We need to be clear about that and I believe that there is a consensus that that is often the case.

Apart from the effect that truancy has on educational levels of attainment, children out of school without permission are more likely to become involved in, or be drawn into, criminal activity or antisocial behaviour or, perhaps worse to themselves, become victims of abuse. They may fall into other highly undesirable anti-social practices.

The Government have been determined to address this issue, as no doubt were the previous government. We have introduced a range of initiatives through the education service to help to tackle truancy. To that end, we have provided significant resources through the social inclusion: pupil support grant worth some £500 million over three years. A high level of resource is being put into this. The grant is being used to support local projects which prevent truancy from happening in the first place.

This measure to increase the penalty for non school attendance supplements those initiatives and challenges the culture which tolerates the absence of children from school.

Perhaps I should restate for the record what my colleague the Minister of State mentioned in another place; namely, that the intention of the measure is not to imprison parents of truants. I most certainly do not wish to see parents locked up. It would be counter-productive to have children taken into care in those circumstances. The purpose of the measure is to get parents into court and to change their behaviour, along with helping to change the nature of their relationship with their child.

Under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996, if a registered child of compulsory school age (5 to 16) fails to attend school regularly, his parents are guilty of an offence. If convicted, the parents are liable to a fine of up to £1,000, which is level 3 on the standard scale of offences. While not taking anything away from the importance of other offences, this is the same level as fines handed out for people found guilty of not having a fishing or a television licence. I would argue that permitting, aiding and abetting or colluding with truancy is, in many respects, more serious than that. It has to be more serious than that; it affects the potential and prospects of the child.

Baroness Blatch

Does not the noble Lord agree that statistics from the magistrates' courts indicate that nothing like £5 is ever levied? So what is the point of doubling it?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I shall come to that point. Clause 63 provides that the penalty for school attendance offences be raised to level 4 on the standard scale and/or three months' imprisonment. The maximum fine will rise from £1,000 per parent per child to £2,500 per parent per child. Courts—this is the crucial point—will still determine the actual fine, dependent on the individual circumstances.

It is not a desire to fine heavily the parent; it is not a desire to imprison the parent. The thinking behind this measure is to close a gap which allows parents of truants summonsed to court simply not to attend. At the moment 80 per cent of parents do not bother to attend court.

The Government take the view that we cannot accept truancy. We cannot condone it—and it should not be condoned by the parent. That is unacceptable. I am sure that there is consensus on that point. It is not a matter, as the noble Baroness said, of us being macho about it; that is not the purpose behind this. It is to ensure that the offence is at a level where the parent is obliged to attend court.

To do this, we need to work with parents and to make it clear that truancy is not a matter to be treated lightly. It will be easier for a magistrate to help us with that if he or she can meet the parent in court and assess whether, for example, a parenting order or a community sentence is more appropriate. The Magistrates' Association has made it clear that parents not attending court is a source of considerable frustration. It has pressed for measures which would force parents to attend. That is exactly what we are after, getting the parent to court. We believe that the simplest and most effective way to do this is to make the offence imprisonable. That way a warrant may be issued for the parent's arrest, compelling them to come to court.

I am aware that having the imprisonment clause will allow magistrates to invoke the penalty; I accept that. If the measure becomes law, however, the Magistrates' Association will be providing guidance to magistrates which would draw attention to the fact that under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 custody is reserved for only the most serious cases. This would make it most unlikely that any parent would be imprisoned for this offence. But by raising the standard level of penalty to level 4, we will be in a situation where we can compel the parent to come to court, and then the authorities can begin seriously to engage with that parent.

Clearly, this has to be part of a broader strategy—I do not think any of us would want to see the court used in a heavy-handed way to achieve that—but it has the value of making the parent and child face up to their responsibilities together, to work with the authorities and to ensure that the truancy behaviour—which can trigger other unfortunate kinds of anti-social behaviour—can be prevented. That is the purpose of what we are proposing. I commend Clause 63 to the Committee.

Earl Russell

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her helpful remarks. What she said about ignorance I can confirm; I, too, have knowledge of such cases. What she said about the fine not being fully levied is a point of considerable importance and deserves thought. Many of the people we are concerned about could not of course possibly pay the kind of fines that we are envisaging.

I am grateful to the Minister for the care and thoughtfulness of his reply. I agree with a great deal of it, but not, unfortunately, with the parts which most bear on the point at issue. I accept his point that children get only one chance, but the point at issue is whether the amendment will make the situation any better.

I accept also what the noble Lord said about parental collusion. Where parental collusion can be proved, I am quite prepared to have it treated as aiding and abetting truancy from school—but one would have to prove the mens rea of the parent before taking any action. What I am not happy about is the concept of vicarious guilt, of holding the parents responsible for things that they have not done, did not wish, and in some cases may have been unable to prevent even if they had tried.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Earl confronts an interesting issue. The concept of vicarious guilt exists whether or not we raise the threshold and the penalty, does it not? Therefore, what bearing does it have on this particular proposal? The noble Earl's argument stands or falls, does it not?

Earl Russell

I entirely accept what the Minister says; I thought that he would say as much. I have in fact opposed this concept from the beginning. I have not always been able to be present in the Chamber when it has arisen, but on this occasion, when I see matters getting worse and more serious, I am able to be in the Chamber and I am able to say so.

I entirely accept the Minister's point about it being the intention of the measure to get the parents into court. What I am not certain about is what the effect of that will be. For most parents, whether they can do anything about it or not, it will be a very shaming experience. Parents who have been shamed by the behaviour of their children tend rapidly to translate that shame into the form of anger with the child. That anger can be extremely explosive. I remember a case being reported in the Evening Standard following a riot at Chelsea football ground during which people were throwing iron bars across the pitch. A woman watching television observed her son to be among those doing it. When he returned home that evening, he found his bed out in the street and was told that he would sleep there because he was not coming into the house.

One may, in the short term, laugh sympathetically at that story, but in the long term if the intention persists it will create a major problem. That is precisely the effect that the Minister will achieve in getting parents into court. The provision will be counter-productive. It is too late at night for any further debate on this matter. I hope that we may return to it at a later stage of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may put a question to the Minister. Is this a magistrates' court issue, or a youth court issue?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am told that it is a matter for the magistrates' court. I am fairly clear that it must be. I shall take further advice, but that is the indication. If it is not, I shall inform the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

My noble friend sitting alongside me, who is a magistrate, says that truancy is dealt with in the youth court.

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clauses 64 and 65 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 158 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 159: Page 56, line 39, leave out ("4(1)(c)(ii), 5(1)(c)(ii)").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 160 to 187. With the leave of the Committee, I shall then move those amendments en bloc. Amendment No. 188 in this group is an opposition amendment, after which I should like to move en bloc Amendments Nos. 189 to 225.

This group of amendments makes the necessary changes to Schedule 6, so that the amendments are made to other enactments that are needed to ensure that the measures in the Bill that we have already discussed can take full effect. Schedule 6 to the Bill contains only amendments that are consequential on the substantive provisions contained in the Bill. The Committee may be relieved to hear that I do not intend to go through each one of the amendments in turn; however, I am in a position to give some brief examples if that would be of assistance.

This group of amendments includes amendments to Schedule 6 to the Bill which provides for amendments to be made to other enactments that are consequential on the changes to the names of community orders; for example, Amendments 159 and 160 relate to paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 to the Bill, which provides for references in other enactments to probation orders to be changed to references to "community rehabilitation orders". Such changes are consequential to Clause 38 of the Bill, which, as Members of the Committee will remember, renames probation orders as "community rehabilitation orders". That is just one example. I am in a position to give the Committee more, if required. However, for the moment, I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

The Minister will be relieved to know that I do not intend to ask many detailed questions on this grouping. I say that more in sadness than in anger. Indeed, I am not even equipped to ask questions about it. I find this wholly and utterly baffling. I received a copy of a schedule today, following a request that I made yesterday. I have that copy of Schedule 6 before me. It has light type printing, dark type printing, side-lining, underlining and crossings out, without a single key to tell me what it all means.

I do not know how to interpret the document. It arrived without an explanatory or covering letter, other than a notification to tell me that a copy of Schedule 6 was attached. There is nothing in the Explanatory Notes. There is no reference to Schedules 6 or 7. In fact, I was collecting amendments during the summer as they arrived, only to find that yet further amendments were arriving to amend those I had already received. This is about the worst possible example I can remember of legislative drafting. These amendments will go through tonight due to sheer ignorance on my part. I have no idea what all this means; it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Lord Bach

I am sorry that the noble Baroness feels that way. I know that some effort was made to ensure that a copy of the revised Schedule 6 reached the noble Baroness. The crossings-out are omissions in the amendments—deliberate omissions in the amendments. The underlinings indicate additions to the amendments. I am sorry if this does not please the noble Baroness. However, an attempt was made to try to make the position clearer.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry. The Minister's response is not very satisfactory. There are underlinings, crossings-out, light and dark typing and side-lining in the copy schedule, with no reference as to what any of it means. As to the noble Lord saying that a great effort was made to ensure that I received this copy today, I should point out that late last night the Chief Whip insisted, because I was insisting upon it, that I saw a re-drafted schedule. I asked for a completely re-drafted Schedule 6. I wanted it to look like a re-draft so that I could then compare it alongside Schedule 6 in the Bill. I should still like to see a completely re-drafted Schedule 6 without all these markings. No one, not even the noble Lord, has explained the position to me.

The noble Lord has said that the underlinings are the new parts. If that is so, what do the crossings-out represent? What is the distinction between the light and dark typing? Moreover, what is the significance of the side-lining?

Lord Bach

The underlinings are the new parts; the crossings-out are the omissions; and there is no relevance at all either in the light or the dark shading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 160 to 187: Page 56, line 40, at end insert— ("in Schedule 4—

paragraph 5(a), paragraph 6(4) (in both places)."). Page 57, leave out line 19 and insert—

("paragraph 1(1)(c),").

Page 57, line 20, leave out from ("(2)") to end of line 21 and insert ("and (3)(a)"). Page 57, line 22, at end insert— ("in Schedule 4—

paragraph 5(b), paragraph 6(4)(c)."). Page 57, line 38, leave out ("4(1)(c)(ii), 5(1)(c)(ii)"). Page 57, line 42, at end insert— ("in Schedule 4—
  • paragraph 5 and the preceding cross-heading,
  • paragraph 6(4)(a).").
Page 58, line 13, at end insert— ("In the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993sections 12(2)(a) and 15(4)."). Page 58, leave out lines 14 and 15. Page 58, line 15, at end insert— ("In the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995sections 209(3)(a) and 234(1)(a)."). Page 58, line 15, at end insert— ("In the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997section 31(2A)(a)."). Page 58, leave out lines 38 to 43. Page 58, line 43, at end insert—