Clause 19 - Parenting orders in cases of

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 8 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:00, 8 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 150, in

clause 19, page 16, line 23, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Llafur, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 49, in

clause 19, page 16, line 31, leave out 'twelve months' and insert 'two years'.

Amendment No. 50, in

clause 19, page 16, line 34, leave out 'three' and insert 'twelve'.

Amendment No. 51, in

clause 19, page 16, line 34, leave out

'and not more than once in any week'.

Amendment No. 151, in

clause 20, page 16, line 42, leave out 'must' and insert 'may'.

Amendment No. 152, in

clause 20, page 16, line 43, leave out '(amongst other things)'.

Amendment No. 52, in

clause 20, page 17, line 13, leave out subsection (4).

Amendment No. 53, in

clause 20, page 17, line 16, leave out 'must' and insert 'should'.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Amendment No. 150 is simply a probing amendment. It seeks to delete subsection (1)(b), a rather vague statement that refers to:

''such conditions as may be prescribed in regulations made by the appropriate person are satisfied.''

We should like to have some idea of the sort of regulations that might be made in future before passing firm comment. Is that vagueness simply a symptom of the rushed nature of the Bill, and does the Minister have more up his sleeve?

Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 involve time limits and I will leave it to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to speak to those. The alternatives look rather long. I apologise to the Conservative Front Bench: we should have added our names to amendment No. 51 as it is very important. We need to consider the circumstances of individual parents: a single parent may be able to attend classes only at certain hours of the day; or they might have to take a concentrated course lasting only a short time to fit in with their working hours. More flexibility is needed. If someone is willing to attend more than once a week, we should allow that. I strongly support that amendment.

Amendment No. 151 takes us to the argument about using ''may'' instead of ''must''. We have talked about parenting orders as being part of a process that leads from the parenting contract. We hope that the contract works, because the voluntary process, with the full co-operation of everyone, has to be the best way. Although it may be necessary to go on to parenting orders—hopefully, in only a few extreme cases—we do not want to back the court into a corner in cases in which special circumstances might need to be taken into account. Often, children go off the rails for a short time after a bereavement in the family. The conditions of a parenting contract might not be met in a period of about six months, but it is possible to get that family back together again. The use of ''must'' is too prescriptive in cases in which it might be possible to get back into a parenting contract which, by definition, will always work best.

Amendment No. 152 is also prompted by the Bill's vagueness, which we do not like. It would remove the phrase ''(amongst other things)''. I hope that the Bill will state that all relevant and important factors will be taken into account. Why is that vague phrase needed? If it is appropriate in clause 20, why should it not be found throughout the Bill? Amendment No. 52 would remove clause 20(4), which is a catch-all provision, because we are worried about what it could mean in future. We want to know what we are signing up to. Is the provision another example of the Bill being rushed, with a view taken to sort it out later? Amendment No. 53 is similar to amendment No. 151 and I endorse it.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

We have some amendments in this group, as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has pointed out. I am grateful to her for stressing her party's support for some of our amendments—particularly amendment No. 51. Some of the amendments in the group amend clause 20, not clause 19, but I understand that they have been grouped together because they cover similar issues. May I return the compliment to the hon. Lady and say that we understand entirely the aim of the Liberal Democrats? Their amendment No. 150 tries to deal

with a Henry VIII clause. Like her, we shall be interested to hear the Minister's response.

We are again considering time limits. As in our debate on Tuesday about crack houses, there is a judgment call to be made about the maximum amount of time for which a parenting order applies. We think that two years would be a better maximum than 12 months. All of us—including the Minister, who has referred to his surgery experiences—have in our constituencies very disruptive families with a multitude of problems. People who come to our surgeries or write to us may be dealing with many different agencies and their problems take a long time to resolve. In some cases, sadly, their children's whole time at school is blighted by those problems. I see the Minister nodding; I am sure that he has come across such families.

Any period up to the limit can be chosen, but we felt that a maximum of two years would be more sensible than a restrictive 12 months. I hope that the Minister will, as he helpfully has done on other issues, offer to keep the matter under review. It might be that in another place, some of those with long experience of child care and education issues will agree that two years would be a wiser maximum period.

I have in mind the case in my constituency of a large child with a dominant personality and his single mother. The child has been described to me by the head teacher of the special school that he has been attending as having such a powerful personality, even at the age of about 13, that he completely dominates his mother, who is a relatively small lady. The child is used to getting his own way, and to influence him requires a huge investment of time. Going by how long I have been dealing with the case and how long the head teacher of the special school and LEA officials have been dealing with the child, I believe that that case will take a great deal longer than 12 months to sort out. Because of such cases, I think that it is important that the clause allow for a period of more than 12 months.

Even more crucially, with reference to our amendment No. 50, we feel that the guidance should be available for up to 12 months. I stress ''up to''; if three or four months were appropriate, that could be allowed. We are discussing the maximum, and we feel that three months is too little. Amendment No. 51, for which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole has stressed her support, reflects our view that it is essential to have the opportunity to have the classes more than once a week. We cannot see any logic in the wording and I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees. There is no reason to restrict the sessions to

''not more than once in any week''.

Some children—and some parents—need intensive involvement, so we cannot understand why the wording is so restrictive.

The Liberal Democrats have put their names to our amendment No. 52, which seeks to remove another Henry VIII provision in clause 20(4). The hon. Lady supports our intention to change ''must'' to ''should'' for the reasons that I advanced in connection with the previous group of amendments. We feel even more

strongly than we did in the previous case that ''should'' would make for a wiser phraseology. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind. I do not wish to detain the Committee further, but I hope that the Minister will treat seriously our genuine attempts to improve the Bill. We feel strongly about those matters.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:15, 8 Mai 2003

The clause enables local education authorities to apply for a parenting order if

''a pupil has been excluded . . . from . . . school for a fixed period or permanently''

and conditions specified in regulations are met. Conservative amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are intended to double the maximum duration of a parenting order from 12 to 24 months, and to quadruple the maximum duration that a parent would be required to attend a parenting class under a parenting order from three to 12 months. We believe that 12 months is an adequate maximum for parents to be placed under an order and that three months is adequate for a parenting course. If they require additional parenting support, we would prefer parents to opt for it voluntarily. That would be more effective than parents being required to undergo orders and programmes for a much longer period.

The relevant clauses replicate the duration of an order and the parenting classes involved in that parenting order as set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The amendments would lead to an inconsistent approach to the execution of parenting orders and could cause confusion in their use. We believe that the periods in the Bill are the optimum and should not be altered. Before the hon. Member for Surrey Heath intervenes, let me say that I tried to check whether we had any representations on orders made under other legislation. I am told that none said that the orders were restrictive and that longer periods were wanted.

It would not be necessary to place the mother whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned under a parenting order if she was willing and simply needed support to deal with the dreadful situation that she faced. It needs to be made clear that enforcement relates to the parent, not the child.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I understand what the Minister is saying, but will he say how many such orders have been made under the 1998 Act? My impression is that it has not been extensively used. He may have to write to me and to other members of the Committee if he does not have that information to hand. Some of the measures in the Act have not been regarded as especially effective, particularly in my part of the country. There has been some criticism of the fact that the Act has not been used extensively, but that may not be the case nationally, and I would be grateful if the Minister could let us know.

Surely it would be helpful not to have to restart the whole process if three months is found to be not long enough? Traveller families, for example, might be made subject to an order for a short period, go to one class and not go again. The whole process would have

to start again if the period is restricted to three months.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will think about the latter point, as that could be a difficulty. There were 3,106 parenting orders made under the initial legislation and, for the Committee's information, that does not represent a rising trend. We want them to be used more widely, but several parenting orders have been issued under other legislation. As I said, as far as I am aware, we have not had representations that the time limits are restrictive. The hon. Gentleman's second point, about having to start the whole process again in certain circumstances, is worth my exploring it.

Clause 20 relates to the process of issuing a parenting order in cases of exclusion from school. Amendment No. 52 is intended to remove the power to issue further regulations relating specifically to that new use of parenting orders. The regulations will be used to set out who meets the cost of counselling or guidance sessions. The LEA staff are responsible for applying for a parenting order, and they may agree to do so on behalf of the school. We will therefore need to specify who will pay for the counselling or the guidance sessions. We expect the LEA to bear the costs associated with parenting orders, except where an alternative arrangement has been agreed with the school.

We want to ensure that there is an appropriate method of apportioning the costs, where necessary. We need to consult on that with those who are directly affected, which is why we want to leave the detail for inclusion in the regulations. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern: when I first saw the provision, I shared his view that it was not necessary and that we could have included more in the Bill rather than left it to secondary legislation. However, I do not believe that we will be able during the passage of the Bill to conduct the consultation to clarify the circumstances in which there is a crossing over of the burden of costs. If we were able to do so, it would be helpful to include it in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

I understand entirely what the Minister says, and I am grateful to him for saying that his first reaction to the proposed wording was the same as ours. Can he provide the Committee with drafts of the guidance that he and his advisers are considering? That would be informative and helpful not only for the members of the Committee, but for those involved in debates on Report and in another place.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is reasonable request and I shall see whether it is a practical possibility during the passage of the Bill.

For a parenting order made in cases of exclusion from school, the responsible officer could be a head teacher or a person nominated by a head teacher rather than the LEA officer already specified in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The regulations will be used to set out whom a head teacher may nominate as a responsible officer. That too will be subject to consultation.

Amendment No. 53 would remove the necessity for LEAs and governing bodies to have regard to any

guidance issued regarding parenting orders in cases of exclusion. That would compromise our aim that parenting orders should be used in a consistent fashion throughout the country. It is intended that the guidance will cover, among other things, when to consider applying for a parenting order during the exclusion process. Parents should be confident that they will receive similar and equitable treatment regardless of the school that their child attends. The guidance will ensure that that is the case, provided LEAs have regard to it. The obligation in the clause is to ''have regard to'' the guidance, which relates to the discussion that we had about parenting contracts. That means that the LEA or governing body need not slavishly follow the guidance if it is inappropriate in a particular case.

Amendment No. 51 would allow more flexibility in the delivery of parenting programmes by removing the one session per week restriction. I was glad to hear the views of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole on that amendment. We recognise that there are circumstances in which it would be reasonable for sessions to be held more or less frequently than once a week. The clause therefore needs to be modified to allow greater flexibility in the delivery of programmes under parenting orders, for example by making a residential component possible where it is considered necessary. However, simply deleting the words would also have the effect of enabling a three-month long residential course to take place, which is not what we intended and would not be proportionate.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

My hon. Friend the Minister has made some interesting points. He mentioned a residential component, perhaps for parents who have a parenting order imposed on them. Could he reassure me again that he will talk to his colleagues at the DFES about ensuring that there is adequate provision of guidance and counselling sessions, and of residential components if appropriate? Could he also clarify what is meant by a residential component?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

In serious circumstances of chaotic parenting arrangements, residential provision should be considered. My hon. Friend is right that if we are going to have that, there needs to be provision in the community as well as the enabling power to allow authorities to impose it. That will not be a necessity in every situation, but only in particular and tough circumstances. I agree with my hon. Friend—it will be no good if we provide only the legislative framework without the wherewithal.

If we extended the provisions in the way suggested by the amendment, it could interfere with the family responsibilities or child care arrangements of the parent and therefore have the opposite effect from the one intended. In addition, changing parenting orders alone will make them inconsistent with those made under the 1998 Act. Further work is needed on the drafting of the provisions to achieve a more flexible parenting order that is fully compatible with human rights. That will require Government amendments. We will examine the matter and table amendments that, I

hope, meet the points made by both Opposition parties.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I rise to be helpful and think ahead. The Government's White Paper referred to the Dundee experiment, which was conducted in the context of housing. People who were not living well with their neighbours—to put it mildly—were put into a residential situation. Parenting orders would fit in with that. I have not looked ahead to see where in the Bill we will debate orders relating to housing issues, but links to and changes in wording of those clauses could provide an holistic approach for the whole family.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I assure the hon. Lady that we acknowledge the need for flexibility and, at one end of the spectrum, residential provision. It is our intention to introduce Government amendments in that vein; she can examine them carefully and if she is not satisfied, I am certain that she will make her views known.

Turning to the Liberal Democrat amendments, the precise circumstances in which an application can be made for a parenting order when a child has been excluded will be governed by regulations mentioned in subsection (1)(b), which amendment No. 150 would remove. The amendment would mean that each and any fixed period exclusion, including one-day exclusions, could trigger an application for a parenting order. Our intention is that an application for a parenting order should be made only following a permanent exclusion or a pattern of fixed period exclusions, and it is important that we set that out as a minimum condition in the regulations.

In addition, we intend that the guidance should state that an application for a parenting order should be made only when the exclusions are for serious misbehaviour. Examples of what constitutes serious misbehaviour will be given: they are likely to include violent and threatening behaviour. We intend to consult on the details of any regulations made under the clause.

Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 would ensure that neither the parent's previous conduct in relation to a parenting contract—their refusal to sign or failure to comply with a signed contract, for example—nor other matters, which might include mitigating circumstances, must necessarily be taken into account by the court in considering an application for a parenting order. The Government believe that the court should have to take into account any previous refusal by the parent to enter into a parenting contract or breach of any contract into which they had entered.

Parenting contracts are intended to help parents to focus on what needs to be done to improve their child's attendance at school or behaviour and to provide support to enable them to do that. If the parent refuses support or fails to keep to their side of an arrangement, that is highly relevant evidence for the court in considering whether to make a parenting order. I disagree with the Liberal Democrat amendments for those reasons. The clause makes it clear that the things to which I have referred are not

the only things that the court must take into account: such ''other things'' might include any extenuating circumstances that the parent might wish to offer in evidence. The clause as drafted is intended to avoid any doubt about the issues that must be considered.

I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will withdraw the amendment. I ask the Committee to consider all other amendments, including amendment No. 51, in the light of the tabling of Government amendments on Report.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

In relation the Conservative amendments, I am particularly grateful that the Government have accepted the argument that we put forward in amendment No. 51. I was slightly puzzled that the Minister said that if the wording suggested by that amendment were adopted, a situation could arise whereby people ended up with a three-month, every-day parenting order. Amendment No. 51 would not have that effect because the period would still be only up to 12 months if we removed the restriction. However, I understand the Government's wish to table their own amendments, which will also introduce the residential component.

The Minister's response has been helpful. What he said about tabling amendments to achieve exactly what amendment No. 51 is designed to achieve is welcome. We shall not press the matter in the light of the Minister's helpful concession.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Llafur, Normanton 10:30, 8 Mai 2003

Order. May I clarify that the hon. Member who is in charge of this group of amendments is a Liberal Democrat?

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to vote down or withdraw amendment No. 51. It is acceptable. The Committee should accept it, although it will need to be clarified by Government amendments. I apologise for causing confusion and I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole will move amendment No. 51.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

Amendment No. 51 is a Conservative amendment and the Liberal Democrats did not add their name to it, although they did to another one. However, the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole quite rightly expressed support for amendment No. 51. In the light of the Minister's response, I will move amendment No. 51 formally. The Government have said that they will accept it and we are obviously delighted—that is how Committees ought to work. The Opposition have come up with an amendment; in this case the other Opposition party have supported us; and the Government will accept it and will add other measures. That is tremendous and will lead to an improvement to the Bill. That is a good example of how a Committee stage ought to work.

When the media talk about the proceedings in Parliament, it is sad that they pay so little attention to the hours that we spend doing line-by-line, word-by-word scrutiny. People outside this place get confused about the difference between Select Committees, interest group committees and Standing Committees, which are the most important of all. It is sad that too little attention is paid to the hours of work that are

done here. Perhaps the Opposition and the Government can use the present case as an example of how Committee work can improve a Bill.

I am sure that by introducing a residential element the Government amendments will improve matters still further. There is complete agreement between Opposition Members and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) about the need to provide the resources for residential components. When he intervened on the Minister to ask about the residential aspect, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said to me that it would be a good idea to have a residential element.

The Minister might have slightly misunderstood what I said about the case in my constituency. That case was of a mother who, because of her son's dominant nature, needed a huge amount of help to show her how she could cope with him. The head of the special school said that there should be a provision whereby that mother could be taught how to do that. The mother would certainly have needed more than one session a week, so perhaps I did not explain very well. The Minister suggested that the mother might volunteer, but I do not think that she would have done. That example sprang to my mind as a case in which the Bill might help.

Having promised to move formally amendment No. 51, which the Minister has said he will accept, I am happy not to press our other amendments. However, as you rightly pointed out, Mr. O'Brien, the Liberal Democrat amendment is the lead amendment, so the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole is in charge of the group. I am sure that the Clerk will have advised you how the Committee proceeds formally in relation that.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall withdraw amendment No. 150, but first I want to comment briefly on it and on amendment No. 52. Now that the Minister has explained the regulations, we all understand—although we might not be very happy about the fact that there will be a lot of work, including a lot of consultation, to do after the Bill has gone through, the results of which we might have appreciated had they been available at an earlier stage. None the less, I ask him to consider the possibility that the position would be clearer if we put in brackets what the regulations covered, or if the headings on the list of regulations narrowed their scope. In that way, we could be reassured during the later stages of the Bill's passage that the regulations would not be a catch-all. I quite accept what the Minister said, but as things stand, regulations could mean a wide range of changes.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

What has been said has been very constructive. If I can go further and provide drafts, I shall do so. If I cannot go that far but am in a position to provide some headlines, I can at least do that. We will look into doing that.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister, and I echo his comments: we have had a very constructive discussion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 51, in

clause 19, page 16, line 34, leave out

'and not more than once in any week'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

I want to make two brief points. First, the Minister has announced a very radical policy, which represents a welcome development in policy terms. A residential component will be one of the options available under the orders, although we need to know a little more about what we mean by a residential option, and I hope that the Minister will tell us when he is able to. For the reasons given by many members of the Committee, it is important that such an option is available to help parents and families who are in desperate need of support to deal with some of their problems. I shall raise the issue again when we reach the housing part of the Bill. Part of the problem with housing is that local authorities will not evict families who cause mayhem—indeed, the courts will not give the orders—because they are worried about putting families on the streets. The residential option is therefore hugely important.

We shall have to give serious consideration to how we support schools in pushing for parenting contracts or parenting orders, given that some parents are capable of intimidating teachers. Some teachers, schools and authorities simply will not pursue a parenting order or penalty notice for some families, because they are intimidated by them. The Minister and his colleagues have been considering how to deal with the problem, but unless we give teachers and other professionals the confidence to go down that route, the orders will be available but they will not be used because teachers and other professionals will be intimidated. We must reverse that trend and rebalance the situation so that it is parents who do not conform to society's generally accepted rules, not those who abide by them, who are intimidated.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 20 and 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.