Clause 38

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 21st February 2008.

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Parenting contracts and parenting orders: further provisions

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment No. 188, in clause 38, page 20, line 2, after ‘cases’, insert

‘, in particular those relating to parents who are estranged from their children.’.

The clause gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations about parenting orders, and the amendment is intended to ensure that he would include in such regulations limits on the powers of local authorities to issue a parenting order in circumstances where the children are estranged from their parents. A 16 or 17-year-old child may have left home, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster said, on bad terms with their parents, and there may no longer be any contact. In those circumstances it would be unreasonable of the local authority to impose a parenting order on the parents, so the legislation should limit the power to make such an order in those circumstances.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We have discussed at some length the reasons for not excluding various, often vulnerable, groups from different provisions, so I shall try to be brief. First, we do not want to specify any individual groups in the Bill. Everyone will be catered for, but it is not appropriate to introduce caveats in primary legislation for a range of specific groups. Secondly, the intention of the regulations is not to exclude any specific groups of parents. The relevant part of the Bill draws on existing legislation for parenting contracts and parenting orders, and the limitations of the regulations in this instance are in reference to where people live, rather than the exclusion of any groups.

The reason for the regulation-making powers is to ensure that the system is flexible enough to respond when a young person who fails to fulfil the duty is resident in one local education authority, but their parent is resident in another. The powers are also needed to set down further details of what should be done in such cases.

To issue a parenting order, a local authority will have to apply to the courts and provide information on the background of the young person. That information should include details of the relationship between the young person and their parent, which would help to inform the local authority and the court whether an order against that parent would be appropriate. A parenting order can be made only where the court is satisfied that that would be in the interest of getting the young person to participate. Clearly, the court would have to be satisfied that an order against an estranged parent was in the interest of getting the young person to participate.

When we make the regulations, judgments may be made about whether estranged parents should be included, but it would be appropriate to consult on matters relating to the regulations at the appropriate time, rather than to pre-empt any decision now. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, and I just emphasise one point. The amendment would not exclude the group that we are talking about from the general duty to participate, but it does address the issue of whether a parenting order would have any credibility when applied to a parent who has no contact with their own children.

None the less, I take on board the Minister’s persuasive points about the court having to take into account the relationship between the parent and the child before issuing a parenting order. I was also encouraged by his comment that when he and the Department come to make the regulations, judgments may be made about whether to include the circumstances alluded to in the amendment. On the basis of those helpful comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.