Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Boswell: An examination of the review, which would be generated by a responsible body, will take place if the LEA has not made the assessment within six months. Can the Minister confirm that parents will already be availing themselves, or are able to avail themselves, of the parental partnership, because they are within the system? We have already discussed the slightly rebarbative nature of official notices. Given that the Bill concerns real people, who are not Members of Parliament and therefore not used to reading official notices, they could be rather frightened by communications that start ``heretofore'' or ``under section X of the regulations.'' We need to know that there will be someone friendly to take them through the process to explain their legal rights, so that what is designed as a protection for parents and schools does not accidentally transmute into a subversion of the process. I merely flag up that issue.

Jacqui Smith: I am willing to reassure the hon. Gentleman that, during assessment, the parent partnership services are available to all parents of children with special educational needs. We envisage that that advice and support will be offered by parent partnerships throughout the country, as they are already by existing partnerships.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Duty to Specify Named School

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

Mr. Boswell: I shall speak equally briefly to this clause. The duty to specify a named school is waived if the child's parents have made suitable arrangements for special educational provision. Who is to judge whether those arrangements are suitable? I am sure that the intention is right, but I would like to know how the clause will work in practice.

Jacqui Smith: The arrangements made by parents would not be suitable if, for example, they did not include funding for a reasonable period; case law is clear about that. LEAs will be able to rely on the provisions in clause 9 only if parents have made suitable arrangements. Clause 9 will not apply if the arrangements do not include reasonable funding.

Clause 9 seeks to ensure fairness and clarity in the exercise of the duty placed on LEAs to specify a school by name in part 4 of the statement of special educational needs. That expressly allows authorities not to name a particular school if a child's parents have made other suitable arrangements for their education, typically by paying for a place at a independent school. In those circumstances, the LEA avoids having to name a school in the child's statement, and avoids having to keep open a place at a school that could be taken by another child. The clause safeguards the position of the child, while ensuring that LEAs make efficient use of their resources.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Discrimination Against Disabled Pupils and Prospective Pupils

Mr. Boswell: I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 9, line 25, leave out subsection (3).

We have done our best on SENs—although there may be one or two further flurries on the matter later—and we now turn to disability discrimination. I suspect that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, is about to come into play. I bid a fond farewell to her ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), and welcome the hon. Member for Barking to her moment in the sun.

These are hugely important issues. Members of the Committee will have gathered from debate on Second Reading that Conservative Members are not minded to object in principle to the inclusion of education in the disability discrimination field. I need not rehearse our thinking on that, and I shall not seek to do so.

I should like the Minister to give some account, during this debate or the clause stand part debate, of the interaction between the SENs part of the Bill and the disability discrimination part of the Bill. We do not want to set off on what lawyers would call a forum shopping exercise by taking one route to deal with SENs, then transferring to another route to have a go under disability discrimination. If I may say so, that might prolong the agony. It is important to understand how the two elements dovetail in the resolution of individual, as well as collective, cases of difficulty.

The amendment is a probing amendment. Proposed new subsection (3) gives the Secretary of State powers by regulation to

    ``prescribe services which are, or...are not, to be regarded for the purposes of subsection (2)''—

that is, unlawful discrimination—

    ``as being—

    (a) education; or

    (b) an associated service.''

In what kinds of situation might the Government wish to draw the line? I recall from earlier custom and practice on the interface, when education was excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, that several cases lay on the margins. We heard about examples such as the exclusion of diabetics from school trips and of disabled pupils from work experience—areas that, because they were not defined as education, were possibly caught by the 1995 Act. We are now perhaps entering lawyers' territory.

I am not seeking in any way to subvert the inclusion of education in the Bill, but it would be helpful to know what will be left out and in what circumstances. I understand the Government's position. Anyone who has ever been a Minister will know that Governments want to have saving clauses, sometimes even to deal with situations that nobody has thought about. However, I should like the Minister to clarify what is likely to left be out. I hope that it will be as little as reasonably possible, given that we have embraced the concept of the inclusion of education. It would also be helpful if she could speak about the wider aspects of how the provision will operate and how it will mesh with the SENs side.

I make neither of those requests in a querulous way. We are happy to express our good will towards clauses, but is important that they do not become discredited because they do not work as well as we would have wished owing to unintended consequences. Will the Minister respond to this probing amendment with that in mind?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge): I take this opportunity to say how delighted I am to have the privilege of serving under your fair and judicious chairmanship, Mr. O'Brien, even at this latter end of the Parliament.

I join my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in saying how pleased I was to introduce the Bill, which fulfils another part of our manifesto commitment on comprehensive rights for disabled people. It puts right a flaw that has incensed many hon. Members: that education in schools, colleges and universities has not been covered by previous legislation on disability discrimination.

To put that in context, one line in the report of the Disability Rights Task Force led to the Bill and, therefore, the clause. I shall read it to the Committee because it encapsulates what disabled people felt about exclusion of education from previous disability discrimination legislation. It asked:

    ``What value do we place on education when a disabled person has rights against discrimination under the DDA when going to the cinema, but not whilst at school or college?''

That reflected an outrage that we are delighted to put right. I am pleased that the Opposition have come to accept that it is unacceptable for that vital part of life not to be covered by disability discrimination legislation.

Mr. Boswell: We should accept that as a consensual and helpful comment. However, I want to state for the record that subsequent clauses of the Bill will unpick the arrangements which, although temporary and imperfect, were made in the 1995 Act by the then Government--of whom I was some little part--to run past issues of disability sensitivity in higher and further education. We may want to return to those matters when debating resources, but I do not want the Minister to think that they all emerged from a blank sheet of paper and that no one had thought about them before.

Ms Hodge: I accept indeed what the hon. Member for Daventry says about those matters having been thought about, but it is a shame that they were not acted on before. It is delightful to be part of a Government who are putting them into legislation.

I turn to the issues which the hon. Gentleman raised, appropriately, and which we thought through carefully. The first was the interaction between SEN legislation and disability discrimination legislation. We agree that clarity is necessary, so we decided that, in relation to schools, both disability discrimination and SEN issues should be dealt with by one tribunal. That will ensure clarity. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, the SEN provisions amend part IV of the Education Act 1996, which covers special educational provision, and the disability provisions largely amend the DDA, to ensure that the rights of access of disabled pupils, students and adult learners to education are protected. Bringing those amendments together under one tribunal will ensure clarity for all users of education services--children and their parents, students and adults.

The amendment is a probing amendment. I am delighted that it is because it would remove the regulation-making powers that enable us to prescribe what are education or associated services for the purposes of the duty on schools not to discriminate against disabled people. The history is that the Disability Rights Task Force considered what should be included as education issues to be covered by disability discrimination legislation and used the phrase, ``the life of the school'', which goes beyond the narrow definition. It said that it wanted to secure a new set of anti-discriminatory duties covering the life of a school. That is what we have attempted to provide in clauses 11, 12 and 13, which take forward the task force's recommendation. The life of the school is what is meant by the ``education and associated services'' that a school will offer its pupils. If it will help the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members, I will give some details of what that covers.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 March 2001