Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Boswell: I do not like to derail the Minister so early in her remarks, but I want to mention something that I did not raise previously, which is information to schools. She rightly points out that the provisions will impose duties on schools. School staff are not sophisticates in the details of discrimination legislation, and they will not have the human resources back-up of local authorities, although they will be able to draw on it. Will the Minister assure us that a simple, user-friendly, intelligible guide will be sent out to head teachers and governors—not another piece of bureaucracy but something that will make them go about doing what is needed effectively?

Jacqui Smith: Of course, codes are to be prepared by the Disability Rights Commission, and I am sure that those will be accessible and easily readable, but we shall also ensure that information to schools sets out clearly what is expected of them under the relevant provisions. It will not be bureaucratic or difficult to understand. Furthermore, the Disability Rights Commission will be able to provide advice to providers who have specific questions about how the duties relate to them.

The hon. Gentleman is right to think that in our view—with which he seems to agree—independent schools should be covered by the same provisions as other schools. Several organisations have responded to our consultation. Most independent schools organisations have raised queries about the Bill's application to them, but in general we are reassured about the notion of reasonableness. That is important with respect to the hon. Gentleman's point about costs. I agree that it is a positive selling point for any school if it can show that it is accessible and does not discriminate against students on grounds of disability. However, we expect that to fall within the notion of reasonableness.

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that if any future Government were to determine new forms and categories of schools, the appropriate way to apply these duties to those schools would be through the legislation passed at the time. I am sure that, given the hon. Gentleman's diligence in pursuing this matter in Committee, officials will make even more sure in future that that is so.

As to Scotland, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the definitions in the proposed new section are, regardless of the legal frameworks of England and Wales or Scotland, intended to ensure full coverage in Great Britain for the relevant duties in all schools.

Mr. Boswell: The Minister has given a helpful assurance. My only reservation is that it will be for the Scottish Parliament to determine whether it wants to restructure or re-title schools in Scotland. The Minister will have to ensure that it is aware of that, if it legislates on the matter.

Jacqui Smith: I feel sure that splendid officials deal with the legislation before both this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Boswell: I hope that the Committee will adjourn in a moment, so let us end on a conciliatory note. Before we descend into consensus, we are obliged to have a rattle on such matters, but we do not want the Bill to fail because someone has slipped up. It is important to have the Minister's assurances, which on this occasion have been entirely satisfactory, although I am sad to say that they have not been so on all occasions. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Betts.]

        Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to One o'clock till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Betts, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Ennis, Mr.
George, Mr. Andrew
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hayes, Mr.
Hodge, Ms
Moffat, Laura
Mountford, Kali
Randall, Mr.
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
St. Aubyn, Mr.
Smith, Jacqui
Squire, Rachel
Whitehead, Dr.

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