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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am very much obliged to my noble and learned friend for giving way. Might not the provision in this part necessitate the investigation of hardship? Let us suppose that the wife says, "I am withdrawing because I have had a venereal disease communicated to me", and the husband says, "That's not true. My wife is withdrawing purely because she has decided she does not like the marriage".
The Lord Chancellor: The basis on which an interim periodical payment should be made would be a consideration of the whole circumstances and whether or not in the circumstances the court thought it right that such an order should be made
The Lord Chancellor: I am always a little cautious in case I have not fully understood my noble and learned friend's question. I have never suggested that there is any limitation on the particular facts that would be required in order to justify an order for interim periodical payment.
Regarding the rest of his question, as I understand it, if the application was made within the first year, a month after the marriage, the divorce order could not
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be made until 24 months after the marriage. But during the whole of that time the court would have the power to make interim orders to deal with the justice of the situation.
I heard my noble and learned friend refer to, as it were, a predisposition in favour of divorce over separation. The explanation is that that has to be the structure, subject to the hardship bar. The question of hardship might arise in circumstances other than in an application for an order based on the bar, and I am not conscious of ever having said anything to the contrary. But it is quite clear that interim orders would require to be justified on the same basis substantially as exists at present.
Lord Meston: Amendment No. 13 was purely a drafting amendment, intended to simplify the provisions of the Bill to the ordinary reader. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor suggested that it may have gone too far in producing an effect, which certainly I did not intend, of facilitating a statement with a view to a divorce being made within the first year of the marriage. It is a matter that I wish to examine a little more closely and perhaps return to at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order has been the subject of consultation with a range of educational interests in Northern Ireland. All of their comments were carefully considered and a number of changes have been made to the draft order as a result of their constructive and largely supportive responses.
The order introduces new provisions relating to the education of children with special educational needs; empowers boards of governors to decide whether pupils should transfer to secondary education a year early or later than normal; redefines the four key stages of the curriculum; and fulfils the Citizen's Charter commitment to provide lay involvement in school inspection teams. It also makes a number of amendments to existing legislation relating to administrative procedures. I believe that it will be helpful to the House if I say a few words abut the main provisions of the order.
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The largest single element in the order consists of provisions relating to special educational needs which mirror those introduced in England and Wales by the Education Act 1993. Specifically, the order will introduce new rights of appeal for parents and will establish an independent tribunal to determine all appeals; it will enable parents of children with statements of special educational need to take the initiative and express a preference for a particular grant-aided school; it will require the Northern Ireland education and library boards and schools to draw up special educational needs policies; it will provide powers for a code of practice to be introduced and for the time taken by boards to assess and statement children to be regulated; and it will restate the duty to integrate statemented pupils with their peers in mainstream schools, so long as that is consistent with parental wishes, with the needs of all the children concerned and with the efficient use of resources.
A number of provisions are not given direct effect by the order itself but will be the subject of further full public consultation before being introduced in detailed form. Among these is a code of practice which will establish workable guidelines for schools, boards and others in relation to the identification of children with special needs, the process of assessment, the making of provisions to meet their needs and the procedures for making statements. Regulations will also be drawn up under this order for establishing rules and procedures for the new appeal tribunal.
The appeal tribunal will determine appeals by parents against decisions by education and library boards and will assume the role at present exercised by the Department of Education. This will ensure that appeals are heard independently of government. The tribunal will have a legally qualified chairman sitting with two other people selected from a panel of lay members, and its decisions will be binding on all parties.
The remainder of the order contains a number of miscellaneous provisions, the most significant of which are new arrangements for children transferring to secondary education a year early or a year later than the normal age for transfer. Each year a number of children are considered to have the ability to benefit from early transfer to secondary education, while others benefit by remaining an extra year in primary school. Currently the Department of Education is required to give a direction in each case. The order provides that a child may transfer to secondary education a year early or a year later provided the board of governors of the school consider it to be in the child's best interests and the parent agrees. Parents will have a right of appeal to an independent tribunal if they believe that the board of governors did not reasonably comply with the department's guidance.
Articles 40 and 41 provide for a limited incorporation of schools and colleges of further education respectively. These articles will ensure that members of boards of governors will not be held personally liable for actions arising from the responsibilities of the boards.
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This order implements the Government's commitment to develop the lay principle in all inspectorates, including the Department of Education Schools Inspectorate. This will bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales. The primary intention is to enable persons outside the education establishment to assist, on a voluntary basis, the department's inspectorate in the inspection of schools. Lay members will not be involved in matters of professional teaching. Rather they will bring a fresh but common-sense approach to the inspection, for example, of a school's organisation and financial and personnel management.
These are the main provisions of the order. We believe that they will bring significant improvement to the education of children in Northern Ireland, in particular those with special educational needs. It is a very worthwhile order. I beg to move.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yet again I am most grateful for the courtesy and clarity with which the Minister introduced this order. Once again, unfortunately, one finds that the people of Northern Ireland are dealt with after a delay which many may find regrettable when one thinks that the Education Act 1993 is, as the Minister said, the essential base model for this order.
One welcomes the general thrust of the order, in particular in respect of the provision for children with special educational needs. I am happy to pay tribute to teachers and head teachers who have to deal with such children, whose education is often an extremely delicate art. Is the Minister able to indicate the kind of level of financial resource that will be available for such children? In particular can she say whether or not on an annual basis there will be careful auditing to establish whether the funds intended to be spent on children with special educational needs have been put to their intended object?
Had it not been for that clear indication of government policy, the formidable Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, would be here and the revered and respected Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, would be here, as well as me, to complain bitterly about the suggestion that someone who came from a Welsh-speaking home was a child who had special educational needs rather than one who has infinite educational advantage and benefit over the monoglots we know.
Perhaps, a little more seriously, I may suggest that Articles 17 and 22 need quite careful attention. It is good that there is a tribunal (Article 17, at page 17) which is available to a child's parent. Article 22 sets out essentially the method of selection and the
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composition of the tribunal of appeal. As the Minister has said, subject to a case stated to the High Court, the decisions will be binding on all.
I have noticed increasingly lately in Northern Ireland, across a wide spectrum of view, a very great feeling, which is sometimes a feeling of anger, about the inexorable growth of quangos and quasi-judicial tribunals. This will be yet another. I ask the Minister whether she can give an undertakingif not, I can well understandor at least transmitthe feeling that when the personnel to be appointed to such tribunals by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and his department are being considered, there ought to be the minimum requirement of consultation with the president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the chairman of the Bar, Mr. Eugene Grant. It seems to many people that there is legitimate concern that appointments are being made to public bodies of great importance and power (and consequence in this particular context) without a feeling that those who might have some useful input have been fully consulted.
We know that there are substantial delays in England and Wales in the operation of similar tribunals. Can the Minister tell us that she is satisfied that there will be enough personnel to avoid delays? After all, a delay of six months, nine months or a year in the context of a child's education is a very significant delay indeed. Once those months have passed, they can never be recovered, in the sense that the child's education can be restored fully to what it ought to have been.
My only other question relates to Article 32 and corporal punishment. Article 32 (page 32) still entitles a member of staff or someone on behalf of a member of staff to assault a child in his care, though such punishment cannot be justified if it is inhuman or degrading. Whether it is inhuman or degrading depends on the circumstances of the case, including various different criteria. Why is it, in 1996, that a child who goes to a state school is not allowed to be hit, assaulted or beaten, even if the parents wish it, whereas a child whose parents pay for private education is likely to be hit, assaulted or beaten? Is it not time the Government attended to such recent reports as the Gulbenkian Report, which seriously questioned whether a child should any longer be struck simply on the artificial distinction of whether or not the parents have paid for the child to be hit?
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