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Lord Morris of Manchester: Before my noble friend sits down, I want warmly to thank her for her response

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to my intervention. With I am sure many colleagues, I welcome and will be pleased to take up the kind offer she made, as I am sure will the RNID, whose enormous help to all deaf people is so widely admired on both sides of the Committee.

Would the Minister agree with me that current local government practice does not exemplify joined-up services in this area and, if so, how do the Government propose to change this?

Baroness Blackstone: There is always room for improvement in joined-up services. That is a long-standing problem. Successive governments have often found it particularly difficult to get really good joined-up services, but this Government are committed to trying to improve them, particularly in relation to young children with special educational needs.

Lord Rix: I thank the Minister for her generous response to these three amendments which, as can probably be imagined, were inspired by the special education consortium. They did raise one point that I should like to leave with the Minister.

The difficulty with the guidance is that something can be a requirement of a grant one year, as with the provider's policies. But it can change its status the next year if it is not a primary requirement. Equally, governments sometimes change and the special education consortium would welcome a commitment to anything more enduring than guidance.

Having said that, I am delighted that the opportunity will be given to the SEC to have further discussions with the Minister's department. At the same time, the response was sufficiently encouraging for me to be able to say: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 88 and 89 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 90:


    After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--


EXERCISE OF RIGHTS BY CHILD
(" . In section 576 of the 1996 Act (meaning of "parent"), after subsection (4) insert--
"(5) For the purposes of Part IV of this Act, a child may exercise the rights conferred on a parent in relation to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal if that Tribunal declares that he is capable of so doing."").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 90 returns to the public the rights of the child vis-a-vis the parent and looks at the question of appeals to the tribunal. The Minister said some helpful things at an early stage of this Committee on the way in which tribunals would take into account a child's views. Nonetheless, a child does not have a right of action in front of the committee. There will be occasions, notably I suspect for the child in care, where the local authority outside the tribunal table is the child's parents for the purposes of the tribunal. Therefore, if the child has no independent right of action, he or she may have no real way of getting in front of the tribunal. There will be other occasions when the child is in dispute with his or her parents and wishes to make an appeal to the

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tribunal when his own parents do not. It is not unknown now for children to sue their parents for various reasons, and there will certainly be occasions where a child will wish to take action in front of a tribunal when the parents are unwilling to do so.

If the tribunal feels it appropriate, I do not see why a child should not have a right of action in front of the tribunal. It would seem to be a reasonable extension in these modern times of the rights of a child. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Amendment No. 90 would create dual rights of appeal for the parent and the child where the tribunal considers the child capable. This could be confusing and is not necessary. I hope that what I am about to say will be clear to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

The new SEN tribunal regulations which will be laid before Parliament soon will entitle the child to attend the hearing of an appeal and to give evidence at the tribunal's discretion. The current regulations do not expressly entitle the child to attend the hearing, so we are moving exactly in the direction that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wants. In the light of these reassurances, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas: That does not answer the question I have raised. That is the answer the Minister gave a week or more ago, and which I welcome; it is excellent news. The question I am raising, however, is, where are the parents? Suppose the parent is the local authority. Is the local authority supposed to take itself to the tribunal? Are we really supposed to believe that that is practical? If a child in care is being dumbed down by the local education authority, will the local education authority take itself to court to make itself provide more?

Surely there are occasions--I do not just refer to disputes between a child and his parent which I can understand may cause the Minister some difficulty--where the local authority is the parent for these purposes. I may be misreading the legislation, but it seems to me that there is no other obvious parent or no truly independent parent of a child in care. I will listen to what the Minister says on that, but that is the question I am asking.

Baroness Blackstone: Where it is a case of children in care, the local authority is the parent and has to act as the parent. In those circumstances the local authority would be required to allow an eligible child to appear before the tribunal.

Lord Lucas: Yes, they would appear before the tribunal, but who is going to take the case to the tribunal? The child has no right on its own initiative to take the matter to the tribunal. It is the parent who can take the matter to the tribunal, but the parent is the local authority. How on earth in those circumstances is a child supposed to get there? A child has a right to speak in front of a tribunal, but it cannot get in front of a tribunal. That is the problem I am addressing in

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the amendment. The Minister is not providing me with an answer. I will not press the matter further, but I will certainly come back to this on Report, and will be grateful for anything she can say to me before that stage.

Baroness Blatch: Before my noble friend withdraws his amendment--I suspect that is what he is going to do--there is a genuine lacuna in the Bill that my noble friend found. While he was speaking to the amendment I realised that there is a point to be considered here.

It is fanciful to say that the LEA would never ever let a child down who is in institutional care within the authority. If the LEA is capable of letting down children with bona fide parents at home, and/or foster parents who can act in loco parentis for a child, then it is capable of letting down a child in care.

As mere observers of children in care, some of us would say that many of our children, probably a disproportionate number who are in care, are let down. It takes a stretch of the imagination to believe that the LEA would find itself wanting and would take itself before the tribunal in the interests of the child. Whether the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas is acceptable or not, the point he is making is extremely important. It would help me and I suspect other members of the Committee to know how a child in those circumstances can be represented. We are all open to the consideration of novel alternatives to the normal process. This is a real issue. The most vulnerable are those children in institutional care.

Baroness Blackstone: I accept a great deal of what has been said by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. However, it may be a mistake to see the local authority here as a totally seamless, single organisation. I said that it is the local authority which has to be the parent in those circumstances, not the LEA. The LEA is responsible for SEN provision but it is the local authority and indeed the social services department which have responsibility for children in care. Thus, it would be representatives of the social services department who would mount the case in support of the child where there was an argument as to whether the child was receiving adequate provision. I hope that that response helps although it may not entirely satisfy noble Lords opposite.

Lord Lucas: In the most perfect of all possible worlds that would naturally be the case and Ministers would not have to sign up to ministerial codes. Nor would any of us go on registers of interest because we would all behave perfectly and no conflict of interest would ever cause anyone to suspect that we might act awry. However, this is an enormous conflict of interest for any local authority to be faced with: that its own local education authority--a very large part of the authority--is misbehaving in relation to a child and that that child wants the local authority to take its own local education authority to the tribunal.

There is a clear and obvious conflict of interest and it is not satisfactory to rely on the goodwill of local authorities. That may in many cases be there but we

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know very well that in other cases it is not. We shall return to this matter on Report but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 91:


    After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--


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