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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she clarify some of the points that she has just made? She said she would go quite a long way towards meeting the objectives of these amendments in the code of guidance. I also think she said that when a statement is made on the needs of a child, not only the needs but the actual provision required will be spelt out. If that is the case, then I have to say that she could surely accept these amendments. But it does not go quite far enough. We are seeking through these amendments to give the child an entitlement to know that when his or her special educational needs are identified and the child has been sent to a mainstream school, it is up to the LEA to say to the parents, "This is how we are going to cope with your blindness, your deafness, your epilepsy and so on."
I do not think the noble Baroness is prepared to go quite as far as that, but that is what is needed. Education authorities should have an obligation upon them to say, for example, that there should be an educational plan agreed for each child, for each term. How many mainstream schools do that for children with special educational needs? I bet there are very few; but special schools do that. I believe that the noble Baroness has to go a little further. Maybe this is not the point to pursue this and perhaps it could be done at Third Reading. Perhaps by Third Reading the noble Baroness could circulate the draft code and draft guidance so that we can all understand what is meant. I realise that it cannot be amended, but we will at least have a clear understanding of what is in her mind. The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that many local education authorities do not handle special educational needs or disabilities very well. That is not good enough. These children should have the best education that our society can provide.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this is Report stage. We have just had a long speech from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I must remind the House--I hate to do this--that at Report it is reasonable to ask the Minister, before she sits down, for some clarification. I am willing to give a short answer for clarification, although the question was asked at great length by the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, she twice used the phrase that there are sufficient safeguards elsewhere in law. To the extent that those safeguards were not particularised in her later remarks, could she please write to tell me what she thinks they are?
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, would the noble Baroness consider talking to some of us betweeen this stage of the Bill and Third Reading about some kind of compromise? It seems to be extraordinarily clumsy, if I may say so, to take out the words "appropriate provision for the child", which is going to expose the child to not getting the appropriate provision simply because some LEAs have been misusing their powers.
Baroness Blatch: My noble friend did in fact ask the noble Baroness a direct question and I am not tall enough to recognise any signals made by her. It would be helpful if the whole House could hear the Minister's reply.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we have had a great many meetings on this Bill already and I have to consider whether it is reasonable to use the resources of the department for yet more meetings. Of course I will take that away and consider it, but I cannot make an absolute commitment since I have set out very clearly the position to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and others who have taken part in the discussion on this group.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am sorry: that was a churlish reply. I do not believe that I ever refused Members of this House meetings between stages of a Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested that it would be possible to reach a compromise between what is a very genuine desire on the part of noble Lords who have pressed their amendments and the noble Baroness, who has said that the resolution of these points will be found elsewhere. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, it would be helpful for us to know exactly where.
I do not know from what the noble Baroness was reading. If it was from the guidance or the code of practice it would be helpful--as it is available to the Minister and the department--for it to be made available to the rest of us who are involved in discussing this Bill. It would also be helpful to know whether it was the final draft, because I understand
Several times this afternoon the noble Baroness has prayed in aid the Special Educational Consortium. I have had meetings with it, as have other Members of the House, and my understanding is that it would like to see the best interests of the child met. I do not remember it having objections to some of these amendments, certainly those which refer quite specifically to the best interests of the child. I know that it would wish to see additional numbers of children--I agree with the noble Baroness over that--into mainstream schools, but it would add the caveat that we all have, that it would be effective only if it was done with the particular support that a child would need.
The noble Baroness prayed in aid other documents, either guidance or a further code of practice. These are not binding in law, other than that we are required to have regard to them. Therefore there is no obligation in law for LEAs or anybody to do more than have regard to the guidance. The suggestion has been made that something should go on to the face of the Bill, especially as the noble Baroness has actually agreed with the sentiments of these amendments. It would be a very easy step, as my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said, to give young people an entitlement--that is what it would be converted to--rather than for it to be in a code of practice and/or guidance, to which regard only "has to be had".
The noble Baroness quoted me from, I believe, a 1992 Hansard. I hold up my hands and plead guilty. I said that the Government at that time had a presumption in favour of mainstream where mainstream can cope and it is in the interests and the educational needs of the child. The noble Baroness did not go on to qualify that, but that has always been my position both as a Minister and ever since. I have to say that the words on the face of this Bill are in conflict with many of the things that the noble Baroness has been saying. There is a rigidity of provision for children who have special educational needs, but who do not have a statement. There is a rigidity in the Bill. The wording in the Bill is that they "must" be educated in mainstream schools. We shall discuss that later.
The Minister said that no maintained school can make arrangements without knowing what the statement contains, but my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, and many of us in Committee, said that statements are inadequate. Because the Government are not prepared to put something on the face of the Bill that would guarantee specification of a statement, they will continue to be inadequate because nothing
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to her confusion in relation to the amendments. I am not that confused about the amendments collectively, as each amendment is discrete in itself, except for Amendments No. 22 and 23 which are consequential. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly referred to tension being created where a placement in a mainstream school may be deemed appropriate as that may adversely affect the education of other children. That is provided for in the Bill.
If the placement of a child with special needs into any school, whether non-maintained or maintained, has an adverse effect on other children in the school, it will not be in the best interest of that child or the other children in the school. I see that being resolved by simply saying that that is not the best placement and certainly not in the best interests of the child.
Amendment No. 3 is unequivocal. Clause 1 states that a child with special educational needs, but without a statement must--I repeat "must"--be educated in a mainstream school. There is no flexibility. If there is a caveat somewhere else in legislation, or somewhere else in the Bill, this is otiose and does not need to be here. The Government either mean "must" or they do not. The Minister has given a long and complicated response to the amendments for which we are grateful, and because this is a complicated group of amendments I would like to read what she has said, although we shall certainly return to the issue on report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.