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Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for reacting to the amendments that we moved. Amendment No. 4 relates to being able to find out exactly where guidance is required. The same is true in relation to nursery education and access to information.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for responding so positively to some of our concerns. Perhaps she will be able clarify some outstanding questions on the early years provisions. I hope that my understanding is right and that the points are covered.

The first point relates to bodies in receipt of a grant. Will a provider of relevant nursery education be able to request a statutory assessment for a child under three, although a nursery education grant has not been received for a particular child? For example, child minders are not in receipt of a nursery education grant and may not all receive finance under an LEA's early years childcare development plan. Will the amendment allow them to request a statutory assessment of needs? If early years settings have been excluded, it would be good to know the rationale behind that. My understanding is that all early years settings are included. Is that with or without receipt of a government grant?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, Amendment No. 48 seems to have been included for the sole purpose of infuriating me. Its only other function is to make the legislation less clear. Under the schedule as presently drafted, sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) of new paragraph 2 contain the reference:

do various things,

    "If, following a statutory review, a local education authority propose to amend",

etc; and sub-paragraph (3) reads:

    "But sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) are subject to sub-paragraphs (4) and (5).

That is not the most beautiful of drafting, but it is clear. Sub-paragraph (3) is now to be amended to exclude the reference to sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) and to read: "That is subject to sub-paragraphs (4) and (5)".

But what is "that"? "That" is usually taken to apply to a singular object, but we have two sub-paragraphs immediately preceding sub-paragraph (3). Does "that" mean sub-paragraph (2); or does it mean sub-paragraph (1)? Or does it mean both? It is inexact. It does not say what it means. I do not know how anyone interpreting the Bill is to begin to find out what "that" is.

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The purpose of drafting, although it may not be in the ordinary English that we use, is to be exact. It is meant to be clear to someone reading the Bill exactly what is intended. All Amendment No. 48 does is make the intent unclear. I hope that the Minister can justify this change. I do not really see how she can. If the intention of the amendment is "But sub-paragraph (2) is subject to sub-paragraphs (4) and (5)", why not say so? If it means something else, how is anyone supposed to know that?

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I do not know whether to welcome the amendments before the noble Baroness explains that point. I warmly welcome Amendments Nos. 45 to 64, including, for the moment, Amendment No. 48. The Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (IPSEA), of which I am a member, will be delighted with them. I thank the Minister for listening and for reflecting further on the points raised and for coming up with even more. I should particularly like to thank the officials in her department for the extraordinary amount of help and co-operation that they have given on these amendments. It is an immensely complex web of amendments. According to IPSEA's original suggestion, the provision for amending a statement and the provision for amending a statement following a fresh assessment would have been set out separately in the Bill. Possibly, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would have been happier. However, I look forward to the Minister's explanation and I thank her and her department very much indeed.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for their remarks. We have tried to reflect their concerns in the amendments. I am glad that they are able to welcome them.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, yes, the provision will apply to all early settings, regardless of whether they have a grant.

Turning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the last thing I want to do is to infuriate him. That would be a great mistake. I want to try to please him wherever possible. I agree with his remark that drafting should always be exact.

As I understand it, Amendment No. 48 simply removes the reference to statutory reviews, leaving new paragraph 2 to concentrate on the proposed first statements. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question and that he will accept that we are only doing a bit of tidying up here and that we are not attempting in any way to irritate him or to make the provision less easy to follow.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Advice and information for parents]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 4, line 2, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 3 [Resolution of disputes]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 4, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) "Independent persons", as required in subsection (3) above, means persons with no previous connection with the parents and the child, nor of any of the authorities involved in the dispute, but shall include persons of knowledge and experience relevant to the special educational needs of the child.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to a theme that has been discussed previously, but one about which I feel strongly; namely, the independence of anyone who is to hear an appeal. It should not be accepted as read that a person hearing an appeal would be independent in terms of their connections with both sides of the appeal, those prosecuting and those hearing it. It is important that the person should not only be deemed to be independent, but that there is a requirement on the face of the Bill to that effect. The wording of my amendment may not be perfect, but there should be an obligation in law, on the face of the statute, for a person in that situation to be independent. I beg to move.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I should like to make a few points about this amendment. I very much support what my noble friend Lady Blatch said about the importance of an independent supporter. The interesting passages on the parent partnership services on pages 10 and 11 of the code of practice refer to the fact that a new arrangement is due to be introduced. I should be grateful to know when the Minister envisages that sort of arrangement will be established.

Part and parcel of that arrangement will be the appointment of an "independent parental supporter". There is a small section on this in the code of practice at page 12. I fully support the appointment of this sort of person; it is, indeed, a very interesting appointment. It means that access to an independent parental supporter should be made available to all families who need one; for example, to support parents meetings or reviews and to provide a wide range of information on special educational needs--an aim that I fully support. It also says that the role of the independent parental supporter may be particularly helpful in enabling parents to make their contribution to the assessment in the statement and that it will help them understand the implications of any objective set within the assessment process.

So here we have an independent person who will have no connection with the LEA or the child's school, someone who will in fact act as a sort of parent's friend. I am sure that that is welcomed on all sides of the House. The code goes on to say that that person should be fully informed about local and national policies. Can the Minister tell us how many people are likely to be appointed to this role? Clearly, it will have to involve more than one LEA, because 20 per cent of children are now registered as having special educational needs. That is an enormous proportion, but it is the average for LEAs. I imagine that there would have to be a team of independent parental

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supporters. Can the noble Baroness give me some idea of how many she envisages will be needed after the system comes into operation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have to confess that I am a little disappointed that we have returned yet again to this issue. I believe that our proposals to set up informal arrangements to resolve disputes have received widespread support. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for his support for this set of new arrangements. I should point out to him that the statutory parent partnerships will be started in September 2001, which is quite soon. However, there are already a great many informal, non-statutory systems in existence.

The amendment calls for the independent person to have,

    "no previous connection with the parents and the child, nor of any of the authorities involved in the dispute".

This means that LEAs will have continually to seek out and train new independent persons, which I do not believe would be terribly desirable. The role of the independent person is to try to move discussion along and help those in dispute to reach an agreement that is acceptable to everyone. It is the parties, not the facilitator, who decide on the terms of the agreement.

Facilitating dispute resolution is all about chairing a meeting, managing the process, not the content, and encouraging people to express their views, as well as ensuring that everyone has his or her say in the matter. The facilitator does not determine who is right or wrong. Although many parents see these skills as being more important than the independence of the individual or his or her expertise in SEN, independent research carried out by the department indicated that they also want an independent third party involved. So parents want independence. We believe that our proposals will deliver that aim.

The minimum standards in the revised code of practice will set out that the independent person must have no role in the decision taken about a particular child's case; and that he or she is unbiased and has the appropriate skills, knowledge and expertise, including an understanding of SEN. Guidance will also emphasise that the independent persons must be acceptable to all the parties involved. I believe that that is the real thinking behind the amendment, and that that is what the noble Baroness is seeking.

However, if the noble Baroness looks at Clause 3 carefully, she will see that it places a duty on LEAs to make arrangements for avoiding or resolving disputes. That means that LEAs do not have to carry out dispute resolution themselves. We are encouraging them to work with other organisations in providing this sort of dispute resolution. We know that many LEAs are actively thinking about this in anticipation of the new duty. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, asked how many people we thought would need to be appointed. At present, the average number of independent parental supporters per LEA is about 10.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also argued that independence will not be a defence against partiality. I argue that no one can legislate against an individual's partiality. We are all entitled to our own views; but what we must not do in these circumstances is to allow our personal prejudices to influence our professional roles. That is what we expect from anyone in public service. Should we now assume, from what the noble Baroness has said, that all these people bring their personal views to work with them? I do not believe that they do. They are professional people. I am sure that they leave those views behind. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel--

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