Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Laurence Robertson: Does my hon. Friend accept that the parents who must try to find a way through the minefield are sometimes less well equipped to do so than other parents might be?

Mr. Hayes: It is fair to say that a disproportionate number of parents of special needs children are themselves disadvantaged. Some come from poor or deprived homes and may themselves have special needs. Some may be from broken families, in the case of statemented children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I do not want to generalise, but there is a germ of truth in what my hon. Friend says. The process is difficult and complex, almost by definition. People feel vulnerable when they are going through it. There may be a sense in which people, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, are convinced by too little, and know too much—or at least are presented with too much, whether they know it or not. We must be aware of that in considering the amendment and my hon. Friend's remarks. I know that the Minister will be sensitive to those concerns and I hope that she will set her remarks in context.

Jacqui Smith: There appears to be widespread support in the Committee for the objective of the clause, which is to place a duty on local education authorities to make arrangements to prevent and resolve disputes—both between parents and a wide range of schools over provision for a child's special education needs, and between parents and local education authorities or maintained schools over their carrying out of special educational needs functions. Of course we are sensitive to parents' different needs from the system. Our proposals are intended precisely to prevent parents from being bamboozled, in the words of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

The new arrangements should be informal. They are designed to be put into practice in a flexible way to ensure that they meet parents' needs. Their purpose is not to abolish parents' rights. Parents will, of course, enter voluntarily into the new arrangements. I hope that that point, and some others that I want to make, will convince the Opposition that the amendments are unnecessary.

The service will have to be neutral if it is to be successful. Its role will not be to apportion blame, to take one side over another or to act in a partisan manner. It is intended simply to bring together parties who are in disagreement, in pursuit of a solution acceptable to all. If it is to have credibility with parents, it must be independent. Parents want that, and the LEA and parents must feel that their views are being properly considered; or our objectives will not be achieved.

Mr. Boswell: I simply want to put this point down as a marker, as we may be interrupted shortly. To what extent will the service in any local authority be run past anyone else; what advice or other support will be given in relation to practice in other authorities? No one suggests uniformity, but we need a common approach on some of the issues.

Jacqui Smith: I hope to finish our discussions relatively quickly. On conciliation, we recognise that minimum standards for the function of dispute prevention and resolution services must be met. That is why, again, the code will set out the minimum standards that we expect—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past One o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Benn, Mr. Hilary
Betts, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Ennis, Mr.
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Harris, Dr.
Hayes, Mr.
Hodge, Ms
Levitt, Mr.
Moffatt, Laura
Randall, Mr.
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Smith, Jacqui
Squire, Rachel
Whitehead, Dr.

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