Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords]

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Ms Hodge: No, because subsection (6)(a) refers to academic standards and subsection (6)(b) to other prescribed standards. Subsection (7) deals with the standards required within the profession. That is the difference: the course and the institution on the one hand, and the profession to which the course leads on the other.

Let me provide two further reassurances for the hon. Gentleman, whose concerns I understand. First, if further regulations were necessary, they could be debated in the House, and would probably be subject to negative resolution procedure. Secondly, in our response to the disability rights taskforce recommendations, we made it clear that we intend to ensure that the public sector has a duty to promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. We have just introduced similar measures with respect to race. That should provide added pressure and help to ensure that the power is used only in circumstances where it is essential.

With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Daventry will withdraw the amendment so that we can proceed to the clause stand part debate.

Mr. Boswell: The Minister has made a fair attempt to answer the matters raised. She has responded to the feeling on both sides of the Committee that the clause should not be operated as a get out from the main intentions of the Bill, which were the reason for our probing amendments. The hon. Lady needs to remember that standards and what is feasible may change over time. I mention that only in the context of a particular constituent who came to see me. As well as having a tendency to fits, she had a diabetic condition that might have compromised her sight. Her immediate wish was to train as a social worker. She was already employed by the county council, but it was reluctant to allow her to undertake such training on the grounds that she might pass out and, during a period of unconsciousness, be unable to deal with a client.

I understand such a difficulty, but in most cases that situation can now be overcome. I want such cases to be an exception rather than the rule. Such a matter needs prescription and, as the Minister said, it needs regulation, which should be subject to debate. I hope that such a regulation will not be tabled until it had received a jolly good period of consultation and had rattled around the various interests. As we said earlier, we are not theologians. I concede that there might be a case for exception and, if so, it should be clearly outlined.

Mr. Andrew George: This has been a useful and—as the amendments have implied— a probing debate to find the limitations of how and when the two subsections might be used to provide for less favourable treatment to disabled students. The debate has been helpful in relation to subsection (7) on which I want to focus particularly. It has helped to identify the need to constrain the possibility for that subsection to be abused, although simply saying that it would be left to regulation and be subject to negative procedure is something that I am not sure about. One always hopes that some of the hysterical and outrageous statements made in public by certain politicians will not in fact gain credence with the majority.

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are other reasons why it is important to keep the provisions in the clause under review? The Minister referred to someone with throat cancer who was not able to speak. Given the developments, for example, in voice synthesising technology, it may be possible for someone to undertake a profession using such aids and adaptations in the future in a way that people may currently find difficult to imagine.

Mr. George: The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful intervention, because in a sense that pushes back the frontiers in the other direction. We must keep our eyes open for opportunities to ensure that less favourable treatment is reduced as a result of technological improvements over time. Subject to my misgivings, although I am reassured by the Minister's comments, I shall not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29

Further education etc. provided by local education authorities and schools

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Boswell: I promise not to speak at length. I understand that local authority services and adult and community education—the old non-schedule 2 formulation that has now changed because it is no longer under the umbrella of the Learning and Skills Council—will be covered by the clause. I have no difficulty with that, although I would grateful if the Minister's would confirm it.

I shall address further education that is secured by a local education authority. The 1996 Act states that the superior authority is the local education authority, whether or not there is an LEA or education committee as such. Therefore, there will always be continuity while there is a local authority that is designated as a local education authority. I am not trying to be difficult, but a case in which a local authority has decided to merge its education function with another committee should not be overlooked.

My understanding is that the clause would cover further education

    ``secured by a local education authority; or provided by the governing body of a maintained school''.

That would deal with the situation of a post-16-year-old who wished to go to school to do A-levels, which might be a sensible decision. Would such an event be defined as further education and caught under these duties, rather than within the school and the tribunal?

Many people would also find the following a desirable practice. It may be sensible for potentially disaffected young people who are within the school setting, registered in the school and within the compulsory school age group to carry out some activities in a further education college. Will the Minister clarify whether the Bill treats such people as treated? Do they fall, therefore, within the provisions that relate to schools, or are they further education students? We want to ensure that no one slips through the net, and that the body responsible in law is fully defined.

Ms Hodge: The clause seeks to sweep up all that used traditionally to be known as adult education provided by education authorities.

Mr. Boswell: And the youth service.

Ms Hodge: Indeed, and the youth service.

I shall deal with the situation of a 16-year-old doing A-levels. The principle that underpins the Bill is that duties should follow the institution. Therefore, if a person takes his or her A-levels in a school building, he or she would be covered by the duties that pertain to the school. A 14-year-old in a further education college would be covered by part IV general powers. All people are covered by the institution in which they receive their education, rather than by the category into which they fall.

The superior authority will have responsibility. However, I reassure the hon. Member for Daventry that nobody will escape. If a local authority has the choice to organise itself differently, all people will be caught, either by the local education authority or social services, which come under the remit of the clause.

I hope that that will reassure the Committee about the clause, which is intended to capture the diverse nature of adult education, which we all recognise. Differences from the formal further and higher education sector will be accepted. We all know that LEA provision is organised in a wide variety of community-based settings, many of which are intended primarily for other purposes. The range of venues is likely to vary year by year. For that reason, the duties rest on the LEA rather than the individual provider, so that the authority can draw on its full range of providers to ensure compliance. LEAs are caught only when they provide educational services to people who have enrolled on their courses. I hope that, with that explanation, the Committee will accept the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 30

Right of redress

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

6.15 pm

Mr. Boswell: In the same spirit as before, I put down a marker by pointing out our continuing concern about the functional distinction between a child of school age going to the tribunal and having to make an application through the court. A reasonably careful reading of the clause has left me with another doubt, and I should be grateful if the Minister could alleviate it. The clause provides that the right of redress should be through the court for further and higher education students. I understand that. However, among other things, the clause refers to damages and the notes to the possibility of hurt feelings. As I understand it, what may be loosely termed ``full civil rights''—including rights to compensation in relation to part II duties, when the individual student is employed by the institution as part of a work programme, or in relation to part III duties, with regard to services—might lead to a cash settlement. What are the bounds to that?

I want to flag up the hypothetical example, on which I touched on Second Reading, of two students of the same age, perhaps siblings or identical twins, who are placed in different positions—one in a further education college, and the other, post-16, in a school. Their routes of redress would be different, and so would be the nature of the redress, even if the discrimination were substantially the same. That troubles me, and I should be grateful if the Minister would elucidate.

Ms Hodge: In our earlier debate on redress in schools, I discussed the difficult conflicts that we faced in considering how best to deal with redress for children in schools and adults in further and higher education. I recognised that there were bound to be anomalies. After full consideration and wide consultation—the views of the voluntary sector organisations most concerned about such issues weighed heavily with the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, and with me—we decided that we would have to live with those anomalies. There was no way to square the circle and ensure that everybody, at whatever institution that they happened to attend, would have access to the same process of redress.

In relation to FE and HE, we decided to stick to the court procedures, which, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, would provide financial compensation to individuals studying in a school or FE college. That situation will inevitably arise. If the individual is at an FE college, financial compensation will be provided, including for hurt feelings, whereas if the individual is at a school, an educational remedy will be sought. We took that decision in response to discussions with FE and HE institutions about what they were most comfortable with. I shall speak briefly about those representations.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, FE and HE institutions value and guard jealously their independence. They feel that their autonomy as post-16 institutions would have been undermined if we had brought them under the special educational needs and disability rights tribunal system. They are accustomed to dealing with the courts on a number of issues that arise out of their past work, and the courts therefore seemed the appropriate forum for redress in cases covered by those parts of the Bill.

They also made the point that the tribunal would have to create a new body of experts to deal with post-16 issues, which would add to the complexity of the already complex and expanded role of the special educational needs and disability rights tribunal.

Post-16 learners make great use of facilities intended to benefit of the general public. Therefore, post-16 institutions tend to be more liable to be covered by the part III obligations of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which are handled by the court system. That provides an element of consistency, as those institutions will use the same system of redress with regard to their obligations under part III of the Act and their new obligations under part IV. It would have placed a huge onus on them if we had obliged them to appear on certain before an expanded special educational needs and disability rights tribunal, and on others to go through the courts.

I hope that the hon. Member for Daventry noticed that, when the matter was discussed in the other place, Baroness Blackstone said that she had received a letter of support for our approach from Baroness Warwick. The hon. Gentleman will know Baroness Warwick in her capacity as chief executive of Universities UK—formerly the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. The vice-chancellors believed that the courts were the most appropriate forum in which to hear such cases.

We have introduced conciliation arrangements in relation to discriminatory actions that might occur within the new part IV of the DDA. Those arrangements are intended to ensure that minimal use is made of the tribunal and court system. That should happen if they work well, and I hope that they do. Therefore, the anomalies, which, I accept, inevitably exist. should not often occur, as arrangements will have been reached outside the judicial system.

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