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Baroness Blackstone: Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 deal with compliance by LEAs of orders made by the special educational needs tribunal.

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Amendment No. 62 will require that the regulations to be made under Clause 4 should prescribe that the timetable for compliance with SEN tribunal orders should never exceed six months.

The regulations to be made under Clause 4 will be informed by detailed consultation that has already been undertaken on this issue during late 1999, with a wide range of interested parties including parental and voluntary groups, LEAs and others. The consultation put forward suggested timescales for different types of orders. Respondents supported the introduction of specific timescales for implementation of SEN tribunal rulings and were clear as to the need for them. We are still considering the consultation responses but I can set out our provisional plans on timetables. Taking account of views expressed during consultation, we envisage that the likely timescales for orders, such as making or amending a statement which is the most time-consuming, will not exceed five weeks. In some cases, orders will have to be carried out to a shorter timetable; for example, starting the assessment or reassessment process where we envisage the timescale being no more than a month. We also intend to require that reinstatement of a statement shall take place within a week, while seeking to maintain a statement shall be carried out immediately or on the LEA's proposed date.

These are demanding timetables but they take account of views expressed during the consultation exercise. We have sought to balance the wishes of parents for speedy compliance with tribunal orders with the practicalities for LEAs of complying with the orders. The timescales were also informed by the views of the SEN tribunal itself on how long LEAs would realistically need to comply with an order.

It must be remembered that when the tribunal comes to make an order there will normally have been a substantial amount of work already undertaken. For example, an LEA would have 20 working days, once it had been notified by the tribunal of an appeal, to submit its comments on the appeal if they wished to oppose it.

On average, a tribunal decision is now made in just over four months from when it receives an appeal. That reflects an increase in tribunal efficiency since it was first established when the time was over five months. I should like to make the point, however, that this efficiency of the tribunal is not at the expense of parental appeals. It would be quite wrong if it were to be. Of the 1,196 decisions made in 1999-2000, over three-quarters--78 per cent--involved the tribunal upholding some or all of the parents' cases.

It is unnecessary to require on the face of the Bill a six-month limit for complying with tribunal orders, as that will be substantially in excess of the longest period we envisage requiring under the regulations.

Turning to Amendment No. 63, the aim is to ensure that LEAs comply with orders made by the tribunal when it finds in favour of the parents following a

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parental appeal. However, LEAs will be under a legal duty to comply with such orders within a period which will be prescribed by regulation.

To impose that confirmation requirement upon LEAs will not provide any additional safeguard for parents and children, but would impose an additional administrative burden upon the tribunal which would be responsible for ensuring that such confirmation was received and then processing it once it was received.

Clause 4 ensures that LEAs will have to comply with SEN Tribunal orders within a specified time. We do not believe it should then be for the tribunal to start adopting a policing role and to follow up LEAs' compliance with individual decisions. There are other ways of ensuring compliance, including the ability of the Secretary of State, or the National Assembly in Wales, to investigate complaints from parents. There is also the work of Ofsted and the Audit Commission in their general inspections of LEAs.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that it will be possible for the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that full answer. There is nothing between us in what we are trying to achieve. There is no doubt that there have been delays in the system which are unacceptable to parents, and sometimes for a very good reason. LEAs and/or the people involved with the resolution of such applications for a place for a child with special needs present many problems, and sometimes cost or resources are a problem.

We are building on previous statutes and trying to minimise the need for delay. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I shall read carefully what she said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 64:

    Clause 4, page 5, line 5, at end insert--

("( ) Regulations under this section, so far as they relate to Wales, require the agreement of the National Assembly for Wales.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Unopposed appeals]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): I advise the Committee that, if Amendment No. 65 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 66 due to pre-emption.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 65:

    Clause 5, page 5, line 16, leave out ("withdrawn") and insert ("granted to the parent").

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment. If a local education authority notifies the tribunal that it no longer opposes the parent's appeal,

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surely the parent has won his appeal. Measures should be taken to implement the requirements of the parent as made in that appeal.

The subsection says that the appeal should be treated as having been withdrawn, but surely that cannot be right. The parents have not withdrawn their appeal--they have won it, and their wishes should now be respected. If the appeal is considered only to have been withdrawn, the LEA could legally still pursue a course of action contrary to the parent's wishes, which may even result in a re-application to the tribunal. If the LEA withdraws its opposition to the appeal then, ipso facto, it has to agree with it. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Does the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wish to speak?

Lord Lucas: I shall listen to the answer first.

Baroness Blackstone: Amendment No. 65 would treat these kinds of cases as decisions upheld in favour of the parent. The SEN tribunal already extensively reports its appeal decisions in its annual report, which provides a great deal of detail about the speed with which the tribunal deals with appeals, the number of appeals decided or withdrawn, the type of appeal heard, the outcome of appeals and the types of disability most frequently dealt with.

The tribunal provides that extensive breakdown of information not as a statutory requirement, but because it gives a clear record of the number of the appeal cases heard and the tribunal's ability to deal with them in a timely and effective way.

The tribunal keeps its statistical systems under review and will look at its current arrangements once the Bill is enacted. That includes the best means of distinguishing between types of withdrawal--for example, whether a withdrawal under Clause 5 should be treated in the category of "successful appeals".

From its extensive experience with withdrawn appeals, the tribunal already estimates that the majority of withdrawn cases arise from concessions by the LEA to the parent. The amendments would result in cases withdrawn on a formal basis under Clause 5 being treated differently from those in which something similar happened under a more informal arrangement. If an amendment is withdrawn, there is no opposition so there is no difficulty and the tribunal will make the order that the parent wants.

As the tribunal is already considering the issue, I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am not sure whether the noble Baroness meant that the Government are considering agreeing to an amendment along the lines that I suggested. Any case that a parent takes to the tribunal will clearly be against the LEA. If the LEA concedes or withdraws its opposition, the parent has won the appeal. It is almost mealy-mouthed not to recognise that it is not just a question of withdrawing--it is not a technicality. The parent has successfully appealed. That should be properly recognised.

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7.00 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: Clause 5 provides that the LEA has to comply. The issue of winning is, in a sense, irrelevant. What matters is that there is compliance as a result of the LEA accepting what the parents' case is.

Baroness Blatch: That strengthens my case, which is that if the LEA has either caved in or withdrawn its objections, or given concessions that now successfully satisfy the parents, the parents have won the case. They have taken the case to tribunal; before it is heard the LEA found some way of appeasing the parents, and so the parents have been successful. It seems to me to be more than a technicality. It has not just been withdrawn; it has been resolved successfully for the parents.

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