Clause 3 - Resolution of Disputes

Part of Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 29th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment 1:30 pm, 29th March 2001

Before we broke for lunch, I was trying to convince hon. Members that the resolution of disputes procedures proposed in the clause would be both neutral and independent, so amendment No. 8 was unnecessary. I had been questioned about the extent to which it was possible to ensure that all local education authorities fulfilled certain standards in the performance of those services. It is worth pointing out that, as a Department, we fund the national parent partnerships network, one of whose jobs is to share good practice in this area as well as in the area of parent partnerships, which we discussed when we considered the previous clause.

I emphasised, too, that we were in the process of finalising the chapter in the revised code about working in partnership with parents, in the light of consultation responses. The code will set out minimum standards that we expect dispute prevention and resolution services to meet, as it does for parent partnership services. That will include the requirement for the services to be neutral and to involve an independent element, which will ensure that parents have confidence in them. As I said when I talked about parent partnership services, LEAs will have to have regard to the statutory guidance in the code of practice that will set out those minimum standards, with the same safeguards that I outlined in the previous debate. I hope that, with those reassurances, the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I can help the hon. Gentleman on amendment No. 9, too. I reiterate the response given by my noble Friend Baroness Blackstone at the Grand Committee stage, as reported in the Official Report CWH 112. Hon. Members will remember that the discussion centres on the question whether engaging dispute resolution would affect a parent's right to appeal to the SEN tribunal. As my noble Friend said in another place, the Government recognise that it is essential that parents know that engaging in the new informal arrangements for preventing and resolving disagreements does not compromise their right of appeal to the SEN tribunal. We believe that that is best achieved through regulations.

I am happy to give an assurance that we will use the regulation-making powers provided for in the Bill to require LEAs to inform parents about their arrangements for preventing and resolving disputes and that, if parents take advantage of those additional services, their entitlement to appeal to the tribunal will not be affected in any way. LEAs will also need to inform parents of the statutory time limit for lodging an appeal and that the dispute resolution can run alongside the appeals process.

We envisage that chapter 2 of the revised SEN code of practice will reiterate the need to inform parents about how the arrangements will work and that they do not affect their right to appeal. The regulation-making powers mentioned earlier are set out in the Bill, in clause 8 and schedule 8. I hope that, having heard my assurances, the hon. Member for Daventry feels able to withdraw his amendment.