Clause 4 - Compliance with Orders

Part of Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 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 1:45 pm, 29th March 2001

As the hon. Gentleman points out, the clause is designed to reinforce and strengthen parental rights in relation to appeals directed to the tribunal. It will require LEAs to comply with SEN tribunal orders within a prescribed timetable, and failure to do so will leave an LEA open to direction by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate.

The amendment is unnecessary and potentially confusing. The regulations to be made under the clause are informed by detailed consultation with a wide range of interested parties—including parental and voluntary groups and LEAs—that was undertaken in late 1999. The correspondents all supported the introduction of specific time scales for the different types of orders, and were convinced that there was a need for them. The hon. Gentleman's amendment may stem from concern about those time scales. I assure him that they will be demanding and will ensure that LEAs carry out their duties without unnecessary delay. The time scales will not facilitate the idea that LEAs could, even if it was thought appropriate, put off action until later, which was one of the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

We are still considering the responses, but it might help if I set out our provisional plans. We envisage that the likely time scales for orders such as making or amending a statement, which is the most time-consuming, will not exceed five weeks. In some cases, orders must be carried out to a shorter timetable. For example, when starting the assessment or re-assessment process, we envisage a time scale of no more than a month. We intend to require that reinstatement of a statement takes place within a week, while ceasing to maintain a statement is carried out immediately or on the LEA's proposed date.

As I suggested earlier, those timetables are demanding. We have sought to strike a balance between the understandable wishes of parents for speedy compliance with tribunal orders, and the practicalities for LEAs of complying with those orders. The time scales were also informed by the views of the SEN tribunal about how long LEAs would realistically need to comply with an order.

The clause is clear and unambiguous. Parents will know the period in which LEAs must comply with orders. Any additional wording may lead to unnecessary arguments and confrontation about the definition of ``promptly'' and ``practicable''. To use the hon. Gentleman's analogy, to be told to produce something ``as promptly as practicable'' does not necessarily provide the clear idea that we believe the clause supplies about what the time scale should be. LEAs will, of course, be free to comply with tribunal orders as soon as is feasible, which may be faster than the time scales set out in regulations. Given that we envisage the likely time scales being as short as is reasonably practicable, I do not see anything further to be gained by adding to the clause, and potentially, doing so could lead to confusion and argumentation. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.