Clause 30 - Right of redress

Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 3rd April 2001.

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

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

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.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

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.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I welcome the spirit of the Minister's remarks. Her clarification has been helpful, and she has levelled with the Committee by acknowledging that anomalies exist. They have occurred in legislation before, but in this instance there are good underlying reasons for them, and she has done her best to explain those reasons to the Committee.

My main purpose in rising is to affirm that it was appropriate to probe such issues. However, I accept the Minister's assurances, and the feelings of the higher education sector. I do not think that the route chosen is wrong, but it was necessary to pause to find out why it is right, and we have done that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 31 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.