New Clause 5 - Unreasonable action

Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 5th April 2001.

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`.—After section 496(2) of the Education Act 1996 there shall be inserted—

``(3) In connection with the operation of this section as it applies to Part IV of this Act (Special Educational Needs), any conduct by any body which fails to give priority to the educational interests of a particular child with special needs (provided only that this is not inconsistent with the duty on that body to provide efficient education for other children) may be held to be unreasonable action for the purposes of this Act.''.'.—[Mr. Boswell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It will soon be apparent to the Committee, if it is not already, that I am no lawyer. It is foolish and potentially expensive to pretend to be a lawyer when one is not. However, my daughter is a judicial review buff—I shall return to that in a moment—and I have been fascinated, ever since I served in the Department in which the Minister serves, by issues of reasonability and behaviour.

One reason for that is that Mr. Ricks, the chief legal adviser to what was then the Department for Education, was the author of an estimable little book, ``The Judge over your Shoulder'', a guide for civil servants. We discussed earlier whether we looked in the glass in the morning, and what we thought about when we did. Ever since being at that Department, when I look—metaphorically—in the glass every morning, I ask myself, ``Am I being reasonable?'' That is a legal term, but it is a jolly good discipline for Ministers and persons in all kinds of public office.

I cannot give the Committee a legal lecture, but I will explain the thinking behind the new clause. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Redditch. Had it not been for her response to an earlier new clause and amendments tabled to clause 1, I would not have found the references that have enabled me to construct the new clause, albeit imperfectly.

As I understand it, any public body—one that is publicly financed, or has some public handle—is, in principle, open to judicial review or to the intervention of the courts over the way in which it conducts its duties. The body and those who conduct its business have a duty to be reasonable. The so-called Wednesbury rules, although they do not operate quite as they used to, set out the groundwork for this important area of law, which did not exist in the United Kingdom until 30 or 40 years ago. Lord Denning was perhaps the person most responsible for that. The aim is to ensure that public officials, including Ministers, behave in a proper manner. That applies to schools, colleges, local education authorities, learning and skills councils and any publicly funded bodies. They must act reasonably.

That reasonability does not mean that somebody who intervenes to stop a public authority's decision is required to agree or disagree with it. A decision may be overturned only on grounds of process. In other words, if a competent authority makes a decision in good faith, based on the facts known to it, the decision cannot be overturned simply because the Secretary of State, Parliament or the courts think that another decision should have been taken. Proper intervention can occur only when no reasonable person could possibly have come to the decision taken.

An attempt to put reasonability into the process implies that a body's conduct is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have contemplated it. That is not a matter of a difference of professional view, but of serious professional failure. That will relate to the intervention of the Secretary of State, which is touched on in the new clause.

The new clause would insert new subsection (3) in section 496(2) of the Education Act 1996. I am sure that all members of the Committee are thoroughly familiar with that, but for anyone who is not, the relevant chapter is headed ``Ancillary functions of Secretary of State''. Just as the Secretary of State could not intervene unless someone had behaved unreasonably, within the broad terms that I have defined, nor could he continually jump up and down to intervene in matters in which a school or LEA had not done exactly as he wanted. I construe that to mean that the Secretary of State has a fall-back power. Indeed, section 495, the first of the chapter, deals with the Secretary of State's role in resolving disputes as a kind of court of last resort.

We propose—in the spirit of our earlier discussions about the rights of the child—that the Secretary of State should have a reserve power to intervene if, in the conduct of special education, any body had acted unreasonably within the broad non-legal terms that I have described. That would mean simply that he took a view different from that of an LEA or board of governors; there would have to be some systematic failure to carry out their duties in relation to education.

The Secretary of State would not want to intervene all the time. Moreover, in reality it is not only the Secretary of State, but junior Ministers and officials who may become involved. I can remember only one case, concerning the conduct of a certain matter in further education, in which I could have been tempted to intervene. I was extremely reluctant to do so, and ultimately avoided it. Such interventions are contemplated only once a year, or even once a decade.

Ministers may take the view that they already have the power to intervene under section 496 if an LEA or governing body is failing to promote the interests of a particular child. However, the new clause would ensure that failure to put the child first could be an unreasonable act. I spoke at great length at an earlier stage about the rights of the child. I am sure that all members of the Committee agree that children with special educational needs should come first, with the caveat that that priority should be consistent with the efficient education of other children. The new clause would provide for that. We are not saying to the LEA or school, ``Because you have one child, or a group of children, with special needs, you have to consider them at all costs and without any regard to any other children and their efficient education.'' We seek a balance. Our abiding concern is that an LEA should put children first and should be seen to be doing so.

First, that is, in a sense, a kind of forensic test of the fall-back power. The Secretary of State will not issue a circular on day one saying that SEN children must be put first. There could, however, be a complaint about which the LEA is intransigent. If it can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that the conduct of the LEA or body is, for no good reason, not putting the interests of children first—a good reason would be, for example, the efficient education of other children—he or she should be able to say that that is unreasonable. There should be a way to change the decision and to lean on the body to get something done. The kind of situation that I have in mind would involve an LEA that systematically refuses to issue a statement, in which case the matter could go to tribunal. However, it might be that the way in which the LEA leant on individual parents to try to dissuade them from going to tribunal was cynical and not in the interests of children. The new clause is an attempt to put children first.

Secondly, and I am grateful to the Minister for her earlier response on this matter, all our earlier discussions about giving priority to the child were in the context of admission to mainstream education. Opposition Members think it important that there should be a balance of provision among the various options and an effective choice for parents. However, that idea is tangled up with the question of whether there should be mainstream or other provision, which is partly a result of the architecture of the Bill. The Committee will recall—and Ministers have said this—that the Special Educational Consortium did not want an amendment. It did not want to retain the caveat about the educational interests of the child because it felt that LEAs had abused it. I do not accept that, but I can see the line of argument in relation to admissions to mainstream schools. If there is a debate about what is appropriate, there is not a level playing field for parents, who are not experts, and the SEN experts in the LEA who think a child unsuitable for mainstream inclusion.

New clause 5 is more neutral than that because it is not confined to admissions. It does not reopen the fraught and sometimes theological debates between special and mainstream education. It simply states that an LEA or body, including a school or governing body, has a general duty to act reasonably when it conducts special education for children with special educational needs, and that is incontestable. In our view, that embraces a duty to put the educational interests of the child first, and not to put anything ahead of those, provided that that is consistent with the efficient education of other children. That would provide an objective for the conductors of education, the authority and the schools, and it would provide a means of recourse to parents if they felt that that duty was not being discharged.

I suspect that the Minister will say that we are in tribunal territory, and I can understand that. However, it would strengthen safeguards for the child if the compass of reasonability could give priority to the educational interests of a child with special needs.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 10:00 am, 5th April 2001

In a real sense, this discussion turns attention away from admissions, although it is true that admissions might give rise to questions of reasonableness. Necessarily, and certainly predictably, the Committee has tended to focus on getting a child into a particular type of school, be it mainstream or special. We have perhaps dealt insufficiently with what happens thereafter, and nor, perhaps, has the Bill, although I do not want to make a judgment in that regard. The tribunal is part of that process, but my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry makes a persuasive case for the need for an additional safeguard to give parents confidence that, once a decision is reached on the location of education provision, continuing issues will be dealt with properly.

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

I am drawing my remarks to a close, and my hon. Friend has helped me. In securing a child's educational best interests, the first safeguards are the professionalism of the local authority special educational needs officers, special educational needs co-ordinators in individual schools and the system itself. One should not demonise local authority officers. They are under great pressure and try to do their best with the resources available, but certain cases give cause for concern, and the question arises of recourse.

As my hon. Friend said, a great deal falls within the remit of the tribunal. However, to be positive, we seek not merely a defensive, ``You-can-complain-along-these-lines'' route, but a statutory obligation and understanding that local authority officers and others should put the child's special educational interests first. No Committee member will disagree with that principle, although we need to argue about how to secure it. None the less, it is right to end as we began by reminding ourselves that that is the most important issue that we must consider. We must satisfy not just ourselves, but parents and future generations, that the arrangements to secure that objective are the strongest possible.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

As the hon. Member for Daventry pointed out, we conclude by returning—probably rightly—to the important issue of the child's needs and best interests. I am sure that, like the Government, all Committee members believe that the interests of children with special educational needs and their peers must be safeguarded, and I hope that the Government's commitment to that is not in doubt. The hon. Gentleman's choice of the sections of the Education Act 1996 on which to focus has proved helpful. I hope to give some reassurance about the possibilities to which existing sections give rise, and what the Department can do, and has done, in that regard.

In the debate on clause 1, I highlighted the way in which the Secretary of State could use his powers under sections 496, 497 and 497A of the 1996 Act to help protect the interests of the child. Clearly, the hon. Member for Daventry has reflected on that and is trying to make explicit the link between section 496 and the Bill. We cannot accept the new clause, largely because we believe that children's best interests are already safeguarded. In the light of the hon. Gentleman's comments, however, it is important to point out that the Secretary of State's powers of intervention are already clear. I assure the Committee that section 496 of the 1996 Act allows the Secretary of State to intervene when LEAs and governing bodies of maintained schools are performing their functions unreasonably, or propose to do so, and that includes those functions that relate to special educational needs.

The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of ``unreasonable'' was reasonable. If an LEA or maintained school abuses new section 316--the hon. Gentleman said that that is not the primary target of the new clause, but it is an important consideration--the Secretary of State will be able to act. If the abuse goes beyond acting unreasonably and amounts to acting in bad faith, the LEA's actions may be judicially reviewed.

When we discussed the Secretary of State's powers of intervention last week, the hon. Gentleman said, at column 68 of Hansard, that he hoped that we might be

``able to take the final step and achieve a system that stipulates . . . that LEAs and schools must do right by special educational needs children.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 27 March 2001; c. 68.]

The Government applaud that sentiment. I am happy to give an assurance that the statutory guidance that will back up the new inclusion framework will set out clearly the Secretary of State's powers of intervention and the general circumstances in which they can be used to safeguard the interests of children with special educational needs. I believe that that is the hon. Gentleman's main concern.

I confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has used the powers to protect pupils with special educational needs, and I shall give some examples that will, I hope, reassure Opposition Members. Section 497 was used recently to direct a maintained school in London to admit a child whose statement named it as the school preferred by the child's parents. Its failure to admit the child was in default of a statutory duty, and, in reaching his decision, my right hon. Friend had to assure himself that the school was suitable for the child's age, ability and special educational needs.

As the hon. Member for Daventry said, sometimes it is not the use of particular powers but the fact of their existence that helps Ministers and others to achieve the objectives that we all share. Officials, acting on our instructions, have called in a number of local education authorities when we have had concerns, often promoted by parents, about special educational needs provision. Those concerns go wider than simply the issue of admission to a particular school. For example, an authority was called in because it was operating a blanket policy not to quantify provision in statements, and that issue has caused much concern as we have examined revisions to the code. We also called in an LEA in which a child had been out of school for a long time because of a dispute about the school to be named in the statement. Those meetings were held on the basis that the authority had been called in to justify why the Secretary of State should not act. In such cases, the mere threat of using his powers resulted in LEAs putting matters right as quickly as possible.

The hon. Gentleman raised the matters of leaning on parents and cases in which LEAs refuse to issue a statement. He was right to say that if an LEA refuses to issue a statement, that decision could be taken to the tribunal, and that if a parent complains of LEA conduct leading to the statement decision, the Secretary of State could investigate in a similar way. If bad faith were alleged, judicial review could be more appropriate. That shows that the Secretary of State's existing powers of intervention, provided by sections 496, 497 and 497A, allow him to take action to help pupils with special educational needs.

I should point out some of the dangers of the new clause. The hon. Gentleman has argued that it is not about inclusion or the placement of children. It would, however, undermine our proposals to strengthen the right to a mainstream place for children with special educational needs. I accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that its sole intention was to protect children, but it would have a similar effect to the reinstatement of provisions in the first caveat of section 316. It would allow LEAs and maintained schools wide scope to argue that inclusion in the mainstream was not in a child's educational interests.

I pray in aid the arguments of Dr. Phillipa Russell, the director of the Council for Disabled Children. In a response to the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), she noted concern that the needs of the child were ignored, but pointed out that clause 1 amended only one section of the Education Act 1996. Dr. Russell said that the needs of the child were explicitly referred to elsewhere in the Act, the associated regulations and the code of practice.

That brings us back to arguments that I made in relation to amendments tabled to clause 1. The interests of children are widely covered, and are central to everything that we are trying to do in terms of special educational needs.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 10:15 am, 5th April 2001

I am listening with interest to the Minister's explanation. It would help if she were to write to Committee members to explain in which other parts of the Education Act 1996 the needs of the child were put first. It would be useful for that to be codified, so that we could review it before subsequent consideration of the Bill.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

I am certainly willing to write to Committee members about the way in which education legislation and the SEN framework ensure that children's educational needs are appropriately met. That is the crux of the argument. There is no dispute about the importance of ensuring that the interests of all children are met. Our argument is about the extent to which they are properly represented in legislation, the extent to which they could be highlighted in statutory guidance on inclusion, and the extent to which the Secretary of State's powers have and can be used to ensure that children's interests can be safeguarded and that LEAs and schools cannot act unreasonably.

As I have given those assurances, and as the gap between our positions has narrowed, I hope that the hon. Gentleman can withdraw the motion.

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

I am grateful for the Minister's response, particularly for her undertaking to detail the safeguards to the Committee. Even if one could find them by looking through legislation, it would be useful to have them consolidated and codified.

I remain in considerable doubt about whether perverse effects would occur. That was, as she acknowledged, one of my reasons for bringing the argument away from an explicit consideration of admissions policy and widening it to deal with the conduct of various bodies with respect to the Education Act. She has noticed the approximation being resorted to in the discussion of this matter, which has been based on the common principle of wanting to put the child first and the common understanding that, although most local authorities and schools want to do the right thing by children with special educational needs, there are deficiencies that sometimes go beyond mere inadvertence. They are sometimes institutional, and it is necessary to tackle them and put them right.

We are not hugely at odds on that issue. My hon. Friends and I remain concerned that unless explicit provision is made for the educational rights of the child, those rights may not be well served. The argument that it would be perverse to assert those educational rights is odd in a world filled with attention to human rights. We have had the incorporation into United Kingdom law of the European convention on human rights, for example. It is both odd and implausible to argue that declaring a child to have educational rights could subvert the exercise of those rights.

I do not want to replay past arguments, however. The Opposition will closely consider what the Minister has said. I welcome, for example, the fact that she has added more flesh to the argument that the Secretary of State really has teeth and will call in delinquent local education authorities and beat them up if necessary. I shall study with interest the safeguards that the Minister has said already exist. I shall seek an overview and try to judge whether those safeguards will be sufficient.

I should like the Minister to do something too, however. Will she consider whether, beyond today's discussion and my imperfect drafting and knowledge of administrative law, some wise heads can formulate a way to safeguard the special educational interests of the child, while minimising, to the satisfaction of the Minister and others, the likelihood of those rights being subverted in practice? I do not ask her to commit herself, but to reflect on what I have asked.

We have been afforded a fortunate opportunity in considering the Bill. Having thought that we should be running to the country tonight to begin other activities, we now find that we have another month. The opportunity for proper consideration on Report has already been set down as parliamentary business, and I cannot think that it is beyond the wit of man to come up with something to satisfy us. I shall see what I can offer, and perhaps the Minister can do likewise. We should have a benign arms race to find a way to safeguard a right that we all think is important and to find an approach to advancing the special educational interests of children that would not risk doing the opposite. That is the paradox that we face.

With genuine good will, in what has been a constructive Committee, and pending a further round of discussion on this matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Employment

I rise before we formally conclude the business of the Committee to express our thanks to you, Mr. O'Brien, and to Sir David Madel, for your chairmanship over the past two weeks. The hon. Member for Daventry established at the outset the aim of keeping the Committee good natured and constructive, and I think that it has been. That has been due in large part to the high standard of chairmanship.

I would also like to pass on the Committee's thanks to the Clerks for the way in which the Committee has proceeded. I would particularly like to thank my officials, who have done sterling work. Like all good officials, they help us to ensure that the legislation gets on to the statute book, is effective and can make the sort of difference that we hope it will.

I thank my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, who has made good use of her understanding of and commitment to disability rights in her contributions. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) who have helped to ensure that the Committee's progress has been civilised, but progress none the less.

My hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Mr. Ennis) and for Southampton, Test have played a key role as Parliamentary Private Secretaries in the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has also been responsible this morning for providing some of the best lines of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking.

I thank Members on both sides of the Committee for their informed contributions and interventions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), who brought educational experience to our discussions and highlighted the issues of particular relevance to Wales and Scotland. All of us wish my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South well in her recovery from her accident at the weekend.

On the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Members for St. Ives (Mr. George) and Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) were supportive of the passage of the Bill. They were also creditably selective in the amendments that they chose to table. They raised important points that deserved discussion.

The hon. Members for Daventry and for South Holland and The Deepings brought good humour and important discussion to the Committee. With his classical allusions, the hon. Member for Daventry added to our understanding of Greek and Latin, although members of the Committee were disappointed to learn that his erudition had more to do with the names of his pets than with a deep interest in classical civilisations.

In the case of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, we learned something about his appreciation of wine. Hon. Members will remember that the hon. Gentleman returned from lunch last Tuesday having enjoyed half a bottle of Chateau Musar. Given my ministerial responsibility, I have a passion for education and teaching, so I thought that it would be useful very briefly to educate the Committee about that wine. According to the ``Which? Wine Guide 2001'', Chateau Musar is a Lebanese wine. It is

``well structured and not overblown. It is usually released...having undergone painstaking ageing and final blending.''

In that it is not unlike the Government's arguments.

In conclusion, the Committee has delivered, after detailed discussion, a Bill that will fulfil the Government's objectives. It will improve educational opportunities for those with special needs. It will represent a positive statement of inclusion while maintaining the excellence of provision and choice for parents. It will improve support for parents, and information and conciliation services that will enable parents to be more confident in the system and therefore more able to support their children. It will improve the processes of the special educational needs framework. The Bill's disability provisions are a major step in outlawing discrimination in education on the basis of disability. They will open up opportunities for disabled children in schools and promote a strategic approach to improving access in all our schools.

We heard on Second Reading and in Committee that that approach is important not only for individuals but for all children in our schools, and fundamental for the creation of an inclusive society. In its post-16 and lifelong provisions, the Bill recognises that education without discrimination is important throughout our lives. In opening up opportunities in further, higher and adult education, we create better chances for individuals and make our society and our economy more inclusive.

I thank you once again, Mr. O'Brien, and hope that the Bill makes good speed as it goes through the rest of its stages.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 10:30 am, 5th April 2001

I echo, not for the first time, the Minister's remarks, particularly those about you, Mr. O'Brien, and Sir David, who have chaired the Committee so well and contributed to the tone of proceedings. You have rebuked us when it has been necessary, but that has not, mercifully, been all the time. You have certainly not unnerved us with your sternness. I should also like to thank the Clerks—as is always important for Opposition Members—for their assistance in drafting amendments, and the Hansard writers who have had to cope with Greek and Assyrian, but fortunately not the Serbo-Croat of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge—although there is still time. Thanks are also due to the police, who have hardly been required to keep order, so far as I have noticed, and to everyone who has taken an interest in the proceedings.

Turning to my colleagues, I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings both for the substance of his contributions and for having relieved me of some of the burden, as well as for his knowledge of wine and his commitment to special education, particularly for those whose special and educational needs change over time. My thanks go to our Whip, the hon. Member for Uxbridge, and to his counterpart. We have had a pleasant and not inconvenient discussion, which has enabled us to get a great deal done.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) has a passionate commitment to choice in provision and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford has intervened with a great general knowledge of education, and some interest in this particular area, convincing me from time to time. The hon. Members for St. Ives and for Oxford, West and Abingdon have kept to the spirit of these proceedings and have made useful and instructive contributions.

It is always nice when Government Back Benchers are allowed an outing and have something to say, which they do in this area. They have been authoritative and helpful, and sometimes challenging. I hope that I can say to the Ministers that it takes two to tango. We have had pleasant discussions. We have not agreed about everything, but we have agreed about objectives and have received some useful assurances. Without impropriety or invidiousness, might I also say that I am grateful, vicariously, to the Ministers' officials, who have provided them with good material, and to their draftspersons. There are Bills that one does not like to read, and there are those that one has an itch to amend technically all the way through. I do not mean to tease the Minister, the hon. Member for Redditch, about her propensity for occasional amendment, and I have felt that I am dealing with a Bill that has a shape and structure, and even an internal coherence, and that is welcome.

Drawing on my experience in the Department, I have always felt that it has been particularly strong on special educational needs and that some of its best people have addressed themselves to that, as is right. We would not be on the Committee if we were not committed to this area. It has given the lie to a purely instrumental or Benthamite view of education—that it is simply about productivity, competitiveness, national wealth or anything else. If my studies in the classics, or any of the indulgences that we have had in Committee, mean anything, it is the importance of the issue in itself. When we consider the interests of children with special educational needs, and further provision for them as they grow into adults, we must remember that they are not only special, but precious. That is why we are here, enjoying the Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Brien. We look forward to further consideration of the Bill in due course.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I do not want to detain the Committee any longer than necessary. I want to associate myself with all the remarks made by the hon. Member for Daventry and the Minister about how our debates have been conducted. They entirely reflected how I feel. I thank you, Mr. O'Brien, and through you Sir David, for the manner in which the Committee has been chaired.

Given the line taken by the Conservatives on Second Reading, I was concerned that the Committee would be more combative and difficult. I was encouraged by the nature of our discussions, and especially by how the hon. Member for Daventry presented his concerns about the Bill. As has emerged, his amendments were largely probing, as this is a good Bill and to be welcomed. We do not want to delay it finding its way on to the statute book. I did my best to contribute some of the classical allusions by using Antigone as a metaphor for disabled people. There will be less suffering from inappropriate dictat as a result of the Bill.

I congratulate the Government on the Bill. Our debates have helped to emphasise why it is broadly welcome, and the amendments have helped to tease out the elucidation of issues that have concerned us. They have also identified potential weaknesses that must be monitored, which has also been helpful.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

I should like to add a few comments from a Back-Bencher's perspective. I echo everything that has been said about your chairmanship, Mr. O'Brien, and all who have helped to make the Committee run so freely.

There have been some personal revelations. The hon. Member for Daventry reminded me that we used to debate together for the entertainment of sixth-formers 20 years ago. Not only did I teach in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, but I have discovered that he used to live in mine.

On every clause, us ordinary, time-serving Back-Bench Members have seen a positive benefit for our individual constituents. I think of the girl of 16 with severe special needs, who is at the transitional stage and considering further education. I think of the parent who wants an improved statement for her child. I think of another family in which the toddler has special educational needs. A lifetime of uncertainty could be in front of that family, were it not for the framework of intentions provided by the Bill.

I know that several members of the Committee take a special interest in the education of those with hearing impairments. It is important that informed choice be maintained for the relevant families, whatever the whys and wherefores and pros and cons of different approaches.

Earlier, I mentioned Chapel-en-le-Frith infant school, and how wonderful its enhanced resource facility for children with special needs is now that it has been running for a year. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, hides her light under a bushel. With admirable timing, she announced this week that the John Duncan special school in Buxton is to be replaced by a public-private partnership building in Chapel-en-le Frith—a blessed town—alongside the new Chapel-en-le Frith high school. That is even better news for those children in my constituency who have severe special educational needs. In this week of all weeks, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend.

The Bill provides a legislative framework, and the example that I have given shows that the Government put their money where their mouth is. We have done a great service to children with special educational needs. I am sure that I speak for all Back-Bench Members in saying that it has been a pleasure to serve on the Committee.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

On behalf of my co-Chairman, Sir David Madel, I express my sincere thanks to hon. Members for their kind remarks. I said at the Programming Sub-Committee that we would be fair and allow full debate. I have been impressed with the debates, which were more than adequate. I look forward to the Bill being enacted, so that those who have problems with special needs education will be able to call on it. I thank the Clerk and Hansard for their help, without which our proceedings would have been meaningless.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'Clock.