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Lords Chamber

Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2014

House of Lords

Tuesday, 7 January 2014.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

UK: EU Membership

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of public reaction to recent ministerial statements about United Kingdom membership of the European Union.

My Lords, I start the year by wishing all noble Lords a very happy new year. It is clear that there is wide support for the United Kingdom’s membership of a reformed European Union, both in the United Kingdom and across Europe.

I thank the Minister for that Answer and wish her a happy new year. Will she reassure the House that the Government will be earnestly rebutting the nationalist hysteria in some of our newspapers in this country and in UKIP about various aspects of European policy and will she constantly remind the public—and the Government too—of the enormous benefits that accrue to us from membership of the European Union?

My Lords, membership of the European Union is in the United Kingdom’s interests and we will continue to make the case vigorously as we progress with our proposals for reforming the EU. My noble friend is absolutely right that there is no doubt about the huge benefits that membership of the European Union brings to us, including the 3.5 million jobs in the United Kingdom which are dependent upon trade with the EU.

Is the Minister aware of the enormous damage that the Government’s constant criticism of this country’s membership of the European Union is doing to Britain’s reputation within Europe? Increasingly we are seen as a semi-detached part of Europe, and that does us immense damage.

There are voices across European Union countries that echo our sentiment that we need to move forward with a reformed European Union. Indeed, after the Prime Minister’s speech, we heard voices from the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and across the European Union who, too, felt that we need to have a Europe which is much more flexible and democratically responsive to the needs of its members.

Surely the noble Baroness did not suggest that, were we to leave the political construct of the European Union and maintain our free trade, as of course we would because it sells us much more than we sell it, any jobs would be lost. She was not saying that, was she?

I did not quite catch the question, but I can assume what the noble Lord asked. There are great benefits to our membership of the European Union.

Does my noble friend agree that, not only is there an overwhelming desire among the British people to have their say on this matter, such an opportunity gives all of us a first-rate chance to make the case for strong membership of Europe?

My noble friend makes a vital point. The question about the direction in which the European Union is heading is out there and ignoring it will not make it go away. Therefore it is right that the Conservative Party’s political view is that we will negotiate a fresh settlement and then hold an in/out referendum before the end of 2017. We on these Benches feel that we need to let Britain decide, and I hope noble Lords will follow in the referendum Bill we have at the end of the week.

Will the noble Baroness accept that, grateful as we all were for her best wishes for a happy new year, perhaps she ought to direct them to Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron with a maybe forlorn hope that they will manage to get on with each other on the important issue of Europe?

I firmly hope and believe that the season of good will is not over. I can assure the noble Lord that, as far as the coalition is concerned, the season of good will is certainly there and we have a coalition that is working well.

My Lords, given the leadership role that the noble Baroness has just outlined for Britain regarding a number of countries in Europe, can she say whether that leadership will be advocating to those countries that they should undertake a referendum in the form that we are?

I will repeat the question and try to put it in simple terms. Are we as the new leaders of a grouping in Europe advocating that others should undertake a referendum in the form that we are likely to take in this country?

I think the Conservative Party’s position is that this country needs to have the option to decide and that is why we feel that a referendum should be held in this country before the end of 2017.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the leadership of the EU, which will of course be renewed post the European elections in 2014, would be advantaged by having a senior Briton among its leadership team? We have had the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who we know has done such a super job. Does she agree that in seeking a British candidate on the leadership team it would be again be highly advantageous to have a female in those positions?

My Lords, I am always supportive of Brits holding leadership positions in all institutions, including EU ones. Certainly, strong female leaders from this House have made a great impact in those institutions.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the Government are going about it in the right way to win friends and influence people to carry through their legitimate programme of reform for the EU? In the last month we have seen Ministers of the Crown stigmatising Bulgarians and Romanians as benefit tourists, threatening, to the great annoyance of the Polish Foreign Minister, Poles with benefit changes in the UK and attempting to blame Germany for all the horrors of the First World War. Is this the right way to go about winning friends in Europe?

It is important that Ministers do what they can to make sure that the best possible outcome for Britain is achieved. I think the noble Lord would accept that the first ever cut in the EU’s seven-year budget last year and protection of the UK’s rebate were two great successes. He would also accept that changes and reforms to the common fisheries policy—again Britain putting its interests on the table but doing so in the interests of all of the European Union—are progressive steps. We can therefore show that the Government can act in the interests of the United Kingdom in a way that is also beneficial to the rest of the European Union.

As a former MEP, can I ask the noble Baroness to tell us what the great benefits of membership of the European Union are, other than the single market?

Of course, the single market is one of its greatest benefits, both in relation to the amount of trade—the large marketplace that the European Union presents—and the free movement of persons around the European Union. Let us not also forget that the ambitious trade treaties that the European Union has managed to negotiate with larger developing economies around the world have had great benefits for Britain.

Immigration

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what preliminary assessment they have made of the recent lifting of restrictions on citizens coming to the United Kingdom from Romania and Bulgaria.

My Lords, it is too early to provide such an assessment. We have taken the advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which concluded that it would not be sensible or helpful to policymakers to make predictions about likely volumes. The Government are doing everything they can to ensure that people who come to the UK from the EU do so for the right reasons—to work hard and to contribute to our economy and society.

I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he accept that migrants from these countries, many of them highly skilled, come to Britain because the expanding, vibrant and welcoming economy gives many opportunities for self-advancement? Secondly, has he sympathy with Romanian Ministers who have pointed out that, with 866,000 persons in the UK being registered unemployed for more than a year, the UK Government might be well employed in reviewing benefit levels for the UK unemployed to a level at which they might be encouraged to apply for some of the vacancies currently being filled by the migrants?

My Lords, on my noble friend’s first question: yes, this is one of the benefits of the free movement of labour around the community, so if one country is doing better than another we can get a flow of labour to equalise things. On the second point, on benefit levels, it is not my responsibility to answer for the Home Office on migration issues.

My Lords, amid all the unpleasantness in parts of the media over the past few weeks about Romanians and Bulgarians, has the noble Earl had the time to see the study recently published by a team from University College London, which shows that immigrants from the EU over the past 10 years have contributed far more in taxes and national insurance contributions than they have consumed in public services and in benefits, unlike the position of the native population? In other words, they have supplied us with a substantial financial and fiscal surplus, to the benefit of every taxpayer in this country. Is there not every probability that hard-working Romanians and Bulgarians will follow in the same footsteps?

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord’s last question is yes. On his first question, I handled business on that particular report. I cannot remember the precise details, but I broadly agree with the noble Lord’s thrust.

Can the noble Earl confirm my recollection that all three main parties supported the seven-year transition period that expired last week for Romanians and Bulgarians, and gave it wholehearted support when this House and the other place ratified their accession treaties?

Again, the noble Lord is right. This is what we signed up to in the accession treaties for these two states. However, we need to stimulate a debate within the community about how best to manage transition in the future.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware, as I am, of the benefits of free movement enjoyed in the past, now and, I hope, in the future, by British citizens in the EU? Is it not a case of, “Do as you would be done by”?

My noble friend is absolutely right. There is two-way traffic, both to and from member states in the EU. There are great benefits from the free movement of labour.

My Lords, would my noble friend remind the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that when we debated the question of former satellite countries joining the European Union, some of us were considerably less than wholehearted. In fact, we queried whether the figure of 13,000 likely new arrivals was accurate. As it turned out, of course, it was nearer a million than 13,000, so our reservations at that time were fully justified.

My noble friend may have been talking about the accession of Poland. A very large number of Poles came to this country. I was talking about Romania and Bulgaria, where we expect that the numbers will not be so large.

My Lords, the Minister said in his Answer that it was too early to make an assessment of the numbers. However, some of the language from the Government has been quite alarmist rhetoric. Would it not be better to look at measures to stop any workers being exploited, such as stronger and better enforcement of the national minimum wage, and also to tackle those loopholes that allow agency workers, often from overseas, to be employed at much lower rates than home-grown employees?

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. One thing that we have done is to increase very significantly the fixed penalty for employers for not paying the minimum wage. We also need to look at a number of instances where immigrant labour is being abused—for instance, agricultural workers from eastern Europe. The noble Baroness is right; we need to keep a grip on this.

My Lords, whatever reservations we might or might not have had concerning the expansion of the European Union, will Her Majesty’s Government give an undertaking that unless and until we extricate ourselves from the Union, we will loyally and honourably accept all our legal obligations in respect of it?

My Lords, I assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government do have a policy of adhering to treaty obligations. That is why we are very happy with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, and with the free movement of those peoples, from 1 January.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Am I having an aberration? The opposition Front Bench complained about loopholes introduced by the agency workers scheme. Will my noble friend confirm that the scheme was introduced by the previous Labour Government?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right—but, equally, we must close the loopholes and avoid the abuse of low-cost labour from eastern Europe.

My Lords, if what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about the seven-year accession arrangements was correct, why do Mr Cameron and government Ministers go on television and accuse the previous Labour Government of acting irresponsibly?

My Lords, it is important to make sure that we have transitional arrangements for future accessions that work properly and do not have undesirable effects, especially when the acceding state has a lower GDP per capita than the rest of the community.

Families: Troubled Families

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made with the Troubled Families Programme.

My Lords, this Government’s ambition to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families is on track. In November, 18 months into the three- year programme, we announced that more than half the families are being worked with and more than 22,000 have been turned around. This means that children are back in school, levels of youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been significantly reduced, and more than 1,400 adults from some of England’s hardest-to-help households are now in continuous work.

That is very good news from a very important social programme. Can my noble friend tell me whether she is getting enough mentors on this programme? These are one-to-one relationships—that is the programme’s strength—and we need very good-quality mentors to do that. Secondly, is she getting enough co-operation from local authorities, which are in the driving seat on this?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this important matter. As noble Lords have just heard me say, we define the term “troubled families” by using specific criteria. Often that does not give the true picture of just how entrenched those families are in terms of their dependency and how some of them have to deal with violence, drugs and crime in intergenerational families. In the past, lots of agencies have worked with them but got nowhere fast. On the point my noble friend raises, many social workers want to come forward and be the key worker in charge of working with those families. There has been no problem whatever with recruiting for that, and the local authorities have been very proactive in moving forward with this programme. As regards turning those families around, this programme is about reducing their dependency on the state and giving them, and especially their children, the chance of a decent life.

My Lords, the Troubled Families programme, as it is, is a good programme. But how would it help troubled families to turn their lives around positively if the Government were to cut £25 billion more from public expenditure, of which £12 billion would come from the social security budget?

My Lords, when this Government came into office they were committed to the reform of our welfare system, and are, indeed, reforming it. We are also cutting back on some of those levels of payments which we considered unfair. As the noble Lord has just heard me say, we are also helping the most desperate of families so that they, too, have a chance of getting on in life. This Government’s approach is to make sure that we leave no one behind, and that is what we are doing.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the commitment that we have heard about benefit spend in future is a commitment for a future Government, not for this Government? Does she also agree that the Troubled Families programme, which is doing so well at the moment, acts as a suitable counterbalance to the sanctions regime, which comes from the benefits structure? But of course two separate government departments are involved there. Can she tell the House what arrangements there are for the linkages between local authorities and the DCLG and the DWP and Jobcentre Plus and all the mechanisms of government in that department?

The DCLG, the DWP and other departments across Whitehall are working together in an unprecedented manner on the Troubled Families programme. At local authority level, there is fantastic co-operation between local authorities and the DWP. We now have 152 Jobcentre Plus staff plugged in as part of the Troubled Families programme, directly concerned with securing work for the adults in these families.

My Lords, while accepting the value of the Troubled Families programme, does the Minister not accept that it is really important to get in early when working with families at a preventive level, and that hard-pressed social workers in local authorities find it increasingly difficult to do the work that would stop families falling into the sort of chaos that takes them into the Troubled Families programme?

In this phase of the programme, with regard to the 120,000 families that we are working with and those that we have identified, a lot of problems stem back to earlier generations. Their problems are so entrenched that they go beyond the immediate family that we are focusing on. We have committed to extending this programme; new money is being committed for the next spending round. When we extend the programme, what we have planned to happen, and expect to happen, is to intervene with those families at an earlier stage, to prevent exactly what the noble Baroness has described.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a considerable body of research and expertise pointing to the vital importance of relationship support in strengthening families? As there are no specific references to family relationships or positive family dynamics in the progress report, will she ask the Troubled Families programme to prioritise such support in the next phase of its work?

I understand the point that the right reverend Prelate makes. I can certainly assure him that, in the approach being taken by the programme, the key worker who works with every family is there to address all the fundamental problems that the family experiences—and, if that means relationship issues, that is what they will support that family on.

My Lords, on the question of departments working together, the Minister will be aware of a parallel DWP programme focused on families with multiple problems. Both programmes fund improvements in employability, crime and anti-social behaviour, among a similar group of people, and both fund similar activities. However, there were separate assessments of need, separate business cases and the programmes were launched within four months of each other without any clear data to show which programme was best suited to addressing which issue. The NAO has pointed out that that led to poor performance and loss of value for money. What are the Government going to do about that?

The recent NAO report, as with all NAO reports, is a useful and constructive contribution to how we can extend and build on the work that we are doing. However, as the noble Lord has heard me explain, one measure that we have introduced is to use Jobcentre Plus staff in this programme to address specifically the issue of work, and there is great co-operation between the two departments.

South Sudan

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in response to recent developments in South Sudan.

My Lords, the UK is deeply concerned by the terrible violence in South Sudan that began on 15 December 2013. The UK has supported political talks between representatives of President Kiir and former Vice-President Machar. We have provided additional humanitarian assistance on top of our existing commitments to South Sudan and consular support to British nationals.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Does she agree that one of the most disturbing aspects of this tragic situation is Riek Machar’s delaying the peace talks, thereby prolonging the fighting that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 200,000, who are now living in life-threatening conditions; and that he has a disturbing track record of changing allegiance and of brutality, including responsibility for one of the worst massacres of the previous war? Will Her Majesty’s Government provide all possible support for the African Union and IGAD to promote a political solution as a matter of urgency and press Riek Machar to join President Salva Kiir’s serious commitment to a ceasefire?

My Lords, unfortunately, the fighting continues in South Sudan. As we are in the middle of sensitive negotiations on the substantive issues between the two parties, rather than procedural matters, it would be the wrong time to try to attribute blame. It is clear that both sides have a case to answer for the violence that we have seen over the past few weeks. The UK is engaged in encouraging participation in the peace negotiations led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is leading the mediation efforts.

My Lords, I think it is generally accepted that the present conflict arises from the power struggle between Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, with scant regard for some 200,000 displaced Sudanese citizens and more than 1,000 killed so far, as the noble Baroness pointed out. What is the Government’s reaction to the call for urgent additional humanitarian aid, not just bringing forward an existing programme but additional aid to help these people in such a desperate situation? With regard to the negotiations that have begun in Addis Ababa, what discussions are the Government, as a member of the CPA troika, having with like-minded parties: for example, Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister; Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan; and the chair of the AU, Madame Zuma? What discussions are they having with the EU’s representatives to the African Union?

On the humanitarian question, I assure my noble friend that, as regards the £60 million already allocated to South Sudan, the relevant programmes continue. We have allocated an additional £12.5 million specifically to address the current humanitarian emergency. In terms of the support for the political process, he is, of course, familiar with the troika partners. We, the US and Norway have been involved over a number of years in taking forward work in relation to South Sudan. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary has been in touch with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, the Ugandan Foreign Minister, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, the Ugandan President and, indeed, with Secretary Kerry on the negotiations. The main challenge was to get representatives of both sides to the table. That has now been achieved. They have met in Addis Ababa from 2 January and, as of today, they have started substantive discussions.

My Lords, this is probably one of the most deeply depressing developments experienced by those of us who have spent time in Juba trying to deal with peace, health and food security issues with President Salva Kiir and his original team. The fact that negotiations are taking place in Addis Ababa is, of course, welcome, if the participants take the process seriously. The United Nations Security Council passing a resolution demanding a ceasefire while the negotiations took place would at least indicate the world’s abhorrence for this violent outbreak. I do not believe that it would impede the African Union’s work at all. Will the United Kingdom and its friends sponsor such a resolution immediately?

The Foreign Secretary has issued a number of statements in which he has called for the violence to stop. As the noble Lord is aware, the United Nations Security Council resolution, which I think was passed on Christmas Eve, was specifically intended to ensure that further troops were put on the ground quickly to try to stop the situation deteriorating. They also strengthened the existing UN mission in South Sudan to support its humanitarian work so that the human rights abuses that were occurring were properly documented to ensure that responsibility follows these acts. The negotiations between the representatives of the two parties are ongoing. We have done a huge amount of work in the background but also in leading these negotiations. The Foreign Office’s political director, Simon Gass, was there throughout the Christmas period, working with the US and his other counterparts. If it is felt that a further UN Security Council resolution is required over and above the statement issued on 30 December, I will certainly take the noble Lord’s views back.

My Lords, in her written reply to me on 3 January, the Minister said that the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2132 authorised a significant increase in the number of troops in the UNMISS force in South Sudan. Can she tell us what the numbers actually are and whether she believes that they will be up to the task of dealing with the situation, which, as we have heard, has led to a displacement of 200,000 people? Does she not also agree that there is a real danger that these events in South Sudan will distract the world from looking at what is happing just over the border in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur, where the campaign of aerial bombardment by Khartoum goes on as we meet?

The noble Lord, as always, makes an informed and important point. In relation to the UN Security Council resolution, a further five battalions were committed, which amounts to about 5,500 troops. Three police units were specifically granted, which amounts to about 480 personnel—those are the increased numbers at this stage. The noble Lord makes an important point about regional challenges, but one of the positive features of this current tragedy is how, for example, Ethiopia, Uganda and even Sudan have acted in a much more responsible way. There has certainly been a suggestion that there could be some joint working between Sudan and South Sudan, maybe in relation to keeping the oil flows going.

Water Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved by

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clause 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 to 25, Clauses 36 to 39, Clause 26, Schedule 3, Clauses 27 to 32, Schedule 4, Clauses 33 to 35, Clauses 40 to 44.

Motion agreed.

Children and Families Bill

Report (3rd Day)

Clause 27: Duty to keep education and care provision under review

Amendment 25E

Moved by

25E: Clause 27, page 23, line 3, at end insert—

“(2A) If the educational and social care provision referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) is deemed insufficient to meet the needs of children and young people under subsection (2), a local authority must—

(a) publish these findings; (b) involve those consulted under subsection (3) in producing an action plan to revise the educational and social care provision referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b);(c) review and report on progress against the action plan; and(d) revise the local offer accordingly.(2B) Regulations shall make provision about—

(a) criteria to be used by local authorities in assessing whether the educational and social care provision referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) is sufficient under subsection (2);(b) the information to be included in an authority’s action plan;(c) how an authority is to involve children, young people and families in the production of, and assessment of progress against, its action plan;(d) imposing time limits on implementing the revision of the educational and social care provision referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) that has been deemed insufficient under subsection (2A).”

My Lords, I start by re-emphasising a point that I made in Committee: that accountability is the most important aspect of the local offer, an offer that will be relied on by 1.5 million children with special educational needs. Without strong accountability mechanisms, families will have no way of ensuring that the services they need are available and it is likely that parents will continue to need to push for a statement or an EHC plan to get the support that they and their child need.

Clause 30 states that a local authority must publish comments from children with SEN and their parents about its local offer, as well as the authority’s response to those comments. I am pleased that the Government have strengthened this further with Amendment 33C, requiring local authorities to publish what action they intend to take in response to comments from parents about the local offer. However, I and, indeed, the Special Educational Consortium, which is backing this amendment, have serious concerns that the Government’s Amendment 33C has been placed in the wrong clause and will therefore fail to have its desired effect. Clause 30 refers to the local offer only as a source of information and advice and not to the provision contained in the offer, and therefore the impact of the Government’s very welcome amendment will be felt only in terms of the quality of information and advice. It is Clause 27, relating to reviewing education and care provision, that must be amended. Will the Government therefore commit to moving Amendment 33C to Clause 27 to ensure that improvements to local services are made? If they commit to doing so, this will make a huge difference and go a long way to reducing the battles that parents face. However, I fear that it will still not go far enough in ensuring that local authorities are held to account and that essential improvements to local services are made.

Amendment 25E to Clause 27 would require a local authority, after publishing comments on the local offer, to involve parents and young people in producing an action plan to revise the education and care provision outlined in the local offer, review and report on progress against its action plan and then revise the local offer accordingly, ensuring that local support was sufficient to meet local needs. This would ensure that local authorities and parents, along with other parties including school governors and children’s centres, worked together at the earliest possible stage to ensure that local provision was the best it could be, bringing about exactly the cultural change that the Government want to see. This is a vital addition to the Bill.

My key question to the Government is: exactly who will check that local authorities do what they promise to do when publishing their response and the actions they intend to take following parents’ comments about the local offer? My amendment would ensure that local authorities not only work with parents and other interested parties to develop an action plan to improve service provision in the local offer but review and report on progress against their action plans. This is exactly the robust accountability measure that will ensure that local support is responsive to local needs—something that the Government have said time and again they wish to see. At the very least, can the Government confirm that the code of practice will include further information relating to the action that local authorities will take in response to parents’ comments about the local offer so that parents and other interested parties, listed in Clause 27(3), will be involved in drawing up an action plan to improve the local offer along with the necessary mechanisms for reviewing and reporting on progress against such an action plan? I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 30 and 31 standing in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford and also to Amendment 33D standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low, to which my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford has added her name. We also add our support to the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to the arguments she eloquently made in proposing it. There is a compelling case for local authorities to be expected to take action where education and care provision is judged to be insufficient and it is important that we have adequate means to address that.

Our amendments relate to Clause 30, which introduces the concept of the local offer and places a duty on local authorities to publish the local offer for children and young people with special educational needs, to keep it under review and to revise it periodically. Obviously, we welcome the principle of the local offer, as does most of the sector, but our concern is to make the local offer tangible, accessible and responsive. One concern which our amendments seek to address is that the wording of subsection (1)(a) requires the local authority to set out in the local offer only what it “expects to be available”. We believe that this wording is ambiguous and could be used by local authorities to duck out of their responsibilities to deliver a quality package of services.

Parents, children and young people have expectations that the local offer will be an improvement on what has gone before, but, understandably, they want a more formal understanding with the local authority about the service that they can rely on being provided. Many parents have spent their lives fighting for basic support for their children and are naturally suspicious of wish lists. We believe that our amendments to replace “expects to be available” with “which is available” will give those parents the added guarantees they desperately need.

When this was discussed in Grand Committee the Minister said:

“The local offer should enable local people to see what services are available, how they can be accessed, who provides them and where to go if things do not work out”.—[Official Report, 30/10/13; col. GC 612.]

We agree with that statement. That is what we are all trying to achieve and we believe that our wording is a better reflection of this aspiration than the current wording in the Bill. In Grand Committee the Minister also made the point that families need to be informed about,

“what provision the local authority expects to become available in the near future, possibly from new innovative practices”.—[Official Report, 30/10/13; col. GC 613.]

We very much welcome a culture of innovation in this sector and families will, of course, be interested in being kept informed of newly developing services. This should all be part of a greater commitment to information sharing and dialogue between families and the local authority. However, information about innovation and good practice is very different from the function of the local offer, which should be about what is available to families and what they can access now with some degree of certainty.

The Minister also drew our attention to the draft code of practice, where more detail is provided. Again, it is useful to have this additional information for parents. However, it does not answer our central concern about the status of the local offer and the extent to which it can be relied on. In fact, while the draft code of practice contains good supplementary guidance, it continues to use the phrase that the local authority should provide information about services which it “expects to be available”. Also, as we have debated before, it is important to have the fundamental principles set out in the Bill and we believe that this is a key feature which will give parents, children and young people confidence in services for the future. This is more than an argument about semantics. Our amendment will help to make the local offer a real, living commitment that will help to make the new proposals a success.

My noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford has also added her name to Amendment 33D standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low, who, I am sure, will speak on it shortly. The amendment seeks to give families confidence in the quality of the local offer by requiring the Secretary of State to lay regulations specifying the standards and quality of education, health and social care provision which local authorities must meet. These regulations would need to be approved by both Houses. In addition, it would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on how to meet the regulations and publish information on the regulations on the department’s website. The amendment addresses the continuing concern in the sector that services across the UK will be patchy and that a postcode lottery of services will develop. Without the amendment, families will be at the mercy of local authority budgets, with all the uncertainty of provision that already occurs as a result of budget cuts, and so what starts out as a promising new regime of integrated services may quickly descend into a fight to retain any kind of minimum provision. There is the added challenge that there is little incentive for local authorities to develop high-quality provision as it will simply attract clients from other areas, letting the poorer providers off the hook.

Our amendment also addresses the knowledge gap that arises from Clause 21(1)(a), which defines SEN provision in a local area as being relative to all mainstream schools in England. However, without minimum national standards, all a local authority can do is define the offer relative to its own local provision. When we debated this issue in Grand Committee we explored whether setting minimum standards of provision might be the answer, but we accept the limitations of this solution, which is the danger that minimum standards might become the norm. Therefore, our new amendment seeks to address this problem in a different way, allowing scope for services to be different around the UK to meet local and individual needs but nevertheless requiring that they meet overall quality standard benchmarks.

These standards could provide the framework for the Ofsted and CQC inspections currently being considered by the Government and would build on the recommendations of the Ofsted study into how this can be delivered most effectively which is currently taking place. Perhaps the Minister can update us on progress in developing this suggested framework of standards. They would also be a measure against which parents could judge the acceptability of local services if they wish to challenge the provision or ultimately appeal. Therefore, this amendment is the final piece of the jigsaw which will give parents confidence in the new provision and guarantee the success of the new regime, the principles of which, as I have said, we all support.

Finally, I would like to say a few words on the government amendment in this group. In Grand Committee we raised the concern, shared by many, that the obligation on local authorities to publish comments on the local offer from parents, children and young people did not sufficiently hold them to account or require them to be responsive to the views expressed. Giving a more powerful voice to those, often isolated, individuals struggling to access services ought to be at the heart of these improvements. That is why we welcome the government amendment, which would require local authorities to publish the action they intend to take in response to the comments received. However, picking up on the theme of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, there is a further stage to be addressed if we are serious about making change, which is that the local authority should also be required to work with those who have been consulted to produce an action plan to address any identified failings.

It would be helpful if the Minister could explain how this additional challenge will be addressed. It may be that the requirements could be included in the regulations, but we need to be assured before we make a final decision today that the Government are addressing this issue and the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.

My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Howe.

I welcome the Government’s Amendment 33C, which would require local authorities to publish what action they intend to take following parents’ comments about the local offer. However, I am keen to know from the Minister what mechanisms will be in place to ensure that parents have a key role in shaping what this action to be taken by local authorities will be. The Government have consistently and rightly stated that the local offer should be responsive to local needs. Unless the Government accept the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to ensure that parents and young people are joint partners in developing an action plan to improve local provision, is there not a danger that the local offer will be responsive only to the needs of local authorities and not local families? While welcoming the Government’s amendment and supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I would just ask the Minister those two questions. The second of them is really about how the Minister proposes to respond to the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has made.

I will speak mainly to my own amendment in this group, Amendment 33D, which would require the Secretary of State to make,

“regulations setting out the standards and quality of the special educational provision, health care provision and social care provision which local authorities must meet in their local offer … issue guidance to local authorities on how to meet these regulations, and … publish information on these regulations accessible to the families of children and young people with special educational needs”.

I will speak fairly briefly because we had two long debates in Grand Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has just spoken very eloquently to this amendment. I am very grateful to her for that—she made a very good argument for the case being put forward by the amendment.

As I said, we had a couple of very good debates in Grand Committee on the provisions of the Bill relating to the local offer. I moved an amendment which sparked a discussion about the kind of framework which needed to be put in place to regulate the local offers that local authorities made, to ensure that they met certain standards of consistency. The amendment took its cue from the animating principle underlying much of the legislation emanating from the Support and Aspiration Green Paper, which was that parents of children with special educational needs needed to be freed from the tangles of bureaucracy that were making it so difficult to access the services which could best meet their children’s needs. The amendment was couched in terms of the minimum standards which local authorities must meet in their local offers. The flaw in such an amendment was quickly pointed out: it could all too easily lead to local authorities simply working to the bare minimum and usher in a race to the bottom. At the same time, it provoked a bit of reaction from noble Lords who had a history in local government, who were at pains to point to all the good work local authorities do, the undesirability of constraining their room for manoeuvre too much and the need to leave them alone to get on with things. I was at pains to be conciliatory and to acknowledge that in my reply but, on reflection, I think I may have gone a bit too far.

The underlying thrust behind this legislation is the need to free families from the bureaucracy which ties them in knots and to redress the balance between local authorities and families attempting to assert their rights. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, making the point very persuasively that, although one did not want to hamstring local authorities and unduly constrain them in what they can do, it was not wise to set up a completely new system like this without exercising a measure of central oversight. That is a very familiar distribution of responsibilities between central and local government and the education service.

My amendment is not unduly prescriptive in dictating to the Secretary of State what he must do; it merely requires that he make regulations setting out, as I have said, the standards and quality of the special educational provision, health care provision and social care provision which local authorities must meet in their local offer, issue guidance to local authorities on how to comply with these regulations and publish information on the regulations accessible to the families of children and young people with special educational needs. This is a very moderate obligation to lay on the Secretary of State and, depending on what the Minister says, I reserve the right to seek the opinion of the House when my amendment comes up as we go through the Bill.

My Lords, I can understand why the noble Lord, Lord Low, tabled Amendment 33D, which would regulate the special education provision to be provided by local authorities. That sounds sensible and reassuring. However, the practicalities of regulating provision in such a way would, despite what has been said in the contributions from noble Lords, cause unnecessary restrictions on provision and prevent innovation and creativity that could bring about new and supportive services.

The duties on local authorities and other bodies to assess needs and secure provision are already set out elsewhere in the Bill. There are already some excellent examples of local offers—for example the pathfinders in North Yorkshire that worked with parents and young people to produce an interactive map and colour-coded diagram, including a version for children and young people, showing precisely what the local offer would be.

Funding allocated to councils by the Government for education, including SEN provision, can vary greatly, even for similar or neighbouring local authorities. That is one reason why provision may vary between areas. We know that the new national funding formula will not be introduced until after the next election. SEN provision also varies from one local authority to another because of the nature of the population. There are higher levels of need in some areas, which require the local authority to provide more specialist services than in others areas that may have no such requirements or quite different needs.

Defining in law a minimum level of provision may actually mean that resources in some authorities are diverted from other areas of special need simply to meet a legal requirement. Health needs also differ between local areas. That is reflected in the local joint strategic needs assessment, which is based on the needs of the local population. Surely the key purpose of the local SEN offer should remain as a source of information to parents and young people, developed by local authorities working with them to reflect their choices and preferences.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that parents have fought for years to get resources and what some might call justice for children with special educational needs. That is why the Bill is so important: it is a progressive piece of legislation that we can all be proud of. It will mean that, for the first time, local authorities have to spell out clearly and precisely what is available in their area and how that can be accessed. As we know, people with special educational needs will, for the first time, have a plan that joins up health, education and social care.

The giveaway is in the title: “local offer”. It is not a national offer but a local one. I suppose the Government could have said, “Nationally, we have decided that this is what you will do”, but I am quite sure that there would have been screams from local authorities that this was national government again dictating exactly what should happen. The local offer is important.

I was grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Low, in Committee but I still have grave concerns about creating a minimum requirement. We have seen what happened in care for the elderly: if you have a minimum requirement, councils under financial pressures jettison what they do not need to provide. If you have a minimum offer in terms of special educational needs, you will find that those authorities that my noble friend Lady Eaton so eloquently described, the ones that are progressive and look at new ideas, will say, “Well, if there are some savings to be made, we do not need to do that”. So I am not in favour of a minimum offer.

I am in favour of what the Government have reflected on and come back to at Report with Amendment 33C. Let us never underestimate the power of local people. If the local offer is not meeting the local requirement, you can bet that local people will say that they want something extra. Cases will make that happen. That is why the government amendment is so important. Let us celebrate where we are at so far, because it is important for children with special educational needs.

My Lords, I support the amendments and, in particular, will comment on Amendments 30, 31, and 33D.

The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Jones, which deal with the “expects to be” versus “which is” dilemma, just make sense, as I do not think that anyone here would not want parents to know what is being offered rather than what might be offered. The Government’s concern appears to be that something innovative might happen during the year that could be added to the offer, but the Minister might reflect that, if the offer was a living document so that it could be updated as an innovation came through, was proven to work, accepted as best practice and added to the local provision, in a digital age it would not be difficult to update the offer. The notion of “which is” gives far more certainty to users of the service than the words “expect to be”. In that respect, I very much support those amendments.

I just want to comment on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Low. I see both sides of this argument. We want local authorities to be free to innovate, to reach for the stars and to be the best they can, and we do not want the local offer in every local authority area to look exactly the same regardless of where you are in the country. Neither do we want to give permission to local authorities to go for a basic minimum standard. I accept the concerns laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, but we are still left with a problem.

The code of practice talks a lot about the quantity that should be in the local offer. There is a whole list of things that the code of practice guarantees will be there. What is missing from the whole debate is something that guarantees quality. Amendment 33D attempts to do that, and I want the Minister to respond to it. None of us wants poor quality, and I do not think that we would be in politics and would certainly not be legislators if we did not know that we have to ensure quality. It does not happen by itself or through a free-for-all, and it will not happen if we just leave it to local authorities to do their best. We want more than that. Minimum standards are not in the amendment. I do not want to fetter those local authorities who will provide very well; I want to protect those people who live in areas where the local authority does not do very well. I am concerned about how we protect people against poor provision falling below those minimum standards.

Normally, government takes one of three actions. It leaves it to the market—the noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned just now that if people do not like it, they will complain and changes will be made. I do not think that that will happen with the local offer. The only way that the market usually works is if people are free to go elsewhere. Then the poor provision that they did not want withers on the vine, vanishes, closes down and gets off the playing field. That is not what we want here. We do not want a local offer to be squeezed out of the market so that people have to go over the local authority borders. I cannot see how the market works as a regulator of standards for the local offer.

Secondly, we inspect. That is another way to guarantee quality. I would be grateful if the Minister would give us an update on where the department is with Ofsted inspecting the local offer. In Committee, he undertook to write to me, and I must admit that I am not sure whether that letter has been sent; I have not seen it. I would accept it if the Government have decided to inspect the local offer to make sure that people are protected against poor provision.

If they do not want to do that, the next action is regulation. Amendment 33D, as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, would put in regulation to protect people against poor standards. It really does not matter whether it is inspection or regulation—but I do not want it to be the market, which I think is where the Government are headed with this, because that will not work. We have to get the balance right between protecting people in areas where a local authority does not deliver the goods and leaving local authorities that are good, free to excel.

This is not just about safeguarding against low-quality provision: the Government should, equally, be incentivising innovation and high standards. If you only dampen down by inspecting, you will not get the high standards and innovation to which the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, referred. We have had so many decades of experience in the delivery of public services, and there are good ways of incentivising innovation, rewarding high standards and making sure that those high standards are spread to include everyone else. That is my ideal— to do both. I think that we will see the good quality provision in the local offer to which the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, referred, and that we will find ways of making sure that other local authorities know about it. Equally, for balance, we need something to set a basic standard below which local authorities’ local offer should not fall so that as regulators and legislators we can say that everybody, no matter where they live, is protected from a poor standard of provision. In that respect, I very much support the amendments that we are considering in this group.

My Lords, I, too, support all the amendments in this group. If the Bill really is to improve the position of families of children with SEN in their struggle to give their children the best start in life then it must provide some certainty. Assurances of the provision which a local authority expects to be available are useless if they turn out to be just warm words. Parents need to know what is available, and families must know that there is a benchmark below which standards are not allowed to fall.

Let us not forget that the vast majority of people who find themselves as the parent of a disabled child will have no previous knowledge of the world of special educational need. They will not know what services that their child might need should be available and will have no knowledge of the structure of provision or the standards that they should expect. They will have to learn all of this at a time of great stress and amid all the other demands of family and work life. On Amendment 25E, I particularly support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on the importance of accountability regarding the local offer. As the Education Select Committee said, the importance of the local offer cannot be overestimated.

Given that Clause 30 relates to the local offer as an information offer and not to the actual provision contained in it, can the Minister explain exactly how local authorities will publish their response and what action they intend to take following parents’ comments about the local offer? How will that actually lead to improvements to the services being made? Unless the Minister agrees to move the Government’s Amendment 33C to Clause 27, what do the Government expect local authorities to do with comments from parents about service provision? Is there anything in the Bill to ensure that these comments will be fed into the review of service provision referred to in Clause 27? Moreover, will local authorities clearly explain to parents that they can comment on the local offer only as a source of information and not the provision itself?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, stated, the local offer will be relied upon by 1.4 million children with SEN, namely those without a statement or an EHC plan. Can the Minister therefore clarify, if the child does not have a plan and a local authority publishes a response and follow-up action which was unsatisfactory to parents, are there any further mechanisms in place to ensure that parents’ concerns are addressed?

By the Government’s own figures, the total cost to the taxpayer of parents taking cases to an SEN tribunal is more than £30 million a year. Given this substantial cost, is it not imperative that disputes between parents and local authorities are resolved at the earliest possible opportunity? Amendment 25E, which requires parents, local authorities and others to work together and develop an action plan, would enable this to happen, and I urge the Government to accept it.

My Lords, I can imagine myself as a parent of a child with special educational needs; I have listened to the debate trying to put myself into that person’s shoes. I can imagine taking my child along to discuss with the local education authority what provision could be made and being told, “I am sorry that you may want this, that and the other, and your child may have that particular set of needs, but we’re meeting the minimum standards set down. They do not happen to suit your child, but I’m afraid they are all that we can afford”.

My noble friends Lady Eaton and Lord Storey passionately described the dangers of minimum standards and the stifling of any innovation or adaptability to the local needs of parents and their children. They also described the danger of saying, when money is tight, “We are sorry we can’t help those other parents and children, but we are meeting the minimum standards. That is the regulation, so that is all there is”. You do not encourage response to people’s needs or collaboration between a local authority and the parents and children in its region by regulation and by national minimum standards. You encourage it by leaving local authorities and parents free to talk together.

I note that the Bill carefully states that the comments received from parents and from the local community must be published every year. That is a strong system of accountability, and is much better than trotting out a bit of inspection from time to time and issuing that report. To coin a phrase, it seems a triple lock if parents’ comments about the provision that they receive from the local education authority, with their own deep and often tragic experience of children with special educational needs, must be published in a form that all can see. Local authorities will be required to respond to local needs, and it gets us away from this dreadful idea: “A minimum standard is all that we can afford and therefore, even if it does not suit your child, that is all that you will get”.

My Lords, I return to the introduction that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, gave to Amendment 25E and the issue of accountability. Government Amendment 33C is good so far as it goes, but it puts the onus on parents and young people using the service to police the sufficiency of the local offer. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could correct me if I were wrong, but so far as I know there is no obligation on local authorities to publish the findings of their own reviews, which, as was emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, they are obliged to make under Clause 27. Therefore, there is not the obligation to proactively improve their services that might arise from looking at whether their own reviews were sufficient, and acting on that. That picks up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that there are ways and means whereby innovation comes organically and internally. Equally, she made the point that for most parents there is not the opportunity to move authorities: whether they like it or no, this is the authority that they have to work with.

Again, I pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that, when we are talking about special educational needs, we do not mean only the few who have statements and will have the EHC plans now—about 3% of pupils. Something like 15% of pupils are regarded as having special educational needs and are treated under school action and school action plus.

It is now the schools’ responsibility to meet the needs of these pupils. We shall be talking later about the training that is necessary for SENCOs, and so forth. Most schools rely very much indeed on local educational specialists being available. One of the problems with the situation at the moment is that if there is no follow-up on whether or not there is a sufficiency of provision, there is a great danger that local authorities, whose finances, as we know, are being squeezed at present, will not find it necessary to provide outside the needs of those who actually have EHC plans, and that specialists in language, communication and behaviour will not be available to schools for them to be able to recruit to help them with the problems that they meet.

So I am somewhat concerned. As I say, the government amendment is good so far as it goes, but it is unfortunate that it does not follow through to requiring action on the reviews that the local authorities themselves have to make of their own provision.

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in what she was saying. I was rather taken by the government amendment because of its involvement of parents, children and young people themselves, but I could not see the follow-through. What we are looking for is an interrelationship between the legislation, the code and how it is applied and then how that is reported back, so that you have a virtuous circle and you can measure against what you are attempting to do.

In order to do that, you have to have absolute transparency. That is why I am also concerned about the phrase,

“it expects to be available”.

Unless families know with absolute clarity what is available and have some idea of what the local authority might be planning to make available—that might be what the “expects” is trying to achieve—how can they be engaged in a debate with the local authority in some sort of forum to move things forward in an innovative way? Being involved in two charities that work nationally, I know how very different the provision is across the country, but I still have grave anxieties about setting minimum standards, having also worked in a local authority that was strapped for cash in the 1970s, where we looked for any area of legislation where we could move back and save money. At this time, as I have said several times in this debate, we have to be absolutely open with families about what is and is not available. It is only if they are absolutely clear about that within the constraints of the finances that are available that they will be able to campaign, if you like, for an alternative that would better meet their needs. I encourage the Minister to look again at the phrase, “expects to be available”.

I find it far more difficult to know how I would vote on any of the other amendments, recognising the sheer complexity of the discussion that we have been having. I happen to have more faith in local authorities, and believe that if they have the opportunity and the resource they will do their best for the people that they want to serve.

My Lords, this is our first opportunity after the Recess to consider Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill. This is a good time to reflect on how far we have come in taking forward our shared ambition of a new framework for supporting children, young people and their parents—one that raises aspirations, improves outcomes and enables young people to prepare successfully for adult life.

On 17 December, the House passed a number of government amendments responding to important issues raised by noble Lords in Committee. These amendments will include disabled children and young people without SEN in key provisions of the Bill and ensure that local authorities exercise their functions with a view to securing that they identify both children and young people with SEN and disabled children and young people, and that health bodies inform the child’s parents and local authority where they are of the opinion that a child under compulsory school age has or probably has a disability. Local authorities will exercise their functions with a view to ensuring the integration of education and training provision with healthcare provision and social care provision for children and young people with SEN and disabled children and young people where they think this would promote their well-being, including in relation to their participation in education, training and recreation. Local authorities and their partner commissioning bodies making joint arrangements for the commissioning of education, health and care provision for children and young people with SEN will be amended to include disabled children and young people. Local authorities will keep under review all the education and training provision and social care provision for disabled children and young people and consult disabled children and young people and their parents when doing so. Local authorities will arrange for disabled young people and the parents of disabled children to be provided with information about matters related to disability—I have also tabled an amendment, which we shall come to later, to extend the requirement to cover children themselves as well as their parents—and local authorities will include disabled children and young people both in relation to the information to be published and in developing and reviewing the local offer and in publishing comments.

The definition of disability applied in relation to these government amendments is that in the Equality Act 2010. Since I have already given an undertaking to strengthen the links to the Equality Act duties in the SEN code of practice, they will sharpen the focus on those duties considerably. The code of practice is, of course, statutory and the guidance it provides cannot be ignored.

These changes followed a government amendment in Committee requiring schools to make arrangements for supporting children with medical needs, including children with long-term medical conditions, about whom noble Lords had particular concerns. These changes have improved the Bill and will improve provision for children, young people and families.

We have now had an interesting debate on accountability for services and the local offer. It is an important issue, and one on which a range of views was expressed in Grand Committee. I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe, Lady Hughes, and Lady Jones, for their contribution today and for bringing their experience into this debate.

I think it is important at the outset to reflect for a moment on the purposes of the local offer and on how the provisions in the Bill, the draft regulations and the draft SEN code of practice have been developed. The Lamb inquiry highlighted the need for parents to have clearer information about the support available and how decisions are made. Brian Lamb was clear that greater clarity and transparency reduces conflict and builds trust. That is why the SEN Green Paper proposed the local offer.

Since the Green Paper, we have worked with our local pathfinders and others to develop the statutory framework for the local offer. From this work, we know that local services will be much more responsive to local needs if local offers are developed with children and young people and their parents. This is precisely what we provide for in the Bill.

I appreciate the concerns that have prompted Amendment 25E, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on the review of education and care provision. I understand why she is seeking the publication of an action plan if the education and social care is deemed insufficient. I also understand her wish to ensure that local authorities address any shortcomings, but I think that Clause 30 rather than Clause 27 is the right place to address these issues, and I will say more about this shortly.

The provisions in the Bill will ensure that children and young people with SEN and disabled children and young people and the parents of children with SEN and disabilities are involved in improving provision where it is insufficient. Local authorities must consult and involve them when reviewing local provision, but I believe that the detailed mechanics of how local authorities work with local people and those providing services for them to improve provision are best left to the local authority—I take the point the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has just made—if we are really to secure services that are responsive to local needs.

As many noble Lords have mentioned, there is a government amendment in this group—Amendment 33C —which I would now like to explain. Local authorities must publish comments from children and young people with SEN and disabilities and parents of children with SEN and disabilities about the local offer, including comments about the quality of the provision available and about any provision that is not available. We make it clear in the draft SEN code that when local authorities publish their response to comments they should include the action local authorities propose to take. However, in view of the concerns raised in Committee I have tabled Amendment 33C to make this explicit in the Bill.

This amendment will add a requirement to Clause 30(6) to make it absolutely clear that local authorities cannot simply publish their response to comments but then ignore them. They must say what action they intend to take. This will provide even greater transparency and help to improve local accountability. As with every other part of the development of the local offer, children, young people and parents will be involved in discussions with local authorities about the action they propose to take.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked whether Clause 30 was the right place, as opposed to Clause 27. Clause 27 is only about reviewing provisions and consulting people whereas Clause 30 provides the impetus to reflect provision in a local offer and to shape it in response to the views of children, young people and parents. As I have said, we feel that substantive engagement with children, young people and parents is the way to do this. However, we would be happy to make stronger links in the SEN code of practice between the review duty in Clause 27 and Clause 30 on the local offer. In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, I can also confirm that we expect local authorities to develop their action plans with parents, children and young people, and we will make that clear in the code of practice.

Many noble Lords have spoken to Amendments 30 and 31. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, for tabling these amendments and for giving us the opportunity to consider further the aims of the local offer. Our aim in requiring local authorities to publish the provision they expect to be available in and outside their local area is to make the local offer as relevant and useful to families as possible. It will not be so informative if it can only set out what is already available rather than what is expected to be available. If, for example, a new specialist provision was due to open in an area, it would be useful for parents and young people to know about that in advance. We would not wish to restrict local authorities to including this facility in the local offer only once it had already opened.

Often, the things that are most important to parents are provided by small voluntary sector groups or informal arrangements such as a trampoline club on a Saturday morning for a child with autism, a local club providing activities for disabled children and their siblings or a circle of friends group for disabled young people set up by local young people. The services may be expected to be available, but this cannot be guaranteed. Requiring local authorities to publish only what is available may deter them from including such provision in the first place and children and young people will miss out on valuable opportunities.

I assure noble Lords that we intend the local offer to be robust and it was always intended that it would cover what is available. We want parents and young people to have confidence in the information it contains. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and other noble Lords, for the avoidance of any doubt we will amend the SEN code of practice to make it clear that the duty on the local authority to set out what it “expects” to be available is not about what the local authority would like to be available but what it expects actually will be.

Many noble Lords have spoken to Amendment 33D on quality standards for the local offer. I firmly believe that further prescription of additional legal duties and setting national quality standards in law would mean central government deciding what is best rather than local parents, children and young people, and that this would critically undermine the value of the local offer. Since the proposal for a local offer was prompted by the Lamb inquiry it might be helpful to reflect on Brian Lamb’s views. He said:

“I would be very reluctant to create a legal duty to provide whatever is included in the local offer. What you would get is very defensive practice from local authorities. They will be so cautious about what is included and the local offer will be stripped back to the absolute minimum they can commit to and avoid legal challenge. The local offer will become worthless and you’ll lose the prize of collaboration and openness with parents that it’s trying to secure”.

Brian Lamb’s view is that real change comes when local authorities engage fully with children, young people and parents. We share that view; we have seen it in operation in the pilots. That is why we will be looking for evidence of such engagement in the information we receive from local authorities on their approach to the reforms. We will also look at how we might strengthen the code of practice further in this regard.

We have already set out a clear common framework for the local offer in the Bill, particularly the draft regulations and the draft code of practice. This will ensure consistency across local authorities. We heard from my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, in Committee and again today, and today from my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Lord, Lord Storey. All stressed the dangers of a minimum-standards approach and urged us to resist the temptation to place further prescription on local authorities. I agree with them and I am clear that doing so would work against openness and collaboration, and stifle creativity.

I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, have tabled Amendment 33D seeking regulations prescribing quality standards for the provision in the local offer. However, it is difficult to see how quality standards could be developed for the local offer since it will contain a wide range of services and support provided by a wide range of local providers, including not only local authorities but organisations from across the statutory and voluntary sectors. How would any standards be meaningful without covering the full range of provision and without taking account of local views, local needs and local circumstances? There are fundamental differences between institutions regulated by statute, such as children’s homes, where it is necessary to set standards of care for children and young people to which all institutions must adhere, and the wide range of services to be embraced by the local offer from schools and colleges to small local voluntary-sector groups. We do not believe that standards—minimum or quality standards—are feasible for, or consistent with, the purposes of the local offer, which are to provide children, young people and parents with easy access to information about provision, and the opportunity to be directly involved in shaping that provision.

It is also important to remember that many services in the local offer will already have statutory duties and be subject to statutory regulation—for example, schools, including non-maintained special schools and independent schools. Standards of one kind or another will also be in place for other areas such as fostering. It would not make sense to overlay existing arrangements with national prescription through the local offer. Instead, we want to encourage local engagement and innovation.

In our local pathfinders, the freedom to innovate is already paying dividends. The SE7 pathfinder developed its local offer specifically to answer the questions local parents and young people want to have answered, not to fit a predetermined regime imposed by the Government. As my noble friend Lady Eaton mentioned, North Yorkshire has been developing an interactive site map for the local offer, to improve access to information about available support in a simple and direct way that responds to local views. Leicester, through its parent carer forum, Big Mouth Forum, has set up pop-up shops in local shopping centres for families and young people to access useful information and ask questions about the local offer. This has also allowed Leicester City and the Big Mouth Forum to gather valuable feedback to inform continued development of their local offer. When I visited the pathfinder at Greenwich, Cherry Orchard School gave a presentation on how the local authority had worked directly with local schools from the outset to set out a clear school offer. There is a real sense of shared objectives, joint ownership and co-operation in these examples. We want to encourage this to flourish, not to overburden local agencies with further regulation.

At an open meeting for Peers with some of the pathfinders before Committee, noble Lords heard how, by working directly with parents and across education, health and social care provision had been developed that better met children’s and young people’s needs and was more cost effective, making the most of resources. If we had a tick-box approach to the local offer we would lose this collaboration and creativity, and families and children would lose out.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked for more information on the Ofsted study. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, was quite right that when I wrote to Peers about SEN issues following Committee, I promised more detail on the study. Although we will come to that in more detail in a later group, I will give an update now. The Ofsted study will focus on the extent to which local areas ensure that children and young people with SEN and those who are disabled are identified and their needs met. It will look for improved outcomes, and at the satisfaction of parents and young people. It will establish a baseline from which to evaluate progress in implementing the reforms; provide guidance to local authorities about the development of effective practice and advice about aspects requiring further development; and consider how, if required, effective accountability could take place.

The study will consider how local authorities identify and assess social care needs and will ensure that those needs are met. It will look at how local authorities work with clinical commissioning groups to identify and commission the range and sufficiency of specialist services required to support the needs of children with and without EHC plans, and will evaluate the effectiveness of these services. It will also consider arrangements for personal budgets, transition to EHC plans, and how school and college inspection and other inspection activity could provide ongoing information about the effectiveness of the local area’s arrangements. This will be a comprehensive study. Should Ofsted recommend that an inspection framework is needed we would, of course, take that very seriously. If it does not make such a recommendation, we will consider what further action is necessary.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, asked about local authorities publishing their responses. The Bill requires local authorities to publish comments about their local offer so that parents and others can see whether their views have been taken into account. We will say more on that in the SEN code of practice, but we still do not wish to be too prescriptive.

I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords that appropriate measures to improve transparency and accountability for the local offer will be established by the provisions in Clause 30, the common framework created by the regulations and the guidance in the code of practice. Just as amendments made earlier on Report have improved the Bill, government Amendment 33C will help to reinforce accountability and encourage provision that responds to local needs by ensuring that local authorities make it clear what action they intend to take in response to comments from children, young people and parents. In view of what I have said today I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

My Lords, first, I thank everyone who took part in this extremely interesting debate. It was at least as interesting as the debate on these subjects in Committee. I should have said at an earlier stage that I had a lot of sympathy with the other amendments in this group, and still do. On my own amendment, I have to admit that I am rather sorry that the Minister does not think that agreeing my amendment to Clause 27 would be a good thing, not least because that would give a lot of authority to the accountability of parents, who could see that what had been agreed between them and their local authority in the discussions they had had would be provided to a high standard. My own amendment was rather more probing, even at this stage, so I shall not take it further. However, if other Members who have spoken to their amendments in this group wish to press them to a Division, I would have considerable sympathy with what would be proposed. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 25E withdrawn.

Amendments 25F to 25K

Moved by

25F: Clause 27, page 23, line 5, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

“( ) children and young people in its area with special educational needs, and the parents of children in its area with special educational needs;( ) children and young people in its area who have a disability, and the parents of children in its area who have a disability;”

25G: Clause 27, page 23, line 17, after “by” insert “—

(i) ”

25H: Clause 27, page 23, line 18, at end insert “, or

(ii) children or young people in its area who have a disability”

25J: Clause 27, page 23, line 20, after “to” insert “—

(i) ”

25K: Clause 27, page 23, line 20, at end insert “, or

(ii) children or young people in its area who have a disability”

Amendments 25F to 25K agreed.

Amendment 26 not moved.

Clause 28: Co-operating generally: local authority functions

Amendment 27 not moved.

Amendment 27A

Moved by

27A: Clause 28, page 24, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) a person in charge of relevant youth accommodation—(i) in which there are detained persons aged 18 or under for whom the authority was responsible immediately before the beginning of their detention, or(ii) that the authority thinks is accommodation in which such persons are likely to be detained;”

My Lords, I rise to move the group of government amendments starting with Amendment 27A. These amendments will strengthen provision for children and young people with special educational needs in the youth justice system. Provision for young offenders has been the subject of considerable debate during the passage of this Bill, both in this Chamber and in the other place. This is an issue that we must get right. Evidence suggests that nearly one in five young people in custody has a statement of special educational needs. I offer my sincere gratitude to the noble Lords who have pursued this matter, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I have benefited considerably from his expertise in this area, and I pay tribute to his tireless efforts to secure better outcomes for those with SEN in custody.

I also offer my thanks and appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friends Lord Addington, Lord Storey and Lady Walmsley, all of whom have contributed valuably to this discussion. I have considered all representations on this issue very carefully, and I am now pleased to bring forward a series of amendments that will considerably strengthen protections for this vulnerable group.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has tabled Amendment 50, which I support, removing Clause 70 of the Bill, which currently disapplies Part 3 of the Bill to children and young people in detention. The Government’s amendments would replace Clause 70 with new provisions after Clause 65, which would enable education, health and care assessments to take place for a detained child or young person; require home local authorities and health service commissioners to use their best endeavours to arrange the special education and health provision specified in a plan during the period in custody; and require relevant youth custodial institutions—that is, young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres—to co-operate with the home local authority when arranging support for young offenders with SEN. These changes will ensure that needs are identified and assessed at the earliest opportunity, that the best possible support is provided to young people in custody, and that there is a single point of accountability before, during and after their period in detention.

The first clause affected by this group of amendments is Clause 28, hence our consideration at this time. However, in the interests of clarity, I will firstly explain the substantive amendments that we would introduce after Clause 65. The point at which a child or young person is first detained is a crucial opportunity to identify special educational needs. Amendments 47B and 47C would allow the custodial institution, and the detained person or their parent, to request a full, statutory education, health and care assessment from the detained person’s home local authority. Under our amendments, a home local authority must also determine whether to conduct an assessment when a detained child or young person has been brought to its attention by someone else—for example, a professional working with the child or young person. This will support early identification of needs; it will also make best use of the time that a young person is in detention so that an assessment can get under way and support be put in place immediately upon release.

Amendment 47D would extend the right to appeal to a detained young person or a detained child’s parent when they were unhappy with a local authority decision not to carry out an assessment or a decision not to make provision following an assessment.

Amendment 47E would require a child or young person’s home local authority to use its best endeavours to arrange the special educational provision specified in the EHC plan while they are in custody. This is a strong and robust statutory duty, requiring the home local authority to do everything in its power to arrange the specified provision, or provision corresponding as closely as possible to it, or other appropriate provision while the individual is detained. Placing this duty on the home local authority will provide continuity and stability that is not present under existing arrangements. It will significantly improve accountability and ensure that, wherever a child or young person is detained, there remains a single point of accountability and a single contact for their families. It also creates a strong incentive for the home authority to arrange the best possible provision, as it will remain responsible for that child or young person throughout their period of detention and afterwards when they return home.

Amendment 47E would also create a parallel requirement for a detained child or young person’s health services commissioner to use its best endeavours to arrange the healthcare provision specified in an EHC plan. Where a child or young person is detained in custody, the relevant health services commissioner would be NHS England. This is a new duty, which would require the health service commissioner to do everything in its power to arrange the specified provision, or provision corresponding as closely as possible to it, or other appropriate provision while the individual is detained.

Amendment 27A to Clause 28 and Amendments 33HA to 33HK to Clause 31 would require relevant secure institutions—young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres—to co-operate with the local authority. These amendments will require governors of young offender institutions or those in charge of other establishments in the youth secure estate to work with local authorities to deliver the best possible support for those in custody. These new statutory requirements will give local authorities the backing they need to ensure that custodial institutions play their part. This also reflects the Government’s ambition to place education at the heart of youth detention, set out in the Transforming Youth Custody consultation paper.

In addition to these substantive changes, we have also made a series of technical supporting amendments to Clauses 36 and 48, and to Schedule 3. These supporting amendments also include adding a new clause, “Application of Part to detained persons”, which includes a regulatory power to apply further provisions to detained people. These regulations, along with a revised section within the code of practice, will allow us to set out more detail about how we expect these new duties to operate in practice, and the relative roles and responsibilities of each party.

Amendments to Schedule 3 make consequential amendments to the Education Act 1996 to reflect the fact that these new provisions would replace existing provisions in England, but not in Wales. The Government, in consultation with the Welsh Ministers, would have the power to amend provisions by regulation. This package of amendments represents a much more robust statutory framework for detained young people, which responds to the valuable contributions and issues raised by noble Lords, for which, as I say, I am extremely grateful. I beg to move.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for his courteous words in his introduction. I feel that we are almost there on children in detention, but not quite. I fear that some work remains to be done to ensure that the intent outlined in the Government’s amendments is brought to pass. I am very grateful for the many meetings and discussions which have resulted in the amendments that the Minister outlined, which make my Clause 70 stand part debate irrelevant. However, both as a former soldier and Chief Inspector of Prisons, I admit to remaining unease, fuelled in particular by proposed new subsection (4) of Amendment 47E, which requires a home local authority to,

“use its best endeavours to arrange appropriate special educational provision for the detained person”.

Those words seem far too weak to ensure that anything actually happens.

I refer to the intent behind my Amendment 49, which—despite much of the content having been, like my stand part debate, made irrelevant by the government amendments—remains very much extant in intent. To me, “best endeavours” is too weak because it leaves too much open for too many individuals to interpret to allow consistent provision of what is intended. Therefore, I plead guilty to falling back on a concept that underpins consistent provision of what is intended in the Army, namely duty. In the long-term interests of young people with special educational needs, quite apart from the best interests of the country as a whole, I can see no reason why, rather than leave such provision to chance, a duty should not be put both on a local authority to arrange that provision be made for an EHC plan to be continued in custody, and on places of detention to deliver what is required in such a plan. That is what it appears that the Government intend, because proposed new subsection (1) of Amendment 47C states that a home local authority must secure that an EHC plan is prepared for a detained person. Unfortunately, though, as I have bemoaned on many previous occasions, such an intent is unachievable because the Ministry of Justice cannot guarantee to deliver what is arranged, prepared or required.

Unlike any other operational organisation such as a school, hospital or business, the Prison Service makes no one responsible or accountable for the treatment and conditions of any group of people in custody such as women, children or young people. Not only is the governor of any place of detention not bound to continue any practice that was in place when he or she took over, but alone determines what is or is not appropriate and will or will not be provided. Having campaigned unsuccessfully for 19 years to have this changed, and having seen far too many promising initiatives and developments dropped—wholly wrongly and unnecessarily—I suggest that if the Government mean what appears to be the intent of this group of amendments they must do something about the wording in proposed new subsection (1) of Amendment 47C and proposed new subsection (4) of Amendment 47E because, as set down, they are incapable of securing anything. I put it to the Minister that neither the Government nor any local authority should feel comfortable that the Ministry of Justice at present lacks the means of ensuring EHC plan provision in places of detention. Therefore, not least to ensure the credibility of government legislation, he should be seeking other means of securing it.

I turn to the code of practice, which has been mentioned many times during the passage of the Bill and is currently out for consultation. At present, certainly to a lay man such as me, the code appears to be a vast document, full of “musts”, without any specification about who is to deliver them or oversee their provision. The Minister has often emphasised the store the Government set by the code, and I therefore ask him whether he sees it as the vehicle by which the problem I have outlined is to be remedied. If he does, I ask him whether he will reconsider the wording in the government amendments and tell the House, probably at Third Reading, exactly how the code of practice will be worded so that provision of EHC plans is secure. I understand that NHS England is responsible for contracting provision of the healthcare part of any plan from an appropriate local provider, but I would be grateful for information on how exactly that is to be secured. I use the word “security” deliberately because local authorities, which are responsible for the continuation of any provision after the release of anyone from detention, will have a vested interest in the quantity and quality of the provision of what they are told that they must secure, but over whose provision they have virtually no control. In other words, as I said at the start of my contribution, we are nearly there but I suggest that we need one last shove before we can feel certain that provision of what the Government want is secure.

I support everything that my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham has said. This is an enormous opportunity and it would be disastrous if the Government did not seize it. It has long been an outrage that there is a large number of young people with special educational needs in places of detention. Nobody disputes the evidence that there is a huge number of such young people, and this is an opportunity to remedy the neglect that these children have had. I entirely agree that the present wording is such that local authorities may very well make no changes whatever, and the Ministry of Justice has no power to compel governors of such places to do what urgently needs to be done. I do not think that there can be any dispute about that, and I implore the Minister to come back with wording which is a great deal tighter and which will make the change that we all know has needed to be made for a long time.

My Lords, we all know that 70% of these young offenders have special educational needs. We also know that 10% or 20% of them have statements. We know, too, that a huge number of them—I do not know the exact figure but 70% or 80%—will go on to reoffend. Therefore, it is really important that this group of young people gets the best possible special educational needs support. When this Bill first came out, I found it unbelievable that EHC plans would not be going with these young people into their institutions.

One of the hallmarks of the Bill has been the Minister’s desire to discuss, consult and listen to what people say, and I pay tribute to him for doing that. During the discussions on this matter, it has become clear to all of us that the number of young people in these institutions is declining, as is the time that they spend in them—thank goodness. The practicalities of getting their EHC plans to go with them becomes very difficult, particularly if you are talking about different local authorities, and therefore what the Minister is proposing seems sensible.

I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his remarkable knowledge in this area. I agree with him, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to refer to the concern that a lot of us share about the words “best endeavours”. Sadly, the justice system is not an educational system, and “best endeavours” is too wide a hope—for example, “I use my best endeavours to get up early in the morning but I don’t”. I hope that noble Lords can see the point that I am making. The use of this phrase is a recipe for not doing the sorts of things that we in this House want to see provided for these young people. Maybe the word to use is “responsibility” or “duty”—I do not know—but I hope that the Minister will indicate that he will look at this again and come back with exact wording to make sure that the special needs provision that we all want to see is provided.

My Lords, I shall be brief, as I usually am, but I want to say two things. One is that when I read these amendments my heart leapt. I thought that if only the home local authority could be made responsible for every young person in secure provision on this basis with a proper plan for seeing them through—as I remember, and as I am sure my noble friend Lord Laming will remember, was the case in children’s departments, where someone was responsible for a young person, with a plan, wherever they were—that would be absolutely wonderful. Of course, at that time there was much more focus on education in the institutions, as childcare establishments, than there is in some of the more penal establishments that exist today.

So I was utterly delighted and was going to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, whose tenacity of purpose has taken this through, until I realised, as he did, the key flaw in this piece of legislation. That flaw is that those who wish to take the plans through are not the people with the capacity to provide the resource in order for it to happen in the place it needs to happen. As I am always interested in implementation, I thought about how this would work. There has to be a further step somewhere, either in some sort of regulation or a change in the legislation, that ensures that these plans are formulated into the institution—because, remember, these are individual plans. In the institution they have to be put together into programmes for groups of young people; it is not as easy as simply saying that you can carry each plan through as it stands without extra provision being brought in, with all the problems with that in terms of financing.

I hope that the Minister will look at this, take heart that many of us have been very impressed with the way he listens, and take it forward. Many of us are very concerned about young people in detention who have been failed by everybody by the time they get to detention, particularly those with special educational needs who should not be in this form of provision at all. Surely they can get the right education through this legislation, but they certainly will not with this flaw.

My Lords, I have a suggestion following what the noble Baroness has just said about implementation, but first I must say how pleased I am to see that my noble friend Lord Nash has listened tremendously well and gone away and done something about it. This has been a great example of the way this House works so well behind the scenes. I am very pleased that the blanket statement that all the good stuff in the Bill should not apply to children in custody has been got rid of and that my noble friend the Minister has grasped the opportunity that the Bill gives to put something better in place. Let us see whether we can get it as perfect as we would like to see it.

It occurs to me that it is a very good thing that the responsibility moves back to the home local authority. What we want to see when young people come out of custody and go back to their home local authority is continuity of provision. I know that the Local Government Association has welcomed this provision, but the people actually delivering the services while the young people are in custody are a company, an organisation that has been contracted to deliver that service from outside. They are not the prison authorities. These education services are provided by external organisations under contract. Why should those contracts not always have a proviso within them that says that there is somebody within the organisation with the responsibility of liaising with the home authority to ensure that the EHC plan is delivered, or the assessment is made, whichever is appropriate, and that the services are provided while the young person is in custody? That should be a condition of the contract for delivering education services within the prison. They should be obliged, under their contract, to provide what EHC plans say should be provided. I see no reason why that should not be a condition of winning a contract for providing services within a prison.

My final point is that I am particularly pleased about the duty that is being put on health commissioners to provide services within an EHC plan. I am aware, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has emphasised it on many occasions, that speech and language therapy is much needed by a high percentage of young people in custody. Let us hope that those services will be provided better in future under these new provisions.

My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 50 along with that of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The amendment seeks to take Clause 70, which disapplies the provisions of Part 3 to detained young people, out of the Bill and I am pleased that the Government have accepted that. I also support Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

I can be brief because most of the points have been made. I welcome the Government’s recognition that, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, it was unbelievable that the provisions in Part 3 ought not to apply to detained young people and they have come some way, at least, to applying some of the provisions to young people in custody. However, I regret that, compared to the situation that will exist for young people in the community, the provisions in the government amendments are weak and that, as they stand, they will not give detained young people the same rights to and expectations of support as those in the community.

A number of points have been raised and I would like to summarise two significant holes in the proposals in the amendments as they hang together. First, where there is an EHC plan in existence before a young person goes into custody, the amendments will require the home local authority to maintain that plan and be ready to re-implement it on the release of that young person. That is good. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Storey and others have said, the amendments will require the local authority and the healthcare authority to use only their “best endeavours”. That is very different from the duty on the local and healthcare authorities for young people in the community to secure the provision in the EHC plan. That is a big hole and I should be grateful if the Minister would address that issue and say why the Government have diluted the duty on local authorities in respect of detained young people.

The other big gap, which has been addressed in different ways by different contributors to the debate so far, relates to what happens to young people while they are in custody. Most of the amendments address the issue of what happens when the young person is released—they ought to be able to go back home and the home authority should carry on implementing the EHC plan that was in place—but there is nothing in the amendments about what happens in custody. There is a duty on YOIs and custodial institutions to co-operate with the local authority but there is no requirement on the institutions to, for example, identify if a young person has SEN if it has not been identified before they go into custody. This may well be the case because many of them have special educational needs. There is no responsibility on the custodial institution to request an EHC assessment. They can, but there is no requirement for them to do so. There is no responsibility laid on the custodial institutions to take over the responsibilities that would exist for a local authority if that young person was still in the community.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the contractors providing the education, but the responsibility ought to lie with the public sector organisation, or the quasi-public sector organisation in the case of a privatised institution, which is holding these young people. It ought to be its responsibility to address the special educational needs of those young people while they are in custody, working closely, of course, with the home local authority from which a young person has come and to which they will return.

As these amendments stand at the moment, there is nothing that requires the young offender institutions to pay attention to the special educational needs of the young people in custody or to address them in any way at all. That is a big gap. I do not know whether it has arisen because the Ministry of Justice does not want to take on those responsibilities but it is a glaring omission. It means that a young person may go into an institution with an EHC plan and may come out with the home authority ready to implement that EHC plan again but, in the middle, there is no requirement on anybody to do anything. That is a big gap. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, these are the most needy young people in terms of their special educational needs, with huge issues. This is an opportunity, when they are in custody, to address those issues very securely. I hope the Government will rethink and strengthen these amendments. The amendments are good, in so far as they go, but they need to be strengthened further in those respects. I hope that the Minister will agree to think again.

My Lords, Amendment 48A is in my name. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, made the point, also made in the amendment, that hidden disabilities—my interest in dyslexia is very well known in the House—are, by definition, difficult to spot. We also know that they are grossly overrepresented in all sections of the prison and youth justice systems. My amendment suggests that there should be some duty on those institutions to try to identify people in them with such disabilities. Providing education, training and, indeed, even socialisation for people who have been denied the ability, for instance, to access the written word and education is going to be incredibly difficult. They do not respond well and it is something that they cannot do. For example, you cannot even access social security when you leave prison. That might be going slightly off the point, but it is important that the Government give us an idea about the pressure that will be placed on these institutions to try to identify those who have these problems. Most of the work that has been done in this area shows that there is a much better chance of them not reoffending if that is done.

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is satisfied that we are nearly there. However, as always, we do not quite seem to be there. The best endeavours clause that we are proposing for home local authorities would place incentives, we believe, in the right place—it is in the home local authority’s best interests to arrange quality provision, as it will remain accountable for the young person while they are detained and when they return from detention.

I remember many late nights in lawyers’ meetings when I have been strongly advised not to give a “best endeavours” undertaking, as it is a very strong under- taking, but to try to get away with a “reasonable endeavours” one. My legal training teaches me to believe that a best-endeavours undertaking is actually a very strong one.

The amendments specifically require the local authority to secure the special educational provision that is specified in the plan. If that is not possible, best endeavours would require home local authorities to do everything they could to arrange the special education provision specified in a young offender’s EHC plan while they are in custody—or provision that corresponds as closely as possible to it or to other appropriate provision. Some provision specified in EHC plans cannot be arranged by local authorities while a person is in custody: most notably and obviously, any requirement for a young person to attend a particular school or college, which of course they cannot attend while detained. It is for this reason that it is necessary to use the term “best endeavours”. It is a technical term that avoids placing a legal duty on local authorities which is impractical or impossible for them to deliver.

Amendment 47E does not, we believe, provide a get-out enabling home local authorities to have a free choice about which services they arrange for detained children and young people. They cannot simply decide, without robust justification, that some provision is no longer appropriate, just to avoid arranging it. Under the best endeavours duty, their starting point must be to arrange the provision specified in the EHC plan. They can arrange alternative or other appropriate provision only once they have done everything they can to arrange the provision specified in the plan.

Local authorities and the health services commissioner will be accountable to parents and young people in respect of this best endeavours duty. Parents and young people will be able to complain to their home local authority or to the health body—with ultimate recourse to judicial review. Our strengthened best endeavours duties will be accompanied by a robust code of practice.

The existing contracts for education services in public sector young offender institutions are due to end later this year. We will ensure that the arrangements made with the new education providers support local authorities as they seek to fulfil their best endeavours duty to ensure that provision in EHC plans continues to be delivered while a child or young person is in custody.

The current draft code of practice was of course written before we tabled these amendments. We will now rewrite the code to reflect them and the intent that I have today set out. I am very happy to discuss the wording of the code with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, outside the Chamber. The code is of course subject to affirmative procedure. I hope that the noble Lord will find that helpful. I look forward to those discussions with him so that it will not be necessary for us to come back to this at Third Reading.

I am not clear: could any requirements in relation to young offender or custodial institutions included in the code of practice actually be applied to those institutions? Could they come within the purview of the code of practice legally?

I have no idea, but I hope that by the time I have finished dealing with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Addington, I might have an answer.

My noble friend Lord Addington tabled Amendment 48A to require the host local authority to make arrangements to ensure that the workforce has the skills and knowledge to identify special educational needs and put in place effective interventions. It is already a requirement of those we commission to deliver education in the youth secure estate to ensure that the needs of those young people with SEN are properly identified and addressed. Education providers in the youth secure estate are contractually required to have an appropriately trained and qualified workforce to conduct assessments. They will also have a SENCO who is responsible for managing the effective delivery of specialist SEN services.

Education providers are required to conduct an educational assessment of anyone entering custody unless this information is already known. That includes both assessments of levels of literacy, language and numeracy, and the screening of anyone who shows signs of a specific learning difficulty or special educational need. They also use a variety of tools for this purpose, including the hidden disabilities questionnaire developed by Dyslexia Action which screens for a range of hidden disabilities. Provision is subject to regular inspection by Ofsted, where appropriate working with HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

The current contract between the Education Funding Agency and education providers for young offender institutions requires all secure settings to have: procedures for ensuring that the identification and support of specific learning difficulties in young offenders is inspected, evaluated, monitored, reviewed and developed; and an appropriately trained workforce that will identify and support a young offender’s individual learning needs and deliver relevant and individually tailored programmes of learning support to those young offenders whose profiles provide evidence of specific learning difficulties. With the amendments I have proposed today, a young person identified as being at risk as a result of the screening process could be referred for a full EHC assessment. In view of this, and the existing requirements on providers and the amendments I have outlined, I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment.

I am confident that the government amendments in this group will result in vastly improved provision for children and young people with SEN in custody, and that they address the views and concerns of noble Lords. We have made significant steps on this. As I said, I would be very happy to continue discussing this further—including, if I may, the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes.

I thank the Minister for the way in which, as other noble Lords said, he has listened during all our discussions. We have come a long way, but I am still nervous that we have people under the age of 18 in young offender institutions, but health and care plans continue from nought to 25; and we have the problem of the over-18s who will be dispersed elsewhere and who will now, under plans from the Ministry of Justice, no longer go to young offender institutions, but may be sent to adult institutions all over the country.

My nervousness is not so much about the home local authority drawing up the plan but about the actual implications. A great gulf seems still to exist between the intent of the Department for Education, which has been so clearly set out by the Minister, and the ability of the Ministry of Justice to deliver what is required and laid down in legislation. I hope that when we discuss the application of the code of practice, the Ministry of Justice will be present and will be required to set out exactly how it will deliver what is in the code.

Amendment 27A agreed.

Clause 29: Co-operating generally: governing body functions

Amendments 28 and 29 not moved.

Clause 30: Local offer for children and young people with special educational needs

Amendment 30 not moved.

Amendment 30A

Moved by

30A: Clause 30, page 25, line 23, after “needs” insert “or a disability”

Amendment 30A agreed.

Amendment 31 not moved.

Amendments 31A and 31B

Moved by

31A: Clause 30, page 25, line 25, after first “for” insert “—

(i) ”

31B: Clause 30, page 25, line 26, at end insert “, and

(ii) children and young people in its area who have a disability.”

Amendments 31A and 31B agreed.

Amendment 32 not moved.

Amendment 32A

Moved by

32A: Clause 30, page 25, line 30, at beginning insert “other”

Amendment 32A agreed.

Amendment 33 not moved.

Amendments 33A to 33C

Moved by

33A: Clause 30, page 26, line 2, at end insert “—

(i) ”

33B: Clause 30, page 26, line 4, at end insert—

“(ii) children and young people who have a disability, and the parents of children who have a disability, and”

33C: Clause 30, page 26, line 5, at end insert “(including details of any action the authority intends to take)”

Amendments 33A to 33C agreed.

Amendment 33D

Moved by

33D: Clause 30, page 26, line 5, at end insert—

“(6A) The Secretary of State shall lay a draft of regulations setting out the standards and quality of the special educational provision, health care provision and social care provision which local authorities must meet in their local offer, and the regulations are not to be made unless they have been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(6B) Once regulations under subsection (6A) have been made, the Secretary of State must—

(a) issue guidance to local authorities on how to meet these regulations, and(b) publish information on these regulations accessible to the families of children and young people with special educational needs on the Department’s website, and in any other way he sees fit.”

My Lords, Amendment 33D stands in my name and I spoke to it in our first debate this afternoon. When I spoke to it, I said that I would listen to what the Minister and other noble Lords had to say, but I reserved the right to move it and test the opinion of the House when it came up in order. With your Lordships’ agreement, I would like to do that. Never mind all the arguments in favour of the amendment to do with the desirability of a degree of central oversight of a wholly new system being introduced and operated by local authorities, which those who spoke in favour of it maintained is not unduly prescriptive. Irrespective of all that, the main reason why I want to press the amendment to a Division is that I think there has been a considerable misapprehension about the thrust of the amendment on the part of those who expressed reservations about it.

A number of noble Lords said that they were unhappy about an amendment which contained the idea of minimum standards and sought to impose them on local authorities as that would give rise to a tick-box culture, with local authorities merely operating to a bare minimum standard. When I spoke to the amendment I indicated that I had taken this very point when it was made in Grand Committee—that we should not confuse a framework of standards with minimum standards, because if we talked in terms of minimum standards that would lead to this very race to the bottom, which nobody wants to see. I made it clear when I spoke this afternoon that I have very much taken that point.

This amendment does not speak of minimum standards. It merely speaks of the Secretary of State making regulations to provide a framework of standards and quality for local authorities to observe in formulating their local offers. For that reason, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendments 33E to 33H

Moved by

33E: Clause 30, page 26, line 13, after “involve” insert “—

(i) ”

33F: Clause 30, page 26, line 15, leave out from “needs,” to end of line and insert “and

(ii) children and young people who have a disability, and the parents of children who have a disability,in the preparation and review of its local offer;”

33G: Clause 30, page 26, line 21, at end insert “—

(i) ”

33H: Clause 30, page 26, line 23, at end insert “, and

(ii) children and young people who have a disability and those who care for them”

Amendments 33E to 33H agreed.

Clause 31: Co-operating in specific cases: local authority functions

Amendments 33HA to 33HK

Moved by

33HA: Clause 31, page 26, line 30, after “following” insert “persons and”

33HB: Clause 31, page 26, line 33, at end insert—

“( ) the person in charge of any relevant youth accommodation;”

33HC: Clause 31, page 26, line 38, after “The” insert “person or”

33HD: Clause 31, page 26, line 38, leave out “it” and insert “the person or body”

33HE: Clause 31, page 26, line 40, leave out “its own duties” and insert “the duties of the person or body”

33HF: Clause 31, page 26, line 41, leave out “its functions” and insert “the functions of the person or body”

33HG: Clause 31, page 26, line 42, after “A” insert “person or”

33HH: Clause 31, page 26, line 44, after first “a” insert “person or”

33HJ: Clause 31, page 27, line 1, after “assessment” insert “, a detained person’s EHC needs assessment”

33HK: Clause 31, page 27, line 1, after second “the” insert “person or”

Amendments 33HA to 33HK agreed.

Clause 32: Advice and information for parents and young people

Amendment 33J

Moved by

33J: Clause 32, page 27, line 4, after first “for” insert “children and young people for whom it is responsible, and”

My Lords, the Bill already provides for local authorities to be responsible for ensuring that parents of children with special educational needs, and young people with special educational needs, are provided with advice and information. It also already requires local authorities to take appropriate steps for ensuring that parents of children with special educational needs, and young people with special educational needs, know about the advice and information available to them. These government amendments extend that local authority responsibility to children with special educational needs.

In Grand Committee, I said that we were sympathetic to the views of a number of noble Lords about the need for consistent references throughout the Bill and the code to the inclusion and participation of children, where that is appropriate. Where there is a specific decision-making responsibility in relation to children, as distinct from young people, it is, of course, right that we vest that in parents. However, as Clause 32 relates to the provision of information and advice, it is appropriate to make a specific reference to children in it. These amendments do that. Indeed, they have the same effect as Amendments 119, 120 and 122 tabled in Grand Committee by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones. I thank them for highlighting this issue. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these amendments are necessary and I urge noble Lords to support them. I beg to move.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s amendments in relation to the provision of information to children with special educational needs. Children must be able to take part in decision-making which affects them, according to the UN convention. They will be able to do so only if they are fully informed. This is also important so that under-16s are prepared for the time when they have primary responsibility for decision-making at the age of 16.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that children have a right to information, which is a prerequisite to their involvement in decision-making:

“Children need access to information in formats appropriate to their age and capacities on all issues of concern to them. This applies to information, for example, relating to their rights, any proceedings affecting them, national legislation, regulations and policies, local services, and appeals and complaints procedures”.

It has even specifically called on Governments to amend legislation to ensure that children are provided with information so that they can be effectively involved in decision-making:

“The child’s right to be heard imposes the obligation on States parties to review or amend their legislation in order to introduce mechanisms providing children with access to appropriate information”.

These statements underpin the Government’s amendment to Clause 32, which I warmly welcome. The amendment to Clause 32 will ensure that under-16s are provided with advice and information concerning special educational needs and disabilities as well as relevant services.

While welcoming these amendments, I urge the Government to ensure that they are paying the utmost attention to the detail of the code of practice and associated regulations with regard to children’s involvement in decision-making. The code of practice and regulations will shape what people on the ground do and how they involve children and young people in decision-making in practice, so it is critical that these documents spell out clearly, consistently and in detail, the responsibilities of local authorities to involve children and young people of all ages in decision-making. I therefore support the Government’s amendment to Clause 32 and welcome the intention to ensure that children, in addition to young people, are provided with advice and information. I also call on the Government to set out clearly in the code of practice and regulations the rights of children and young people to be involved in decision-making.

My Lords, I, too, welcome this group of amendments. From these Benches in Committee we proposed a group of amendments about the voice of the child and the child’s involvement with decision-making. We have not got all that we wanted but there is certainly a step in the right direction here today and I very much welcome it. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, when she said how important it is that children have the information they need to enable them to take part in decision-making about matters that relate to them. This is a right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and I am very glad that the Government have taken one step further towards implementing it.

My Lords, very briefly, I would be remiss if I did not welcome this amendment. I was directly involved for many years with children and giving children information, both in voluntary organisations and in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It was clear to me that they did not know what information you had given them unless it was in an appropriate form. I hope that the code will take the best from some of the practice that already exists in some local authorities and CAFCASS regarding the form of information and the method of delivery to children and young people. Young children in particular can be involved very easily in many complex areas of their lives and indeed in decision-making if it is explained to them in an appropriate way by an appropriate person. I welcome the amendment but I hope that the implementation will be looked at carefully as there is good practice out there that could be used.

My Lords, perhaps I may just caution—I think that the noble Baroness has just touched on this—that it is all very well asking children and young people to take decisions but if there is any doubt that they are capable of taking those decisions in their own best interests then it is very important to consult the family, especially when the family is a supportive one. Your Lordships will know that I speak from personal experience on this subject.

Very briefly, we also welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that children need to be involved in decision-making that affects their lives and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said, this is in keeping with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and was clearly set out in Clause 19. It was Clause 32, however, where there was an inconsistency in this approach and this was where we had tabled amendments to ensure that the clause also included the right for children to be involved in decision-making. It was this inconsistency that we were keen to address. We are very pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government are now prepared to amend the Bill to rectify that inconsistency.

However, there is still an ongoing issue about the wording in the code of practice and the regulations that sets out local authorities’ responsibility to involve children and young people in decision-making. Unfortunately, these documents still do not consistently reflect the framework set out in Clause 19. Therefore, although I welcome the steps that the Minister and the Government have taken on this matter, it would be helpful if the Minister could also confirm, in the spirit of the previous debate, that the regulations will be updated to ensure that those rights of the child are consistent throughout the Bill. With that challenge back to her, we very much welcome the amendment.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their welcome for these amendments, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and others have said about implementation and, as the noble Baroness put it, the form and method of delivery. We certainly take her points.

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that this is about the provision of information and the participation of children where appropriate, as I said in my introductory remarks. I am sure that the code will be carefully examined to ensure that it is consistent with the decisions made on Report, as evidenced by these amendments. I hope that noble Lords will be willing to support these amendments.

Amendment 33J agreed.

Amendments 33K to 33P

Moved by

33K: Clause 32, page 27, line 5, leave out “and young people for whom it is responsible,”

33L: Clause 32, page 27, line 7, at end insert—

“(1A) A local authority in England must arrange for children and young people in its area with a disability, and the parents of children in its area with a disability, to be provided with advice and information about matters relating to the disabilities of the children or young people concerned.”

33M: Clause 32, page 27, line 9, leave out “subsection (1)” and insert “subsections (1) and (1A)”

33N: Clause 32, page 27, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) children in its area;”

33P: Clause 32, page 27, line 15, leave out “subsection (1)” and insert “subsections (1) and (1A)”

Amendments 33K to 33P agreed.

Clause 34: Children and young people with special educational needs but no EHC plan

Amendments 34 and 34A not moved.

Clause 36: Assessment of education, health and care needs

Amendment 34AA

Moved by

34AA: Clause 36, page 29, line 39, at end insert “or section (Assessment of post-detention education, health and care needs of detained persons)”

Amendment 34AA agreed.

Amendment 34B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 34C

Moved by

34C: Clause 36, page 30, line 20, after “In” insert “making a determination or”

My Lords, there has been broad support across this House for our ambition to create a system that raises aspirations and helps young people with SEN to realise their full potential, achieve positive outcomes and prepare for adult life. There has also been broad support for the provisions in the Bill that extend additional rights and support to 16 to 25 year- olds in further education and training.

The Bill enshrines in law the principle that local authorities must take account of young people’s views, wishes and feelings, and involve them in decision-making. It gives young people aged 16 to 25 the right to request an assessment of their needs. It ensures that post-16 institutions will be consulted by the local authority when it reviews its provision, and are included in the local offer. It places FE colleges, sixth form colleges, 16 to 19 academies and free schools under a new duty to use their “best endeavours” for all young people with SEN, and ensures that they have regard to the new nought to 25 code of practice. It gives young people the right to request that these institutions—and approved independent specialist providers—be named in their EHC plan and then admit them, unless exemptions apply. It ensures that young people who become NEET do not lose their EHC support, and are helped back into education. Also, for the first time, it gives 16 to 25 year-olds in further education and training the right to appeal to an SEN first-tier tribunal if they are unhappy with their arrangements. There is a great deal here that we should be proud of and I am grateful for the support that noble Lords have shown on all sides of the House.

However, I also know that there has been genuine concern about the provisions in the Bill that require local authorities to “have regard to” the age of young people aged 19 to 25 when determining their support. We had a particularly helpful round-table discussion on this when a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Cumberlege and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Howarth, made a number of really helpful comments in this regard. Noble Lords have particularly expressed their fears that the Bill as currently drafted would provide local authorities with an excuse to deny or cease support to a young person based solely on their age. This is not, and has never been, our intention. Young people with SEN aged 19 to 25 should be supported to remain in formal education where this will enable them to complete or consolidate their learning, achieve their outcomes and make a successful transition to adulthood. In achieving this important aim we must not inadvertently create an entitlement or expectation that all young people with SEN remain in education until age 25. That would not be in the interests of many young people, who may need just one or two years of additional education to progress into adult life and work.

I have listened carefully to the concerns of noble Lords, both during debate in Grand Committee and subsequently. In particular, I have listened to concerns that the focus on age is unhelpful or unclear in its intention and could lead to support being denied on the basis of a young person’s age alone. I have therefore tabled government amendments to clarify our intention in the Bill. I am pleased to be presenting these amendments with the support of my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Cumberlege, who spoke incisively on this issue in Grand Committee.

The amendments remove the explicit requirement to have regard to a young person’s age, instead requiring local authorities to consider whether a young person aged over 18 needs more time to complete their education when determining whether to make an EHC plan, and whether they have achieved the outcomes specified in their plan before determining that it should end. As ever, local authorities must make that judgment in close consultation with young people, who will have access to mediation and can appeal to the SEN tribunal if they are unhappy with the decision.

I am grateful also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, for their amendments seeking to require consideration of “educational progress” rather than age. I am pleased that we have achieved such a degree of consensus. I hope that noble Lords will support my proposed amendments, which represent a very positive improvement to the Bill and reflect the very constructive and helpful debates that we have had in this House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support my noble friend on these amendments which remove the requirement for local authorities to have regard to age when making decisions about the education, health and care plans for young people.

Amendment 173, which I proposed in Grand Committee and in which I was supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, aimed to achieve the same end that has been put forward in these amendments. As my noble friend said, it removes Clause 45(4). I applaud the Government for recognising the force of our arguments and for putting forward these very important amendments, which will make a significant difference not only to the Act when it is passed but to the young people concerned, which clearly is the most important part of this amendment.

Like many other noble Lords, I pay a personal tribute to my noble friend Lord Nash, who has been generous in the time he has spent discussing this aspect of the Bill with me and many other noble Lords and in the determination that he has shown to get it right for young people at what many of us consider to be the most important time of transition in their lives. I am very grateful for his recognition that some young people with special educational needs require more time to complete their education beyond the age of 18. Of course, that has now been translated into the amendment in the Bill. This requires local authorities to consider whether the young person requires additional time to complete his or her education or training. That is a very good thing indeed.

My noble friend will know from the amendment that I proposed in Grand Committee that I believe that local authorities should be required to have regard not only to whether education and training outcomes have been achieved but to whether,

“health and social care outcomes have been achieved”.

The Government did not support that amendment. Nevertheless, I welcome the proposed amendments to Clauses 44 and 45 which will require local authorities, when reviewing a plan or considering whether to propose the cessation of an EHC plan, to have regard to whether the education or training outcomes specified have been achieved. Focusing on outcomes is much more important for young people with complex special educational needs. Their chronological age is far less relevant than whether they have achieved the skills that will enable them to make a successful transition to adult life.

I have one remaining concern, however, and a request to my noble friend. I am worried that some people may mistakenly interpret the phrase “education and training outcomes” in too narrow a way and relate these primarily to formal accredited learning and qualifications. I know from my noble friend’s visit to the Chailey Heritage Foundation that he understands that, for some young people with complex needs, the learning educational outcomes they achieve will not be appropriately assessed and recognised through the usual formal accredited qualifications. It would be most unfortunate if local authorities sought to stop EHC plans for young people with complex needs because the outcomes they wanted to achieve post-18 were not ones that could be formally accredited.

The code of practice should be explicit about the full range of educational outcomes that might be legitimately included in an EHC plan. I therefore ask for assurance that the code of practice will make clear that the educational and training outcomes in these clauses will be considered in the wider sense and not restricted to accredited learning or formal qualifications.

My Lords, my name is attached to many of these amendments and I am delighted to support them all. I also pay tribute to the Minister for having listened to the arguments that we put forward in Committee.

First, it was suggested in Committee that some young people over 18 might not need the help and support they had been getting. That would provide local authorities with an excuse for dropping such support after 18 by using those words “to have regard to age”. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it was said that the wording was too flexible. We all know that circumstances can vary enormously and that some young people with SEN are ready by the age of 18 to stand on their own and that—partly thanks to the help and support they have received—they are well able to cope without further support. However, others mature later and need to be given extra help and support. Indeed, they often need to take longer, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, indicated, over the process of learning and acquiring skills and qualifications. The Minister agreed with those arguments and stated very clearly in his response that the provision of continuing support was not a matter of age but of whether the young person concerned was ready to move into adult life. He was not prepared to move initially in Committee but he said that he was very willing to meet us. The amendments that he has introduced today very largely meet the points that we made then and show that he has very much heeded those arguments. The new wording introduced today meets our requirements.

The first of the two key amendments is Amendment 34D to Clause 36. The wording,

“have regard to his or her age”,

will be changed to,

“consider whether he or she requires additional time, in comparison to the majority of others of the same age who do not have special educational needs, to complete his or her education or training”.

In Amendment 39B to Clause 44, “his or her age” will be omitted and the words,

“whether the educational or training outcomes specified in the plan have been achieved”,

will be inserted. As the revised wording implies, the clear intention is that local authorities should be flexible in their approach, and should above all consider whether the young person has reached a point where they can do without the extra help and support that an EHC plan would give them. It is clear from the various case studies provided to us by those who are anxious to see the wording changed, that many young people need and will benefit from this flexible approach. I again thank the Minister and the Bill team for their readiness to listen to our arguments and to make these changes.

However, there is some unhappiness among those providing education and training to over-18s with special educational needs about the current wording of the draft code of practice. In particular, they think that there is a degree of inconsistency in it. At some points the draft code rightly emphasises—as the wording of the amended Bill does—the needs of the individual, whether the outcomes specified in the EHC plan have been achieved and whether the young person is ready to enter and cope with adulthood. At other times the code seems to point to the cliff edge—that once a young person reaches the age of 18, it is no longer necessary to maintain the plan. Could the Minister and his officials, having now amended the Bill, make sure that the code of practice fully reflects the amendments that we have made?

In general, I reiterate how very grateful those for whom I have been speaking in relation to these issues and I are to the Minister and his officials for listening to us, and for amending the Bill.

My Lords, I add my thanks and make two brief points. First, this will convey a message to the young people themselves. It is not often that legislation matters to the recipients so directly in sending a message. Transition is a very difficult time for people with special educational needs and severe disabilities. Added to all the difficulties that they have of movement of placement and, often, of changes to the personnel involved in their care, has been the suggestion that their age mattered. To them, it does not matter to the transition that they will make to the adult world, because they are not like everyone else who is 18; they are all difficult, but certainly not like most 18 year-olds. This will mean that, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the needs of the individual will be met. That is a really important message.

I am concerned, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, about the link to health and social care, because it simply cannot be avoided. I am sure that there will be issues around the code of practice. If you are admitted to a residential college because you have severe learning difficulties and physical disabilities, combined with the residential placement will be a series of health provisions. That will all be part of the package, so you have to have regard to all that as well. The Minister may say that that will come anyway because commissioning will be expected for that—but this is something that still worries a number of providers and families as well as individual youngsters, who need very specialist healthcare in their placements and are concerned that that might not continue beyond their 18th birthday, even if their education does.

My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Amendment 39CA, which has been put in this group. I apologise for tabling the amendment so late in our proceedings and for not taking part in those proceedings so far, or in your Lordships’ consideration of the Care Bill, which has now gone to the Commons. As on many previous occasions, I declare my interest as the father of a daughter with Down’s syndrome, although because she is now 32 that interest is not directly relevant to this amendment.

I tabled the amendment because I was contacted shortly before we rose for the Christmas Recess by some cerebral palsy practitioners who could not see how this Bill ensures continuity of support from child to adulthood for children with learning disabilities—hence this probing amendment, which I do not pretend is perfectly worded. It focuses on Clause 37 of the Care Bill, which deals with continuity of support when an adult moves geographically. It may have been better to focus it on Clause 67 of the Care Bill, which is described in the Explanatory Notes as being designed,

“to ensure no gap in provision during the transition to adult care and support”.

That is what the amendment seeks to secure. I would be very grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is what Clause 67 does, or if and how that well known gap is closed elsewhere in this Bill or the Care Bill. When he comes to reply, I would be particularly grateful if he could explain what the words,

“or for some other reason”,

mean in Clause 67 of the Care Bill, on page 57, in line 36—and, again, on page 59, in line 1. At first sight, they appear to give wide discretion to a local authority not to meet a person’s needs after it has concluded that he has such needs. If true, that would appear to affect children moving to adulthood as well.

I have discussed this matter with the noble Lord’s officials. I appreciate that it strays somewhat into Care Bill territory, but I would be most grateful for anything that the Minister feels able to say about the position, in plain language. I look forward to his remarks.

My Lords, I rise briefly to make two points. First, I welcome the amendments. The wording of the government amendments is very sensible and I am pleased that the Minister has listened. The critical moment was when the Government published their policy position on this issue when it was crystal clear to everyone that the position as outlined was not reflected by the words “having regard to age” in the Bill. That was a kind of “light bulb” moment, and I am pleased that they have recognised that. The wording in so far as it goes is fine, and I am very pleased to support it.

Secondly, I commend the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, repeated by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Howarth. It is important that the Government pay attention to the way in which the code of practice reflects this change and make sure that the wording in the code is expansive rather than restrictive on local authorities and other service providers, so that they can look in the round at these young people as they approach and go beyond 18, in terms of their various needs, and not limit it only to a formal definition of education and training. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks on that, but I very much welcome the changes.

My Lords, I thank again my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Cumberlege, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for their insights during Grand Committee. I welcome the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has given us to clarify how we have secured continuity of adult care for young people with EHC plans. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her kind remarks.

On the point made by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, yes, we are making it clear that the outcomes that we are looking for are wider. The outcomes specified in the plan do not have to be formal or accredited; we are happy to make sure that that is clear in the code. On a point made more generally by my noble friend Lady Sharp, the draft code predates the amendments, and we will make sure that the code fully reflects the amendments, including making it clear that outcomes rather than age must be considered.

In response to the important issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I am delighted to state categorically that no young person who turns 18 and is in receipt of children’s social care will face a gap in provision while consideration is made about their adult care. This applies if they move to a new local authority or if their EHC plan comes to an end at that point because they are leaving education. Clause 47 provides for regulations that ensure continuity of support and provision when a child or young person with an EHC plan moves to a different local authority. For those turning 18, Clause 50 enables local authorities to extend children’s services beyond the age of 18 for those with an EHC plan where that is the best option. Provisions in the Care Bill ensure that there is no gap in care services when a young person moves to a different area, turns 18 or their EHC plan comes to an end. Those 18 year-olds who have eligible needs for care and support will in future receive a statutory care and support plan. Both we and the Department of Health are clear that this will form the care part of their EHC plan when one is in place and would continue in its own right as a statutory plan once their EHC plan is no longer maintained.

Furthermore, Clauses 37 and 38 of the Care Bill ensure that support is continued when someone with a statutory care and support plan moves to a new local authority. When a young person turns 18, Clauses 59 to 67 of the Care Bill ensure that assessments for adult care are carried out in good time so that support can be put in place promptly. In particular, Clause 67 requires local authorities to continue to provide existing support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 until adult care begins, or a decision is made that an adult care and support plan is not required. Young people who have made a successful transition to adulthood and are now in employment, higher education or adult learning, will continue to receive support in those settings that will enable them to maintain and build on the outcomes achieved while in formal education. For example, Access to Work is available for those in employment.

As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, about the reading of the words “for some other reason”, the Department of Health is clear that this phrase does not in any way change a local authority’s duty to meet an adult’s eligible needs for care and support under Clause 81 of the Care Bill. “Other reasons” could refer to, for example, a person changing their place of residence to a different local authority area before the assessment has been completed. It does not provide carte blanche for local authorities to refuse to provide services for spurious reasons. I hope that is helpful. I believe that the amendments I am moving today represent a genuinely positive change to the Bill, which, along with reforms in the Care Bill, further strengthen arrangements for young people making the transition to adulthood. I hope that noble Lords will support them.

Amendment 34C agreed.

Amendment 34D

Moved by

34D: Clause 36, page 30, line 21, leave out “have regard to his or her age” and insert “consider whether he or she requires additional time, in comparison to the majority of others of the same age who do not have special educational needs, to complete his or her education or training”

Amendment 34D agreed.

Amendment 34E not moved.

Clause 37: Education, health and care plans

Amendment 34F

Moved by

34F: Clause 37, page 31, line 10, leave out subsection (4)

Amendment 34F agreed.

Amendment 34G not moved.

Clause 38: Preparation of EHC plans: draft plan

Amendment 35 not moved.

Clause 39: Finalising EHC plans: request for particular school or other institution

Amendment 36 not moved.

Clause 41: Independent special schools and special post-16 institutions: approval

Amendment 37 not moved.

Clause 42: Duty to secure special educational provision and health care provision in accordance with EHC Plan

Amendment 38

Moved by

38: Clause 42, page 34, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) If the plan specifies social care provision, the responsible local authority must secure the specified social care provision for the child or young person.”

Noble Lords will have noticed, no doubt, that Amendment 38 would place a duty to deliver the social care element of the forthcoming education, health and care plans, which gives me an excuse to indulge for a short time in a worry that has bothered me for more than 30 years. In the 1980s, I began to have discussions with civil servants, politicians and administrators, particularly at the old DHSS—then located at the Elephant and Castle—about increasing co-operation between education, health and social care, and was told on many occasions that this was the recognised way forward. The will seems always to have been there, but meaningful co-ordination and collaboration on the ground has failed to emerge. It has been entirely dependent on local circumstance. We need to change that.

To the Government’s credit, they have recognised the problem and have taken the very welcome step forward of amending the Bill so that clinical commissioning groups are under a duty to provide the health element of the plan—but, alas, social care remains the poor cousin. This could easily be remedied by aligning the duty to provide social care services, as laid down in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, with the education, health and care plans that appear in the Bill. In this suggestion I am supported by not only my fellow signatories to the amendment but by the Special Educational Consortium and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign.

Currently, many families do not receive the care they need until they reach breaking point—something to which Mencap drew attention in a recent report of that name. A duty to deliver the care elements of the plan will ensure that children, young people and their families receive services earlier, thus preventing the need for higher levels of support later. I understand that the Government are looking into this matter— something I warmly welcome, if the outcome is correct. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

My Lords, my name is on the amendment and I wish to give my full support to my noble friend Lord Rix, who moved it. It would place a duty on local authorities to deliver the social care services identified in education, health and care plans. The contention of the noble Lord, myself and the other noble Lords who have their names on the amendment is that there is very little point in assessing a child or young person’s needs, identifying social care needs and putting them in the education and health plan, and then not making the plan enforceable in respect of social care as it is in respect of education provision.

As I think the noble Lord, Lord Rix, indicated, the amendment would add no new duties on local authorities to provide social care in addition to those that already exist. It merely brings together the legislation on education, health and care plans and existing social care legislation. There is currently a misconception that the social care duties in respect of disabled children are not specifically enforceable for an individual child. However, as I think the Government accept, this duty does already exist under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The proposal contained in this amendment would help to correct this misconception.

The Government have argued that a proposal to create an individually owed duty in relation to social care would prioritise one group of children in need over another. However, there is already an individually owed duty to disabled children in Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, as I indicated, which is not enjoyed by other children in need. We had a good discussion about this in one of the Minister’s meetings with Peers, which I think we all found very valuable in developing our understanding of the Bill. I think we managed to elucidate in that discussion that if one were going to establish priorities between different groups of recipients of social care, it would have to be done at a prior stage to the formulation of the education, health and care plan. If the authority has got to the point of identifying social care needs and putting them in the plan, it really does not make any sense in terms of integrated education, health and social care provision not to make the provision identified in the plan enforceable.

My Lords, I, too, add my support to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rix, which aims to ensure that children and young people receive the care to which they are entitled. I empathise with the battle to get health, education and social care agencies to work together; it is one that I waged on behalf of my son in the past. I know, of course, that I am not alone here and that parents across the country face this uphill struggle.

The absence of a duty to deliver the social care elements of the plan sends out the dangerous message that care is unimportant alongside education and health provisions. It is, as my noble friend says, the poor cousin. For children and young people with a learning disability and their families, this could not be further from the truth. Good social care plays an important part in helping the child or young person achieve their educational goals. That is accepted, whether it is in relation to independent living, supported employment, employment or moving on to further learning. Good social care prevents burnout in families. I understand and am glad that the Government have accepted that there is an issue here, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment. I endorse what has already been said by the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins.

As currently drafted in the Bill, special educational provision has to be secured by local authorities. In Committee in the House of Commons, the Government tabled an amendment that places health commissioners under a duty to arrange any health provision set out in the plan. It leaves social care as the only element of an EHC plan that is not enforceable. However, if you create an education, health and care plan, it does not make sense if there is no specific duty to provide the social care services for young people set out in the plan. As the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, indicated, there is already provision in Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 for a specific duty to provide social care services for disabled children.

That picks up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, when we were debating the previous amendment, about her worry that there was no enforcement mechanism to make sure that the social care provisions, which need to be integrated with the education and health provisions, are there. That point has been made time and time again by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. It is not logical that we have enforcement mechanisms for education and health but none for social care.

My Lords, I want briefly to say what I have said several times. If you have a package for education and health, you cannot fail to include the social care element. What I am hoping is that the Minister will give the same answer that he has just given on my previous point—that such provision is contained in the Care Bill. Having looked at the progress made in the way that these services are delivered, that Bill will ensure that the social care element can be provided along with the health element. That is really important because the three are inseparable in the provision of services, particularly for very severely disabled young people. I therefore hope that the answer will be that such provision is already there in another piece of legislation.

My Lords, I, too, add my support for the amendment. For this system to be truly joined up, all parts of the education, health and care plan need to be enforceable; otherwise, social care will be, as has been described, the poor cousin—the element within the EHC plan that will be considered to be of least importance. This is of concern to a wide range of children and young people with SEN and disabilities. We know that parents, too, are concerned about this; in fact, more than 1,000 people have written to the Minister on the issue and asked the Government to ensure that social care will be an equal partner in education, health and care plans. I am therefore encouraged to learn that the Government are looking into the issue in more detail. I very much welcome this and look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can clarify what I understood was the situation, whereby there is already in existence a statutory duty under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 for local authorities to provide services in their area to meet the needs of children in need, including disabled children.

In the case of services for disabled children, under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, once the local authority is satisfied that it is necessary to provide assistance under that section, it is under a duty to provide the assistance. It is not, however, necessarily the case that services must be provided to meet every assessed need. Whether a children’s services authority has to provide services following assessment depends on the nature and extent of the need assessed, and on the consequences of not providing the service. These duties have already been the subject of significant litigation, and it may be that imposing a social care duty under the Bill would further complicate an already complex legal position.

My Lords, I, too, add my support for the amendment and my gratitude to those who have fought so hard to bring it forward. For reasons that have already been expressed in terms of the parity between the three elements of education, health and social care, there is a continuing danger, time and again, in our legislation and in our thinking, that social care becomes an orphaned right—to take an analogy from another area.

I want to push Minister a bit further on the argument that has been put forward that if we pass an amendment such as this, other areas will thereby be deprioritised. I simply fail to understand, despite having read a good deal about it, how that can possibly be so. It seems to me that equality in this area is crucial, and therefore that we ought to pursue an amendment such as this.

My Lords, if you are going to agree an education, health and care plan, it is clearly important that all elements have to be provided. That is agreed. I understand that there are complex difficulties here. I have spoken to the Local Government Association, which recognises those difficulties. I know that the Minister himself is—perhaps “wrestling” is too strong a word—looking in detail at how we can get what we all want. I hope that your Lordships will be patient on the issue, because I am sure that with good will on all sides we will eventually get there.

My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment and I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that this is one of two outstanding, key issues on which the effective implementation of the Government’s welcome approach to integration of education, health and social care depends.

Clause 42 states that where a local authority maintains an ECH plan it must secure the special educational provision. Where the plan specifies healthcare provision, the responsible commissioning body must provide the healthcare. The amendment would simply place a parallel duty on local authorities to provide the social care that is outlined in the plan. This is a key issue for parents as well as, obviously, for many noble Lords in this House. As the legislation is currently drafted, the ECH plans would offer no more legal entitlements to support from social care services than current statements do at the moment. Let us remember that social care provision can be detailed in those statements in a separate section from educational provision. However, the aim of these reforms and the Bill is to provide a simpler system for disabled children and young people, and those with special educational needs and their families, that integrates the different forms of provision into one piece of legislation. One assessment and one plan is what the Government are trying to achieve for those families. There is an opportunity in the Bill to bring everything together. One of the main aims of the Bill is to provide clarity, transparency and integration, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, so eloquently identified.

In Committee and at the various meetings that we have had on this matter, while the Minister has been trying to listen, I do not think that so far the Government have provided any coherent reason for excluding the local authority from the duty to provide the social care specified in the plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, reminded us, the first argument put by the Government was that other legislation—the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act together with the Children Act—already provide for that duty. A second argument deployed at later meetings was that placing such a duty in this Bill would give disabled children an unacceptable priority in law above other children in need.

The debate has been rather clouded by well meaning but exceedingly technical legal opinions on both sides. However, the clearest and most helpful opinion has come in the further opinion, dated 13 May 2013, from the lawyers commissioned by the sector. This asked the crucial question in relation to these different arguments as to whether placing local authorities under a duty to deliver the social care set out in the plans would represent a significant change to local authorities’ legal duties under that existing legislation. The crucial question is whether it would represent a significant change. The answer in the opinion is emphatically no. If noble Lords will bear with me, it is worth putting this opinion on the record.

The crucial question asked is whether placing local authorities under a duty to deliver the social care provision set out in the EHC plans would represent a significant change to local authorities’ legal duties in other legislation. Paragraph 13 of the opinion states:

“No. If there were to be a specific duty to provide the social care provision set out in an EHC Plan, this would simply mean that the Local Authority would be discharging its CSDPA 1970 duty (either wholly or in part) by providing the provision set out in the Plan. Indeed, for children who qualify for an EHC Plan the inclusion of social care provision within the Plan is a helpful way of determining that the Local Authority considers that this provision is necessary to meet their needs—in other words that the test for the 1970 Act duty to arise is met”.

The opinion goes on to say:

“This is very similar to the approach that the Government has adopted in relation to the duty to arrange health care provision … the Government accepts that in arranging the provision specified in the plan a CCG”—

a clinical commissioning group—

“will be discharging its existing duty pursuant to section 3 of the NHS Act 2006”.

This was a question that we asked in Committee: why the difference between social care and healthcare? Paragraph 14 states:

“Any concern that this would involve treating disabled children more favourably than other groups of children ‘in need’ is misplaced. Firstly, disabled children have already benefited”—

for more than 40 years—

“from the specific duty … in the CSDPA 1970 to provide them with support, a benefit which other children ‘in need’ do not enjoy … Secondly, it is a well established tenet of discrimination law that reasonable positive measures intended to correct significant disadvantage experienced by a particular group are unlikely to be discriminatory. Indeed Equality Act 2010 … provides that compliance with the public sector equality duty … ‘may involve treating some persons more favourably than others’”.

Therefore, in this view, the inclusion of social care under the duty to provide the services specified in an EHC plan would not make a significant difference to existing entitlements in social care and, indeed, is simply consistent with local authorities’ current duties.

However, there would be a number of significant advantages to putting this duty into this Bill as well. A main advantage is that it would clarify for parents the responsibilities of the three agencies together regarding what must provided—in other words, everything in the plan—and that would be a very big benefit for parents. Secondly, it would consolidate the integrated approach that runs right through this Bill until we get to social care. Thirdly, it would give children under 18 the same demonstrable, enforceable rights that adults already have under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and thus there would be a seamless and equal status for disabled children from birth to 25. Those are the simplest legal arguments in favour of the amendment.

However, even simpler is the fact that we are talking about making explicitly enforceable the social care services specified in the plan—that is, those that the local authority itself has willingly assessed the child as needing and has agreed to include in the plan. The local authority will be assessing that level of need in the context of its duties and its resources, as will the health services.

Therefore, I do not think that there is a credible argument for distinguishing between special education, health and social care in relation to the duty outlined in Clause 42, and I hope that the Government and the Minister will listen on this very important issue, as they have done on other issues.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and my noble friend Lady Sharp for raising this important matter. I also welcomed the high-quality debate on social care in Grand Committee. I understand fully all the concerns expressed by noble Lords and I say again that it remains our clear expectation that any social care services specified in an EHC plan will be provided by local authorities. As I shall explain, I hope that at Third Reading we will be able to bring forward amendments to address some of those concerns.

However, it is vital that local authorities are able to decide how to prioritise expenditure on social care based on the needs of children and young people, whether or not they have an EHC plan. As a targeted service for vulnerable children and young people, social care is different from education and health services. Education and health services are universal and it makes sense that there should be equivalent duties to provide the services in EHC plans in order to prioritise, over others, children and young people with greater needs.

Social care is a targeted service and is available only for vulnerable children and young people, so there is a greater risk that an individually owed duty for those with plans could adversely affect other vulnerable groups, including children at risk of neglect. We do not think that that is the right thing to do. In answer to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, I am afraid that it is really a question of resources. However, I am delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, say that this is one of two remaining pieces in the jigsaw. I am dying to hear what the second one is and I am sure that I will not have to wait long. However, I hope that I shall be able to be helpful in relation to this point.

I do not propose to rehearse further all the important arguments that were made in Grand Committee except to recognise that a number of points have been raised by noble Lords about the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. It is important to re-emphasise that, regardless of whether social care provision is included in the EHC plan, the duties in existing legislation will continue to apply, as a number of noble Lords have said. Therefore, the requirement for EHC plans to include social care provision “reasonably required” by the learning difficulty or disability which gives rise to the SEN will not introduce a new test for which social care services are to be provided. The duty of local authorities to provide services to disabled children where it is decided that they are necessary under the CSDPA will continue to apply.

I recognise that a number of noble Lords, along with representatives of Every Disabled Child Matters and the Special Educational Consortium, are attracted to including the CSDPA in the Bill as a means of, first, providing assurance that assessed social care needs for disabled children will be met under the existing duty in Section 2 of the CSDPA and, secondly, ensuring that the EHC plan includes all the relevant social care services needed by disabled children.

The Minister for Children and Families and I have had helpful meetings with representatives of the Special Educational Consortium and noble Lords where we have discussed this proposal, and officials at the Department for Education are continuing those discussions. There are of course a number of important issues to consider and we need to avoid unintended consequences. For example, we need to ensure that including the 1970 Act in the Bill will not cause confusion if other relevant legislation is not also listed. We must also ensure that we do all we can in the SEN code of practice to explain the existing legislation clearly to parents and professionals. However, I am hopeful of a positive outcome to these discussions and hope to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to reflect this. In view of these ongoing discussions and my undertaking, I urge the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and my noble friend Lady Sharp not to press their amendment.

My Lords, I thank every noble Lord who spoke in support of this amendment. Clearly there is greater support than the number of noble Lords present at the moment and I most grateful, too, to the Minister for his response. I can only take him at his word, which I am sure is totally unassailable, and trust that the amendment that he brings forward at Third Reading will, indeed, support all of us who have wished for Amendment 38 to be accepted. Obviously, he will bring forth something which is not quite Amendment 38, but I hope that it will satisfy all of us here concerned and ensure that social care is, in some form or another, in the Bill. With that assurance ringing in my ears, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

Amendment 38A

Moved by

38A: Clause 42, page 34, line 14, leave out “to the extent that” and insert “if”

My Lords, both this amendment and Amendment 42 in the name of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, are concerned with the roles of parents, young people and local authorities in making decisions about support for those with education, health and care plans.

Government Amendment 38A is a technical amendment to Clause 42. In the current system, set out in the Education Act 1996, when a statement is maintained for a child or young person the local authority is under a duty to secure the special educational provision specified in it. If a local authority names an independent school or college in the statement as special educational provision it must, under Clause 59, meet the costs of the fees, including any boarding and lodging where relevant. However, the local authority is relieved of its duty to arrange the special educational provision in the statement, including securing a place in a school or college named in a statement of SEN, if the parents or the young person have made suitable alternative arrangements for special educational provision to be made, for example, in an independent school or college or at home.

The Bill introduced to Parliament in February 2013 retained this provision, but when government amendments were introduced in Committee in the other place to place a duty on heath bodies to arrange the healthcare provision specified in an education, health and care plan, Clause 42 was amended so that, under Clause 42(5), local authorities’ and health bodies’ duties to secure and arrange specified provision would not apply,

“to the extent that the child’s parent or the young person has made suitable alternative arrangements”.

We made this change with the intention of ensuring that, in cases where a parent or young person had made suitable alternative arrangements only for education provision, the duty on responsible health commissioners to arrange required health provision would remain in place. On reflection, that wording is problematic and could have unintended consequences, since it could be interpreted to mean that when a parent or young person makes alternative arrangements for only some of the provision the local authority or health body is only relieved from its duty to make that provision and must secure and arrange the remainder. This would not be sensible or fair.

Amendment 38A would address this issue and ensure that local authorities have a clear duty to secure the special educational provision in a child or young person’s education, health and care plan; it would enable parents or young people to make alternative arrangements; it would require local authorities to satisfy themselves that those arrangements are suitable; and it would enable local authorities to assist parents in making their own arrangements suitable, if they consider it appropriate, without imposing any duty on them to do so. It has not been sufficiently clear that local authorities can assist parents in this way until now and I am pleased that this amendment gives me the opportunity to clarify the position.

Where parents or a young person make alternative arrangements, the local authority must satisfy itself that those arrangements are suitable before it is relieved of its duty to secure the provision. It can only conclude that arrangements are suitable if there is a realistic possibility of them being funded for a reasonable period of time. If it is satisfied, the authority need not name its nominated school or college in the plan and may specify only the type of provision. This is to avoid the school having to keep a place free that the parents have no intention of taking up. If the local authority is not satisfied that the parent or young person’s alternative arrangements are suitable, it could either name another appropriate school or college in the EHC plan or assist parents in making their arrangements suitable, including, if they consider it appropriate, through a financial contribution, though it will be under no obligation to meet the costs of those arrangements.

Where parents make suitable alternative arrangements for educational provision, the health commissioning body is still responsible for arranging the healthcare specified in the child or young person’s EHC plan. If parents make alternative arrangements for healthcare provision, then the health commissioning body would need to satisfy itself that those arrangements were suitable. If the arrangements were not suitable, they would arrange the provision specified in the plan or, if they felt it appropriate, assist the parents in making their own arrangements suitable. We will, of course, clarify this position in the SEN code of practice. I beg to move Amendment 38A.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this group of amendments so comprehensively. Amendment 42 is a probing amendment and the issues in it have been discussed before. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, has asked me to give her apologies for being absent. She emailed me about two hours ago to say that she was on the point of going to the operating theatre to have her appendix out. How she e-mailed at that time, I do not know, but I was asked to pass on the message and I have done so.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for such a clear and extensive explanation of this amendment. As she will know, it is a very important word when it comes to the home education community and I think that her explanation has provided all the comfort that they need as to what their situation will be in the future.

Amendment 38A agreed.

Clause 43: Schools and other institutions named in EHC plan: duty to admit

Amendment 39 not moved.

Amendment 39A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Clause 44: Reviews and re-assessments

Amendment 39B

Moved by

39B: Clause 44, page 35, line 9, leave out “his or her age” and insert “whether the educational or training outcomes specified in the plan have been achieved”

Amendment 39B agreed.

Amendment 39C not moved.

Clause 45: Ceasing to maintain an EHC plan

Amendment 39CA not moved.

Amendments 39D and 39E

Moved by

39D: Clause 45, page 35, line 37, leave out “child or young person” and insert “young person aged over 18”

39E: Clause 45, page 35, line 39, after “educational” insert “or training”

Amendments 39D and 39E agreed.

Amendment 39F

Moved by

39F: Clause 45, page 35, line 41, leave out subsection (4)

Amendment 39F agreed.

Amendment 39G not moved.

Clause 47: Transfer of EHC plans

Amendment 39GA

Moved by

39GA: Clause 47, page 36, line 29, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations shall make provision to specify those sections of an EHC plan prepared for a young person that must be transferred into—

(a) a needs assessment for disabled students’ allowances for that young person; or(b) any other assessment of need concerning the access of that young person to higher education.”

My Lords, I put down a probing amendment in Committee which was meant to draw attention to the position of young people with EHC plans at school when they enter university. Your Lordships will remember why we welcomed the EHC plan carrying on to age 25 for those engaged in further education and other courses, but the process seems—illogically—to start again for those entering higher education. During the debate there was a general view, with which I concurred, especially from the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Lucas, that regulation and guidance should focus on making the transitional arrangements between school or college and higher education as easy as possible for the students concerned. The point was made that it was not clear how the Bill would improve the current imperfect arrangements.

The Minister’s reply was encouraging; she agreed with this aim but stated that universities, not local authorities, were the best places to support young people at this transition period. She also said that local authorities should encourage young people to make an early claim for disabled student’s allowance so that support is in place when their courses begin. No one could disagree with this.

However, not all local authorities are good in their communications with young people with disabilities and, of course, the earliest that a student usually can begin these negotiations with universities is at the end of August, when A-level results lead to the confirmation of the offer of a course to begin some seven or eight weeks afterwards. Whereas universities—as the Minister pointed out—have a good record of publishing their objectives for the disabled, their record in achieving them is patchy throughout the system. We are told this by parents and students.

Section 7.19 of the code of practice sets out the Government’s expectations on transition and, although it is limited to four paragraphs, it contains some positive elements. For instance, it states:

“Where a young person with an EHC plan makes a claim for DSA, local authorities must (with the young person’s permission) pass a copy of their Plan to the relevant DSA assessor, to support and inform the application”.

However, it is not clear what “support and inform” will mean in practice. At best it could mean that the EHC plan is accepted in full as part of the DSA assessment, but the wording is too vague for us to be confident about this.

My amendment, which is a probing amendment, would add further subsections to Clause 47 which would require regulations to be made to specify those sections of an EHC plan that must be transferred into the needs assessment for the disabled student’s allowance—or, indeed, into any other formal assessment of need for other sources of funding which might become subsequently available. Obviously, the needs of young people with disabilities can change at university: what might be appropriate provision, for instance, for someone with profound hearing difficulties in the school classroom may not necessarily be suitable for a large lecture theatre at university.

My point is that a student entering university should have the same continuity of protection via the contents of his or her EHC plan as a student entering further education. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that the regulations will be strengthened, even if not necessarily in the way that the amendment suggests, in order to ensure that this is so, and to give comfort to many young people and parents who are very concerned about this. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lingfield for his amendment and for the eloquent way in which he put his important case. As my noble friend will know, we very much share his ambition to support young people with SEN and disabilities into university. We must have high expectations for these young people and provide the right provision and support through EHC plans to help them achieve their goals.

My noble friend pointed to the value of the disabled student’s allowance. DSAs, of course, are not means tested but are awarded in addition to the standard package of support and do not have to be repaid, and it is encouraging to see the take-up of DSA in this area. He is also right that we should do everything we can to ensure that young people get the support that they need and that the assessments for the new types of support build on what they had before rather than starting from square one—that was his key point.

Following debate on the issue during earlier stages of the Bill, we made some important improvements to the draft assessment and plan regulations, and to the draft code of practice. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured by those. The changes make it clear that local authorities must share a copy of the EHC plan with the relevant higher educational institution and with the DSA assessor—with the young person’s consent, of course—and that local authorities should make young people aware of the support available to them in higher education through their local offer, including the disabled student’s allowance, and how they can make an early claim so that support is in place when they start their course.

Our intention here is very similar to that of my noble friend. We want the valuable information contained within an EHC assessment to be shared both with the person assessing them for the disabled student’s allowance and with the institution they are planning to attend so that other provision may be made, as appropriate, in line with the institution’s own policies. I hope my noble friend will agree that creating further regulation in this area is unnecessary. I appreciate the flexibility of approach in his amendment.

The information within an EHC assessment is extremely valuable, but it will be only a starting point. When young people take up a place in higher education, they are starting a new phase of their education in which they will be expected to develop a different approach to learning. My noble friend recognised this. Higher education courses vary greatly in terms of content, delivery and assessment across institutions and subjects. It is therefore appropriate for a new assessment to be conducted to ensure that young persons get the support that they need in their new environment.

We are happy to look at the detail of the revised code of practice to ensure that we get the balance right, and we would be happy to receive any further advice from my noble friend in that respect. I hope that I have reassured him that we agree with what he is seeking to do, and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, which gives me much reassurance. The tightening of the code of practice will lead to better legislation than that which we faced in Committee. I look forward to hearing more and possibly discussing this with the noble Baroness. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 39GA withdrawn.

Clause 48: Release of child or young person for whom EHC plan previously maintained

Amendments 39H to 39L

Moved by

39H: Clause 48, page 36, line 32, leave out “custodial sentence” and insert “detention order (within the meaning of section 562(1A)(a) of EA 1996)”

39J: Clause 48, page 36, line 36, after “was” insert “—

(i) ”

39K: Clause 48, page 36, line 37, leave out “custodial sentence.” and insert “detention, or”

39L: Clause 48, page 36, line 37, at end insert—

“(ii) kept for him or her under section (Duty to keep EHC plans for detained persons) during the detention.”

Amendments 39H to 39L agreed.

Clause 49: Personal budgets and direct payments

Amendment 40 not moved.

Clause 51: Appeals

Amendment 40A

Moved by

40A: Clause 51, page 38, line 42, at end insert—

“(g) the social care provision specified in an EHC plan;(h) the healthcare provision specified in an EHC plan.”

My Lords, Amendment 40A, supported by my noble friends Lord Low and Lady Hollins, seeks to create a single point of appeal across education, health and care. If we are to create a joined-up system across education, care and health, we must apply the same principle to an appeals process. The case was well made by noble Lords in Committee, and I know that the Minister sympathises with the arguments.

My concern is for parents whose sons and daughters have profound and complex needs that cut across education, care and health. If in September this year the provision set out in the plans is not up to scratch, parents could end up appealing left, right and centre, across three very different cultures—from the SEN tribunal, to the health ombudsman and on to the social care chamber. Ultimately, this is about making the system run smoothly so that parents can get on with just being parents—often, as I say, to children with the most complex needs. I fear that unless we do something, parents will remain knee-deep in a quagmire of different agencies, desperately battling for support so that their sons and daughters can, rightly, achieve their aspirations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, has tabled an amendment that could see a review looking at the feasibility of bringing appeals for education, health and care together. It seems that it is a case of fix now or fix later. For the sake of disabled children and young people, and their families, I hope that whatever the outcome, the fix is soon. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have my name on the amendment and give my noble friend Lord Rix my full support in moving it. The case seems self-evidently made and I do not wish to add a great deal to what my noble friend has said.

The raison d’être of this legislation, by and large, is the Government’s attempt to sweep away the barriers of bureaucracy which, it has been well attested, have come between parents, families, children and young people and the assertion of their rights in relation to special educational provision. The Government have, very laudably, brought forward this legislation to try to tackle some of those barriers by developing an integrated system of provision through the integrated education, health and care plan.

We said in relation to an earlier amendment that it does not make much sense to put things in an education, health and care plan and give people the right to enforce provision only in one or maybe two areas but not a third. Equally, it does not make any sense to create an integrated system of provision using education, health and care plans, with a view to sweeping away barriers of bureaucracy by putting in place an integrated system of provision, and then give people a wholly unintegrated system of enforcing their entitlement to what is specified in those integrated education, health and care plans.

The Government seem to have got themselves into an impossible position here. You cannot possibly say that what you are trying to do with this legislation is sweep away barriers of bureaucracy and then require that, when people try to assert their rights under the integrated system of provision that you have put in place, they may have to go round three different places to assert their entitlements under different parts of the plan. It seems that the Government are really on a hiding to nothing here and must give some ground.

I know what the problem is. I think the Minister and the Department for Education fully agree with us—it is their Bill and they want to see this integrated system of provision, with people being able to assert their entitlements under it and bureaucratic barriers swept away—but the department’s problem is that they have to get other government departments to co-operate with this vision, and they do not always do so. Although the Department for Education may be perfectly happy to put in place a system of appeal regarding educational provision, the department lacks the power to get the Department of Health to help it put in place not separate systems of appeal but an integrated, one-stop-shop system of appeal. This is not just the Department for Education’s problem but the Government’s problem and it needs to be sorted out at a cross-governmental level.

I know the Minister shares our concern about this and I hope that he will be able to give us some indication that he is making progress in achieving a genuinely integrated cross-governmental approach. I know he is trying and I very much hope that he will be able to give us some comfort with what he tells us about the progress he is making. If he is not able to succeed, we will pass into law a brilliant system of integrated provision through education, health and care plans—which we are improving by the minute with these amendments, many of them the Government’s own, which we are passing today to make the system ever more integrated—but we will be in danger of passing a very nice system of provision into law with a completely unintegrated system of asserting children’s and families’ rights under it.

My Lords, I, too, added my name to this amendment. My noble friends Lord Rix and Lord Low have eloquently set out the logical intention behind the request to create a single point of appeal across education, health and care. If we are to create a truly joined-up system that really works for children, young people and their parents, this seems to be an absolute necessity. I speak as a parent who has worked hard to get the right support across all three systems and cultures for my son. The Government propose a single point of assessment, but the same old separate routes for redress and complaint, which will continue to bewilder and confront parents. We should aspire to more.

To focus on health needs for a moment, there are significant concerns among those in the sector that the health service is far from prepared to deal with appeals for the new plans when they are introduced from September this year. We should be mindful of the culture in which complaints and appeals happen in the NHS, and it is not quite clear where parents who are concerned about the health component of the plan would start. Ann Clwyd’s excellent recent report concluded that the NHS complaints system was confusing, lacked accountability and was subject to often long and frustrating delays. The system has been particularly unsatisfactory in the face of complaints from families of people with a learning disability.

Prior to a debate that I secured last year on the premature deaths of people with a learning disability, I met with a number of families who had lost loved ones to neglect and discrimination within the health service. Their experience of going through the NHS complaints process was that, in addition to being overbureaucratic and time-consuming, it was very defensive. They explained that it took years in many very serious cases to receive any sort of answer. A single appeal process for a single education, health and care plan might help us move closer to the joined-up system we are looking for, and ultimately help parents get what is needed for their sons and daughters.

My Lords, I, too, moved an amendment in Committee on a single point of appeal. It beggars belief that you would have progressive legislation that creates for the first time a joined-up approach to education, health and social care but not a joined-up approach to an appeals mechanism. Everybody I have spoken to agrees with that.

Of course, the problem is the current systems that we have, so the notion is that we establish a Bill that creates single education, health and social care plans but then the appeals mechanism is threefold. We expect in this child and family-friendly approach for parents then to navigate their way through these different systems. Currently, the health appeals mechanism is not very transparent and on patient or family satisfaction ratings is very low indeed. Local authorities, as we know, vary.

What do we need to do? First, the code of conduct very much highlights the need for mediation—but it talks about mediation in terms only of education, not on the health and social care side. I hope the Minister might respond by telling us how we bring the mediation together for all three strands of the plan. In my view, mediation could considerably reduce the number of people wishing to appeal.

Then you come to the appeals mechanism itself. Whatever happens here today, I am utterly convinced that, in the years that follow, there will be one tribunal for these plans. The difficulty is the bureaucratic systems, as eloquently extolled by the noble Lord, Lord Low. Currently, the bureaucracy is not fit for purpose. My great fear is that we push the bureaucracies to agree one tribunal, they go kicking and screaming, and the whole thing does not work. We have to negotiate and make sure that everybody is on board to make this happen. Having talked to Ministers in health and education—though having been slightly disillusioned by officials—I am sure that we can achieve that eventually. We need to give my noble friend Lord Nash more time to continue those negotiations. Again, as has been said, I am sure that on the education side we all agree.

My Lords, I support Amendment 40A moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and colleagues. We supported him on this in Committee and it would still be our first preference as it would add health and social care provisions to the list of matters in respect of which children, young people and families could appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

This was first moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, as he just reminded us. I recall that he subsequently said, as he has just done so, that he was unsure as to the feasibility of this approach in terms of the technicalities. For that reason, because we may not be able to evaluate those technicalities at this point, we have tabled Amendment 40B, which I will refer to in a moment. I do not know if the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, mean that he would support that amendment but it has the intention of giving the Government time to resolve whatever the issues are.

As other noble Lords have said, the issue is simple: the Government want to establish an integrated system for meeting better the needs of disabled children and those with special educational needs. That integration would be at the point of assessment and planning education, health and social care. However, as the Bill stands, that integration is blown apart at the point of appeal. As we have heard, parents and young people would potentially have to go through three different routes of appeal simultaneously for the three different elements of their plan. Like the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Rix, I sense that behind this is the considerable resistance from the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government to any change.

Having previously been a Minister for some time, I feel quite strongly that agencies should bend for the benefit of families. Families should not be imposed with the burden of mobilising three bureaucratic systems that just happen to exist. It is the job of all of us, particularly the Government, to make those agencies bend, albeit by negotiation and discussion, to make the system work for the people that we are here for.

In a letter to noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, said that the tribunal is only for special educational needs, and that, as we have heard:

“There are established routes of complaint about social care through the local authority complaints procedures”,

and, for health, to the health complaints procedure and the health ombudsman. That is not adequate, even if local authority and health appeals systems were simple—and they really are not, even for a Member of Parliament. I see the Minister for Children at the Bar and I am sure he will have tried to mobilise those complaints procedures on behalf of his constituents. It takes for ever, it is labyrinthine, it is completely not transparent and it is very bureaucratic. The idea of parents doing that on three fronts at once is simply unimaginable. There should be a single point of appeal and we support Amendment 40A.

However, should that not prevail tonight and the Government not accept it, we have tabled Amendment 40B which would require the Government actively to seek a way to secure a single point of appeal and to report back to Parliament within a year. That would keep the possibility alive. It would require the Government to do what they have not done and maybe have not had time to do so far: namely, to find a way to make this work for parents and families, to take on the resistance of those agencies and, if necessary, to change the law to establish a single point of appeal.

I am afraid that I do not share the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that without anything done this evening there will at some point in future be a single point of appeal. I was constantly surprised and depressed by the inability sometimes to change some of our big public organisations. Without the drive and initiative from this and the other place, I do not think that will happen. I hope the Minister will take that on board.

My Lords, I support Amendment 40A but particularly Amendment 40B. I agree absolutely with the principle of Amendment 40A but believe that the complexities that need working through to get a single point of entry are so great that we need some sort of driving project.

However, I sincerely believe that we need that single point of entry. Everyone has said how difficult it is for families to negotiate the different kinds of tribunal. I remind noble Lords that these families are struggling with children with severe disabilities. One thing they do not have is time. If you have a disabled child, it takes three times as long, if not more, to do anything, so you are immediately short of time. These negotiations then cut into what time you have. You are also short on emotional energy. If you have been through any sort of tribunal—I have been through a few in my time in a number of different positions—you know the emotional energy that it takes. Disabled children drain emotional energy, much as you love them.

The other thing is that the information you need for the different points of entry is extremely complex. Many families are poor, have not had educational advantage and do not always have the help of someone to take them through the information to enable them to understand it. Were the Government to achieve one different kind of tribunal, perhaps an independent tribunal, it would be more efficient and more economic, because there would be fewer people involved and less time used up.

I have to say that no Government have achieved that yet. No Government have managed to bring health, social care and education systems together. It would be a real triumph were this Government able simply to take a project through to consider the issues and complexities involved and what would be possible to make life so much easier for families who are already struggling emotionally and with their time in trying to care lovingly for a disabled child.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but I have been listening to this argument with considerable interest from the outside. The present system of appeals, and the other ways in which social care and health are dealt with, does not seem sensible and something ought to be done about it. I have to say that my heart goes with Amendment 40A and my head with Amendment 40B. I can see from what has already been said that there are some formidable obstacles to achieving the desirable end—but it is a desirable end, and it really is time, in an admirable Bill such as this, to tackle some of the more difficult themes.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, may be too optimistic, and that it would be sensible to have some spur to encourage the Government to get somewhere rather than going away and saying, “Yes, in principle we think that this is a good idea but it is extremely difficult. We have problems with the Department of Health and social services and we are not sure, with everything else that we have to do, that we can achieve it”. The advantage of Amendment 40B is that it would be a spur to getting something done. I put in a plea: the present system is not sensible and something ought to be done, and put not into the long grass but into the short grass.

My Lords, rather like my noble friend who has just spoken, from listening to the arguments, I feel it is clear that something pretty sharp has to happen. I am assuming that one can have both the amendments. If we can, I am in favour of both of them.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes, Lady Hollins and Lady Jones, for tabling the amendments, for their contributions and for bringing their experience to this debate.

Several noble Lords have been kind enough to discuss with me their questions and concerns about the complaints process for children and young people with SEN, including the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Storey. I have been listening carefully to these points and have discussed them at length with my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families.

Noble Lords have been right to press the Government hard to deliver an integrated complaints procedure to respond to the needs of a more integrated system. First, I reassure noble Lords that work is already in hand to improve the situation. The new code of practice will require that impartial information, advice and support is commissioned through joint arrangements and available through a single point of access with the capacity to handle initial phone, electronic, or face-to-face inquiries. It will also encourage clinical commissioning groups to ensure that relevant information is available at this single point of access, as well as including information on their local health offer on their website. A one-stop shop will be simpler and much more parent and young person-friendly than having to go to more than one place for advice on a range of issues, including how to complain.

Today, my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families, who has vast direct personal experience in this area, announced a £30 million package to provide children and young people with SEN and disabilities and their parents with independent support to help them through the new SEN assessment and education, health and care planning process. This funding will be available between April 2014 and March 2016. The aim is to have around 1,800 trained independent supporters from the private, voluntary and community sectors in place by autumn 2014. That equates to about 12 individuals, on average, in each local authority area in England.

This will ensure that many families have access to informed advice and support at a time when the system is changing and new processes are bedding in. These independent supporters will be independent of the local authority, but they will need to work with local authorities and other statutory agencies to help families get the support they need. Where there is disagreement, independent supporters will make sure councils understand what families want, and help families to challenge decision-making. This will mean that children and young people with SEN get the help they really need across education, health and care. This is a major step forward.

On the health side, noble Lords will also be glad to hear that work is under way on how NHS complaints are handled, in the light of the Francis report and the review undertaken by the right honourable Ann Clwyd MP and Professor Tricia Hart into the NHS hospitals complaints system. The Government want to ensure that when things go wrong, the complaints system is clear, fair and open, and that at every level, the NHS scrutinises and learns from mistakes to improve care for patients.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Healthwatch England and the Department of Health will work with the Patients Association, patients, regulators, commissioners and providers to develop universal expectations for the handling of complaints. These will be used across the NHS to drive improvements in patient satisfaction with complaint-handling. This will benefit children and young people with SEN, so we should be wary of establishing a new set of arrangements for this one group without allowing the wider suite of reforms on NHS complaints to establish itself.

Turning to why extending the remit of the tribunal is difficult, the issues here are extremely complicated. It is tempting to extend the tribunal’s remit across health and social care, but there are legitimate reasons why we cannot do so at this point. Local authorities’ duty to arrange provision that will meet the special educational needs of a child currently with a statement, or, in future, a child or young person with a plan, is absolute. The local authority has to arrange that provision no matter what the cost. This means that when the tribunal makes a decision that will increase the special educational provision for one child, that will have no effect on other children with statements because the local authority has the same absolute duty to arrange provision that meets their needs as well.

The position is different with health and social care. The authority is making decisions having regard to the health and social care needs of the whole population. We have already discussed the issues around social care in some detail. This means that, if the tribunal were to be given powers to make decisions in those areas, any decision the tribunal made to increase provision for one child or young person could mean that other children or young people with similar or even greater health or social care needs could be deprived of provision they require. It would therefore be wrong to give the tribunal the powers implied by the amendment.

The issues are significant. None the less, we should consider what more we should do now better to integrate complaints across services. This is a matter of concern to Ministers in both the Department of Health and the Department for Education. Building on our commitment to funding for key workers to help parents who need to navigate the system, we agree that there is more to be done to ensure that redress works well and feels joined up, where it needs to, and that we will need to keep that under review as the reforms are implemented.

We would therefore be grateful for the opportunity to discuss these issues further with noble Lords before Third Reading to ensure that we can confirm a strong package by that point. The things that we particularly would like to look at include: the role of mediation, including the scope to extend the arrangements in the Bill to cover health and social care as well as special education; notwithstanding the concerns I have set out, whether there could be a role for the tribunal in joining up redress across education, health and care; and what arrangements we should put in place to review how redress works once the new system is bedded in and in the light of wider reforms to complaints in the health service.

I assure noble Lords that that is something that we are taking seriously and about which we are in active discussions, which will continue, with the Department of Health. In view of what I have said, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

My Lords, this is like opening a Christmas stocking, is it not? You are never quite sure what is going to come out next. The idea that we will be given time to discuss this matter in more detail before Third Reading is a promise which has great merit. To a certain extent it answers the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on his problems, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, who was asking for an extension of up to a year before any final decision were taken. If we can make a decision before Third Reading, it will be quite incredible. I would obviously welcome that, because my amendment is asking for immediate effect, but I am very happy to attend any meeting which makes this possible. Even at Third Reading, if some sort of promise is made to continue the review along the lines laid down by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, again, I am sure that I would support that. Without knowing quite what the noble Baroness is going to say, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 40A withdrawn.

Amendment 40B

Tabled by

40B: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—

“Single point of appeal: review

(1) The Secretary of State will, within a year of this Act coming into force, carry out a review to assess the feasibility of enabling a child’s parent or a young person to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in relation to the healthcare or social care provision specified in an EHC plan.

(2) In undertaking a review under subsection (1), the Secretary of State will pay particular regard to the need for an integrated appeals process.

(3) The Secretary of State will publish, and lay before both Houses of Parliament, a report setting out the conclusions of the review.”

On the basis of what the Minister has just said, I will not press this amendment. However, I say to him that whatever strengthening he may propose in terms of mediation, that is not the same as moving towards an integrated system of appeal. We will need to see some substantial progress towards that, or a route map for getting there along the lines of Amendment 40B, if we are not to rehearse this debate and put the amendment again at Third Reading. I hope that he does not mind my making that clear.

Amendment 40B not moved.

Clause 57: Special educational provision otherwise than in schools, post-16 institutions etc

Amendment 41 not moved.

Clause 59: Fees for special educational provision at non-maintained schools and post-16 institutions

Amendments 42 and 43 not moved.

Amendment 43A

Moved by

43A: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—

“Guidance on duty to maintain a register of disabled children and young people under section 17 of the Children Act 1989

The Secretary of State shall issue impairment specific guidance, whether in regulation or otherwise, to local authorities on how they can most effectively discharge their duty to maintain a register of disabled children and young people under section 17 of the Children Act 1989.”

My Lords, Amendment 43A addresses a comparatively specific range of concerns, so I shall use my best endeavours to speak to it comparatively briefly. In a meeting that I attended earlier today, I was told that the obligation to use my best endeavours laid on me a pretty heavy obligation.

In Committee, I introduced an amendment to require local authorities in England to establish and maintain a register of sight-impaired and severely sight-impaired children and young people ordinarily resident in their area. The Care Bill currently going through Parliament lays a duty on local authorities to establish and maintain registers of sight-impaired and severely sight-impaired adults. It seemed odd, therefore, that no such obligation in relation to sight-impaired and severely sight-impaired children was included in this Bill. These registers play a critical role in enabling local authorities to assess population-level need for specialist visual impairment services and support, and to plan for their provision. The Government argued that an obligation to maintain registers of disabled children exists under the Children Act 1989, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this obligation is widely disregarded and, in any case, is not effective. The RNIB—and here I declare my interest as a vice-president of that organisation—has recently discovered by means of a series of freedom of information inquiries that a fifth of local authorities do not have a register of disabled children at all.

The Minister agreed in Committee to meet me to discuss the matter, and I am grateful to the Minister and the officials for the discussions that we have had. Given the requirement to maintain registers of disabled children, the Government are understandably reluctant to introduce a requirement to maintain further impairment-specific registers. The Government’s view is that the best way forward is to make the requirement to maintain the registers of disabled children effective rather than start setting up further impairment-specific registers. This amendment is therefore designed to assist the Government in this enterprise and give them the necessary tools by providing that the Secretary of State should issue guidance on how local authorities can most effectively discharge their duty to maintain registers of disabled children under the Children Act 1989. It is a modest and, I hope, helpful amendment. I hope very much that the Minister may be willing to accept it. I beg to move.

My Lords, this debate builds on previous discussions which we have had as the Bill has progressed. We had a particularly important debate before Christmas on the need for high-quality data to inform decisions about the necessary support for families. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his engagement in this area and his promotion of it.

Local authorities have a duty under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to maintain a register of disabled children in their area. This will remain unchanged by the Care Bill, which applies only to adults. I recognise, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Low, remains concerned that the registers of disabled children are underused and that they lack the detail needed to support effective planning of services, in particular for blind or visually-impaired children. It may well be that some local authorities do not adequately maintain their registers at the moment. We agree that guidance is important in addressing this issue, which we believe is one of practice rather than legislation, as the noble Lord indicated. We do not think that a new power to issue guidance is necessary.

In our debate before Christmas, noble Lords welcomed amendments to the Bill requiring disabled children to be included within the scope of a number of significant clauses in Part 3. These include: local authorities identifying children and young people in their area who have or may have SEN, in Clause 22; joint commissioning arrangements, in Clause 26; reviewing the special education and care provision that is available locally, in Clause 27; and the local offer, in Clause 30. I am pleased that noble Lords welcomed these amendments, which are a significant change to the Bill. They also provide a greater incentive to use the SEN code of practice, which provides statutory guidance on these and other duties under the Bill, to include guidance on issues relating to disabled children and young people.

Within the code, we will now require that local authorities have a clear picture of the numbers of disabled children within their area, including in particular data on low-incidence needs such as visual impairment or hearing impairment. We will also make clear—as we have in the existing code—that local authorities remain under a duty to maintain a register of disabled children and that these registers are particularly important in fulfilling the duties that I have just set out.

Placing this guidance within the core SEN code of practice will mean that the duties of the local authority are clearly and explicitly set out in the main statutory document that local authorities and their partners consult practically daily and which they must have regard to. This also avoids the potential for confusing or contradictory requirements across different sets of guidance. The guidance in the code will ensure that there is no doubt over the need to maintain registers of visually-impaired children and link this need clearly to the local authority duties under the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured and I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I am reassured by what she says—that the Government have certainly got hold of the issue and its importance. The important thing now is to make sure that local authorities get hold of it. I am not 100% reassured by the undertaking to ensure that it is included in a code of practice that gets thicker by the minute as we put new things in it. This provision seems the kind of exhortation that could easily get buried among a lot of other, more high-profile stuff.

Could the Government meet me one step further? The Minister kindly offered to include the issue in the code of practice. Not only that, but when the code of practice is circulated, as it will be, could they specifically draw the issue to local authorities’ attention as an important requirement that they have to give considerable attention to? That would be particularly helpful. When the code of practice is circulated, there will be ancillary communications surrounding it, laying emphasis on the importance of this and that aspect. If the Minister would agree to put something in those supporting communications to draw attention to the importance of maintaining the registers, for the point of view of the data that they provide and the opportunity for identification of need and planning that they—

Maybe I could reassure the noble Lord that we will highlight the importance of the duties when we write to local authorities about the implementation of the Bill.

Now I am about 99.9% reassured. That is very helpful and I am grateful to the Minister for it. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 43A withdrawn.

Clause 62: Using best endeavours to secure special educational provision

Amendments 44 and 45 not moved.

Amendment 45A

Moved by

45A: Clause 62, page 45, line 40, at end insert—

“( ) On using their best endeavours to fully meet the special educational needs of a registered student at a school or other institution, the school or other institution must undertake an audit of the skills and knowledge of its workforce to deliver a graduated approach to special educational provision.”