HL Deb 08 June 1998 vol 590 cc740-65

6 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 62 [Power of head teacher to exclude pupils]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 186:

Page 48, line 35, at end insert—

("() No pupil may be permanently excluded from a maintained school unless—

  1. (a) all reasonable steps have been taken by the school to avoid excluding the pupil; and
  2. (b) the head teacher is satisfied that allowing the pupil to remain in the school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of the pupil, or to that of others at the school.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 186 is the first of 18 amendments in this large group, and of those amendments Amendments Nos. 186 to 188 and Amendments Nos. 194 and 235 are mine. As regards Amendment No. 186, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has read paragraph (b) which states, the head teacher is satisfied that allowing the pupil to remain in the school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of the pupil, or to that of others at the school". That answers the worry that the noble Lord had about an earlier amendment. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that this amendment was tabled by the Labour Party Front Bench in relation to the (now) Education Act 1997. It was also tabled by it in 1993 and, presumably, it was in favour of the sentence therein.

We have yet to encounter a head teacher or governor who has any objection to the grounds themselves. These are widely held to be a correct description of the circumstances when a pupil may—arguably, should—be permanently excluded.

The proposed grounds, already in DfEE circular 10/94, have two limbs. The first limb—that the school should have taken reasonable steps to avoid the exclusion—could be usefully developed in regulations or guidance, in terms of what steps are reasonable. However, the word "reasonable" ensures that where there is a genuine emergency, such as a violent assault, a pupil may be excluded straight away.

The second limb—that unless excluded, the pupil's behaviour would be seriously detrimental to the pupil's or others' education or welfare,—would prevent the exclusion of pupils for routine, very minor disciplinary misdemeanours.

We believe that it is the key to obtaining the "step change" in exclusions desired by the Prime Minister because it fetters schools' massive powers in this area while at the same time introducing a clear, legal baseline which should operate for the benefit of all. All parties would, finally, be reading the same script and allegations of a system which unfairly discriminates against teachers, governors or LEAs, black children or looked-after children, or whatever, should be put to rest.

My next amendment is Amendment No. 187. However well schools organise themselves and however well LEAs work in support of them, inevitably there will be times when pupils have to be excluded for the safety of other pupils and the staff at the school. The challenge for the legislation is to ensure that, for pupils who are excluded, they are out of school for as short a time as possible and that during that time there is as much educational continuity as possible.

The 45-day total over the year of the fixed-term exclusions brought in by the Education Act 1997 will be confirmed by the regulations in this Bill. If it is not amended, this limit will come into effect this September. The 45-day total is too long. If the days were all allocated within one term it could mean that a child would miss nearly a whole term of education in one fell swoop. We wish to see the 15-day limit over one term re-introduced, combined with greater clarity about the provision of work during that period.

Amendment No. 188 aims to improve school responsibilities in relation to fixed-term exclusions. The Children's Consortium on Education, which is responsible for this amendment, believes that a clear distinction should be made between permanent and fixed-term exclusions which we believe should revert to their common name of "suspension". The grounds for a fixed-term exclusion can, we argue, be much wider than those for a permanent exclusion, including "automatic" suspensions; for example, for possession of a weapon or drugs. However, this amendment ensures that schools do not suspend children just to get a break from them and that they take appropriate steps when suspension occurs.

The consortium would also argue that the 45-day limit imposed by the Education Act 1997 reverts to a 15-day limit. The Truancy and School Exclusion report from the Social Exclusion Unit, emphasises the importance of reintegrating an excluded child into school and the lack of alternative education provision offered to them. That appears in paragraphs 2.21 and 2.22 of the report. This reintegration is difficult enough after a five-day exclusion. A week is a long time to a child. After a total of 45 days in a school year—or missing two and a bit months of school—it becomes almost impossible. Those who receive education otherwise—an estimated 25,000 according to the Social Exclusion Unit—receive only 10 per cent. of full education.

Under this amendment the head teacher is placed under a general duty to take steps to get a suspended pupil back into school as soon as possible. Two specific steps are mentioned: to make sure that any special educational needs of the pupil have been identified and to have a meeting with all the relevant people to agree causes and solutions. All of these steps were supported by the conclusions of the Ofsted Report on exclusions from secondary schools and the Truancy and School Exclusion report from the Social Exclusion Unit. This amendment was tabled by the Government when they were in opposition in 1996–97. It was very useful that the school exclusion report came out before we had to discuss these clauses in the Bill. I very much hope that attention will be paid by the Government to this very good report.

The terms of Amendment No. 194 have not yet been considered by the Government, either now or when in opposition. They are to ensure that unpopular schools are not forced to take all the excluded pupils in the area because the popular schools are full and therefore can resist any direction to admit a pupil. The excluded pupil filling the vacated place would have to satisfy any admissions criteria relating to academic ability or religious affiliation attached to the place, but not ones relating to attitude, aptitude or catchment area. This revolving-door policy would allow pupils to begin again at another school while protecting the unpopular schools from becoming the obvious place for all problem pupils and pupils with problems. That is especially true now that we know the majority of excluded children have unmet learning difficulties.

The amendment might be unpopular with some schools; for example, those who use exclusions as a backdoor method for selection. That should be offset by the gains to other schools.

An indirect, but important, consequence of this amendment, should be to concentrate the minds of schools before excluding a pupil because it might mean that they get someone worse. If accepted, Clause 88 might need some consequential amendment. We would argue that Clause 79 could, but does not have to be, abandoned since any need for it would be obviated. The "two strikes and you're out" measures which ensure that no single school is forced to admit all of the difficult pupils already excluded from other schools would become redundant. This amendment would support an LEA's obligation to provide an excluded pupil with a full-time and appropriate education as recommended by the Social Exclusion Unit in its recent report.

The proposed clause requires that parents and pupils agree to the placement in order to comply with the statutory principle of parental preference and the pragmatic principle of pupil co-operation. It is an important point that excluded pupils are looked after properly and reinstated as soon as possible. The longer they are out of school the less easily they will be able to reintegrate into the education system.

Finally, Amendment No. 235 is designed to secure that excluded pupils and others out of school such as sick children are entitled to full-time education. There is no disagreement that excluded pupils need full-time education—if anything, they need more than other pupils. The fact that they are not provided with full-time education is a matter of resources, not principle. Out-of-school education does not have to conform to the national curriculum. One can include activities such as work experience, which may well be very good for children. Failure to make this provision places parents in the invidious position of being in breach of their legal duty to secure their children's full-time education. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

I speak to three amendments in this grouping. I apologise to Members of the Committee. Earlier I was wrong to assume that they would be run together. It was a newcomer's error. I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 187A, 194A and 197A, all of which are part of the same group. Amendment No. 187A deals with the whole question of exclusion. It proposes that after a period of more than three days parents should have a right of appeal. If their child is excluded for a shorter period that is perhaps unnecessary. The amendment seeks to define an acceptable period. If a child is excluded for half a day or a day to trigger the whole process is unreasonable. My amendment suggests that the provision should be activated after a period of more than three days.

Amendments Nos. 194A and 197A deal with the length of time that the exclusions are in process before the end of the appeal procedure. The noble Baroness, Lady David, and I seek to ensure that in this day and age of instant communication children go back to school as quickly as possible. I believe that it is sensible to reduce the period in the Bill to two weeks. That is the purpose of these two consequential amendments. The intention is to get children back into the class. One of the difficulties is that until the appeal is heard very often the child cannot be moved to another school and dealt with in an ongoing manner.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 223 which is part of the present group. Once again, one of my amendments has been propelled involuntarily into a group to which it is totally unrelated. With the leave of the Committee, I propose to speak to it when we reach Amendment No. 195 and defer comment upon it until then. At the risk of repeating the obvious, that in no way diminishes my support for what has been said by my noble friend.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

Amendment No. 235 is in my name. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has spoken ably to this amendment. Amendment No. 235 seeks to ensure that pupils who are excluded are given full-time education. It is the parents who have the responsibility to ensure that their children have full-time education, not schooling. I do not suggest that the parents should necessarily be responsible for providing the education but it is important that the child is educated. If the child is excluded and allowed to do nothing the child's behaviour will become worse. The child will be idle. The Committee will be familiar with the old saying that the Devil makes work for idle hands. A child needs to be educated and kept interested in his education. If the child is not interested in his or her education he or she will not pay attention and will not learn.

Normally, children will be excluded because their behaviour is below standard. That may well be because of special educational needs, possibly because they are so bright that they are far ahead of the rest of the class and become bored; others because they have difficulty in learning and cannot keep up or do not understand. They also need special attention. It may also be the case that they cannot see the blackboard and their sight needs to be looked after. All of those matters need to be considered. But if one is to produce children who grow up into responsible members of society one must ensure that even if they are excluded from school they are given full-time education so that they can feel worthwhile individuals in themselves and receive training to make them useful and responsible members of society; otherwise, they will end up as hoodlums.

Lord Elton

I briefly endorse what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I do so on the basis of seven years' experience as a teacher in a secondary school, two of them in a comprehensive school with 1,500 boys on a slum clearance estate. The availability of exclusion when I was teaching at that school would have been enormously tempting. My task would have been a great deal simpler had I been able to disembarrass myself of certain people whose names and voices are still clearly imprinted upon my memory. But that would have been a dereliction of duty. I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is a minimum requirement that the Government can refuse only on the grounds that the requirement already exists elsewhere in another form.

I should like to emphasise to the Committee that first temporary and then permanent exclusion is a slippery slope down which disaffected children slide into an area in which they are almost universally tempted into some form of criminality. I chair a charity, the Divert Trust, which introduces adult mentors who are paired up with children who are on the edge of exclusion or who are in exclusion. Its aim is to reduce juvenile crime. The most predictable area of juvenile crime is among children who are excluded from school and given nothing whatever to do or a little to do without supervision; in other words, they are subjected to an intensification of the circumstances which led to their misbehaviour in the first place. Their position is made worse and not better. This is an expensive activity, but I can assure Members of the Committee that if children are not formally taken in hand at that stage with care the expense to the state and the institutions to deal with criminals will be hugely greater.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I too rise in support of the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. The Committee is considering exclusion in terms of the protection of the school or perhaps the punishment of the individual. But I believe that there may be occasions when the young person needs the kind of support that can be given by a pupil referral unit which perhaps the school is unable to give. Often youngsters with behavioural problems come from difficult home backgrounds and will require the kind of individual support that is simply not available in a large class.

My experience of pupil referral units is that they do good work with such youngsters because, of course, they work with much smaller groups of young people. I have seen both local authority referral units and private ones. In both cases it is possible to work with young people at a level which is simply not possible in a school and, moreover, to work in such a way that it is possible for them to be fed back into mainstream provision. I am thinking primarily of primary school children. I would entirely endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that intervention at that level and in that sort of case can not only give immense support to young people but is in the end a much less costly way of going about it.

Baroness Blackstone

In responding to the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady David and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I am also speaking to a group of government amendments which I hope will provide reassurance for those who have spoken on this group.

Perhaps I can say this to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer. I am sorry that for some reason on the groupings the amendment that he has @referred to, Amendment No. 223, was listed with this group. On the groupings that I have we intended it to be grouped with the other amendments on Schedule 18. He is absolutely right, that is the correct place for it.

I understand the intention behind these amendments, which is to reduce the number of children who are excluded from school every year. I have an enormous amount of sympathy with that intention and agree with a great deal of what has already been said. The Government are very much committed to the same goal. However, they do not consider that these amendments are the best way to achieve that.

Beginning with Amendment No. 186, I recognise the wording of this amendment as advice taken from the department's own guidance on exclusion. While most schools follow this guidance carefully and use permanent exclusion only as a last resort—which, of course, is what they should do—and in response to the most serious incidents, it is clear that a minority of schools choose to ignore our guidance. That is why we have tabled amendments—to require all those involved in the exclusion process to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance. That was in the earlier group, Amendment No. 193C.

The revised guidance will continue to place emphasis on the need for permanent exclusions to be used only as a last resort and when the child's continuing presence in the school would be seriously detrimental to the welfare or education of others in the school. However, unlike primary legislation, the detailed guidance can be used to recognise that there may sometimes be exceptions to this general rule.

Acceptance of Amendment No. 186 could make it unlawful for a school permanently to exclude a pupil with no previous record of poor discipline who mounted a serious physical attack on a teacher, as it might be argued that such an exclusion was not a "last resort". It is important that schools are able to respond with a permanent exclusion to one-off incidents of behaviour that may be very damaging to others in the school. I therefore think that it would be better to use statutory guidance to tackle the problem that this amendment highlights.

Moving on to Amendment No. 187. I should reassure noble Lords that the Government are well aware of concerns within this place about the provisions introduced by the Education Act 1997 to allow schools to exclude a pupil for up to 45 days in a school year rather than the current limit of 15 days in a school term. The changes will come into force this September and the revised limits on fixed period exclusions are replicated in this Bill.

The changes to the time limits were introduced, with cross-party support, in response to concern from head teachers that 15 days was not long enough to prepare the pupil to be reintegrated into school, and that schools were having to resort to permanent exclusion when a longer fixed term exclusion would have been much more appropriate. The I5-day limit is seen as a particular problem where support from social workers or educational psychologists, for example, is needed to ensure successful reintegration.

I know that there is concern that some schools may abuse this new flexibility, leaving children out of school for several weeks at a time with no proper education. But it cannot be right to abandon a provision which, when used appropriately should help reduce the incidence of permanent exclusion simply because of fears that not all schools will use the provision properly. Instead, we need to establish an exclusions process which includes enough safeguards to ensure that schools use longer fixed period exclusions only where appropriate. We therefore believe that the Bill contains the necessary checks to ensure that exclusions of more than the current limit of 15 days are used only where these are absolutely necessary to avoid a permanent exclusion.

Turning to Amendment No. 188, I should like to reassure noble Lords that there is no need for a regulation-making power to help ensure that a child who is excluded for a fixed period returns to school as quickly as possible. Clause 63(1)(a) requires the head teacher to tell the relevant person, normally the parent, the length of the exclusion at the point at which the pupil is excluded. We will use guidance to make absolutely clear to head teachers that fixed period exclusions should not normally be for more than a few days, and also to encourage meetings between teachers, parents and the pupil where a child persistently misbehaves.

As with the other amendments in this group, I have sympathy with the intention behind Amendment No. 194. The amendment would force schools which have permanently excluded a pupil to give first priority when filling that place to a pupil excluded from another school.

Unfortunately, however, the proposal is not without its disadvantages. First among these is that it would appear to "reward" an excluded child with a place at a popular oversubscribed school, ahead of well behaved children who were on the waiting list. Instead we intend to use other incentives, such as changes to the financial arrangements and the way in which performance tables are calculated, to give schools extra incentives to avoid exclusion and to admit pupils excluded from other schools.

I sympathise strongly with the intention behind Amendment No. 235. As noble Lords know, many children who are permanently excluded from school currently receive little education, often only a few hours a week. Some children do not have any education arranged for them at all for several months. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly pointed out, this is an appalling situation. These children will not only suffer educationally in the period out of school, but will also have great difficulty re-integrating into school, as well as being likely to get into trouble with the law.

Following the report Truancy and School Exclusion from the Social Exclusion Unit, it is now government policy for all children excluded from school to receive an appropriate full-time education by the year 2001, and I welcome the support for this from my noble friend and from the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen.

In May of this year, the Social Exclusion Unit report recommended how we can make a step change in the levels of truancy and exclusion. We are pledged to reduce levels of truancy and exclusion by one third by 2002 and we are taking a whole range of steps to achieve that. We recognise, however, that there will always be some children, I am afraid to say, who are excluded from school. An important part of our strategy is therefore to ensure that those pupils' needs are properly catered for while they are out of school. We have therefore agreed to stipulate in statutory guidance that "full-time and appropriate education" be provided for every child who is excluded for more than three weeks. This will be quite a difficult recommendation to meet. It will take some LEAs quite a while to reach the starting blocks.

We are, of course, aware that arranging education out of school for a mixed bag of schools is expensive. Extending that provision will certainly have financial implications. These are being considered as part of the comprehensive spending review. It will take a little time to achieve the significant improvements that I think we all agree are needed to current provision, but I expect there to be a full timetable for all excluded children by no later than 2001.

I do, however, understand and fully support the aim of the amendment. I am still, however, doubtful that an amendment of this kind is necessary. It does not have the effect of requiring full-time education for excluded pupils. An amendment to require that cannot be made to Section 19 of the Education Act 1996, as that section applies to all children who are not in school, not just those who have been excluded; including, for example, sick children. It would also not be advisable to apply a rather narrow legal meaning of "education" to that particular set of children. Many of the children, particularly the older ones, are seriously disaffected. They will respond to something out of the ordinary to re-engage in mainstream society and education. An increased emphasis on personal and social development, counselling, possibly placement in a further education college for an older child, or with a voluntary provider, can all be valuable activities for an excluded child. Clearly, nobody would want to see any of such activities in any way restricted by an over-narrow legal framework.

The department's statutory guidance will explain in detail the kind of provision that might not easily be defined as "education". It will be much easier to explain that in statutory guidance than to set it out in law. We intend to issue the guidance later this year, after wide consultation with local education authorities and others. We have already informed LEAs that they should be moving towards a full timetable for every child, with a clear focus on reintegration into mainstream schooling wherever possible. The guidance will expand on that. As I have indicated, we expect that to be delivered by 2001.

I now turn to a group of amendments concerned with the arrangements for a parent to appeal against the permanent exclusion of his or her child. In some cases, for example training of appeal panel members and the presence of observers at the hearing, similar considerations apply in relation to both admissions and exclusions appeals.

Amendment No. 187A is intended to remove the parent's right to make representations against exclusions of three days or fewer. The Bill as drafted requires the governors to hold a meeting to which the parents are invited only in the case of exclusions of more than five days. For shorter exclusions the governing body may decide to receive written representations only, and perhaps consider them termly at an ordinary meeting.

The Government consider that that approach places a minimal burden on governors while allowing them to keep under review the head teacher's use of short fixed period exclusions.

Amendments Nos. 194A and 197A are intended to reduce the amount of time that excluded pupils are out of school and not learning. I am entirely in accord with the desire of the noble Baroness to speed up the appeals process as much as possible. Indeed, the Bill as currently drafted explicitly requires the LEA to have regard to the desirability of securing that an appeal is heard without delay.

Where parents are sure that they wish to appeal against a permanent exclusion there is nothing to stop them doing so immediately. In some cases, however, parents will wish to seek advice from others before reaching a decision as to whether to appeal. The Government consider that reducing the time limit from 15 to 10 school days might place too much pressure on parents when they are making that important decision.

I turn to Amendment No. 197A. We have already set LEAs a challenging timetable for setting up panels to hear appeals against permanent exclusions. While we would, of course, encourage those panels to hear their appeals as quickly as possible, we do not believe that it would be practicable to reduce the timetable any further in every case. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will feel able not to move her amendments.

I turn now to the government amendments. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 198A, 222A, 222B, 223A and 226A. The amendments respond to concerns raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer who fears that too large a number of observers can be intimidating for parents and that a restriction on observers would emphasise the independence of the appeal.

The amendments restrict the right of observers at admission and exclusion appeals at appeals hearings relating to children permanently excluded from two or more schools. Under our amendments, a member of the authority or, in the case of admission appeals, a governor of the school concerned, will only be allowed to observe an appeal hearing where the appeal panel so directs. That would allow the appeal panel to hear representations from the parties involved and come to a decision on whether observers should be allowed. We expect the provisions in the Bill to be supported by guidance on the role of observers in the proposed code of practice.

We have also tabled a technical amendment (Amendment No. 223A) to ensure that the right of a single Council on Tribunals member to observe an appeal hearing is worded in the same way in the separate schedules relating to admissions appeals and to exclusion appeals. These amendments do not affect the right of members of the Council on Tribunals to observe an appeal hearing.

Government Amendments Nos. 196A, 219B and 219C concern the arrangements for hearing appeals against decisions on exclusions and admissions. They are necessary to cover those, I hope, rare occasions when a member of the appeal panel is taken ill or dies during the course of the consideration of the appeal. The amendments apply only to panels with five members. They allow the panel to continue its consideration of an appeal provided that three or more members of the panel remain, and the panel continues to include at least one lay member and at least one member with knowledge or experience in education or who is a parent of a registered pupil at a school.

These amendments will reduce the number of instances where the untimely death or illness of a panel member delays the conclusion of an appeal or, particularly in the case of multiple admission appeals, requires the relevant authority to reconstitute the panel and rehear cases. Such a delay to the outcome of an appeal hearing is not in the best interests of the children concerned.

Finally, Amendment No. 198B removes from the primary legislation details of the factors that must be taken into account by an appeal panel when deciding whether to direct that a permanently excluded pupil be reinstated. As we intend to replicate those provisions in new guidance, to which appeal panels will be required to have regard, that level of detail is more appropriately covered in guidance.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reassuring words about how the Government view the education of children who are, as it were, thrown out of school. I know my honourable friends from the Liberal Democrat Benches raised that issue in another place. They, too, will be pleased to hear what the Minister said today.

I cast my mind back some, perhaps 10, years. I could not help thinking that many authorities dealt rather more effectively with excluded children than we may do today. I found it distressing to note that it may be a couple of years before we return all over the country to some of the best practice that happened in local authorities in the past.

It is not easy, because it is not cheap to deal with the education of excluded children. The terrible mess that we have got into over this can be put down partly to the fact that school budgets have been cut over the years. This is the area that has been cut in the past. Many children have created many problems with a great deal of extra expense for us in other areas of our daily lives. It is a sad reflection on what has happened to education in recent years.

I strongly believe it is because of the cuts that local authorities were forced to make that these types of children did not receive the education and help that they required when they could not be maintained within schools. It is quite clear that some of the practices that operated years ago were very effective, and it would be nice if we could get back to that situation sooner than the year 2001. I urge the Minister to press for these things to be done sooner if that is possible, in which case we should all be very pleased.

Baroness Blatch

I should like to endorse that point and then return to something that the Minister said when speaking to these amendments: namely, that full-time education would be guaranteed for all children who are excluded over a certain period. Of course it would be costly—those are the words of the Minister—and these matters will be considered by the comprehensive spending review. We do not yet know what that review will throw up? We do not know whether it will throw up billions of pounds or something less. Nor do we know the priorities for spending that money when it comes on stream. My question is very specific and I think it is important. The policy is actually fixed in concrete and a date has been set for it. Therefore, can the noble Baroness say that, whatever amount comes out of the comprehensive spending review and whatever may be the share for education, this particular policy will pre-empt any savings? In other words, the money will be found and will be given to LEAs to meet their obligations in order to deliver quite specifically this pledge by the year 2001.

Baroness Blackstone

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her comments. She is absolutely right that 10 or 15 years ago nothing like the number of children were being excluded from schools as is currently the case. This Government are determined to bring these numbers down. I agree that it is rather disappointing that it will take a little while but, frankly, we have to be realistic. She is of course right to say that school budgets were cut in the past and this particular area was not perhaps given the priority that it should have had.

Of course the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right: I cannot give a guarantee as to what the comprehensive spending review will throw up, and any help that she can give me in this area in negotiating with the Treasury will be welcome. This is of course a very high priority area, because, if we do not solve the problem, there will be a large number of uneducated or semi-educated young people who in the end will not be employable, quite apart from the fact that they may well get into serious trouble with the law.

Baroness Blatch

I am afraid that the noble Baroness has missed my point. I do not think there will be a large number of uneducated people, because in law there will be a very specific obligation on local authorities to deliver. They will not have any choice. There is no flexibility built in here. If 2001 is the year by which every child who has been excluded in the particular circumstances set out in the Bill must be provided with full-time education, and if the money does not come from the comprehensive spending review, it will be pre-empted money from the local authorities.

I am simply saying that if the money is not thrown up by the comprehensive spending review or if the allocation is not made by the Treasury via the Department for Education from the spending review, does that mean that local education authorities will have their own expenditure pre-empted in order to fulfil their legal obligation under the Bill by the year 2001?

Baroness Blackstone

I think that perhaps the noble Baroness should be a bit more confident about what I have said. The Social Exclusion Unit has reported on this. This is an area to which the Government are totally committed, and somehow or other the money will be found. I am absolutely convinced that this is a very high priority and it is an area where the government of which the noble Baroness was a member signally failed. We were left with very large numbers of exclusions, compared with earlier years, and young people were not being adequately supported.

Baroness Blatch

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness because she has given me the answer that I wanted: that the money will be found from somewhere. I thank her.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness David

There have been quite a number of contributions to this group of amendments and I would like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Elton, for the support that they have given. It is very good to hear others with teaching experience speaking about this particular area. I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who commented on Amendment No. 235. I certainly agree with him that referral units are necessary and are often extremely good. My worry was that quite often pupils were not sent to them and so those children were not receiving the education they should have been receiving. Whether this is work experience or a place in a referral unit does not really matter. If they are excluded from school, we want them to be somewhere, getting some sort of education.

I was very cheered by what my noble friend said about Amendment No. 235. I accept that my amendment may be technically incorrect, but it is encouraging to hear that the Government are taking very seriously the point that children should have proper full-time education if they are excluded. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I am sorry that we cannot be sure of it happening until the year 2001, but after all that will be a great improvement on what is happening now. We hope to move towards that provision so that all children receive full-time education if they are excluded—a move that may have to be made by degrees. I should like to have my noble friend's reassurance about that.

I think that my noble friend had a certain sympathy for my other amendments. However, I shall have to read her objections to Amendment No. 186, which I shall do very carefully. I was rather surprised by the response to Amendment No. 187 and also to the amendments put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that 15 days is too short a time to reintegrate pupils. I should not have thought that was the case, but I suppose I must take it that it is. It seems to me that steps should be taken immediately a child is excluded. Perhaps we could make progress with this situation which, as my noble friend said, really got much worse under the previous government.

The Minister is relying a great deal on guidance. Guidance, as we discussed earlier, is all right but it does not have to be regarded; and that, I think, is the worry about her response to some of the amendments I moved. I will read what she has said and, if need be, I will come back at a later stage. I was particularly pleased with my noble friend's response to Amendment No. 235, which is very important indeed. I am grateful to her for that. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 186.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 187 not moved.]

Clause 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Exclusion of pupils: duty to inform parents, etc.]:

Baroness Byford had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 187A:

Page 49, line 6, at end insert— ("() Where the exclusion referred to in subsection (1) above is for a period of more than three school days, the head teacher shall, in addition to the matters referred to in that subsection, inform the relevant person—").

The noble Baroness said: I thank the Minister for her response. As I said at the beginning, the whole purpose of this group of amendments is to speed up some of the processes that are laid down in the Bill. I think all those who have spoken are very aware that we do not wish to have children excluded from schools, or to have them excluded for as short a time as possible. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. Perhaps I might also say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that I am a little disappointed that we cannot speed up the appeals committee; the review. I also will read Hansard.

[Amendment No. 187A not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 188 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Functions of governing body in relation to excluded pupils]:

[Amendment No. 189 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 189A and 189B:

Page 49, line 40, leave out from ("representations") to end of line 41 and insert ("about the exclusion made to the governing body—

  1. (i) by the relevant person in pursuance of section 63(1)(c) or (2)(b), or
  2. (ii) by the local education authority;").

Page 49, line 42, leave out ("the relevant person") and insert ("each of the following, namely—

  1. (i) the relevant person, and
  2. (ii) an officer of the local education authority nominated by the authority,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 190 to 191A not moved.]

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 192:

Page 50, line 10, at end insert ("and the grounds on which it is based").

The noble and learned Lord said: It may be convenient for the Committee to discuss Amendment No. 193 with this amendment. Earlier my noble friend Lord Whitty spoke to Amendment No. 193A and it may be convenient to discuss that with this grouping.

These amendments address a narrow point, but they seek to introduce a requirement which is at the very foundation of natural justice. This part of the Bill, as we know, deals with exclusions. It is a difficult enough subject in all conscience. The Council on Tribunals has found it necessary, in successive annual reports, to criticise the provisions which previously existed. I welcome the Government seeking, in this Bill, to address some of those problems.

I hope that the omissions that these amendments seek to rectify were simply because it was intended to deal with the matter subsequently in regulations, but I believe that it is of sufficient importance to appear on the face of the Bill.

Clause 63(1)(b) says that, where the head teacher decides to exclude a pupil, he must inform the parents or other relevant person of the reasons for the exclusion. Quite right, too. It would be monstrous if a child were excluded and those concerned were not told the reasons. When the governing body is informed of the exclusion, it is under a duty to decide whether to uphold the exclusion or to order reinstatement. Yet the Bill imposes no obligation to give the reasons why the governing body agrees or disagrees with the head teacher.

One would have thought, in any event, that those most concerned were entitled to know the reasons for an exclusion and what subsequently happened about it. The case goes further. If there is an appeal, the matter may have to be considered by an appeal panel. The appeal is specifically stated to be against the decision of the governing body—not, the Committee will observe, against the initial decision of the head teacher to exclude. Is the appeal panel not to have the advantage of knowing the reasons for the decision against which it is hearing an appeal? So far, I believe that my noble friends agree with me, as my noble friend Lady Blackstone has set down Amendment No. 193A and my noble friend Lord Whitty has spoken in support of it.

I am grateful to my noble friends for taking note of my amendments and conceding 50 per cent. of them. I am bound to say that that is a higher response rate from the Front Bench than Back Benchers have been accustomed to in the past.

Amendment No. 193A would require the governing body to tell parents or other relevant persons the reasons for upholding the decision to exclude a pupil, if they uphold it. My gratitude to my noble friend Lady Blackstone is augmented by the fact that she took the trouble of writing to me to explain what she proposed to do. I hope it will not appear churlish, in the light of such generosity, if I point out that it meets only half of my amendments. I was proposing that the governors should be required, if conversely they overturn the decision of the head teacher and direct that the pupil should be reinstated, to tell the head teacher the reasons for their conclusion.

Earlier we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, of the concerns of the staff at the possible return of a pupil who has been excluded. It is a matter of great concern if a thoroughly disruptive pupil is permitted to return to the school, notwithstanding the decision of the head teacher to exclude him. No doubt, there will be occasions when parents and child will demonstrate an element of triumphalism: "There you are, you see, we were treated unjustly".

Surely the governors could be required to say that they were not persuaded that the allegations against the pupil were true; that they think there may be room for a mistake; or that they think there was an over-reaction and they agree that the complaint was justified, but they think that the child could be offered counselling and, in the light of that, could be given one more chance.

It would be important for everyone to know the governors' reasons. The staff would have to live with the decision. There have been occasions when, in the case of an exclusion panel, the staff have been so far affronted by a decision to reinstate a child that they have discussed strike action. I am sure that my noble friends will agree that it is of the greatest importance that all the decisions provided for in this part of the Bill, at every stage, should carry authority and be accepted.

While I thank my noble friends for their generous response to my amendments, I hope that they will feel able to extend their response one stage further. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As my noble and learned friend said, it probably would have been more convenient if the government amendment were considered here. I shall refer to it in my remarks. These amendments concern circumstances in which the governing body must give reasons for its decisions on exclusions. I am grateful to my noble and learnd friend and the Council on Tribunals for bringing this to our attention.

As currently drafted, the Bill requires governors to notify parents of their decision, but the governors do not have to give reasons. The government amendment, as I have said, rectifies that omission to the extent that it requires the governing body to set out a statement of its reasons for upholding a permanent exclusion when notifying the parents of the outcome of its consideration of the case.

My noble and learned friend's amendments go further than that in two respects. They place a requirement on the governing body to give the parents reasons for upholding a decision to exclude a pupil for a fixed period, as well as permanently, and requires the governing body to give reasons when it is directing reinstatement—in other words, overturning the initial judgment as my noble and learned friend has just mentioned.

We do not consider it necessary to put this on the face of the Bill. While it is clearly the practice for the governing body to give reasons for all its decisions, and in practice it is inconceivable that the governors would not tell the head teacher why they had overturned an exclusion, the reason this is dealt with on the face of the Bill is because it is only in the case of a decision to exclude permanently that there is a statutory right of appeal for the parent. That is why we have tabled just this one amendment to the schedule. However, we intend to cover the other aspects of notification in the guidance, to which governing bodies and others will legally be required to have regard. In practice, it would be inconceivable that the guidance and practice of governing bodies would not require them, for example, to tell the head teachers why they had overturned an exclusion.

On the understanding that those points would be covered by guidance, and that the main point as to whether there is a statutory right of appeal is dealt with by the government amendment, I hope my noble and learned friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

Of course, I am grateful to my noble friend for meeting me perhaps a little over half way. He has persuaded me that he has gone a little over the dividing line. I am grateful for that.

As for providing an appeal when a child is excluded for a fixed period, I say at once that that was an oversight. I drafted my amendment in something of a hurry, late at night, and I had forgotten that that would be a consequence. That is not what was in my mind. However, it seems to me that if the governors reinstate a child whom the headteacher has purported to exclude he is entitled to know why. Although in 999 cases out of a 1,000 they would tell the head teacher why they disagree, sometimes relations are strained or the school is unhappy. Sometimes governors are unreasonable, but not for the most part. Why not provide for such circumstances? I can see no reason.

My noble friend says that the issue will be dealt with in guidance. We have already had several exchanges about the status of the guidance. I would much rather provision appeared on the face of the Bill, but at this stage and in view of what my noble friend was kind enough to say, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

[Amendment No. 193 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 193A and 193B:

Page 50, line 19, at end insert— ("(ia) the reasons for the decision,").

Page 50, line 38, leave out ("section 65") and insert ("sections 65 and (Exclusion of pupils: guidance)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 65 agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 193C:

After Clause 65, insert the following new clause—


(".—(1) This section applies to any functions of—

  1. (a) the head teacher or the governing body of a maintained school,
  2. (b) a local education authority, or
  3. (c) an appeal panel constituted in accordance with paragraph 2 of Schedule 18,
conferred by or under any of sections 62 to 65 and Schedule 18.

(2) In discharging any such function, such a person or body shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 194 not moved.]

Schedule 18 [Appeals against exclusion of pupils]:

[Amendment No. 194A not moved.]

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 195:

Page 176, line 27, at end insert— ("() The panel shall be chaired by a barrister or solicitor of at least 5 years' standing or by a person having a 5–year qualification (construed in accordance with section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990).").

The noble and learned Lord said: The Committee may find it convenient if we also discuss Amendments Nos. 196, 197, 220, 221 and 223. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to reverse the order of my amendments and speak first to Amendment No. 196. It is easier to argue from the general to the particular.

Amendment No. 196 virtually speaks for itself. Being a member of an appeal panel is not the same as attending a committee meeting, although one sometimes meets members of local education authorities who believe that it is. It is concerned with a judicial process. It is concerned with ensuring that the parents or other relevant persons are given a proper opportunity to state their case and that the head teacher, the governing body, the LEA and everyone concerned shall know the case which they have to meet and be given a fair chance to answer it. It is concerned with identifying the issues which fall to be decided. The Bill now helps to clarify these issues. But I have visited exclusion panels which failed to keep separate the question whether the conduct complained of took place and the question of whether if it did take place exclusion was the appropriate reaction. The friend who assists the parent or relevant person is not always a skilled advocate. I once heard a well-meaning friend of the appellant say to a panel, "I ask you to believe the boy when he says that the incident never happened and I suggest that he has learnt his lesson and you should give him another chance".

Being a member of a panel is concerned with procedural rights, some of them now underpinned by the Human Rights Act. If those who are members of the panel are to address all those tasks so as to do justice they need to be trained. Perhaps I may say in passing that Amendment No. 220 addresses the same question in relation to admission appeals.

The problem is that there is no one system of panels with a national authority or a national president. There are more than 600 LEAs or other governing bodies. Some of them address the question of training in a serious and responsible way. Some are less conscious of the need. My noble friend may know that last year the Council on Tribunals distributed a questionnaire among all the LEAs in this country in respect of the provisions they made for training. The results were most enlightening. Some LEAs reported that they worked very hard at training. At the other end of the scale were those who said that they did not see the need and did nothing. Right off the scale were those who did not take the trouble to reply. But most interesting of all were the substantial number who said, "We would like to do better, but we are not sure how to go about it. Can you please advise us?".

The Tribunal's Committee of the Judicial Studies Board earlier this year invited a number of people to a course on training for trainers. Some LEAs responded. I believe that some would have attended the course but were unable to do so because the LEAs concerned felt unable to provide the slender resources involved. That is going to require serious commitment by the department together with the tribunals committee.

I can speak for the Council on Tribunals, which has only its advice to offer but which will be happy to provide that. I should be grateful to hear from my noble friend about the department's thinking on this whole problem.

I turn to Amendment No. 195. Of all the concerns which the Council on Tribunals has on the Bill this is probably the most serious. It has appeared in a whole succession of the council's annual reports. An appeal to determine whether a child should be permanently excluded from his or her school is perhaps the nearest analogy to penal proceedings among statutory hearings. The panel needs to establish whether the complaint is well founded and, if so, whether exclusion is the appropriate reaction. Again, the parents and the child have a series of procedural rights, some of them underpinned by the Human Rights Act. Equally, it is essential that the head teacher and staff shall have the opportunity of putting their case, together with the governors and the LEA.

All those belong among the occupational concerns of the lawyer. I have heard exclusion appeals chaired by people without legal training. Some were conducted impeccably and I was convinced that justice was done. In others, I have seen mistakes which called aloud for judicial review. My noble friend Lady David mentioned Professor Neville Harris, to whom I ventured to advert last week for showing us some of the provisional conclusions from the research which he is currently carrying out with Miss Karen Eaton. They have observed more than 40 exclusion appeals in eight different centres and received answers to questionnaires from nearly 300 parents, more than 100 panel members, more than 100 head teachers, 60 school governors and more than half of all the LEAs in the country. They conclude that a lawyer chairman would help to reinforce the independence of the panel and would be more effective in giving reasons.

Chairing a judicial hearing is not like chairing a committee meeting. I do not suggest that the special skills called for can never be found in a lay person. I say that they are more likely to be found among lawyers. Sometimes there is a qualified lawyer from the executive department of the local council to guide the chairman, but there is no guarantee of that. Even if there is, the situation is not similar to that in a magistrates' court where not only is there an experienced and qualified clerk, but also an experienced magistrate in the chair. Here, panel members may sit very infrequently or have little experience of sitting at all, let alone of taking the chair.

I have a feeling of déjàa vu. A few weeks ago, we had this debate in relation to social security appeal tribunals during our proceedings on the Social Security Bill. On that occasion, the Government listened and took note and Ministers were persuaded. I cannot believe that my noble friend is less disposed to listen than her colleagues in government.

Turning to Amendment No. 197, this amendment again addresses a problem which members of the Council on Tribunals have encountered in the course of their visits to exclusion panels. It is important that whoever is to chair the panel should know well in advance that he or she will be in the chair. The chairman must have in mind what to say to the parties about the order of proceedings, whom to invite to speak first, whom to invite to ask questions, the order of submissions in summing up—all that. It is usually sensible for the chairman to go through the papers with the clerk or legal adviser prior to the hearing.

When that is said, it is hardly likely to provoke disagreement; but it does not always happen. We have encountered occasions where, when the panel is assembled at five minutes to two for a two o'clock hearing, the panel members proceed to choose who is to take the chair. My amendment is designed to ensure that someone shall be nominated well in advance of the hearing. If Amendment No. 195 is accepted, it will be obvious who is to chair the hearing; but I tabled Amendment No. 197 as a fall-back position since it addresses a separate problem. Amendment No. 221 addresses the same point in relation to admission appeals.

Finally, turning to Amendment No. 223, this amendment addresses a provision which is found for the first time in this Bill. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 24, dealing with admission appeals, provides that a member of the governing body of the school may attend as of right as an observer. In the case of an appeal under paragraph 2 of the schedule, that is, an appeal against arrangements made by the governing body, I assume the governing body will probably attend anyway as a party to the hearing. Where the appeal is under paragraph 1, however, that is, an arrangement made by the LEA, I appreciate the governing body may have no statutory right to be present.

What troubles the Council on Tribunals is, where parents are confronted by a room full of people, they may be less relaxed and less able to state their case than where there are fewer people present. It was that which prompted me to table my amendment. Although I appreciated that one cannot always exclude an observer from the governors, a compromise was possibly to let it depend upon the consent of the appellants. My noble friend has produced an alternative arrangement and it is one which I think I accept. For that reason I do not propose to pursue this amendment further.

After that group, I can say, as I think one of Mark Twain's characters said, "I couldn't set out such a string as that if I never got to glory". I beg to move Amendment No. 195.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I wonder whether my noble and learned friend could help a non-legal person like myself on two matters which arise on Amendment No. 195? I see that "five years" is mentioned on two occasions, so there must be some significance in that. I believe three years would be adequate for this purpose, that is to say, chairing a panel. Nor do I have the faintest idea what Section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 means, although perhaps your Lordships are all very familiar with it.

A second, perhaps more important, question is whether my noble and learned friend can tell me, from his long and very esteemed experience in the legal profession, what would be the supply of barristers or solicitors with that qualification or standing. The last thing the Minister would want is a delay in settling some of these matters.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

As to the first matter which my noble friend raised, we had to have some criterion of who would be a qualified lawyer for this purpose. I settled on someone who would be entitled to appear in one of the higher courts, but I would not go to the stake on that. If someone were to say a three-year qualification was sufficient, I would be easily persuaded.

As to whether there will be a sufficient supply of lawyers, that is a matter which has troubled us and it may be one of the matters which is troubling the department. Normally it ought not to be difficult for a local education authority to find a local solicitor who is able to give one afternoon of his time for an appeal of this kind. There are not a very large number of appeals; they are not happening every day, as my noble friend knows. I cannot believe that there is great difficulty in obtaining someone with suitable qualifications; but I await to hear what my noble friend says about this before forming a definite conclusion.

Lord Swinfen

I would support the noble and learned Lord's group of amendments. It is quite obvious that these appeal panels should be run properly. Throughout this section of the Bill, however, we have been hearing of a great many people who are excluded—excluded probably because they have special education needs. I can see nothing on the face of the Bill that says the panel has to have among its members anyone with expertise and knowledge on special education needs. I would have thought that the process of excluding a pupil is the first stage in making certain that the pupil's education is carried on in a satisfactory manner elsewhere or, if the appeal against exclusion is granted, in that school.

We have been told that 20 per cent. of pupils in schools may have special education needs and that a high proportion of that group become excluded. I believe that there should therefore be provision within the Bill for a member of the panel having expertise in special education needs.

Lord Tope

May I start with a point of agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, on the importance of training. Probably all of us would accept that in important work like this it is vital that people should be properly trained to understand the issues and the process. To that extent I would agree with Amendment No. 196 although, were it to be pursued, I would suggest that the time for the training is after the appointment but before the members sit on the panel. In practice, that is usually the more appropriate time. It is certainly the case in local authorities, which train councillors after they become councillors but before they undertake the duties for which they are specifically trained.

That leads me on to my next point, which is where I begin to have considerable difficulty with what is being proposed here. Local authorities have a huge number of appeal panels of one sort or another, whether dealing with housing benefit, council tax review or a range of matters under social services, many of which are at least as difficult as school exclusions and quite often dealing with the same people. Local education departments have a range of appeal panels on school allocations, and so on. A principle of all of those panels, which from my understanding of Schedule 18 is repeated here, is that they are essentially lay panels, are advised by professional officers and should certainly include professional legal advice. Having proper access to proper advice for what is essentially a lay panel is very different from appointing a lawyer to the panel or to chair the panel. Were one to be doing that, one would produce a wholly different aspect of local authority work generally.

I do not think anyone, even the Council of Tribunals, would suggest that every local authority appeal panel, of whatever nature, of whatever title, should necessarily be chaired by a lawyer. If they were to be chairing a body like this, there are certainly other bodies within a local authority, particularly within social services, which would find such chairing necessary. That is wrong and unnecessary. The proper role is that laid down in the schedule for a lay panel, to be properly trained as a lay panel but to be advised by professional advisers, whether they be lawyers, people with expertise and experience in education and, in particular, special education. That is the correct nature of the panel.

I have one final semi-serious point to make. The schedule provides for local authorities to fix the level of remuneration. There has already been some question as to whether we should find lawyers with three years' or five years' experience. My experience of local authority remuneration leads me to believe that no lawyer with any experience will be prepared to act for that sort of money.

That is a semi-serious point. Much more serious is the fact that I believe that Amendment No. 195 changes significantly the nature of this panel and other panels which are operated by local authorities. I believe that that is unnecessary and regrettable.

Baroness Blackstone

I shall deal first with Amendment No. 195 to which my noble and learned friend attached quite a lot of importance. Clearly, the permanent exclusion of pupils has an enormous effect on their lives and those making such decisions need to have the skills necessary to judge whether permanent exclusion is appropriate.

However, as my noble friend Lord Dormand implied, it is extremely important also that the appeal panel members are able to meet at short notice and have the flexibility to meet at a time which is convenient to the parents and those other parties who are entitled to attend the hearing.

We consider that introducing a requirement that the chairman be legally qualified may make it difficult to convene a hearing within the strict time limit which applies in exclusion cases. However, it may help my noble and learned friend if I say that we shall use guidance to emphasise the importance of having a suitably qualified chairman and to emphasise that a legal qualification will often be an advantage. I accept, however, what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that lay panels of this sort can and should be able to obtain professional legal advice when they need it. I accept also that it may sometimes be rather expensive if all those panels—and there are approximately 1,200 per year—are to be chaired by legally qualified chairmen who may require rather higher fees than lay chairmen.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that ideally we want people with a whole range of expertise, and certainly that must include someone who has a knowledge of education. There may be occasions when it is particularly appropriate to have on those panels someone who has experience of special educational needs and not just education generally. But that will not be necessary in relation to all 1,200 panels which sit. Therefore, I do not believe that it is sensible to include that provision on the face of the Bill. However, I note what the noble Lord said and accept the spirit of it.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 196 and 220. We recognise the importance of training for appeal panel members and agree that they must be very clear about their roles and responsibilities. Under provisions in the Bill, LEAs and governing bodies will be required to have regard to guidance contained in the statutory code of practice on admissions. Guidance in the code will cover the constitution and procedures to be followed by admission appeals panels. We shall of course consult our partners in education on the draft code and the new guidance on exclusions. The Council on Tribunals will be one of the bodies which the Secretary of State consults.

We expect the guidance on both admissions and exclusions to stress the importance of training for panel members and to say that LEAs and other admission authorities should ensure that members have had that training before they serve. We know from the council's own research that there is already a great deal of good practice on training but we acknowledge that there are probably areas for improvement. We hope to draw on existing good practice and make improvements where necessary.

My officials are working closely with the Judicial Studies Board to take forward work in that area. The board's recent course on tribunal skills was extremely well attended by education appeal members. Almost half the places went to educational panel members funded by my department. We have earmarked funding to look at the training for admission appeals panels and we are discussing with the Judicial Studies Board how best we should address the training needs of panel members. That may be through regional training events which my department will organise or through the development of a training module to be used by LEAs and governing bodies.

The initiatives that we are taking and the money that we are putting into training for panel members demonstrates the importance that we attach to it. We believe that that is a better approach than more statutory requirements on the face of the Bill.

Similarly, Amendments Nos. 197 and 221 would have the effect of requiring LEAs or governing bodies to nominate the person to be the chairman of an appeals panel which hears both exclusion and admissions appeals. The Government plan to use guidance to cover the appointment of certain panel members to act as chairmen. That will state that in the case of exclusion appeals the LEA should appoint the chairman and in the case of admission appeals the appointment should be made by the admissions authority.

I turn now to Amendment No. 223. The Government very much sympathise with the intention behind this amendment. We know that the Council on Tribunals is concerned that too large a number of observers can be intimidating. But in the light of those concerns, as I have said already, I have tabled and moved a number of amendments which would restrict the right of observers. I hope that my noble and learned friend will accept that that has been done and that that is adequate.

We considered whether the attendance of LEA or governing body observers should be limited to cases where the parties agree. However, we concluded that it may not be in the interests of justice to give a party an absolute right of veto. I hope that in view of those government amendments, my noble and learned friend will not wish to pursue his amendments.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

One and two-halves out of four is not a bad score. I am quite grateful to my noble friend.

I take the point which my noble friend the Minister and my noble friend Lord Dormand made on Amendment No. 195 that a lawyer may not always be available at short notice. However, my experience is that there are not that large a number of appeals against exclusions in any particular locality. I agree that there may be a different problem in relation to admissions appeals at certain times of the year. I take that point.

I take the point also about resources made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend. For those pragmatic reasons, I do not wish to press this matter, certainly at this stage. That does not mean that I accept the objection in principle of the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

The fact that there are other local authority panels which are normally not chaired by a lawyer does not seem to me very persuasive for two reasons. First, most of the panels which he mentioned are for quite different purposes and operate in a very different way.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Tope

I accept that I referred to such matters as council tax and housing benefit review. Of course, I would accept that if that was what the noble and learned Lord had in mind. However, without actually mentioning them by name, I alluded to quite a few panels within the area of social services. I said that quite often they would be dealing with the same child and the same sort of issues. I suggest that they are at least as difficult, as important and as complex as those dealing with exclusions. Indeed, child abuse cases have been mentioned in this context. I have sat on some of these panels. They are both most difficult and heart rending. I do not wish to suggest that they are in any way less important to the future of the child than an exclusion panel.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I do not suggest that they are not difficult, that they are not heart rending, and that they are not of great importance to the future of the child. However, I believe that a case conference is a rather different kind of proceeding, but this may not be the moment to debate that aspect of the matter. The other point that the noble Lord made was to say that because you cannot do it for everyone you should not do it for anyone. Similarly, I am not sure that that is a terribly good argument. Nevertheless, it is not something that I intend to pursue tonight.

I totally agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. In a suitable case—that is, a case where it is appropriate—there should be a member on the board who has experience and expertise in the matter of special educational needs. The Council on Tribunals has actually gone further. It has suggested that the sensible way to deal with exclusions would normally be to allow a special educational needs tribunal to deal with them. That would ensure that there was a legal chairman. Therefore, I go along with a great deal of what the noble Lord said, but I shall not pursue Amendment No. 195 any further.

As regards Amendment No. 196, I am grateful for what my noble friend the Minister said about a statutory code of practice and about guidance that emphasises the need for training. I am also grateful for her undertaking that the Council on Tribunals will be fully consulted when the training arrangements are put in place. Of course work with the Judicial Studies Board, funded by the department, is of great importance. I cannot really ask for more than that, except to say that there is no obvious reason why this provision should not be on the face of the Bill, but I do not seek to insist upon it.

I turn now to Amendment No. 197. As what I wanted to see on the face of the Bill will be the subject of guidance, I shall not take the matter any further. Similarly, my noble friend the Minister has virtually met the point that I was trying to make by way of Amendment No. 223. I am grateful to my noble friend for her very generous response. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 196 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 196A:

Page 177, line 3, at end insert—

("() Where, at any time after an appeal panel consisting of five members have begun to consider an appeal, any of the members—

  1. (a) dies, or
  2. (b) becomes unable through illness to continue as a member,
the panel may continue with their consideration and determination of the appeal so long as the number of the remaining members is not less than three and the requirements of sub-paragraph (3) are satisfied.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 197, 197A and 198 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 198A and 198B:

Page 178, line 23, at beginning insert ("if the panel so direct,").

Page 178, leave out lines 30 to 40.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 199 and 200 not moved.]

Schedule 18, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Haskel

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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