HC Deb 15 May 1958 vol 588 cc631-45
Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 27, at the end to insert: (e) in making grants towards the provision of special schools for spastic and other handicapped children. I wish to make a plea for special treatment for the handicapped child. I am aware that as the Bill stands we shall be told that any expenditure on behalf of handicapped children will be treated as "relevant expenditure" and that in consequence the local authority will be paid a certain amount for each, child under the age of 15. No doubt, we shall get the answer that the handicapped child, like the normal child, will be covered by "relevant expenditure" and that in making the general grant, which would include all children under 15, the central authority will be discharging its responsibility for the handicapped child just as it will be discharging its responsibility for the normal child.

The mere fact that a child is handicapped imposes a large burden upon those who care for him. If he is educable it will cost more to educate him than it will to educate the normal child. I am concerned with all handicapped children, but I am particularly concerned with spastic children. It is only within the past few years that people have become aware of the number of spastic children. Only a few years ago in my constituency, because of what amounted almost to despair among various parents that their children would not be admitted to any educational institution, those parents, with others who were very much concerned with the subject, formed a voluntary organisation to set up an institution that would cater for spastic children. I am mentioning my constituency because this might be taken as the heart of the effort, although it extends over Lanarkshire.

An institution was set up in Lanarkshire which was aided by the borough. The borough gave to the association the house in which the school was set up. I am happy to say that the education authority, recognising the value of this work, gave assistance. The position now is that the running expenses of this institution, Glenview, such as the provision of teachers and other costs, apart from heating, lighting, and the rent of the building, have been taken over by the education authority. In turn, the authority receives from the State a grant of 60 per cent. of the cost of running this very worthwhile institution.

It is a small venture which handles only a small number of children, but the Lanarkshire education authority is extending this work, and there is a similar institution at Auchinraith, where a more complete school has been brought into existence. When this venture at Auchinraith is completed, Glenview will be used as the centre to test children to find whether they are educable, in which case they will be sent there.

The 60 per cent. grant which is paid by the Department towards the expenses of this effort to deal with the spastic child should not be jeopardised. But as I see it, the 60 per cent. grant will disappear. It emerges from the Bill that the Lanarkshire education authority will be told that what is spent on Glenview and Auchinraith will be "relevant expenditure" and that no more will be paid. That is my understanding of the position, and I hope that something better can be done. This is one of the reasons why we are seeking to insert into the Schedule a provision which would enable this type of school to be excluded from the items classified as "relevant expenditure".

I want to make another point about a venture which is going further than Glenview, which, in effect, has been taken over by the education authorities. Glenview and Auchinraith will deal with those who are classified or considered to be educable spastic children. This will still leave many spastic children not provided for. The number of spastic children, happily, is relatively small compared with the number of children in the area. I understand that if Lanarkshire has the same average percentage of spastic children as other areas, there will be about 135 spastic children there.

I understand that the people who run the association have discovered and registered 90 of those children, of whom about 57 are being dealt with in one way or another. Some of these children must be hidden away. We do not know where they are. That much is evident if we assume that the same averages for these children apply to Lanarkshire as elsewhere. Possibly their parents are ashamed to show them.

4.30 p.m.

The Lanarkshire Spastic Association, which set up the Glenview venture, has gone further and started a similar venture in a house which was gifted to the association and is known as the Alexander Anderson Home for Spastics, situated at Wishaw. It caters not only for Wishaw and Motherwell, but for the whole of Lanarkshire. This is an entirely voluntary venture, yet the association based upon this home that was gifted to it in Wishaw, is handling 27 spastic children. The home is unable to take in all the children on any one day and at present handles 14 or 15 of them a day. There will be accommodation for more children when certain alterations are made, but at present the home is handling the 27 children and taking in 14 or 15 of them on three days a week. An idea of the area covered by the association can be gained from the fact that the special bus which the association itself has bought and mans spends six hours a day collecting the children, bringing them to school and taking them home again. Very wide areas in Lanarkshire are covered on this basis.

I recently visited the home. I was not able to visit when the children were present, but I hope to visit and see them soon. I was told what was being done for the children and the kind of response they were making. The association is trying to do for them what the education authority is not doing. It is trying to deal with the children that the education authority rejects. If the home can bring a child to the stage where the education authority accepts it as educable, it will be happy for the education authority to take it over.

The association's approach is that any spastic child should have such treatment as can be given. It does not confine itself to the term "educable" as meaning the acquisition of knowledge or reading or writing but prefers to use the expression "trainable". The association thinks in terms, for example, of the child which can be brought to feed itself or to attend to its own toilet arrangements. It is argued that if a child can be brought from a state of utter helplessness to the stage where it can attend to its own toilet arrangements and feed and wash itself, when the child grows to adult age it will not require the same service that the child must at some stage have given to it. When, say, a child's parents die, it is better for the State to take over an individual who can at least perform these minimum services, if nothing else. From that viewpoint, the association does not confine itself to the word "educable" but thinks in the wider sense of training.

One little boy was described to me by the matron of the home. She said that when simply lying with his eyes closed, which is almost all he does, he would be regarded as a beautiful little boy, sound asleep. When his eyes are open, however, they are vacant and void. He cannot see and it is exceedingly doubtful whether he can hear. It is now thought that he might, perhaps, hear a little, but for most of the time he simply lies with his eyes closed.

The home has not said that it can do nothing with that child and is taking him about three times a week. According to the matron of the home, the child's mother has expressed the view that the child is now sleeping and eating better and in some ways is thought to be more contented and happy.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

It might save the time of the Committee if I were to point out to the hon. Member that his Amendment covers only schools—that is, education institutions. Unless the child is educable, it does not go to an educational institution, but becomes a Health Service responsibility.

Mr. Lawson

I see no reason why the Alexander Anderson Home for Spastics, which is at present on a day basis but will be turned over to a full-time basis when alterations are completed, cannot be regarded as a school. Why cannot we think in terms of training instead of merely whether a child is educable? Surely, the function of a school is not merely to teach reading and writing. If it can be extended to teach someone to feed and wash himself and to do other things, that also is education. If the spirit is willing, there should be no difficulty in including this type of institution and others of a like character which could be set up. My plea is not simply for Lanarkshire and this one institution.

This is a service which should be rendered but is not being rendered, except in one or two isolated instances, of which I have quoted one. This is the sort of thing that cannot be left to voluntary effort. I understand that the group of people who are running the home are meeting the cost of £7,000 a year for wages alone. There is a large staff to handle this small number of children.

We cannot leave this kind of service to voluntary effort. We cannot pass this over to the education authority on the basis that it is covered as relevant expenditure. If the Under-Secretary is telling us that it is the responsibility of the Health Service, I must tell him that the Health Service is not carrying out the responsibility. This is a job that requires to be done.

If the hon. Gentleman cannot accept the precise form of the Amendment but will consider it and try to do what can be done, we will rest content and be prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I do not want the question merely to be passed by and for us to be told that this is nobody's responsibility or, at best, that it is the responsibility of the Health Service. Without the kind of institution which I have described, children of this sort will be hidden away and when they have grown up, when their parents and those who care for them have died, a much heavier responsibility must be undertaken. Let us do what we can now. This is a small thing to ask. Let us show that a venture of this sort can be taken up by the State and that we will do as much as can be done. My plea is that we should consider what this institution is doing and see whether we can make provision to cover this kind of service.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)

No one can have listened to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) without feelings of the utmost sympathy for the case he has made. Those of us who have had some contact with these spastic schools are filled with admiration for the work they do and their compassion for the children. Therefore, with the general objectives of the hon. Member I am in complete sympathy.

My only doubt is whether the hon. Member is right to raise the matter here, or whether we would be doing the best service to these unhappy children by incorporating his Amendment in the Bill. My recollection is that the Education (Scotland) Act already makes adequate provision for what are accepted as being spastic schools. If I am wrong, no doubt somebody will correct me. Special grants are permitted and special duties are laid upon the authorities, and so on.

Whether the institution that the hon. Member described should properly be called a school or should be regarded rather as something that the Health Service deals with, I do not profess to know. I would have thought, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary seemed to confirm, that this was more properly a Health Service matter. It may be, as the hon. Member said, that the Health Department should be tackling it. If that is what the hon. Member is asking for, I should support him. I simply want to make it plain that though one might not be able to support the hon. Member in pressing the Amendment, because I do not consider this to be quite the right way of getting what we want, the fact that he has made this appeal is important.

I hope that in replying, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will recognise, as I am sure he will, the broad sympathy that exists in the Committee for this general proposition and indicate to us in what way the State, in some of its Departments, will be able to succour these unfortunate and unhappy children.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The interventions of the two hon. Gentlemen opposite have emphasised the importance of the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). In saying that this was not the occasion to deal with the matter, the Under-Secretary has stressed the necessity for the whole of this problem to be examined. When the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) says that provision is made within the Education (Scotland) Act, he is probably right. The point with which my hon. Friend and those of us who support him are concerned is that this is a service which should be kept outside the sphere of the general grant. We believe that this new method of financing local authorities will mean only detriment to their services.

We on this side want this aspect of education kept outside the general grant. Schools of this nature require extra equipment simply because of the handicaps from which the children are suffering. Is it not the case that in the Glasgow School for the Deaf, for example, which happens to be in my constituency—we can all quote our own particular cases—more than the normal amount of equipment is needed to help the children? Visual and aural aids, for example, are some of the things which are evidence of the necessity for the action which my hon. Friend's Amendment seeks.

This is not a new topic. The hon. Member for Fife, East was a member of the Advisory Council for Scotland which published excellent Reports in 1951. I hasten to add that it was in 1951 that these Reports were printed and it cannot therefore be argued that the Labour Party did nothing about them.

4.45 p.m.

No more noble language has been used than the terms in which those Reports have been printed. There were Reports concerning pupils defective in hearing, handicapped in speech, maladjusted, physically handicapped, epileptic and, perhaps most important of all, the final Report, "Administration of education for handicapped pupils," which summed up all the Reports.

If the Committee will bear with me I will quote a paragraph which reveals the problem. I hope that the Government today will give a ray of hope to suggest that they will take some action and give some answer to the special pleading which has been used. The Report reads: In the course of our inquiries we have been much impressed by the need for vigorous action to ensure that handicapped pupils are given the educational opportunities that they require if they are to develop their own powers and make their service to the community as effective as possible. They are at least as much entitled to share in facilities for education and training as children more favourably placed. I draw special attention to the last paragraph: We have seen many examples of devotion and generosity in the provision of education for these disabled children by voluntary as well as statutory bodies but we have also seen evidence of failure and neglect. This was in 1951, and much has been done since then, but we seek to ensure that some regard will be paid to the difficulties which local authorities face in providing this accommodation and the necessary equipment to assist them in education. In that Report we read that 40 per cent. of the mentally retarded children were not receiving the educational attention which they required. I hope that the Under-Secretary will at least give some indication that this problem is exercising the Government's mind and that even now, following a hurried word with his right hon. Friend before he replies, he will indicate that at a later stage he will be prepared to consider the Amendment favourably.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The Committee always pays special attention to the needs of the less fortunate and particularly to the needs of the physically handicapped, but I am bound at the outset to stress the form of the Amendment. It seeks to exclude from the purview of general grant the provision of special schools for spastics and other handicapped children. It is excluding the provision by local authorities of special schools for spastics and other handicapped children, because the Amendment would not affect the grant-aided voluntary residential schools, of which a list was given to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) by my right hon. Friend in reply to a Parliamentary Question on 9th May. There were seven schools on that list and three more have been added in the course of the present year, making ten in all. Those schools would not be covered by the Amendment, as the arrangements for them will not be affected by general grant.

Special schools form part of the educational provision for an area under Section 1 (4) of the Education (Scotland) Act. They are designed to meet the special requirements of pupils who suffer from a disability, whether of mind or body, such as to make it undesirable for them to be educated in ordinary classes. That is the definition.

I should make clear to the Committee how this is dealt with administratively. Such children may attend special classes in ordinary schools or they may attend day or residential special schools provided by their own education authority, and most of them in fact attend day schools. Alternatively, they may attend day or residential schools provided by another education authority, in which case the education authority from which they come reimburses the education authority which provides the school to the extent of a share of the net cost for that pupil—the net share after the Government have contributed the present percentage grant. That will continue to be relevant expenditure. The only difference will be that, instead of contributing the net share, the education authority which sends a pupil to a school in the area of another education authority will be contributing its share of the gross cost, because it will be receiving its share of the general grant in respect of those children under the formula. We should bear in mind those various categories. The present arrangements for co-operation between local authorities are working well and should certainly continue to do so under the new arrangements.

Where children suffer from a handicap which affects relatively few—the blind, the deaf and so on—it is obviously more economical for most authorities to send them to a school provided by another authority on a regional basis than for each authority itself to attempt to meet the needs of such children. There need be only a few such schools in a country the size of Scotland.

By far the largest proportion of such handicapped children are the mentally handicapped. They account for over 70 per cent. of the total of the handicapped children. Of them, all but a very small fraction—25 out of just over 7,000—attend day schools. Most education authorities have their own day schools or day classes for mentally handicapped children. There are nearly 400 classes for them out of a total of 650 special school classes. These classes are comparable with classes for ordinary pupils, and the Committee will agree that there is no case for dealing with those who are mentally handicapped separately and differently from either ordinary or extraordinary pupils.

I turn now to the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Motherwell, which always arouses the greatest sympathy in the House—that of the spastics. They form the next largest category. Of the thousand or so who are physically and mentally capable of being educated or trained, nearly half are in ordinary day schools, over 300 in day classes at special schools and 80 in the residential special schools. There are 70 for whom training other than education is needed, and they are in occupational centres, and 40 for whom tuition at home is provided by education authorities either because they can best be looked after at home or because their parents do not wish them to leave home. Those for whom no education has yet been provided represent a very small proportion—rather less than two dozen—and in many of these cases arrangements are at present in train.

The hon. Member suggests that there may be other cases which have not come forward, but I am sure he will agree that in the last three years great progress has been made in this matter, and I think that today the need to do the best which can be done and the possibility of doing something for these children are becoming clear.

The fact that we cannot accept the Amendment does not mean that we are in any way unsympathetic, but I cannot accept the underlying suggestion made by the hon. Member that where vigorous action is needed it can be taken only by the Government. Vigorous action can be taken by the local authorities. These children are a local responsibility—the responsibility of the community in which they live. The hon. Member says that there is evidence of failure and neglect, but that was some time ago, and I am quite certain that everybody is much more alive today to their responsibilities in this matter than they were in the past. In any case, any such failure would be a failure in a duty imposed by the Education Act just as much as any of the other duties imposed by that Act.

While we will certainly look at the special case which the hon. Member has mentioned, we cannot accept the Amendment. During his speech he used words to the effect "if Lanarkshire has the same proportion of spastics as other areas". In saying that he made it clear that this is a problem which by its nature is spread throughout the country. It is for local authorities to deal with spastics in their own areas. They can deal with them either by providing education themselves or by making arrangements with neighbours or by making such voluntary arrangements as they think fit in the best interests of the children, but it must be for the local authority to make that decision, naturally in consultation with the parents.

Since such a large proportion of handicapped children are dealt with by education authorities under existing arrangements within the framework of the Education Act, since these arrangements are working and will continue to work satisfactorily, and since the education of these children is the responsibility of the education authority in exactly the same way as the education of normal children—indeed, even more than the education of normal people—this is eminently a case which should be covered by the responsibilities of local authorities and should not be made an exception by taking it out of the general grant.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

The last point made by the Under-Secretary was that a large number of these children are being dealt with under existing arrangements, and he feels that we should rely on such existing arrangements to continue this good work. Does he not appreciate that the purpose of this Bill is to change the existing arrangements? After the Bill is passed, whatever finance is incurred by a local authority in respect of the special schools for the handicapped will be merged with everything else, not just for its own area but all over Scotland.

Therefore, in telling us to rely on existing arrangements the Under-Secretary is making the argument for us. If he wants to continue the existing arrangements he must accept our Amendment. The hon. Baronet the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) has shown an interest in this matter with my hon. Friend in the past, and I am sure he will agree that if there is one field of education in which there were gaps, this is it. I do not think any of us could say that all those gaps have been closed. From that point of view, because of the existing arrangements and because local authorities knew they would get specific grant from the Government for what they spent, they could go ahead. What guarantee is there that when these arrangements are made the progress will not stop, and indeed that the progress we have been trying to get going will not now take place?

There is no doubt that there are still gaps, that the progress has been uneven. To that extent any further progress will be equally uneven, and therefore this runs contrary to the argument in relation to the general grant, that we are all progressing together and that in the apportionment of expense everyone gets his share. Where a special job is being done that is where we require these special arrangements whereby these items are exempted.

The speeches made have shown the sympathy we all feel in respect of many of these cases. The parents have shown courage, they have shown ability, they have made a tremendous effort to get everything done that was possible, not only by themselves but by the local authorities, and to my mind the local authorities are now just catching up with the need. It is because we do not want any thought of progress being endangered that we ask the Secretary of State to have yet another look at this matter. I feel that in the case of the spastic schools, if progress is being made under the existing financial arrangement, the one thing we should not do is to change them.

Mr. N. Macpherson

While we will certainly continue to look at this matter, I could not give the Committee any assurance that we will find it possible to make an alteration in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is setting too great store by the form of the assistance which has been given by the Exchequer so far to local authorities as an encouragement to them to go ahead. We have had this argument throughout the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is ascribing the progress made to the fact that the Government have been paying 60 per cent. of the cost. That is not the main reason for the progress, and I do not think that the substitution of general grant for the giving of a specific grant will have the effect he considers it is likely to have.

In any case the hon. Gentleman admitted that progress has been uneven despite the 60 per cent. Even though there has been a specific grant, some people have not taken advantage of it. That is not because of the grant. If the grant had been the sole inducement, they would all have gone ahead. It is simply because the authorities concerned may not yet have become as fully alive as other authorities to their duty in this respect—and this is the duty of the local authorities. So, whilst we will continue to look at this matter with the sympathy which the Committee demands of us, I cannot give any assurance that at a later stage it will be possible to accept an Amendment along these lines.

Mr. Lawson

While I am grateful for the assurance that this matter will be looked at, and the case mentioned will be followed up, I want to reiterate our point of view.

The Under-Secretary has told us that, even with the 60 per cent. grant, progress has not been as rapid as we could wish, and that gaps must clearly exist—and I would say there are considerable gaps in the country—despite that 60 per cent. grant. I suggest that when the 60 per cent. grant is taken away that is exactly what will happen. The 60 per cent. grant is earmarked for this particular institution, this particular school, this particular effort. That will cease, and it will be merged in a total general payment. When that goes there will be less inducement for special effort.

In many cases there must be an effort to seek out the child. In other cases we know of parents who have for a long time sought to get the children into schools but have been unable to do so. I will repeat the example of the Glenview House in Motherwell, a Lanarkshire venture. That was taken over only a little over three years ago, because the need which this venture came into existence to serve at that time was not being met. Now the local authority has taken it over, and happily the central Government have been paying a grant of 60 per cent. That will finish, and it is regrettable.

I repeat that this happened only a little over three years ago and therefore there was a gap then. The other venture of which I have spoken was that of the twenty-seven children at present within the compass of the Alexander Anderson Spastic Home. So there is a gap in Lanarkshire—twenty-seven children being drawn from all over the county. There must be others of which we do not know, but at any rate there are twenty-seven children in Lanarkshire for whom there are not facilities except those provided voluntarily.

There must be some children in Renfrewshire, there must be some children in the Midlothians, there must be some children in Fifeshire and in Roxburghshire and in the other counties of Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman has himself said, this deplorable and regrettable ailment is spread evenly throughout the country and as we have a gap in Lanarkshire there must be similar, perhaps worse, gaps in different parts of the country.

I plead again for this matter to be looked at. The Amendment, if accepted, would put it in a special category. If the hon. Gentleman cannot accept the Amendment, then let us see that much more looking at is done than has been done. Whilst I want the institution I have spoken of looked at specially, I hope the whole country will be looked at closely. In the meantime I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. S. Storey)

It will be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss together the next two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser).

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

In view of the shortness of the time, Mr. Storey—there are less than two hours now before we reach the Third Reading of the Bill—I think it would be better if we on this side of the Committee were to forgo the next nine Amendments. This will enable us to make some progress with the rest of the Bill. I am sorry about it, but there is not time to discuss all those Amendments.

Mr. J. N. Browne

I beg to move, in page 16, line 18, after "1948", to insert or in the making of payments or contributions under section twenty-six of that Act to voluntary organisations". Expenditure by local authorities on the provision of residential accommodation for the elderly and others in need of care and attention, not otherwise available to them, is now grant-aided and will rank as relevant expenditure under Clause 10.

This Amendment makes it clear that the same consideration applies where a local authority has already arranged, or proposes to arrange, with a voluntary organisation to help that organisation by making a grant towards capital expenditure on premises acquired for the purpose. This Amendment therefore ensures that the present position is maintained.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.