HC Deb 10 June 1969 vol 784 cc1257-83
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 31, leave out 'and a psychological examination'.

Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss at the same time, Amendment No. 11, in page 10, line 33, leave out 'either or both of the examinations' and insert 'that examination'; and Amendment No. 12, in page 11, line 9, leave out 'either or both of the examinations' and insert 'the medical examination'.

These three Amendments make an improvement in the new Section 64 of the 1962 Act. They would remove the right of a parent to be present during a psychological examination when that is part of an education authority's ascertainment procedure. It was generally felt in Committee that there were disadvantages to writing into the Bill the right of a parent to be present at a psychological, as distinct from a medical, examination, and I undertook to make the appropriate Amendment.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

As it was I who moved similar Amendments in Committee, I should like to thank the Under-Secretary for accepting them in principle and producing these Amendments. We all want parents to take as large a part as possible in the examination with which we are dealing, so it is entirely right that they should be entitled to attend any medical examination which is necessary. But somewhat different considerations apply to the psychological examination.

This is a science which is increasing in importance in the ascertainment of handicaps to children, and some of the tests of educational psychologists involve putting children in unfamiliar surroundings to see their reactions. It may, therefore, be contrary to the intentions if parents can communicate to the children their anxiety or change the atmosphere of the tests. There is no doubt that when this is not the case, we should all wish parents to be present.

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for making the position clear and, probably, making the examinations occasionally more effective because parents are not present.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I agree completely with the Under-Secretary and with the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis), but while we are removing the reference to the psychological examination in subsection (2) it will apparently be retained in three places in subsection (1). Could my hon. Friend make that clear?

Mr. Millan

There is no question of our removing the psychological examination. We are concerned with the question of the parents' presence at that examination. The parent will be entitled to be present at a medical examination but not statutorily entitled to be present at a psychological examination. There may be circumstances in which no harm would be done if the parent were present and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent that from happening, but he will not have a statutory right to be present as he has for a medical examination. I have made the reason for that clear, as has the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis).

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

We greatly appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman has fulfilled his undertaking in Committee, when we dealt with a difficult problem, the delicate relationship between parents and child in these circumstances. I am certain that the Amendment is a marked improvement which shows proper care for this relationship, and that the House should accept it.

Question put and agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 11, in page 10, line 33, leave out "either or both of the examinations"and insert "that examination".

No. 12, in page 11, line 9, leave out "either or both of the examinations" and insert "the medical examination",—[Mr. Millan.]

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Millan

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in line 34, leave out from 'thereafter' to end of line 6 on page 14 and insert: 'either—

  1. (i) revoke the said decision, in which case they shall forthwith give to the parent of the child notice in writing of its revocation, and their duty to ensure that any education provided by them for the child is special education shall thereupon cease; or
  2. (ii) determine not to revoke the decision, in which case, if either the review was carried out in pursuance of a request made to them by the parent of the child by virtue of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) above or the parent was invited, under paragraph (a) of subsection (2) above, to submit the child for medical and psychological examination in connection with the review, they shall forthwith give to the parent such notice of their determination as is mentioned in subsection (5) below; or
  3. (iii) subject to subsection (6) below, revoke the decision but decide that the child is suffering from a disability of such a nature or to such an extent as is mentioned in paragraph (ii) of section 63(1) of this Act and that a report to the local authority should be issued by them under section 66B of this Act with respect to the child.'.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss, at the same time, the following Amendments: Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 54.

Mr. Millan

Although these Amendments are long, I hope that hon. Members will not find them difficult to understand. They introduce a specific procedure for the transfer of children already receiving special education who, as a result of a review under Section 66, are found to be suffering from a disability making them unsuitable for special education to the category of children unsuitable for education.

The procedure introduced in the new Section 66 requires an education authority to keep under review cases in which it has decided that a child requires special education. The main purpose of reviews is to let authorities consider from time to time whether children are ready to return to ordinary education or whether they should, in their own interests, continue to receive special education.

There are cases in which the original decision may later turn out to have been optimistic. Indeed, there is a good deal to be said—education authorities often take this view—for giving a child a chance, first of all, in a special school before deciding that he is unsuitable for special education, thereby making the matter the responsibility of the health authority and, subsequently, of the social work authority.

While the Clause as drafted sets out the detail of the procedure in ascertainment and review cases, we believe, after considering the matter, that it does not cater adequately for the type of case where, during a review of a child's circumstances, it is decided that he should be transferred from the education authority.

As the Bill stands, if that decision were made, it would be necessary to go through the normal ascertainment procedure for the child who, it is decided, is unsuitable for education, and that would require another medical and psychological examination, which would be undesirable and unduly distressing to the child and his parents. It is, therefore, necessary to have a bridging procedure, and this is provided for as one of the major aims of the Amendment.

Amendment No. 13, which amends Section 66(4), makes it clear that an education authority must make one of three kinds of determination at the end of a review. The first may be a revocation of the decision that the child should receive special education. The second may be a decision that a child should continue to receive special education. The third is a new kind of determination. Subject to certain conditions, it may be a determination deciding that the child should be reported to the local authority as unsuitable for education and revoking the original decision that the child requires special education.

Amendment No. 14 is a minor and consequential proposal.

Amendment No. 15 limits the circumstances in which a child ascertained as requiring special education can be reported to the local authority. The first limitation is that the child should be over the age of two. This is consistent with earlier parts of the provision. The second is that the review should have been initiated by the education authority. This is to protect parents who may request a review and subsequently find that it has, from their point of view, had an adverse result.

That cannot happen under this provision, for the review would have to be initiated not by a parent but by an education authority, so that parents need not feel inhibited in asking for a review in the fear that it might have an adverse result. The third condition is that the child should have undergone a medical and psychological examination.

Amendment No. 15 also sets out a new subsection (7) to Section 66, definining "local authority" for the purpose of the Section. This replaces a definition which appears at another point in the Bill. Because of the Amendments which we are making, it is more appropriate to have this definition at this point in the Bill.

Amendment No. 16 is another linking proposal which I need not explain in detail.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 concern Section 66B in regard to ascertainment by a local authority of children suffering from disabilities so serious as to make them unsuitable for any kind of education or training. As it stood, the Section did not set out with sufficient precision and detail the decisions which the Secretary of State might reach on any such reference or of the consequences for the local education authority and the child of each such decision. Nor did it, for example, provide for a parent to obtain from the education authority a statement of the reasons for its decision, information which some parents might wish to consider before deciding to refer their children's cases to the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18, therefore, provide a considerable elaboration of this provision, but they do so specifically with the aim, first, of making the Section clear and, secondly, of setting out parental rights more clearly than is the position under the existing draft. Amendment No. 17 requires an authority to inform the parent of his rights to require the authority to issue a statement containing the reasons for its decision in relation to the child.

Amendment No. 18 adds six new subsections (3) to (8), to Section 66B. The new subsection (3) provides for the ascertainment of a statement of reasons, if required by the parent. Subsection (4) sets out the decisions which the Secretary of State may reach on any appeal. Subsection (5) requires an authority to comply with a direction to report the child under subsection (4)(a).

Subsection (6) provides that where the Secretary of State overturns a decision, made by an authority following a review, that a child previously ascertained as requiring special education has become unsuitable for education, the authority must continue to ensure that any education provided by it is special education. In other words, the child reverts to the position that he is suitable for special education.

The new subsection (7) places a duty on an authority to provide special education for a child not previously ascertained as requiring special education and in respect of whom the Secretary of State substitutes under subsection (4) a decision that he requires special education for the decision that he should be reported. The new subsection (8) requires an authority to give the parent notice in writing of any decision made by the Secretary of State and of the effect of that decision.

Amendment No. 54 inserts a new paragraph to define "local authority" for the purpose of paragraph 7 of Schedule 4, which is a transitional Schedule.

As I said at the outset, these Amendments are rather elaborate. However, if they are read carefully they are not too difficult to follow. They represent a considerable improvement in the clarity of this part of the Bill, which is necessarily somewhat long and involved. They also give parental rights a good deal more clearly than under the existing draft. I felt in Committee, when this part of the Bill was discussed, that we had not got the matter quite right. These Amendments make for greater clarity.

Mr. Esmond Wright (Glasgow, Pollok)

I thank the Minister for his statement, but I do so with some reservation because this is a quite elaborate addition to make to the Bill at this stage. There is material here that would much more appropriately have been dealt with in the Standing Committee. However, having sounded that note of some asperity, I accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

We all meet these very difficult, worrying and often embarrassing cases of the child of 7, 8 or 9 years in a special school, for whom that school can do nothing. We also meet instances where a great improvement has resulted, and where there is a case for a transfer back to the normal school system. What the Minister seeks to do here is appropriate, but I wish to put to him three specific questions.

First, what does the Minister intend under Amendment No. 15 in relation to the determination of children from the ages of 2 to 5? We are here discussing Scottish education, but it also touches on the whole field of the social services and social work in Scotland. The same Amendments states: (7) In this section and in sections 66B, 66C, 66D and 66E of this Act the expression local authority' shall have the same meaning as in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.… Can we be assured that education authorities are in touch with and working in harmony with the social work departments now being set up, and do we know where the responsibility lies as between social work and education? I feel that what the Amendment refers to is far more appropriate to social work than to education proper.

Thirdly, the proposed subsection (8) in Amendment No. 18 refers to parents getting notice in writing of any decision. Can we be assured that there will be long, full, frank but confidential discussions with the parents, and not merely a communication in writing? This is a subject which agonises parents, and agonises all of us who have to talk to parents about it. We want to be sure that there will be full discussion with the parents, as well as there being this simple and rather heartless sounding statement about giving notice in writing of the decision.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

Having looked at these Amendments as well as I could in the time available, I agree that they should make a considerable improvement in the methods of dealing with these difficult cases. The Minister has told us that if the result of a review is adverse, it cannot be acted upon detrimentally to the child unless the review has first been requested by the local authority. Is there anything to prevent such a review taking place at the request of the parent? If the result of that review is adverse in the view of the parents, I suppose that there is nothing to prevent the local authority then immediately going through the necessary procedure by itself requesting a review.

4.45 p.m.

I also welcome the provision for parents being absolutely certain of getting notice of the decision. No aspect is more important than the absolute certainty in the minds of parents that they will get written reasons. A previous Clause provides that whether or not a local authority wants a psychological examination to be made, parents may request such an examination. In the new provisions and procedures envisaged by these Amendments I do not find it specifically stated that parents may have an expert in child psychology, for instance, present at the examination if they so wish.

Can this be done either under this Measure or under the previous enactment? Further, in the event of parents being poor—perhaps living on supplementary benefits—can they be assisted in having such psychological advice at their elbow during the examination?

Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)

Amendment No. 13 provides that a parent shall be given notice in writing of the revocation of the decision. It is very difficult for those of us who were not members of the Standing Committee to take up Committee points in some detail now, but my experience is that the real trouble starts when the decision is that the child shall not be educated. I am not quite clear whether this Amendment puts that matter right. The parents want to know the reason: is it the intention that they shall be given the reason? The parents' reaction is always the same. "Why should the child's education stop at this point?".

I am not very clear whether the Amendment means that when the parents are given written notice of the revocation they are also given the reason for the revocation. The difficulty does not arise when the decision is to continue the education of the child. It nearly always arises in cases where the education is to stop.

Amendment No. 15 provides that the child must have attained the age of two years at the date of determination, but what happens before that age? I have had correspondence with the Minister of State on this point, relating to a difficult case that has caused considerable anxiety in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman looks as though he knows that that anxiety continues. The local authority has set up a very elaborate arrangement which is presently operated by the health department, whereby ascertainment can begin at any age and continue to any age. At present, the health department clearly has a responsibility and I continue to believe that there is advantage in this arrangement. It means that the child can be considered appropriate at whatever age it may be.

Most of us who have experience of local authority work know that in cases of children brought into care this is nearly always done at an age of a few months because there arises at that age the question of whether or not a child will prove suitable for adoption. The ascertainment age which is really important is an age of weeks or months rather than years. At present, this is a continuous process under the same authority and many medical officers of health support this strongly.

In the Bill we say what is to happen when the child reaches the age of 2, but we leave to other legislation what is to happen before that age. We are leaving a fairly wide opportunity for difficulties to arise within the administrative arrangements of the authority. I should, therefore, be glad if the Under-Secretary would explain what is to happen before the age of 2 and whether the process of ascertainment will be a continuous one which will be satisfactory from an administration point of view.

There is probably an explanation in the Social Work (Scotland) Act, but three partners of an authority will have responsibility for something which is extremely important in relation to these children and which at present is done by one part of the administration of a local authority. I am very unhappy about this Amendment unless we can have a definite explanation of the process. We should not put ourselves into the position of judging whether this is suitable administration to follow, but rather into the position of the parent because when children are taken into care the parent has a particular interest throughout. Parents will be confused unless there is one person to whom they can refer.

I would be grateful if the Minister could give a reassurance on Amendment No. 13, with reference to subsection (1), and Amendment No. 15, with reference to subsection (6)(a).

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The Under-Secretary will remember that in Committee we had a very instructive and informative debate on the problem of children who were either mentally handicapped or psychiatrically sick. We are all doing our best for the parents of such children who in most cases are in an unfortunate position. One problem which worried us most was the facilities available for treating these children.

When the Under-Secretary replies, can he say a little more about whether there has been further development since March in the facilities he thinks could be made available in the next few years? We all agree that, generally, while there may be sufficient places for mentally retarded children throughout Scotland, those facilities are not always exactly where they are wanted, particularly for children in rural areas who have the difficulty of being transported daily to those facilities.

More seriously, we were worried about the facilities for children who are psychiatrically sick and who, while not strictly being educated by a local authority, are being educated under the auspices of a hospital board. They do not strictly come within the limits of the Education (Scotland) Bill, but we are in a position of co-ordinating all three services if we include, as we must the social work services which will be coming into play in Scotland more and more as the year goes by and will be at a most important level in 12 months' time.

There is a very critical balance question for the parent, and, of course, for the medical officers, as to when a child should be sent to a hospital or can be educated through local authority facilities. This balance would be made easier in many ways if there were adequate facilities for both classes of child. This is something we are all most concerned about. I hope that the Under-Secretary can give us a little more of his thinking on how facilities will be available in the next few years.

Mr. Millan

I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) said about facilities being extremely important. He will appreciate, however, that they are not particularly relevant to this series of Amendments. The statutory framework for social work authority facilities was laid down in the Act passed last year. On the question of education in hospital, there is a sub-committee of the Scottish Standing Medical Advisory Committee looking into various matters of which this forms a part. I am well aware of this problem which is something I am anxious to keep under review and we are looking into it at this time, although strictly speaking these are not matters dealt with by these Amendments.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) made a point about the complexity of these Amendments and I accept that. They have been on the Notice Paper for a rather long time and I hope that most hon. Members have been able to study and understand them. I wrote to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) as long ago as 29th April explaining what I was trying to do with this series of Amendments. I hope that he found the letter completely intelligible. He has not got in touch with me since then.

Mr. MacArthur

I thank the Under-Secretary very much for his letter, which was, indeed, helpful. He will appreciate that these are complicated Amendments. Despite his helpful letter, there were still a number of points about which we had to ask. I am nevertheless, much obliged to him for writing to me.

Mr. Millan

I accept that the Amendments are difficult and I shall try to answer the points which have been raised about them.

The first point raised by the hon. Member for Pollok was about the limitation to children of 2 years and over. This was also raised by the hon. Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). There may be a slight misunderstanding here. We are dealing with statutory ascertainment. It would be undesirable, and certainly would be resented by parents, if even before the age of 2 a child could be statutorily ascertained as unsuitable for educational training. That would be very hurtful and quite unnecessary.

It is important that the health authority and the social work authority, or whatever authority is responsible, should make provision for children of every age. There is no limitation on that. The social work authority, which will be providing care facilities, will have an obligation for dealing with children however young, just as the medical services have an obligation for dealing with physical and other disabilities whatever age the child may be. It would be wrong statutorily to ascertain a child before 2 as being unsuitable for education or training. That is why we do not do so in subsection (6) of the Clause. But I agree absolutely that the sooner one discovers the disability of any child and begins to find out whether one can put it right medically or in whatever way may be available, and the sooner we provide facilities for putting it right, the better it will be for the child and its parents.

Miss Harvie Anderson

In the case of adoption—and I am thinking of children under care—is it not sometimes necessary to have statutory ascertainment? Suppose that somebody wants to adopt a very attractive child and there is good reason why the child should not be adopted without the prospective parents knowing that it is not likely to be educable. In such cases I thought that it was necessary to have statutory ascertainment so that it might be presented to the prospective parents as the only valid evidence that the child was likely to be ineducable.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Millan

I should not like to answer off the cuff a point about the adoption law, which is very complicated. We are not very happy with it and we are at present considering whether it should be reviewed. But I should be very surprised if, in the adoption legislation, there were anything approaching the statutory ascertainment procedure with which we are dealing. From the point of the Bill, it is not necessary to follow the statutory ascertainment procedure for adoption purposes. I should have to consider specifically what is said in the adoption legislation.

On the second point which the hon. Gentleman raised, after the social work departments are set up on 17th November this year the local authority will be responsible for social work purposes. But there are transitional arrangements to enable the local health authority to act in the comparatively short period between the implementation of the Bill and the operation of the social work departments in November this year. I know from my experience of local authorities that they are well aware of the need for their social work departments to co-ordinate their activities and to liaise with education departments and other departments of the local authority.

The third point which the hon. Gentleman raised concerned the notice in writing. He was concerned that this might come as a bolt from the blue to the parent if there were no preliminary consultation. But Section 66B provides that before the education authority does anything it will consider in accordance with section 65(1) of this Act, the advice and any reports or other information received by them with respect to any child … Under Clause 65(1), the local authority, before it acts, must take account of the views of the parent. There is, therefore, no question of the authority acting arbitrarily. It must take account of all the reports and information it is able to obtain and of the views of the parents before making an ascertainment decision. There must, therefore, be preliminary consultation before a decision is made.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) asked whether the local authority, not having taken the initiative in the review but having decided that the child should be ascertained as unsuitable for education, could act after the review carried out by the parents. That is so under the Bill because, under Section 66, the education authority can act when it thinks it "expedient". But we must beware of making this sound very formal and legalistic and must take account of the fact that in a situation of this kind the relationship between the education authority and the parents should be such as to enable them to discuss matters relating to the child frankly and should not depend on the legalistic arrangements in the Bill. The legal arrangements basically are for the protection of the parent and the child.

The hon. Gentleman wondered whether the authorities would always be bound to give reasons. The answer is "No". The parent can request reasons. There is a good explanation for this provision. It may be very distressing in certain cases for the local authority, at the beginning of the ascertainment, to have to give the medical and other reasons why it has decided that a child is unsuitable for education or training. It is not right that it should be able to withhold that information from the parent, but in dealing with very difficult cases it is better that the parent should be told that he can ask for the reasons. The reasons will not necessarily be given unless he asks for them. Whenever the parent wishes the reasons to be given, there can be no question of the authority withholding them from him.

I turn to the point about the parent having advice from his own expert. Under Section 65(1) the education authority must take account of any other reports or information which they are able to obtain with respect to the ability or aptitude of the child". Therefore, if the parent has a medical adviser, or any other adviser, who has a view about the child's capabilities, it is proper for the parent to ensure that that view is put in the hands of the education authority which must take it into account—it need not necessarily accept it—before reaching its decision. All these decisions are subject to appeal to the Secretary of State. Therefore, my right hon. Friend would have regard to all the views expressed about the child.

The question of an independent expert being present at an examination is more difficult. This would be basically at the discretion of the local authority. I can visualise considerable difficulties arising in medical protocol, if nothing else, in laying this down statutorily, but there is nothing to prevent it from happening at the discretion of the local authority. The views of an independent adviser, medical or otherwise, must be taken into account.

I hope that I have answered the points which have been raised. I think that it is generally accepted that the Amendments improve the Clause.

Mr. Younger

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply, but there is perhaps one small point which he has overlooked. What is the position if a parent finds that he can get the advice which he feels necessary only by paying for it?

Mr. Millan

I doubt whether that situation is ever likely to arise. A more common occurrence would be this. There may be a dispute between the authority's medical adviser and the parents' medical adviser. In all the circumstances that I can think of, that would be possible under the National Health Service. I can think of one case in which this arose. The consultant concerned was a Health Service consultant. There is no provision here for providing special medical arrangements outside the Health Service. This must come within the general compass of the Health Service.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 14, page 14, line 9, after 'shall', insert 'in writing and shall'.

Amendment No. 15, page 14, line 14 at end insert: (6) An education authority shall not make, in relation to any child, a determination under paragraph (iii) of subsection (4) above unless—

  1. (a) the child has attained the age of two years at the date of the determination, and
  2. (b) the review was carried out in pursuance of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above, and
  3. (c) the child has undergone a medical examination and a psychological examination in connection with the review.
(7) In this section and in sections 66B, 66C, 66D and 66E of this Act the expression 'local authority' shall have the same meaning as in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968: Provided that until section 1(4) of the said Act of 1968 comes into operation the expression 'local authority' shall mean a local health authority within the meaning of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1947 (including a joint committee or board constituted under section 20 of that Act).

Amendment No. 16, page 15, line 19, leave out from 'Act' to 'issue" in line 21 and insert: (1A) Where an education authority decide as aforesaid in relation to any child, either under subsection (1) above or under paragraph (iii) of section 66(4) of this Act, they shall, subject to the following provisions of this section,

Amendment No. 17, page 15, line 40, after 'section', insert: to require the authority to issue to him a statement of the reasons for their decision in relation to the child, and of his right under those provisions'.

Amendment No. 18, page 16, leave out lines 4 to 14 and insert: (3) Where an education authority have given notice to the parent of any child in pursuance of subsection (2) above, they shall, if so required by the parent within the period of twenty-eight days from the date on which the notice was served, issue to the parent a statement of the reasons for their decision in relation to the child, and whether or not such a statement is so required the parent may, if he is aggrieved by the decision, within the said period refer the case to the Secretary of State. (4) On any reference under subsection (3) above the Secretary of State shall either—

  1. (a) direct the education authority to issue to the local authority a report under this section with respect to the child in question; or
  2. (b) refuse to direct the education authority to issue such a report; or
  3. (c) in the case of a child who the education authority have decided under subsection (1) above is suffering from a disability of such a nature or to such an extent as is mentioned in paragraph (ii) of section 63(1) of this Act, refuse to direct the authority to issue such a report but substitute for that decision a decision that the child requires special education; or
  4. (d) in the case of a child in relation to whom the education authority have decided as aforesaid under paragraph (iii) of section 66(4) of this Act, refuse to direct the authority to issue such a report but confirm their determination under that paragraph so far as relating to the revocation of the decision that the child requires special education.
(5) Where under paragraph (a) of subsection (4) above the Secretary of State directs an education authority to issue to the local authority a report under this section with respect to any child, the education authority shall forthwith comply with that direction. (6) Where under paragraph (b) of subsection (4) above the Secretary of State refuses to direct an education authority to issue such a report with respect to any child, being a child who the authority have decided, under paragraph (iii) of section 66(4) of this Act, is suffering from a disability of such a nature or to such an extent as is mentioned in paragraph (ii) of section 63(1) of this Act, the authority shall be deemed not to have revoked their decision that the child requires special education and shall continue to ensure that any education provided by them for the child is special education. (7) Where under paragraph (c) of subsection (4) above the Secretary of State substitutes for any decision of an education authority in relation to any child a decision that the child requires special education, the authority shall be deemed to have decided under section 65(1) of this Act that the child requires special education and shall thereafter ensure that any education provided by them for the child is special education. (8) An education authority shall as soon as practicable give to the parent of any child notice in writing of any decision made by the Secretary of State in relation to that child on a reference under subsection (3) above and of the effect of that decision.—[Mr. Millan.]

Mr. Millan

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 17, line 21, leave out 'received by them' and insert: 'which they are able to obtain'. The effect is to substitute the words which they are able to obtain". for the words "received by them" in the new Section 66C(4)(b). The present wording has a rather passive implication. In other words, it suggests that an authority would wait for reports to be received by it. We intend this to be a more active procedure.

In other parts of the Section we talk about the authority being able to obtain reports, which suggests that it must do so—and this takes up a point made in our last discussion—and must take the initiative in getting all the available advice and reports before making a decision about the child. We think that the original wording was unfortunate and the new wording will give a more active rôle to the authority and make it clear that it is expected to ask those concerned for the reports it needs for the ascertainment procedure.

Mr. Younger

I welcome both the Amendment and the way in which the Under-Secretary has moved it, because I am certain that making this a more positive instruction is important.

However, it raises one disturbing matter. I applaud this movement towards getting authorities more positively concerned with the problems which these special children present, but I am disturbed that there may not be sufficient qualified advisers available to local authorities even to play their present somewhat passive rôle and certainly not the more positive rôle which we hope they will have.

For instance, in a case brought to my notice not long ago, parents approached a local authority with a view to getting the ascertainment process under way and in the course of three interviews over a period of three or four months they saw three different people. I do not remember the details, but I think that the first went somewhere else and the second went to another authority. I do not blame anyone for this but this is the sort of thing that concerns me.

I should like the Minister to address himself to the question whether, in his own Department, at any rate, sufficient adequate staff are available for local authorities to play the more positive rôle which we are rightly giving to them. If there are not sufficient available, and I believe that there are not, I hope that he will closely consider the reasons. Is it because they are not paid enough, or do they just not exist?

All the excellent provisions being written into the Bill, and all these excellent Amendments, will be of no value if there are not the qualified people on the spot to do the work. This is an important consideration and we should not allow the Amendment to pass without directing the Minister's attention to this problem, although I am sure that he will have already met it.

Mr. Millan

I am not sure who are these individuals of whom local authorities are said to be scarce. Authorities have medical officers of health to undertake medical examinations and virtually every authority employs at least one educational psychologist, while many employ more. Those who do not employ them directly, and one or two smaller authorities may not do so, will certainly have access to them from other authorities by arrangement. Even in big authorities employing several medical officers of health reports may be needed from medical specialists not employed by the authority, but that is perfectly possible and is done under the present legislation.

Mr. MacArthur

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that after November educational psychologists will come from an authority's social work department?

Mr. Millan

No, they will not. They will remain employed by education authorities. Certain arrangements are made for combining premises for certain assessment purposes connected with child guidance, but educational psychologists will continue to be employed by education authorities.

5.15 p.m.

I am not aware of general difficulties. Where appropriate, medical authorities will be able to draw on the resources of the whole of the National Health Service A clinical psychologist would also be able to do so. The hon. Member may have information about individual cases and I should be glad to look into it, but my impression is that this is not an important difficulty, remembering that those authorities with small staffs, because they themselves are small, will necessarily be dealing with only a few cases in a year and able to get outside advice.

Miss Harvie Anderson

This takes me back to my original point, that ascertainment is not necessarily something which occurs at one interview. I have in mind the work of Dr. Isabel Mair, who is well known in Scotland for her excellent work in dealing with the children we are discussing. She has had great success in the process of ascertainment, but that is a process undertaken not in one interview, or two, or sometimes even in one year. Somehow we have to plan for a continuing process being available for parents so that they know to whom to turn and who is a link among the departments with a degree of responsibility.

Since he last replied to me, I have written the Under-Secretary a letter which, I hope, he will get tomorrow. I am still not very happy about this. I do not think that it is right to say that just one person will be able to finish this process at one interview. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has raised a matter of extreme importance.

Mr. Millan

I did not say that it would be necessarily one person who would be engaged on this work. A continuing review is precisely what the Clause provides for the first time. For the first time we are placing on authorities an obligation to keep children under regular review. Previously, once the ascertainment procedure had taken place, no obligation was placed on the local authority to keep the case under regular review. That obligation is being imposed for the first time and I think that we all agree that it should be imposed. However, I am not aware that this will impose strains on an education authority's medical resources or on the educational psychologist.

I am not saying that local authorities could not employ more staff in this way. I dare say that authorities generally could employ more educational psychologists. This is a service which has been considerably built up in recent years. But it should not be by any means impossible for local authorities to do the job for these children which we are now imposing on them, and the authorities are happy to accept these provisions.

Mr. Younger

I welcome what the Under-Secretary is trying to do. All I ask him to do is to undertake to look closely behind the paper figures and the educational psychologists when he may find that, because of the burden of work, or frequent changes of personnel, there is often not the continuity of personal attention and skill which we all think should be directed to these cases. He will satisfy me if he will say that he will look carefully into this.

Mr. Millan

One cannot guarantee in any local authority service that there will be continuity of staff over a period of years, for that depends on a number of factors, including the propensities of individual members of the staff themselves. But the service is being built up and I do not think that we are placing any obligation on the local authorities under this Clause that they will not be able effectively to discharge. Having said that, I shall be happy if, in some of these activities, the local authorities are able to build up their staffs to an even greater extent than they have been able to over the last few years.

Mr. MacArthur

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Amendment appears to be fairly small in effect, simply replacing three words by six others. But it removes what I may describe as a rather casual tone from subsection (4)(b) and introduces a clear obligation on the local authority to search out the information required in reviewing the future of a child in its care.

It is not our purpose to obstruct the Amendment. We believe that it is an improvement on the present wording of the Clause and that it should be accepted. At the same time, we must know what we are doing and what the extent of this additional responsibility is that we are placing on the local authority. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) for raising the question of the possible strain on the present staff of local authorities which this proposal might impose.

We are dealing here with a critical part of a most important Clause of the Bill. This new provision sets out the procedure whereby the education authority shall review the decisions made by that authority about the special education of a child in need of care. There is a limitation early in the Clause on the extent to which a parent or a guardian may intervene in decisions of this kind. Quite rightly, the parent may not request the education authority to review a decision about a child in less than 12 months and requests thereafter may not be made more frequently than once in 12 months.

I believe that this is right because, if a child is to benefit from the special care provided by the education authority, it is reasonable to expect that it should be able to plan the care of the child properly and comprehensively over a fairly long period, and it is also right that it should not be disturbed unnecessarily by over-anxious parental inquiry more frequently than once a year. But, having said that, there is an obligation on the education authority to review the care given to the child if requested to do so under the terms set out at the beginning of the Clause.

The effect of the Amendment is that when a local education authority reviews the care given to the child in response to a request made under subsection (1) it should go out of its way to obtain reports or other information with respect to the child from the parent or the local authority or from … any authority or body responsible for the management of an institution in which such child is under care … or from any other person. Originally, the Clause did not place this requirement on the local education authority. The requirement, such as it was, was on these other bodies and people to communicate with the local education authority and to provide voluntarily the information they felt necessary for the review to take place properly. Quite rightly, the subsection is now to be strengthened by the transference of this responsibility from people outside to the centre—the local education authority itself.

If the local education authority is to perform the function which it is going to be required by Statute to perform, it must have adequate staff. The obligation to be placed upon the local education authority by the Amendment is that it must try to obtain reports or other information about the child from a wide range of people. This will require a very wide research and investigation. I believe that the requirement is right but it will place a substantial strain on local authority staff.

I have spelt this out at length because we are facing uncertainties over the whole area of the management of local authorities in Scotland. We are awaiting publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. We go on waiting for it month after month. We do not know what shape local authorities will have in future but we do know that, in a recent major reform of local government, we have encountered certain difficulties to which we drew attention—the reform of local authority welfare services as a result of the Social Work (Scotland) Act.

We know now how difficult it is to staff the local authority social work departments adequately, how many posts are still vacant, and that directors of social work in some local authorities have still not been appointed because suitable candidates cannot be found. Many of us have grave doubts about whether the staffing of these social work departments is adequate to discharge the additional functions quite properly put on local authorities.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we not now straying into the realm of another Measure which has already been before the House and is now an Act of Parliament? Should we not devote our attention to the Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) should leave it to the Chair to decide whether the rules of order are being maintained.

Mr. W. Baxter

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to know what are the rules of order if we can now have a debate on the social services.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) is in order up to now.

Mr. MacArthur

I wish simply to emphasise the important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr. He questioned whether the present staffing of local authorities was adequate to perform this new function which is quite rightly to be placed upon them. I am simply calling attention to the difficulties being encountered in Scotland as a result of the passage of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, which covers an equivalent activity in social welfare. I have stressed that the local authorities are going to find it hard to carry out their responsibilities properly because of the problem of staffing. I intervened earlier—

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us of any highly-skilled occupation for which there is no scarcity of staff?

5.30 p.m.

Mr. MacArthur

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because it is an extension of what I am saying. Of course there is a shortage of skill. There is a shortage of skill in social work and the hon. Gentleman has called attention to this. In Committee we pointed to the problems which would confront Scottish local authorities in that many of the social work departments would have to be staffed from the director of social work downwards.

We have already had practical experience in Scotland of the difficulties that can arise when additional requirements are placed on local authorities, requirements which all of us wish to see fulfilled properly, particularly in social work, where the local authority decision is absolutely critical to the future of the child in its care. It is for that reason that I hope that the Minister can give us more information about the load of work this will represent for the local education authorities.

Perhaps he can also tell us the extent to which social work departments will be involved. I asked earlier whether the educational psychologist would be a member of the social work department and the Minister said that this would not be the case. As I understand the position, in every case the educational psychologist would be employed by the local education authority. Does this mean that we are to have two streams of educational psychologists, in the education authorities on the one hand and the social work department on the other? This is an important point. We support the Amendment and believe that it is right to lay such an obligation on the local authority. It would clearly be wrong if the requirement were to be a hollow one simply because local authority staffing in Scotland was not adequate to discharge the responsibility placed on it by the Amendment.

Mr. Lawson

So often the hon. Gentle man or his hon. Friends come along and tell the House that they support this that or the other, that this is an excellent step, these are the kind of moves that they would be making if they were the Government, yet there is always the kick in the pants. The hon. Gentleman always comes up with the objections which are usally far greater than his commendations. I can recall my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who is net here now but who has been present for most of the time, pressing for a long time—I tried to help her—for care to be taken of these handicapped children.

We were well aware that in our own area handicapped children were often hidden away. It was difficult to know how many there were. Here is a positive obligation with which we all agree and which we all welcome. We recognise that there are difficulties in finding staff and money but we want these things.

Mr. MacArthur

I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman, whose views I greatly respect, should take this line. He acknowledges that we support the Amendment, but it would be quite wrong if we were to allow it to go through without asking certain fundamental questions about its effect. We are placing a statutory requirement on local authorities and it is right that we should have regard to what we are asking them to do, particularly in view of the difficulties we are encountering following the passage of the Social Work (Scotland) Act.

Mr. Lawson

All that I am saying is that listening to the hon. Gentleman it seems that he is always disagreeing always objecting. We recognise that there are these difficulties, and that local authorities are being told by Parliament that these difficulties have to be surmounted. Money requires to be found to train and to pay for these people. We should be honest on both sides and say that when we require certain things to be done we recognise that there must be expense. These proposals will cost money, but we are telling local authorities to get on with it because we think these things should be done. My criticism of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends is that they like to say they were in favour of all these desirable things, but on so many occasions they point to the difficulties and talk about squander-mongering and so on. If the hon. Gentleman tells me I am wrong and that he is sincerely backing the Government, I will take back half of what I have said—but only half.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

We have been making a great deal of unnecessary fuss about this. What we are doing is putting some words into the Clause as previous Amendments have put those words into two other Clauses. If all this hullabaloo is essential now why did we not have it earlier? We are replacing the words "received by them" with the words "they are able to obtain". If all these high-powered points are relevant I presume that they were raised in Committee. If they were, they would have been answered there. We are dealing with the review by an education authority of cases of children unsuitable for education. The question of the medical and psychological examinations is not covered by this at all, so from that point of view there was a certain measure of irrelevance.

That is covered by subsection (a) and since there are no Amendments to that I gather that the wording is adequate. Subsection (4) states: In reviewing under subsection (1) above, their decision in relation to any child an education authority shall take into consideration— (a) That is the point about the medical and psychological examinations. Then it would go on: (b) any reports and other information with respect to the child that they are able to obtain from the parents of the child … This is the point that we are dealing with. I do not think that there will be any great difficulty about staff in respect of the parents of the child. The next point reads: … or from the local authority, or from any authority or body responsible for the management of an institution in which the child is under care". If the child is already in management and under care in an institution the person in charge of them is there and there is no great burden upon the staff or on anyone else.

Here we are improving the whole procedure for dealing with a very difficult situation, and we have enough important matters to deal with without dragging in things that are not of the importance some hon. Members seem to think. I sincerely hope that the House will accept the Amendment—

Mr. Younger

I know that the right hon. Gentleman's intentions are as good as anyone else's but by the tone he has adopted he has largely undone the sympathetic words spoken by his hon. Friend. Irrespective of what has been said or how it has been said, will he please accept that this is a genuine concern expressed about this problem? Whether it has been rightly expressed, will he please look sympathetically into it?

Mr. Ross

I should be delighted to explain to the hon. Gentleman that we are not placing any burden upon local authorities which they cannot carry in respect of this Amendment and the change that we are making in the words of the Bill. We are concerned with the change and whether we should put in these words. Putting them in will not have the effect that some people have suggested.

We have very important and sensitive matters to deal with, but let us keep our sense of proportion in the way that we address ourselves to them. Listening to some of the speeches, it is apparent that hon. Members opposite are tending to go overboard. I am happy with the change that we are making. The new wording will not place a burden upon the local authorities which they are unable to carry out. What we are doing makes the wording in this Clause consistent with that in the two previous Clauses, which were agreed to in Amendments that the House accepted without objection.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 20, in line 44, at end insert 'or.'.—[Mr. Millan]

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