HC Deb 15 July 1970 vol 803 cc1672-82

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.15 p.m.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

My interest in this Clause is due to the fact that I am the father of a mentally handicapped child; namely, the youngest of our three daughters. I am glad to say that she is receiving wonderful care, and even some attempt at education, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

I hope I am not being too personal when I say that, to my mind, that qualifies him as being a person eminently suitable to pilot this Bill through the House and to implement it adequately afterwards, for I know what a tremendous interest he has taken in the voluntary foundation where my daughter is being cared for.

I welcomed the statement made by my hon. Friend on Second Reading to the effect that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is putting in hand further consultations with all concerned so that a more rational—indeed, I should have thought a more fair—attitude could be evolved about the desirability of fixing a shorter period of post-diploma training for those who take the course for the training of mentally handicapped children.

There is no doubt that when the Clause is implemented the training of such teachers will become even more important than it has been in the past. Can my hon. Friend give an estimate of the increase in the number of qualified teachers of the mentally handicapped who will be required?

This question of the total numbers required is exceedingly relevant to post-diploma experience—indeed, to pre-diploma experience, too—which will be a condition of qualified teacher status. Frankly, if the conditions are made too tough, we shall not get the qualified teachers. If those who have already gained several years' experience in this field, which is a very difficult one, will not be given the opportunity of having that status recognised when they have passed the teacher training course, then those who might be forthcoming will not be forthcoming. Without wearying the Committee with too much detail, I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that a sympathetic attitude is taken towards this part of the problem.

The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, in which I play some part at the centre, has suggested, for example, that candidates for teacher training colleges for the special course, which will be required, who have held over three years' experience in training centres under the present set-up, prior to the taking of the diploma, should be required to serve certainly not more than two years after completing the diploma course in order to acquire qualified teacher status. That is just one suggestion. I will write to my hon. Friend with others, rather than weary the Committee with further detail on this point, though it is vitally important.

There are several other matters which, when the Clause comes to be implemented, give rise to concern and about which we must ask for assurances. First, my hon. Friend said on Second Reading that of the 28,000 children who will be affected by the Bill, about 6,000 are at present being cared for in hospitals. Thus, the new responsibility for educating those children, which has passed to the Department of Education, will extend into those hospitals. I understand that some of these hospitals have, if not provided with schools of their own for training such children, some kind of educational arrangements, but what is very important is that all of these 6,000 children should, according to their capacities, be taught—and even those with a very low I.Q. can be taught something.

It is most remarkable, as I explained to the House on another occasion several years ago, that those with the very lowest I.Q. can frequently be taught something which will enable them to lead a fuller, and even a slightly more independent, life. Therefore, those hospitals, whether or not they have schools of their own, should be served by qualified teachers in future. I hope that we may receive an assurance from my hon. Friend that none of those 6,000 children will be regarded as being utterly beyond the scope of the Clause.

Let me say a word or two about the grievously retarded children coming into the category of what are generally called "special care" cases, because for that category also we should ask for assurances. These children are a great challenge to educationists. Experimental work is going on throughout the world in respect of children with very low I.Q., many of whom, like my daughter, have severe physical handicaps as well. But the valuable experimental work that is being done on such cases both in this country and elsewhere will be very largely wasted if we draw the line in such a way as to provide that at a certain level of I.Q. there is nothing that can be done, and that, therefore, a number of children must be ruled out completely as being beyond the hope of any kind of educational facility.

If we make a demarcation of that kind, and there are rumours that in Whitehall such a demarcation line is being worked out—I hope that those rumours are not well founded—we shall be making a nonsense of the experimental work that is going on, and we shall be wasting the opportunities provided by the Bill. If one referred to the debate initiated some years ago by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), one would say that the very careful preparatory work done over a very long period before the Bill saw the light of day will largely have been wasted.

The work done by the voluntary societies, such as the society in my hon. Friend's constituency, can be of great help to the State. These voluntary societies are doing valuable work, some of it experimental, and some of it involving the training of teachers of the mentally handicapped. Mostly, they depend upon private funds, but I hope that as economic conditions improve our Government will consider the possibility of giving increasing financial help to such voluntary societies.

My principal reason for saying so is that it is essential that there should be a certain amount of pride and competition in making experiments which need to be made in this field. It would be wrong for the Department of Education and Science, however much its heart is in the matter, to have something near a monopoly in the developments which must take place. Therefore, I think these voluntary foundations worth encouraging, but there is a further reason. The voluntary foundations are prepared to do these things on a relatively small scale. From my knowledge and experience of the work which others are doing in helping mentally handicapped children, I should say that the lower the I.Q. children have the smaller should the scale be on which the work is done. Therefore, these voluntary foundations are playing a very valuable part. They should be encouraged, and they should be encouraged financially increasingly as circumstances permit.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

It is always a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on this subject. I have had that privilege on other Bills, on other occasions and in other debates. He brings a wealth not only of personal experience but of knowledge to the subject, and I commend to the Under-Secretary what he has said.

The practical problems in implementing this Clause concerning training teachers are matters with which the Under-Secretary will be very much concerned when the Bill becomes law. There will be a tremendous problem in making the adaptation and adjustment from the present position. At present 67 per cent. of those teaching mentally handicapped children are entirely without qualification. On the other hand, within that body there will be a large body of practical and personal experience. It would be sad if that went untapped. Therefore, in making arrangements for the implementation of this Clause in regard to training a considerable amount of adjustment will be needed, and I urge the hon. Gentleman not to be too rigid but to bring flexibility into the operation.

I commend the comment about what has become an almost impassable barrier, the 50 to 55 I.Q. This has been written in for so long and we have reached so much sophistication in the last few years that it is hoped that this Clause will lead to more flexibility about what is educable and what is ineducable for this category. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at the answer he gave to a question I asked on Second Reading when we were concerned about the implications of this Clause in limiting his responsibility about ages once we removed this category from the Department of Health and Social Security. We received the assurance that the ages stretched from 2 to 19.

11.30 p.m.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at that upper limit of 19, because it is too low. There is a whole period in the ages of 14 upward where to say that the responsibility of the Department of Education should stop at 19 is in many cases almost impossible to follow through.

Most of my commtnts are concerned with the interpretation of this Clause in a flexible rather than an inflexible way. I commend the final comments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

I had the privilege recently of going with the National Society for the Mentally Handicapped to look at what is being done in Denmark. The Under-Secretary is about to embark upon the long Summer Recess. As part of the furtherance of the Bill that he is successfully piloting through the House of Commons, I recommend that he spends a little time looking at what Denmark has been able to do—with a much smaller population, it is true, but with a much greater per capita allocation—and the way in which she is prepared to operate extremely small units for teaching purposes and does not stand firm on having so many children per teacher.

On the fringe side of his responsibility for educating the mentally handicapped, I recommend that the Under-Secretary takes note of the way use is made of training teachers in other specialties: the teachers come in for short periods and are able to gain experience which does not qualify them to teach the mentally handicapped but which is of tremendous value to them when they come to deal with ordinary children.

If the Under-Secretary can find the time, I commend the Scandinavian work in this respect to his attention. It is different from ours. We can show comparable things in many fields, but some of the work the Scandinavians are doing on matters covered by the Clause is an advance on what we are doing.

As functions are now being transferred from one Department to another, this is the opportune time to compare what is being done here with what is being done in enlightened places elsewhere.

I hope that the Clause will stand part. We commended it on Second Reading. I wish the Under-Secretary well in the very practical difficulties he will encounter in doing what is an extremely good thing under the Clause.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Subsection (2,c) speaks of the transfer to local education authorities of property, rights and liabilities of local health authorities and so on. This is probably fairly simple in most parts of the country where education authorities and health authorities are one and the same. However, in Inner London there are two separate authorities. What provision is contemplated for assessing the value of property of local health authorities which have to pass their property over to local education authorities?

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I want to put on record, and invite my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to consider, some anxieties which have been expressed to me by parents. The fact that there will now be no departmental separation of responsibility for what I call Section 57 children and children who are already within the field of education and who are educationally subnormal does not alter the position that these two broad categories of children will continue to need separate educational treatment.

Anxiety has been expressed to me by some parents of children who would be classified, and are still classified, as educationally subnormal, and who therefore are due to go to either special schools or special classes, that a local education authority might through administrative convenience allocate such a child to a junior training centre if there were room, so that that child might get less suitable educational provision as a result of the same authority having all children under its care.

This is no more than an anxiety that has been put to me. I am sure that any education authority would take the greatest care to maintain in practice appropriate educational treatment. None the less, it may follow that a special school is simply not available.

All I ask my hon. Friend to consider is whether this point might be watched, and, further, that there should be—if there is not already—adequate appeal machinery so that a parent who thought that his child was wrongly allocated should have the ordinary rights of appeal.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

I am much obliged to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides for the kindly welcome they have given to the Clause in principle. None of us need apologise, even at a late hour, for having taken time to look closely at what is conceded on both sides to be a most important matter. I shall do my best to answer the detailed points which have been so carefully raised.

I have taken careful note of the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on the subject of the appropriate length of post-diploma service. With his long experience in Government behind him, he will appreciate that when my right hon. Friend starts—as I announced on Monday she has—a process of consultation, it would be discourteous, to say the least, to the distinguished bodies with which she is consulting if I were to make any kind of pronouncement today on the length which she has in mind or which she may have suggested to them. He will understand that since there are consultations in progress it would not be appropriate for me to go further than that. However, having read our Second Reading debate—we all understood his absence on that occasion, though we regretted it—my right hon. and learned Friend will have seen the direction in which my right hon. Friend's mind is moving.

I warmly support what my right hon. and learned Friend was kind enough to say, in such felicitous terms, about the voluntary bodies and societies. There are a number at work. He himself has a most distinguished connection with more than one of them. He drew attention to the remarkably fine work of the voluntary association within my constituency, of which he has personal knowledge. Again, with his long experience, my right hon. and learned Friend will understand that a junior Minister, within a fortnight of appointment, has at least learned that, however tempted, he must not give promises of financial support. Clearly that is not within my competence tonight, and my right hon. and learned Friend was careful to make plain that he had in mind the future rather than the present.

I can say emphatically that there is no disposition in the Department that I have discovered to want, as it were, to empire-build and to exclude voluntary bodies. I have not the smallest disposition in that way, and I think that my right hon. and learned Friend knows me well enough to understand that such an attitude would not have the slightest encouragement from me. Quite the reverse.

I am disturbed that my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) should feel that there is some inclination to draw an I.Q. line. I am grateful to them both for drawing the matter to my attention. I can say categorically that there is no intention that I have ascertained in the Department—or the Departments, though in education terms I speak of the Department—to draw any lower level of I.Q. for this purpose. I give that assurance, but I shall watch the matter closely now that I have had it brought to my attention.

My right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that henceforth, if the House wishes, as I trust it will, it will be an education judgment which is brought to bear. There will always have to be a judgment. There has to be a judgment at present, and, as we said on Second Reading, it is often a difficult judgment to make. However hard we try to make educational provision available which is the intention, there may be a certain very small number for whom on educational grounds—and it will be an educational system—meaningful educational provision cannot effectively be made. But it would be quite wrong to settle beforehand an I.Q. base below which we should not make genuine educational efforts. I hope that this clears the matter. I am deeply obliged that it has been raised. It has enabled me to deal with it in public. I give a clear assurance that I shall watch it most closely.

I have for about 20 years been on the receiving end of googly questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), and today is no exception. I think that the right answer to his question is that the transfer of the properties, which is a very limited number, is done on the basis of an independent valuation by the district valuer, who I would expect, with two branches of Government of this kind, would enter into discussions with both. I believe that to be the accurate description of what happens but if I find that I have misled my hon. Friend on that narrow, but perfectly fair, technical point I shall at once write to him and put myself right.

Like a number of other hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) has always taken a great interest in these matters. I follow clearly the point he raised, which could arise, and I am obliged to him for drawing it to my attention. The whole ethos of the Clause is not downwards but precisely in the other direction. If the situation he put to us so movingly were in any sense widespread, or if there were an individual case causing him trouble, the parents of the children concerned would, I understand, now that it is the educational rules that apply, have the same rights to appeal to my right hon. Friend as the parents of any other child going to a school. I hope that my hon. Friend may feel that that goes a long way to clear his point.

The hon. Member for Willesden, West and other hon. Members wisely pointed out that if the Clause is to be a success—and it brings great problems in its train—an immense fund of goodwill towards it and an immense impetus behind it are necessary.

In many sectors of the education policies of successive Governments there is no party political controversy, and this is clearly one of them. If I am for any length of time to have some responsibility in this matter, I would want to try to build up the largest possible number of hon. Members on both sides who can assist in forwarding the purposes of the Bill. I am not in the least concerned about their political affiliations in recruiting for that core of support. I like to feel that that is the appropriate way to move forward in something that we all regard as very important.

Sir D. Renton

The Committee is very obliged to my hon. Friend for his very helpful and constructive reply. However, there was just one point which I raised which he did not deal with and which is important.

Could he tell us what is to happen about the 6,000 children in hospitals, many of whom will inevitably remain in them? What is to be done about their education when the Bill is implemented?

11.45 p.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Provision for their educational future becomes a matter for my right hon. Friend. As my right hon. and learned Friend realises, responsibility for their medical care remains a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security. This is a division about which we are clear. After 1st April responsibility for the education of children in hospital will become the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. Pavitt

In matters of health and welfare and care, it has always been my experience that hon. Members from both sides of the Committee contribute. Will the hon. Member reply to my question about the ages 2 to 19? Will he clarify what he said on Second Reading?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I apologise to the hon. Member for missing that point. I shall look at the matter more closely, but I think that I am right to say that my right hon. Friend's present powers preclude her from going wider than the ages 2 to 19, although at both ends there is discretion as opposed to compulsory powers for the narrower limits of the compulsory school age.

I will gladly look at the matter, but the hon. Member will appreciate the problems of extending the Department's powers too widely, perhaps into those of another Department. I will certainly look sympathetically at the matter, but I think that the correct answer is that legislation would be required, and at present it is not envisaged.

The hon. Member referred to the research being done in Denmark. I should dearly like to feel that I may be permitted time off to go to Denmark, but the Patronage Secretary is looking at me with a rather beady eye and no doubt expects junior Ministers to work extremely hard. But it may be that the hon. Member's words will soften him a little.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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