HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1407-8
2. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied with the educational provision for deaf/blind children; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities were asked in July, 1970, to review the provision available in their areas for children with defects of both sight and hearing. Many are educated with other handicapped children; but since that date a further special unit has opened and at least five others are now being provided.

Mr. Ashley

May I, for a change, express my warm appreciation to the right hon. Lady for her initiative on this issue and ask her to seek to extend the provision of special units for deaf/blind children even further and to try to ensure that it is available throughout their period of education, which is not the case at present?

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall consider sympathetically any requests received, but the hon. Gentleman knows that it is difficult to make provision available over the whole country when a very small number of children are involved. There are 460 children who are known to have defects of both sight and hearing, and we must weigh in the balance the need for widely spread units against the need for units of a size sufficiently large to provide all the facilities.

Dr. Stuttaford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, before the happy day comes when we eradicate these sensory defects by encouraging school medical officers to push the German measles vaccination programme, what the schools, and particularly the smaller schools, need is more equipment? They are still woefully short of equipment, particularly of auditory trainers. My right hon. Friend could immediately help the smaller units by providing more equipment.

Mrs. Thatcher

The question of equipment is for the local education authorities. Some of these children are in hospital schools, which now come within the responsibility of the Department. However, if my hon. Friend has any particular cases in mind, we shall very much like to know about them because we are all anxious to help.

Mr. Edward Short

Does the right hon. Lady recollect the Imprisoned Minds Campaign in July, 1968, and the large public meeting at the Central Hall, Westminster, at which Lord Boyle and two of her present ministerial colleagues spoke and at which a letter from the present Prime Minister was read which stated that if the Labour Government did not institute a Plowden-type inquiry into the education of handicapped children a Conservative Government would? When will the right hon. Lady implement that specific promise by the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Thatcher

The promise was not to institute a public inquiry. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have an excellent Advisory Committee on the Education of Handicapped Children which sometimes sets up sub-committees to consider specific problems. That body is working extremely well and, together with all the other information available, gives us all we need. The main object is steadily to improve the facilities for these children.