HC Deb 29 March 1972 vol 834 cc441-4

3.49 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it compulsory for local education authorities, either individually or jointly, to provide boarding educational facilities for socially, mentally, or physically handicapped children. The background to this proposition is that in my constituency there is a privately owned residential fee-paying school catering for boys between the ages of 6 and 16 years—and I quote from its brochure— classified as maladjusted and mentally retarded. The number of boys at this school is about 50, and they are drawn from local education authorities in both England and Scotland, and especially from the north-west of England.

The building in which these boys are being educated is very old. It was formerly an isolation hospital. In its latter years, in the early 1960s, it was used by the South-East Scotland Regional Hospital Board for mentally handicapped children. Following a report of the regional hospital board's architects' division in 1965, the board decided that it was unfit for any purposes that it had in mind, and the Fife County Council, after inspection of the building, came to the same conclusion. It was thereupon left idle for a considerable time, decaying and rotting.

It was then sold to a Mr. Taylor Bryant, who is now the principal of this school. Mr. Taylor Bryant has no academic qualifications of any kind, but he is the chief administrator in a school which has now been operating since September, 1970. He already owned a similar school for boys and girls in Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire.

The fees at the Fife school are £800 per year per child. I understand that in Newton Stewart the fees are £780 per year per child, slightly less than the fees at Eton, which I understand are £861 per year, at Harrow £849, at Gordonstoun £859 a year, and more than at Fettes, Mr. Speaker, in which you will be interested as an Old Boy, which are £750 a year. It would probably be cheaper for the local education authorities to send these children to Gordonstoun or Fettes rather than to the school in my constituency.

I visited this school on two occasions, the last being a few weeks ago. My impression on my first visit was that the school was appallingly inadequate as to buildings, staff and facilities.

I have a large dossier of questions and correspondence over the last 18 months with both the Scottish and the English Education Departments. On 4th March, 1971, the English Secretary of State told me that three local education authorities in England had received her approval to place children at this school: namely, Manchester, Bolton and Oldham.

In answer to a further Question on 1st April, 1971, the right hon. Lady indicated that seven of the boys placed at Corsbie Hall School by English local education authorities had been withdrawn by the parents, but that four English local education authorities were still sending children there.

Subsequently, English local education authorities were advised by the Education Minister in England to withdraw all their children from Corsbie Hall School after considering a report…of the Scottish Education Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1971; Vol. 818, c. 353. That was in answer to a Written Question on 10th June, 1971. But English schoolchildren are still at that school.

I need not quote the exchanges which took place between myself and the Minister on 9th March, a fortnight ago, but the Minister in a subsequent letter indicated that the additional three boys to whom you referred were sent by the Social Services Departments of local authorities who have the power to send children who are in their care to independent schools in appropriate cases. The available information as to the scale of this problem in the Scottish Education Department is vague, but in answer to a Question on 15th March, 1972, the Secretary of State indicated that in Scotland there were eight such private fee-paying schools for handicapped children with a total of nearly 500 places. Three out of the eight were only provisionally registered. In English terms, they were not recognised as suitable places for the education of these children.

The relevant Scottish Act dealing with these matters is the Education (Scotland) Act, 1962, Part V, which relates to independent schools and their registration. Section 112(1)(d) provides that if the proprietor of the school or any teacher employed therein is not a proper person to be the proprietor of an independent school or to be a teacher in any school the Secretary of State shall have certain powers to deal with the matter. The school can be struck off the register.

I have already indicated that the proprietor of Corsbie Hall School has no academic qualifications whatever. He says that it is non-profit-making, and he gave me accounts, which I was not qualified to examine with the attention that they deserve. However, it is significant that the same principal sold the school at Newton Stewart to a Mr. Sendall, who had been the headmaster at Corsbie Hall when I first visited it some time ago. Mr. Sendall told me that the children in the school at West Fife were savages who had to be subjected to stern discipline, including corporal punishment. Mr. Sendall is now the headmaster of the school at Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire. I do not know why, if it is a non-profit-making organisation, Mr. Sendall should be interested in buying it from Mr. Taylor Bryant.

Corsbie Hall has been inspected by the Department on at least four occasions: 8th February, 1971; June, 1971; November, 1971; and March, 1972. Newton Stewart has also had several inspections. However, both schools are still provisionally registered, although the Secretary of State indicated to me as long ago as 4th February, 1971, that the matter was urgent. The urgency is not obvious in either the Scottish or the English Departments.

The rôle of local authorities in these matters is laid down in Part II of the 1962 Act, which lays duties on local authorities to deal with the education of handicapped children. I will not quote from the Act in view of the time. Suffice to say that it refers to regulations which shall be made by the Secretary of State. The only regulations made were in 1954. In Statutory Instrument No. 1239 nine categories of handicapped children were indicated. The Secretary of State for Scotland has subsequently told me that it is impossible to categorise these children. He also believes that there ought to be an element of private enterprise in this sphere. I disagree profoundly. Indeed, so do the staff at the Corsbie Hall School. They say that this kind of education ought to be in the hands of local education authorities.

I believe that both the Scottish Department and the local education authorities are complacent about these problems. It is wrong to put the education of handicapped children into the hands of private individuals running fee-paying schools. It is almost criminal that local education authorities, from Oldham in England to the Shetlands in the North of Scotland, should shuffle out of their responsibilities by sending handicapped children to a private school in Fife at inordinate cost to their ratepayers.

No Minister would send his children to Corsbie Hall; no M.P. would send his children there. I mean no disrespect to the staff of the school. I believe that they are doing their best. The head is an ex-Marine commando, a good salesman and enthusiastic about his job. However, it is not a job which ought to be done by a private organisation. That is why I want to make it obligatory for local education authorities to face their responsibilities. That is the reason why I seek to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. William Hamilton, Mr. Frank McElhone, Mr. Dick Douglas, Mr. Ronald King Murray, Mr. James Hamilton, Mr. Robert Hughes, Mr. William Hannan, Mr. John Smith, and Mr. George Lawson.