HC Deb 01 July 1976 vol 914 cc683-728

'(1) In section 33(2) of the Education Act 1944 leave out from 'practicable' to end and insert "provide for their education in ordinary schools maintained by a local education authority or in ordinary schools not so maintained, other than one notified by the Minister to the local education authority to be, in his opinion, unsuitable for the purpose, but where that is impracticable the arrangements may provide for the giving of such education in special schools appropriate for that category.".

(2) After section 34(4) of the said Act insert the following subsection:— 4A. If a local education authority decides that a child requires special educational treatment, they shall not provide such treatment in a special school without the consent of the parent unless the parent cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent or is withholding his consent unreasonably."'.—[Mr. Ashley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 5, in Clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out 'affecting' and insert 'prohibiting'.

No. 14, in Clause 1, page 1, line 21, at end insert: 'but this subsection shall not be construed as permitting the provision of secondary education for pupils suffering from disability of body but not of mind in schools where arrangements for the admission of pupils are based wholly or partly on selection by reference to intellectual ability or academic aptitude'.

Mr. Ashley

The House will be glad to hear that I propose to speak to these amendments without filibustering.

The clause and the amendments are designed to reduce the dependence of disabled children on special schooling. They provide that special schooling shall be allowed only when normal schooling is definitely impracticable. Together the clause and the amendments aim to give disabled children precisely the same education provision as other children.

The clause and the amendments emphasise the need for integration. I believe that it is quite wrong for any group of disabled people to be forced to mix only with a group of similarly disabled people. For example, it is wrong that the blind should be compelled to mix only with the blind, or the deaf with the deaf, or the crippled with the crippled It is of paramount importance that we enable these children to mix with non-disabled children and thereby to extend their educational horizons. In so doing, we shall be ensuring that they also extend their social and economic horizons.

"Integration" is a very easy word to use, but what does it mean in terms of this clause? First, I think that the House should recognise that the essential element of any disability is loneliness. It does not matter what the disability is—blindness, deafness, being paralysed, being spastic, suffering from multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. Any disablement means loneliness for the disabled person. Often this is not recognised by people who are not disabled. The trouble is that disabled people are often ill at ease when they first begin to move back into what I call normal society.

No one knows until he is disabled what it means to have the nod and smile from the public and then be passed by on the other side of the street or even in the same building. Severely disabled people can rely only on their families and close friends to ease this appalling burden of loneliness. That is why integration is of such paramount importance.

It is a two-fold process. First, it enables disabled children to learn to mix with non-disabled children, which is essential. But, equally important, it enables non-disabled children to begin to understand disablement and thereby to create for themselves an entirely new dimension of understanding of human nature and of mankind.

This two-way process will be furthered by the new clause. It will enable disabled children and non-disabled children to understand each other better.

In my view, it is essential for this process to start at the earliest possible age. The understanding of human fellowship is best developed at the earliest possible stage of children's development so that they can begin to understand their capabilities and their capacity for mixing with others.

In addition to that important aspect the new clause and the amendments provide for the requirement of parental consent. I believe that parental consent to a disabled child's having special education is of greater importance than parental consent is normally, and normally it is of supreme importance. The reason for that is that only the parents of a disabled child understand the specific problems created by a severe disability. That is why parental consent must loom large in any consideration of the education of a severely disabled child. Only a parent is aware of the crucial need for the family background, and it has to be said that many special schools take children away from the family background. The rôle of the parents, therefore, is all important, and that is why we have stressed its significance in the clause and in the amendments.

I come now to rather more difficult aspects of the clause and the amendments. The question is what we do about them. I believe that a very powerful case can be made out for the clause and the amendments, and I hope that I have made a modest contribution to it.

But we have to recognise that this is not a new problem. It has been with us for many generations. Successive Governments have done very little about it. The burden does not rest only with this Government. It rests with preceding Administrations, and we must face the fact that very little has been done.

It would be both foolish and unfair to place all the burden on this Government when they are facing the grave economic difficulties that they inherited from the previous Administration, and this places the advocates of the clause and the amendments in a fairly serious dilemma. What should we do?

There is the possibility of a certain party political bias in any discussion of a clause of this kind, even though many of us manage to extirpate party political considerations from the problems of disablement. We are proud of the success of the all-party group in eschewing party politics. With the exception of a number of respected members of the Opposition, such as the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), whose sincerity and fine work the House cannot doubt, and a few of his colleagues who work regularly on the all-party disablement group, I suspect any ardent advocacy of instant solutions by Opposition Members, simply because of their silence in years gone by. I make no accusation of a wilful attempt to make party political capital. However, I suggest that they treat this clause with caution. They should listen carefully to the Minister.

I have had discussions with all the Ministers in the Department of Education. I am deeply impressed by their sincerity and their great anxiety to do what they can to help. They have certain fears about the possible repercussions of the clause, as it is clearly mandatory. It will require a considerable increase in public expenditure.

The House knows that for many years a number of my colleagues and I have sought increased public expenditure for the disabled. We have had a fair degree of success. But we cannot win them all. We cannot force the Government all the time, by means of our voices or votes, to capitulate on every issue. Given the assurances that we have received from the Minister in our discussions, I am confident that it will not be necessary to press this clause.

I asked the House to debate the clause as it is of great importance. I want to hear the views of hon. Members on both sides expressed as strongly and vigorously as possible. After the Minister has spoken, we shall be able to see what we may do about not pressing the clause. That will depend on the debate.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

We have great pleasure in supporting this worthy clause, which was moved by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who has earned so much respect from all Members of Parliament for his work on behalf of the handicapped. Normally we debate the affairs of the adult disabled and try to discover measures to improve their conditions at work or at home. Today we are debating a matter of greater importance—how we may start disabled children in their lives.

The new clause and the accompanying amendments refer to the important area of education for the handicapped. I am disappointed that some of the other new clauses that deal with the integration and access of disabled people and children to normal schools were not selected. They would have combined well and given an opportunity for a full and worthwhile debate. I hope that we shall have another opportunity to bring all these subjects into focus.

4.45 p.m.

New Clause 17 results from close consultations with the redoubtable and well-known Peter Large, Chairman of the Association of Disabled Professionals, and Martin Milligan, Chairman of the joint Education Committee of the National Federation of the Blind and the Association of Blind and Partially Sighted Teachers and Students. Those organisations and hon. Members who are concerned in the campaign for the integration of disabled people into normal life have become increasingly alarmed at the lack of progress being made in this country in secondary education for handicapped children.

For a number of years Ministers have paid lip-service to that major objective. But in the Bill we find that the Government—albeit by accident—are enshrining the principle of special schools and the segregation of disabled children in them.

I do not wish to become embroiled and I know that the hon. Gentleman tried to resist the temptation to become embroiled in the political argument about comprehensivisation. This problem rises clear above party political strife. All Members of Parliament want to do their best for the disabled. But I wonder whether they realise that under this legislation the interests of disabled children are likely to be harmed. It is strange and hypocritical that in a measure designed to remove selection at 11 the Government are writing in and perpetuating selection and grammar schools for blind and disabled children.

We all seek as much education as possible for handicapped children in ordinary schools. That does not mean that every secondary school must cater for a small handful of handicapped children, with all the special equipment and staff that that would entail. We want local education authorities to make special provision in specified schools. For example, one school might have the staff and equipment available for the visually handicapped. Another school might have staff and equipment for deaf children. Another school might cater for other physical handicaps.

Let us take the instance of education for blind children, of whom there are about 600 of secondary school age. It would be impossible to require comprehensive education for them within the special schools sector that now exists. That would require one large comprehensive school for the whole of England and Wales, and that would not be sensible. It would perpetuate the present situation. The school would become a boarding establishment with all the disadvantages of separating the children from their families and other children.

If the Government mean what they say when they express their support for comprehensive education, they must apply the same rule to handicapped children, thereby giving a boost to the movement towards integrating education that we all want; otherwise it would be hypocrisy. Whatever system of secondary education we in Parliament ordain, it must be right to integrate as many handicapped children as possible into normal schools. The segregation of the handicapped from ordinary children is eminently undesirable. It does not prepare disabled children for the shock of competing in later life in the ordinary environment.

I quote from a report issued by the National Children's Bureau on further education, training and employment for handicapped school leavers. It says: sending a child away from his home and community to live in a specially designed boarding school, often isolated in the country and protected from normal social conditions and life, would not seem the best way to fit a child to live in that community after he leaves school. Many of our school-leavers commented somewhat bitterly on their sense of isolation from home and the home environment which boarding education had produced. The Vernon committee report, 'The Education of the Visually Handicapped' (1972), has recommended that even blind children (who are now all in boarding schools) should be educated so far as possible in day schools or at least within weekend travel of their home, through proper regional planning.

If we want a system of secondary education for all, we must ensure that handicapped children, who hold their own during their primary education, are integrated—not separated—during the years of further education between the ages of 12 and 16. They often drop back after holding their own in their primary education and finish up in dead-end schools, with no access to higher education and with limited jobs at the bottom of the employment pyramid. As Members of Parliament we deal with many such constituency cases.

If we mean what we say about full integration for physically handicapped people, we must provide education and the social mix that occurs in ordinary schools for all but the most severely handicapped.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

My hon. Friend has several times referred to physically handicapped people. The clause appears to apply to all handicapped people, including the mentally handicapped. Are they included in the argument?

Mr. Hannam

The clause offers local authorities where reasonably possible the opportunity to provide for education in ordinary schools as well as in special schools. I was making the point that the most severely handicapped, those who are unable to mix in the ordinary schools, will still have to be provided for in special schools.

We are calling not for the end of the important and excellent special schools but for the incorporation into ordinary schools of as many children as possible. This happens in other countries, such as the United States and Sweden. In 1885 a Royal Commission pointed the way towards integration,. Now we seem to be taking a step backwards.

I accept that the Department of Education and Science has supported the desirability of ordinary schools classes for the handicapped throughout the years, but they are not attending such classes, as we see in our own areas. As the National Federation of the Blind has pointed out, 97 per cent. of blind children and 42 per cent. of partially sighted children are educated in boarding schools and are therefore isolated from their homes and other children for most of the year.

Subsection (1) aims to reverse the priority in the Education Act 1944, which asserts that special school provision is preferable for the categories which the Minister defines by regulation. That Act should have been amended to reverse that priority.

I do not wish to decry the invaluable work done by our special schools. I have some of the best in my constituency. But paragraph 14 of Circular 2/75 from the Department said: special schools should be regarded as providing a highly specialised form of education, designed to enable the handicapped child, whenever possible, to return to an ordinary school if this is considered beneficial. That is exactly what we propose.

Subsection (2) allows the parent to insist upon education in an ordinary school unless that insistence is unreasonable—in other words, unless the degree of disability or lack of facilities mean that local education authorities could not, to the child's advantage, place him or her in an ordinary school. Many parents will prefer their child to be educated at a local school rather than having to go to a special boarding school, possibly many miles away. I know of parents having to give up their home and job and move to other areas to place their child in a special boarding school.

The crux of the matter is whether the local school is suitable. The purpose of the clause is to impose pressure to make as many local schools as possible suitable through the provision of special units. The Minister may say that that is now happening. Therefore, I hope that she will accept the purpose of the clause and agree that the wording of Clause 1 may not be in the best interests of disabled children.

Progress towards full integration is likely to be inhibited by the Bill, because it enshrines the concept of special, segregated education for disabled children. That is contrary to the whole purpose of our approach to disabled children's education over the past few years.

Although it will become illegal within the State system under the Bill to select a group of non-disabled children for special educational treatment, the Bill will legitimise such selection in respect of disabled children. Under the present wording, local education authorities will be obliged to provide comprehensive education for all non-disabled children but will continue to escape that obligation for disabled children. They are the very children who need to be taken into normal surroundings, among other children. It is right to avoid having to close existing special schools, but that can be done without creating all the uncertainties which this legislation is creating.

The all-party Disablement Group, of which the hon. Gentleman is chairman and I am secretary, received the strongest representations on the clause. If the Minister does not accept it or the principle behind it, I hope that the House will show its support for the worthwhile cause of integration, which could save a great deal of money. The hon. Gentleman referred to the suggestion that there would be sharply increased public expenditure if the clause were approved. I disagree with that suggestion. It is the usual argument that we hear when we propose the implementation of a new system.

A recent answer by the Minister showed that 11,471 children were on the waiting lists for special schools. Therefore, there is a vast amount of public expenditure to be incurred if those numbers are to be accommodated. To accommodate them in ordinary schools through the provision of special units, stage by stage, would result in lower public expenditure rather than the increased expenditure needed to provide special schools.

I hope that the House will accept the case so ably put by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that we shall help intelligent and enterprising handicapped children to receive the education they deserve among normal children, close to their families, and not miles from home in special boarding schools. We support the clause wholeheartedly.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I welcome the clause, though I am a little embarrassed at being told that we do not need it because the powers already exist. If they do, I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to use them rather more forcefully than in the past.

Over the years Ministers have put their arms round me and said "You are doing a great job, but—". My hon. Friend is probably the most attractive Minister ever to put her arm round me and say "We are doing our best". May I say "Margaret, bach, really do your best this time"? Unless we receive some firm promises, some of us will have to be anti-Government. My hon. Friend has a chance to put the record straight. I say to her "If the powers exist, use them. If you have to kick a few local authorities, kick them. If they do not carry out the law of the land, take the powers unto yourself."

For too long we have talked in the House about integration. Every time I speak on the subject I talk about the double disadvantage, that of the child who is disabled and who starts to receive education late. If there is one thing a disabled child needs, it is the opportunity to receive education early, not late, but it tends to be late. We tend to leave the disabled children outside our society.

I must say regretfully that under successive Governments the Department of Education and Science has not been very good. Its efforts have been disastrous because it has never recognised the need for integration. The situation is even more tragic for the blind. We do not integrate them and they are left outside our society. When we educate them, we split them into two groups—the able and the not-so-able blind. That is a sad reflection upon our society.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) made a profound case for integration and the avoidance of double-handicap. The Department must accept that it has enough power, that it can exert enough mandatory pressure, to insist upon integration being carried even further.

I can never understand why architects must build steps. The architect seems to say "Unless I have steps, it is not a building." The disabled child, the grandfather who cannot walk very well and the mother who wants to push a pram to school, have the right to access. Why on earth do we ever allow buildings to be built without the Ministry first checking whether there is access? The Ministry simply stamps the seal of approval on them, and that causes me great anxiety

5.0 p.m.

The problem goes right through education. Perhaps we should not refer to the new clauses that have been selected or rejected, but the older disabled child who, because of a lack of mobility, cannot attend university because there are no facilities has to take a second-rate grant. We treat our disabled as second-class citizens right down the line. If they have the intellectual capacity to go to university and are accepted, they get the mandatory grant, but if that university cannot accept them because of access problems, they have to rely upon a local authority deciding to give them perhaps £120 a year. That is the double handicap that they face all the time. The Ministry has the power to insist that any disabled youngster from the age of 5 to 21 be able to compete on equal terms.

I am not a sentimentalist. People sometimes ask me "What are you doing in this sphere?" If at the end of the day the all-party group succeeds in turning disabled people into income tax payers, it will have done its job. It starts with education. If the Ministry has the power but pussyfoots around, the Government must not be surprised if some hon. Members on the Back Benches become a bit stroppy now and then.

The Minister has assured us that the power exists. My hon. Friend the member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and, if I may call him so, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) of the all-party group and I are saying that we should withdraw the new clause if the Government will reveal the extent to which they are prepared to bare their teeth to those institutions that will not make the necessary provisions.

I admit that the clause goes too far, but I shall push it unless the Ministry accepts its responsibility. People such as Mr. Milligan, who works with the blind, and Peter Large, who is connected with the disabled, are saying "On the basis of our experience, every child must be given the chance of full-time education in an integrated community. They do not want segregation and they do not want to be treated differently. If the powers exist, the Ministry must enforce them". Before we decide whether to vote on the new clause, I want to see whether the Minister can give us some hope.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the speech by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I shall not oppose the new clause, because I feel too much out of date on the subject, but I confess to a feeling of astonishment.

In the 1950s I started the first all-party group in the House for disabled children. Mr. Hilary Marquand was chairman and had been a Minister of Health in the Labour Government. With an active team from both sides of the House, we worked for several years for precisely the opposite of the aims of the new clause. We pressed Departments for money and special schools. After about three years of good work, Hilary Marquand told me that we could disband the committee because we had the special schools for which we had been working. That is now out of date and I suppose that we were then doing a bad thing, but I have my doubts.

Obviously, if a child's handicap is not great, it is best that he should be in the same school as ordinary children, but there comes a point when it is better for the child to go to a special school. I understand the strength of feeling expressed by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), who said that handicapped children did not want to be treated differently. But deaf and blind children must be treated differently. One cannot teach them in the same class as sighted and hearing children because it is not practical. I have never been a schoolmaster or a teacher in a special school, but I understand that there are special skills, methods and techniques that are advantageous to children who lack sight or hearing.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I accept what the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) has said and I appreciate his depth of feeling, but there have been changes since he was involved in the interests of handicapped children. The technology of communication has moved a long way and it can be used in the classroom. Teachers of the blind want to specialise but to be integrated into ordinary schools.

Mr. Bell

I accept that I must be somewhat out of date, since there has been such a remarkable shift of opinion. In the 1950s virtually everybody said that the duty of the State and local authorities was to make special provision with specially trained teachers to give handicapped children the education that they could not receive in an ordinary school. My interest began as a result of pressure from constituents whose children were falling out of the bottom of ordinary schools. Parents were troubled and said that their children needed special schooling but could not obtain it.

One must bear in mind the psychology of the child. Some will accept a special position in an ordinary school, but others will react differently. I throw this out only in a tentative way, but one must also consider that if one takes into an ordinary school all those on whom the scale just tips on the balance, one will be left with only the low grade children in special schools. In that way the cross-fertilisation between the higher grade and lower grade handicapped children will be lost. Those are difficult matters to evaluate and balance. Surely the right solution is to allow local authorities discretion to be exercised in the light of parental preference.

I do not want to put on strong pressure. The hon. Member for Eccles said he wanted to do that. He talked about kicking the local authorities. I do not feel so sure about the matter, having been on one tack and then having listened with understanding and sympathy to the opposite point of view.

I do not oppose the new clause because of the 15-year lapse in my involvement with the subject. I shall not be dogmatic. There must be a balance of argument. Discretion by the local authorities should be quite wide and there is probably room for different prescriptions and emphases to be tried out. If this is a new theory which various interested people have advanced in the light of their personal experience, I should like to see how it works in practice in local authority schools before putting a half- nelson on local education authorities to adopt these new proposals.

The hon. Member for Eccles said that he thought the new clause went too far. I imagine that is probably the case, but we are having a useful and interesting debate on the priniciple and the wording is not so important. I suggest that we should advance in this direction, but let us do so cautiously, keeping an open mind lest we should push the principle too far towards its logical conclusion.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

I rise with some diffidence in view of the contribution made to the cause of the disabled by the majority of those who have spoken in the debate. I am aware of the courage and leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and his work for the disabled is recognised throughout the country. Last year my hon. Friend came to my constituency and disabled people travelled miles to meet him and to receive inspiration from being able to talk to him. I also recognise the work done in this respect by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). I have a great deal of sympathy with the motives and aspirations behind the new clause, which my hon. Friends support.

My experience of education for disabled children in ordinary and special schools is limited to the period when I frequently visited schools as chairman of an education committee, and to the period when my mother worked in a school for the disabled in Hull. That was a fine modern school—perhaps one of the best in the country.

The needs of the disabled child are apparent and they are not very dissimilar from those of the normal child. Like all children, disabled children need a great deal of care and attention. I noted on my visits to the schools the attention, devotion and love of the staff for the disabled children, and the tremendous care they took in looking after their needs, both physical and educational. Like all children, disabled children need to lead as normal a life as possible, but we must recognise that additional resources are needed to enable them to do that. I welcome any attempt to move resources in that direction. For these reasons I have great sympathy with the new clause.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said that the essential feature of disability was loneliness, and that is an experience that only those who are disabled can understand. The child who stands on the touchline at the football match must be lonely because he is watching his peers carrying out an activity which he is unable to carry out. My hon. Friend must frequently feel the same kind of loneliness, and it is that loneliness that we on both sides of the House and all members of the community must seek to overcome. Is the clause the best way to do that? I accept the motives and wishes of the supporters of the clause, but is it the best vehicle?

5.15 p.m.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) moved in this direction, but he perhaps erred on the side of caution. I want to see a little more speed. The real argument is not simply whether we can allocate resources: it is how we can best use the resources we allocate. That is one of the key questions.

The clause provides that a local authority— shall not provide such treatment in a special school without the consent of the parent".

That makes it mandatory for the children to be moved into the State system. In my constituency there is a school which is several storeys high. How can a disabled child who is sent to that school, in which the laboratories are on the top floor, become integrated into the system and take advantage of the facilities provided? When I was chairman of the education committee, the authority had several vehicles specially equipped with lifts, and the vehicles had to run for several hours to bring disabled children to one central point to receive education in a special school. I doubt whether it would be possible to place those children in ordinary schools, given the resources of the local authority.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said on many occasions that when he allocates money to local authorities for educational purposes through the rate support grant, he has virtually no control over whether the money is spent on education and in which sector of education it is spent. On those grounds, I have grave doubts whether the clause is the best way to deal with this problem.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I said that perhaps the clause went too far. I also said that there was the problem of access. Substantial numbers of disabled young people between 18 and 20 cannot go to university because there are no access facilities. They therefore have to go to a polytechnic. They receive a different rate of grant and they are thereby doubly impoverished.

Mr. Noble

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That applies particularly when a new building is being put up. Architects put stairs in a building when there is no need for them. That is disgraceful. Discrimination in the giving of grants is also disgraceful.

I come back to the essential feature of disablement, which is loneliness. I want to think of the disabled child, following the passage of the Bill, whose parents wish him to be educated in a certain comprehensive school. There is nothing to say that the parent shall not choose the school. In circumstances in which there is neither the special provision required for the disabled child nor provision for him to enjoy the educational facilities of the school because language laboratories and so on cannot be reached, that disabled child will suffer an entirely different kind of loneliness and a more formidable loneliness than he would if he were in a special school.

I understand that the Warnock Committee is looking into resources. We hope that the Warnock Committee will report very soon and that the Government will give the support to the needs of disabled children that they have given to adults through the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). The provisions of that measure have spread through local authority work.

We want a commitment from the Government that the Warnock Committee will be encouraged to produce its findings as quickly as possible, and that the Government will then enter into discussions with local authorities to ensure that they are pursued. If necessary, we hope that the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that they are pursued.

There is a great deal of sympathy with what lies behind the new clause, but laudable though the motives are, it is not the best vehicle for pursuing the essential needs of disabled children.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

The purpose of this new clause is to ensure that the education of those suffering from some disability or handicap takes place as far as possible in a normal school environment. The essence of equality of opportunity is to treat people equally unless there are obvious rational and positive grounds for discriminating against them. That is the principle that should apply to educational provision.

Since the 1921 and 1944 Acts there have been too great a tendency to think that because a child has a disability or handicap, he should be set apart from his fellows and that his education should automatically be segregated from that of his peers. I believe that the new clause is in line with the spirit of the recommendations of the Warnock Committee in so far as the emphasis should be on providing for special needs—while making any necessary discrimination—in ordinary schools.

It is wrong to separate disabled and handicapped children and their parents by bundling the children away deep in the countryside in remote Victorian special schools. Obviously those suffering from severe disabilities, mental disorders or deafness must be exceptions, but in other instances the gain in education specialism must be measured against the loss of social balance and the integration that is necessary.

Special schools often require a strong social programme to enable the child to adjust to the community from which he has been segregated for the duration of his education. We need to provide more generously. It is to be demanded of local education authorities that if the new clause is accepted they will make the necessary specialist provision. At the same time they must receive adequate resources from central Government to make that provision.

We should also recognise the social gain that integration will provide. It is a prime factor, but one that has been neglected. It has been pretty reliably said that approximately 80 per cent. of physically handicapped pupils could be educated in ordinary schools. Of course, that would entail some fairly major physical alterations to buildings. However, we must throw into the balance the educational gain that would arise from such a move.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the physically handicapped do not attain their full potential because the unnecessary segregation that takes place creates its own cycle of deprivation. The physically handicapped may become needlessly educationally handicapped. It is in this area that the new clause will help. About 50 per cent. of the mildly educationally subnormal population could be accommodated in ordinary schools. The delicate child given adequate medical support, could enjoy the fruits of a full and integrated environment. It cannot help the maladjusted child to adjust to his family's surroundings if he is closeted away. Therefore, Liberals support the new clause as a refreshing and welcome change in emphasis.

We have a few slight reservations. Although many children with disabilities will be able to be educated in ordinary schools in the main stream of life, resources will have to be devoted to cater for their special needs. We believe that special units should be adjacent to or attached to ordinary schools to allow for some degree of integration. It must be steadily remembered that if integration is at all possible, it should be attempted.

We must recognise that in some cases the physically handicapped child cannot pursue the same physical programme as his peers. That is not to say that some participation in that programme would not have great value. I take issue with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) who talked about the loneliness of a kid standing on the touchline watching his peers play football. There could be some loneliness, but not if other kids are around to make the disabled child feel that support is almost as important as participation.

That, of course, is something of a lie, but a beneficial lie. In the USA the most unlikely people become part and parcel of American football teams. If a girl has big busts or can do the splits, she becomes an integral member of an American football team.

Integration achieves a dual purpose: there is the benefit that handicapped kids derive from being in proximity with normal children, and there are also many children whose natural violence is curbed by the compassion conjured up by having handicapped children near them.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

I wish to support the hon. Gentleman's concept. There can be great value in the relationships between the physically handicapped and the able-bodied. There is evidence of the two-way benefits of able-bodied young people sharing activities with the physically handicapped young people. I must declare an interest as I am a foundation trustee of PHAB, the movement for the Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied. The work of that movement underlines exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying about developing richer relations by association.

Mr. Freud

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We do not often see eye to eye in this harmonious fashion.

It is exceedingly important to remember that there is benefit to both the well children and the handicapped. There is an awful danger that if handicapped children are segregated their ambition will be virtually nil. It is seeing well children behaving as they do that gives the handicapped child not jealousy but a tremendous incentive to emulate those kids to the best of his ability.

In my local authority great care is taken before a child is sent to a special school. But there are local education authorities which take the easy option. They find, if a child is not that simple to teach in an ordinary school and there are school places in special establishments, that it is easier to say "let the child go".

I understand what is likely to happen at the end of this debate. The Government will say, as they are so used to saying, that all this proposed legislation is totally unnecessary, that they already have power to do everything that the new clause seeks to do. If they have those powers, of what are they afraid? I accept that the Under-Secretary of State, who has been a model of consistency and honourability, may well believe every word she says.

5.30 p.m.

I am reminded of the occasion when Mr. Barnum was informed of the death of the man who was shot out of a cannon in his circus. He said "This is grave news. It will be difficult to find a man of the same calibre." I do not think that it will benefit us at all when in this context the Minister says in reply to a subsequent debate "Ah, but that promise was made by another person at another time." Sadly, I feel that if a Government spokesman says "We already possess legislation to achieve this end" his successors in another Government will not be bound to take the same view.

That is why I believe that the clause should become part of the Bill—a Bill of which none of us is particularly proud because it is much more a Bill for compulsion than for education. However, if the House agrees to the new clause, there will at least be one little part of the Bill of which we can be justly proud.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I agree with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), but I believe that our capacity to implement these proposals at present does not exist.

As a teacher for most of my adult life, I first came into contact with the problems of special school children and handicapped children not only on the "shop floor", as it were, but because many children were sent from ordinary schools to special schools. As a member of the National Executive of the NUT, I became a member of the Special Schools Advisory Committee. When I went on that committee, I realised how little knowledge I had of the problems of the handicapped. I met teachers from hospital schools who faced enormous problems—problems of which up to that stage I knew nothing and about which I had to learn.

I was chairman of the Primary School Advisory Committee and understood the generality of problems, but when I became a member of the Special Schools Advisory Committee I came face to face with the problems of the multiple-handicapped. I spoke to teachers who worked with those children and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), they were utterly dedicated to their pupils and constantly discussed better ways of carrying out their tasks. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is an internationally-known figure in this sphere, and he and many other hon. Members are experts in this area of activity.

The point repeatedly made in this context is that handicapped children should not be segregated from other children—in other words they should not be made to feel apart from others. This view has now been accepted throughout the teaching world. The only dispute that takes place among teachers relates to the methods of bringing handicapped children into the work of ordinary children. Teachers in the special schools believe that handicapped children should be among other children, and yet difficulties are discovered because of the nature of the handicap of many of the children.

We must not make light of the grave difficulties that we shall face if we implement this new clause. There are many special schools in the city of Sheffield. There is a great expert in the teaching of the blind called Mr. Frederick Tooze. He constantly visits Africa and advises the authorities there on how to deal with their problems in a country where there is a great deal more blindness than exists in this country. Mr. Tooze is the distinguished head teacher of a local school for the blind and he took the initiative of mixing his blind children with children in the nearby comprehensive school.

Naturally, there is now an attempt to organise work of this kind on a central basis. It will involve the installation of equipment such as lifts in schools. Furthermore, I recently spoke to one of the leaders of the blind teachers, Mr. Milligan, and I found myself in almost total agreement with his views.

This debate has given a welcome airing to this important subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) asked the Minister about the Warnock Committee. I hope that action on the recommendations of that Committee is taken more quickly than action that was taken over the findings of the Bullock Committee on the subject of reading.

Although I find myself in total agreement with the sentiments behind the clause, I regret that I shall have to vote against it. I do so because I believe that we lack the ability to carry out the implications that lie behind these proposals. My hon. Friends can rest assured that I am with them in their sentiments, but I am agraid that I cannot support proposals of this kind at the present time.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

I contribute to this debate with some trepidation, as I have to follow four speakers whose experience in serving those who suffer from disability I acknowledge. We always listen with great respect to any words from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on the subject. Certainly, I understand the point he made initially in his remarks, when he anticipated that he might feel some irritation of hearing new voices raised on this issue which had not contributed previously. It is a natural feeling. Nevertheless I urge him to accept that for all of us there is a first time in these matters. As a Member of Parliament, particularly a new one, one undergoes a variety of changing experiences, and not infrequently one changes one's mind about things.

I confess readily that a year ago I would have accepted the conventions of the general need to educate children suffering from disability in separate establishments. The fact that I no longer hold that view is directly attributable to my experience as a Member of Parliament. I have been invited to meet societies and bodies which serve those who are disabled, and in my constituency particularly bodies catering for those who suffer from mental disabilities.

I think that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) were right to stress that the benefits resulting from bringing handicapped and non-handicapped children together are not confined to one group but are shared between them. It is important to emphasise that benefit does not go exclusively to the handicapped. I speak with limited experience here. Whenever as a Member of Parliament I am invited to visit functions arranged for disabled children, I make a habit of taking my own children to it, and as a result they are, I hope, better educated in these matters, or are becoming so, than they otherwise would be.

At the moment we must recognise the great difficulties involved in bringing handicapped and non-handicapped children together in education. In some cases the disability suffered is far too severe to permit that. In others there is a need for such special services that they can be supplied only in limited locations. Sometimes there are problems arising from extreme immobility of disabled children. There are great difficulties, and I recognise that we cannot go overboard about the arguments expressed so clearly by speakers earlier in this debate.

A report by Her Majesty's inspectors in 1974 said that if integration were to have any real meaning, there must be a sufficient proportion of activities of a school in which the handicapped child could participate on equal terms, could feel a sense of achievement, and earn the respect of other children. These are pretty stern conditions, but unless there is a reasonable chance of their being met and frequently there is, we must recognise that in some cases integration can do more harm than good.

We are trying to find the right balance between the two difficulties and the two needs. The motive behind the new clause is to win recognition that the balance is shifting and that this should be reflected in our educational provisions.

The balance is shifting because the frontiers of what can be achieved are shifting all the time. This is the result of patient research and advances in technology. For example, in Croydon partially deaf children, for whom hitherto it was assumed that special schools would be essential, are sent to selected secondary schools which have special units attached to them. In these schools partially deaf pupils can join in many ordinary lessons by virtue of the fact that the teacher wears a small microphone of sorts around his or her neck and is able to transmit what is being said to the partially deaf pupil. This is an example of how the frontier is shifting to allow greater integration of disabled pupils in normal schools than we would have considered possible a few years ago.

It is not always possible of course, and the difficulties are particularly great when we come to the category of mentally handicapped children. If it is not possible to integrate them properly in the educational processes, perhaps we could create within our schools arrangements and provisions for greater contact between handicapped and non-handicapped children.

5.45 p.m.

It has been said that what we have to do nowadays is not to give total concentration or attention to what this kind of pupil cannot do but to put rather more emphasis on what he or she can do in the company of schoolfellows. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) just referred to the great difficulty of the resources involved here, and we all know that it is not possible at the moment, or even in the foreseeable future, to do all that we want to do for this kind of pupil. Nevertheless, I interpret the motive behind the clause as pushing the Minister—if she needs pushing—into giving rather more impetus to this movement for greater and keener recognition of the part all local authorities can play in changing the balance and moving the frontiers towards a greater degree of integration.

If there is a vote on this new clause, I shall support it, although, like the hon. Member for Hillsborough, I recognise in doing so that there are severe limits on what actually can be done to meet the requirements. But I must express the hope that the Minister will offer us the assurance we want so that it may be possible not to press the clause to a vote anyway.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)

I must apologise for not having been here to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in moving this new clause. I think that all the contributions made today have pointed towards the great advancement of the last 10 years in enabling children with some handicap to involve themselves more closely in the whole of society than was hitherto thought possible, or even desirable.

Obviously there is grave concern among those parents whose children are severely handicapped and not yet in special schools. About 11,500 of these children are on waiting lists for special schools. But there are some children in special schools who could move into more general education.

The difficulty that we make for ourselves in legislation and in its interpretation by local authorities is that we are inflexible to the changes and developing abilities of disabled children. I have had a little experience of these matters and I know that very often the things that five years ago were said of a small child to be impossible are now highly likely, given the right impetus and encouragement.

Riding for the disabled is not strictly an educational pursuit. Those who said that physically disabled children should be taught to ride horses were seen as crackpots at the beginning, but I am glad that we persevered, because the joy that that recreational and, in a sense, educational experience brings to disabled children has to be seen to be believed. It is not just a question of riding or even of sport, but of the gradual building up of this ability, usually best learned in the company of able-bodied children, to do a task which was hitherto regarded as impossible.

When the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and I visited one of the rehabilitation centres in Germany, we were delighted to see the use of tactical reading apparatus which allows blind people to read computer print-outs. This sort of technological aid, though not yet widespread, is bringing a new facility to people who hitherto could not communicate because of the lack of one of the senses. This is more true in education now than ever before. When the able-bodied child sits alongside the handicapped child, both gain immeasurably from the experience.

This experience of normal relationships in education does as much for able-bodied children as it does for the handicapped. I have seen a handicapped child who had developed a sense of expression in mathematics and algebra teaching an able-bodied child who could not grasp the Xs and Ys and simultaneous equations. One learns from this sort of experience how helpful and welcome education integration can be.

Mr. Carter-Jones

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) said that he thought that special schools were required, and he could not understand why, with the passage of time, the tendency had been for them not to be needed. He made a valuable point. However, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and I have seen organisations throughout the world in which the handicapped child can produce work, do sums, type and print faster than the able-bodied child. That shows why these children can be integrated, and one can see how technology fills the gap.

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Member for Eccles and I were equally amazed when we saw thalidomide children totally bereft of arms riding bicycles at a fast and dangerous rate of knots, by our adult standards, in a school in Germany. But those children would probably have been safer on the open road than non-handicapped children because of what they had learned about balance. The hon. Member is correct in what he says about the advancement of technology in the last few years.

But there is an even more important reason why we should support the clause. For years we keep children in special schools. When they reach the age of 16 they are unable to find special adult training centres to take them. They have been in special schools and have therefore not learned integration, and for that reason they cannot go into one of the ordinary technical colleges or colleges of further education. If they surmount the problem of gaining access to the building, they are still faced with the problem of adjusting to the different pace in the new surroundings—it may not be faster, but it will be different from that in the special schools.

I therefore see handicapped children as requiring much more individual attention with concentration on their individual aptitudes. There will always be a minority of severely handicapped children for whom special education is necessary. But there are a growing number who will gain a great deal from and give a great deal to their fellow able-bodied and able-minded pupils when they learn alongside them.

We know from the community service volunteers who have worked in special schools how much they have learned about teaching from seeing these children adapt to working in a one-to-one relationship either with an able-bodied child or with a teacher. It is to give them the chance of a normal relationship and to stop this segregation which, unless we try to integrate them now, will be with them in some form for the rest of their lives, that we put the new clause forward.

We must learn from the experience of other countries which have tried integrated education and found it beneficial for both handicapped and non-handicapped children. It has certainly proved beneficial for the social development of those children.

I have one reservation about the clause. It concerns subsection (2) which deals with the situation where a parent is unable to be found, is unable to give consent, or withholds consent unreasonably for the child to go to a special educational centre. I believe that an appeal procedure must be built into this provision. Whether the other appeal procedures would cover this matter I cannot say, but the question who will have the final decision remains unanswered.

I hope, however, that the clause will become a part of what to me is otherwise an unacceptable Bill.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

The whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) for moving the new clause. It would appear from the debate that it commands fairly widespread support on both sides of the House. It would, however, be unfortunate if in our enthusiasm for its intentions we ignored some of the difficulties in the drafting. Take subsection (2), which states: If a local education authority decides that a child requires special educational treatment, they shall not provide such treatment in a special school without the consent of the parent unless the parent cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent or is withholding his consent unreasonably. That sounds splendid, but we should bear in mind that the shock of having a handicapped child can stay with the parents thoroughout the child's school career.

Parents may be anxious to send a child to a special school, but not because they wish to push it away from them—although it would be foolish of us to get on our high horses and say that such action would be deplorable. We must recognise that there are great problems in dealing with handicapped children in the home. Every effort should be made by education authorities to provide integrated education, but there are problems in the construction of subsection (2). I hope we shall not be told that the Government already have the necessary powers. If they have, that is a condemnation of them and all previous Governments.

There was only one Press release issued by the Department on this subject between the first half of 1975 and the first half of 1976. It was called "Discovering children who need special education. A better deal for handicapped children and their parents." I am aware that the Department has an extremely wide brief, but that Press release was one fewer than the two devoted to the appointment and subsequent resignation of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) as PPS to the Minister.

Other Press releases have included those on an export licence suspended for an English Great Helm, the Secretary of State's visit to European science research centres, the first report of the APO conference, the use of ionising radiators in educational establishments, the report of a working party on the experimental manipulation of the genetic composition of micro-organisms and reports on the importance of links between industry and education and on school leavers entering dead-end jobs. I am not saying that the fact that only one Press release was issued on the subject of disabled children in that 12-month period means that the Department does not take the problem seriously enough, but one might almost be drawn to that conclusion.

We must do more than simply try to provide these children with parity. I hope that we shall follow the prayer: No less precious is the child who speaks in a halting voice, who walks with a slower tread, whose hand must always rest in yours, whose eyes your eyes must be. No less precious is the child who will always look to you for sustenance. When these children look to this House for sustenance, I hope they will not look in vain.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), whose personal commitment in the education of the disabled and handicapped is well known.

I support the new clause. In the last two decades, there has been a change in society's approach to the disabled away from isolation towards integration. We have seen this in housing, where most new developments include provisions for the disabled; in health, where the trend is away from hospitalisation towards treatment in the community, as out-patients or within the family with support from community workers; and in social security, with the introduction of the non-contributory invalidity pension and the invalid care allowance. All these are attempts to integrate the disabled within the community. The new clause seeks to extend this welcome principle to the education of children who, in the past, have been excluded from some other provisions, particularly the mobility allowance.

From my experience, I find that provision for disabled children is fairly patchy. When I was the manager of an infants' school in London, there was good provision because the headmaster had a disabled child and there was a quota for disabled children in the school. We should try to standardise good practice.

There is concern among the immigrant community that their children are shunted off to special schools for no good reason. The new clause would reassure them that every possible step was taken before their children were sent to these schools.

I welcome the new clause because it is much easier for disabled persons if they have been at school with able-bodied children and it is right that able-bodied children should help and understand the problems of disabled children at school. However, I should inject a note of caution. Some children will always have to go to special schools, and there are some disabilities which it is important to identify early and for the children affected to go to special schools. Autistic children, for instance, would come into this category.

Even if the new clause is passed, no one will wish teachers not to try to identify the children who need special schools. We do not want them to think that everyone is trying to get all disabled children into ordinary schools. The argument on resources is not quite as clear-cut. If more provision is made within ordinary schools for disabled children, there will be more places available in special schools.

There is no conflict between what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was doing in the 1950s and what we are doing now. The children for whom he was fighting would never have gone to ordinary schools. They are not the subject of the new clause. We are talking about children who could go to ordinary schools, thus releasing places in the special schools for the severely disabled. We are taking a step in the right direction in our approach to the problems of the disabled. There is a change in the balance, in co-ordination with the changes we are seeing in health, housing and social security.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I shall refer only to New Clause 17 and I shall be brief, because I have not brought the prospectuses of the Crown School, the Needwood School for the Partially Deaf or the Loxley Hall School for the Disabled in my constituency, all of which do splendid work for disabled children.

I confess that I am not filled with enthusiasm for the new clause. That is not to say that I do not have the utmost regard for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who tabled it, or for his hon. Friends who do so much for disabled people, particularly disabled children. Nor does it mean that I have anything but the highest regard for my hon. Friends who give the lie constantly and strongly to any who say that the Conservative Party has no caring face.

Equally, I do not dissent from the general proposition that it is better to integrate disabled children among able-bodied children than to separate them and cause the sort of hardship and distress to which my hon. Friends have referred.

I am concerned that the new clause seeks to change the emphasis from the automatic sending of disabled children to special schools unless it is impracticable to do so to the automatic sending of these children to ordinary schools unless it is impracticable to do so. The common denominator is what is practicable. That denominator will not change simply because we change the emphasis in practice. Those who are responsible for allocating to schools will still have to ask themselves the same question "Is this child sufficiently disabled to warrant being sent to a disabled school, or is this child one who will benefit more from being sent to a school which will direct its attention to the specific disability?"

I cannot see that by changing the emphasis we shall in any way change the practical decision which is made by the social services departments in any county. I know that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South shares the county of Staffordshire, which has a high proportion of disabled. It is a fact that the East Staffordshire district, which I represent in the constituency of Burton, has a higher proportion of disabled than even the rest of Staffordshire, and it is a matter which has caused me great concern in the time that I have been privileged to be a Member of Parliament. It is a problem which as I see it will not, in its practicalities, be seriously changed or improved as it faces those who allocate these schools.

I do not speak against the clause but merely say that I am unenthusiastic about it. I should like the Minister, if she accepts the clause, to be aware of the particular danger which might result from it. She may say "The emphasis now being changed, I must direct a greater proportion of the resources to ordinary schools, so that they will be able to satisfy the demand which is currently being satisfied by special schools." But, the resources being limited, as they undoubtedly are, there may be some resources which now go to the special schools which would no longer go to them.

It is not just a matter—I listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) said—of the simple reallocation of resources. The schools do different jobs, and it may be very difficult for any county council to be able to ask a Minister, in pursuing the object of the clause, to say "Let us keep things as they are. Of the £100,000 we are now able to spend on schools for disabled children in this country, let us maintain the level of payment to the special schools and do noth- ing to increase the money which goes to the ordinary schools for the provision of disabled children."

I would be very concerned if the effect of implementing the clause were to be to to take away any of the resources which are now being made available, or which ought to be made available in the future, to special schools.

What I am saying, in short, is that what matters is not where the emphasis is placed. It is where the resources are directed that will matter in practice. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give a general undertaking—of course, it cannot be too specific—that if she adopts the clause, as seems to be the feeling of the House, she will not take away resources which are currently being allocated or ought to be allocated in the future to particular special schools and, as it were, redirect them to ordinary schools. If that is done, the end may not be to the benefit of those who are perhaps more seriously disabled and who should have a special claim upon special schools.

If the Minister can give that sort of undertaking, I for one would welcome it and would perhaps feel a little more enthusiastic about the clause.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central)

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), I very warmly endorse the clause. I accept the very sound reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young).

I say to the Minister that I have, fortunately, within the London borough of Croydon, and specifically within my own constituency, quite close experience of the sort of situation mentioned by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) concerning the problems of integrating specially handicapped deaf children into a local authority school.

Within my constituency, the Kingsley Deaf Unit is fully integrated into Kingsley Primary School, a local education authority school. It does an incredibly good job and carries out in practice today many of the things that my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the Government side were talking about. I not only warmly endorse the clause but also strongly suggest that this is a very specific area which could be examined to see how well it works in practice.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

I first apologise to the House because inevitably I shall be rehearsing many of the arguments that hon. Members have already covered in their speeches.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the debate has been that every speaker has expressed complete sympathy with the intention behind the new clause. I am certainly no exception. But I am first concerned—I apologise to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and other hon. Members who dealt with the point—as to whether we need the clause. Secondly, I am even more concerned about the effect of the clause as drafted, as opposed to the effect which was intended by hon. Members who tabled it.

If we turn for the moment to the Bill itself, as opposed to the existing Education Acts, there is nothing whatever in the Bill as drafted which prevents the integration of children with disabilities into ordinary schools. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and other hon. Members regarded the reference in the Bill to special schools as enshrining the system of special schools into our law and regarded this as a step backwards. That is innacurate. The fact is that, if we had not had such a reference to special schools in the Bill, the Bill would have ruled them out of existence. The reference in the Bill does not enshrine them in our system but permits their continued life.

No one in this debate has said that all special schools should be abolished. Indeed, almost everyone has indicated a need for the continuation of some special schools. That part of the Bill, therefore, is not in any sense a step backwards but is a recognition of existing reality and of something which hon. Members have recognised as valuable.

As I see it, the sponsors of the clause feel that the emphasis on education for the disabled is at present weighted far too heavily towards education in special schools and that we should in this country, as in many others, be pursuing much more determinedly every possibility of integrating children into ordinary schools.

On the first general point, I am most sympathetic to that basic approach, and, indeed, so is my Department. Clearly, however, given that we have at present a system—as many hon. Members have pointed out—which is dependent on special schools, this is not a situation which we can simply reverse overnight.

We are meeting groups of the disabled—people such as Peter Large and Martin Milligan. We are examining the possibility of setting up some pilot schemes of integration. We are investigating which local authorities may be willing to undertake the sort of pilot schemes of integration which I am sure many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate would wish to see. However, if these pilot schemes, small-scale though they might be, are to succeed—I am sure many hon. Members will feel that it is inadequate to say at this stage in the whole debate, and not just this debate, that we are looking towards pilot schemes—the most essential prerequisite is full and proper consultation with local authorities and, perhaps even more so, with the teachers who will be involved.

I say in all sincerity to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate that I fear that it would put at risk the acceptance of the whole principle of integration if we tried to rush into this matter in the way suggested in the new clause. I recognise that many hon. Members have fought for these reforms for many years and that it is perhaps almost offensive to them to talk about rushing into changes of this kind. However, I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and other hon. Members that long though they have been complaining, like the rest of us, they are acquainted with the nature and duration of most political campaigns. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South must be well aware that he has not for as many years as he has been complaining had the support of the majority of educational opinion.

It is a measure of the success of the campaign for which many hon. Members have fought that more and more people are coming to accept that integration is valuable and offers possibilities. But one cannot possibly say that because we have been advocating this for so many years we must now push forward in great haste; having convinced people and prepared the ground, obviously a practical start must at some stage be made.

Secondly, not everyone who has spoken in the debate has appreciated just how far the precise wording of the clause—again, I differentiate between the wording and the intention—shift the emphasis in education. As I have already said—I apologise to hon. Members who did not wish to hear me say it—it is a fact that integration is already possible under existing education law and under the Bill. However, the effect of the new clause, whatever its intention, is that disabled pupils should clearly be educated in an ordinary school, unless that school is specifically designated as unsuitable by the Secretary of State.

This is almost a reversal of the existing situation. The hon. Member for Exeter recognised it as such when he called for such a reversal. Here it is that the misunderstanding arises. The hon. Gentleman calls for a reversal of the existing situation but then says, almost in the next breath, that what we need is step-by-step integration of children in schools by special selection and so on.

The defect which arises in the new clause, as opposed to the policy, is that it is not a step-by-step new clause but an overnight, immediate new clause which would bring in an overnight reversal of policy of a kind for which we have neither the resources nor, I fear, the good will on the part of many authorities to implement. This is the danger in the new clause. I fear that we would be very unwise to attempt to bring about this kind of reversal by such an abrupt change in the law.

The basis point is that it is not a change in the law that hon. Members need but a change in existing policy, and it is not only a change in existing and past policy in the Department of Education and Science for which they are asking but a change in the policy of local authorities and head teachers and in the policy and approach of schools. I must say to hon. Members, in a pure spirit of generosity, that I do not think they will bring about this change overnight if they succeed, as I hope they will not seek to to do, in carrying the new clause.

Mr. Ashley

I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying, as I am sure the House does, but in order to further a change in the policy of local education authorities will she be good enough to consider issuing a circular advising local authorities about this policy of integration?

Miss Jackson

What we are seeking to do at present is to discover what local authorities are willing to do. We have consulted some of the organisations with which my hon. Friend is acquainted, which have suggested to us local authorities which they have found to be sympathetic and which they think would be willing to follow schemes of the kind we suggest. That is the line on which we are working. However, if it is thought that it would be helpful if we considered having a general discussion with local authorities, I shall certainly consider that point.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Has anything been done to find out the attitude of parents? I am a little surprised that it should be suggested that there is this pressure for the change. When I was especially interested in this subject, which was admittedly nearly 20 years ago, the pressure from parents was for special schools and not for integration.

Miss Jackson

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman has highlighted the sort of comments that I have been making. There is a great need to consult every group that is affected by this sort of proposal—the parents, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, and, indeed, in many cases the children themselves. It may be that there will be some people who would prefer their children to go to a special school, but I do not see anything in the existing legislation, or, indeed, even in the new clause, which would suggest that integration would be compulsory—although I suppose that if the new clause were carried it might have something of that effect. However, I cannot imagine that it would be enforced over the wishes of parents. The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. Parents, too, have important views and there is a need for consultation here.

I have not referred so far to the Warnock Committee, which, as many hon. Members have said, is at present examining education for the disabled. I am not merely resting the case for withdrawal of the new clause—as I hope—on the ground that we should await the report of the Warnock Committee. I wish to demonstrate that there are other more serious and sound grounds on which hon. Members should not seek to press the new clause. As the Committee exists, however, and is considering exactly the matters we are discussing, it might be a little unwise actually to change the law in advance of its report, which I hope will be with us fairly soon, towards the end of the year.

Mr. Carter-Jones

This is a rather important matter. We appreciate that there is no need for a change in the law and we know full well that my hon. Friend's Department does not spend money on aids for disabled children. There is a great problem to be faced. I can name 10 children who are severely handicapped and who need advanced electronic equipment to enable them to be educated and to take their place in our society and become independent.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are no real resources from which this equipment can be purchased? Does she realise that this equipment could be written off in about four years in their lives and that they could use it in perpetuity? Will she look at the whole provision of special equipment for the severely handicapped child and resources from which the money shall be provided? Will she give an assurance that her Department will change its mind about not spending money to enable children to be independent where local authorities cannot afford such equipment?

Miss Jackson

I wish that my hon. Friend had raised that point with me previously, because it is not a point to which I had come prepared to reply. It is a major preoccupation in my Department at present that there are not resources for most of the things we wish to do, including spending money on special equipment for the disabled. This is not a field in which I have direct experience at present. If my hon. Friend will write to me, I shall inquire and ascertain the facts. If he will forgive my saying so, although it is a very valid and interesting point and certainly of great concern, it does not arise directly on the new clause.

The second part of the new clause would strengthen the rights of parents to withhold consent for their child to be sent to a special school. Parents already have a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend. It has been our experience that this is very rarely exercised because local authorities are increasingly—I think in almost every case—reluctant to send a child to a special school without the active co-operation of its parents. It would be most unwise to do so. One cannot, however, differentiate the second part of the new clause from the first part, as being a part which is already being put into practice widely.

In any case, we are rather unhappy about the wording of the second part of the new clause because it gives considerable scope for legal argument about how soon one can give up looking for a parent who, in terms of the new clause, cannot be found, or in determining what is meant by "incapable of giving consent." The second part of the clause is rather loosely drafted and would cause quite considerable difficulty.

6.30 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) asked me for concrete evidence to show what we in the Department proposed to do in future to further the cause of integration. I have told him that we are looking forward to some pilot schemes of this kind. I agree entirely with the point made by him and by many other hon. Members in the debate that it is now for us in the Department and, indeed, for those in the local authorities to look for agreement and co-operation from everyone who would need to be involved in schemes of integration.

I must suggest to my hon. Friend, however, and to other hon. Members who raised this point that, given the lack of progress in this direction, about which many hon. Members have complained, it is inevitable that we must make a start somewhere. I would suggest to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate that this is such a delicate and sensitive area that it is absolutely vital that when we attempt experiments of this kind they must be successful. They must be firmly and solidly based. Nothing could be worse, and nothing could more harm the cause of those who seek to have integration in this country, than to rush into hastily and badly-devised schemes without the co-operation and assistance of those who must co-operate if the schemes are to work. Nothing could do more harm to their cause, nor would it do anything but harm to the unfortunate children who might be involved, than unsuccessful experiments.

To sum up, the implication of the new clause is that virtually all handicapped children should be educated in ordinary schools. As I have said, for many of these children that is indeed the right answer. It is the Government's policy, and it is the policy of many local education authorities, to move in that direction. Many handicapped children, particularly the partially sighted and the blind, could do well in ordinary schools if given adequate facilities, the right skilled teachers and the right atmosphere in which such experiments can thrive.

Everyone who has spoken in the debate has expressed tremendous concern for the welfare of disabled children as well as tremendous concern for the establishment of successful schemes of integation. I share hon. Members' concern and their wish to see as much movement as possible and as quickly as possible in that direction, but the new clause is not the way to achieve it. It could harm the cause they seek to aid. It would be to the benefit of disabled children if the new clause were withdrawn.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

We on the Opposition side of the House very much welcome this debate and we would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on taking the initiative with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) in this matter and on his extremely interesting presentation of the case for the new clause.

What the debate has shown, without a shadow of doubt, is that there is no monopoly of compassion or concern in this matter. We have had hon. Members from both sides of the House speaking with great authority on the subject. I hope my hon. Friends will forgive me if, in order to save time, I do not go through their speeches in detail, but merely express general appreciation of the contributions they have made.

We all agree that education is of particular importance in relation to the disabled. We have not done enough in the past, but, on the other hand, we have done something. It is sometimes forgotten that it was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who in November 1973, when she was Secretary of State, appointed the Warnock Committee to look into the question of the disabled and the handicapped in relation to education. I look forward to the com- mittee's report with a certain amount of trepidation, but at any rate it will be an interesting focus of discussion.

We in the Conservative Party have set up a study group on this question, and it will be one of our principal concerns in the coming 12 months, either in Opposition or in Government, to develop our policy on special education.

The issue which the new clause enshrines is an extremely difficult one to decide because there are passionate advocates on both sides of the question—those strongly arguing for special schools and those who equally strongly argue against them and who say it is vital that children should be educated in ordinary schools and that special schools should be reduced to a minimum or even got rid of altogether.

The view in favour of special schools was expressed a short time ago by the London Head Teachers Association when it said: It is difficult to discover the origins of the present allegedly favourable climate towards integration, other than a rather dubious egalitarianism based on little fact and no hard evidence. Those are strong words. I myself prefer the attitude which I expressed in the education debate in the House last year, when I said: However, so far as possible, those with special needs should be educated in ordinary schools."—[Official Report, 24th November 1975, Vol. 901, c. 499.] I think that that is the general view which has been expressed from this side of the House during the debate.

Even if one takes that view, there will always be a need for special schools. It is right that a tribute should be paid to their work and the work of the teachers in them. It is remarkable that those teachers, who really have the heaviest burden of all in the profession, are the least complaining.

I remember visiting a special school for physically handicapped children in North Carolina during a visit to the United States where the children were looked after by the local nuns. They started the school rather by accident because somebody had left a physically handicapped child on the convent doorstep. The nuns took the child in, and from that the whole school grew up. I remember going through the school. It also had a nursing section for the severely physically handicapped. The love that was shown to the children was remarkable.

There was one child, a little boy, with a hydrocephalic head by whom, I am afraid, I was literally shocked. It was wonderful to see one of the nuns to whom the boy was not a monster or someone with a deformity. To her, he was a child. She picked up the little boy and kissed him and showed him love. That is an example of a special school doing what those who argue for the use of non-special schools want. The nun was treating the child as an ordinary child. That is what lies behind the advocacy of the use of ordinary schools. We all know examples in our constituencies of schools which have done this work. I have mentioned the school in my constituency that I recently visited, Woodlands, which has a magnificent reputation for the work that is being done.

It is right to exempt special schools from the provisions of the Bill. Special educational treatment in special schools should go on. We have no objection to that, but it is consistent with that attitude also to support these other schools. One does not exclude the other.

As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said, the new clause seeks to change the emphasis made in the 1944 Act, which said in effect that those who were handicapped or disabled should be educated normally in special schools, unless there were indications to the contrary. As I take it, the hon. Member is turning that around, altering the balance, and saying that they should be educated in ordinary schools unless the disablement is so great as to need a special school.

It is at this point that I was puzzled by the resistance to the new clause shown by the Under-Secretary. The hon. Lady seemed to be under the impression that the 1944 Act's set of priorities was still in force. But her Department has changed its policies on this. I take it that the new clause puts into effect, in sharp form perhaps, the practice of the Department. I remind the Minister of her own words on 12th April 1976, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mt. Edge) about blind children: My Department's view has long been that no handicapped child should attend a special school if his needs can be met by an ordinary school, and I am anxious to furuther this policy."—[Official Report, 12th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 382.] What on earth is the difference between the Under-Secretary and her hon. Friend? They seem to be in entire agreement.

Miss Margaret Jackson

I am sorry, but the hon. Member has clearly failed to understand the tenor of my speech. It disturbs me, much though I hope not to have to vote against the clause, that he should be suggesting that he is proposing to support it. Most of us in the House, and certainly those in the Chamber at the moment, agree that some far greater measure of integration than has been the case in the past is indeed taking place. Most of us at present in the Chamber certainly agree that a great deal more would be a good thing.

But the point that I put to my hon. Friend and the point which I must put again to the hon. Member is that if the new clause were to be carried into law it would be an abrupt and extreme reversal of the existing situation which would place many handicapped children in schools and in circumstances which are totally unfitted to receive them. That would not be in the interests of the schools or of the children.

6.45 p.m.>

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an interesting point and it may or may not be correct, but it is not the point that the hon. Lady was making earlier. It is a different one. I am not attemting to misrepresent the hon. Lady, but the impression she gave us was that she was going backward away from the Department's policy rather than forward. If that is not so, I am glad to hear it and I shall not pursue the point.

We also welcome that part of the new clause under which parents are brought in. That is in accordance with our philosophy of increasing parental influence in education and our belief that, if a child is to go to a special school, parental consent is required. That again reverses the present situation. I understand that at the moment a child can be withdrawn from a special school with the consent of the local authority. The parent can go to the Secretary of State. But the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is bringing in the parent at an earlier stage, and I think that that is right.

As the hon. Member said, a question of loneliness is involved in handicap. There is a profound need here to assuage inner loneliness as well as physical isolation. Those who are handicapped suffer from a spiritual loneliness, and the hon. Member rightly underlined this. That again is an argument for the ordinary school, because it leads to the understanding of others—in two ways.

The first way is through the exchange which goes on within an ordinary school from which the unhandicapped child benefits as much as the handicapped child. It is part of the education of both and it is an exchange in this respect between equals. The second point is that what we are trying to do in society and what the educators are trying to do is to enable a handicapped person to live as nearly as possible a normal life. What more natural, therefore, if the aim of the education is to be integration into society, than to start that integration in the school itself and to face the problems which arise as early as possible?

Of course, there must be a question of balance. The balance that one looks for is not only a balance between the needs of children who have to go to special schools and those who need help within the setting of an ordinary school, but a balance in the educational process itself, looking to a child not as a disablement category but as an individual, with individual needs and problems. That is the point made so strongly in the evidence of ILEA to the Warnock Committee.

As the Under-Secretary said, we should do more. I agree, but we look to the Government in this respect to give an initiative. We can talk; the Government can act. I am glad to hear about the pilot schemes, but it is not really enough at this stage to be talking about pilot schemes. One of the unfortunate side effects of the cutting back of the nursery programme—I fully understand the economic reasons for doing so—is that it hits the handicapped child particularly hard. The handicapped child needs nursery education more, and profits from it more, than the unhandicapped child. It is the same with disadvantaged people in a poor area. The advantage of nursery education is that it is a means of indenti- fying handicap earlier, and that is of extreme importance.

Secondly, we should do more to help set up units for the disabled within ordinary schools. Thirdly, let us not forget the students, those who are in further, advanced and university education. The physically handicapped student needs help. As far as I can recall, only one college caters for them, Hereward College. We must face the fact that it is a very expensive investment, but it is doing quite good work.

Could not the Department also do more in the technological field? That point was made by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), who has done extremely important pioneer work in this field and has argued tirelessly for the greater use of technology. This is resisted by the bureaucrats. Bureaucracy is a state of mind, not an occupation. The bureaucrats in political parties—we are infested by them—will say "We cannot spend money on this. It would increase Government expenditure." The hon. Member is saying that in this case we really can have our cake and eat it, because we could have the greater help and could save money if only we spend the money we have intelligently, investing it in this technological field so that we get a big return.

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South for raising this important subject and enabling us to have a long overdue debate on it. That has been a benecial side effect of this wretched Bill—the only beneficial side effect we have had. Nevertheless, we must be grateful for small side effects. We are in a dilemma over voting for the new clause. We do not wish to vote for voting's sake. I understood from what was said by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South that he had received assurances from the Under-Secretary on some action her Department was to take in return for the withdrawal of the new clause. What that arrangement is may be clear to the hon. Member, but it was not clear to us from the speech of the hon. Lady.

I would not presume to give the hon. Gentleman advice about this. We favour the clause, but the hon. Gentleman has been its initiator and he is supported by hon. Members on this side. We shall be content to abide by his judgment as to whether the concession he has obtained from the hon. Lady is sufficient to merit the withdrawal of the clause. He must judge that. If he judges that it should be withdrawn, we shall not press the issue to a Division. If he judges that it would be useful to have a Division on it, we shall certainly support him.

Mr. Ashley

I greatly appreciate the considerate way in which my old sparring partner from Cambridge, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas), has spoken with such sympathy and consideration that deafness in this Chamber is irrelevant. I much appreciate that. He has lost none of his old skill, and in fact has become more adept over the years. He is as silky and as skilful as ever, but with the hook at the very end: he should not be a Member of Parliament; he should be a fisherman. But he should really stay here because he is so good at his job. I warmly congratulate him.

The nub of the issue is the assurances that I have received from Ministers. As I said in my opening speech, I have had discussion with every Minister in the Department of Education and Science, and we have had some very heated moments and some angry exchanges—as between colleagues, because the Ministers are anxious to do all they can for disabled people, as I am—and we have had difficulty in finding a point of agreement. As the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, it boils down to what a Labour Back Bencher may decide to do when faced with a situation of this kind.

I have spoken of the loneliness of the disabled. No one but the profoundly disabled knows how lonely a disabled person is. People apart from his family and friends, really do pass him by in every situation. Therefore, he must face this situation within the community. This clause will do more to help the integration of such children in education than any other, which is one of the reasons why one supports it, but as the hon. Member for Chelmsford knows better than anyone, no one can seize a clause out of context and out of perspective.

It so happens that the Minister with special responsibility for the disabled is present today. He knows better than anyone how we have, between us, forced money from the Government to help disabled people over a very wide field. The Government are faced with a great economic crisis. I must recognise that, and although the Opposition believe this will cost very little, I believe it will demand more public expenditure. We must be frank and honest about this and face reality, and the fact that we must maintain or even cut public expenditure. Given the assurance of the Under-Secretary that she is sympathetic, and is willing to have private discussions and to meet local authorities—and those are the assurances that I and others have had—and bearing in mind the constraint on public expenditure and the expressions of good will, I feel the House ought really to allow withdrawal of this new clause and the amendments and I should appreciate it if that were done.

I greatly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's final words because if this clause is forced to a vote it may result in the party political animus which we have been able to keep away from the problems of the disabled. Hon. Gentlemen will have listened to the debate and learned a lesson from the fine speeches we have heard, and I would appreciate it if the motion were allowed to be withdrawn. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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