HC Deb 03 July 1979 vol 969 cc1096-8
13. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he has had with local education authorities on the recommendations of the Warnock committee.

Dr. Boyson

Under the consultative arrangements made by the previous Administration, written comments have been received from the national organisations representing local education authorities in England and Wales and 16 individual authorities.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the utmost priority must be given to satisfying the educational needs of handicapped and disabled children? When can we expect the White Paper on the Warnock report?

Dr. Boyson

Consultations have already been very wide. Six thousand copies of the consultative document were sent out and over 300 replies received, all of which must be examined. Many came from associations that have made a great voluntary effort on behalf of children who are handicapped, mentally or physically. It is our intention to look at all the comments and contributions coming back to us and then to decide, within the financial resources available, what we can do to put into practice the 225 recommendations—quite a lot—in the Warnock report.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the Minister firmly deny that there is any proposal to reduce the school leaving age of 16?

Dr. Boyson

I have never heard or taken part in discussions over the past six weeks regarding the reduction of the school leaving age. We indicated before the election that we would look favourably at the proposal that pupils could leave in their sixteenth year when they had jobs involving some form of further education, including apprenticeships and the boys' Services. As this will require legislation, it is not an immediate project.

Mr. Sims

In considering the implications of the Warnock report, will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that conventional age limits are not relevant where mentally handicapped children are concerned? Such children often need education after the usual school leaving age. Local authorities may need assistance for this purpose.

Dr. Boyson

I take the point of my hon. Friend. The previous question was not related to the Warnock report. My hon. Friend makes the point that it is normal for children suffering physical and mental handicap to stay one or two more years at school. This is a matter that I believe all local authorities and the Government will encourage to enable those children to obtain some form of useful employment.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the Minister's wet verbiage indicate that behind his utterances lies the fact that the money for special schools will be reduced, along with that for nursery schools? Is he aware that today is the NUT's day of action on nursery schools? Will he accept that his actions and his words will be shown to be those of a class Government, prepared to produce £50 million for the independent, privileged sector of education for the sons and daughters of the better-off? This is the action of a class Government riddled with class attitudes.

Dr. Boyson

If I may reply to the longwinded and dry verbiage of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), my hon. Friend has indicated that there is no reduction in the nursery programme. There is only a reduction in an increased nursery programme. [Interruption.] The literacy of Labour Members may be low but the figures indicate that more children will be in nursery schools and nursery classes at the end of this year than now. Within the money available, there is no doubt that we shall do our best for children below the school leaving age, and also for children of school leaving age and over, who are mentally or physically handicapped.