HC Deb 05 February 1980 vol 978 cc217-9
4. Miss Wright

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what guidance he has given, or intends to give, to local education authorities regarding increased or decreased per capita expenditure on physically or mentally handicapped pupils for the financial year 1980–81.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

The Government's expenditure plans, as embodied in the rate support grant settlement for 1980–81, assume that, nationally, per capita expenditure on physically or mentally handicapped pupils will be mainatined at about its present level. My Department informed officers of the local authority associations about this assumption last November.

Miss Wright

In view of the local authorities' general intention to cut education as a result of Government admonishment, will the hon. Gentleman accept that it is necessary for the Government to indicate clearly to local education authorities that it is not their intention that expenditure should be cut in the case of the most needy and least vocal members of the school community? The Government should put their money where their mouth is and say that they are prepared to fund, if not increase, the support for the mentally and physically handicapped.

Mr. Macfarlane

I indicated that my Department made this clear last November to the local authority associations. I hope that that will provide some sort of reassurance to the hon. Lady.

It is ultimately for individual local authorities to determine the pattern of their expenditure, but they must take into account the Government's view that standards of provision in special education should be protected at all costs. In recent years expenditure per pupil in special education has consistently risen. The national overall pupil-teacher ratio in maintained special schools now stands at just over 7: 1. The current standards of provision in terms of per capita expenditure are at their best ever level.

Mr. Ashley

As the expenditure on many physically disabled pupils is abysmally low in many areas, is not there a case now for asking for increased expenditure for this small group of people?

Mr. Macfarlane

The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I hope that he was reassured by the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright). As I said, expenditure has been maintained. Indeed, it has consistently risen over the years, and I have no doubt that local authorities will continue to view this provision with compassion.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Minister tell us what steps are to be taken to ensure that pupils who are physically or mentally handicapped are not discriminated against by the Education (No. 2) Bill? Is he not concerned about the effects of the transport clauses, which will discriminate against mentally and physically handicapped pupils? Unless the Minister is willing to give a specific direction to local authorities and to safeguard the position of those pupils, local authorities will make cuts that will damage their education. Unless the Minister does something, he will be opting out of his responsibilities.

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Lady has gone over an important argument. We rehearsed that argument on and off during 100 hours in Committee and on the Floor of the House. All local authorities, social services and education authorities are aware of their commitments, duties and responsibilities. The Department will keep the matter under constant review and I have no doubt that local authorities will maintain a responsible attitude to these important commitments.