HC Deb 10 June 1981 vol 6 cc493-500

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Bennett

There was dissatisfaction in the 1970s. It was felt that we should not segregate and categorise children into different types of special education, but should look much more to the principle of integration. Coupled with the discontent about the principle was a concern about resources. Pressure built up for something to be done. As so often happens, the Government decided to avoid taking action and set up the Warnock committee to inquire into the whole question. We then had a period of four years during which information and evidence were collected. Then we had the report, with further debate developing. As a result, we have a disappointing measure. Although it sets up the legal framework, it does nothing to provide the resources that are so necessary to implement the Warnock report.

The situation is even worse. Not only are the resources not being supplied, but by setting up the legal framework we are pre-empting some of the resources that exist. Unless the Government use more resources the inspectorate will find it impossible to continue to do the tasks that it now performs as well as those that will be imposed by the Bill.

Most local authorities feel that their resources for special education are stretched to the limit, yet they are having imposed on them a legal framework that will take more resources to carry out. Unless they are given extra resources they will have to reduce the amount of effort that can go into the provision of special education services. Therefore, there has been a deterioration.

The only way to get round it is for the Government to commit more resources. In this year the disadvantaged child who needs special education has a right to a fair allocation of resources. These children are not receiving a fair allocation. The Bill will do nothing to help. It might well make things worse. We need a measure that will give the resources to do the job properly.

10.3 pm

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I start my brief comments with a reference to points made by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). They talked about the special procedures that have led to the Bill's being given a Third Reading. This is only the second Bill that has been subject to the Special Standing Committee procedure. I shall give figures to prove my case that, contrary to what both hon. Gentlemen said, as the procedures were manipulated the new procedure was an almost unmitigated disaster. One of the most important innovations of the House was to enable the taking of outside evidence of technical people at the Select Committee stage. The experience on our Committee has put the whole procedure back a long way.

I have given notice in the ordinary way of debate to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that I would make a personal reference. He was Chairman of the Special Standing Committee. In looking at the proceedings of that Committee I have eliminated all procedural questions, such as the name of the witness and so on, which are normally put by a Chairman. If these are eliminated, 196 questions were asked. Of those 196, 42 were asked by the Chairman and 81 by Labour Members. So of the 196 questions, 123 were asked by Labour Members. I have all the figures broken down for the remainder because, although I have many inadequacies, I tend to do my homework.

The truth of the matter is that a procedure that might very well have contributed greatly to the Third Reading, to which, of course, I am directing my remarks, has been perverted. The lesson that we have to learn is that it will not do to have a highly political Chairman of a Special Standing Committee. In future the Chair must be entrusted to one of the panel of Chairmen if this procedure is to be effective.

Contrary to what the hon. Members for Bedwellty and Stockport, North said—I sat there, and at times intervened—I can remember occasions when Conservative Members of the Special Standing Committee had to demand of the Chairman that they be heard. I believe that grave damage has been done to an innovation that might otherwise have been of the greatest importance to Parliament as a whole.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) is making the most grave allegations against one of my hon. Friends. He is doing it in the House, which is appropriate, but I suggest to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he is not doing it in the most appropriate form, and that he is not producing evidence that can be accepted as authentic or that is in the style of the House.

As it is important that we should be able to subject to cross-questioning what the hon. Gentleman says, the way in which he says it, and his reasons for saying it, I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Third Reading of a Bill is not the. most appropriate time at which to conduct such an investigation. The hon. Gentleman has the perfect recourse in reference to Committees of the House if he has complaints of this nature to make against my hon. Friend. Further, if he has complaints of this nature, why has he waited for three months to make them in this fashion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Every hon. Member has to make his own decisions as to what he says in the Chamber. I heard the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) say that he had given notice to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that he would refer to him. I have heard nothing that is out of order, but we should not dwell too much on the Special Standing Committee procedure; we should get on to the substance of the Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not customary when criticising the Chair, whether in Standing Committee, in Select Committee or on the Floor of the House, to do so by motion rather than by this sort of attack in the Chamber?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is customary, but we have been dealing with a new procedure, and—

Mr. Kinnock


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already said that we should get on to the substance of the Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in response to it, it is because of the novelty of the procedure that we are anxious not to diminish or devalue it by having attacks on the integrity of the Chairman, on Third Reading, well after the proceedings to which the hon. Member for Wokingham is referring, when there are several alternative methods of raising the matter in a more appropriate form.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

; Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that the new Special Standing Committee procedure is a little different, but not altogether different, from the Select Committee procedure set up some years ago principally to deal with public accounts. There has been a development over several years. Select Committees did not exist at one time, but they have been growing like Topsy.

Some time ago I questioned whether it was proper for an investigation to be made into the secondary banks' lifeboat scheme—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are dealing with the Third Reading of the Education Bill. Therefore, we must confine our remarks to that Bill and not to any other matter.

Mr. Skinner

I am trying to show the House that on that occasion I called for an investigation and suggested that the Chairman of that Committee, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), was not a fit person to chair the investigation as he had been involved as chairman of the Keyser Ullmann bank, which had received moneys from the lifeboat scheme. That resulted in an exchange of letters over the weekend, in which Mr. Speaker directed that the right hon. Gentleman should have the right to stand up in the House and put his point of view. That was the view of Mr. Speaker about two years ago. I believe that the attack that is now being made on my hon. Friend could be construed as being in the same vein. Therefore, it would be right and proper for my hon. Friend to have the right to respond. If you check the records, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will see that there is a parallel between the two cases.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) were present he would have the right to respond. Let us leave the matter there. This is not a debate on procedure.

Mr. van Straubenzee

As you wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply responding to two speeches which said that the new procedure had been a great success. I have buttressed my argument with figures. I shall leave the matter there, except to say that the Chair concerned was taken for only three sittings. Therefore, there were no other opportunities on which the matter could be raised. I am sorry that this has happened.

Eleven years ago I piloted through the House what I think could be called the predecessor to the Bill, although it was infinitely more modest. It is important to put on the statute book the changes in the law—the skeleton upon which policy can be based later. It is important to do that, because it is difficult for this House and the other place to find the time in which to pass such legislation.

Most hon. Members would wish to devote greater resources to the implementation of the Bill. I thought that by far the most effective technical expert who gave evidence to the Special Standing Committee was Mr. Stanley Segal, who has spent a lifetime in this work. He was at pains to make it clear that of course he had ambitions and other things that he would prefer to do, that of course he had targets that he wanted to meet, but his advice to the Committee was most emphatic. It was an important step forward, and it was one which the House would be wise to take.

I believe that it will take time under any Government, because resources will be limited, to implement the flesh around the bones of what we now enact. However, that does not make the bones any less important.

I hope that we shall speed the Bill on its way to another place and that in due course we shall see its increasing implementation, to the greater good of the young people and children about whom the whole House is concerned in the wording of the Bill to which we now give a Third Reading.

10.15 pm
Mr. Beith

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) surprised and dismayed hon. Members by intruding into our serious discussion on the principles of the Bill his criticisms of the Chair in Committee. I shall not further that discussion, except to say that the experts and members of the voluntary organisations who gave evidence have every reason to be glad of the opportunity. Many will look back with pleasure on the fact that the House of Commons, for only the second time, afforded those who knew a great deal more than hon. Members about the matters contained in the Bill an opportunity to air their views. Consideration of the Bill has benefited greatly.

The Bill is based on principles with which we all agree, but there are dangers, first, of false expectations. Parents may believe that integration is possible for their children, when lack of resources may not permit it. There is also the danger that intergration without resources will be attempted in cases where it does not work and that children will be admitted to schools in which staffing requirements or physical changes on which to base integration have not been made because of lack of resources.

A local authority that tries to pioneer the provision of such resources without waiting for central provision may find itself locked in combat with the Secretary of State for the Environment because it has exceeded the increasingly detailed spending limits that he seeks to set on every aspect of local government expenditure. I criticise not only the Government's inability to release additional resources, but the whole apparatus of local government as it is being changed and developed. A local authority that sets out to meet those targets is likely to fall foul of the Government's determination to control and limit every detail of local government expenditure.

It would be tragic if, in the International Year of Disabled People, the major contribution that we seek to make were to be frustrated in that way. No one would resist the enshrinement in law of the principles in the Bill or deny the possibility of improving such things as parents' rights, but we are bound to be concerned that expectations may have been created that will not be satisfied.

10.18 pm
Mr. Greenway

I welcome the Bill, but I put down a marker. It is easy to be carried away and not to realise that it requires tremendous changes in attitude from parents, teachers and pupils.

School life will have to change. Pupils will have to receive among them a new kind of pupil—the disabled or those with special difficulties. From my own experience I know that it can be done, but not without effort. Able pupils will have to accommodate the less able, and less able pupils will have to learn to work with those more able and even less able than they are.

Teachers will have problems to get groups of children of varied physical attributes to work happily together in class and outside. Teachers ask me to explain that it is not easy to leave children to play together where some have special educational needs or other handicaps and may be undermined by the others. It will be a job to establish the right attitudes and to avoid bullying. The House must recognise that, even though the teaching profession welcomes the job given to it in this bold Bill.

Mrs. Warnock is quoted as speaking against the Bill. I heard her say that she welcomed the Bill. She thought it remarkable that the work that she had led was going into legislation so quickly, and she was impressed and delighted. Although she had not achieved all that she set out to achieve, she had achieved quite a lot. She welcomed the Bill. I have heard her speak about the Bill many times, but I have never heard any kind of miserable denunciation from her.

One must also point out, not meanly, but as a fact, that the Labour Government had the opportunity to implement the Warnock report but did nothing about it. It therefore does not come well from Labour Members to say that we have not done enough. We have done something where they did nothing.

As I said in my earlier short speech, the Bill is about parity of esteem between all children and ultimately throughout society. I believe that the Bill will take us along that important social road. At times it is a difficult educational road, but I believe that the schools and all connected with them will welcome it and that parents will support the legislation as it is implemented. I believe that the Bill will benefit our country and society at large. I warmly welcome it.

10.21 pm
Mr. Whitehead

It would have been more appropriate if the Opposition could have said as our final word on the Bill in this place that we wish it a fair wind, that we thank Mrs. Warnock and her committee and endorse the work done by many people, including those who drafted the Bill and brought it to this stage, and that we expect it to come back with even more improvements from the House of Lords.

I must, however, take this opportunity to reply briefly to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), because I feel a sense of personal affront in two ways. First, I was a member of the Special Standing Committee. Secondly, I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, of which one other member is present, which made the recommendation that led to the procedure being used.

It would be absolutely wrong if the impression were left on Third Reading of the Bill that the three sittings at which we heard the witnesses and the various lobbies that came forward were other than comprehensive, constructive and extremely useful. I believe that those sittings improved the Bill by setting a context in which the Committee could think and argue as a Committee. Time after time today hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to that. After hearing the witnesses and the discussion, and certainly after the further discussion that the Opposition had with some 70 of the lobbies, we were able to see the problem posed by the Bill in the round.

A personal attack of this kind in the style of the hon. Member for Wokingham upon my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) as Chairman of the Special Standing Committee introduced an unnecessary and lamentably sour note into our proceedings. In the few moments since the accusation was made we have examined the report of the three sittings involved. At no stage did any hon. Member of any party raise as a point of order his inability to ask a question. On only two occasions that we can see did the Chairman reprove any hon. Member for verbosity or for wishing to ask more than one question. One was my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), as reported at column 135, the other the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), at column 112. That seems fairly even-handed.

Finally, when we envisaged the procedure of combining the Select Committee and the Standing Committee and the members of both under the Chairman of the Select Committee it was obvious and inevitable that Select Committee procedure would be used. In a Select Committee, the Chairman takes the lead and asks a great many questions. If the hon. Member for Wokingham wishes to ridicule and demean the procedures that we used in the Special Standing Committee, I suggest that he should examine comparable procedures in Select Committees and tell us how often the Chairman took the initiative and what proportion of questions were asked by the Chairman giving the lead on each group of subjects. That is why in this case the Chairman asked 40 questions. He was not unfair to any member of the Committee. He did not seek to prevent any hon. Member from getting in or in any way diminish the procedures which, I believe, were a valuable part of our joint deliberations on the Bill.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I shall not enter into the question of the proceedings of the Select Committee on Education, of which I am not a member, although there are other hon. Members present who are on that Committee and who have very strong views about the matter. They can be pushed at another time. Concerning the Special Standing Committee, however, I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he contests the careful figures that I have given. If he does not, how does he justify such an overwhelming proportion of the questions being asked by a combination of Chairman and Labour members of the Committee?

Mr. Kinnock

That is absolutely outrageous.

Mr. Whitehead

It was an extremely tendentious question, and I do not for a moment propose to justify it. If there is a Chairman who happens to be of our party—and a minority of the Chairmen of Select Committees are of our party—and one adds the Chairman's questions to the questions put by members of his party, a majority of questions can be arrived at in that way. But I do not for one moment see what that proves.

My point is that at no stage in the course of the proceedings in Committee did any Conservative Member, or, for that matter, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who represented the Liberal Party, or any Labour Member, raise a point of order or subsequently complain or table a motion criticising the Chairman of the Committee. I greatly deplore the fact that that has been done in the House tonight. It has soured what ought to be a warm welcome to the Bill. I wish the Bill god-speed in its progress to the other place.

10.27 pm
Dr. Boyson

With the leave of the House, I should like briefly to reply to the debate. I concur with what has been said by other hon. Members by way of thanks to Mrs. Warnock and the members of the committee who laid the groundwork for the Bill. We had a good Standing Committee. The arguments that we had there were good tempered and worth while, as they have been today. We have had an argument about resources.

Mr. Field

Mainly from the Opposition Benches.

Dr. Boyson

I shall not even disagree with that comment at this late hour. We are spending up to £½ billion on special education. It is a considerable sum. We should all like to spend more. We have maintained in real terms the expenditure on special education though the numbers have been dropping. That means that in real terms more will be spent per pupil in the next two or three years than is being spent now.

I am sure that we would all want to speed the Bill now to the House of Lords.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.