HC Deb 15 February 1983 vol 37 cc251-67 10.15 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the note on the Order Paper that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet completed its consideration of the instrument. The Opposition are anxious to proceed with the prayer, but the allocation of time for consideration of the prayer is a matter for the Government.

I raised a similar point a few days ago. The Government have once again denied the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments the opportunity to bring information which may be relevant. The Joint Committee is charged by the House to investigate circumstances. We have received a request from the Department of Education and Science to provide a memorandum on what appears to be a relatively minor point that has not been reported to the House. It is a scandal and a shame that the Government should impose on the House in this way when there is a Committee to look into the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Member is Chairman of the Select Committee that looks into these matters. I understand his raising the point, but it is not one upon which I can take any action.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, but my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has raised a valid point. The fact that the Government have put down business which has not been properly considered by all the machinery laid down by the House for the orderly control of business is important. We should think again before proceeding.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have given my ruling on the matter.

10.17 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1983 (S.I., 1983, No. 29), dated 17th January 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th January, be annulled. The regulations implement some of the provisions of the Education Act 1981 and should be read in conjunction with the joint Department of Education and Science and DHSS circular on assessments and statements of special educational needs.

The Education Act 1981 implemented some, but not all, of the recommendations of the Warnock report. Considerable reservations were expressed when the Bill was going through that it did not go sufficiently far and did not commit this country sufficiently to the integration of handicapped children in ordinary schools with ordinary children. Nevertheless, the Act's intention is to integrate most children in ordinary schools, whereas at present nearly 90 per cent. of children classified officially as handicapped are in special schools. The Act provided that children with special educational needs would be classified as such if they had learning difficulties which called for special educational provision.

There have been various estimates of the number of children and the percentage of our schoolchildren who fall into this category. It is generally accepted that about 20 per cent. of children will at one time or another have special learning difficulties. Such children should be assessed either at the request of their parents or at the instigation of the education authority as provided for under the Act, and these regulations set out that process.

For pupils with most difficulties, which is estimated to be about 2 per cent. of the total school population, the local education authority will have to draw up a formal statement setting out what special provisions it intends to make for the children in question. This statement and the proposition put forward by the authority for coping with the problems of the child in question would be subject to local appeal and also to appeal to the Secretary of State. However, there is one difficulty—there is no provision for local appeal against a decision of the local authority not to draw up a statement at all—that is to decide that, although a child has special learning difficulties, they are not sufficiently special and difficult for the child to have extra special provision.

The whole of this process will require resources if these regulations are to be carried out. The process of assessment is to be considerably more complicated than it has been in the past. Staff from district health authorities and social services departments would be required to participate. Educational psychologists, administrators and teachers would all be involved in the assessments. Once the assessments have been made, far more resources will be required if the purpose of the Warnock report and the Act are to be brought to fruition. In other words, the special provision will require a great deal of additional resources.

The need for extra resources was emphasised in the Warnock report and during the passage of the Bill, and great attention has been drawn to it since by those organisations doing their best to see improved provision for disabled children. The Warnock report said: the integration in ordinary schools of children currently ascertained as handicapped, if achieved without loss of educational quality, is not a cheap alternative to provision in separate special schools, and there is no short cut". The Advisory Centre for Education, responding to the Warnock report, said: one of the greatest anxieties proved to be that many of the ordinary schools were simply not yet prepared or equipped to cope with the handicapped child". Recently, when consultations were going on on the documents that we are discussing, the Royal College of Nursing said, for instance, that the school health service would need additional resources to cope with this part of the process of assessment and contributing to a decent education in ordinary schools for children presently regarded as handicapped.

There is no evidence that any of these additional resources, recognised as necessary by everybody concerned, with the exception of the occupants of the Government Front Bench, are to be provided. There is no evidence of any being provided for the National Health Service side of this provision and none in social services departments of the local authorities or in the educational sphere. With regard to the education services, the Secretary of State wrote on 16 November to the director of the Spastics Society: I cannot hold out any hope of additional resources for the Education Act 1981. It was made absolutely clear during the Acts passage through Parliament that its purpose was to provide a new legal framework for special education within which gradual and progressive advance towards realisation would have to take place over time. Those are his words, not mine.

The Secretary of State went on: No additional money could be allocated in the immediate future but Ministers agreed then, and it remains our view,-that some progress can be achieved by a review of the educational cost-effectiveness of present provision and some redeployment of the very large sums already being spent on special schools and on the 18 per cent. of children with special educational needs who are already in ordinary schools". It is worth pointing out that the average cost per place, according to the latest year for which figures are available, in a special school is £2,453, including a boarding element. Roughly speaking, that is twice the cost of a post-16 child in an ordinary state-maintained school. As the Secretary of State appeared to think that large sums were already being spent in special schools, I should point out that Harrow, his former school, now charges over £4,000 for the privilege of a place.

We are talking about future provision. However, we are also worried about the present position. I want to quote what Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools said about the provision of these resources in what is, in effect its annual report of March 1982. It said that the present situation makes it difficult at best, impossible at worst, to provide remedial teaching or to respond to pupils with a range of special learning needs, or to provide specialist help for parts of the curriculum requiring particular subject knowledge". It also said that there is ample evidence of reduction in the amount of remedial work", and that these changes affected pupils of all abilities … but particularly the less able", and that there was less provision for remedial work". It said that in only half of the 59 special schools surveyed were the in-service arrangements for teachers satisfactory. The inspectorate also said about advisory services that there was "poor coverage" of special education in 17 out of the 96 authorities. It also said, on the subject of special schools, that of the 58 concerned, 21 reported stocks of books to be "less than satisfactory". It said that in six local authorities improvements have been made in the provision for children with special educational needs in ordinary schools, including the establishment of advisory posts and the opening of special units. Otherwise there is little change in the provision for special educational needs". That is the present situation. It is very poor. It is a shabby deal for these young people, who have been getting a shabby deal for far too long. It is worth remembering that spending on education next year is to be cut by 5 per cent. compared with this year. [Interruption.] The total expenditure on education is to be cut by 5 per cent. next year.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman say by how much school rolls will fall next year?

Mr. Dobson

If the former teacher had read the HMI report he would have learnt that one of the products of falling rolls and the attempts by local authorities to adjust to those falling rolls—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) believes that all that local authorities must do is accept falling rolls, he is even more stupid than I thought he was. If he thinks that education authorities do not need to adjust to those changes and shift teachers across disciplines, he must have forgotten what it is like at school.

I have had the doubtful pleasure on several occasions of listening to the philosophisings of the Secretary of State. These days he emphasises his belief that the power of Governments to do good is extremely limited; that neither by exhortation, law, precept or anything else can they do much good. In the regulations and the Act he is trying to get the self-fulfilling prophecy under way because by refusing to provide additional resources it is clear that the Government can do no good by the implementation of the regulations when everyone else in this sphere is convinced that more resources are necessary.

The Secretary of State has been told by everyone concerned that those additional resources are particularly necessary to give our teachers the opportunity to learn to deal with the problems of children with special learning difficulties who up to now have been educated in special schools, staffed by people who had learnt the necessary special skills. Those skills are not yet available in our ordinary schools. Without more in-service training, without more opportunities for our teachers to gain the skills that are necessary to teach these children with special learning difficulties, children will be worse off than they were when they were in special schools.

What are the Government's priorities? Not one penny piece will be found by the Government to help these children who are the worst off in our society, the most disadvantaged, the ones at the back of the queue. Last week we discussed some regulations on the assisted places scheme. This year the Government have found more than £10 million for the assisted places scheme to give advantages to those who already have advantages, yet they can find no more money for those children with the greatest disadvantages. In other words, the regulations are a cheap, unpleasant, nasty deception being played upon the parents and children who should be covered by them.

The Government have willed the end; they refuse to will the means. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will tell us tonight that he is willing to will the means but I am sure that he will not because he is not in the ebullient humour that he was in last week. He needs to come to the Dispatch Box with some humility this evening to explain to the people whose children will not benefit from the regulations why he is bothering to introduce them in the first place.

10.33 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) asked why we were introducing the regulations. If we did not do so, the time spent in Committee and on Second and Third reading of the Education Act 1981 would be wasted and horror would go through the country. The hon. Gentleman may not like the regulations, he may wish that they went further and that more money were to be spent, believing, like his hon. Friends, that money comes from outer space or alchemy. He may desire that, but to oppose the regulations this evening would mean that the merits of the Act would be available to nobody.

I was horrified by the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I shall be as brief as I can, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I shall try to ignore interventions from various parts of the House, although I know that there is genuine concern on both sides of the House from those who have taken an intense interest in this matter.

The Warnock committee reported during the period of office of the Labour Government. It went out for consultation and when the consultation was completed it waited for the general election. Nothing was done before that general election, and we took over afterwards. I do not see why any humble pie should be eaten on the Government side of the House. We legislated in 1981. I had the privilege, along with certain Opposition Members, to be on the Standing Committee. They were very helpful members of that Committee. I do not think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South was a member of the Committee. I am glad that tonight he is slowly learning about it. Both sides of the House will tonight enjoy giving him further information.

The Committee was also very useful. In the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts last week, we said that there was a great deal of concern about confidential information. I was impressed by what was said today by the hon. Members for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). I referred in the Select Committee to the fact that we have considerably cut the amount of confidential information.

Last week in The Times Educational Supplement Peter Newell, whom most of us know and who is not normally a supporter of our party, said: This is a major breakthrough for all those who have argued for a parental right of access and represents a shift in Government policy. At least in that way I should be able to expect appreciation from both sides of the House.

Mr. Christopher Price


Dr. Boyson

I shall not give way. I gave way too often last week.

Mr. Price


Dr. Boyson

I am not giving way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) is taking the time of the House.

Mr. Price

Is the Minister confirming that any parent of a child at a special school can see the confidential records?

Dr. Boyson

I am telling the House what is in the regulations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has read them. They state that professional advice upon which that assessment is made shall be open to parents.

Mr. Price


Dr. Boyson

I am not giving way any more to the hon. Gentleman. He can read the regulations, and if he cannot understand them, he can write to us. When the Education Bill came before the House the Second Reading was not opposed, the Third Reading was not opposed and, as I have already said, if this proposal was by any freak turned down tonight, it would mean that the whole basis of the Act would not be put into effect.

It did not surprise me that resources were mentioned this evening. We made it clear from the beginning that we could not provide additional resources. We also said, in the explanatory and financial memorandum of the Education Bill 1981: The extension of the arrangements for parental appeals laid down in the Education Act 1980 to some children with special educational needs … should not significantly increase the cost of those arrangements. I also said—I will not quote from my own speeches, enjoyable though that would be—time and again that we could not provide those resources but that if resources later on became available more could be spent. We believe a good deal could be done without more resources. I know Opposition Members are almost totally taken up with resources. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South talked about how much was being spent on the ordinary children in this country. We are spending more per head in real terms now than when we came to office. The pupil-teacher ratio is the lowest that it has ever been. I do not wish to take up the time of the House by going into detail, but the hon. Member should not have spoken in the terms that he did.

The pupil-teacher ratio for children in maintained special schools has been reduced since the Government took office from 7.9 to 7.6 pupils per teacher. We are also spending more in real terms on those children. I shall not repeat comments from debates in which the facts were made clear. Hon. Members who served on the Committee and disagreed with the Government then will disagree with us now. But I assure them that there was no con trick on that issue.

We have made it clear that integration in normal schools should take place only where it is compatible with the efficient use of resources. The whole point of Warnock and the regulations is to change the emphasis so that where it is possible for children with special needs to be educated in normal schools, that should be the case. That is contrary to the previous emphasis that they should be in special schools. The difference between the two approaches is tremendous.

This year, expenditure on maintained special schools will be £377 million, and on non-maintained special schools it will be £90 million. We are not beginning by not spending any money at all. It costs far more to cater for children in special schools than for those in mormal schools. It is far more than the £2,000 each mentioned earlier. Some cost up to £30,000 or £40,000. The cost of keeping a child at Tilney Hall, which was once used by Brent, is about £40,000. We could do a great deal in ordinary schools with £40,000 a head. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South may consider that to be reasonable expenditure. Similarly, 18 per cent. of pupils in normal schools have some form of special educational need. They already cost something. We must ensure that their education fits their capabilities, whatever their disabilities.

The most important factor is the approach and attitude of teachers. The hon. Gentleman said that we were not providing money. If the House agrees, we shall give a £1 million grant between April this year and August next year for the in-training of existing teachers in special educational needs. Some hon. Members may say that more expenditure is required, and that we are giving nothing. Well, £1 million may be nothing to them, but it is a great deal to me in my way of life. It shows the Government's concern.

We have funded the National Foundation for Educational Research project on the education of children with special needs in ordinary schools, and also two reports—"Educating Pupils with Special Needs in the Ordinary School" and "Integration in Action". The hon. Gentleman may not like the NFER, but its research fulfils a useful purpose. The inspectorate has kept the matter under review, and is in regular contact with local authorities.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)


Dr. Boyson

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, as many hon. Members wish to speak.

The Bill was largely non-controversial. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), whom we are not privileged to have with us tonight, said: this is not a controversial Bill in the classic parliamentary sense, and it will certainly not provoke great partisan disagreement" —[Official Report, 2 February 1981; Vol. 998, c. 35.] I learnt a great deal in Committee from Opposition Members as well as from my hon. Friends. We improved the Bill in Committee. We put out the regulations for consultation, and then made considerable alterations, particularly on the question of experts giving their opinion, on which an assessment is made, which should be open to parents. No Government could be more reasonable on this matter. Hon. Members may wish to go further, but the Government have gone as far as possible within the reasonable conditions prevailing in Britain.

10.44 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I shall be brief because many hon. Members wish to speak. I begin by considering the circular that accompanied the regulations that we are considering. I hope that the Minister will convey the views of hon. Members to the person or persons who wrote the circular. The circular is not only a model of how a circular should be written but it takes the ideas in the Warnock report a stage further.

I quote to the House one short paragraph from the circular: The main focus should be on the child himself rather than on his disability. The extent to which a learning difficulty hinders a child's development depends not only on the nature and severity of that difficulty, but also on the personal resources and attributes of the child, and on the help and support he receives at home and at school. A child's special educational needs are thus related to his abilities as well as his disabilites". Whereas Warnock took our thinking about disabled children a stage further, the circular takes it yet a further step forward and tries not to paint a black and white picture of those of us who on the one hand, are normal, and those who on the other hand, have disabilities. All of us have pluses and minuses and there is a great deal that we can gain from disabled children and adults.

The circular accompanying these regulations is very important indeed in taking our thinking towards a fully integrated society.

The Minister mentioned access to information in this part of the regulations as a result of an intervention. I believe that he has unwittingly misled the House. As I understand the position, under the regulations parents have a right to the statement, and the notice appended to the statement, which details the basis of evidence was used to build up that statement. Parents will not have access to the full information which makes up the statements themselves.

When we were in Committee, practically the whole of the Committee argued with the Minister that parents should have full access. In Committee, many of us believed that we had convinced the Minister of this need. He said that he would go away and think again. When the Government brought this measure to another place, they almost suffered a defeat on this issue. The Government's concession was not to give full access but to argue that the statement should have accompanying it a full list of the information that made up the statement. But it did not give parents access to all the information held on their child.

I ask hon. Members to turn to paragraph 11 of the regulations. Paragraph 11 is rather strangely headed "Restriction on disclosure of statements". It is anything but restrictive. The paragraph commences: Subject to the provisions of the Act of 1981 and of these Regulations, a statement in respect of a child shall not be disclosed without the parent's consent". Some hon. Members would have liked the full stop to have been put there. Those hon. Members who could not be carried on that point may be prepared to accept that there may be two grounds where parents' wishes should be overruled.

Paragraph (b) gives right of access concerning the rights of appeal, and paragraph (e) states: for the purposes of any investigation under Part III of the Local Government Act 1974(a)." That means for maladministration on a local government level.

There are three other categories of access over which parents have no right to say that outsiders should not see the statements on their children. Paragraph (a) states: in the opinion of the education authority concerned, the statement should be disclosed in the educational interests of the child". The files will not be open to the parents, but the statements will be available to other people.

Paragraph (c) gives access to another group and states: for the purposes of educational research". Despite the ability of the person or persons who wrote the circular accompanying these regulations, the circular shows an extraordinary attitude of mind. Information about the poor seems to be freely available, but information about the rich is not. Books are written entitled "Family and Kinship in East London", but we have never had a book called "Family and Kinship in Eaton Square". If we went to Eaton Square to ask its inhabitants the questions that we ask the poor, first we would have to negotiate the Ansaphone system. Then we would speak to the butler and it would go no further. Here again tonight the old attitudes prevail. It is thought appropriate that information about the poor should be provided, not at the discretion of the parents, but of the local authority.

Then subparagraph (d) says that information should be given over for the purpose of criminal proceedings.

Those proposals are a retrograde step and will make many parents anxious about statements made about their children. If the regulations are carried tonight, I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking to consider those three offensive proposals in paragraph 11. Better still, he should ask the person who drafted the circular to reply to those hon. Members who are worried about them.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the only occasion when we have the opportunity to vote or not to vote on the disclosure of such records to parents, and that the Minister's answer should be contingent upon our decision to vote?

Mr. Field

I hope that it will. One last point. The circular covers new needs. Children aged under two, if their parents wish it, have a right to a statement. Statements will be made about children aged between two and five, yet no extra resources have been willed by the measure. That is a test of the Government's priorities. Last week, the Government could find £10 million for the assisted places scheme, but not one extra penny is put forward to implement this measure.

I end with a saying that my grandmother often used, because the Minister likes such homely comments. She believed that people should put their money where their mouth is. In this measure, the Government are not prepared to put their money where they say their mouth and heart are.

10.52 pm
Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Liverpool, Garston)

It is rather sad that this debate is taking place at all. The Education Act 1981 was one of the first Bills to be considered by the special Standing Committee procedure, and those of us who were privileged to consider the Bill were satisfied with the procedure. We heard evidence from a variety of witnesses. We hope that the benefits that will flow from this measure will accrue to those in the category of special need.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the resources side of the matter was dealt with adequately in Committee. However, it is clear that to pray against the regulations for that reason is rehashing old ground. If one is dealing with a probing point about information, that is one matter, but to try to stop the implementation of the Act goes against the spirit of everything that we discussed in Committee. Our discussions showed clearly that many things are already being done. We identified much good practice. Many local authorities are already implementing many of the proposals in the Bill. We should all be willing to ensure that those good practices are spread and given the maximum publicity.

I remember the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) speaking most eloquently on the subject. There was almost unanimity in the Committee about the need for this measure. I remember saying then that when we considered the subject in 1978 in local government circles we said that much of what local authorities were doing needed some form of Government impetus. The Government decided to take that on board. They also decided that they could not put in any great quantity of resources. Many of us deplored that, but it should in no way inhibit this measure and the promulgation of the regulations. If we did that, many of the children who already receive much of what the Warnock report tried to achieve would be denied the benefits that the Standing Committee wanted.

Much of what we have heard today goes against the spirit of unanimity in the Standing Committee. I hope that hon. Members who address themselves to the subject today will recall that the Committee was unanimous in believing that the Act should be given a fair wind and that what was possible to achieve should be achieved. What we are going through today is a sterile argument that can do nothing for the cause in which we all believe.

10.56 pm
Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

The Education Act 1981 is one of the few good Acts enacted by the present Government. One reason for that, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton), is that it was taken under the new special procedure. More legislation should be taken under that procedure. It provides an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. I chaired the Committee that considered the Mental Health Act which started under the special procedure. In my experience, the procedure provides much expertise which can change a Bill considerably.

We must pass the regulations. They arise directly from the Act. I hope that no hon. Member will vote against them. If they do, I shall be voting for them. The test of the Act and the regulations will, in the long run, depend on the resources that are made available to operate them. If the Act is to work as the Warnock committee recommended, more resources will be necessary. There will also be a need for more training of specialist teachers in schools. I hope that, as soon as the financial circumstances ease, making resources available to make the Act work will be a high priority.

Section 11(1) deals with restrictions on disclosures of statements. It provides: Subject to the provisions of the Act of 1981 and of these Regulations, a statement in respect of a child shall not be disclosed without the parent's consent except— (a) to persons to whom, in the opinion of the education authority concerned, the statement should be disclosed in the educational interests of the child; That is wide. It virtually means that anybody can be given a statement against the wishes of the parent.

I know what the words in the opinion of the education authority mean legally, but in practice it will not be the opinion of the chief education officer. The matter will not be discussed by the education committee. An administrative decision will be taken at a lower level, possibly even by the headmaster or another master in a school. The same applies to the words in the educational interests of the child". Anything can be argued to be in the educational interests of the child.

Therefore, although I support the regulations as a whole, I ask the Minister seriously to reconsider that provision as it is far to widely drawn and allows the statement to be given to virtually anybody if the education authority or indeed some lesser authority thinks fit.

11 pm

Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

I shall confine myself to one point, but I preface my remarks with this comment. I believe that parents of handicapped children will read the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) with astonishment and profound distaste. To take the subject of handicapped children as an opportunity to make a cheap party political speech is to display a superficiality almost beyond my comprehension. The hon. Gentleman's lack of under-standing of the matter was perhaps best evidenced on the two or three occasions when he referred to "ordinary children" in "ordinary schools", as though handicapped children were not ordinary children. It is that belief, which is so widespread, that causes so many of our problems and our inability properly to handle the problems of handicapped children and their parents.

The one point that I wish to make is to urge my hon. Friend the Minister to display caution, as I am sure he will, in extending the education of children with special needs into the usual standard school system, if I may use that phrase.

Handicapped children are not of one type or one class. I make no apology for making that point for the second time in a few days. Handicapped children suffer from a wide range of handicaps and all require very special and very different treatment and very special and different educational handling. I wonder, therefore, whether it is possible to bring into the teaching system of a school catering for usually intellectually brighter children the level of skill and knowledge needed to handle that very wide range of problems.

Those of us who have a great deal of contact with special schools know not only of the high level of skill and dedication that the teachers and helpers there display but the rather special kind of person required. I do not wish to denigrate those who teach in schools for children who are not handicapped, but I believe that teachers of handicapped children require special dedication, care and concern far beyond the very high level of skill that all teachers need. I therefore wonder whether it is possible to achieve those skills and to add them to the ordinary teaching skills of teachers in the more customary schools.

Therefore, I simply urge my hon. Friend the Minister to be cautious about extending this too far before we have ascertained whether the needs of handicapped children can be properly catered for in normal schools.

11.3 pm

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I shall be brief. I hope that someone will stop me when I have spoken for three minutes as I should like everyone to have the opportunity to take part in the debate.

I wish that the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) had stayed last Friday, as we could have done with his vote and that of about 22 others for the Bill to prevent discrimination against the handicapped.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton) should appreciate that throughout our discussion of this matter in what was a very happy Standing Committee on the 1981 Bill we took the view that this was Warnock without the resources. That was the caveat we had all the time. As the only member of the Committee who won a concession from the hon. Gentleman, the Under-Secretary—an old friend whom I beat in Eccles; he did not come back—let me squeeze a few resources from him.

Under section 10, which deals with the right of the parents of a handicapped child to know early, and not late, whether there is a sensory problem, the consultant, the hospital, the area health authority and the education authority shall plan for that child early so that the child does not have a double handicap. This will require resources. I have been assured by Brian Rix that Mencap will help in any way it can. He wanted to know how parents could be informed that such a voluntary organisation was available to advise them from the outset. That is important. It would not require much resources, but we ought to have a firm assurance that something will be done.

There is marked difference in style of writing between the circular and the regulations. This may well be for legal reasons, but if I had a handicapped child I would hate to have to find out my rights from the regulations, which are utter gobbledegook. I cannot understand them. It may be said that I am stupid, but I would bet my bottom dollar that no one in the House can understand them. Are my three minutes up?

Mr. Greenway


Mr. Carter-Jones

I am on borrowed time, so I shall conclude. Would the hon. Gentleman write the regulations again in the same language as is used in the circular? That would be helpful to all parents and disabled people.

11.7 pm

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I must point out to the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) that he used one of the three minutes talking about the three minutes. I shall avoid doing that.

I find it hard to understand why Opposition Members should try to dig up reasons for opposing the regulations. If the arguments about initial resources had been applied to similar measures in the past, such as the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, we would never have seen any of the progress made in the ensuing decade on allowances and provision for the handicapped and disabled. There are never enough resources at first. The mobility allowance and the attendance allowance are examples. We always have to build on the foundations laid by legislation.

Of course, teacher training for those who will be needed for the ordinary schools is vitally important. At the conference in November held to discuss the Education Act 1981 there were many representatives from local education authorities. Quite a number spoke about the flow of resources already becoming available in their local authorities as the transfer took place from the budgets for normal education into the special educational field. They all quoted examples of increases, so it is not true to allege, as Opposition Members did, that there are zero resources or that resources are diminishing. As my hon. Friend pointed out, £1 million extra has been provided by the Government. This is enough to get the ball rolling and start the process of the integration of handicapped children into normal schools.

I welcome the regulations but must draw attention to one or two points. In paragraph 5(3) the regulations state that when a child is deaf, partially hearing, or blind the educational advice must be from a teacher in those handicaps. This is very welcome, but why has the requirement been confined to those two handicaps?

I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to consider the Warnock recommendation that there should be a range of recognised qualifications in special education obtained through one year full-time or equivalent courses with appropriate adjustments in salary and grading. I am not asking for that recommendation to be implemented immediately, but I ask for the qualifications to be extended. I am sure that a flow of qualified teachers for all of the various handicaps would follow if the range of qualifications could be extended.

There should be more opportunities for disabled teachers. Too many of them are barred from teaching on unreasonable medical grounds or because colleges are inaccessible. Paragraph 9 provides that where a child with a statement has not been assessed since the age of 12½ he or she must be reassessed between 13½ and 14½. Paragraph 56 of the circular explains that this is to enable arrangements to be made for preparation for the transition to further education, vocational training or other arrangements after leaving school. This is very welcome, but I ask that there should be introduced another reassessment before 16 years. In my experience, it is at the post-16 age that handicapped students need the maximum help to prepare them for adult life and employment.

Finally, I direct my remarks to the monitoring and planning of integration. When resources are tight, and when successful integration depends so much on the efficient use of existing resources and good co-operation between statutory services, planning and monitoring are essential. Amendments were tabled as the Bill passed through both Houes to establish a national advisory committee as recommended by Warnock, or at least to oblige local education authorities to produce plans. All the amendments failed.

A survey by the Spastics Society shows that most local education authorities have not yet made coherent plans for the implementation of the Act. The conference of voluntary organisations and statutory services that was held on 15 November 1982 unanimously recommended that the Voluntary Council for Handicapped Children should initiate discussions on whether and what grouping should undertake the role of monitoring the implementa-tion of the Act, advising local education authorities and disseminating good practice. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give us a report at some stage on the progress of the discussions.

I have raised these queries in the same spirit that prevailed when the Bill was considered in Committee. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will take them on board. We should not have to vote on whether the regulations should be passed, and I hope that the Opposition will not divide the House.

11.14 pm
Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) made an interesting speech which I enjoyed immensely. He has praised the regulations, but he drew attention to quite a few weaknesses in them. When he did that, he gave permission for the Opposition to criticise them. It is clear that there are weaknesses and that we are entitled to a debate. I understand that we are not, as the official Opposition, intent on voting against the regulations, and that means that we welcome them to an extent.

We must consider in the first place the rights of parents of these unfortunate children to have them educated in the way that best takes account of their disadvantages. We should always take into account what the parents desire for their children. We must not forget that parents worry deeply about the future of their disabled children if they do not receive some education. I often meet the parents. They say "Mr. Wainwright, what will happen to our child? He is our only child. When we go, where will he live? What will he do in this highly competitive world?" We should always bear those points in mind when we are talking about such regulations.

We must also consider the children's rights. I am not criticising too much the lack of resources. I heard the Minister criticising indirectly the faults of the Labour Government. We have never done enough for those children. We do not do enough for education generally. I came through life educating myself, but I see the weaknesses of education and the unfairness especially to poor families. They are always the ones who have to suffer. A disadvantaged child is greatly handicapped by the education system as well as his handicap, because he is incapable of absorbing ordinary education. Therefore, those children have certain rights.

We should like the regulations to be improved. Let us consider the society that we live in. Compared with many other countries, we are still a rich country. We should share out the resources fairly and accept responsibility to our citizens, especially our unfortunate citizens. We are lucky if we are physically and mentally fit.

We cannot do what Warnock wanted us to do, but we must go as near to it as possible and use our influence to ensure that, whatever party is in power, more money is spent on unfortunate children so that they reach a standard of education that is the best that society can provide and that takes into account the disadvantages of the children. I hope that hon. Members will make a greater effort than in the past to make it possible to find the means and obtain the resources to ensure that those children can be educated. Let us not forget the special teachers who are required. As much as possible should be provided to ensure that the children can participate in the society in which the lucky ones have to fight in this highly competitive world. Therefore, it is the duty of every Government to ensure that those children get the best possible education.

11.17 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Silence was enjoined on me throughout the passage of the Education Act because I was then PPS to the then Secretary of State, who was the promoter of the Bill. Perhaps it can be said that that Act was one of the most notable achievements during the tenure of office of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). It is a pleasure for me to be able to add a word or two, having had to listen in appreciative silence to the discussions not only on the Floor of the House but in Committee. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) invited us to put the tag of "shabby deal" upon the regulations and the spirit of the Act. That call fell well below the general tenor of the debate in Committee.

I welcome the regulations, as I welcomed the Act. The Act is in itself an educative force and is to be welcomed on that basis. It provides a framework that is valuable even if no extra resources are added. We could all wish for extra resources in many different spheres of education. It would be nice if we could have the resources to reduce all primary school classes to no more than 20. We know that the education that the children would then receive would be superior to that when the class size is 30 or more. That is relative. I do not believe that extra resources are a sine qua non of ability to make progress in understanding special educational needs. I believe that the Act provides a better way to assess those needs, and that is to be welcomed. Far from its being a shabby deal, I believe that it is a fairer deal for parents than has existed before.

From my contact with the parents of handicapped children I know that in many cases parents are greatly shocked when they realise that there has to be some different treatment for their children. If the Act leads to a more flexible variety of ways of handling different education needs, it can only be helpful in developing more sensitive responses to parents and children at what can be a difficult time for them.

Far from being a shabby deal, the Act and the regulations, I believe, represent an imaginative deal as they encourage the process of integration. There are already examples of integration and I believe that the way that schools, teachers, parents and other pupils have responded generally is a force for good. If thereby more people learn about the special educational needs, than perhaps they know now when children are sheltered from the main stream of education, it might create more pressures within our system for greater allocation of resources to deal with special educational needs in the wider sense in which we are now trying to understand them.

I believe that the Act is a force for good, even though it may not be accompanied by the resources that all of us, in the goodness of our hearts, would like to attach to so many developments in education. At least we are taking a good step forward tonight and one that should have the blessing of the whole House.

11.21 pm
Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I welcome this short debate. For the sake of brevity I should like to say that I endorse, with the concern of the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), the voting intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) and the care of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

I welcome the debate because it gives those of us on the Committee a chance to appraise an Act before it comes into operation on 1 April. In her report Mrs. Warnock expressed one fear, which was that integration without the provision of finance had certain inherent dangers. I am sure that her fears were entirely realistic.

I welcome, of course, the Minister's announcement of the £1 million for in-service training, but I should like to remind the House that £1 million means £1,500 for each constituency. It means that each Member of Parliament is likely to have one day per week for one teacher for in-service training. While, of course, it is a beginning I do not believe that it is a sufficiently good beginning.

I raised on the Adjournment some months ago a subject that was real to the Act—that in my constituency a Red Cross school for severely handicapped children was closing. The Minister took my remarks to mean that I wanted all the other schools to close and mine to flourish. I raised the matter simply to show that while there was integration there were unintegratable children who were left.

It seems to me essential that the money that is saved by closing schools, especially that which is claimed back from the private sector as the Government are claiming back £110,000 from the Red Cross, might be thought about again. I do not believe that the Government will use that money better than would the Red Cross.

The Palace school at Ely had 50 children. It will have 30 at the end of this year and 20 at the end of next year. I accept that it is wholly uneconomic to run. I wish that the savings that the Government will make by claiming back that sum of money could be spent on allowing the parents of handicapped children greater access to them when the children are at the other end of the country. I shall not take up the time of the House further except to say that, with the exception of the opening speech, this has been an important and good debate.

11.25 pm
Dr. Boyson

I concur with the view of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) about the debate. He expressed a similar view in Committee, where, despite our differences, we were concerned to make the Bill as good as possible.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) spoke about the appeal of a parent if he was not allowed an assessment. If parents ask for an assessment, the local education authority must comply unless it is satisfied that an assessment will be inappropriate. If it refuses, the parent can apply to the Secretary of State under section 68 of the Act.

Mr. Dobson


Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman can write to me on any points that he wishes, and there is not much time to discuss the points made by other hon. Members.

With regard to confidentiality, the parents have a right to copies of all the advice prepared by professionals for the LEA during assessments. The hon. Members for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and Southampton, lichen (Mr. Mitchell) spoke about the information available to the parent and the assessment body being made available to other individuals. The draft regulations were changed after consultation. We had not consulted the hon. Member for Birkenhead then.

Mr. Field

Nor the parents.

Dr. Boyson

It is difficult to get the parent bodies to pass on that information. There is no doubt that we have listened, and we shall do what we can about the hon. Gentleman's point, although the regulations will not be laid each year. From time to time, alterations will be made in the regulations and note will be taken of all the points made this evening.

I pay tribute to other hon. Members who have spoken tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) made the important point about requiring advice from a qualified teacher of the deaf or blind because there are special considerations in recognising the needs of deaf or blind children. The teachers already need special qualifications so that we can lay down specifically that if it is a child of that description the teacher should be so trained because they are the ones who can meet the special needs.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) that certain children are not able to be integrated into the general, run-of-the-mill schools. I have two schools in my constituency that deal with mentally and physically badly handicapped children, and pay tribute, as the House no doubt will, to the dedication of the teachers working in them.

The basis of the Act is that where they can be integrated to the advantage of the children without any disadvantage to the other children, and they can be brought up in the atmosphere that other children are being brought up in and can then fit more easily into the world outside, that should be done.

However, we shall never have all such children inside ordinary maintained schools; there will always be a number in special schools.

Mr. Carter-Jones

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) made a point about the deaf and the blind. The tendency of spastic children is not to use the wasted limb, and a physiotherapist is needed to bring the limbs into balance. The point made by the hon. Member for Exeter was valid. We must widen these skills.

Dr. Boyson

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter.

It was good to hear the voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), who has served on three Committees with me on Education Acts and to hear him speak on education. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton) has had great experience in education, and he made some valid points.

If in every part of life we wait until we have all the resources that we want before we do something, there will be a long wait. There are always alternative demands. This evening no one will run down these demands. Mary Warnock has been quoted, and I want to quote something that she wrote in December 1980: Everyone complains that there will be no more money. Local authorities complain that there will be no monitoring quango for them to have seats on, teachers complain because their work will be harder but no better paid. I find the general pessimism sad, and the outcome probably wasteful. The proposition that nothing is possible without the allocation of extra resources will render itself true. People will come to believe that nothing can be done on the grounds that not everything can be done". The Government want to get things done. They realise that money is limited, but they do not stop improvements for that reason, and the regulations make improvements.

Question put and negatived.

Forward to