HC Deb 12 July 1984 vol 63 cc1433-40

Motion, made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Major.]

8.17 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I am sure that in introducing an Adjournment debate on sport—in this instance riding—the House will join me in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) good luck as he takes off tomorrow morning for the Olympic games, where he will be in the British eight and fighting for Britain, as he does in so many excellent ways. I am sure that we all wish him well. We shall be watching for him and rooting for him.

The debate is directed to another sort of sportsman and one with which the world is in great sympathy, and that is the mentally handicapped rider. For 20 years I have been interested in, supporting and working for children and adults who have been taking part in riding schemes that have been promoted for most of that time by the Mencap riding fund that is run by a gentleman called Joe Royds of Hereford, who has done a magnificent job. He has travelled about the world and this country begging for money, with which he has produced enabling schemes for the mentally handicapped to ride. We have all found that there is tremendous benefit to the mentally handicapped who participate in these schemes.

In recent years, especially during the incumbency of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, the schemes have had magnificent support from the Department of Employment. My hon. Friend has taken a central part in ensuring that the schemes are well supported and well regarded. I pay tribute to him on behalf of the mentally handicapped, who cannot speak for themselves, and thank him for all that he has done. The riding schemes for the mentally handicapped differ from those for the disabled, which come under the aegis of the British Horse Society. The two run together, but not as one. I pay great tribute to the Riding for the Disabled association for the marvellous work it does for people of all ages, but especially for children, who suffer from a handicap—blindness, deafness, autism, maladjustment, educational subnormality. The chairman of the association is Mrs. Patricia Langford, who is to be congratulated on all that she and her scheme does.

I have worked with both schemes for 20 years and have been especially involved in promoting schemes for mentally handicapped children and other children with special difficulties and needs in London schools. Twenty years ago, I founded a riding scheme for mentally handicapped children and ordinary children who suffer no disability but live in high rise city flats. They have no access to the countryside, and are not permitted to have animals—not even a mouse—in those flats. That riding scheme celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 1984. We had a marvellous party for the children, and some of those who participated in the scheme 20 years ago were there. It was a thrilling experience. Many of those children have gone on to become involved in careers of one sort or another involving horses, but that is a separate story.

The riding schemes sponsored by Mencap are financed under the Manpower Services Commission's community programme which is designed to provide temporary employment for the long-term unemployed and projects of value to the community. I gather from the MSC that Mencap has contracted to provide about 750 jobs, many of them part time, in nine projects. About 350 of those jobs involve starting schemes to provide assistance for the mentally handicapped. The community programme participants assist the handicapped to ride. They help to maintain the horses and learn animal husbandry, if they are interested, as well as how to assist the handicapped.

The MSC is sending me detailed information on what is happening under some of those schemes which have recently come into being. Basically, all the schemes have one objective—to get mentally handicapped children and adults on horseback to receive the therapy that will bring to them. The Mencap projects have undoubtedly been successful. That fact has been recognised by the Ministry and especially my hon. Friend the Minister of State. That has been shown by the fact that the projects have been given funding for a second year.

The handicapped have profited from riding, experiencing confidence and a sense of worth in their participation in the project. The severely mentally handicapped, who have more obvious disabilities, have profited from contact with the long-term unemployed who are involved in the community projects. That is a notable benefit of the scheme. It is a moving experience to help mentally handicapped people in that way. The mentally handicapped quickly form a relationship with other people if those people are sufficiently relaxed. If one does what is needed—leading a horse, helping a child or adult to mount, and helping a child while he is on a horse or pony—one experiences the natural gratitude of and a sense of relationship with the mentally handicapped, and that is hugely rewarding. The Government have done a great thing in fostering that scheme, and bringing out those aspects. Mentally handicapped adults do not gain great therapy from riding, but they have a greatly enhanced sense of dignity and socialisation. The mutual distrust between the handicapped and the non-handicapped is weakened.

Great help is given to the mentally handicapped through horse contact. It is rewarding to both riders and helpers in every sense. I know that it is an expensive project, and I am grateful for the resources committed to it by my hon. Friend the Minister. Two thirds or three quarters of children aged between 5 and 16— the age range that profits most—achieve great benefits from riding, and it is, therefore, therapy. A rider's outlook on himself is changed by the magical powers of the horse. He changes from an individual feeling like a failed vegetable to one feeling a real person with a chance and purpose in life. That change is a catalyst for the acceptance of further learning of all skills—primary, personal and, in some cases, secondary and social.

I could say a great deal on the subject, but I want now to consider the figures involved and urge my hon. Friend to do even more, if he can. Mencap has undertaken to sponsor 750 places under the community programme, and 61 per cent. of those are for riding projects directly for the mentally handicapped. The localities of the riding projects are Blackburn, Leeds, Liverpool, Darlington, Glasgow, Halifax, Rochdale, Caterham in Surrey, and Sheffield. That is a limited spread, welcome though it is. I remind the House that the mentally handicapped live in all parts of the country, and I am sure that the House will share my sense of aspiration for a spread of this excellent activity. I should like to have such a project in Ealing in my constituency as I know that many adults and children would benefit greatly from it.

Each of the schemes has been approved by the Manpower Services Commission for a second year of funding from 1 March 1984. In addition, approval has been given for the establishment of a 10th project in Wales, which will start on 1 September 1984. It is very welcome because it is the first scheme outside England. There is much to be said for giving help in as wide an area as possible.

A person of distinction recently watched riding activities for the mentally handicapped, and wrote to me describing them. He said: A wide variety of mentally handicapped people—differing from each other in age, sex and physical and mental ability—got a great deal of very visible pleasure from their riding. Some of that, I would guess, came from being the centre of attention in a large institution where people can easily be dwarfed by buildings or "lost" in the crowd. Some came from the sense of achievement; some from being up in the air and looking down at the rest of the world for a change; and some from the relationship from the young helpers—a natural and unpretentious relationship. I dare say that the physical contact with the horse also played its part. That individual wrote to me as a non-horse person, and said that he could not pretend to judge. But I can judge because I have ridden horses and ponies all my life and am a qualified instructor in all aspects of horse care and riding, including show jumping, cross country riding and so on. I have always been interested in the value of this sport for the underdog who has no other chance in life. My effort has been to bring people who do not have a chance by birth or any other way into relationships with horses. One can see the value of that.

It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. I am charmed and touched that you should take the Chair for this debate at the end of such a long sitting. I know that that shows your warm interest in the subject.

It is worth recounting that there is something between the horse or pony and the mentally handicapped person; there is an indefinable rapport. One cannot describe it, but one can see it. Some mentally handicapped people cannot sit on horses, but to most of them it is natural. When they sit on horseback or ponyback, there is living communication between the two. It is of huge benefit to horses because they become totally relaxed, however difficult, thoroughbred and awkward they might be in other circumstances. Mentally handicapped people are always relaxed. Being high up is nice for them. There is also an extraordinary acceptance of the movement and feeling of the horse, and the smells that come from it. The unity of moving together gives an incentive to speak, live and find something new in life. The fact that we manage to do that for the mentally handicapped, who cannot speak for themselves, means that we are giving something in a world in which so many of them have absolutely nothing. What could be better. My correspondent went on to say of what he saw: It is clear that the riding schemes have a part to play in the much wider process of socialisation—habilitation—which needs to precede the movement of mentally handicapped people from large hospitals"— my correspondent saw the riding at a hospital— to a small community unit or ordinary house, and the more normal life that goes with it. For those who are living in the community, this is one dimension of the normal range of activities that they can enjoy and can share with others. For the young unemployed people who make it possible, there is the chance to work with horses, to do something useful that folk are willing to come to see and to write up, and to get to know and work alongside mentally handicapped people, obviously also offers something of importance. This is not an area for sentimentality. It is not necessary. To be unduly sentimental is to insult the mentally handicapped. They do not need it and do not look for it. They have a marvellous way of establishing relations with people such as their own families and those whom they have never met before in a very short space of time, as well as with animals.

As a society we must always take advantage of the chances of greater civilisation that proper systems, encouragement and relationships with the mentally handicapped give us. Having the horse and the pony—with all that that means—as allies in this important area is of the highest value. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to say that the Government not only will continue to support to the excellent work that has been allowed to start, but will go further, as funds permit. The phrase "as funds permit" can often be a little nebulous and meaningless, but let funds permit at an early stage. Let us have great expansion this year and next year, but always with proper control because that is fundamental. I have pleasure in asking the House to accept my words on this important subject.

8.34 pm
Mr. Humphrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and to my hon. Friend the Minister for allowing me to say a few words in this important debate and to echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North who has such an outstanding reputation in this area.

On 9 June, in company with you, Mr. Speaker, and other Croydon Members, I was privileged to be present when the Mencap riding fund launched its project at St. Lawrence's hospital in Caterham, a very fine hospital serving a wide area full of caring people. I know that for you, too, Mr. Speaker, it was a heartwarming day. The purpose was to launch the scheme established by Mencap in conjunction with the Manpower Services Commission.

The demonstration that we saw showed what could be achieved and how much benefit could be derived from riding by handicapped and physically disabled people. We saw the powerful, therapeutic bond established between the horses and their handicapped riders and it was encouraging to see how riding could help people to get better. I am sure that statistics will show that handicapped people can be helped to get better and better through these schemes. St. Lawrence's hospital not only serves its own residents but provides immense help to the surrounding community and the many non-resident handicapped people in the area. As we know, the Croydon health authority is also greatly interested in the project and well aware of the benefit that it brings.

I strongly support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. I believe that these riding schemes are the thing of the future for the handicapped, especially for children. Youngsters can be seen to improve constantly and to gain confidence through riding. In many cases, they get back to complete normality. At the end of the day, I believe that money will be saved as a result of the schemes because it costs so much to look after the serverely handicapped. As well as providing enormous pleasure and improvement for them, public money can be saved. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, admired the scheme at St. Lawrence's enormously as did I and other Croydon Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary who are thoroughly involved in this. We wish the project all the very best for the future.

8.38 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

It is not often that one is able to associate you, Mr. Speaker, with a particular cause, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Malins) so ably said today, and indeed informed me beforehand, I know that Mencap is something very special to you.

We should not be able to discuss this subject had not my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) raised it on the Adjournment, and I am extremely grateful to him for doing so. I am also very grateful for his kind words about my own association with the community programme.

I begin by saying that I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's comments about our hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) who leaves tomorrow to take part in the Olympic games. I am sure that the whole House wishes him every success. I hope that he will return with a gold medal, not least because I have never seen one and I should like to do so.

The community programme, which is so closely associated with Mencap, is an important part of our general strategy to help the long-term unemployed back into the world of work. The real way of getting them back into work is to follow sensible economic and financial strategies which will set the economy to rights, but meanwhile, we are spending about £2 billion on special employment and training measures. That vast sum of money is currently giving direct help to about 624,000 people.

Many of these measures help the long-term unemployed. Apart from the community programme, there is the enterprise allowance scheme, from which 34,000 people have benefited, more than 10,000 of whom have been long-term unemployed. Our voluntary projects programme, which is closely connected with charities such as Mencap, provides work-relates opportunities for unemployed people to take up on a voluntary basis. More than half the participants in that programme are long-term unemployed. The job release scheme also helps the long-term unemployed.

The community programme was announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—now the Foreign Secretary—on 9 March 1982. It is a successor to the community enterprise programme, which provided 30,000 temporary jobs to help the long-term unemployed. The community programme will provide up to 130,000 places. My hon. Friend asks for more places for the programme because it is doing such good work. He will appreciate that there has already been a significant expansion. The community enterprise programme provided only full-time jobs, but the community programme provides both full and part-time jobs. Our target is 130,000 filled places, and at the end of May 116,000 places had been filled. Each year, some 200,000 unemployed people will participate.

I should remind the House that the cost is large. Some £500 million in taxpayers' money is committed to the programme. But—money aside—we are dependent upon sponsors to come forward with ideas to help the unemployed and benefit the local community. My hon. Friend has ably pointed out the benefit to Mencap.

The work proposed must improve the long-term employment prospects of those who take part. If a sponsored application is to succeed, the proposed work must be of direct and tangible benefit to the community. It must also be work not done in the normal course of events. Those eligible to take part must have been unemployed for more than 12 out of the previous 15 months if they are aged over 25. If they are aged between 18 and 24, they must have been unemployed for six out of the previous nine months. Of the entrants, 55 per cent. are in the 18 to 24 age group, and 3.5 per cent. are registered disabled. Last November we announced that the programme would extend to October 1986 and that the target of 130,000 filled places was to be retained.

My hon. Friend would like more places to be provided. Competition for places is now intense. The projects are considered by local area manpower boards, on which industry and other organisations are represented. It is those boards' role to decide which of the many projects that they consider will do most to improve the employment prospects of participants and provide direct and tangible community benefits.

In view of the competition for places, no guarantes can be given that individual projects will have their funding renewed at the end of each year. There is a wide variety of projects under the community programme. There are environmental schemes to clear up eyesores—I have seen a few—there are schemes that encourage energy conservation such as loft insulation for elderly people and there are schemes involved in construction or renovation work on buildings that are used by the local community. There are also schemes such as the Mencap riding scheme, which helps disadvantaged groups socially.

I am genuinely grateful—I know that the Manpower Services Commission is as well—for the contribution of voluntary organisations such as Mencap to the success of the programme. The sponsors are local authorities to the tune of 47 per cent. and voluntary organisations to the tune of 40 per cent. Other voluntary organisations help disabled people under the community programme. The National Elfrida Rathbone Society, Outset, Physically Handicapped and Able Bodies and Schemes for the Deaf also make a significant contribution.

If hon. Members did not know of Mencap's valuable work before today, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North they do now. It is principally an organisation of parents. It operates throughout the United Kingdom and provides a range of services for mentally handicapped people, their families and professionals who work for them. It aims to improve provision for mentally handicapped children and adults by increasing public knowledge and concern, and by mounting projects such as the riding schemes to show that mentally handicapped people can be trained to expand their capabilities.

Mencap's secretary-general is Brian Rix and it was involved in the community programme from the start. Mr. Joe Royds, the manager of Mencap's riding fund, has made an outstanding contribution for a considerable time. In a letter, he wrote: the Community Programme has been published and the situation has changed from dead slow to full steam ahead! It has been seen as the green light for us, which indeed it specifically is. The first riding scheme was at Great Barr in Birmingham and was funded under the old youth opportunities programme from 1979 to 1982. It was sponsored as a community projects scheme by the Walsall Guild for Voluntary Service. The riding schemes were not considered suitable for funding under the youth training scheme, so Mencap started negotiations in October 1982 for support under the community programme. Its first agreement to act as a national community programme agent was signed in February 1983. Its current agreement, which started on 1 March 1984, is for 730 places. Riding projects now account for 61 per cent. of them. The driving force behind the riding schemes has been Mr. Joe Royds. I have met him and I have been deeply impressed by his drive and determination to get his projects off the ground.

Projects such as these do not happen by mistake, but thanks to hard work and personal commitment. That is what Mr. Royds and, no doubt, many others in Mencap's organisation have been doing. They have been working hard and committing themselves personally. As a result, they now have nine schemes across the country, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to some of them. They include Liverpool, and Sheffield, and the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) will be pleased to hear that there is one in Glasgow. There is a further project for 50 places in the pipeline. This was approved on 10 July by the area manpower board, and will operate in Newport, Gwent.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, the scheme's aim is to improve the skills and self-confidence of mentally handicapped children and adults. I have no doubt that the leaders and the helpers, working together with the mentally handicapped, achieve that aim. In an article in the Horse and Hound in July 1983 it was said: The leaders and helpers appeared to forget themselves completely in their devotion to the job. Their reward is not the fifty quid a week less bus fares, but seeing the results of their labours. When you have changed an unresponsive dullard into a lively child you tend to forget the rate for the job. I am sure that is what all those who participate in the scheme feel.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North for raising this matter on the Adjournment. It is nice, for once, to be able to discuss something on which there is no disagreement in the House. We all know that Governments, voluntary organisations and those who are less fortunate are working together in harmony. I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend for this opportunity to debate the contribution that Mencap and those involved have made to the community programme since its inception.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Nine o' clock.