HC Deb 15 May 1985 vol 79 cc326-7 3.39 pm
Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Education Act 1981 to improve provision for handicapped young people; and for connected purposes. This is International Youth Year. It is right that Parliament should concern itself with young people in general and in particular with those young people to whom nature has given less of a deal than to others. My Bill seeks to do something for young people who have special educational needs.

The House will recall that when the admirable Warnock report became enshrined in legislation in the Education Act 1981, there was general concern about some of its details. We have now had two years of monitoring that Act. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the Official Report of the proceedings on Monday 13 May and Tuesday 14 May and to the replies that I received to my questions.

On Tuesday 14 May I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many young people there are between the ages of 16 and 19 with special educational needs; and how many places are available for this group in (a) schools and (b) further education". The reply that I received was: This information is not available centrally." — [Official Report, 14 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 105–106.] On Monday 13 May I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the average length of time between a parent appealing to him under…sections (6) of the Education Act 1981 and the announcement of the result of the appeal. The reply that I received from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science was: The average…is 17 weeks." — [Official Report, 13 May 1985; Vol. 79 c. 54.] My modest Bill seeks to improve the lot of those young people who are caught by both aspects of the Act. Let me deal, first, with the 16 to 19-year-olds, who were identified by Warnock as one of three priority areas. Local education authorities have a duty under the Education Act 1944 to provide full-time education suitable to the requirements of senior pupils". The Act defines a senior pupil as one between the ages of 12 and 19.

The House must understand that a handicapped young person needs to be provided with the opportunity for further education. Some will have missed a substantial amount of schooling and taken longer to assimilate skills. Others need further education for the chance to live an independent life. The opportunity to lead that kind of life can be crucially affected by three years within or outwith education. The present loophole means that some young people — those with less caring local education authorities or with less articulate parents than others—are being denied opportunities which are rightfully theirs. I submit that it is plumb wrong that provision for handicapped people should be a lottery, as it is now, depending not on need or ability but on where one lives and how loudly one's parents can shout.

If I may turn to the appeals procedure, the 1981 Act allows parents to appeal against the statement of needs and the local education authority's proposals to meet those needs. However, the appeal tribunal is prevented by the Act from taking positive action. It can accept the statement or it can send it back, but it cannot change it. If the tribunal sends it back, the local education authority has no legal duty to change the proposals. I add in parentheses that parents can then go to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but that is hardly the point.

My Bill will give to the tribunal the same legal powers as those which were given in the 1981 Act to tribunals deciding upon choice of school. It will thus bring to an end legal discrimination between the parents of handicapped children and the parents of other children.

I should like to tell the House about the case of Major Lawson, a gentleman who had two sons with learning difficulties. Under the 1981 Act, the boys were the subject of statements by Surrey local education authority. It proposed that the boys should be sent to a local school and that the local school should be awarded an extra teacher. Major Lawson appealed. The tribunal sent the case back to Surrey local education authority—a clear indication that the tribunal was not satisfied with its proposal—but Surrey declined to do anything about it. Eighteen weeks later the Secretary of State overruled that decision.

Not all children are fortunate enough to have someone like Major Lawson fighting for them. To have children with special educational needs is hard enough without having to fight bureaucracy as well.

I should like to know why it takes 18 weeks for the Secretary of State to make a decision under the 1981 Act. He said that education would be a partnership. I want to make it a genuine, not a weighted, partnership.

I believe that it is right, during International Youth Year, to improve legislation introduced during the International Year of Disabled People. I therefore wish to present the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Clement Freud, Mr. David Alton, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Gordon Wilson, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Michael Hancock.