HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc517-23

3A.—(1) A local authority may make such arrangements as they think fit to enable any child in respect of whom they maintain a statement under section 7 to attend an establishment outside England and Wales which specialises in providing for children with special needs.

(2) In subsection (1) above "children with special needs" means children who have particular needs which would be special educational needs if those children were in England and Wales.

(3) Where an authority make arrangements under this section with respect to a child, those arrangements may, in particular, include contributing to or paying—

  1. fees charged by the establishment;
  2. (b) expenses reasonably incurred in maintaining him while he is at the establishment or travelling to or from it;
  3. (c) those travelling expenses;
  4. (d) expenses reasonably incurred by any person accompanying him while he is travelling or staying at the establishment.

(4) This section is not to be taken as in any way limiting any other powers of a local education authority.".'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 369, Government amendment new clause 26 and Government amendment No. 368.

Mr. Mellor

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in his place, because amendment No. 230 fulfils the Government's undertaking in Committee to bring forward a new clause to deal with an important matter related to the public interest in the Budapest Peto institute for severely brain damaged children. Although I have taken over this matter to produce an amendment for the benefit of the Government draftsman, the authorship of the concept belongs to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will be able to talk about it later.

This useful amendment puts beyond doubt the legal basis for the existing arrangements whereby some local education authorities in England and Wales make a contribution to the costs of certain placements abroad for children with special educational needs. The amendment is particularly designed to enable local education authorities to support children at the Peto institute, because in recent years both that institute and the principles of conductive education as practised there have attracted the attention of many parents of handicapped children, especially the parents of those with cerebral palsy.

Large numbers of British parents have taken their children to the institute. Such trips are very expensive for the children and for the parents, who often have to live for several months on end in Budapest. The Peto approach has inspired a number of British educational institutions, but at present conductive education is not widely available here. As the House knows, we are trying to do something about that with our support for the Birmingham centre and by means of other discussions that are in hand, but until parents feel that it is not necessary to take their children to Budapest we want to make it possible for British families to go there without suffering undue financial hardship.

It is also important that parents be able to learn how to carry back to Britain the methods that they learn. For that purpose the amendment allows local education authorities to contribute to parents' expenses.

I have visited the Peto institute and been deeply impressed by the work there and deeply moved by some of the things I saw, so it gives me particular pleasure to be associated with the amendment.

I should like to deal briefly with the other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 369 will take effect when Royal Assent is given to the Bill, as will the commencement provisions in amendment No. 368. which we have already dealt with. It is a short-term measure to amend the Child Care Act 1980 until that Act is repealed by the Bill. The amendment will improve the position of the unmarried father whose child is in care. For certain purposes, references to a child's parents in the 1980 Act will include both parents, whether or not married to each other at the time of the child's birth.

I commend these amendments and the new clause to the House.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I echo the opening remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman about the manner in which our discussions were conducted in Committee and about the positive way in which both sides of the House have approached these matters. I trust that the point that I am about to make will not be regarded as politically controversial, but it is important that it should be made.

Of course, we welcome the Government's view of the Peto institute and consider the Minister's recommendation reasonable, but one question is begging to be asked. It is the one that many people are bound to put to hon. Members—that perhaps we should ask ourselves why these facilities and this research are not more widely available here in Great Britain. I unreservedly accept the work being done in the Peto institute, and I know that my hon. Friends agree that, in the absence of such facilities in this country, it is absolutely right that they should be accessible to children from Britain. Although I fully appreciate that much research is going on in Birmingham, we have evidence that children in need of conductive education, and their parents, have to travel many miles to, for example, the brain injuries rehabilitation and development centre at Chester which, as far as I can tell, is a first-class institute recognised by the Welsh Office. In time it hopes to be recognised by the Scottish Office and the Department of Education and Science.

The BIRD institute has not developed to the extent that the Peto institute has. Although I welcome the Minister's wish to ensure that local authorities can feel that resources should be made available for the Peto institute, the urgent question that I have asked remains. I hope that the House will agree that this country urgently needs to be able to provide the services and research which are so brilliantly performed by the Peto institute.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I congratulate and thank my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health on and for his amendment which he promised in Committee. I recognise its substance as that of the one that I introduced in Committee and I am grateful to the Government for honouring their commitment.

Shortly after I introduced the new clause in Committee many people who had got hold of the wrong end of the stick wrote to me from all around the country. I sought to remove a discrimination against groups of parents and education authorities who thought that the Peto institute was the right thing for some children. I also sought to remove the uncertainty which undoubtedly faced education and local authorities, some of which felt able to finance children travelling overseas while others felt that they were prohibited from doing so. I did not say or intend at any stage that everyday work being carried out in institutions in almost every health district in this country was in any way devalued by what I was seeking to do. I think that that is now generally accepted, and I certainly hope that it is.

During the summer I and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) visited the Cedars school at Southampton which carries out remarkable work with cerebral palsy and spina bifida children. There are such schools all over Britain and there is one in my constituency, the Kestrel unit at Odstock hospital. I have also visited physiotherapy departments in our hospitals which are doing everyday, normal, professional work for such children. Nothing that the House is doing in, I hope, accepting the amendment in any way devalues such work. We are simply saying that this must be a step forward until such time as we can provide further help in Britain.

Mr. Rowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that as we become more integrated in Europe it is likely that there will be considerable exchanges of expertise and more centres of excellence on both sides of the Channel? Does he agree that that is an admirable innovation?

Mr. Key

That is right. Of course, the amendment allow not only exchanges with the Peto institute but, perhaps, with many other institutions and methods in Europe and throughout the world.

I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and agree entirely with what he said. There are many research projects for evaluating the work of the Peto institute and other methods of treating and alleviating the symptoms of children. Such projects would repay a great deal more work and more money. Times are hard for some of the schools. I know of one in Hampshire that approached the local education authority, but it was decided that there was not enough money for the scheme. There is much scope for more money to be spent on research.

I have been involved for many years in special education. Perhaps not many people know about such education unless they are directly involved. However, such work is exciting and I urge the Minister to give special attention to the research needs of special education. I welcome the proposals in the amendment and hope that they will make a substantial difference to the lives of the families as well as to the children who will go to the Peto institute in Hungary.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

My constituency contains the Raeden centre which is funded by the local authority and does a tremendous amount of work. It recently sent a team to Hungary to the Peto institute to see it in operation. The members of the team came back incredibly frustrated by what they had seen of the work being carried out there in comparison with what is done in Aberdeen. As they saw it, the only difference was the amount of money being poured into the Peto institute.

It causes me a certain amount of frustration when I hear the Minister speak about supporting British people with unfortunate children who deserve all the help that they can get. The amendment will encourage them to look for help in Budapest. However, we are not doing such people a service by raising their hopes that there is some miracle cure somewhere while at the same time denying the tremendous work that is carried out in this country. I would rather see the resources channeled to institutes such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and to the one in my constituency.

My frustration was increased when I recently heard the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), talking about the input proposed by the Scottish Education Department to encourage parents to go to the Peto institute. The hon. Gentleman ignores the institute in my constituency that I have mentioned and which is under his Department's direct control and authority. At the same time he attempts to make political capital out of the magic that seems to surround the word "Peto". We do not intend to divide the House on the amendment, but we need to emphasise that there are facilities in Britain that need to be encouraged and which are not encouraged by the amendment.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Like other hon. Members, I have been engaged in raising money for young people to go to the Peto institute. One of my constituents, Sabrina Archbold, has made great strides since being there. It annoys me that in this day and age we have to raise money for as basic a right as children such as Sabrina to learn to walk. I see the Government giving money to people who have every advantage in life and it makes me angry when we have to come down to scraping up money from raffles and other events.

Let me make it clear that I have no doubt about the sincerity of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on this issue. I listened to him in Committee and I understand perfectly the points that he has made, although I appreciate that they have been misunderstood by some people outside. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) who expressed concern about why in all this time and in view of the tremendous advances made at Peto we have not been able to carry out work in this country along the same lines. I suspect that one of the reasons is a lack of will and effort at Government level.

I am slightly worried about the implications of the amendment. I understand the principle that it sets out, but I can foresee people coming to the Government and saying, "Why do you not do something about it?" and being told to go to the local authority. They will say that the local authority can do something about it and will advise people to go to the local council for assistance. It is yet another case of powers and duties being given to local authorities when the financial back-up needed to carry out such duties will not be there.

We all know that the poll tax will cause local budgets to become even tighter and issues such as this will add to the burden. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) said, people's hopes will be built up, but at the end of the day nothing may come of them.

Another point which stems directly from the Archbold case in my constituency is that families are not assisted by the policies of the Department of Social Security. In the Archbold case, the husband, who was unemployed at the time, took the young lady to Peto while the mother stayed at home with the other child. He was penalised in that he lost benefit because he was not available for work. The local office of the Department interpreted the law quite correctly, but adopted an unsympathetic attitude when it could have been a little more flexible in the application of the rules and could have helped the family to take the action which was greatly in the interests of their daughter.

Mr. Mellor

I shall respond briefly to some of the interesting points that have been made. While the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was speaking, one of the rather sinister machines in the Chamber swung round and focused on the back of his head. I am sure that when television arrives here people will be delighted to know that the hon. Gentleman has a truly monastic tonsure. I hope that that will vindicate the decision of the House to introduce television cameras.

I remember asking myself the question about the availability here of the kind of treatment that is available at Peto. I went there as a Foreign Office Minister, little thinking that I would subsequently have responsibility in this area. I watched an eight-year-old British girl who had been in the Peto institute for just a month walking across the room with the assistance of guide ropes. For seven years and 11 months in the United Kingdom she had not been able to walk a step but after one month at the Peto institute she was able to walk. I shall not forget in a hurry the look of triumph on that child's face.

Most British visitors who have been to the institute come back and say, "Why not here?". The answer is somewhat complex. First of all, there has been a genuine commitment here to the British principles of doing things. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) made clear, those principles have yielded good results in a significant number of cases. One or two British schools offer what they used to call conductive education, but they have acknowledged, in the aftermath of the publicity that has been attached to the work of the Peto institute, that what they offer is not conductive education as devised at Peto. However, we need to acknowledge that a good range of institutions exists in the United Kingdom which offer considerable opportunities to severely handicapped children.

5.30 pm

There is no doubt that the Peto institute has a particular success in encouraging mobility in a number of severely brain-damaged youngsters. It has been criticised by some British experts for placing what they see as too much emphasis on mobility, and too little on intellectual development. My conviction was then, and remains, that the work that is done at Peto, involving as it does physical mastery, can lead on to all manner of other challenges. The extent of the achievement of some of the youngsters there is, of itself, a significant stimulus to other achievements. That is why considerable steps forward are being taken on the development of conductive education in the United Kingdom.

For example, the Birmingham centre is training, in the context of a co-operation agreement with the Peto institute, a range of young British people as conductors. Unfortunately, as a result of the inevitable limitation on the ability of the Peto institute to train people from other countries, the number of conductors that can be trained at any one time is limited. It amounts to about 10 a programme. The foundations of an institue within the United Kingdom are being laid. That will follow on the Peto institute and should not—I say to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South—be seen as in any sense opposing other United Kingdom institutes. It should be seen as broadening the amount of different kinds of care, treatment and education that are on offer. Needless to say, substantial resources are going to all of these.

Quite a lot of work is going on at the moment in discussion with the Hungarians about strengthening our links with the Peto institute, and I hope that, in due course, that will lead to substantial further development of the principles of conductive education in this country.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I was grateful for the Minister's advice about the possibility of a certain television image, which is not entirely inappropriate for an hon. Member representing Monklands, West, although I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) would agree.

I remind the Minister that I referred to my visit to the BIRD institute at Chester in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who has just joined us. While I was there, I met some constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), and others who had come from Dundee. They had a long distance to travel. That underlines a point that a number of hon. Members have made and that I hope that the Minister will take on board, which is that whatever research there may be, and there should be some, it is essential that more resources are provided.

Mr. Mellor

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. While these centres of excellence have to be established in places that, unfortunately, require people to travel long distances, I know that my hon. Friend the Minister with special responsibility for the disabled keeps under review the various efforts that go on in both the public and voluntary sectors. We wish to see both a growth in provision and a growth in variety of provision. There is no doubt that, for reasons that relate not to resources but to logistics, it will take some time before the United Kingdom has an institute that can cope with the demand for the kind of work that is done at Peto.

Furthermore, not all youngsters are suitable for the work that is done at Peto. They have to be assessed and where they are suitable and a place can be found, this is a modest but significant way to assist them. As the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) said, there are voluntary subscriptions to help people with the fares, and that is proper. As I understand it, the Spastics Society also makes contributions. However, if a local authority—we should remember we are talking about local authorities with budgets of tens of millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of pounds—wishes to make a contribution, it is right and proper that it should do so. That is what my hon. Friend's amendment secures.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Two weeks ago, I returned from a visit to the Peto institute. I can make a point about its capacity to train. It is limited in the number of children that it has there, and it cannot train more conductors than it has children to train them on. It takes 15 years to train a conductor properly. When I was there, a team from the Spastics Society was also there, being trained in some of the institute's methods of education.

Mr. Mellor

I am glad to hear that because at one time there were difficulties in reconciling some members of the Spastics Society to the work being done there. I am glad that that has been resolved.

The Hungarians have plans for an international institute, which would focus international interest on the Peto. There are discussions between the two Governments about a British contribution to that. We are alive to the many benefits of the work done there. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was impressed. I do not know anybody who has been there who does not carry a memory of it for long after other memories have faded. I hope that we shall be able to develop equivalent facilities here, that will enable us to keep close to the exciting and pioneering work that has been going on at Peto since the war. Those who are critical about the developments should remember that if we have taken some time to catch up, others beside the present team of Ministers need to ask themselves why. The time has come for us to take a step forward, and that is what we are trying to do. I commend the amendments to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 342, in page 142, line 2, at end insert—