HC Deb 26 April 2001 vol 367 cc485-511

'The Secretary of State shall, in exercising his powers under the 1996 Act with respect to the education of children with special educational needs, take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that provision by bodies in receipt of public funds for meeting those needs should treat the needs of the individual child as paramount so far as that is compatible with the provision of efficient education for other children:.—[Mrs. May.]

Brought up, and read the First time

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out "efficient" and insert "effective".

Mrs. May

I am conscious that the principle that underpins new clause 2 is not unfamiliar to those who have followed the Bill through its various stages in another place and in the House. It deals with the emphasis that the Bill should place on the needs of the individual child in the context of special educational needs provision.

The matter was raised in another place, on Second Reading and in Committee, where the details of the measure were thoughtfully and thoroughly debated. I pay tribute to the members of the Committee, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who have worked hard to try to ensure that the measure works in the interests of children with special educational needs and disabled children.

New clause 2 would put the needs of individual children with special educational needs and those of individual disabled children at the heart of the measure. We have discussed the principle previously, but I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), will respond positively today. If members of the public were asked what should be paramount in determining provision for special needs children, their reply would undoubtedly be the needs of the child. That is common sense. They might also mention other aspects, which the Bill covers, such as parental choice about the provision for their children or ensuring that the child's education was provided efficiently and did not damage that of other children. Those needs must be balanced when making a decision about one child.

Although I believe that most people would say that it was common sense for the child's needs to be the first consideration, the Government have thus far been unwilling to include that principle in the Bill.

New clause 2 proposes that a duty be given to the Secretary of State to ensure that, when consideration is given to the provision of education to a child with special educational needs, the needs of the child should be paramount in that consideration. Two arguments have been raised by the Government about why the needs of the child should not be incorporated in the Bill, and should not be the prime consideration. The first is that it is unnecessary because the needs of the child are already provided for in legislation in a variety of ways; the second is that it would be a mistake because experience has shown that if the needs of the child are put first, that can be used by the various bodies involved to argue, in a counter-productive way, that the child should not, for example, be in a mainstream school. That second argument is the one raised most often.

The Under-Secretary wrote a helpful letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry on 24 April, setting out various aspects of existing legislation that the Government say safeguard and protect children with special educational needs. The Minister wrote that under section 7 of the Education Act 1996 parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive full-time education that is suitable to their age and any special educational needs.

The hon. Lady also pointed out that section 9 of the Act sets out the need to ensure that parents have a choice, and that schedule 27 of the Act ensures that the individual needs of the child are taken into account in deciding whether to name a parent's choice of maintained school in a statement. Those provisions refer to the needs of the child, but they do not put the needs of the child at the heart of the decision as to the sort of education with which the child should be provided, be it in a maintained school or a special school. That is my concern.

The Government's reliance on those existing provisions is a very convoluted way of approaching a simple, common-sense issue that could easily be incorporated in the Bill so that everyone making decisions about where a child with special educational needs should be educated would know that the paramount consideration should be for the needs of the child. That is important because, sadly, today the needs of the child are being put to one side in relation not only to the ability of children to enter mainstream education, but, in a reverse sense, sometimes through attempts to ensure that children are not provided for in special schools. The legislation on which the Minister is relying represents a convoluted way of dealing with this issue. We have an opportunity to take a simple approach, and to state in the Bill that the needs of the child are what matter. Let us put that up front, accept it and say that that is where the focus should be in any decisions that are taken.

I mentioned earlier that the second argument against making the needs of the child paramount, and including that in the Bill, was that experience showed that if the child's needs were put first, various bodies involved could use that requirement counter-productively. Indeed, on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) referred to local education authorities that had used the argument about the needs of the child to prevent certain children from going into mainstream education, saying that a place in a special school was more appropriate.

It is a bad principle to use examples of where putting the child's needs first has acted against the child's needs as a reason for not incorporating such a provision in the Bill. That is an argument for examining how local authorities are interpreting the needs of the child, and putting those principles into practice, rather than for leaving the needs of the child off the Bill. My fear is that the kind of situation to which the hon. Member for Kingswood referred could be exacerbated if there were no provision in the Bill to ensure that, when considering such decisions, the needs of the child must be centrally placed and paramount.

I am worried not only about circumstances in which, without this provision, a child could be prevented by a local authority from going into mainstream education. Given that the Bill emphasises two considerations—parental wishes and the provision of efficient education within the recipient school—a situation could arise in which parents were worried about the prospect of their child going into mainstream education and were naturally fearful of the child not being in a special school. The mainstream school in question may argue that there might be some difficulties involved in teaching the child, despite the fact that the needs of the child would clearly be best met by being in that school. If that third consideration of the individual needs of the child, that balancing item, were not in the Bill, it would be all too easy in those circumstances for that child to be prevented from having a place in the mainstream school simply because we had not accepted the importance of those needs.

3.15 pm

These arguments can act in another way, too. I am conscious of the problems faced by a number of special schools. They have considerable expertise in providing for the needs of individual children in a way that mainstream schools are often unable to meet. So far in this debate, considerable emphasis has understandably been placed on the needs of children with disabilities. That is a central and very welcome part of the Bill that we support. However, special educational needs do not simply relate to children with disabilities.

Many schools commenting on the issue of including children in mainstream education state that they have no difficulty with the principle, although there might be resource implications, for example, in accommodating a child who was a wheelchair user. However, those schools are concerned about children with emotional and behavioural difficulties who can cause real disruption and damage to the education of other children.

That is why it is so sad to see what is happening to schools such as Oldfield House school in Twickenham, which I visited yesterday. It is a special school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties which is under threat of closure by the local authority. The school has had very few children referred to it, and the local authority has been running down the number of statements and referrals that it has been making to it. The head teacher made the point that the school had a group of teachers with expertise in dealing with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and if its children were placed in mainstream schools, there would be an impact on the rest of the children in the classes, and the teachers in the mainstream schools would find it very difficult to cope with them. Furthermore, the needs of the children with emotional and behavioural difficulties would not be met. They might be physically included in the class, but in many other ways they would be excluded from the educational provision of the school.

In considering where a child with special educational needs, of whatever sort, can best be educated, it is important that the wishes of parents and the efficient provision of education should be considered, and the Bill rightly makes provision for those considerations. However, it is also simple common sense and in the best interests of children to ensure that their needs should be placed at the heart of the Bill. Their needs drive the Bill, and their needs drive our intention to provide the best possible education for them. We should recognise that in the Bill, and new clause 2 aims to provide that recognition.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the needs of the child being paramount. It is rather surprising that we have had to table this new clause. One would assume that, as the Government have said how important it is to introduce the Bill to help children with special educational needs and disabilities, such a provision would not be missing from it. The children about whom we are talking are the very children whom the Bill is supposedly designed to help.

I know that there is probably general support for the Bill's principles, but I have a little difficulty with it because of experiences that I have had in my constituency. I do not want to take up too much of the House's time in going over the ground that I covered on Second Reading and in Committee, but I have some concerns about what is happening in special educational needs at the moment.

I accept that many children with SEN can be included in mainstream schools. Many already are, including children in my constituency. In Gloucestershire, however, the Labour party and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats on the county council seem determined to challenge the need for so many special schools, and even to embark on a programme to close such schools. As I have said in the House before, a school in Stroud, Bownham Park—it is not actually in my constituency—is scheduled for closure. We are challenging the decision, because it is felt that if that school is closed a number of other schools in Gloucestershire will also be closed, which would reduce the amount of SEN provision in the county.

Although it is possible to provide special education in mainstream schools, it is important for a number of special schools to be available for children to attend if that is their wish and the wish of their parents. I have already accepted that many children can go to mainstream schools even if they have special needs, and that many do; but if children, or their parents, decide that education in special schools is really necessary, the facility should be provided.

What is surely of overriding importance—what must matter more than any fine theories that we may propound here, and more than any political dogma or political correctness—is that each child should be assessed on the basis of what he or she needs, and that the child is offered education that will suit those individual requirements.

Many children at special schools are currently feeling rather challenged. They sense that their schools are under threat, and fear that their voices are not being listened to. There is a great movement towards inclusion, which is justified in many instances; but many children are frightened by the Bill. They are frightened by the prospect of their schools' being closed as a result of political correctness or party dogma, and they want people to listen to them.

Last month, I welcomed a delegation from Alderman Knight school, in my constituency, to the House of Commons. One girl who knew that she had special educational needs spoke to the meeting, very bravely. She came out with a phrase that I will never forget for as long as I am elected to this place: she said that no one was listening to her.

Surely politicians in all parties have a duty to listen to what is said by those whom we are supposed to be trying to help. I support the new clause because I fear that we are not listening to expressions of concern from individual pupils with special educational needs.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

New clause 2, which I support, deals with the challenging tightrope that the Bill attempts to walk. On the one hand there is the commendable and correct principle of including children with special needs, in order to further their integration in society and help them to develop as fully as possible. No one argues with that. On the other, there is the reality: it may be in the best interests of both child and school for some SEN children to be educated in schools that focus specifically on their needs. I consider it essential for what the new clause describes as the "best interests of the child" to be enshrined in the Bill.

I spoke to a number of teachers in my constituency this week, in order to be briefed on their views and those of their schools about the new clause and the Bill in general. They expressed concern—this is their opinion, not mine—that the Bill might force children into mainstream schools when that would be manifestly unsuitable owing to their needs. A clause ensuring that the best interest of the child was always a priority would be invaluable.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

The hon. Gentleman said that the phrase "best interests of the child" was in the new clause. I cannot find it there. There is a distinction to be drawn between the needs of a child and the best interests of that child.

Mr. Leigh

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I should have thought that a new clause requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that provision by bodies in receipt of public funds for meeting those needs should treat the needs of the individual child as paramount was using language denoting "the best interests of the child". The hon. Gentleman's point strikes me as being merely semantic, but he has his own view, and he is entitled to make his own speech in his own way.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

It might be helpful if the Liberal Democrats told us whether they would support the new clause if it included the alternative wording which, as my hon. Friend says, is similar to what is there now.

Mr. Leigh

No doubt we shall discover the Liberal Democrats' view later, but I do not think that we should trade debating points. We are discussing a serious issue. Whether we refer to the best interests or the paramount interests of a child—I do not mind what we call it—we are talking about people with severe difficulties. Let us put them first.

Mr. Levitt

At every stage, Ministers and those of us who support the Bill in its entirety have made it clear that the Bill not only provides a framework for the successful integration of children with special needs in mainstream education, but strengthens parents' right to make informed choices about where their children are educated. Can the hon. Gentleman give us any evidence—apart from hearsay, originating from people who may not yet be familiar with the Bill—to demonstrate that the Bill will not achieve what it sets out to achieve?

Mr. Leigh

If it is indeed true that those who have framed the Bill are determined to give parents freedom of choice, I do not see why they should be concerned about the admirable wording of the new clause. We have not yet heard from the Minister, who, of course, may accept it. The new clause simply suggests that the Secretary of State should treat the needs of the individual child as paramount". I said that I wanted to relay the views of teachers in my constituency. I think that their views are worth hearing. A connected issue, which teachers constantly mention to me, is the provision of special schools. Teachers say that the initiative to encourage more children into mainstream schools—with which, in principle, everyone is quite happy—carries the danger that more and more special schools will be closed down. That point was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson).

Ofsted put the rate of closure of special schools at 30 per cent. last year. If that continues—this directly answers the question asked by the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt)—parents will have little choice in regard to where they send their children. It is a mockery of the notion of choice to say that parents can decide at the statement stage of discussions with the local education authority to put that child in a special school—which may be the best solution for the child—and then be told that the nearest special school is miles away, or has just been closed. That is the point that we are trying to make in the new clause, and that is why we must ensure that the child's interests are paramount.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

I think every Labour Member accepts, and has reiterated throughout debate on the Bill, that nothing in the Bill will stop the special education of children who cannot be integrated in mainstream schools. The hon. Gentleman, however, refers to the distance that a child may have to travel to find a special school. That is why it is so important for smaller units in mainstream schools, or attached to them, to deal with children who have severe disabilities, enabling them to be closer to their homes. The children will not be in special schools; they will be in mainstream schools, but those schools will have special provision for them. That may be to their advantage, because they will be close to home rather than having to live in dormitories hundreds of miles away.

Mr. Leigh

That is a fair point. I am delighted by the intervention, because it leads me straight to a point about the funding of mainstream schools.

Mr. Levitt

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leigh

I will, although I am trying to reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg).

3.30 pm
Mr. Levitt

The hon. Gentleman seems to assume that all special schools are the same. Even when there were more special schools than there are now, if a child needed a particular type of special school—say one that specialised in the education of autistic children—parents might have had to travel a long way and pass several other special schools. The hon. Gentleman also misses the point that many special schools were closed under the previous Government and 13 have opened in recent months under this Government.

Mr. Leigh

I take the point that in the past children may have had to travel long distances to special schools. That is why nobody is arguing in principle with the thinking behind the Bill that it is good to try to encourage children into mainstream schools, if they are nearby, funding is available and the right education and care can be given. However, it must be done properly and that is why we need some serious arguments from the Government about why new clause 2 is not acceptable.

Dr. Harris

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the wishes of the parents or the needs of the child should be paramount, because both cannot be?

Mr. Leigh

That is a debating point. The reality is that discussions will take place at the statement stage and the course of action that is in the best interests of the child will become apparent to the parents. After all, few parents go out of their way not to put the interests of their child first.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

My hon. Friend mentioned the need to travel long distances to special schools. Will he speculate why parents and children might be prepared to travel those distances? Could it be the special treatment and care that children get at those schools? Parents and children often have to travel at their own expense, but they consider it to be well worth it.

Mr. Leigh

That is a fair point, and I know that my hon. Friend also represents a rural constituency. In fact, there is a special school in Gainsborough. My constituency is geographically the same size as Greater London, which has 73 constituencies, but parents will travel many miles to that school because they believe that it meets the special needs of their children.

The fundamental issue is funding. Teachers in my constituency are, on the whole, extremely sceptical about the promised funding from the Government to implement the admittedly desirable objectives of the Bill. Teachers do not think that they will receive enough funding to meet all the extra demands placed on their schools by the policy of inclusion, and nor are they impressed by the training on offer to equip teachers to cope. The Bill needs to be covered by adequate funding if it is to work and our children are to get the best possible education.

If funding is inadequate, the law will be made to look an ass. Schools will refuse to take on more SEN children because they cannot afford to financially; or because it would push the school over the edge of teachability, as one head teacher in my constituency fears; or because schools would be unable to cope with children with special educational needs, who would be far worse off than if they had stayed in their special schools.

Paul Strong is the head teacher of a large, successful comprehensive school in my constituency. It has come high up the league tables and recently, with my help and that of others, has acquired a sixth form. Mr. Strong has said: there are some children for whom mainstream education may be manifestly unsuited"— and he thinks that it would be bad for their dignity to put them in such education. He wants to ensure that it is in the interests of the child to come to his school, and that should be put above the Government's commitment to inclusion. He is happy to receive children with special educational needs, provided that the funding is available and it is in the interests of the children. Another teacher has given the example of a child with Asperger's syndrome who finds it difficult to be with large numbers of other children. Clearly it would not be in the best interests of that child to be included in mainstream education.

I have received a letter from a teacher who specialises in teaching those children with special educational needs. She says: Special Schools have historically catered for one type, or possibly two or more similar types, of SEN: Autism, sight impairment, hearing impairment, physical disability … In those schools, class sizes range from 6 or fewer, to 12, or at most 15 where the needs are not too severe. The teachers are supported by 1:1 SSA's where appropriate, as well as by a trained classroom assistant. The particular needs of the children are met by fully qualified staff, so that, for instance, Physio's and OT's are closely involved with developing and monitoring programmes for children with mobility problems, Speech Therapists work regularly with children with speech and language or hearing difficulties, and psychologists and behaviour therapists have counselling roles with disturbed children. The teachers themselves benefit from training specifically for meeting the needs of the children they are working with, and from a complex support structure within their schools. Life skills are a feature of every child's IER and are given appropriate space in their educational day. Furthermore, the school buildings are adapted and modified to accommodate the needs of the children they serve, and they have the resources and equipment necessary for the children's full educational and pastoral needs.

By contrast, Mainstream schools have classes of 30 children, regardless of the range of need within those classes. One teacher may be supported for some, and in Early Years possibly all, of each day.

However, every school can now expect to be obliged to accept children with any type of SEN, and be required to provide as best it can for their varying needs. Buildings may not be appropriate, resources and equipment may not be available, and staff may have no training, expertise or understanding of how best to support the children whose parents have opted for Inclusion, but that seems to matter little to those who are promoting this policy. Those are not the words of a politician or the head teacher of a comprehensive school, but of a teacher who has dedicated her life to teaching children with special educational needs. She has a right to have her view heard by the House, otherwise we could deal a serious blow to the happiness and education of some of the most vulnerable children in our society. The views of such teachers should not be brushed aside by the House.

The Government must give assurances that they will not water down the specificity of the statements that are given to children. The Government backed down in the Lords and now refuse to say when they will issue the code of practice that will outline the rules. Those rules must not be watered down to obscure the funding that a child deserves. Parents must be able to see clearly their child's entitlement and what they can claim from the local education authority.

Another school in my constituency is undersubscribed and has been struggling to attract pupils, for various reasons that are not the fault of the school. I must make it clear that it is a different school from the one I mentioned earlier—William Farr school—which is a highly successful and oversubscribed school. The head teacher of the less successful school told me that inclusion was a very good principle and was necessary for the good of society, but he also said that his school could not take any more SEN children. More money would not help him because he cannot employ staff as it is. He spoke of a vicious cycle in his school in which more SEN children means standards and behaviour declining, which means good pupils and teachers leaving—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

That is outrageous.

Mr. Leigh

Labour Members may not like that, but they must listen to the reality of the education world. We cannot frame legislation simply on the basis of good intentions. I am reporting the views of a head teacher of a comprehensive school in this country and he says that good pupils are leaving, making mere spaces for SEN children and so the cycle continues. Some comprehensive schools could be pushed further into unpopularity.

Mr. Levitt

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will regard this comment as helpful. If what we have heard is a genuine description of what is happening in two of his schools, I recommend that he invite Ofsted to look at the situation immediately.

Mr. Leigh

That, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind me saying so, is a rather silly point. A very successful, oversubscribed school is, in principle, prepared to have more children but it needs the funding to do so, while the head teacher of another school is doing his best in a difficult situation but could be pushed into taking action that would make the school unpopular. It is a vicious cycle. These people must be listened to; it may be difficult, but life is difficult.

Miss Begg

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was quoting a head teacher. I am disturbed that head teachers with such views are teaching in comprehensive schools. I was a special educational needs pupil and I was a teacher in a comprehensive school with special educational needs—my own. I find it incredibly insulting that there are some in the education system who make the assumption that because people have special educational needs or a disability they will cause a problem or be badly behaved. That is simply not true.

Mr. Leigh

I am not saying that. I am simply trying to describe the real situation. Often we may not like the real world as we find it. However, the fact is that schools nowadays are competing with each other for pupils, competing for teachers in a very difficult job market and competing in the league tables.

The head teacher I mentioned was not against the principle of the Bill—he is all in favour, in principle, of inclusion. He is simply saying that we should be careful, pause and not rush into a situation in which, in the real world, SEN children may be dumped into certain mainstream schools. [Interruption.] Yes, dumped. I have to use that word. It is no point Labour Members looking shocked. This sort of thing goes on, I am afraid. There is no point in framing legislation full of high ideals if, in the long run, children with special needs suffer.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

The hon. Gentleman says that in the real world SEN children are dumped into mainstream schools. Will he advise the House which local education authorities behave in that way?

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman has deliberately misrepresented what I said. I said that if the Bill is enacted, and if the interests of children are not paramount, that is what may happen. I am delighted that what I have said appears to have stirred up a hornets' nest on the Labour Benches. I have obviously touched a raw nerve. Many children receive first-rate education in special schools but there is a danger that if this process continues, they may not receive sufficiently good education.

Mr. Berry

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leigh

I do not want to delay the House but as the hon. Gentleman is anxious to intervene of course I will give way to him.

Mr. Berry

The only reason that I intervened is because the hon. Gentleman referred to "the real world". His description is inconsistent with anything that any local education authority I have ever encountered would do. He talks about dumping children with special educational needs in mainstream schools as if that were the practice of local education authorities. If that is the case, he should either name the local education authorities concerned or apologise for what I regard as a deep slur on what the professionals are trying to do.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman has altogether too thin a skin for this House.

Mr. Berry

The hon. Gentleman is throwing insults around.

Mr. Leigh

I am not. I am simply describing what may happen unless we are very careful. I am perfectly entitled to articulate my point of view, and I will not be bullied into taking it back.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I have listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend has told us happens at the sharp end.

Labour Members are forgetting that it is no longer LEAs that choose which schools children go to but parents. That is where the problem arises. If there is an imbalance in the number of children of a certain type at a certain School, that may impact on the school's success in attracting a broad range of children and therefore on its success as a school.

3.45 pm
Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend has summed up the situation much better than I could. That is what happens in real life, as I was trying to explain.

I have already mentioned Paul Strong, the head teacher of William Fan. Another head teacher, Barry Tointon of Caistor Yarborough school, said that it was essential for adequate money to be provided. They both said that there was nothing that they could do to incorporate more SEN children into their schools without more money and more resources. They do not have any more money lying around to spend on more assistance. They both appreciate the benefits that can be gained but say that it is not possible to do it without the relevant support, funding and training for them and their teachers.

Cherie Taylor, a new SEN co-ordinator in my constituency, said that training was very hard to come by but that she had been fortunate to get a course for a master's degree in the subject. She is in favour of inclusion but emphasises the need for funding.

If the legislation is to be a success, the Government must ensure that sufficient resources are made available to prevent the law from becoming ineffective and damaging to children. The £70 million promised for 25,000 schools per year amounts to an extra £280 per school—hardly a lot of money. It is not enough for the inclusion of more SEN children.

There is no point in the Government producing worthy legislation and putting more burdens on teachers and local authorities without providing the means to make the Bill work. The constant refrain of the teachers I have talked to is to give them the money and they will do their best to carry out these requirements in a difficult situation.

Other fears voiced by SEN teachers include the widespread belief that the Bill does not allow or sufficiently encourage the communication and co-ordination that we have become accustomed to hearing about, but not seeing, in what is supposed to be joined-up government. They believe that there is a need for more communication between the many different agencies that may be involved in a single child's case. That would encourage them to share their information and expertise and to work for the holistic and rounded treatment of a child with SEN. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members agree with that point of view. Such co-ordination is also needed between the NHS and the Department for Education and Employment to ensure that there are enough staff to meet all the child's needs. For example, there may not be nearly enough occupational therapists or speech and language therapists to meet the demands of schools for their children with SEN.

Let me make a point about regulation which also concerns the interests of the child. A teacher told me that he had been raising money for a stair lift over the past few years and had finally got the necessary funds through voluntary fund raising, and so on. However, it was not allowed to be installed by the authorities because the stairwell was too narrow by less than 20 cm. The chair lift was deemed to be inappropriate and could not be installed for the use of children with special educational needs. The teacher made the point that children, in his experience, are well behaved and do not cause problems in other narrow stairwells. However, he was not allowed to put in the chair lift thanks to health and safety regulations.

We need more common sense, fewer counter-productive regulations and more communication. We need to ensure that the best interests of the child are paramount. We need to ensure that special schools are not closed down, thus reducing choice, and that there is proper funding. There are the points that I have tried to make in my brief contribution and I hope that the Government will listen to them.

Dr. Harris

We will be opposing new clause 2 for the reasons that we gave in Committee when discussing similar issues. I shall not rehearse them at length.

We heard an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), as always. However, his undoubted passion and sincerity led him astray in certain areas. To argue that schools should not somehow be able to garner to them pupils with particular needs or aptitudes—in irrespective of whether that is a good or a bad thing for SEN children—is strange coming from a party that recommends selection by the schools themselves. By definition, that means that some schools do not have the opportunity to get the children that they want because they have been cherry-picked by other schools.

The hon. Gentleman could have made the same analogy with regard to secondary moderns. In areas where there are grammar schools, they have a higher proportion of pupils from poorer backgrounds and poorer educational backgrounds who never get the life chances that are available in excellent comprehensive schools. By analogy, the hon. Gentleman is on dodgy ground, regardless of the merits of the point that he was making. On that, I share the views of those right hon. and hon. Members who intervened on him.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I really cannot allow that attack on secondary modern schools to go unchallenged. Many secondary modern schools where grammar schools exist provide a first-class education. An example is the Gleed girls school in my constituency, which achieves better results than many comprehensive schools. I am sure that, when the hon. Gentleman has had time to reflect on his ill judged remark, he will want to withdraw it.

Dr. Harris

I am conscious that I am about to speak to amendment No. 1, but the evidence is clear that comprehensive education has delivered better standards than was delivered by the system of grammar schools and secondary moderns.

Before I turn to amendment No. 1, I should say that Liberal Democrat Members oppose new clause 2, for reasons that we gave in Committee. I was somewhat shocked—although not surprised—to be accused by the hon. Member for Gainsborough of making a debating point when I asked him to ensure that the terminology he used was appropriate. After all, this is a debating Chamber. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Standing Committee, but we made it clear there that it is important not to conflate expressions such as the "rights", "wishes", "needs" and "best interests" of children. Those expressions can refer to different things.

I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough that there are similarities between action taken to deliver the educational needs of children and action taken in their best interests, but the notion of "best interest" is always subjective. For example, if there is a conflict between doctors and parents over medical matters, it is often left to the courts to decide whether doctors pursued a child's best interests. In connection with education, the views of parents, local authorities and schools may well differ about what is in a child's best interests.

My second point is that two separate criteria cannot be paramount. Both can be important and worthy of consideration, but my dictionary shows that the word "paramount" implies that one consideration must be placed above another.

We accept assurances given in this House, in another place and in the letter sent to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) that the Bill is designed to ensure that the educational needs of any child are met, particularly when those needs are special. However, within that general approach, the Bill stipulates that the wishes of parents should be paramount.

In Committee, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) said that the wishes of parents—invariably and by definition—were in the best interest of the child. I consider that that may not always be the case, but if one accepts that it is generally right to trust parents, the new clause introduces a conflict in that regard.

Conservative Members say that they want there to be more respect for parental choice. Their belief—which I consider flawed—is that that can be delivered by allowing schools, rather than parents, to select. The language of the new clause is not consistent with that belief.

Many members of the Standing Committee made two points, at length. The first was that a provision similar to the one contained in the new clause has been used to deny children places in mainstream schools when that would have been in their best interests. That is a historical fact and must be taken into account. The second is that most of the organisations that support the rights of children with special educational needs oppose the new clause and support the undertakings given by the Government.

As I have said before, that in itself is not a sufficient argument for the rejection of the new clause, as it is the job of the House to question the Government regardless of what outside bodies say. However, a powerful impression is made when such bodies form a coalition to oppose a new clause such as this. I accept that the proposal is well intentioned, but it is critically flawed.

Amendment No. 1 would substitute the word "effective" for "efficient" in the caveat contained in proposed new section 316(3)(b). As drafted, that new section states: If a statement is maintained under section 324 for the child, he must be educated in a mainstream school … unless that is incompatible with … the provision of efficient education for other children. I raised this matter in Committee, and we have tabled the amendment today because I did not get a satisfactory answer. Those seeking to make decisions on this matter will look at what the Minister said. There is a difference between "effective" and "efficient". To many people, the word "efficient" implies financial considerations that are not implied by the word "effective".

Clearly, there is a duty to consider the delivery of effective education. For example—and the circumstances that I shall describe are much rarer than is often claimed—it may be impossible to deliver effective education to a child with special educational needs arising from challenging behaviour in class. By effective education, I mean the delivery of the curriculum in a safe way. However, it might be possible to deliver that education safely, but at an increased cost. By definition, the extra steps that would have to be taken in my example would render the delivery of education less efficient than it would otherwise have been. There is therefore some peril in the use of the word "efficient" which would be avoided by the use of the word "effective".

Do the Government accept that there are significant funding restrictions on schools and local authorities? The Government always quote figures to show how much money is going into education, but those figures are pretty meaningless. As was discussed in Committee, who would not say that another £20 million would always make things better? The Minister must accept that an insistence on the word "efficient" will mean that some schools and local authorities may well say that they are suffering from the financial restrictions arising out of the unfair and undemocratic capping regime that the Government have retained.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), for example, waxed lyrical in Committee—and eloquent today—about the Gloucestershire local education authority. Authorities like that could well argue that lack of funding forces them to reject a mainstream place for a child with special educational needs, even though effective and safe education can still be delivered for other children.

In Committee, I had to drag a response to that point out of the Minister. She said: The term 'efficient education' is used throughout the Education Act, in, for example, schedule 27 and section 7. It is appropriate to use it here to ensure consistency. That is a circular argument, or even a Conservative one: how could the law ever be changed, given that a changed law would not be consistent with what went before? Amendment No. 2 was not selected for debate today, but it shows where the consequential amendments would have to be made to achieve a new consistency if the right thing were done and amendment No. 1 were accepted.

The Minister's response in Standing Committee went on: I have reassured the Committee on the extent to which we are putting extra resources into achieving inclusion and into the education system as a whole. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to expect LEAs to have regard for the efficient education of children, regardless of the fact that significant extra resources are being provided."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 27 March 2001; c. 69.] To me, that suggests that the Minister was being honest and accepting that it may not be possible for the Government to afford to make provision in a mainstream school to provide effective and safe education for other children because of the cost of doing so. However, I draw to her attention the fact that, if cost is the issue, the cost of providing that education separately may be much higher than the cost of providing it in a mainstream school.

Conservative Members ought to bear that in mind as well. I do not want to go into the merits of individual cases or of Conservative policy in general, but the Conservative proposal to ensure that there are more exclusions would have cost implications for any special units that are set up. Accountants would regard the proposal as a less efficient way to ensure delivery of education for children with special educational needs, even though it may be appropriate for the effective and safe education of other children.

The point at issue is a serious one. If cases are to be challenged at tribunal or later in the appeals process, it is important to know what is the Government's thinking on the question of cost as a factor. Unless she is going to accept the amendment, I hope that the Minister will explain why she is not happy with the proposal to substitute the word "effective" for "efficient".

Mr. Levitt

The whole House will know the reputation of the three Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, the hon. Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). All three are absolutely committed to the cause of disabled people and to children with special needs. All three have served as officers of the all-party disablement group. Whatever they may say, therefore, I am sure that they will have been as embarrassed by and ashamed of the rant from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) against mainstream integration of children with special needs as we on this side were. The hon. Gentleman was either telling us a story based on partial evidence, ill-informed evidence and hearsay, or describing the very attitudes which will guarantee that integration will not work—that disabled children and children with special needs should be out of sight and out of mind, and that the integration of these children cannot succeed because it could only ever happen at the expense of the majority. Every Labour Member, Liberal Democrat Member and, I believe, Conservative Front-Bench Member would distance themselves from that attitude wholeheartedly.

4 pm

Mr. Leigh

May I inform the hon. Gentleman that I have two children who have special educational needs and are at mainstream primary schools?

Mr. Levitt

I am delighted to hear it. I am sure, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman can come up with examples of how integration in the mainstream can work.

I remind the House that the Bill, which we all thought would proceed in the amiable, positive and progressive way in which it has from the word go, aims to ensure, first, the effective integration, where that is the choice, of children with special needs in mainstream schools and, secondly, the informed choice of parents and children about the use of special schools, accepting wholeheartedly that there will continue to be a role for special schools, in particular for children with severe hearing impairments.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the contribution from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) almost sought to create a conflict between teachers in mainstream schools and those in special schools that does not exist? It is a great shame that such a debate should make those in different settings feel that this House thinks there should be some conflict.

Mr. Levitt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and pre-empts what I was about to say. Teachers from special schools are assisting teachers in mainstream schools who teach those with special needs. There is a thoroughly seamless and integrated approach.

In Derbyshire we have the concept of the enhanced resource school. It is a mainstream school teaching children with special needs in an integrated way, but with additional funding from the local authority for additional staff and resources, not only to make integration work but to make sure that the extra help that children with special needs get is not in any way at the expense of anyone else. Such examples of good practice exist. I previously commended the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), for her decision a couple of weeks ago to provide funding through a private finance initiative scheme for the replacement of a special school in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) acknowledges that she is in the same position. That shows the Government's commitment to the parallel provision of mainstream and special schools in taking special needs education forward.

The Conservative party does not believe in having too much government, so presumably it believes in having the minimum number of words in a Bill and in not including unnecessary words. Yet today that party is arguing for a new clause which on the face of it looks unarguable and pious. At the same time it perhaps disguises fears and "stirring up" on the Dart of people like the hon. Member for Gainsborough. Yet it is wholly unnecessary in terms of improving the Bill and making it more effective. I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen are pursuing it.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough talked about his chair lift. He told us how the funding for it was raised from voluntary sources—only to find that the lift could not be used. Clearly, that school needs to be aware of the schools access initiative, that there is Government funding to make schools accessible to children with disabilities, and that, by 2003, the sums going into schools will be 10 times what they were when the Tory Government left office. The purpose of the funding is to allow for integration.

This is a wholly uncontroversial Bill, save to say that the Special Educational Consortium, which comprises 200 organisations representing disabled children, is of the view that the Bill does not require further amendment and should not be amended. With that thought in mind, I hope that the House will reject new clause 2.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to my feet 21 years almost to the minute after I rose to give a very different speech at the reception following my wedding. I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for missing the first few minutes of her speech introducing the new clause. I was called out of the Chamber to receive a flower, which is now in my buttonhole, from my wife. I hope that the House will accept her contribution to this afternoon's debate as she is both a governor of a special school and an assistant classroom helper at that school.

The debate needs some lightening after the last two contributions from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was trying to make and succeeded in making an important point which certainly stuck home with me from my knowledge of education in my constituency. We had a school with a preponderance of children with special educational needs. Whether we like it or not, that was a discouragement to parents of other children from applying to that school. That is a sad comment on social life in Britain today. If we are to encourage people to accept the integration of children with special needs in mainstream education, we must move at a pace that they are willing to accept. No longer is it the education authority that dictates where children go to school; it is the parents who have a choice. We have to be alive to their choices. The vast majority of parents welcome the school that cares for children with special educational needs as well, but they want a school with a broad base of children with all types of special interests and skills. That is what makes a successful school. The aim of getting that balance right must be at the heart of our policy.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) in his laborious, long-winded attention to definition was getting to the heart of the matter. Over 18 years the previous Government developed a body of legislation concerning special educational needs. The underlying assumption behind that was that we were talking about the needs of the child. This afternoon and in previous debates it appears that the Government and their supporters think that we are talking about the needs of the parents or the need for the efficient education of the other children. Surely we must be talking about the needs of the child, and that is the point about the new clause. It is to enshrine in the Bill the fact that the needs of the child are paramount—that child's special educational needs and no one else's.

We need to do that because there is a real worry about resources. In 1997, the leading firm of accountants, Coopers and Lybrand, identified what they described as an expenditure time bomb—the rising cost of spending on educational needs, as, during the past decade, the number designated, formally or informally, as having those needs has doubled as a proportion of children in school. In fact, in only four years, specific expenditure on the special educational needs of children with statements rose from £290 million to £370 million—an increase of 25 per cent.

The worry for people whose children have such needs is that through the Bill—overtly or not—the Government intend to rein in, by moving the goal posts, the spending that must be committed to those children. That worry is what is behind the new clause. It is to prevent at some point—if not at present, in the future—the goal posts being moved through the enactment of the Bill, with future provision for children suffering as a result.

This afternoon, we have heard a great deal about integrating children's education. Where that can be achieved, it is of course the right way to go. However, the professor of special educational needs at the university of Manchester, Peter Farrell, said that social inclusion is not necessarily the same as educational inclusion. Gosden House, the school where my wife works, makes a fantastic contribution to our community. It is proud of the children who leave to go into mainstream education, but it is also incredibly proud of the children who leave the school to go into mainstream society.

The other day, I attended the school's open day—a peace day—when the children gave a wonderful performance in the school hall. I met several former pupils who had come back to support Gosden House. It was striking how many of them were making a success of life in mainstream society. Surely, we should not lose sight of that vital goal—the needs of the child, which are not necessarily the same as those of the parent or of other children in the education system.

The education authority has to balance a host of demands in meeting educational needs. When the Conservatives came back to power in Surrey, spending on special educational needs was about £70 million a year. Of that, £10 million was for transport. That seems a totally disproportionate amount to all of us, so we must look forward to a time when schools are able to use the resources they are given for special educational needs more flexibly and more imaginatively. When they do so, the attraction of mainstream schools for children with special needs will increase.

When the Select Committee on Education and Employment visited the United States about a year ago, we visited several charter schools. I well remember one successful school, the City on the Hill in Boston, which was run by a head teacher who was clearly on the left of the Democrat party. She looked straight at me and said, "Nick, what you have to remember is that charter schools are where the radical left meets up with the radical right." Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead has demonstrated that she is a member of the radical right, because she promotes the idea of free schools, which borrows very much from the success of the charter school movement in the States. We recognise that if we give money directly to schools, their success will be enhanced.

One of the ways in which the City on the Hill has achieved success is that its budget for special educational needs does not depend on children being statemented at all. The education authority gives the school a subvention on the assumption that it will be prepared to accept its fair share of children with special educational needs and that it will do its best for them where they need support. That means that the seamless progress that hon. Members have been talking about this afternoon can happen without the need for constant definition and review of the child's position on the spectrum of special educational needs and mainstream provision.

4.15 pm

That is the approach that we look forward to in the new clause. Money would go directly from the Secretary of State to schools, so the Secretary of State must give direction to those schools and ensure that they fulfil the requirements of such an approach. In due course, I believe that we will move to such a system because—goodness knows—the present system is excessively bureaucratic. Ofsted says that only one in five schools fulfils its statutory requirements to provide for special educational needs, and that more than a third misuse some of the money that they receive, or fail to implement a proper strategy for meeting the special educational needs of their children. Clearly, the current approach is not working. To change the definitions, as the Bill proposes, will do nothing to help. In looking forward to that time, I support the provision because it envisages a direct relationship between the Secretary of State and the mainstream schools which provide for special educational needs.

Finally, I remind the Government of the Secretary of State's comments on the code of practice during an earlier debate on the Bill. Having got his fingers burnt at an earlier stage of the Bill's proceedings, when the whole world of special educational needs cried foul at the suggestion that the specifying provisions, which are in the present code, might be removed, the Secretary of State withdrew and said: The code will state clearly that statements should 'describe clearly all of the child's special educational needs in full'".—[Official Report, 20 March 2001; Vol. 365. c. 218.] All we are saying in the new clause is that that principle is so important that it should be enshrined in the Bill and not merely left to a code of practice that might be amended by a future Secretary of State.

Jacqui Smith

I shall begin my response by dealing with the proposed new clause. As the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) rightly says, it returns us to the important issue of the needs of the child, which we debated at some length both on Second Reading and, constructively, in Committee. Indeed, the new clause has many similarities to amendment No. 5 and new clause 5 tabled in Committee.

The debate in Committee was constructive and I thought that it had helped to allay some concerns. To that extent, I am marginally disappointed that we are going over the arguments again. Some of the issues raised were considered previously and some are new; I hope to respond to all of them.

The key point is that I am sure that everyone in the Chamber believes that the interests of individual children with special educational needs, and their peers, must be safeguarded. I hope that no one doubts the Government's commitment to that. However, it is worth remembering the context within which the argument began. It related to the Government's decision, following consultation, to remove what was, in effect, a caveat on the placement of children with special educational needs, which argued that the needs of the children should be paramount. A point rehearsed today—one which was certainly made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on Second Reading—is that such a caveat in the Bill would have acted in a way that many of us would consider unsatisfactory. It is important not to forget that we are operating in that context.

We also decided to drop that caveat because we firmly believe that safeguards exist elsewhere which adequately protect pupils with special educational needs, so I shall argue, first, that there are some technical difficulties with new clause 2; secondly, that to include provisions about the needs of the children as new clause 2 proposes would, in effect, act against what we are trying to achieve; and, thirdly, that we ensure that the interests of the child are covered elsewhere through a whole range of legislation and in the processes that are undertaken in relation to children with special educational needs.

I shall take the third argument first. In Committee I outlined those safeguards in detail and, as the hon. Member for Maidenhead mentioned, I wrote to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) to set them out, copying that letter to other members of the Committee. In particular, in addition to the legislative bases that the hon. Member for Maidenhead referred to, I drew attention to the fact that the SEN code of practice and the statementing process ensure that children's educational needs are identified and that appropriate action is taken to help them to achieve their potential.

In many ways, the final point made by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) reinforces our arguments that new clause 2 is unnecessary. Statements will specify the provision to be made, so local education authorities are under a duty to arrange for it to be made. Therefore the important issue of children's needs and the provision that should be made for them is enshrined at the heart of the statementing process.

Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools will monitor the new inclusion framework. That monitoring will include looking at whether the needs of pupils with special educational needs are being appropriately provided for under the new framework. We believe that that will help to prevent abuses, if they were to occur, and to ensure that the needs of the child are safeguarded.

As I also highlighted in Committee, sections 496, 497 and 497A of the Education Act 1996 allow the Secretary of State to intervene where local education authorities or maintained schools are acting unreasonably or failing to fulfil a statutory duty. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has used those powers to protect the interests of pupils with special educational needs. I outlined in Committee some of the occasions on which that has happened.

Mr. Boswell

Given the context and the reference to the reasonability provisions, which the hon. Lady rightly mentioned, while we cannot necessarily treat a hypothetical case here, would it not seem extraordinary if Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools were to draw attention to a dereliction of duty on the part of the local education authority in implementing the inclusion framework, if the Secretary of State were not then, as an Executive act, to call in and question the reasonability of that action by that authority?

Jacqui Smith

I am not completely clear what the hon. Gentleman is referring to.

Mr. Boswell

I was trying to do it in my cod lawyer language, but let us do it in English. If the inspector says that there is something wrong with the way in which the LEA is operating inclusion, would it not be sensible as a matter of course—although I am not asking for a formal commitment—for the Secretary of State to call in the local authority and ask what it proposes to do about it?

Jacqui Smith

As I believe we made clear in Committee and as I have made clear today, the opportunity does exist, through those provisions, for the Secretary of State to use powers where maintained schools or LEAs are acting unreasonably or failing to fulfil a statutory duty.

In Committee, when we discussed amendment No. 1, which covered similar ground to the new clause before us, I asked Opposition Members what practical and workable arrangements could be put in place in addition to the Secretary of State's existing powers. No examples have been provided in Committee or since. That suggests that what already exists is adequate.

During today's debate, some Members have expressed concern about the suggestion that, as a result of the Bill, children could be forced into mainstream schools. Our legislation is drafted in such a way that, when parents do not want a mainstream place for the child, the duty to provide mainstream education is lifted. That does not mean that LEAs cannot name a mainstream place in a child's statement, but where LEAs do so and parents disagree they of course have a right of appeal at a SEN tribunal.

We also had some discussion—some of it measured, some less so—about which children it may or may not be appropriate to include in a mainstream school. Of course I accept that there are questions about which children are appropriately included in mainstream schools and those for whom it would be less appropriate. Obviously, the learning and safety of other children must not be jeopardised, and where the efficient education of other children cannot be safeguarded, a mainstream place should be refused. Where that is the case, there needs to be a range of alternative, high-quality provision, but it does not necessarily follow that it is impossible successfully to include in a mainstream school a child who has, for example, emotional and behavioural difficulties. There are plenty of examples of where that does happen, and we want to empower more schools to emulate their example.

There has already been comment on some of the remarks by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who did, I fear, in a slightly less measured way than we have experienced until now in debate on the Bill, suggest, whether or not he meant to, that including children with special educational needs in a mainstream school is necessarily disruptive, and that those children will be difficult and pose a problem.

The vast majority of children with special educational needs are not disruptive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) admirably described, children with special educational needs cover the whole range of the ability spectrum and can be a positive benefit to mainstream schools. One of our arguments for developing, where possible, and in the pragmatic way that we are, inclusion in mainstream schools is that we consider that that is of benefit not only to the children who are included in those schools but to all children in those schools.

The hon. Member for Guildford, in a slightly more measured way—it may be the good influence of the day, and I am sure that everyone in the Chamber would want to extend their congratulations to him on his anniversary—argued that where schools are well resourced and teachers are well trained, which is of course important, inclusion in mainstream schools can be of benefit both to the children who are included and to the other children in those schools.

There were some concerns that if we did not accept new clause 2, we would put special schools at risk or make it harder to obtain a special school place. I reiterate that our proposals in the Bill do not make it harder for parents whose children have statements to gain a special school place. We have always argued that one size does not fit all. That is why we have signalled a continuing role for special schools, and a very important one.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead rightly said that there is significant expertise in special schools, which should be increasingly shared with mainstream schools. That is one of the major objectives of the increased investment that we are making—through the standards fund, for example. It was the intention of the CD-ROM that I launched last year to bring together good practice that showed special schools and mainstream schools working together constructively.

Other hon. Members have suggested that our proposals risk bringing about the closure of some special schools. I can only reiterate that special schools have nothing to fear from the Bill, and repeat that although the size of the special school sector dropped from serving 1.3 per cent. of children in 1991 to 1.2 per cent. in 1995, it has remained constant in each of the last six years, catering for 1.2 per cent. of all children or roughly 97,000 pupils. We do not envisage that that will change dramatically.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South made a very important point about the dangers of looking at raw closure data, because in doing so one ignores the many excellent resource bases that have been set up to provide high-quality specialist provision in mainstream schools. We know that, as my hon. Friend suggested, parents and children like that sort of provision, and that teachers like it especially as it often ensures that the children can be educated in the community with their friends.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members that what we believe exists, and what we believe will continue under our legislation, is a buoyant and vibrant specialist sector, which has an important contribution to make in educating individual children and in developing the whole education system. 4.30 pm

Hon. Members have also mentioned resources—an important issue. I can only repeat the arguments that we used in Committee: the Government are providing significant resources to ensure that these measures are effective and that children receive the education that they deserve—whether in mainstream or special schools. As well as the extra £540 per pupil increase in school funding and the total capital spending on schools, which will be £8.5 billion for the next three years, specific funding is aimed at some of the issues that hon. Members have raised today.

The standards fund, which covers important issues such as special educational needs training, has been increased from £55 million in the previous financial year to £82 million in this financial year. That sum is more than four times the £17 million available in 1997£98. I am sure that that will reassure the hon. Member for Gainsborough. As my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) said, the schools access initiative stands at £220 million over the next three years, so 10 times as much money will be available from that source in 2003–04 than under the previous Government.

Hon. Members will also be pleased that we announced today a further £4 million package, outlining our commitment to partnerships—an issue that several hon. Members have raised. The voluntary sector will receive just over £1 million for projects under the SEN small programmes fund, bringing together different agencies and the voluntary sector to work with mainstream and special schools. Some £1 million will be used to support the continuing work of the SEN regional partnerships, and £2 million will be used to support training for the independent people who will facilitate the new dispute resolution arrangements.

As I have suggested, there are technical problems with the new clause, but I shall concentrate on the effect that we know from experience it will have. As with other amendments, the new clause threatens significantly to undermine our proposals to strengthen the right to a mainstream place for children with special educational needs. Whatever the intentions behind the new clause, its effect would be to reinstate provisions similar in effect to the first caveat in section 316 of the Education Act 1996.

That is why, in a letter sent to the hon. Member for Maidenhead, a member of the Council for Disabled Children said: I also note that you feel concern that the needs of the child are being ignored. Clause 1 of the Bill amends only one Section of the 1996 Education Act. Elsewhere in the Act, and in the associated regulations and the Code of Practice, the 'needs of the child' are explicitly stated. It is also why the Special Educational Consortium, which represents many of the organisations that operate in the field, said: On the face of it, it appears contradictory that a Consortium that has come together to campaign around the needs of children with SEN is arguing that the needs of the child do not need to he explicitly stated on the face of the Bill. However, SEC does not believe it to be necessary, and is concerned that, if re-instated, this condition could be further misused. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Member for Maidenhead will feel able to withdraw the new clause. We believe that our proposals protect all pupils—those who have special educational needs and those who do not. They will ensure that inclusion is based on sound foundations and that an inclusive education service offers excellence and choice.

Under amendment No. 1, the word "efficient" would be replaced by the word "effective" in proposed new section 316. As the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) suggested, it is driven by the concern that the use of term "efficient education" could be interpreted unscrupulously to limit inclusion or resources. He implied that it was somehow rather unprogressive of me to suggest that we need to have consistency in legislation. Dare I say that, although it might not be exciting, consistency in legislation is rather important if it is to operate properly and to have the effects that we want. Therefore, the inclusion of the term "efficient education" in very many other provisions in education law is an argument for its appropriateness to the Bill.

It might be helpful if I explain how the efficient education caveat will work in practice. We believe that it will be possible to demonstrate that a child's inclusion will be incompatible with the efficient education of others only in a small number of cases. For example, a mainstream place should not be provided where it can be clearly shown that a child's behaviour is so challenging that the safety of others cannot be guaranteed, where other children's learning would be persistently and systematically disrupted, or where, even with other support, a child's inclusion would involve the teacher spending a greatly disproportionate amount of time with the child in relation to the rest of the class.

Of course we would allow that caveat to be used only if maintained schools and LEAs were unable to show that there were reasonable steps that they could take to prevent that incompatibility. In considering what is reasonable—that is, whether an LEA or school can take reasonable steps to prevent a child's inclusion being incompatible with the efficient education of others—cost will be taken into account, but cost will not be a factor in deciding whether a child's inclusion would be incompatible with the efficient education of other children.

Given that commitment and the fact that the new inclusion framework will be monitored by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, who has been asked to pay particular attention to the use of the new caveats to ensure that they are not abused, I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will not press amendment No. 1 to a Division.

Dr. Harris

I shall deal briefly with new clause 2 and the contribution of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn). I join hon. Members in congratulating him on his 21st wedding anniversary, but I hope, for his wife's sake, that he provides her with more than a copy of that mention in Hansard as his gift. He fell into the same trap of being too loose with some of his terminology that other Conservative Members have. As the record will show, he said that it is important that the needs of the child should be rated more highly than those of society or parents. I do not know where he got the expression "parents' needs" from, but I cannot find the expression "needs of the parent" or "parents' needs"—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. If he wishes to make a contribution now, he must seek the leave of the House.

Dr. Harris

I will not seek the leave of the House to press that point. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Clearly, it would appear that the hon. Gentleman does not have the leave of the House.

Mrs. May

This important debate has gone right to the heart of the issue of whether we should aim to provide the education that is right for every child. We believe that we should, and that is why we tabled new clause 2.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) was generous in his references to the Opposition Front-Bench team and to our commitment to working for disabled people. However, I must disabuse him about our views on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). It is incredible that Labour Members tried to silence the voice of teachers, because it is their voice that my hon. Friend tried to express to the House. Their views may not be convenient to Labour Members, but they need to be heard.

The Bill provides that children with statements of special educational needs must be educated in mainstream schools unless that is incompatible with the wishes of parents or with the provision of efficient education for other children. I simply believe that it is common sense that those two points should be balanced by the consideration of the needs of the child. What is important is not what is right to meet Government targets, but what is right for the individual child. The needs of the child should come first, and that is why I wish to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the new clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 102, Noes 236.

Division No. 197] [4.40 pm
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Loughton, Tim
Baldry, Tony Luff, Peter
Bercow, John Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Beresford, Sir Paul MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Blunt, Crispin McIntosh, Miss Anne
Boswell, Tim MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Malins, Humfrey
Browning, Mrs Angela Maples, John
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Mates, Michael
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Chope, Christopher Moss, Malcolm
Clappison, James Norman, Archie
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Cran, James Ottaway, Richard
Cran, James Page, Richard
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Paice, James
Day, Stephen Paterson, Owen
Duncan, Alan Pickles, Eric
Evans, Nigel Prior, David
Fabricant, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fallon, Michael Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Flight, Howard Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Ruffley, David
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Fraser, Christopher St Aubyn, Nick
Gale, Roger Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Garnier, Edward Shepherd, Richard
Gibb, Nick Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gill, Christopher Soames, Nicholas
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Spicer, Sir Michael
Gray, James Spring, Richard
Green, Damian Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Greenway, John Swayne, Desmond
Grieve, Dominic Syms, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hammond, Philip Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hawkins, Nick Tredinnick, David
Hayes, John Trend, Michael
Heald, Oliver Tyrie, Andrew
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Viggers, Peter
Horam, John Walter, Robert
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Waterson, Nigel
Hunter, Andrew Whitney, Sir Raymond
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Whittingdale, John
Jenkin, Bernard Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Yeo, Tim
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward Tellers for the Ayes:
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Mr. Peter Atkinson and
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Mr. John Randall.
Ainger, Nick Field, Rt Hon Frank
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Fisher, Mark
Alexander, Douglas Fitzpatrick, Jim
Allan, Richard Flynn, Paul
Allen, Graham Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E) Foster, Don (Bath)
Galloway, George
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Gapes, Mike
Atkins, Charlotte George, Andrew (St Ives)
Austin, John George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Bailey, Adrian Gerrard, Neil
Banks, Tony Gibson, Dr Ian
Barnes, Harry Goggins, Paul
Barron, Kevin Golding, Mrs Llin
Battle, John Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Bayley, Hugh Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Beard, Nigel Grogan, John
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Begg, Miss Anne Hanson, David
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Harris, Dr Evan
Bennett, Andrew F Harvey, Nick
Benton, Joe Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Berry, Roger Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Best, Harold Hendrick, Mark
Blears, Ms Hazel Hepburn, Stephen
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Hill, Keith
Borrow, David Hinchliffe, David
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Hood, Jimmy
Brake, Tom Hope, Phil
Browne, Desmond Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Buck, Ms Karen Hoyle, Lindsay
Burnett, John Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Humble, Mrs Joan
Campbell—Savours, Dale Iddon, Dr Brian
Cann, Jamie Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Caplin, Ivor Jamieson, David
Caton, Martin Jenkins, Brian
Cawsey, Ian Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Chidgey, David Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Clelland, David Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Clwyd, Ann Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Coffey, Ms Ann Joyce, Eric
Cohen, Harry Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Coleman, Iain Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Colman, Tony Kemp, Fraser
Connarty, Michael Khabra, Piara S
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Kilfoyle, Peter
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Cooper, Yvette Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Corston, Jean Lammy, David
Cousins, Jim Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Cranston, Ross Lepper, David
Crausby, David Leslie, Christopher
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Levitt, Tom
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Darvill, Keith Linton, Martin
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Livsey, Richard
Davidson, Ian Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Lock, David
Dawson, Hilton Love, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Donohoe, Brian H McCabe, Steve
Dowd, Jim McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McDonagh, Siobhain
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Macdonald, Calum
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) McFall, John
Edwards, Huw Mackinlay, Andrew
Efford, Clive Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Ennis, Jeff McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McWilliam, John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Snape, Peter
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Soley, Clive
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Spellar, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Squire, Ms Rachel
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Steinberg, Gerry
Miller, Andrew Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mitchell, Austin Stoate, Dr Howard
Moffatt, Laura Stringer, Graham
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stunell, Andrew
Moore, Michael Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Moran, Ms Margaret Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Temple—Morris, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Mullin, Chris Tipping, Paddy
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Tonge, Dr Jenny
Naysmith, Dr Doug Touhig, Don
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Trickett, Jon
Olner, Bill Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Öpik, Lembit Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pearson, Ian Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Pearson, Ian Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pendry, Rt Hon Tom Tyler Paul
Pickthall, Colin Tynan, Bill
Pike, Peter L Watts, David
Pollard, Kerry White, Brian
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Quinn, Lawrie
Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick Willis, Phil
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Wills, Michael
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wood, Mike
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Woodward, Shaun
Roy, Frank Woolas, Phil
Ruddock, Joan Worthington, Tony
Salter, Martin Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Sawford, Phil Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Sedgemore, Brian Wyatt, Derek
Shaw, Jonathan
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Mr. Clive Betts and
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to