HL Deb 21 July 1970 vol 311 cc910-36

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The provisions of the Bill are almost identical to Clause 1 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which was introduced into this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, three months ago and was then lost in the House of Commons at the Dissolution of Parliament. The Education Act 1944 required local education authorities to make special provision for children suffering any form of handicap which might affect the child's ability to benefit from a normal school education, but under Section 57 of the 1944 Act, as amended by the Mental Health Act 1959, the LE.A. must exclude from the education system any child mentally handicapped to a degree assessed as "unsuitable for education at school". As your Lordships well know, such a child becomes the responsibility of the local health authority, which has a duty to provide "care and training in lieu of education".

The marvellous work done under the auspices of the local health and hospital services, however, has shown that every child should have the opportunity to develop to capacity; and just because, for some, that capacity may be very limited is surely no excuse for not developing it as far as possible. I am very glad that, provided that this Bill passes into law, the scope of the educational services should be excluded from no one. So the Bill seeks to transfer responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children from the health to the education service. Of course, this will not immediately change the situation in the institutions which will be transferred. On April 1, 1971, the appointed day, the same staff will be in post doing the same work in the same place with the same children, but responsibility will have passed to the local education authorities, and it is they who will rely on the continued support of the present staffs.

The safeguarding provisions of the Bill will apply to all the staffs involved, but may I for a moment speak mainly of the teachers? Our goal in this part of the service, as in others, should surely be a fully-trained and qualified profession. The first college of education three-year course with a special emphasis on mental handicap has already completed its first year, and more such courses are planned to follow. The Government hope that this vital work will attract enough people to enable us eventually to make all appointments from qualified teachers; but, meanwhile, it may be necessary to recruit less highly qualified people, though not necessarily on a permanent basis.

The highest qualification in this field is the Diploma in the Teaching of Mentally Handicapped Children established by the Training Council for Teachers of the Mentally Handicapped—and, of course, as your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, serves upon that body representing the parents' point of view. The courses leading to this diploma are specialised and rather shorter than the normal teacher training courses, and they have, I think it is fair to say, a slightly lower entry qualification. It is suggested that teachers thus fully qualified to teach the mentally handicapped should be asked to undertake some post-diploma teaching before being recognised as fully qualified teachers in the technical sense in which this term is used in the education service.

There has been some controversy about the length of the service which should be required. The normal period of service required of holders of qualifications which do not automatically qualify for qualified teacher status in the technical sense is ten years. The previous Secretary of State proposed, in the special circumstances of the diploma holders, to fix five years, but my right honourable friend is inclined to think that a shorter period would be sufficient because the diploma holders have the best qualification available to them and one, moreover, which is specifically tailored to this special form of teaching. To judge from previous discussions in this House, many of your Lordships would be inclined to take the same view. The Department has therefore put in hand further consultation with the bodies concerned about the possibility of fixing a rather shorter period. I should add, my Lords, that arrangements have been made with the training organisations to provide for diploma holders with the necessary qualifications for entry to teacher training one-year courses either end-on or in-service, and these will lead straight away to qualified teacher status.

May I add just a few words about promotion prospects? I expect that the existing staffs, by reason of their training and experience, will be well placed in the promotion stakes, as against other teachers in the education service, for the higher posts in this particular field. But surely it would be neither sensible nor practicable to reserve for the existing staffs any special rights to promotion. I am sure we must give open competition for higher posts, and equally I am certain we can leave it to the good sense of those who will be making appointments to see that this matter is handled sensibly.

My Lords, there may be some problems about dovetailing the existing pay system into the new one, and this will have to be handled sympathetically by the Burn-ham Committee. The Bill contains a provision that all the existing staffs shall receive terms and conditions of employment not less favourable than before the date of transfer". At first sight, the words "not less favourable" may sound ungrateful to people who merit the admiration of society. But, my Lords, the likelihood is that many of the staffs, and especially the diploma holders when they become qualified teachers, will find that -their financial position is substantially improved. The trouble is that, so complicated has our legislation become, there are about 80 sets of compensation regulations in force, and I am sorry to say that these words "not less favourable" have come to be used as a common form. In this case these words are simply a rather, perhaps, ungracious long-slop provision to what I hope your Lordships will agree are the good intentions of the Bill.

Clause 1 contains the aims of the Bill. Subsection (1) (a) provides that children shall not be classified as "unsuitable for education at school"; and, as I confirmed to the noble Lord, Lord Segal, last week, the appointed day proposed is April 1, 1971. Under paragraph (b), a local health authority shall no longer make arrangements under Section 12 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 for training children of compulsory school age, and those children now subject to an order declaring them to be "unsuitable for education at school "shall from the appointed day be regarded as in need of special education. Then subsections (2) to (5) deal with the previous Government's undertakings to staff, to which I have tried to refer.

I hope that those of your Lordships who have wide knowledge of this work may take the view that, with the agreement of Parliament, this Bill can lead to great advantages. Henceforth no children will be regarded as unsuitable for education at school. For those who have been asked to decide on these matters this may well be a relief, and for the parents a wonderful encouragement. Those who teach these children will be members of the teaching profession, and will, I trust, benefit in many ways from educational resources. In turn, the education service, inheriting work of the highest quality from the health authorities, may find that these children attain more in life than could ever have been thought possible; and, like the growth of a child, this development, imperceptible but progressive, may enable us one day to look back and marvel at the changes which have occurred. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Belstead.)

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, from the Back Benches on this side of the House I should like to give a very warm welcome to this Bill and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on introducing it. From to-day, or rather from the date when this Bill comes into operation, we declare that there are no children unsuitable for education, merely that we have forms of education unsuitable for children. This has always been the position. It is only due to the work of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children that the authorities (and this applies to the previous Government as well as to the present one) have come to accept this fact and begun to do something to put it right. For over a hundred years now, there has been a statutory obligation on all parents to send their children to school; but the parents of one child in every hundred could not comply with that obligation because there were no schools suitable for their children. That is why I think this little Bill, brought in so gratifyingly quickly, could turn out to be one of the major achievements of this Government, whatever else they do.

My Lords, I am a little perplexed about one or two things in the Bill and also about one or two things that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said in explaining it. In the Explanatory Memorandum we are told: The Bill will not cause any increase in the staff of the public service. At another stage we are told: …in practice there will be no significant additional charge upon the Exchequer. If this change in our educational system is going to be a success there will have to be very significant increases in the charge upon the national Exchequer. This is an enabling Bill. It enables responsibility for the education of children previously termed "ineducable" to be transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education—which is something to be devoutly thankful for. But the Bill itself—the Act when it is passed—does not really matter: it simply enables us to do something. The real change can come about only by the enthusiasm and determination of those who administer it.

The previous Minister, my right honourable friend Mr. Ted Short, was, I know, determined—and said so in public—that this disgraceful blot on our education, this depriving of children who have so little even of the little chance that they have, should be removed; and the Government are taking this first step to enable them to remove it. Whether the new set-up becomes a success or is just a façade depends upon the enthusiasm which they apply to the implementation of the Bill.

It may not have had any significance, but the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said that the Bill will not immediately change things in the institutions which are to be transferred; that the same teachers, the same staffs, will carry on. That may well be so. But, my Lords, the institutions to which he refers are junior training establishments; and, incidentally, although the responsibility was placed on local authorities to start such establishments, there are many who have not done so; and it will be only in those places where such establishments exist that the children will be able to be trained and educated in them. I should therefore like from the noble Lord an assurance that when this Bill becomes an Act there will be a mandatory obligation on all local education authorities to provide premises which are suitable and staffs who are suitably trained to provide these children with the education that they are capable of achieving.

Another form of institution is the hospital. Some of our hospitals have so-called schools in them. With all respect for the excellent work that is done, these are not schools which are capable of making the most of the children to be educated there. Are these hospitals to be counted as schools under the transfer which is now taking place? If they are, I am afraid that the hopes that I entertained for the Bill will not be fulfilled. I have long been concerned with this problem, and therefore I make no apology for expressing anxieties. We are going to have the formal Bill, which will become an Act; there will be the power there to do what we want, to do what is needed. But it will be translated into an effective system under which all our children can benefit, one in which not even the one in a hundred will be left out, only if the Government are determined on that. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to satisfy us on these questions because, if he can, I believe that this Bill will prove to be one of the most effective acts of the present Government.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, it appears to be becoming something of a habit to take Education Bills twice. We had that unfortunate little Bill of Mr. Short's in another place which was usually referred to as "the Bill to make comprehensive schools compulsory" (although of course it was nothing of the sort); and now we have this Bill. I can see that there is a lot to be said for this practice. It gives one the chance to think up a number of questions the second time round which one did not think of on the first round. I am afraid that I am going to take advantage of this, and propose to ask the noble Lord, while in general welcoming this Bill, a number of questions which I think arise immediately out of it and out of the whole problem with which it deals.

In a way, as he says, the transfer of responsibility for these children is a nominal transfer. In the past, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health have worked closely together in dealing with the problem; in the future they will do exactly the same. I am quite certain that the efforts of neither will be relaxed simply because of a change of responsibility a little way across the line. But in another way the change is not so nominal, and I feel a little disquiet now that what many of us had hoped to be the real basis of this Bill is perhaps to be whittled away.

This Bill has been welcomed in many places as signalling the end of the idea that there are children who are ineducable—and this point was particularly mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Stonham. But in the debate on the Committee stage of the Bill on Thursday, July 16, in another place, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mr. van Straubenzee, said: However hard we try to make educational provision available, which is the intention, there may be a certain very small number for whom on educational grounds— and it will be an educational system—meaningful educational provision cannot effectively be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 15/7/70; col. 1679.] If this means that certain children will still be judged to be ineducable, I think it a great pity. First, methods of diagnosis, treatment and education are moving so fast that such a stance is totally unwarrantable. It may be that there arc ineducable children, but we do not know which ones they are and it is impossible for us to find out. Secondly, I do not believe that this is the kind of attitude we should take about anyone we are prepared to regard as a human being. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will be able to reassure us on this aspect.

I hope that he will also not think it wildly out of order—because it is his Department that is concerned—if he says a word about the rest of the last Education Bill we had, the Education (Miscellaneous Provision) Bill. In that Bill there were a couple of other clauses to deal with students' grants of one kind or another, and they appeared to raise a very great deal of psychologically most interesting rage and passion in various parts of the country—and even, indeed, of this House. But in fact they did raise very serious problems and very serious anomalies, and I think that we might ask the Department, when considering dealing with these anomalies, whether it can give us any indication of what is to happen. I should like to make a brief plea in support of a suggestion that was made in (he debate in the House by a number of speakers: that the Department might consider the separation of all subsistence grants for education from tuition grants for education and transfer the subsistence grants to the Ministry of Social Security. I realise that that is not likely to be a very popular move with the Department of Education and Science; therefore I would ask that it might be considered at an inter-departmental level, where it would be less likely to be shot down.

There is the question of the teachers, and I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, about what I think are definite improvements in the scheme about qualifications of teachers. I understand that consultations are still going on about this matter, and I wish them well. I only say, in parenthesis, that it is a great pity the Secretary of State has dispensed the whole of the initial good will she might have got from the teachers' unions by her actions in the first few weeks in office. She will find i: a lot less easy, because of the dispersal of that immediate good will, to stand up to pressures from the unions when they need to be resisted.

I should also like to raise the question of categorisation. I realise that this may be somewhat early for the noble Lord to be able to say what the Department of Education and Science thinks about this; indeed, it is a matter for a later Bill. But it has a close bearing on the fate of many of these children we are considering. As your Lordships will all know, categorisation is the method, under the 1944 Act, whereby certain forms of disability can be identified, and certain definite ways of dealing with them must be implemented by the local authority. The advantage of this categorisation is that it prods backward and lazy local education authorities—and there are some—into definite action. The disadvantages are that categorisation can be too narrow in its diagnoses in the increasing awareness of the complexity of handicap.

There is I think a way through beyond this. It is outlined in the Report, Living with Handicap (which some noble Lords will have already read), produced by the Working Party on the Handicapped Child which, for part of the time, was under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. In this admirable Report the Working Party suggested that what is needed is not only categorisation but also a new list of categories which would take account of the complexity of both health and educational diagnoses and would be far more useful. I hope that the Government will look at this suggestion and, having looked at it, will be able to bring into it such groups of children as are now tending to be neglected because they do not fall into categories. Your Lordships will be aware that among these is one of the sections in which I, like many other of your Lordships, am most interested; namely autistic children.

Finally, my Lords, let me turn to the various ends of the age spectrum, because these handicapped children are not just people at a certain age to be dealt with in a little box. They are people before they reach what we normally regard as ordinary school age; and they are people after they leave it. And what happens to them in an educational way, and in every other way, concerns us all the way through. In the Second Reading debate (I think it was) on the earlier Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said he was very concerned with what was going to happen to these children after the age of 16. We have been reassured about that by Ministers in another place; and we have been told that there are satisfactory compulsory powers available to deal with people up to the age of 19. But even 19 is not quite enough, my Lords. I realise that at that age responsibility must to a large degree go over to the Department of Employment and Productivity; but there are bound to be genuine educational needs with which that Department, despite all its virtues, all its care and training, and its sheltered workshops, cannot itself cope. I should be interested to hear whether the Department of Education and Science has any particular thoughts about the educational needs of these people over the age of 19.

Equally, at the lower end of the scale I believe that some of the very best work can be done before the statutory school joining age is reached. At that time, in those earliest years of children's lives, a foundation can be built on which the educational possibilities of school years can eventually be erected. Indeed, it may be that really intensive health care and education at that stage (here it is very difficult to differentiate between health and education) may prevent a large number of children from ever coming into this very highly mentally handicapped category. Therefore I very much hope that the Department will be able to say something about its plans for these children.

My Lords, this is, of course, a question for money. The statement in the Explanatory Memorandum that no extra money will be needed applies merely, I suppose, to immediate costs at the actual time of changeover. But we all know, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, that if we are going to help these children properly to a proper education, if we are going to try to make the most of their potentialities—and they all have potentialities—a great deal more money will be needed. The same Report that I quoted earlier said: We have a long way to go before there is an adequate spread of special educational opportunities to cater for the variety of handicaps. There is indeed a long way to go, my Lords; and it is going to cost a lot of money. My Party has always been proud that it has not taken advantage of the fact of being a minority Party to be irresponsible about priorities in education. We realise that you cannot have money for everything all the time. We welcome the fact that the Government regard primary education as their first priority. I think we should also welcome it if the Government were to say that these children, suffering under these terrific handicaps, are an absolutely super priority, because it is the test of our society that we look after the most unfortunate people in it. I think it is the test of our education and care of these unfortunate children that we should not be content with the provision for their care and education until we are as content as we should be if they were our own.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I welcomed the last Bill with reservations, and after due consideration I find this one wholly satisfactory. But there are a few points I should like to raise which are important in implementing the policy of the transfer. First of all, may I pay a tribute to the work of the health and local authorities for what they have done in the past. Their efforts have made the task of so many families far more tolerable, and I feel sure that parents will join with me in thanking them.

In reading the speech of my honourable friend the Minister of State on the Second Reading in another place, I note with gratitude that he warned parents not to expect a sudden miracle in the education of their children. I fully endorse this, as this measure will need very careful long-term thought, patience and understanding of the difficult but fascinating problem of the education of the mentally handicapped before the full results which we all hope for will be forthcoming. While I am on the subject, may I, with all the sincerity at my command, appeal to the public of our country not to frustrate our efforts by petitioning against schools and hostels near their homes. All handicapped people in our community need our urgent help and I trust that we shall not fail them.

May I turn now to the teachers. I was delighted to read the words of the Minister of State in another place, confirmed by my noble friend, that consideration was being given to the shortening of the period which had to be served after a training council course before qualified status was granted. I know that this decision will not only encourage teachers to take up posts in our schools but will also ensure that the quality of the teachers will be enhanced, which is so vitally important to the future lives of mentally handicapped children and their chance to live useful lives within our community.

Together with teachers awaiting the prescribed period, I understand that those who have done short courses, but who will not qualify for full teacher status, will be designated as qualified teachers of the mentally handicapped and that their pay will be considered by the Burnham Committee. These dedicated people have served the mentally handicapped with deep devotion for many years and need our careful consideration. We simply cannot accept, in this day and age when the cost of living is so high, that the chosen work of such people should be so poorly paid, because the profession is generally designated as a vocation. I sincerely hope that the Burnham Committee will be generous. There is not a very great number, but their expert services are so badly needed until the full implementation of this Bill brings a full complement of qualified teachers.

Before closing my remarks, may I say a word about hospital schools. As I see it, we have a definite problem here. Attendance at school is governed by the advice of psychologists as to whether a child can benefit by education in the hospital school. At Queen Mary's Hospital for Children we have 340 severely mentally handicapped children, of whom 120 attend the hospital school. Naturally, the remainder in the wards are trained so far as possible in the normal functions of life, but if the education authorities decide that many of these should attend school, we should have to have new schools or a larger complement of teachers teaching in the wards. This situation needs careful thought.

In conclusion, may I say again how greatly I welcome this Bill. I am grateful to the late Government for bringing it before Parliament. I can assure your Lordships that, together with all who work for the mentally handicapped, I shall do my best to see that the future education of these children is the best that we can give them.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to add, if only briefly, my unqualified words of welcome for this Bill. It goes a very long way to allay some of the anxieties naturally felt by the parents of many thousands of mentally handicapped children who looked to it last May for the fulfilment at last of the hopes of so many years. When we heard that this Bill was to be one of the casualties of the General Election, we wondered how far the new Government were going to fulfil the hopes that centred on its predecessor. I think I am betraying no confidences when I recall how the Executive of the National Society of Mentally Handicapped Children met on the day after the Election results were announced in an atmosphere of anxiety, almost of alarm, tinged even with a good deal of despondency, at the advent of a new Government. May I say now, quite regardless of any Party considerations, how this new Bill has more than fulfilled our warmest hopes.

Not only have the Government seen fit to put the Bill rapidly forward, but they have also adhered to the original appointed day for the transfer. Furthermore, I am glad to note that they are undertaking a reconsideration of the five-year post-diploma period. I can only hope that, as a result of their reconsideration, any element of injustice that might arise in individual cases will be speedily removed. So I feel that we can give to this Bill as it stands our wholehearted blessing.

There is one comment that I should like to made. I ask merely for information, and do not make these remarks by way of criticism. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states: the Bill ends, as from a day to be appointed, the provisions under which certain children suffering from a disability of mind are classified … May I say that I consider the Title of this Bill to be a great improvement on its predecessor, the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, but I am still wondering why it has been entitled Education (Handicapped Children) Bill. Why not come out boldly into the open and call it the Education (Mentally Handicapped Children) Bill? Surely we have reached a stage now when no stigma whatsoever attaches to the term "mentally handicapped". Quite the contrary, I think that it is universally recognised now that these children have an elemental right to education just in the same way as normal children, and I certainly would have very much preferred to see the Title amended on the lines I have suggested.

May I also say how wholeheartedly I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, about the special consideration that ought to be given to cases of autistic children? But let us retain a due sense of proportion. These undoubtedly difficult cases are regarded, I believe, as numbering not more than 1,000 in all. It is difficult to to assess the figure, because the term "autistic" is variously applied in different cases. But surely this is only a tiny drop in the vast ocean of mentally handicaped children now requiring our help. Figures again are variously given of 200,000, and according to some, 250,000 children, who are categorised as mentally handicapped.

I would say to the Government that it is one thing to have such a Bill on the Statute Book, but, as my noble friend Lord Stonham has emphasised, quite another thing to see it implemented by the education authorities. I would also endorse the plea that has been made that all children should not be assessed according to their chronological age. I think it is important that the Government should realise that both before the primary school age and well after the school leaving age, the basis of the requirement of education for these children should be assessed at the mental age rather than at the chronological age.

I earnestly hope that the new Department which takes over this heavy responsibility for education and training of mentally handicapped children will see that its intentions are carried speedily into effect. It would be unfair at this stage, perhaps, to emphasise all the hopes that are centred on this Bill, but I should like very much to stress how important it will be, once the Bill comes into effect, to maintain the full recruitment of teachers of mentally handicapped children. At present there is a woeful shortage of teachers specially trained in the care of mentally handicapped children. These teachers, who I hope will be recruited in much larger numbers in the future, will have to combine the devotion and dedication of skilled nurses in a particularly difficult branch of nursing with the patience, sympathy and knowledge of trained teachers. So I feel that the conditions of work, the terms of pay and the prospects for promotion should be made far more attractive for teachers of mentally handicapped children than they are for teachers of normal children. That is a point that I particularly wish to bring home to the Government.

Those of us who are passionately devoted to the welfare of handicapped children—and we are numerous in both Houses of Parliament, as well as very numerous in the country outside—would urge the Government to take every possible step to ensure that the finest elements of our teaching staffs are attracted to this side of the profession. With those words, I should like once again to extend an unqualified welcome to the Bill.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will forgive me if I intervene for a few moments before he speaks. I can very readily join in the support that this Bill has received from all quarters of the House, but I should like to draw attention to what I believe may be a minor flaw or difficulty in it. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Stonham and Lord Segal, have particularly emphasised the implementation of the idea which lies behind the Bill. I should not be surprised if that implementation is, at any rate in part, going to lie in the hands of the voluntary organisations who will supplement the admirable work so far done by the local health authorities but which will soon come into the sphere of the local educational authorities—the same councils in each case, but with a different pattern.

There is a strange and curious provision in rating law which enters into this matter. I suspect that the voluntary organisations who fulfil this role at the moment are fairly interested in their finances and do not easily let go a lawful amount of money which is due to them in the way of exemptions. Under the General Rate Act 1967, a voluntary organisation which carries out the work of a junior training centre under arrangements made at present under Section 12 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968. get what is in effect an almost total exemption from rates. What happens is that all buildings are disregarded, and all that is valued is the ground on which those buildings stand. Exactly how that is done has not yet been altogether resolved, but that is the idea. I think they then get the mandatory 50 per cent. relief on top of that.

There are other organisations of a voluntary nature which do not have formal arrangements under which they look after children but who do similar work, and they in certain circumstances are equally entitled to this exemption. It all depends upon the fact that arrangements can be made under Section 12 of that Act of 1968. There is no such exemption for a voluntary organisation that provides education for handicapped children or mentally handicapped children, or for any organisation which does a similar job to a school for children of that kind. The moment that the local authorities lose their power, as they are going to do under this Bill, to make these arrangements under that Act of 1968, so the rating exemption will, I suggest, automatically cease to apply to all those voluntary organisations who have hitherto been doing this work. They will, it is true, still have the 50 per cent. man- datory relief for charities, if they are charities, and I expert that they mostly are. There is a further power for the rating authority to reduce or remit their rates, but this is a matter of policy for the boroughs, urban districts, county districts and county boroughs. I do not suppose that they will all act uniformly in this matter, and there may be discrepancies.

I am afraid that I have no idea how many of these organisations are going to be affected, and I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Belstead has, or whether he has had any consultations with them about this consequential change in the law. I should be extremely sorry if one of the results of this admirable measure, which has been welcomed from all sides of your Lordships' House, in another place and, I believe, widely in the country, were to be any crippling in the financial status of the voluntary organisations which supplement this work. It must be purely coincidental that this is a result of the Bill, but I believe that it is a result. I hope it is one that will be considered by my noble friend and by the Department, to make certain that they are not doing any harm, by mistake, in bringing in this legislation. I do not wish to put forward a point of view one way or the other. I do not know whether these organisations should have special relief or not. But there it is. I believe that they will lose it, and I ask the Government to look into the matter to see whether that is right.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, at the commencement of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave us an explanation of this Bill for which I am sure the whole House is grateful. He frankly recognised that its provisions are limited to what was provided in Clause 1 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which, as has already been said, was a casualty of the recent Dissolution. We on these Benches offer it no less warm a welcome on that score. Indeed, we are grateful, even though there has been a change of Government, that this highly desirable reform is to proceed. We are glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, a repetition of what the Secretary of State indicated was likely, that it is intended to come in force, as was originally intended by the previous Administration, on April 1 next year. The Government are to be congratulated in bringing forward a Bill the shape of which was determined by the previous Administration. I should like to see them delving into the cupboard a little more deeply, because there are many other measures that they could usefully bring forward with advantage.

The earlier Bill, the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, was somewhat wider in scope than this one. Since this one avoids the controversies of the clauses which stirred your Lordships earlier this year, its passage will doubtless be swift and easy. So much has already been said in this House, and in another place, on an earlier occasion when we discussed this issue, and also last week and the week before, as well as this evening, about the merits that this reform will secure, that there is little new that I can add. Nevertheless, it is proper that to-night it should be recognised that this Bill, which transfers the service from local health authorities and regional hospial boards to local education authorities, is a tribute to those who have pioneered and persevered over long years to end the seclusion of children regarded as being so severely mentally handicapped as to be unsuitable for education at school. I thought my noble friend Lord Stonham put the matter very well in what he said about the service of education having been at fault rather than children being unfitted or unsuited for education. If this Bill is a recognition of that pioneering and perseverance, it is also a recognition of the devotion and dogged, unrelenting determination of parents who refuse to take "No" for an answer.

Many of us will have had friends, or known of parents, who found themselves with a child not gifted by nature to take its place with normal children at school and at play. If we needed any reminder, there was a programme on B.B.C.2 television last evening entitled, "The Broken Bridge". That brought home into our very living spaces not merely the tragedy of the autistic child, but the possibility of doing something for that child. I hope that the Government will not be persuaded that the problem of the autistic child is too small to warrant treatment. I felt that the programme last evening was an encouragement to all of us interested in the service of education to ensure that these children—perhaps the most difficult in their particular way—could benefit if the problem was approached in a sympathetic, constructive and positive manner.

I can recall from many years ago the efforts of some of those parents, to whom I have referred, to try to provide opportunities for learning and training for the child that they loved all the more because of the infinitely greater dependence that child had on them as the result of a grievous, heavy handicap. Those parents were not content to accept that nothing could be done; they pleaded, they sought to persuade and organise, and by their determined example and pressures they educated the rest of us into an appreciation of what was possible and even desirable. The Bill now before the House is the measure of how right they were, and our society shows itself as the more humane, and our society will be the richer for that recognition. It is fitting, too, that appreciation should be expressed to the local health authorities who have established a base on which a purpose-built educational structure can be erected.

There are one or two questions that I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I hope that he may be able to give us some information. My first question has been raised a number of times, and was raised again by my noble friend Lord Stonham. Despite the fact that it has been raised a number of times, I am unable to find that a full or satisfying answer has as yet been given. The question is on the issue of finance. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill is not too helpful. Can the Minister to-night be a little more forthcoming than was the Under-Secretary of State in another place when the Second Reading was taken? Is he satisfied that in practice additional expenditure will be largely offset by savings from administrative economies, as is suggested? I wonder what administrative economies will produce significant savings? If it is said that the Memorandum refers only to the situation at the passing of the Bill, that leaves us with no assessment at all as to what will follow in its train. I am sure that none of us will want to be niggardly in our approach to this matter. It seems to me that we could be given some indication of the type of development that the present Government intend as regards this particular service, and also the likely cost. How will that cost be apportioned as between central Government and the local authority?

May I ask what guidance is to be given on the age limits which may apply to this specialised type of education? I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, touched on this matter. I noted that the Under-Secretary in another place indicated the possibility of an age range of 2 to 19—at least it was stated that that is the present scope within the service for compulsory schooling. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, raised a very interesting point, but may I ask for an assurance that the Government will put pressure on all local education authorities, if it is needed, to ensure that they provide a service adequate to the needs of their locality, and also that the service they provide is a free one? I am in no way underestimating the value of the voluntary organisations, but we need an assurance that representations will go out from the centre to ensure that L.E.A.s provide a service that will meet the local need.

There are one or two questions on which we might have some more information about the general position so far as accommodation is concerned. Is it intended that the younger people will be housed and taught separately from the older ones? Appreciating what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, that we are not going to get a revolution overnight, have the Government done any thinking about this question? Can they give any indication of what their long-term programme is in this direction? We are going to need a good deal of new building. How will this be controlled and within what type of programme? Is it to be a part of the general education programme, or will there be a separate programme for this new sector of the service of education?

When the earlier Bill was before the House in Committee I tabled an Amendment to the effect that there should be no liability on the local education authority to provide residential homes for children for whose education they may become responsible under Clause 1 of that Bill. I was then satisfied by the reply I received from my noble friend Lady Phillips, and I am wondering whether perhaps the same reassurance can be given this evening. Because I would point out there is at least one large local education authority which is neither a housing authority nor a health authority.

I join with those who extend their wish that the staffs who have done such commendable work under the Health Service should receive the most sympathetic consideration possible. Obviously, if this specialised sector of the service of education is to command what I am sure we hope it will eventually command, parity of esteem within the teaching profession and within the community generally, then it is desirable that those who teach in it should be recognised as qualified teachers. Being qualified, they could then consider transfer into other branches of the service, and it would be very beneficial if in time we could achieve something of a two-way traffic between this specialised sector and the general branch of education.

This question of securing qualified status as teachers raises problems, to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred when he opened the debate. I hope that in solving them the Government and the professional bodies will achieve agreement which is fair to the point of generosity; for many of those concerned, as has been recognised by almost everybody who has spoken this evening, have given nobly in service to children who have benefited tremendously. The debt is great. We ought to be as generous as possible—though I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in regard to possession of the diploma.

I ask, as did the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, when we might expect legislation dealing with the other matters contained in the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Although those proposals may involve some degree of controversy, I hope that the Government appreciate that these also are areas for serious consideration, and will not run away from them merely because they may arouse controversy. Meanwhile, my Lords, from these Benches we give this Bill a very warm welcome and wish it an unopposed Second Reading.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, as well as bowling me some fairly fast balls in his last speech, spoke for the first time from the Opposition Front Bench, and I should like to give him a very warm welcome in that capacity. I have had the good fortune to listen to the noble Lord in the past and to notice, as have many other noble Lords, that he has a very close knowledge of education. For this, I know that he is very well qualified. This evening he has shown also that he has a close sympathy with all who are in any way connected with handicapped children—the subject of this Bill and of our debate this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was the first speaker and, although the noble Lord has had to leave (and he explained that he would have to go), I should like to reply briefly to some points he made. May I draw a distinction between the direct consequentials of this transfer in the Bill and the long-term consequences? The direct consequences will of course consist of compensation and improved salaries for certain teachers. This must be quite openly said, and this is what the Financial Memorandum refers to. But there is no doubt that the service will develop (and this is what many noble Lords have been referring to) as part of the educational service; and I must say again quite frankly that the Financial Memorandum sets no limitation on that. But it would be right in a few words to set the record right.

I referred just now to expenses of compensation. This point was raised in another place, and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, replying without notice, made a reference to "the district valuer". I am afraid that we have found that this reference was incorrect. The intention is that the order to be made under Clause 2 of the Bill should include a provision applying the substance of Section 151 of the Local Government Act 1933. This provides for the financial adjustments consequential on the alteration of the areas of local authorities. The section enables authorities affected to enter into agreements between them for the payment in respect of property, debts, functions and liabilities which are being transferred. If there is not agreement, then it allows for a reference to be made to arbitration. So my honourable friend in another place should have referred, I think, to arbitration and not to the district valuer.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, also mentioned a mandatory obligation to provide schools. The local education authorities will have the same mandatory obligations towards these children as they have towards any other children, both to assess their needs and to provide for them. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, asked: are hospitals to be counted as schools? Of course, education in the schools will be the responsibility of the local education authorities; the care side of the hospitals will still be the responsibility of the National Health Service.

We all listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. The noble Lord asked four sets of questions, of which he gave me notice. First of all, he asked about ineducable children, and he mentioned my honourable friend's remarks in another place. It is the clear intention of the Government that if this Bill is passed no child shall be excluded from the benefits of the education services: and this of course the Bill says quite clearly. Local education authorities will be responsible for examining the educational needs of every child and for providing the appropriate education. But it is unavoidable that some small number of children may prove to be incapable of benefiting from any educational provision.

Before the noble Lord takes me up on this point, may I quickly say that surely this may not be a permanent condition, and any such child would be kept under review so that education may be provided at a stage when it is likely to be of benefit. And may I repeat the Government's words which were spoken by my honourable friend in another place: that there is no intention by the Government to draw any form of I.Q. line. However, it would not be honest or kind to pretend that there will be no such children who, just at times, may be found to be in this situation.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that explanation. His assurance that every step will be taken to ensure that these children are kept permanently under review—because one knows the difficulty that arises from having said at any stage that a child is not educable—meets the point which was being made, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, as well as by me.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I think I am right in saying that Section 57 provides for 12-month reviews, in response to a parent's request, and at any time at the wish of the authority. So I realise I am not really saying anything new.


But, my Lords, Section 57 no longer applies. Surely something is being put in the new Bill to take its place. Perhaps we ought to look at this point at the Committee stage.


First of all, my Lords, I was sorry that I had said that; but when the noble Lord had said a little more I was not sorry, because it is as well we should get this point right. Secondly, the noble Lord asked about the previous Bill—the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill—and so did the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. Certainly the Government appreciate that there is still a problem here, and having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who spoke, I thought, seriously and at some length, I consider it would be extremely discourteous not to say that. But, with respect, what the noble Lord was saying does not form a part of this Bill. The previous Bill was a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. This is only a Bill in connection with the education of mentally handicapped children, and I hope the noble Lord will not think me discourteous if I say that I cannot give a timetable on this point this evening.

Thirdly, the noble Lord talked about categorisation. Perhaps in the interests of brevity I may say that for a variety of reasons the Government feel that the labelling of handicaps is not an end in itself, any more than the introduction of extra regulations should be. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked us to look into this matter. We feel that what is now needed is not more labels but improved knowledge and experience of the best methods of educating these children. Research is being undertaken and my right honourable friend has it in mind to issue to local education authorities a circular of guidance on this subject.

Lastly, the noble Lord spoke about the extremes of the education system. That point was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. May I draw a distinction between the specific duty of local education authorities to provide education for children of school age and the general duty of local education authorities to provide further education under Section 41 of the 1944 Act. Certainly local education authorities have the power to continue to provide education for handicapped people over the age of 19, and presumably such a decision would depend, partly anyway, on the resources which the local education authority had available. At the other end of the spectrum, here again the power lies with the local education authority. Under Section 34 of the Education Act 1944, the local education authority has a duty to ascertain if a child needs special education, but it lies within the discretion of the statutory authority to determine whether such a special education should begin before school age. The Department of Education and Science has drawn attention to the importance of early ascertainment and provision, and we fully accept that medical and educational interests should be aware of these problems at an early age.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, was kind enough to welcome some of the things which had been said about the future of those devoted people, the teachers of the mentally handicapped. The noble Lord drew attention to a particular hospital school and made the point that of the 340 severely mentally handicapped children there about a third attended the school in the hospital. If, as we all hope under this Bill, local education authorities decide that more need teaching, then indeed I admit that new plans will have to be made, and these will fall into the lap of both the hospital and the local education authority. Such plans will need watching sympathetically and carefully, by Her Majesty's Government as well as by the authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Segal, said some warm words to the Government for bringing in the Bill, and it would be quite wrong if I did not acknowledge the original Bill and the relevant clauses which were brought in by the previous Government. The noble Lord made a point in regard to the Explanatory Memorandum and asked why it was not referred to as the "Mentally Handicapped" Bill. Perhaps I may make the point in the form of a question: should we not be disregarding the fact that children who are mentally handicapped often tragically suffer from physical handicaps as well?


My Lords, if I may be forgiven for interrupting the noble Lord, may I say that I was referring to the Explanatory Memorandum and to the fact that these children are mentally handicapped had been omitted from the Title. Should that not have been included in the Title of the Bill?


My Lords, I rather hope that we shall not have an Amendment on that point, but I take to heart what the noble Lord has said. At the end of his speech the noble Lord spoke movingly about the recruitment of teachers for the mentally handicapped, and about their rewards. As a junior Minister it would be quite wrong for me to say anything either way, except that I trust very much that the words of the noble Lord will be widely read.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, brought to our attention a problem which will befall the voluntary institutions. The noble Viscount has been kind enough to communicate with me on this subject. I accept, of course, that the Bill may result in such a school losing the exemption which it at present enjoys under Section 45(d) of the General Rate Act 1967, although it would still, as a charity, be entitled to remission of 50 per cent. of the rates otherwise charge-able, and eligible for remission of the balance. But the question raised by my noble friend affects the general law relating to rating. It would not be appropriate for me to deal with it in this measure, but I will certainly undertake to bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

To-night I should like to make one short point about it. It is inherent in the concept of this Bill that in the future handicapped children, no matter how severe their handicap, should, while they are of compulsory school age, be given education under the education service in place of training under the health service. It is surely a necessary corollary of this that any voluntary organisation which wishes to provide particularly for them must establish itself as a school operating wholly within the education service; and that any exemptions or privileges which it may now enjoy by virtue of the fact that under the present law the training of these children is a matter for the health service, will cease to apply. There are two points I wish to make in this connection. First, we do not know how many organisations this will affect; secondly, is it not right that we should face the question whether we believe that these institutions of which my noble friend has spoken should have arrangements totally different from other schools in this one respect? For after the appointed day in all other respects such schools will have to be the same. I must say that we have come down reluctantly against this idea. We will watch this point closely and attempt to meet it in other legislation if we find that bad hardship occurs. At the moment I do not think I can go further than that.

Lastly, my Lords, I come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. I hope the noble Lord may think that I have been a little more forthcoming on finance than he suggested I would be. He referred to the ends of the spectrum, and I have tried to meet that point in dealing with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. Lord Garnsworthy also asked for an assurance. Like everyone else, Her Majesty's Government will be keen to see that local education authorities do provide the services which, as a result of the Bill, it will be mandatory upon them to provide. I hope that that assurance, which is in the terms of the Bill, is held to be a reasonable one by your Lordships. I also hope that you take that general view of the Bill and will decide now to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.