HL Deb 03 March 1980 vol 406 cc39-46

4.13 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the Warnock Report on the special educational needs of handicapped children.

"The committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Warnock presented its report in March 1978. Shortly afterwards a consultation document was issued to seek the views of the many organisations concerned with the education, health and welfare of the handicapped. Their reponses were almost wholly favourable. In addition a thorough inter-departmental study of the report's recommendations has now been made and completed within the Government.

"In view of the anxieties expressed on both sides of the House during discussion of the provisions of Clause 9 of the Education (No. 2) Bill, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have decided that it would be right to announce at once the Government's response to the report. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be dealing separately with the application to Scotland.

"The central recommendation of the report was that, in the light of the experience gained since the passing of the Education Act 1944, the concept of special educational treatment appropriate to defined categories of bodily or mental handicap should be replaced by that of the special educational needs of individual children. Such a change, which would reflect enlightened current practice, was welcomed by the bodies we consulted. The Government accept the arguments in the report for changes in the current statutory provisions relating to special educational treatment and intend to introduce early legislation to enact a new framework substantially on lines recommended in the report. The new legislation will incorporate provisions designed to safeguard the interests of children with severe or complex special educational needs, including arrangements for more widely-based assessment and for the recording of individual needs.

"The legislation will also define and protect the rights of parents to adequate information and consultation about the education offered for their children, taking account of the relevant recommendations of the report and in the spirit of the provisions about information and parental preference embodied in the Education (No. 2) Bill.

"Many of the other recommendations in the Warnock Report were not addressed directly to Government but to those concerned with the local provision of education, health and welfare services. Some recommendations— for example, those relating to nursery education, teacher training and further and higher education— have major implications for central and local government expenditure, and their implementation must be considered in the light of the economic situation and the need for restraint which it entails. The Government's current expenditure plans provide for the maintenance of expenditure on special education at its present level despite the fall in the size of the relevant age groups.

"We propose to lay before Parliament in due course a White Paper outlining the form the new legislation might take and dealing with other recommendations made by the Warnock Committee.

"In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Mrs. Warnock and the members of her committee for their carefully presented consideration of the many issues surrounding the education of handicapped children and young persons. Their report will I am sure he a constant source of reference for many years to come for all with an interest in the development of special education."

4.17 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, we should like to thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. We join with her in her thanks to Mrs. Warnock and her committee, and congratulate them on their very comprehensive and human report. We, too, welcome the change in the definition, and the new term "children with learning difficulties". The Minister said that the report would be … a constant source of reference for many years to come". Is that a full acceptance of the report as a blueprint for the future? Do the Government accept the recommendations in the report as their long-term aims for these children? We are surprised that the Government are proposing to produce a White Paper outlining new legislation when an Education Bill is going through Parliament at the present time— a Bill which has raised queries about the education and welfare of these children, and of their parents. Why not amend this Bill? There certainly will be amendments put down by others, if not by the Government. The Statement refers to the White Paper appearing "in due course". When will that be?

It seems to us a strange way to refer to the Warnock three areas of first priority as: Some recommendations— for example, those relating to nursery education, teacher training and further and higher education ", which is what the Statement does. These are vital points in the report and major areas of anxiety. I suppose it is easy to guess the reason for the Government's shy approach when one thinks of the action being taken on nursery schools in the present Education Bill, and the cuts which are being made. We must remember that Warnock said that nursery education provision should be substantially increased for all children as soon as possible, since this would have the consequence that opportunities for nursery education for young children with special needs could be correspondingly extended.

I think, too, that post-16 education is grossly inadequate for these young people at the moment, and I would have hoped that we might have something positive there. In-service training, too, is desperately needed. Would the Minister agree that in-service training is about the cheapest way to get an improvement in this field; and what are the Government's plans here? We welcome the fact that expenditure on special education is being maintained at its present level, but one cannot help wondering whether local authorities, faced with having to make large cuts, may not chop a certain amount off this field. There are some very cheap recommendations in the report— I mean cheap from the point of view that they do not take a lot of money to implement— and I ask the Minister whether the Government are going to do anything about that— for instance, as to a governing body having a governor with special responsibility for these children, and for having links between special schools and ordinary schools. There are a number of things in the report which could he implemented quickly. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.


My Lords, we very much welcome this Statement by the Government and are very glad indeed that the main recommendation of the Warnock Report is going to be adopted and that the Government are going to move forward. But, together with the noble Baroness who has just spoken, we are rather anxious to have some indication of when the White Paper is to be published and when legislation will come. I know this will be difficult for the noble Baroness to answer; nevertheless, she should be under no illusion about the widespread sense of bitterness that there will be if, because of the legislative queue, this rather unfortunate Education Bill now before us leads to putting off dealing with the needs of the handicapped.

In particular, before we get to the Committee stage of the Education Bill I should like to know the answer to one question. Recommendation 3 of Chapter 5 says that a handbook should be available for each area committee to give information about local facilities for children with special needs and their parents. I think it would be true to say that the Committee stage of the Bill will go a great deal more smoothly if, before it takes place— and I am not asking for it today— we could have some assurance that that recommendation certainly will be carried out by the Government and as soon as possible.

4.22 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for the way they have received this Statement today. Not unnaturally, both have asked what is going to be the timing of both the White Paper and the legislation. I think it is only right for me to be quite frank with the House over this matter. As noble Lords will know— and many in this House take a great deal of interest in this subject— it is two years since the report of Mrs. Warnock was received. We have been carrying out extensive consultations. As I indicated, we have brought forward the Statement particularly so as to have it before the Committee stage of the current Education Bill. I cannot anticipate what will be in the next Queen's Speech but I should like to say that the Statement refers to early legislation; and that means that there will be no unavoidable delay in introducing it. One would expect the White Paper to precede it.

I have been asked what will be in the White Paper. There are already, from the Questions and points that have been raised, a number of issues that require considerable public debate and on which it would be helpful not only to know your Lordships' views but those of others before details of the legislation are published. It would be for that reason that we should wish to publish a White Paper. On the question of resources, I should like to reiterate that the Government's expenditure plans for 1980– 81 provide for the maintenance of expenditure on special education. This will be confirmed within the plans of the main expenditure White Paper later on this month.

I have been asked whether or not we intend any changes in the Bill currently before the House. I should like to say on that point that consideration is being given to the possibility of amending the present Bill so as to extend its scope at least in part, to the parents of handicapped children; but, to be honest with the House, any such amendments would be set in terms of the present arrangements for special educational treatment which the Government have now declared their intention to replace by early legislation. I was asked what we meant by accepting the Warnock recommendations. I think it is right to say that the whole subject of integration will be fully discussed within the White Paper; but the 1944 Act presumption of categorising handicapped pupils and putting them into special schools would go, in fact, under the concept of the Warnock proposals.


My Lords, may I, as the parent of a handicapped child, and as chairman of the National Society for the Mentally Handicapped, thank my noble friend for the Statement she has made? In doing so, I should like to say that in the National Society the fact that the Government have accepted our views on the Warnock Report is greatly welcomed. One can understand that the present Education Bill would not be a suitable vehicle for wide implementation of the Warnock Report but I hope that my noble friend will heed the suggestions made for a limited implementation of it, in particular with regard to parents' rights. Parents of mentally handicapped children feel very strongly that they should have the opportunity of parental choice so far as possible. I hope that my noble friend will bear that in mind between now and further consideration of the Education Bill.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Renton for his remarks. I can assure him and other noble Lords that there is no disagreement between us about the principle that he is evolving. We should like to apply as far as possible the principles which are in our current Bill to parents of handicapped children. There are a number of difficulties of a legal nature in amending our Bill to take account of the whole concept of what I would call the Warnock framework. It is for that reason that we believe that a separate Bill is required. We will certainly look at the point to see whether it is possible to amend our present Bill to go part of the way but I think it would be wrong to say that we could at this stage introduce the whole of the Warnock concept into our Bill. That must wait for later legislation. The reason for bringing forward the Statement today and indicating our timetable is, I hope, to assure the House that we have the needs of the handicapped very much in mind and wish to act on the Warnock Report as soon as possible.


My Lords, I missed the Statement of the noble Baroness by the skin of my teeth and through circumstances beyond my control. I should like to say, however, that I know that the Statement will be studied with the utmost care, and I hope that it will go a long way towards relieving the unease that at present is being felt by so many parents of handicapped children all over the country. I should like to thank the noble Baroness for having so expeditiously made the Statement so soon after the Second Reading of the Education Bill. We understand the difficulties that the Warnock Report has created and we welcome the opportunity of a full Government Statement very shortly on the matter.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Segal, for his support of this Statement. My colleagues and I recognise the concern of parents of handicapped children. It is for this reason that we brought forward the Statement at this time.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while she has made clear why she made the Statement today— to let people who are interested in this subject know the forward thinking— she should bear in mind, on tactical grounds, that it may be a disadvantage in getting the present Bill through its final stages unless she gives us the White Paper early and an indication of what will be in the new Bill rather earlier than her answers seemed to indicate?

We live in a real world. If, in resisting some of the amendments that will be put down to the existing Bill, my noble friend will ask the House not to proceed with them because of something that might be in a Bill which has not yet been defined, then I assure her from past experience that she will be building up a lot of trouble in negotiating that Bill. With that tactical consideration in mind, I would urge an early White Paper and an early indication of the possible details of the future Bill, so as to avoid misunderstanding.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I will note of course certainly what my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said on the whole question of tactics. My own view about this, and that of my colleagues, is that this is an extremely important area which is of great concern to a lot of people. I believe that it is very necessary to get it right. I can assure the House that, so faras I and my colleagues are concerned, we do not wish for any more delay than the parliamentary timetable would require.