HL Deb 06 July 1981 vol 422 cc459-72

2.55 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Meaning of "special educational needs"and"special educational provision"]:

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 12, after ("age") insert ("and ability").

The noble Earl said: This amendment concerns the definition of children with a learning disability. I think it is important at the beginning of the Bill to get the definition right. These, after all, are the children we are talking about throughout the whole Bill, which was quite widely welcomed by your Lordships. I do not have any particular quarrel with the definition, but I do regret that the word"ability"is left out. It seems to be a very serious omission. The problem is that it is quite easy and obviously more simple to compare a child with his or her own age group. One can say,"He is stupider than the 10-year olds", or cleverer, and it is obvious to see.

The definition actually leaves out one surprisingly large block of children with learning difficulties, and that is the child who has very real learning difficulties but possibly a high IQ: in other words, a child with great ability. I am quite sure that these children should not be measured in an arbitrary manner against children of their own age but should be measured by their ability against the ability of other children. One can so easily imagine a situation where a child with a really high IQ appears to be just as good as his own age group but in point of fact beneath the surface may be a very frustrated person, under-performing and not living up to his or her potential in any way whatsoever.

In educational matters I think that is one of the worst areas to accept mediocrity when it is unnecessary to do so. So I make a plea to my noble friend that she acknowledge the necessity for the insertion of these two very simple words so that clever children with a learning difficulty—and it is a learning difficulty which we are defining here—may be considered and may be treated in order that they may come up to their real potential. I think there is little more to be said except that this covers a large number of children. Your Lordships will probably know that I have been interested in dyslexia for a number of years, but it is not confined to that in any way whatsoever. So I ask my noble friend to consider putting these two words into the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

I should like to support this amendment. The definition as it stands would seem to me to be in danger of making 49 per cent. of the children suffer from special educational needs. Obviously a majority of the children of their age who have an IQ of 50 or below could be argued to have learning difficulty because they would not be learning as well as children of their age. It seems to me the important thing here is omitted if the word"ability"is not included. The educational needs problem surely arises at every level of ability, whether low, average or high. lf, compared to children of his age and ability, a child has difficulty, he is falling behind; this applies whether he has limited ability or very high ability. Merely to take age seems to me to be omitting the much more important factor.

Baroness Young

I very much appreciate the point that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, is seeking to make by this particular amendment. I should like to assure him that the Government have given a great deal of thought to the definition clause in this Bill. As he will see, the definition of"learning difficulty"has three parts to it. I have also very much sympathy with children who suffer difficulties in reading and writing although they have ability that is just as good as that of their contemporaries. Such difficulties lead to great distress, or can lead to great distress, and they can certainly cause great anxiety to the child's parents.

What I hope I can show the noble Earl, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, is that exactly the point the noble Earl is making about such children is in fact covered in this definition because in fact this definition of a child who has, significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his age", has been deliberately widely drawn. It would cover children who were termed dyslexic and it would cover other children who have learning difficulties. The more one restricts this, the more one goes back to the concept of special categories of children with particular learning difficulties. Therefore, it has been drawn in this way to catch children in precisely the way that I believe Mrs. Warnock and her colleagues wished to do. I hope the noble Earl will accept that his amendment is unnecessary, that the children he is concerned about will come under the definition as drafted in the subsection.

The Earl of Radnor

I am not absolutely happy, but I am prepared to accept that they will come under the definition. I think with my wording they would have come under the definition a little bit more strongly. I am quite prepared to withdraw the amendment now that it has been aired, and in view of the fact that there is an amendment coming on later which might monitor this particular aspect as it progresses. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

I regret to say that there are a couple of errors regarding Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 on the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 3 refers to page 1 and therefore comes next. Amendment No. 4 should read"page 2, line 7", not"line 34", and therefore will come after Amendment No. 3. So the order in which I shall call the next three amendments will be No. 3, No. 4 and then No. 2.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 21, at end insert— ("; or (d) he suffers from a disability with which his family are unable to deal.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment also concerns the definition of children with learning difficulties but with a slightly different slant. Handicapped children cannot be educated without a great deal of thought also being given to their families, and, if they are to be integrated into the normal schools and live at home, great thought has to be given not only to the parents but to the other children of the family. Therefore, I move this amendment (which is not very well worded) in which I have added at page 1, line 21, under the three definitions, a fourth definition, which is that"he suffers from a disability with which his family are unable to deal".

Having dealt with the families of handicapped children, I have learned over the years that a handicapped child can enrich a family. But there are other circumstances where some families cannot really deal with a child with a handicap or an impairment. I have learned that one has to listen very carefully to what the parents say and what they are feeling, and rightly interpret what they are meaning. If I may, I will give your Lordships one example: I was dealing with a family where a child had had a brain haemorrhage, having been a lovely child before the brain haemorrhage. The mother cared for that child very well and gave it a great deal of time and care. But she came to me and said,"I cannot cope any longer. The doctor says I am doing well, the professor says I am doing well, the social worker says I am doing well, but I cannot manage. I shall do something to the baby when I do not really mean to."This is the kind of situation which one faces. Unless we take into account the family in the definition of children with learning difficulties, I think we shall make a very great mistake. There is also the question of the other children. There are some families who will devote all their time to the child with the handicap or impairment and not regard the other children as needing help. Therefore, I have put down this amendment hoping that the family can be considered.

My last point is this: in the present situation of financial stringency it well could be said that this child could be educated in a normal school and at home, but, with no reference made to the needs of the family, it could be possible to overlook those needs. It is for these reasons that I move this amendment. It could be said that under Clause 2(3) account has to be taken of the views of the parents, but I imagine that that means with regard to the child, not with regard to the parents' own feelings. I realise also that this amendment could be said to be tied to Amendment No. 7, which is to be moved by the noble Lords, Lord Banks and Lord Winstanley. Therefore, in the hope that the Minister will feel that at any rate the family should be given some notice, I beg leave to move the amendment.

Baroness David

I wonder whether I could ask the noble Baroness a question on this. Supposing this amendment were accepted, what in fact does she imagine would happen to the child? Would the child be sent to a residential special school or a foster home? I do not quite see what would follow from acceptance of the amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

Obviously, if the child cannot stay at home there are several courses that would be open. In the case I cited, the child might go to a home from Mondays to Fridays and be at home from Fridays to Mondays when the father was at home and could support the mother. In other cases it would mean going to a residential school. In yet other cases it might mean a foster home, or it might mean day care, with the child coming home in the evenings. These are the avenues which are open, but if it is not in the Bill there will not be the terms of reference for payments to be made.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

I should like to support my noble friend in this amendment. I have knowledge of a family where the eldest child is autistic and the result of him being kept at home is that the other children in the family are"making noises"and are not speaking at all, except very badly, to his parents. Therefore, the provision of this particular amendment would, I feel, enable the eldest child who is autistic not to be sent away—he has adoring parents—but to receive education other than in the home and from the home.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

While having some sympathy with the point which the noble Baroness has made, I also should like to ask her a question. She says in her amendment: suffers from a disability with which his family are unable to deal". There are different sets of circumstances that make it difficult for a family to deal with a particular disability. I am thinking primarily of perhaps a child suffering a disability who lives in a multi-storey block of flats where the family would not be able to cope but who, if they were given the opportunity of living in a house with a garden, could quite easily cope with the disability. I am wondering how the amendment would work in practice. I am asking for information.

Baroness Faithfull

I agree with the noble Baroness; this is a problem and it is a difficulty. However, if good work is to be done in this area each case must be treated to meet its needs. If the needs are that the child should be in a small house with a garden, then it is to be hoped that the social workers, working with the housing department and the education department will be able to meet those needs. However, strangely enough, there are some parents who are very robust and who can deal with a quite severely handicapped child in the home without damaging the other children. There are other parents who are less robust —and that is nothing against them at all; it is just the way they are made—who cannot deal with a handicapped child, who perhaps has not a serious disability or impairment. Therefore, I think that every case has to be treated according to its needs.

Lord Banks

I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Baroness after listening to what she has had to say. I see the problem to which she is referring, but I am not clear that it is an educational problem. It seems to me that it is certainly a problem that affects the welfare of the child, but it is not really to do with that child's ability to learn, that child's ability to take advantage of whatever educational facilities might be there. It is a question of whether the child can continue to live in that particular household. I am not quite clear whether this is a matter affecting the education of the child apart from his general welfare and that of the whole family.

Baroness Young

I have, of course, listened with great interest to what my noble friend Lady Faithfull has had to say in speaking to her amendment, because I know that her views are based on her very considerable experience in the social services. However, I hope that I can show once again that in fact her amendment is unnecessary. The definition in Clause 1 is based on the perceived needs of the child, and therefore the definition in Clause 1 is concerned with special educational needs defined in terms of a learning difficulty. If a child has a disability or a learning difficulty which arises from any cause which could include home circumstances, and precisely the kind of circumstances that my noble friend Lady Faithfull has identified, then he or she will come under either subsections (2)(a) or (2)(b) of the definition in Clause 1, and therefore would be recognised as having a special educational need. Once they have a special educational need, then the other provisions of the Bill will come into play.

I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will recognise and be assured that her amendment is unnecessary for the same reason that I gave to my noble friend Lord Radnor as regards the first amendment. I should like to say that the more one defines precisely the circumstances, the more one tends to narrow the Bill rather than to widen the definition. In these particular circumstances the rather wider definition covers the point that my noble friend would like to make. I hope that with that explanation she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

I should like to thank the Minister for her reply. I should also like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that I have met many children who away from their families can learn, but who with their families cannot learn. It was for that reason that I moved the amendment. However, I shall read what the Minister has had to say very carefully tomorrow. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 34, leave out subsection (4) and insert— ("(4) In the event that a child is assessed as having a learning difficulty partly or solely because the language (or form of the language) in which he is, or will be, taught is different from a language (or form of a language) which has at any time been spoken in his home, his parents shall have the right to be consulted.").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to say at once that this is purely a probing amendment. There was a good deal of anxiety on Second Reading about exactly what Clause 1(4) meant and so I have put this amendment down in order that we can have a discussion about this matter and find out what the Government are doing about the problem of linguistic difficulties. I think that the Minister said on Second Reading that this problem is being dealt with in a different way. I think that we would probably like to hear what it is.

There is absolutely no doubt that linguistic difficulties do exist and create a learning difficulty. We have just had the Rampton Report which of course makes that quite clear. There was, in fact, interesting discussion during the Report stage in another place, and I should like to refer to the letter from the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality which was quoted on 10th June at col. 450, because it does make the problem quite clear. David Lane says in a letter: It is our contention that many teachers hold stereotyped perceptions which, unintentionally, label black children as problems per se and that under the terms of this Bill"— the one we are now considering— they are disproportionately more likely to be so defined. We are not arguing that the Warnock Report or the Bill in any way intend to apply unfortunate stereotypes to black children. What we are suggesting is that given teachers' assumptions and the all-embracing categories of SEN (special educational needs) in the Bill this may well happen. If it does, the well-known anxieties of black parents under the former ESN system will continue to be justified with the SEN concepts of the new Bill.". He goes on to say: The Commission is very concerned about the general situation regarding mother tongue teaching and the continued failure of mainstream education to recognise the extent of linguistic diversity and the reality of bilingualism in many British schools. In fact we would welcome separate legislation on this issue". It is in the spirit of endeavouring to find out what the Government are doing that I beg to move the amendment.

Baroness Young

Let me say straight away that I very much welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has said that this is a probing amendment. She is right in saying that this is an important matter and one which was discussed at considerable length in another place. I should like to explain as fully as I can the kind of problems that one faces in definitions under the Bill because the Government are in fact faced with a choice of either including or excluding problems deriving from language of the home within the scope of the Bill. One simply must face the fact that whichever way the decision is taken there will inevitably be some criticism. If, for example, we had included some definition that involved language, we might well be accused of calling all children who do not speak the language of instruction,"handicapped children", and we should then further be accused of adopting an approach which might be racialist to their educational problems. On the other hand, if as in this case, we have excluded them, we can be equally well accused of ignoring their educational needs.

I think that these are very difficult arguments to speak against, and so it might be helpful to remind the Committee of the kind of difficulties that we met over pupils of West Indian origin who had, in fact, been placed in special schools for the educationally subnormal. The noble Baroness herself has referred to problems of that kind. I do not think that anyone would now deny that it was inappropriate for some of those children to have been placed in those schools and, furthermore, for them to have been left in those schools without a proper review of their educational needs. This is a state of affairs which the department has been trying to put right for the best part of a decade and one which no one from either side of the Committee wishes in any way to encourage.

Therefore, when we came to draft the Bill we decided that it would be wrong to introduce legislation which allowed this kind of misunderstanding and inappropriate placement of children to continue. But in drawing up a definition of"special educational needs"to cover the Warnock concept of up to one child in six, we continually found that any form of words which was broad enough to achieve that also ran the risk of including pupils whose only problem was that their mother tongue was not the same as the language of instruction in their school. The only way to make our intentions clear was to make a specific exclusion, as subsection (4) does. That is why it is so drawn in the Bill. We have deliberately drafted subsection (4) so as to avoid any confusion between children whose only problem is one of language and those with special educational needs in the Warnock sense.

However, this does not mean that the needs of the former group will be neglected. Local education authorities will continue to have a duty to provide for them under the general provisions of Section 8(1) of the Education Act 1944. They will not, however, fall to be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill, unless, of course, they have special educational needs arising from a cause other than language.

I hope, as the noble Baroness has indicated, that she will withdraw this amendment, because, in fact, if it were to be accepted, it would go against the Government's intentions in this area. Children with language problems would be brought within the scope of the Bill and we think that their communities would immediately fear that their children were all going to be educated in special schools. I should like to assure the Committee that the only form of discrimination in this subsection, as drafted, is positive, and it is aimed at avoiding the misunderstandings of the past. I hope that all noble Lords will understand what is the purpose of this clause.

Perhaps I could comment on the last points which the noble Baroness made. We have just seen the publication of the interim report of the Rampton Committee, which is still being considered. On the question of mother tongue teaching, various research projects are going on into this matter, and at this stage it is too early to draw firm conclusions on the outcome. But, of course, these are all matters which the Government need to consider very carefully. The whole question of children having one language at home and another at school is a complicated educational matter, but it is not one that falls within the remit of this Bill.

Baroness Gaitskell

I should like to support the Government on this matter. I am sorry slightly to disagree with my noble friend who has just spoken to this amendment. As an example perhaps I could take myself. I came to this country at the age of 4. My father knew a certain amount of English, but my mother knew none. What happens to such a child between the ages of 3 and 4? What happened to me was that I fell in love, absolutely spontaneously and at once, with the English language. It was no good my parents being consulted on this because they did not understand the language, and this must very often apply to immigrants in this country. I happened to go to a very ordinary but good school. It was rather a poor school to begin with but it taught well and there was no need to consult the parents. I do not see how parents such as mine could know the English language better than their children. Children learn a language extremely quickly and I honestly do not think that this amendment is necessary.

Baroness David

I do not want to fall out with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. I hoped that I had made it clear that this was intended purely as a probing amendment and that I shall be withdrawing it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said and I shall read it again with interest. However, as I said, I am withdrawing this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert— ("( ) A child with a disability is not to be taken as having a learning difficulty solely because the buildings and other premises of ordinary schools are unsuitable for the needs of the child or because the child has not been provided with the aids, equipment and other help he needs because of his disability to make use of the educational facilities provided in schools, within the area of the local authority concerned, for children of his age.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is, again, one concerned with the definition of learning difficulties, and I think that the number of amendments on this clause underlines the difficulty that there has been in drafting the clause. At present subsection (2)(b) states that a child has a learning difficulty if his disability: either prevents or hinders him from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided in schools, within the area of the local authority concerned, for children of his age". There has been much discussion about what constitutes"educational facilities", both in another place and in this House at Second Reading. It would seem that at present a purely physically disabled child, if there were no school in the area capable of providing him with the necessary access, aids, equipment or other help, is deemed to have a learning difficulty. So if there is no suitable school in the area, obviously he would have to go to a special school.

There was concern both here and in another place that access problems were, indeed, being confused with learning difficulties. In another place there was an attempt to remove subsection (2)(b) from the Bill altogether, but on Report the Under-Secretary of State said that his information was that the inclusion of subsection (2)(b) in the Bill was the only way to include the right categories of disabled people. If this is the only way to include the blind, the deaf and the physically handicapped, so be it; I am not attempting to delete subsection (2)(b) and I am not attempting to exclude these children from the Bill.

But if this amendment succeeds it would mean that the children covered by subsection (2)(b) may have a learning difficulty but should not be taken as having one simply because no ordinary school in the area can meet their needs. Amendment No. 5—the new clause, to which I shall speak later—seeks to ensure that at least one ordinary school in the area would meet these needs. When explaining subsection (4) dealing with the children with language problems (which we have just discussed) the Minister at Second Reading explained that the exclusion of those children, whose sole problems derived from language difficulties, was not because they do not have special educational needs which local education authorities are already under a duty to meet, but because we wish to avoid the position arising whereby children from ethnic minorities feel themselves, however misguided, as being classified as handicapped because they have yet to gain a full understanding of the language of instruction. She has just said much the same thing again. I hope noble Lords feel, as I do, that the purely physically handicapped child should not feel, misguidedly or otherwise, that he is further handicapped by being taken as having a learning difficulty, and the amendment seeks to achieve this.

As the Minister wrote in a letter to me on 28th June: Subsection (2)(b), which attracted comment during Second Reading, catches those children who have no difficulties with learning as such. They are perfectly capable of learning, every bit as well as their peers. However, the distinguishing factor with this group of children is that some positive intervention is required that they may receive instruction". The positive intervention required will be dealt with in Amendment No. 5. Meanwhile, I submit that we should make it perfectly clear in the Bill that in the words of the Minister herself: These children have no difficulties with learning as such". I beg to move.

Lord Maybray-King

I wish to support the amendment which has been so excellently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy. This is an excellent clause. It is the friends of all that is intended by the clause who seek to make absolutely clear further improvements to certain things in it. This amendment seeks to make clear that learning disability does not mean disability because one local authority is unable to provide the kind of treatment that that learning disability warrants. It is as simple as that. I hope that all of us who are interested in the wellbeing of handicapped children will support this amendment and will then support the new clause which strengthens it—Amendment No. 5. I am happy to support it.

Baroness Bacon

I think it is rather difficult to discuss these two amendments separately; I was rather hoping that they would be taken together. As I understand the amendment which we are now discussing, it concerns the suitability of the buildings where the child is to go, which is also the case with Amendment No. 5. When I occupied the position now occupied by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I had to deal—as I am sure she has to deal now—with disagreements which arose between parents and local authorities regarding the education of their children. I always found that, so far as physically handicapped children were concerned, the difficulty lay not so much with the child as with the building to which the child was supposed to go.

I remember that, just as I was about to leave the Department of Education, I was dealing with a particularly difficult case. It concerned a girl of very high intelligence who had a serious heart defect. Incidentally, this was in an area where the 11-plus examination and grammar schools still existed; I am pleased to say that that situation no longer exists within that particular authority. This schoolgirl passed the examination to go to grammar school but unfortunately in the particular grammar school to which she was to go, and to which her parents insisted she should go, all the classrooms were on the first floor. The ground floor of the building contained only the kitchens, the dining hall, bicycle sheds, and so on. The headmaster said that it was impossible for his staff to help the girl upstairs, in case there was an accident. I could see his point of view, but I could also see the parents' point of view—although, as is well known, I disagree with separate grammar schools and secondary modern schools. However, I could appreciate the parents' point of view; that their daughter was an exceptionally intelligent girl who had passed the examination to get into this grammar school, and so that was where they wanted her to go.

There was an absolute impasse. The local authority offered the girl a place at a boarding school for physically handicapped children of very high intelligence, but it was 300 miles away from her home. Again, the parents turned this down bedause their daughter had this very serious heart condition and they wanted to see her frequently—yet the school she was offered was 300 miles away from her home.

I am not quite sure whether the speech I am making really ought to be made on this amendment or on Amendment No. 5, because they do overlap to some extent, but I do hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will accept the amendment which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth).

Lord Milverton

I should like to support the amendment. In speaking to Amendment No. 5 I shall simply say that I hope my noble friend the Minister will feel able to accept it. I was not able to be present in your Lordships' House at the Second Reading but, in a previous debate which dealt with the disabled, I did make the point that, so far as possible, buildings should be suitable for the disabled, in addition to any aids or equipment. I hope the noble Baroness the Minister will support this amendment.

Lord Digby

With your Lordships' permission, I feel I must say a word about Amendment No. 5 because, so far as local authorities are concerned, Amendment No. 5 is the sting in the tail. What these amendments are really doing is trying to speed up the implementation of the Warnock Report. We all want that to happen as quickly as possible, but I must point out that it is inappropriate in the present financial circumstances to impose extra duties more quickly. Local authorities are trying their best to implement Warnock's proposals. These amendments would have great cost consequences and, while we are absolutely ready to understand the urgency, it must be left to the normal building programmes within our financial resources.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

l had not meant to speak to this amendment but what has just been said forces me to do so. If Amendments Nos. 3 and 5 are not accepted, there will be a perfect excuse for a local education authority not to make schools suitable for physically handicapped children but to rely on special schools for handicapped children to come to its aid. If the present amendment is not accepted, it will enable local authorities to say that such children are suffering from a disability which makes it necessary so to provide for them. In other words, the simple absence of physical access would cause these children to be categorised as having special educational needs when in fact they do not have special educational needs. I hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will look at this point very carefully.

Baroness Young

I listened with very great care to what was said about this amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and indeed to the support which it has had from many speakers in your Lordships' House, including the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. Again, I believe there is a misunderstanding here about the meaning of this definition. It is not a definition simply about physical access to buildings—I should like to make this quite clear. What we have sought to do is to draw definitions as widely as possible in order to express in legal form the continuum of special educational need which Mrs. Warnock mentioned in her report from those who are very severely handicapped to those who might have a slight learning difficulty at one time in their lives but not at others. There is a continuum of experience which anyone who is familiar with this world can see.

It is very difficult to convert this concept into law, which is what one must do in a Bill such as this one. That is why I said at the beginning that a great deal of thought had been given to this matter, and, if I may, I should like to try to explain what it is we are attempting to do. In subsection (2)(a) there are those children whose common feature is that they have greater learning difficulties than the majority of pupils in their age group. This part of the definition will catch, for example, children who are mentally handicapped and [...]hose who are suffering from reading difficulties, as a general statement.

Then we go on to make another general statement, which is subsection (2)(b). This subsection catches those children who have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), quoted from my letter to her, no learning difficulties as such. They are quite capable of learning as well as their peers. These are children who have physical defects but who are perfectly well able to learn. The distinguishing factor with this group of children is that some positive intervention is required so that they may receive instruction. These children might suffer from a hearing or visual impairment, or they might have problems of mobility, but it is not correct to view subsection (2)(b) as being concerned with access to buildings. Children with hearing difficulties could perfectly well manage access but at the same time, clearly, might have other difficulties.

When referring to access, subsection (2)(b), concerns itself much more with access to the curriculum, and it embraces children who fall within the 20 per cent. of children whom the Warnock Committee believed might have special educational needs at some time during their school life. Subsection (2)(b) will catch the learning difficulties both of the child who needs to sit near the blackboard or the teacher and of the child who is both blind and deaf. Subsection (2)(c), of course, covers a third group of children under the age of five.

The definitions are drawn in this way in order to cover all these groups of children. If I may say so, the effect of the noble Baroness's amendment would be that a child who might otherwise be taken to have a learning difficulty, and hence a special educational need deriving from a physical disability, would be excluded from the provisions of the Bill if suitable buildings and aids could not be provided to enable such a child to attend an ordinary school. Learning difficulties defined in the Bill, as I have explained earlier, are about both mental difficulties and difficulties in gaining access to the curriculum.

I appreciate that this is a concept which it is not always easy to understand. It is not always easy to translate into the cold words of law, but we have somehow got to try to do it and to do it in a way which will give a flexibility for local education authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, will be far more familiar than I with the terms of the 1944 Education Act, and he will know that they are very widely drawn and how grateful everybody has been subsequently that they were drawn in this way, because it has enabled local education authorities to develop the type of education which they thought to be right. Precisely the kind of points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, brought up, which are the sort of problems which will and do arise, can be met better by this wider definition than by a narrower one.

I shall be glad to write to any noble Lord on this point who feels that I have not explained it fully, so that I may go into it in more detail, but I genuinely believe that if the noble Baronesses' amendment were to be included in the Bill, far from widening the definition and helping the children it would be likely to narrow it and make the terms of the Bill less applicable to groups of children. I cannot believe that that is the intention, and I would ask the noble Baroness to consider carefully whether she wishes to press her amendment. I hope she will feel able to withdraw it. If I could help by writing to her before the next stage of the Bill or by considering the matter further, I should be glad to do so.

Lord Somers

Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, may I ask the Minister one thing? She mentioned children who are deaf. What happens in the case of a child who is partly deaf—not wholly deaf, but deaf enough to need the help of earphones, perhaps, and some form of electrical amplification? Mentally that child may be perfectly normal and perhaps even more brilliant than others, but what happens in that case?

Baroness Young

If a child has a hearing impairment he may have learning difficulties, because if you are born slightly deaf of course it is difficult to learn as quickly as others how to speak and therefore it is more difficult to learn to read and write, although the child may be just as intelligent as his contemporaries. Under the Bill, before the child reaches the age of two the parents could, if they so wished, ask for an assessment to be made of him and his special educational needs. At any rate by the time he got to school an assessment would be made. If it was decided that a statement should be made about him, which is what we are talking about in regard to some of these children, then that statement might say that the child should go to a special school, or it might say that he could be educated in an ordinary school with special help, or perhaps in a deaf unit attached to an ordinary school. There might be a whole variety of arrangements that could be made for the child. The Bill does not say what they would be. It simply says that it is important at this stage to identify what is causing the learning difficulty, without necessarily giving a kind of blueprint for the way that that child, his special educational need having been identified, should be educated.

Baroness David

As my name is to this amendment too, I should like to say a word. I was not entirely convinced by what the Minister said in so far as it covered just physical access. However, as far as I am concerned, I should be prepared to withdraw the amendment, if Lady Darcy also is, but I should like to reserve the right to come back on this matter at Report, having read and studied what the Minister has said. It of course depends on the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should first like to thank the Minister for her reply, but I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David. I, too, am not totally convinced by what she said. I should very much welcome it if we could have further correspondence on this subject and see whether we can clear up the incongruity of the wording of this clause in relation to the purely physically handicapped. I should like to thank noble Lords for their great support for this amendment, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. It is a rather complicated amendment and it deals slightly in semantics, which is why I did not speak to it at the same time as Amendment No. 5 which is an extremely clear cut amendment. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Denham

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.